Quran Read-A-Long: Al’-Imran 149-155 Criticizes the Archers at the Battle of Uhud

149-150 These verses continue the notion that I began with last week and that Kay reinforced: that these supreme themes run through the Quran and add strength and consistency to each of the  particular topics at hand.

No God But God – Seriously, People

Equating anything with God or claiming that anything, whether object, person, or whatever else is comparable to God is an enormous no-no. As we’ve discussed, this was both an internal Arab problem partially resulting in Mohammed’s flight to Mecca and a problem Islam took up with religions.

Internally speaking, the Arab tribes, particularly the Quryash, worshipped in a few other locations outside of Mecca and considered those places the locations of other divinities. Externally speaking, Christianity was a huge problem for the Muslims because of the divine nature in which Jesus was rendered. As verse 151 says, God never gave any reason ever for people to believe that anything/one but Him was God or divine. It seems more likely, though, that amongst these verses the references are to the Quryash since the Battle of Uhud is about to be mentioned. The reference in verse 154 to “pagan ignorance” also makes it seem as though the ascription here concerns the Quryash. However, at the same time, this entire surah is about the house of Mary’s father, so . . .

Tisk, Tisk, Archers

The first half of 152, as Asad points out, is a reference to the archers abandonment of their post, despite Mohammed’s explicit instruction that they not leave their strategic vantage point until he commanded so. Believing the Battle of Uhud won, they left their post and the Muslim army was no longer safely covered from above. Before this disobedience, God was allowing the Muslims to win. The Quran makes clear that this experience for the archers was a test in their conviction and obedience and that those who remained and died surely went to Heaven.

The dialogue provided in verse 155 is one of the longer ones that we’ve seen and, to me, seems to indicate the controversy and inner conflict resulting from the Battle of Uhud and the archers’ behavior. If there was a lot of back and forth that ended up in the Quran then it seems to me that these kinds of conversations were happening amongst the Muslims: lots of accusations, lots of problems, lots of need for resolution and the assignment of blame. This was a difficult experience and very trying for the fledgling Muslim community, and this verse indicates the degree to which people were struggling with the fallout. As the Quran often does, it assigns the result of people’s actions to God, but it is made clear that those who were tested and failed would be punished.

The following are Asad’s words, which I think are perfect and which I could never have communicated myself from the starred part in verses 155:

*“This is an illustration of a significant Qur’anic doctrine, which can be thus summarized: “Satan’s influence” on man is not the primary cause of sin but its first consequence: that is to say, a consequence of a person’s own attitude of mind which in moments of moral crisis induces him to choose the easier, and seemingly more pleasant, of the alternatives open to him, and thus to become guilty of a sin, whether by commission or omission. Thus, God’s “causing” a person to commit a sin is conditional upon the existence, in the individual concerned, of an attitude of mind which makes him prone to commit such a sin: which, in its turn, presupposes man’s free will – that is, the ability to make, within certain limitations, a conscious choice between two or more possible courses of action.”

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Al’-Imran 149-155

149. O YOU who have attained to faith! If you pay heed to those who are bent on denying the truth, they will cause you to turn back on your heels, and you will be the losers. 150. Nay, but God alone is your Lord Supreme, and His is the best succor. 151. Into the hearts of those who are bent on denying the truth We shall cast dread in return for their ascribing divinity, side by side with God, to other beings – [something] for which He has never bestowed any warrant from on high; and their goal is the fire – and how evil that abode of evildoers! 152. AND, INDEED, God made good His promise unto you when, by His leave, you were about to destroy your foes – until the moment when you lost heart and acted contrary to the [Prophet’s] command, and disobeyed after He had brought you within view of that [victory] for which you were longing. There were among you such as cared for this world [alone], just as there were among you such as cared for the life to come: whereupon, in order that He might put you to a test, He prevented you from defeating your foes. But now He has effaced your sin: for God is limitless in His bounty unto the believers. 153. [Remember the time] when you fled, paying no heed to anyone, while at your rear the Apostle was calling out to you – wherefore He requited you with woe in return for [the Apostle’s] woe, so that you should not grieve [merely] over what had escaped you, nor over what had befallen you: for God is aware of all that you do. 154. Then, after this woe, He sent down upon you a sense of security, an inner calm which enfolded some of you, whereas the others, who cared mainly for themselves, entertained wrong thoughts about God – thoughts of pagan ignorance – saying, “Did we, then, have any power of decision [in this matter]?” Say: “Verily, all power of decision does rest with God” – [but as for them,] they are trying to conceal within themselves that [weakness of faith] which they would not reveal unto thee, [O Prophet, by] saying, “If we had any power of decision, we would not have left so many dead behind.” Say [unto them]: “Even if you had remained in your homes, those [of you] whose death had been ordained would indeed have gone forth to the places where they were destined to lie down.” And [all this befell you] so that God might put to a test all that you harbor in your bosoms, and render your innermost hearts pure of all dross: for God is aware of what is in the hearts [of men]. 155. Behold, as for those of you who turned away [from their duty] on the day when the two hosts met in battle – Satan caused them to stumble only by means of something that they [themselves] had done.* But now God has effaced this sin of theirs: verily, God is much-forgiving, forbearing.

8 Responses

  1. Omnipotence and free-will—-Quran advocates sophisticated, nuanced, thinking —and understanding the balance between God’s omnipotence and man’s free-will demands such thinking most. Part of Surah 13, verse 11 says “Surely never will God change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” I think all passages of the Quran concerning Omnipotence and free-will should be read with this verse in mind. Free-will is a gift/blessing that comes with responsibility. We do not have a choice in everything—for example, we cannot choose when, or where we are born, our predisposed condition or some of the circumstances of our lives or even its length—but we have full control of our “self”/nafs. We are accountable for those intentions and actions over which we have free-will.

    For another perspective……..
    Abraham Lincoln also contemplated this balance between omnipotence and free-will ……..

    “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party—and yet the human instrumentalities, working as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect this purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true—that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, he could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began, And having begun He could give final victory to either side any day and yet the contest proceeds”

    It is interesting to reflect in the words of Abraham Lincoln with those of the verses of the Quran.

    Tawheed—(Unity) the reason this is an important concept (apart from the fact that everything in Islam springs from Tawheed) is because of the idea of Unity. I already explained about how the concept of equality of all human beings comes from Tawheed. But Unity goes further—Everything is God’s creation and as such is due respect—both living things and non-living things. The soil that grows our herbs and vegetables, the water that nourishes them….etc all are God’s creations. By understanding Tawheed, we can create balance/harmony and misunderstanding it can break the balance.
    Life/Death—All of us are attached to life. God has given us many blessings to enjoy and we should appreciate them. But all created things have a biginning and an end—If we keep this in mind, that our journey here is finite,—we may be able to use our free-will wisely. We all face obstacles and trials for without these we would have no choices to make. Lao Tzu gives a simple formula to keep in mind when making choices—“The way of Heaven: benefit all, harm none.” —-it may not always be possible—but intentions do count and God is compassionate and merciful.

  2. The contrast of Lincoln’s words and the Quran’s is quite fascinating. Thanks for bringing that into the discussion.

    I often wrestle with the idea of free will, because I like to think that I have so much control over my life, but your very examples speak to the fact that the first thing in our lives is something over which we have no control: when and where we are born.

    That’s not to say that life – as we develop a sense of self/nafs – doesn’t get more “under control” but there are still things that we don’t decide.

    My apologies of being so negligent responding to your comments. Life is getting the better of me – so many things out of my control! – and I’m having trouble keeping up with these responsibilities. I hope my tardiness doesn’t keep you from coming back because I love reading what you have to say!

  3. Jay–Thankyou for your kind words. I am learning along with you since your questions and comments often make me think, or take another look at the Quran, or do more research.

    Free-will—I am also biased towards free-will.
    When a “Fork in the road” appears and one needs to make a descision—it is easier when there is a “right” and a “wrong”. In my life, I have had “forks” which were neither “right” or “wrong”—simply different paths that would lead to a different set of trials and adventures. Choosing between these is much more difficult.(—one might as well toss a coin!!!.—) But such life experiences have led me to feel that maybe the direction we are going is more our choice……and that whichever direction we choose will bring its own unique learning experience……..

    Responsibilities—-I can sympathise. —Remember, responsibilities need to be balanced—so don’t forget to also enjoy your blessings.

  4. Hi and salam everyone!

    Ever since I happened upon this wonderful blog a few months ago I have thanked Allah for having directed me to it.

    The insights and comments are so thought provoking and illustrate the wisdom of the Qur’an in a way that is so exciting for young me.

    I just wanted to let you know and thank you.

    So Jay, Kay and JDsg – thank you and of course, Alhamdulillah!


  5. Hello Zahra! So glad that you’ve been enjoying Quran Read-A-Long. It’s a pleasure to have you join us, and I hope that you’ll chime in with any questions you have about particular verses under discussion or just your own reflections on them.

    I’ve dropped the ball as of late moving forward with the Quran. The lame excuse is that the translation I was using online isn’t coming up anymore. Does anyone know where else to get Asad’s translation online? The more honest excuse is that I’ve been overwhelmed with life and work and not taking the time to enjoy the finer things like this. I look forward to returning to it shortly.

  6. JDsg wrote this, but the system was giving him a little trouble posting it so I’ve posted it here on his behalf:
    There are several places online to find Asad’s translation; the better site, IMO, is IslamiCity‘s Qur’an Search, which allows the searches to be made in many ways. (I’ve been using this search page for many years now, and it’s been improved a number of times. For hunting specific verses in the Qur’an there really has been no better site). An alternative site is at Al-Tafsir.com. They have more translations available, but I dislike how they’ve placed Asad’s notes; IslamiCity, at least, places the notes’ links at the appropriate places in the text.

    I understand how the busy-ness of life conflicts with blogging, especially for newliweds (BTDT), but I do hope you’ll continue with the Qur’an series. (BTW, I started the second chapter of my book this past week.)

  7. And to this I respond: thank you! I can’t wait to check out IslamiCity and continue with Quran Read-A-Long, which I definitely will do.

    And congratulations on beginning the second chapter. Are you free-writing this as it comes to you in the order that it comes or is this something that you’ve outlined already and mapped out?

  8. You’re welcome. The book is most definitely mapped out (and constantly being updated), and the outline is over two pages long so far. Ignoring the introduction and preface, there is scheduled to be 13 chapters, insha’allah, so I have a long way to go. My approach to the Qur’an is to examine it thematically (instead of in its reading order, as you’re doing), so I have Qur’anic verses from many different surahs being addressed in each chapter. To give you an idea of what the first chapter, Health, is like, here are the topics I wrote about:

    Halal and Haram Foods
    Historical Context
    Menstruation and Breastfeeding
    Sexual Relations (both hetero and homosexual)
    Suicide, Death and Infanticide

    …and a sidebar addressing:
    Dogs, and

    I chose Health to write about first because it was a topic I thought would be easy to write. In certain respects it was, but because of the need to be thorough in my research, it took about four-five months to write. (Often I got, at most, a paragraph done per day, spending most of my “writing” time doing research.) Still, the first chapter has 25 pages of text, with 3 pages for the sidebar, with a total of 220 footnotes/endnotes for those 28 pages. This second chapter has been going slightly faster; I’ve written a little over two pages so far (in about four or five days), and there are only eight endnotes so far. 😉

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