Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 31-41 Starts to Reveal Where This Surah Gets Its Name

These verses are very interesting, particularly as they discuss the mother of Mary (the grandmother of Jesus), and make it quite clear that Jesus and this woman came from the House of Imran, which is the house of the father of Moses and Aaron. This ultimately creates a huge and direct connection right in the Quran from Adam through Noah, Abraham Moses, Aaron, and Jesus. As this surah is called Al-‘Imran, or as I understand that, the House/Family of Imran (or Amram, of the Bible), this surah (or at least part of it) is about these prophets and important people. I’m very excited to see how these different characters and this larger family are made relevant in Islam and the Quran.

In the last surah, JDsg had to point out to me the point of the surah being called the Cow and when we were in the midst of those particular verses he was like, “Yoohoo, Jay! Over here.” I hope that this time I’ve at least identified the connection (a bit) between the surah title and the relevant verses (not that it was obfuscated or anything), but I look forward to everyone’s help elaborating upon their relevance and meaning within this surah.

These verses are particularly interesting because as far as I know there is no where in the New Testament that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is mentioned before the story of Jesus is immediately relevant. I would be fascinated to learn if there are any Gnostic sources or alternate non-canonical gospels that discuss the birth and life of Mary before Jesus and if they exist, how they compare to this story here. Beyond that, I’d be interested in knowing where and how long they were preserved, whether on parchment or orally. Does anyone know of anything in particular?

The story about Zechariah recounted in verses 38-41 can be found in a somewhat similar fashion at the beginning of the New Testament book of Luke. The Quran’s version is certainly more terse than that in the New Testament, and though it’s not necessary to recall all of the differences between the two versions, I will point out what seems to me to be a significant lacuna: that the angel mentioned in the New Testament who foretold the birth of John (the Baptist) was the Angel Gabriel, the same angel that relates the Quran to Mohammed, if I have my facts straight. Why would this be left out? Could it be that the story was not known in this fashion or was it an intentional omission and a ‘clarification’ of the New Testament story? Intentional, I say, because perhaps the significance of Mohammed’s revelation was not meant to be compared with that provided to Zechariah about John the Baptist? That doesn’t seem a good answer to me as the Quran, though recognizing the new trumping of itself revelation-wise, still respects all revelation – that leaves the question open and one over which I will anxiously await others’ thoughts.

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

Al-‘Imran 31-41

31. Say [O Prophet]: “If you love God, follow me, [and] God will love you and forgive you your sins; for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” 32. Say: “Pay heed unto God and the Apostle.” 33. BEHOLD, God raised Adam, and Noah, and the House of Abraham, and the House of `Imran above all mankind, 34. in one line of descent.* And God was all-hearing, all-knowing** 35. when a woman of [the House of] `Imran prayed: “O my Sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow [the child] that is in, my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!” 36. But when she had given birth to the child,  she said: “O my Sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female” – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and [fully aware] that no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female – “and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Thy protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.” 37. And thereupon her Sustainer accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth, and placed her in the care of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah visited her in the sanctuary, he found her provided with food. He would ask: “O Mary, whence came this unto thee?” She would answer: “It is from God; behold, God grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond all reckoning.” 38. In that self-same place, Zachariah prayed unto his Sustainer, saying: “O my Sustainer! Bestow upon me [too], out of Thy grace, the gift of goodly offspring; for Thou, indeed, hearest all prayer.” 39. Thereupon, as he stood praying in the sanctuary, the angels called out unto him: “God sends thee the glad tiding of [the birth of] John, who shall confirm the truth of a word from God, and [shall be] outstanding among men, and utterly chaste, and a prophet from among the righteous.” 40. [Zachariah] exclaimed: “O my Sustainer! How can I have a son when old age has already overtaken me, and my wife is barren?” Answered [the angel]: “Thus it is: God does what He wills.” 41. [Zachariah] prayed: “O my Sustainer! Appoint a sign for me!” Said [the angel]: “Thy sign shall be that for three days thou wilt not speak unto men other than by gestures. And remember thy Sustainer unceasingly, and extol His limitless glory by night and by day.”

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 243-248 Speaks of Fighting for God’s Cause and Brings Biblical Support

It’s not worth fearing death, being cowardly and abandoning your homeland because God can resurrect you. That’s an interesting way to start and a clear indication to me that we’ve moved away from the topic of marriage and divorce (aren’t I quite the little detective?).

Asad says this:

We must, therefore, assume (as Muhammad `Abduh does in Mandr II, 455 ff.) that the above allusion is parabolically connected with the subsequent call to the faithful to be ready to lay down their lives in God’s cause: an illustration of the fact that fear of physical death leads to the moral death of nations and communities, just as their regeneration (or “coming back to life”) depends on their regaining their moral status through overcoming the fear of death. This is undoubtedly the purport of the elliptic story of Samuel, Saul and David told in verses 246-251.

Being Grateful

“Most people are ungrateful,” rings so true. My mom always tells me, you’ve got to be grateful for everything. “I’m so grateful,” she says, and then I give her a hard time, saying, “I’m so grateful,” in my high-being-my-mom voice. Then we have a hearty laugh because she loves my imitation of her saying, “I’m so grateful.” But we always stop afterwards to take a minute to recognize how grateful we are. Life sucks for a lot of people and to whatever degree yours is good, it’s worth taking a minute to be grateful.

Fighting and Death

What is God’s cause, verse 244 begs? As Asad reminds us from earlier (2:190-194), God’s cause is a just war of self-defense against oppression or unprovoked aggression. That certainly seems reasonable to me. Being the aggressor is hardly ever acceptable, but protecting oneself against these terrible things is necessary. Let’s just hope, as we discussed before, that the right to fight doesn’t ever turn the tide in such a way that one becomes an oppressor himself to an unreasonable and unacceptable extent.

The concept of death (the ultimate loss, at least instinctively) is being intimately tied to God’s ability to give even more: which is to say resurrection, or life back. It really makes people start to think differently about the meaning of life, especially life in pre-Islamic tribal society which had little or no focus on the afterlife and was entirely concerned with the preservation of the tribe (and its allies) in this life. It was important in a society like that didn’t conceptualize the afterlife to change the way people conceived of death while grounding death in a context that was familiar. And later, of course, this still stays relevant for readers looking to understand death.

The Israelites and Samuel in the Book of Samuel

In verses 246ff, the Quran speaks of some events, to a greater or lesser extent, from the book of Samuel, when the Israelites saw that all those around them had kings and were protected and asked Samuel to allow God to raise up a king that would fight for them. The problem was that God was meant to be their king and God was meant to fight for them and they were supposed to fight for God and that show of faith – that when they fought God was fighting for them – was supposed to win them wars. This is a consistent theme throughout the Bible. However, the ever-faithless Israelites were unsatisfied and wanted a king to call their own.

The next verse (247) is curious because the Israelites didn’t really protest Saul’s existence as king. We can infer based on the fact that David was eventually allowed to arise over Saul (we’re told it’s God’s doing but readers understand that politically the tides had changed) that the people (or God…) had rejected Saul as king but this is not until later. At first they’re enthusiastic and don’t say anything about his wealth (or lack thereof). Not entirely sure what to do with verse 248?

What are your thoughts on these verses? What did I miss or get wrong?

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

The Cow 243-248

243. ART THOU NOT aware of those who forsook their homelands in their thousands for fear of death, whereupon God said unto them, “Die,” and later brought them back to life? Behold, God is indeed limitless in His bounty unto man -but most people are ungrateful. 244. Fight, then, in God’s cause,* and know that God is all-hearing, all-knowing. 245. Who is it that will offer up unto God a goodly loan,* which He will amply repay, with manifold increase? For, God takes away, and He gives abundantly; and it is unto Him that you shall be brought back. 246. Art thou not aware of those elders of the children of Israel, after the time of Moses, how they said unto a prophet of theirs,* “Raise up a king for us, [and] we shall fight in God’s cause”? Said he: “Would you, perchance, refrain from fighting if fighting is ordained for you?” They answered: “And why should we not fight in God’s cause when we and our children have been driven from our homelands?”** Yet, when fighting was ordained for them, they did turn back, save for a few of them; but God had full knowledge of the evildoers. 247. And their prophet said unto those elders: “Behold, now God has raised up Saul to be your king.” They said: “How can he have dominion over us when we have a better claim to dominion than he, and he has not [even] been endowed with abundant wealth?” [The prophet] replied: “Behold, God has exalted him above you, and endowed him abundantly with knowledge and bodily perfection. And God bestows His dominion upon whom He wills: for God is infinite, all-knowing.” 248. And their prophet said unto them: “Behold, it shall be a sign of his [rightful] dominion that you will be granted a heart* endowed by your Sustainer with inner peace and with all that is enduring in the angel-borne heritage left behind by the House of Moses and the House of Aaron.** Herein, behold, there shall indeed be a sign for you if you are [truly] believers.”