Quran Read-A-Long: Al-`Imran 10-20 Discuss Hell and Surrender to God

I can’t assume that verse 11 refers to anything but the story of the Exodus and the Pharaoh who refused to free the enslaved Hebrews. True or false?

Is there something larger going on in this warning about hell and who goes there? It just seems like it’s straight-up talking about hell. You’re bad. Okay, to hell you go. I hate to ask, is there more going on here? It’s the Quran! Of course there’s more going on here 😉 but what is going on exactly?

As for verse 13 about the unequally matched forces in battle, Asad offers the dual interpretation (favoring the second) that this refers to the Battle of Badr but also to the more general occurrence of a battle between two sides, one numerically weaker but with faith and conviction in its cause and which therefore ultimately wins. Not that I can speak to the timing of this revelation, but I would tend to think that both interpretations are correct. On more than one occasion, to my knowledge, the Medinan Muslim community faced foes much larger than it and was victorious. Depending on the time of this revelation this verse could be referring to any number of those battles that any person being addressed witnessed (just a supposition, though). Thoughts?

In verse 19 it sounds like two different kinds of people are being discussed. On the one hand there are those who have received previous revelations but whose texts have become corrupted and whose communities have become fractured with sectarianism. These people, however, do not “deny the truth of God’s messages,” (except perhaps in their refusal to adopt Islam, though they are surrendering in their own ways to a single God, presumably) and so, therefore, they can still go to Heaven. I think. On the other hand are those who deny the truth of God’s messages, and they are another matter entirely. They, to be sure, cannot go to Heaven because they deny what is revealed. Verse 20 would seem to affirm this, pointing out that it is Mohammed’s duty to proselytize and bring the message of surrender to God to all people, those with previous revelation and those without. Whether or not they accept Mohammed’s Islam, so long as they surrender to God, they’ll be okay (i.e. get the opportunity to go to Heaven) because God knows what’s in their hearts and whether or not they’re truly surrendering, regardless of what they call their religion. Surrender to God is surrender to God.

What can you tell us about these verses or my interpretation of them?

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Al-`Imran 10-20

10. BEHOLD, as for those who are bent on denying the truth – neither their worldly possessions nor their offspring will in the least avail them against God; and it is they, they who shall be the fuel of the fire! 11. [To them shall – happen] the like of what happened to Pharaoh’s people and those who lived before them: they gave the lie to Our messages – and so God took them to task for their sins: for God is severe in retribution. 12. Say unto those who are bent on denying the truth: “You shall be overcome and gathered unto hell – and how evil a resting-place! 13. You have already had a sign in the two hosts that met in battle, one host fighting in God’s cause and the other denying Him; with their own eyes [the former] saw the others as twice their own number: but God strengthens with His succor whom He wills. In this, behold, there is indeed a lesson for all who have eyes to see. 14. ALLURING unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and lands. All this may be enjoyed in the life of this world – but the most beauteous of all goals is with God. 15. Say: “Shall I tell you of better things than those [earthly joys]? For the God-conscious there are, with their Sustainer, gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide, and spouses pure, and God’s goodly acceptance.” And God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His servants – 16. those who say, “O our Sustainer! Behold, we believe [in Thee]; forgive us, then, our sins, and keep us safe from suffering through the fire” – 17. those who are patient in adversity, and true to their word, and truly devout, and who spend [in God’s way], and pray for forgiveness from their innermost hearts. 18. GOD [Himself] proffers evidence* – and [so do] the angels and all who are endowed with knowledge – that there is no deity save Him, the Upholder of Equity: there is no deity save Him, the Almighty, the Truly Wise. 19. Behold, the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man’s] self-surrender unto Him; and those who were vouchsafed revelation aforetime* took, out of mutual jealousy, to divergent views [on this point] only after knowledge [thereof] had come unto them.** But as for him who denies the truth of God’s messages – behold, God is swift in reckoning! 20. Thus, [O Prophet,] if they argue with thee, say, “I have surrendered my whole being unto God, and [so have] all who follow me!” – and ask those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime, as well as all unlettered people,* “Have you [too] surrendered yourselves unto Him?” And if they surrender themselves unto Him, they are on the right path; but if they turn away – behold, thy duty is no more than to deliver the message: for God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His creatures.

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5 Responses

  1. Pharaoh—Exodus—-see surah 7 verses 65-157, surah 11 verses 25-101 for more biblical stories.
    Who goes to hell?—This is a decision that only God has the right to make—it is not for humans to judge who goes or does not go to hell. Our (individual) responsibility is to ensure that our choices keep us on the “right path”. We have been created in “goodness” —that is, our inherent nature is “good”. Therefore, when we make choices that are not “good” (reject goodness) we are going against the nature of which we were created and thus “debasing our own souls”. This act of rejection (of good) and rejection of guidance (being ungrateful) is what brings us to the state of an “unbeliever”. The Pharaoh was given a choice (—because God is compassionate and merciful –and just) and he chose to reject guidance and instead embrace arrogance, pride, greed, envy, ……etc.
    Retribution—-Some may think that all natural disasters are a “retribution” from God. This is not so—some disasters are man-made, some are a part of the cycle of nature. God is compassionate, merciful and just and does not punish without giving a chance to reform. In the Quran, messengers/warners are sent with guidance so that people can turn to the right path. Those that choose it are not punished–only those that choose to reject goodness and guidance are punished.(–hell) So why does God “interfere” in this way sometimes?—Are we not meant to excercise our free-will? —It is because we need to excercise our free-will that it becomes neccessary on (rare)occasion to interfere. When a society or nation is dominated with evil, good people cannot flourish because there is no opportunity/choice for goodness. Therefore the purpose of such interference is to re-establish the opportunities/choices for goodness to flourish. So…why not interfere in this way all the time? Because we are responsible for earth and our time on it. That is why we have been given free-will. It must be used to benefit all of Gods creations. We must not abandon our responsibilities with the excuse “I have faith—let God handle it”—that is simply being irresponsible by pretending to have faith. (refer to the post by JD about tying the camel) As the Quran says—these type of stories are a reminder to us to strive for goodness because they show there is hope that goodness will prevail.
    Sorry—running out of time—will try to get back to the other verses later………….

  2. I can’t assume that verse 11 refers to anything but the story of the Exodus and the Pharaoh who refused to free the enslaved Hebrews. True or false?

    Both, but in a very subtle sense. The Qur’an, to the best of my knowledge, only refers to one Pharaoh, the one Moses (pbuh) confronts; in that respect, yes, the Pharaoh of Exodus. No, in the respect that most people, I think, associate the Pharaoh of Exodus with Ramesses II. Like in Exodus, the Qur’an is silent as to the identity of “Pharaoh.” This hasn’t stopped Muslims from guessing, though, with some people nominating Ramesses’ son Merneptah while Yusuf Ali, in his Appendix IV, nominates Thutmose I, who reigned over 200 years before Ramesses. Does the identity of Pharaoh really matter, though? The spiritual lessons remain the same, regardless of the name.

    As for verse 13 about the unequally matched forces in battle, Asad offers the dual interpretation (favoring the second) that this refers to the Battle of Badr but also to the more general occurrence of a battle between two sides, one numerically weaker but with faith and conviction in its cause and which therefore ultimately wins.

    Once again, both. Verses 1-32 are believed to have been revealed shortly after the Battle of Badr, so the first interpretation, dealing with an historical event, is almost certainly the case, insha’allah. The second interpretation, the more general argument, is also almost certainly the case, insha’allah. This specific/general combination of interpretations is actually quite common in the Qur’an. (Actually, I’ve read several times in the past that there are supposed to be six levels of meaning in each Qur’anic verse, but I’m not able to find a reference at the moment to provide more details.)

    Whether or not they accept Mohammed’s Islam, so long as they surrender to God, they’ll be okay (i.e. get the opportunity to go to Heaven) because God knows what’s in their hearts and whether or not they’re truly surrendering, regardless of what they call their religion.

    This is one of those ideas where the Qur’an seems to swing both ways (but doesn’t). On the one hand you have verses like 2:62 and 5:72, which say that

    Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)

    And other verses like 2:112 and 2:277 which suggest that anyone who fulfills the proper criteria, as determined by Allah (swt), may go to heaven, insha’allah. Thus, most Muslims, I think, recognize that heaven would not be exclusively “Muslim” (see 2:111-12), but “muslim” in the respect that all those who reach heaven have surrendered to Allah (swt).

    However, one, the Qur’anic verse does not say literally “Behold, the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man’s] self-surrender unto Him…” It literally says the religion is Islam. (“Inna ad-deena ‘inda Allahi al-Islamu…”) Per Ibn Kathir’s tafsir:

    Allah said, (Truly, the religion with Allah is Islam.) Allah states that there is no religion accepted with Him from any person, except Islam. Islam includes obeying all of the Messengers until Muhammad who finalized their commission, thus closing all paths to Allah except through Muhammad . Therefore, after Allah sent Muhammad , whoever meets Allah following a path other than Muhammad’s, it will not be accepted of him. In another Ayah, Allah said, (And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him) [3:85].

    Later, Ibn Kathir writes:

    Allah commanded His servant and Messenger, Muhammad, to call the People of the Two Scriptures and the unlettered idolators to his religion, way, Law and all that Allah sent him with. Allah said, (And say to those who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians) and to those who are illiterates (Arab pagans): “Do you (also) submit yourselves” If they do, they are rightly guided; but if they turn away, your duty is only to convey the Message.) meaning, their reckoning is with Allah and their return and final destination is to Him. It is He Who guides whom He wills and allows whom He wills to stray, and He has the perfect wisdom and the unequivocal proof for all of this.

    Ibn Kathir also refers to a hadith in Sahih Muslim: “By He in Whose Hand is my soul! No member of this Ummah, no Jew or Christian, hears of me but dies without believing in what I was sent with, but will be among the people of the Fire.”

    So, surrender to God may be surrender to God, insha’allah, but I think the Qur’an is trying to stress a surrender to strict monotheism with the concomitant requirements (belief in the Last Day, working righteousness) for possible entrance into heaven, insha’allah. Wa allahu alim.

    ALLURING unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and lands.

    This is one of those “trivial” facts that one finds from time to time in the Qur’an: the “heaped-up treasures” of gold and silver mentioned in this verse uses the word qanatir, which is the plural form of qintar, which, as Yusuf Ali points out, literally means “a talent of 1,200 ounces of gold.” When you consider that gold is currently selling around $1000 per ounce, that one talent is worth a cool $1.2 million. And then, of course, we’re dealing with the plural form. 🙂 So that’s a lot of money. 😉

  3. Surah 45, verse 14-15

    14 Tell those who believe, to forgive those who do not hope for the days of God; It is for him to recompense (for good or ill) each people according to what they have earned
    15 If anyone does a righteous deed, It is to his own benefit: If he does evil it works against (his own soul) In the end will you (all) be bought back to your Lord.

    As usual JD has brought out some interesting points….
    Who goes to heaven?—Judgement is based on Justice–Surah 45, verse 22 –God created the heavens and earth for Just ends, and in order that each soul may find the recompense of what it has earned, and none of them shall be wronged.—” Kafir” or “unbeliever” is someone who has rejected guidance after they have known and understood it. —A “believer” (mumenen–see surah 23- Al-Mumenun) are those who accept and follow the guidance after having understood it. To be a “muslim” –that is, to accept and follow the guidance of the Quran (submit to God’s will) is a serious responsibility—because this guidance is a special blessing. One is a “kafir” in the truest meaning of the word when a muslim, after having understood the Quran’s guidance, chooses to reject it (is ungrateful). In this context, the criteria of Judgement for those who have understood the guidance will be higher than those who have been incapable of understanding it (Intellectually or spiritually) through no fault of their own. The important question is not “who goes to heaven?”—but “How do I go to heaven?” Thus–each individual–with our own unique circumstances, Intellect, and spiritual abilities must strive in our own way, to the best of our abilities, to achieve the highest qualities of our nature. In order to help us achieve this, we have been given guidance, we have been given an Intellect to understand and make use of this guidance, and we have also been given the “ruh” (God’s breath) our inherent “goodness” with these blessings comes responsibility—to decide (choice) and take action.

    Who goes to hell?, Who goes to heaven? –the answers are best left to God—we should be concentrating on the questions–Do I go to Hell/Heaven?–as we look for answers, we should keep in mind that God is compassioante, merciful and just.

    Wordly desires—Ego is tempting—status, pride, success—they contribute to ego—Our life on earth is about choices—while we may enjoy the benefits our life has to offer—we should not forget that our ultimate goal is to return to God—and ego is not going to get us there.

  4. I agree that from the point of spiritual understanding and guidance, it definitely doesn’t matter which Pharaoh it was. Merneptah is an interesting choice, though, and I’m wondering if that’s a more modern guess, post-discovery of the Merneptah Stele? Admittedly, I’m pretty curious, though, who it was. 🙂

    I’m very interested in the idea of six levels of meaning in the Quran and what each one is. Any article on that you’d reference? In rabbinics, there are considered to be four levels of interpretation to each verse, whose names correspond to the acronym, Pardes (which, incidentally, is the name of various Jewish Yeshivot). P-R-D-S, represent levels of interpretation ranging from the straightforward/simple to the hidden.

    What kinds of explanations are there for the Quran weighing down on both sides of the ‘who goes to Heaven’ argument? Many holy texts provide verses that support both sides of arguments but this is pretty explicit – though I want to avoid the word contradictory. How has it been reconciled? Your words seem to indicate that you favor the everyone who surrenders and has the right beliefs (last day, etc.) but how do you personally reflect on the verses that demand Islam rather than islam?

    What would make someone become a Kafir? Stubbornness? Are there stories of people understanding the guidance and then consciously rejecting it? I do like the distinction you’ve made, Kay, that makes each person on his/her own path towards heaven through his/her own abilities to understand guidance, whether intellectually or spiritually.

  5. Who goes to heaven—or Paradise(Garden)—actual translation—paradise/hell are complicated subjects in the Quran–(see surah 55 verse 46—Yusuf Ali)–there are 2 paradise — and I think there are levels within these(?) and there are levels/gates in hell. People (mankind) will be divided into 3 groups—the companions of the right hand, the companions of the left hand and those who are closest to God. We are not the only creation with free-will. A previous creation to us that has free-will, also goes through Judgement and paradise/hell.
    Surah 99 verse 6-8
    6 On that day will men be sorted out, to be shown the deeds that they (had done)
    7 then shall anyone who has done an atoms weight of good see it
    8 And anyone who has done an atoms’s weight of evil, shall see it.
    Surah 101 verses 6-9
    6. Then he whose balance (of good deeds) will be (found) heavy
    7. will be in a life of good pleasure and satisfaction
    8 But he whose balance of (of good deeds) will be (found) light
    9 will have his home in a bottomless pit.

    Kafir—Much of the Quran had been revealed by the time of the Hijra. The people of Mecca had the opportunity to listen, understand, and reflect on the message. —-It was in their own language, given through someone they knew well. Yet, they not only chose to reject this message—but more importantly they harrassed and persecuted those Meccans who wanted to follow this message/path. They did this partly because it was economically inconvenient and for some it was greed, pride, arrogance, hate, jealousy (Abu Lahab)……etc—and yes stubborness too.
    There is another word in the Quran—the munafiqeen–or the hypocrite—one who uses the “label”/name of a religion for convenience but does not follow all of its guidance.
    Those people who reject guidance/spirituality are rejecting God-consciousness and opting for egoism. Excessive egoism can turn harmful to others and to self/soul. Those who realise the harm this path has led to and feel remorse and return to God-consciousness, for them is compassion and mercy–but those who, having understood the harm, nevertheless choose to continue on this path, for them is punishment and none will be wronged.

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