Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 217-221 Speaks of Charity

A Sociological Phenomenon

The themes of verse 217 are ones that have continually risen throughout the Quran thus far, and I’m fairly confident they will continue to appear. Nevertheless, I can’t help but dwell on the idea here, as I have before, though I rarely say too much about it. It’s this constant talk of “they,” who are, unless I’m mistaken, the unbelievers – the deniers of Allah and his word. There’s so much warning about them, but the warning is one that goes beyond Islam.

As I see it, a religion’s text warning its readers to be chary of those who don’t believe in it would seem to be a common sociological phenomenon. “We believe in x, x being ultimate truth. Others don’t: they’re unbelievers. Moreover, they’re always going to try to get us not to believe what we believe.” What religion can’t claim this attitude? What’s particularly interesting to me, then, is that the Quran was not written long after the founding of Islam but was composed at the religion’s inception (though redacted later). That means that this fundamental understanding – a very human one, I might add – was likely based on experience with other religions (or simple logic). That’s not to question the status of the Quran as divine revelation, but only to note that this seems to me to be a particularly human understanding of the way people behave when they are challenged by others’ faith.

Drinkin’

Is line 219 the only place in the Quran that mentions gambling and wine or does it arise elsewhere? I ask because I know that alcohol is haram and I wonder if its status as such is based on a deduction from this verse or if it comes from another verse that states so more directly.

Charity

Verse 220 is a wonderful attitude towards orphans. Islam is nothing if not a religion that emphasizes the importance and value of charity. I think that is a marvelous value. To those who know many Muslims today, do you find that people really do give the most that they can or at least the prescribed amount? I consider Judaism and Christianity, which have the ideas of tzedaka and tithing/alms respectively, and think that in today’s day and age, though people certainly give, they don’t give all that they can. I imagine that it’s similar in Islam, as people are people and I would find it hard to imagine that everyone of a particular faith (at least a faith so large that it can’t be controlled directly within a single village or community) is out there giving all the charity they can. As long as there are rich and poor then this point seems self-evident enough.

However, it reminds us how important it is that the Quran (and other religions’ books) place such a serious emphasis on charity. Could we imagine how little might be given if people didn’t view charity as an injunction from God? Sure, contemporary human decency may persuade some people to do what they can, but history and life show us that people prefer to keep what they have than to give it away. I don’t mean to be a negative nancy about human nature; it is what it is and I think much of life is a challenge to rise above it so that we can all have a better life on this earth. For that reason, I’m grateful for many of the values taught by our religions.

Summary

What do you think about these verses? Can you tell us anything else about them?

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The Cow 217-221

217. They ask you of war in the holy month. Tell them: “To fight in that month is a great sin. But a greater sin in the eyes of God is to hinder people from the way of God, and not to believe in Him, and to bar access to the Holy Mosque and turn people out of its precincts; and oppression is worse than killing. They will always seek war against you till they turn you away from your faith, if they can. But those of you who turn back on their faith and die disbelieving will have wasted their deeds in this world and the next. They are inmates of Hell, and shall there abide forever. 218. Surely those who believe, and those who leave their homes and fight in the way of God, may hope for His benevolence, for God is forgiving and kind. 219. They ask you of (intoxicants) wine and gambling. Tell them: “There is great enervation through profit in them from men; but their enervation is greater than benefit.” And they ask you what they should give. Tell them: “The utmost you can spare.” So does God reveal His signs: You may haply reflect 220. On this world and the next. And they ask you about the orphans. Tell them: “Improving their lot is much better; and if you take interest in their affairs, they are your brethren; and God is aware who are corrupt and who are honest; and if He had pleased He could surely have imposed on you hardship, for God is all-powerful and all-wise. 221. Do not marry idolatrous women unless they join the faith. A maid servant who is a believer is better than an idolatress even though you may like her. And do not marry your daughters to idolaters until they accept the faith. A servant who is a believer is better than an idolater even though you may like him. They invite you to Hell, but God calls you to Paradise and pardon by His grace. And He makes His signs manifest that men may haply take heed.

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