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?

8 Responses

  1. “When muslims are told not to trust…”.—-this may be a misunderstanding because of the way it is translated—the quotation marks start with verse 72 “Declare your belief …..and continue onto verse 73…but do not really believe….and end of quote at ….faith”. Thus—this is a statement by Jews or Christians about the “chosen people” idea that since the Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) is not from their (Jewish or Christian) faith, his teachings are not for them/or are fake…etc Then next is…. Say with quotation marks is what the Prophet should reply to that accusation/statement.—which is that all guidance comes from the ONE God. Basically, it is about various excuses that people come up with in order not to know “guidance” but to stick to the beliefs they are comfortable with—even if they are in error.
    more later…………

  2. Oh, I see now. Thanks, Kay. I did misunderstand because of the verse break. That’s one idea being said internally amongst Christians and Jews, and after the Say in 73 it becomes what Muslims are supposed to say back: that all revelation is from the One God. I see now – my bad. It seems like an odd place for a verse break.

    At what point in the composition of the Quran were verses added? Verse numbers weren’t added to the Bible until a Christian from England in the Middle Ages thought it would be more useful when discussing the Bible to have them there. Was it also relatively late in the Quran’s existence that someone recognized the value of verse numbers or was it something done when the Quran was initially compiled?

  3. verse numbers added—interesting question!—-answer–fairly late. —–The Quran was revealed in ayah/verse. Sometimes many verses at a time or sometimes a few verses. The Prophet instructed where each verse went according to revelation he recieved—for example, Some Meccan(early) surahs may contain some verses from Medina(later) period. The Quran was memorized by people in its entirety during the lifetime of the Prophet. It was also written.(fragmentary). During the time of Caliph Abu Baker(632-634) complete written Qurans existed. Because the entire Quran was memorized, verse numbers were probably not needed. During Caliph Uthman’s time (644-656) The Quran was distributed to many peoples in different areas to make more copies–and about 50 years later, diacritical marks were added to make pronounciation easier. (All of this is historicaly documented) According to Andrew Rippin of “The blackwell companion to the Quran”, the first latin translation happened in the 12th century. The verse numbers appeared in the “orientalists” translations of the Quran around the 1800’s….the verse numbering system used today is the Egyptian system of 1925…more or less….there is some dispute as to the numbering of the first verse of the first Surah—the line “In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate” Some number it 1, some don’t. This opening line is in most of the other Surahs but not part (numbered) with/of them. There are still some manuscripts that are surviving of the early Qurans. (Uthmani codex). I think the most well known is the one at the Topkapi museum Istanbul.
    This is not a subject I had explored previously so if anyone has more info or corrections, please add them.

    • …and about 50 years later, diacritical marks were added to make pronunciation easier.

      Not only pronunciation, but to make sure that the meaning of the Qur’an wasn’t changed due to the lack of the diacritical marks (mistaking one word for another).

      …the verse numbering system used today is the Egyptian system of 1925…more or less…

      Yes, more or less. 🙂 One of the oddities in various translations is that you can still find a few verses numbered differently depending upon the translation being used.

      I think the most well known is the one at the Topkapi museum Istanbul.

      There’s that one, but the oldest known surviving Qur’an (apparently) is in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Both the Uzbeki and Topkapi manuscripts are partial texts. The Uzbeki text is only supposed to be about 20% of the original document. (My understanding is that a lot of the older Qur’ans were published in multiple volumes, so it doesn’t surprise me that only one portion of the whole survived.)

  4. corrupt texts, Prophet Jesus(pbuh),and verse 79—-
    I am not familiar with Judaism, but it seems to me, Judaism has had an active tradition of involved interpretation of the Torah. As the Quran also says, revelation is a guide—but without the use of the intellect to understand and use it, they are simply words. It is possible that in Judaism —at some point, the “words” became important—so much –that the spirit/essence became lost and the religion became ritual. Maybe Prophet Jesus(pbuh) was sent to restore the spirituality/essence back. Certainly, as a Prophet, he would have been able to correct any serious errors. It is possible to see glimpses of Prophet Jesus(pbuh) sprituality in the NT if we read it without the “Paulinian” perspective.
    verse 84–expresses the muslim position–that all revelation, even if corrupted, has truth because they guide us to “submit to God”(God-consioussness) or Islam. If we use our intellectual faculties we can reason how a corrupted text should be interpreted for example the concept of “save a life, save the world” is in the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin (37a) but it is interpreted narrowly as in “Jewish life” but the Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 4:1(22a) has a more general interpretation –as in –“all life”—which makes more sense—and the Quran agrees (see surah 5 verse 32). So, from a muslim perspective, if we have a revelation that is clear, reasonable, and better applicable to today, why disregard it for the older revelations? (that does not mean older revelations should be disrespected…)
    –By the way—I got that Talmud stuff from a blog by a Jewish student who was comparing Talmud and Quran.

    verse 79-80 –this advice is taken seriously by muslims

    wanted to write more but….maybe later……….

  5. I love all the stuff about the development of the text itself. Very interesting, thank you so much for sharing. I’ve been to Topkapi Palace but I don’t recall seeing that Quran. How dissappointing that I missed it! Well, I thought Istanbul was phenomenal and I’ll be back. I’ll have to check it out the next time around.

    And very interesting points Kay about the spirituality v. ritual aspects. In ancient Israel, though there was perhaps a spiritual component being fulfilled by the ritual, that was really amongst the priestly class and not the average Israelite. The average Israelite would have had some key moments during the year of spirituality but his perception of the religion would have been largely ritualistic. Something like, my house is unclean (not dirty but impure) and I need to sacrifice a turtledove with some hyssop to get everything clean again. Let’s do it. Okay. Done.

    I think that there was a move in ancient Israel (particularly once it became Judea and after the Babylonian Exile) to spiritualize the religion. This happened as a result of Judaites not being in their land (i.e. near their Temple to sacrifice) during the Exile and needing to develop a system of religion that was not mired in ritual as much as spiritual tradition. This is the earliest years that rabbinism would have stirred and then spent the 400 years before Jesus developing. There was a complicated mix of ritual and spirituality, largely divided between classes. Again, with the Temple rebuilt, the priests would be steeped in ritual while the rabbis developed a more spiritual religion (that admittedly was largely legalistic but with the purpose of connecting to God). Jesus, as a rabbi (though he rejected the title) was likely an extreme version of this spiritually infused element and at the very least, many of his earlier followers were spoken to by this spiritual component (which I think was largely induced by Pauline understanding).

    Anyway, my point is to agree with you that Jesus did say to the rabbis – who had become too legalistic and ritual based and lost the spiritual purpose behind that ritual/legalism – that they needed to infuse their religion with spirituality again. So, in short, yep, I’m with you.

  6. Thanks JD—if I remember right, there were some differences in the dialects within tribes? so the diacritical marks helped to standardize the text considerably.
    Thanks also for the reminder about the Uzbekistan Quran.

    You’ve got me thinking Jay……

    “– that they needed to infuse their religion with spirituality again” Mark 2:27—“and he said to them the Sabbath was made for man and not man for Sabbath ……(?)

    “There was a complicated mix of ritual and spirituality, largely divided between classes”…….Yes, because people travel spirituality at different paces.-some may need more ritual, some may need less.
    What is spirituality?—Most might say its a connection to God?–but I wonder …… Some people “connect” with God through rituals—the more perfect, in its details, a ritual is performed, the better able they feel that they can “connect” with God. Others, may feel ritual needs to be infused with mystery/magic or “deeper meaning” in order to “connect” with God (maybe “Eucharist”?) ofcourse these can be good ways to “connect” but if we define spirituality as “God-consiousness”(Taqwa) might that be more encompassing?–such a way of thinking needs neither ritual nor mystery nor special days to access spirituality yet can also be accessed with the aid of all these. To put it in “muslim” terms, spirituality/God-consciousness need not be confined to daily prayers or to Ramadhan. Every good intention that results in good action for the benefit of God’s creation is God-conscioussness.(Taqwa) but we can use the aid of the various tools such as prayers, charity, and fasting to strengthen our souls and our Taqwa. God has no needs, He does not need our rituals or God-consioussness because he is independent of his creation. So all that we do, we do for the benefit of OUR souls. If we understand this, we can understand that it is not the ritual or the mystery that “connects” us to God — but the strength of our own souls?

  7. Every good intention that results in good action for the benefit of God’s creation is God-conscioussness.(Taqwa) but we can use the aid of the various tools such as prayers, charity, and fasting to strengthen our souls and our Taqwa.

    That’s a wonderful concept. Thank you for articulating it in these terms.

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