Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 81-92 Continue the Discussion about Those Who Follow Former Revelation

I definitely see the value of the pledge being made in verse 81. However, based on what is being said, doesn’t it make sense that Jews and Christians rejected Mohammed and Islam since, as was mentioned last week multiple times, the revelations Mohammed was receiving contradicted some of the stories in the Bible? I even said last week that, “Asad proposes (and he believes this) that the verse [72] means that Jews and Christians accepted some of Mohammed’s earlier revelations but not later ones that conflicted with biblical stories.” In this discussion, it’s necessary to set aside the Muslim belief that the Bible was long-since corrupted, because we have to be in the minds of Jews and Christians of Mohammed’s day to understand what they were thinking – particularly as it relates through verse 81.

They wouldn’t have understood that their text was corrupted, so as they saw it, someone was revealing revelation (that according to Asad they believed in the beginning), but then that person started saying things that no longer “confirmed the truth already in your possession,” and so according to Asad they later rejected Mohammed. This is not in any way my passing judgment on the validity of anyone’s revelation or the connection it has to other revelation, but I’m just trying to get in the head of Jews/Christians at Mohammed’s time from the perspective of Muslims, and it seems to me that there’s a good reason that those people were “turning away:” because of the very reason and pledge they took articulated in verse 81. It hardly seems fair that they should be scorned or punished for their actions based on this logic.

Verses 84-85 sound credo-like in their words. There is nothing in true religion but surrender to God, and all the prophets from Abraham forward knew this.

Verses 86-88 actually seem to stand in sharp contrast to some of the verses that we discussed from The Cow in which everyone who believed in God and some other basic concepts could go to Heaven. I know that we’ve encountered other verses that contradicted those already, but I am beginning to find those original verses particularly overshadowed by the animosity being shown towards Jews and Christians that just aren’t accepting Mohammed. Again, that makes me believe that something was happening in the life of the prophet with the Jews and Christians that was troubling and frustrating. I remember a verse that said that those who are given the ability to know the truth and then deny it will not go to Heaven, which seems to be a reasonable subgroup of the larger Jews and Christians group that could go to Heaven because they submitted to God in their own way. It would seem, however, that such people can’t have been confronted by Mohammed and have denied him or they’re not going up anymore. Verse 90 itself really seems to reflect this attitude by combining the original idea and the sentiment within these verses.

The complementary nature of verses 90 and 91 is rather striking. On the one hand, no amount of money will serve as an acceptable ransom for the souls of nonbelievers. Likewise, however, for believers, no amount of belief will be acceptable if they don’t, in a phrase, put their money where their mouths are, and provide for others’ needs. Very interesting contrast.

What can you add to these verses to help elucidate their meaning better?

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Al-’Imran 81-92

81. AND, LO, God accepted, through the prophets, this solemn pledge [from the followers of earlier revelation]: “If, after all the revelation and the wisdom which I have vouchsafed unto you, there comes to you an apostle confirming the truth already in your possession, you must believe in him and succour him. Do you” – said He – “acknowledge and accept My bond on this condition?” They answered: “We do acknowledge it.” Said He: “Then bear witness [thereto], and I shall be your witness. 82. And, henceforth, all who turn away [from this pledge] – it is they, they who are truly iniquitous!” 83. Do they seek, perchance, a faith other than in God, although it is unto Him that whatever is in the heavens and on earth surrenders itself, willingly or unwillingly, since unto Him all must return? 84. Say: “We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the [other] prophets: we make no distinction between any of them. And unto Him do we surrender ourselves.” 85. For, if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the lost. 86. How would God bestow His guidance upon people who have resolved to deny the truth after having attained to faith, and having borne witness that this Apostle is true, and [after] all evidence of the truth has come unto them? For, God does not guide such evildoing folk. 87. Their requital shall be rejection by God, and by the angels, and by all [righteous] men. 88. In this state shall they abide; [and] neither will their suffering be lightened, nor will they be granted respite. 89. But excepted shall be they that afterwards repent and put themselves to rights: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. 90. Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith, and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted: for it is they who have truly gone astray. 91. Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth and die as deniers of the truth – not all the gold on earth could ever be their ransom. It is they for whom grievous suffering is in store; and they shall have none to succour them. 92. [But as for you, O believers,] never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you cherish yourselves; and whatever you spend – verily, God has full knowledge thereof.

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 72-80 Continue Talking of Difficulties with Muslims and Jews

Asad offers two understandings of verse 72, both of which make sense to me. The one which came to mind as I read the verse seemed to be saying that Jews and Christians would say to the Muslims that they believed Mohammed’s revelation but would later renege amongst themselves. This would serve to keep the Muslim community, presumably, from pressuring them too much and therefore allow them to keep their own faith (however slighted it was by their behavior). Alternatively, Asad proposes (and he believes this) that the verse means that Jews and Christians accepted some of Mohammed’s earlier revelations but not later ones that conflicted with biblical stories. Quite frankly, I don’t know why both options can’t be the case. What do you think it means?

In verse 73, when Muslims are told not to trust anyone who doesn’t follow their faith, I’m wondering if this is meant to be in the historical moment or a larger directive. That is to say that I can understand why Muslims could not have trusted the local Jews and Christians in Mohammed’s day. Despite their shifting alliances, from a religious perspective, they were waffling. Thus, as they were not part of the umma without being Muslim, no one could be sure if they were friend or foe. However, my question is whether or not this is still meant to apply to Muslims. Should Muslims still not trust those of other faiths? Further, in a Muslim community that is far larger than a tribe (i.e. a society that is entirely Muslim), can trust really be given to everyone based on his/her faith alone? That’s not to say that we can’t trust people or that we can’t trust those with whom we feel a common kinship, but is it really a great idea to trust everyone on that basis alone?

I would definitely agree that there is no basis to the claim made, allegedly, by Jews, that they don’t have any moral responsibility towards non-Jews. The only thing that the Bible says is that Israelites can’t loan at interest to each other, but presumably they can to others. That doesn’t exempt anyone from moral responsibility though. It seems that verse 75, however, is true of every group of people. There are always some who will do the right thing and always others who won’t. I hardly think that this is Jew-specific, though I know that the Quran uses immediate examples from Mohammed’s present to provide us with statements that hold forever.

Ascribing things to the Bible that are not there is wrong, but I would hope that this refers to people who are intentionally manipulating it. True, the Quran says that it does refer to those who know that they lie, but it’s hardly fair – pending the Bible did once have a different form and was corrupted to its current state, even intentionally – to refer to all Jews and Christians who read the Bible and think that what it says is true when they were not involved in its corruption. They’re just saying what they ‘know.’ Indeed, Asad refers to ascribing meaning to something that is not intended to be as such, but that’s an entirely different matter (and no good).

I find verse 79 to be incredibly intriguing. Obviously it’s a reference to Jesus, but the verse says that Jesus said, “Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof].” That, I would agree, is  something that definitely would have come from Jesus’ lips. I think it accompanies quite nicely the oft ignored verse from the Gospel of Matthew 5:17 in which Jesus tells his disciples and followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Setting aside the Christian religious interpretations of “fulfill,” Jesus is saying what the Quran is: keep studying the law (which means Torah) and spreading knowledge of God’s revelation. Of course, Jesus was talking to Jews, and as we’ve discussed from the second surah, God delivered messages in different ways to different peoples so that they could understand His revelation. Thus, it’s not problematic for Jesus to have been confirming for Jews that they should continue studying/practicing/spreading their revelation and laws.

My interest arises due to the fact that Jesus’ words validate the Torah as it was composed in his time. Whatever corruptions of the text were happening to the Torah to make it so irreparably unsatisfying to Muslims would have happened long before Jesus’ time both because of the general scrutiny and spread of the texts by this time and because the historical matching-ups of the text not being a single original text (i.e. The Documentary Hypothesis) are centuries and centuries earlier. Would Jesus really have encouraged people to continue believing a corrupted revelation, or is Jesus talking about something else entirely?

Can’t wait to find out what we held off on last week: what was going on in the life of Mohammed and the umma at the revelation of these verses. Please share anything else that I missed or that strikes you about these verses.

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Al-’Imran 72-80

72. And some of the followers of earlier revelation say [to one another]: “Declare your belief in what has been revealed unto those who believe [in Muhammad] at the beginning of the day, and deny the truth of what came later, so that they might go back [on their faith]; 73. but do not [really] believe anyone who does not follow your own faith.” Say: “Behold, all [true] guidance is God’s guidance, consisting in one’s being granted [revelation] such as you have been granted.” Or would they contend against you before your Sustainer? Say: “Behold, all bounty is in the hand of God; He grants it unto whom He wills: for God is infinite, all-knowing, 74. singling out for His grace whom He wills. And God is limitless in His great bounty.” 75. AND AMONG the followers of earlier revelation there is many a one who, if thou entrust him with a treasure, will [faithfully] restore it to thee; and there is among them many a one who, if thou entrust him with a tiny gold coin, will not restore it to thee unless thou keep standing over him – which is an outcome of their assertion, “No blame can attach to us [for anything that we may do] with regard to these unlettered folk”: and [so] they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie].”76. Nay, but [God is aware of] those who keep their bond with Him, and are conscious of Him: and, verily, God loves those who are conscious of Him. 77. Behold, those who barter away their bond with God and their own pledges for a trifling gain – they shall not partake in the blessings of the life to come; and God will neither speak unto them nor look upon them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He cleanse them of their sins; and grievous suffering awaits them. 78. And, behold, there are indeed some among them who distort the Bible with their tongues, so as to make you think that [what they say] is from the Bible, the while it is not from the Bible; and who say, “This is from God,” the while it is not from God: and thus do they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie]. 79. It is not conceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, “Worship me beside God”; but rather [did he exhort them], “Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof].” 80. And neither did he bid you to take the angels and the prophets for your lords: [for] would he bid you to deny the truth after you have surrendered yourselves unto God?

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 64-71 Appeal to Jews and Christians to Worship Only God

To all of the wonderful participants and readers of Quran Read-A-Long,

I’m so sorry for the extended hiatus I took. Not only did I move from San Francisco to Atlanta over the past month and a half, both breaking down one life and setting up another anew elsewhere, but I traveled during part of the interim to San Diego and twice to Washington, leaving me very little time to address any facet of this blog, much less something that takes the thought and energy of reading the Quran (fortunately I’d set a few motivational posters to future-post). In any case, I really appreciate your patience and hope that you’re willing to resume reading the Quran with me each Wednesday. Most of the rest of this blog will be ignored for a while, but I think that Quran Read-A-Long is the one thing that is important to me to continue doing each week. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and input.

Thank you so much for being a part of this project,

Jay

Without further ado, let’s discuss Al-‘Imran 64-71.

Verse 64 seems to be an amicable outreaching towards both Christians and Jews, hoping that neither will recognize or worship any but God. At its most obvious level, this is a dig at Christianity, asking Christians to set aside the notion that a man – however prophetic – could also be divine. Interestingly, Asad’s note from this verse indicated that this was also aimed at the Jews who sometimes attributed a quasi-divine status to Ezra or certain Talmudic scholars.

Though I’ve heard of prophets and even the greatest Talmudic sages being described as shining with the light of God or some other comparable phrase, I’ve never heard or read anything about these people actually holding some kind of divine or even quasi-divine status as a being more than human. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t believe that such a belief amongst Jews could be true. The reverence ascribed to some of these figures and the language used to discuss them could definitely get muddled through the generations and in the right environment (read: a Christian environment where the idea of a human having a touch of the divine is conceptually acceptable) could certainly come out this way. However, having not heard of it, I can only imagine that this occurrence was few and far between (and gone now), making this verse an open invitation to all whose revelation came before and, in its specifics, is aimed primarily at Christians.

Amen to the appeal offered in verse 65. The idea that Abraham (or, in Judaism, the other forefathers like Isaac and Jacob) obeyed the laws of the Torah is absurd. Let’s exercise a little reason. Now, I’ve no doubt that the rabbis sometimes knew they were being silly and fanciful when they suggested that instead of being sacrificed, Isaac went to study Torah with the sages for three years (and other comparable stories), but it gets a little nutty when other people can’t recognize those capricious words for what they are and start insisting that the forefathers did such things and obeyed the Torah. The same goes for the Gospel. Abraham wasn’t an obedient Christian (though some of his behavior, I would agree with parts of Paul’s letters, does provide a model for what a good Christian is supposed to be – namely, Abraham’s faith, particularly as seen through the eyes of Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling) just as he wasn’t a good Jew.

I’m most curious about the note that Asad includes at the end of verse 70. He writes, “Lit., ‘when you [yourselves] bear witness:’ an allusion to the Biblical prophecies relating to the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.” I think that we’ve already encountered one or two of these that got brought up, but I’d love to hear about more places in the Bible that are considered to be allusions to Islam and Mohammed. Is there a list of those anywhere online or a book that someone’s written?

Overall there’s a certain frustration evident in these verses. It seems as if Mohammed is getting tired of the back and forth with the local Jews and Christians. Certainly many of them have been and still are hassling him about his new religion and prophetic claims, but I’m wondering if there’s anything particular in history that is ascribed to these verses – a notable argument with a notable Jew or Christian or something. They just seem like they’re uttered in frustration.

That’s it for this week, but I’m so glad to be back and doing Quran Read-A-Long. Please leave your own thoughts and comments below, and as always, please answer any of my questions or pose and answer any of your own.

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Al-’Imran 64-71

64. Say: “O followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God.” And if they turn away, then say: “Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him.” 65. O FOLLOWERS of earlier revelation! Why do you argue about Abraham, seeing that the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed till [long] after him? Will you not, then, use your reason? 66. Lo! You are the ones who would argue about that which is known to you; but why do you argue about something which is unknown to you? Yet God knows [it], whereas you do not know: 67. Abraham was neither a “Jew” nor a “Christian,” but was one who turned away from all that is false, having surrendered himself unto God; and he was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him. 68. Behold, the people who have the best claim to Abraham are surely those who follow him – as does this Prophet and all who believe [in him] – and God is near unto the believers. 69. Some of the followers of earlier revelation would love to lead you astray: yet none do they lead astray but themselves, and perceive it not. 70. O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you deny the truth of God’s messages to which you yourselves bear witness? 71. O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you cloak the truth with falsehood and conceal the truth of which you are [so well] aware?