Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 102-109 Address Muslim Faith, Past, and Reward

How is it that verse 102 is being directed at those “who have attained to faith” but is warning them not to die until “you have surrendered yourselves unto Him?” That is, what’s the difference between one who’s attained faith and one who’s surrendered himself to God? I would have imagined those to be the same thing and if not, at least in the same ballpark. That being the case, is it just a subtle shade of distinction: as in, you may believe in God but totally surrendering yourself to Him is a step that comes after belief?

It seems to follow nicely from the discussion about the Jews and Christians and their lack of acceptance of Mohammed that the Quran would then proceed to address Muslims in this fashion, particularly as it pertains to the idea of “when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together.” Asad says that this is a reference to the “one-time mutual enmity” of “man’s lot on earth,” and though that may be true in a spiritual sense, to me it has a far more practical and immediate application in the time of Mohammed (though understandably to retain the verses’ relevance for all generations they would need to refer to something in our collective past). I think that this reference to being enemies refers to the pre-Mohammed tribalism of Arabia. Many early Muslims were the product of centuries’ old tribal conflict, and Mohammed’s revelation had unified them and removed that element from their midst, allowing them to be part of a single umma and ultimately do away with this system that had governed Arabia for so long. Especially considering the fact that we have just come from a series of verses discussing how Jews and Christians refused to relinquish their differences and join the umma, it seems particularly appropriate to me that this would be the case here.

I can’t say that I’m particularly thrilled by the content of verse 106, but I understand that many religious texts have these parts in them – the other people getting damned parts. The Bible is littered with them, and that’s just what you have to pay to play, I guess. They’re interesting for the way they reflect on the attitudes of the text and the context, but I try to take all religions and their texts very seriously and with reverence for all that’s being said, but I have a tough time accepting things related to others going to Hell or suffering for eternity. I truly find it illogical. That’s not to convey any lack of respect for the way the Quran handles these issues or to say that I don’t understand what the concepts are doing here. Just, for me, on a very personal and non-academic level, I don’t get it.

By contrast, the concluding verses of this section are quite lovely and appealing. Granted, they’re in contrast to what came before – and from a literary standpoint I have to appreciate the dichotomy – but they also convey something very important about God that I believe: that He wills no wrong to his creations. That very fact being the case is why I struggle so much with the idea of eternal suffering or punishment. I can’t get on board with the suffering considering the nature of God offered in verses 108-109. But that’s just me, and I understand the need for the world to work in this seemingly logical and punitive way that involves a Heaven and Hell where each person goes according to the “correctness” of his actions. Needless to say, it’s complicated.

What can you tell us about these verses? Please add anything I missed or discuss anything I addressed?

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Al-‘Imran 102-109

102. O you who have attained to faith! Be conscious of God with all the consciousness that is due to Him, and do not allow death to overtake you ere you have surrendered yourselves unto Him. 103. And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with God, and do not draw apart from one another. And remember the blessings which God has bestowed upon you: how, when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brethren; and [how, when] you were on the brink of a fiery abyss. He saved you from it. In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance, 104. and that there might grow out of you a community [of people] who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state! 105. And be not like those who have drawn apart from one another and have taken to conflicting views after all evidence of the truth has come unto them: for these it is for whom tremendous suffering is in store 106. on the Day [of Judgment] when some faces will shine [with happiness] and some faces will be dark [with grief]. And as for those with faces darkened, [they shall be told:] “Did you deny the truth after having attained to faith? Taste, then, this suffering for having denied the truth!” 107. But as for those with faces shining, they shall be within God’s grace, therein to abide. 108. These are God’s messages: We convey them unto thee, setting forth the truth, since God wills no wrong to His creation. 109. And unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and all things go back to God [as their source].

5 Responses

  1. …is it just a subtle shade of distinction: as in, you may believe in God but totally surrendering yourself to Him is a step that comes after belief?

    There are several things to consider here. First, according to the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir for verse 3:102,

    Allah’s statement, (and die not except as (true) Muslims) [3:102], means, preserve your Islam while you are well and safe, so that you die as a Muslim. The Most Generous Allah has made it His decision that whatever state one lives in, that is what he dies upon and is resurrected upon. We seek refuge from dying on other than Islam.

    This is one of the most important pieces of advice Muslims give to non-Muslims: death may come at any time, perhaps when we are least expecting it; thus, it’s extremely important to be in a state of Islam at the time of our death. Because we don’t know when we will die, we strive to be in a state of Islam at all times. If we know we are about to die, Muslims will continually recite the shahadah or the first half of it (La illaha illa Allah) until our dying breath, insha’allah. (This was one of the things that impressed a lot of Muslims worldwide when Saddam Hussein was hanged. We don’t know if he died in a state of Islam, but the fact that he continually recited the first half of the shahadah impressed many people.)

    The other thing to consider is that, yes, there is a distinction between a Muslim and a Mu’min (a believer), and that a Mu’min is a higher state than that of a Muslim. Verses 49:14-15 are important here:

    The desert Arabs say, “We believe.” Say, “Ye have no faith; but ye (only)say, ‘We have submitted our wills to God,’ For not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey God and His Apostle, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

    Only those are Believers who have believed in God and His Apostle, and have never since doubted, but have striven with their belongings and their persons in the Cause of God: Such are the sincere ones, Were We then weary with the first Creation, that they should be in confused doubt about a new Creation?


    Allah chastises the Bedouins who, when they embraced Islam, claimed for themselves the grade of faithful believers. However, Faith had not yet firmly entered their hearts,

    (The Bedouins say: “We believe.” Say: “You do not believe, but say, `We have submitted,’ for Faith has not yet entered your hearts…”) This honorable Ayah provides proof that Faith is a higher grade than Islam, according to the scholars of the Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jama`ah. This is also demonstrated in the Hadith of Jibril, peace be upon him, when he questioned the Prophet about Islam, then Iman then Ihsan.

    Therefore, the Prophet made a distinction between the grade of believer and the grade of Muslim, indicating that Iman is a more exclusive grade than Islam.

    Thus, there are really three levels: Islam (submission), which is the least of the three, followed by iman (faith), followed by ihsan (perfection/excellence; see also here). The Hadith of Jibril defines ihsan as “It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you.” A person who has attained this last, highest level is known as a Muhsin(ah).

    More later, insha’allah.

  2. But that’s just me, and I understand the need for the world to work in this seemingly logical and punitive way that involves a Heaven and Hell where each person goes according to the “correctness” of his actions.

    But it’s not just the “correctness” of our actions, and this is what verse 3:106 is about. Think back to verse 2:62:

    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.

    The Qur’an defines those who meet the minimum requirements, so to speak, for entry into heaven, insha’allah: belief in God, belief in the Last Day (the Day of Judgment), and “working righteousness,” which I would interpret to be equivalent to your “‘correctness’ of his actions.” Living “correctly,” while admirable in itself, is not apparently good enough for admittance into heaven. Why should an atheist, for example, be admitted into heaven when he doesn’t believe in Him? The Qur’an has a large number of verses that I privately call “The Questions,” an example of which is vese 32:18:

    Is then the man who believes no better than the man who is rebellious and wicked? Not equal are they.

    The Questions, of which there are at least 21 in the Qur’an (see Surah Az-Zumar, The Troops (39) for 6 of the 21), mostly have simple yes-or-no answers. A recurring theme in the Questions is that Believers are not the same, are not equal to those who do not believe. Why should Allah (swt) not discriminate in favor of those who believe in Him and follow His rules? I hate to say, and I’m not trying to offend, but this attitude where people “…struggle so much with the idea of eternal suffering or punishment…” is a typical modern squishiness of thought. “I’m a good person, I should go to heaven, even though I… don’t believe in God, drink alcohol, eat pork, fornicate outside of marriage, have abortions, etc., etc., ad nauseum, fill in the blank.”

    Now, back to 3:106. The irony of all this discussion is that this particular verse is addressing primarily those Muslim hypocrites who create innovations (bid’ah) and divisions (sects) within the ummah, although, as this segment from the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir points out, the message of the verse is also applicable to all unbelievers:

    (On the Day when some faces will become white and some faces will become black;) [3:106] on the Day of Resurrection. This is when the faces of followers of the Sunnah and the Jama`ah will radiate with whiteness, and the faces of followers of Bid`ah (innovation) and division will be darkened, as has been reported from Ibn `Abbas. Allah said,

    (As for those whose faces will become black (to them will be said): “Did you reject faith after accepting it”)

    Al-Hasan Al-Basri said, “They are the hypocrites.”

    (Then taste the torment (in Hell) for rejecting faith,) and this description befits every disbeliever.

  3. Both you and JD have brought up interesting points….
    —-“when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together.” —this could also refer to the situation in Medina/Yathrib—tribal bloodshed caused by the cycle of vengeance—-The Prophet was invited to Medina to resolve this issue—and Surah 2 gives the “laws” that were to be used.—The result of all this was a completely new way to live and new sense of community that transcended petty tribalism (Karen Armstrong)
    —-Muslim (those who submit to God) and Mumin(Believer)—JD explained it well—I only want to relate it to the Jewish perspective–Muslim—(Jay–recall your explanation about Judaism and Law in the previous post )—A muslim is one who attempts to follow the “law” in an effort to “submit to God”—“Believer” defined in the beginning of Surah 2.
    Eternity/Time—As Asad mentions (somewhere) the concept of “time” in the Quran is relative—and not “earthcentric”. “Eternity is best understood as —a (long) period of time as God wills”
    Hell—It is a complex subject—(discussed in more detail in many of the middle Surahs)Hell is not a place of “one size fits all”—rather, the punishment will be according to Justice—God is compassionate and merciful and willing to listen to someone who is remorseful and asks for forgiveness.—However, not everyone asks for forgiveness.
    This brings me to another point of the previous post—concerning Law between man and man—“Being nice” does not also mean one has to be foolish. Just as Justice is applied judiciously, forgiveness/mercy must be applied with wisdom. While one has the option of forgiving someone who is repentant and asks for forgiveness— to do so to someone who is defiant and without remorse for his crime may not be wise.—We discussed that concepts in the Quran do not stand alone—for example, freedom and responsibility—-In order to have harmony, these concepts have to be balanced—taken to one extreme or another breaks the harmony (think of it like the Ying/Yang idea)

  4. it’s extremely important to be in a state of Islam at the time of our death

    I’m currently reading (among too many other things) Dante’s Comedy. I’m in the section in Purgatory (well, Dante is ;)) in which he encounters those people who died “before their time” and thus couldn’t repent properly (according to the Catholic religion) and be accepted right away to Heaven. According to Dante, they are in a position to get to Heaven eventually but they have to wait a while in Purgatory because they didn’t die in the right state.

    I didn’t know that Saddam Hussein recited that before his death. That is interesting. And thank you for clarifying the levels of believers. I’ll be interested to see how that is fleshed out at later stages as we continue moving through the Quran.

    I hate to say, and I’m not trying to offend, but this attitude where people “…struggle so much with the idea of eternal suffering or punishment…” is a typical modern squishiness of thought. “I’m a good person, I should go to heaven, even though I… don’t believe in God, drink alcohol, eat pork, fornicate outside of marriage, have abortions, etc., etc., ad nauseum, fill in the blank.”

    I’m certainly not offended by your opinion of this idea. I knew what I was opening myself up for when I wrote it. Though I agree that a lot of people are bothered by the ideas for the simple reason that they’re unappealing to them, I would say that I’m not just bothered by them due to my modern sentiments. I’ve thought long and hard about Heaven and Hell, and I don’t believe that they exist. My belief in God is entirely separate from those ideas. I don’t see a huge need to get into the details of my beliefs – needless to say they don’t conform strictly to any religions’ particular beliefs – but no matter how hard I try or want to I cannot understand the concepts of Heaven and Hell as truly existing.

    I do not judge those who do – I don’t judge anyone for the specifics of his and her beliefs because there are so many ways and things to believe that are good – and I don’t think that my own lack of belief precludes my ability to understand the importance of those ideas to those who do. I also don’t think that my inability to understand or believe in those ideas – in the eyes of those who do – should preclude me from, in their view, the right to go to Heaven should I turn out to be wrong. Fortunately, verse 2:62 doesn’t say that you have to believe in the reward itself – just those other things and that will get you the reward.

    Hell is not a place of “one size fits all”—rather, the punishment will be according to Justice—God is compassionate and merciful and willing to listen to someone who is remorseful and asks for forgiveness

    This also reminds me of Dante, who writes of a most fascinating Hell and Purgatory (I’m not in Heaven yet, funny enough considering this conversation) and has a place for every which person according to his life.

  5. Dante—Its been a while since I read Dante’s work but if I remember—-I think the Quran’s descriptions of Hell could rival Dante.—particularly since the Quran juxtaposes Paradise and Hell creating shock value. —I thought the idea of Purgatory was interesting.—

    Judgement—-If we are to understand that God has no “needs”—then “belief” (in God, Judgement…etc) is not for the benefit of God—but for us (our souls). That is, “religion” must serve mankind. If we attribute to God, some of our highest qualities /values imaginable, we will have for us a standard (of perfection) that would be worthy of striving towards.
    Also, understanding the purpose of our creation and the nature of our life on earth–we can make more informed choices. If we think of the Quran as a travel guide (of sorts)….then it is informing us to which destination various paths might lead. It is upto us to make choices that lead us to the destination we intend to go.—at this point, I must remind you that I have a personal bias towards pro-free-will that will color the rest of the discussion regarding Judgement. —–Of what benefit is it to mankind to believe in Judgement?—-We cannot see Hell or Paradise. All that is tangible/understandable to us is nature/earth, universe….this is what we inhabit, and the creation we see. However, the “human” perspective is not the only way to see creation. As the Quran says, there is also the “unseen”. How we see “reality” is necessarily limited by the time, place, body/mind– we(soul) inhabit. This “reality”(life) is transitory. (the Buddhists might call it an “illusion”). We may see this ‘reality” (our life on earth) as many years filled with trials and blessings when it could be a “blink of an eye” when viewed through a different “reality”. The Quran is informing/warning us that the “reality” we percieve now is transitory(illusion) and the more permenant reality is the one after this.—This all might sound nice in theory—but how does “theory” help us live a better life?
    Free-will empowers us to make choices–however, with this empowerment comes accountability. The concept of Judgement emphasis this aspect of “accountabilty”. If we choose—through our free-will—to cause sufferring and misery on others—we will be held accountable for our intentions and our actions. Therefore, our Free-will must be used with wisdom and seriousness. (That does not mean we should not enjoy the benefits and blessings that life on earth provides us with—we should enjoy and be grateful)

    The concept of Free-will gives us empowerment, the concept of Judgement gives us hope. —That our creation is not accidental and our intentions and actions are not purposeless. —and that, if we strive to correct those situations/people that cause suffering and pain, that these actions will not be in vain. The concept of judgement can be used to give us human beings the impetus to correct wrongs and make right the injustices of the world. We have been created with a lot of potential—it is now only a matter of will we live upto it or not.

    There is a lot more to the concept of Judgement—as I said—its complicated—but we will probably get to it later.

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