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?

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8 Responses

  1. Welcome back, Jay. I hope you’re all settled down and everything’s to the better for you. The last person I knew who moved to Atlanta eventually moved on to Dubai, where she’s been living for a year now. Are you planning on following suit? 😉

    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…

    The verse is most definitely aimed at the Christians, but I would also agree with Asad in that the verse (3:64) could apply to the Jews as well. (The man would know; he was raised as a Jew.) The problem really lies in the description you mentioned above, “shining with the light of God or some other comparable phrase.” More below.

    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.

    And this is exactly why these types of descriptions are problematic. I thought we had discussed verse 9:30 and the phrase “son of God” as describing Ezra (‘Uzair) before, but I can’t find the post through your search engine. Regardless, verse 9:30 reads:

    The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of God, and the Christians call Christ the son of God. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. God’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!

    Jeffrey Lang has an interesting snippet of a speech that’s available on a Youtube video that helps to explain the above verse. In the video Lang says,

    In the mouth of the Jews, yes, they called Ezra “the son of God,” they called many other Jews “the son of God.” In Jewish history, in Jewish terminology, that means one who is loved by God. One who has a special relationship, a special affinity, to God. It doesn’t have a literal meaning. So what’s the problem with using that terminology? Because what happened to it? This terminology, which had no divine warrant, no explicit divine warrant, when it came to Christianity, began to be taken literally. Jesus is the son of God, God the son, second person of the trinity. Do you know there are millions, millions, tens of millions of people in the West that are now atheists and agnostics exactly because of that? They think, “this statement doesn’t make sense.” (My transcription.)

    My take on all of this is that Allah (swt) is trying to say, “Call no one a son of God, describe no one in terms of any of His attributes, whether in seriousness or in jest.” And that is why I’ve got a serious problem with modern society which describes any particular clown as a “god of rock [music]” or a “domestic goddess” or anything like that. Astaghfirullah! Because, like on the Internet, where people complain that they can’t understand the tone of someone’s writings, taking seriously something someone may have written tongue in cheek (“silly and fanciful”), we have the same potential problem in reading some ancient writer’s text, trying to determine his exact meaning through an imperfect medium.

    …but it gets a little nutty when other people can’t recognize those capricious words for what they are…

    Heh; that sounds exactly like modern-day Republicans. 😉

    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.

    It might be better to wait until next week, insha’allah, as verses 3:69-71 tie into the next section, especially verses 3:72-73 and 75.

  2. Thanks for welcoming me back! Move to Dubai, hmm? I know my wife would love it. We want to try out a lot of different places, and it’s on the list. Any other recommendations while we’re looking?

    Concerning Lang’s words, yes, that makes a lot of sense. I’m very familiar with the whole “son of God” as a common notion said to lots of people, not even just the elite. Again, it doesn’t exist anymore (in Jewish circles at least), but it was definitely very popular at one point (a la, Jesus’ day). And yes, I can certainly see how that kind of language can lead to serious problems (oh Republican me). Interestingly, it’s a common modern scholarly defense of the term “Son of God” as it was applied to Jesus to say, “Everybody was a son of God in first century Judea!” but as much as Jews eschewed the notion, surely it was picked up in other arenas, perhaps as we’ve seen here, in reference to Ezra.

    Looking forward to next week so I can learn what was going on in the life of Mohammed at the time!

  3. oh Republican me

    There’s hope for you yet, Jay. 😉

  4. BTW, congrats on getting married!

  5. Thanks so much! I wasn’t sure if I mentioned it in the month post wedding and pre-blogging hiatus. I guess that means no, and I do appreciate the kind words.

  6. You’re welcome. I knew you had been dating, and then when you wrote that you had left SF and started living in Atlanta after criss-crossing the country, I had feared the worst, actually, that you two had broken up. So I was quite happy to read that you are now married. Now, what are you doing in Atlanta? 🙂

    Recommendations? Well, there’s always Singapore. 🙂

  7. hello everyone!!! How wonderful to have you guys back–(specially with Ramadhan around the corner.)
    Congratulations on your marriage Jay–May Allah bless you with many happy years together–and fill your hearts with love and patience.

    JD–S 9:v30—Interesting comment—and I agree with what you said—-considering the words that were used—Christians call Christ (masih./annointed) the son of God.—rather than the name “Isa (Jesus)”. The use of “masih” in this verse does give it a more broader application as per your understanding.
    —-I came across the name “Uzziel” brother to Amram (the father of Prophet Moses(pbuh). His followers were apparently called Uzzielites. —While I don’t think it has anything to do with “Uzair/Ezra” understanding of S9v30, —it is interesting.

    verse 65—-When we use words/labels, we have to be careful because our ego’s can use them to divide. The message of the Torah, Injil, and Quran is the same as what Prophet Abraham(pbuh) was following —which is–there is only One God, Indivisible, Unique, the Creator of all that is created. If we see it this way—we can use words and the concepts attached to them to unite—rather than exclude and divide.—which is what verse 67 is saying.(IMO)
    All of us —whatever label we call ourselves, must always strive to “turn away from all that is false” and strive towards “God-consioussness”. (God gave us our intellect for a reason)

    The Quran is for all human beings—-not just for “muslims”—however, it is a “reminder” to muslims (those who submit to God). Thus, though Sura 3 is addressing the concerns of Christianity, it is also reminding muslims not to repeat certain errors. —-and this applies to the previous sura as well.

    Frustration—Remember, we are reading the translation. Some people have mentioned that in some places, the english translation often sounds angry. It may also sound “frustrated” as you mentioned. Some people who have heard the arabic feel that the tone is one of sadness. I would agree with that because when I recite the arabic Quran, I have, on occassion, felt that deep sadness and an overwhelming love for a few fleeting seconds. We human beings have been created with so much potential—-yet, so often, we let ego get in the way.

    • Some people who have heard the arabic feel that the tone is one of sadness.

      I agree with the tone of sadness. I do understand Jay’s feeling that the Qur’an sounds “frustrated” or “angry,” though; ironically, that brings to mind Maz Jobrani’s comic routine about the differences between Arabs and Persians. Perhaps the difference is due more to your and my greater familiarity with the Qur’an’s message as a whole, the great waste of souls who will not go to heaven in the afterlife:

      Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0430:

      Abu Sa’id reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Allah, the High and Glorious, would say: O Adam I and he would say: At Thy service, at thy beck and call, O Lord, and the good is in Thy Hand. Allah would say: Bring forth the group of (the denizens of) Fire. He (Adam) would say: Who are the denizens of Hell? It would be said: They are out of every thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine. He (the Holy Prophet) said: It is at this juncture that every child would become white-haired and every pregnant woman would abort and you would see people in a state of intoxication, and they would not be in fact intoxicated but grievous will be the torment of Allah. He (the narrator) said: This had a very depressing effect upon them (upon the companions of the Holy Prophet) and they said: Messenger of Allah, who amongst us would be (that unfortunate) person (who would be doomed to Hell)? He said: Good tidings for you, Yajuj Majuj would be those thousands (who would be the denizens of Hell) and a person (selected for Paradise) would be amongst you. He (the narrator) further reported that he (the Messenger of Allah) again said: By Him in Whose Hand is thy life, I hope that you would constitute one-fourth of the inhabitants of Paradise. We extolled Allah and we glorified (Him). He (the Holy Prophet) again said: BY Him in Whose Hand is my life, I wish you would constitute one-third of the inhabitants of Paradise. We extolled Allah and Glorified (Him). He (the Holy Prophet) again said: By Him in Whose Hand is my life, I hope that you would constitute half of the inhabitants of Paradise. Your likeness among the people is the likeness of a white hair on the skin of a black ox or a strip on the foreleg of an ass.

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