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].


Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 282-283 Continues Our Discussion of Business

More On Economics and Business

Clearly, these verses continue the economic-related verses that precede them, perhaps indicating that I halted my previous discussion in haste. However, due to the lengthy comments my previous post engendered, I’ll take it as a good thing that these verses were separated out and can become their own conversation.

Writing out the terms to an agreement, no matter how simple those terms are or how apparently understood by either party in a transaction, is supremely important. It removes every element of guesswork and supposition and that, when dealing with finances (and many other things, besides), is important. It is with verses like these that we so clearly see, as was discussed in the after-post comments last week, the degree to which Islam is more than a religion but an all-encompassing way of life that governs all facets of life, including economic ones.


The need for two witnesses in the event of executing a transaction equitably is an idea also present in Judaism, both biblically and talmudically. The idea that multiple witnesses should be present for something important stems back to common practices in the ancient world that had been retained in both Jewish and Arab culture. Alternatively, the notion of two witnesses is something that Mohammed could have learned from the Jews of Medina. Though speculative in either case, my guess is that it’s the former. However, I’d be incredibly curious to know whether or not two witnesses was already a common practice amongst others in Arabia before Mohammed, particularly amongst the tribe of Quryash in Mecca, as that tribe was the most business-centered of the Arabic tribes in Mohammed’s time (to my knowledge).

As I’m sure regular Quran Read-A-Long participants foresaw, I’m going to bring up the notion that two female witnesses can be substituted for one male witness. Now, I certainly don’t think that this is misogynistic and I certainly wouldn’t conclude anything negative about Islam’s attitude towards women through this verse. We’ve been down this road before as a discussion topic. I do want to understand what the commentators say about the reasoning behind this: that one woman could remind the other if the second made a mistake. Asad notes that this is due to women being less familiar with business proceedings then men, which I suppose was definitely true back in the day. However, as Kay pointed out last week, Mohammed’s first wife was a well-respected business woman. Would she or a woman similarly adept at business have been required to stand alongside a second woman in order to function as a witness? Do Muslim women today who act as witnesses still do so with another woman present or is it acceptable for a Muslim woman today to act as one of the two witnesses? What is the minimum age that someone need be in order to act as a witness?

And as we’ve discussed before, God and the constant thought of God is brought into these economic transactions as a means of infusing the mundane with the celestial so that we will always act in the most honorable and upright fashion, knowing that God is watching and judging. I’m wondering if this thorough fusing of God in daily affairs is in part a reflection on a degradation of honest business practices in pre-Islamic Arabia or if it’s simply the result of turning to a lifestyle that recognizes the supremacy and sole-existance of God alone and the implications of that belief. That is, does God’s presence in economic issues reflect a pressing issue in Mohammed’s day or act as just one more example of the way God was brought into everything so that we would always act properly?

Please feel free to add anything that I’ve missed and share other points from these verses with us.

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The Cow 282-283

282. O YOU who have attained to faith! Whenever you give or take credit for a stated term, set it down in writing. And let a scribe write it down equitably between you; and no scribe shall refuse to write as God has taught him: thus shall he write. And let him who contracts the debt dictate; and let him be conscious of God, his Sustainer, and not weaken anything of his undertaking. And if he who contracts the debt is weak of mind or body, or, is not able to dictate himself, then let him who watches over his interests dictate equitably. And call upon two of your men to act as witnesses; and if two men are not available, then a man and two women from among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses, so that if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her. And the witnesses must not refuse [to give evidence] whenever they are called upon. And be not loath to write down every contractual provision, be it small or great, together with the time at which it falls due; this is more equitable in the sight of God, more reliable as evidence, and more likely to prevent you from having doubts [later]. If, however, [the transaction] concerns ready merchandise which you transfer directly unto one another, you will incur no sin if you do not write it down. And have witnesses whenever you trade with one another, but neither scribe nor witness must suffer harm; for if you do [them harm], behold, it will be sinful conduct on your part. And remain conscious of God, since it is God who teaches you [herewith] – and God has full knowledge of everything. 283. And if you are on a journey and cannot find a scribe, pledges [may be taken] in hand: but if you trust one another, then let him who is trusted fulfil his trust, and let him be conscious of God, his Sustainer. And do not conceal what you have witnessed* – for, verily, he who conceals it is sinful at heart; and God has full knowledge of all that you do.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 274-281, Mohammed’s Final Revelation, Forbids Usury

The subject of usury is one that comes to the fore in Judaism, Christianity, and now as I finally see, Islam. The Bible says, “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them” (Exodus 22:25). It is this verse, in large part, which makes usury so repulsive to Christianity (well, not now but back in the day). Christians were forbidden to lend money at interest to one another. Jews were also forbidden, according to this verse, from lending money at interest to one another – but not to Christians. Why? Because the verse specifies “My people,” which for Jews means only other Jews. Thus, Jews can lend with interest to Christians.

Indeed, this is where the Christian stereotype of the greedy, money-grubbing Jew came from. There was a need in 10th century Christian society for money-lenders because Christians couldn’t do it themselves, and Jews were forbidden from doing pretty much everything else (couldn’t be part of guilds and do crafts, couldn’t own land and farm, etc. – hence, money-lending and middle-men traders). Thus, Jews became money-lenders in the Christian world. Today, neither Christians nor Jews seem to have such a problem with what we just call now, banking.

The questions that these verses bring up for me pertain to the nature of banking in modern-day Islam. With usury forbidden, how does banking work in theocratic Islamic countries, like say, Saudi Arabia. Is it forbidden? Is it considered a necessary evil? How do many modern Muslims in general reconcile this verse with what seems to have become the modern capitalist norm (not that all Muslims are modern capitalists but for those who subscribe)? I don’t expect anyone to be able to answer these questions for everyone else, but just generally to share how s/he deals with this. I find that Christians and Jews simply ignore it at this point.

I’d like to add a note by Asad about verse 281: that according to the uncontested evidence of Ibn’ Abbas this verse was the last revelation granted to the Prophet, who died shortly afterward.

Is there anything else you can tell us about these verses?

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The Cow 274-281

274. Those who spend their possessions [for the sake of God] by night and by day, secretly and openly, shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. 275. THOSE who gorge themselves on usury behave but as he might behave whom Satan has confounded with his touch; for they say, “Buying and selling is but a kind of usury” – the while God has made buying and selling lawful and usury unlawful. Hence, whoever becomes aware of his Sustainer’s admonition, and thereupon desists [from usury], may keep his past gains, and it will be for God to judge him; but as for those who return to it -they are destined for the fire, therein to abide! 276. God deprives usurious gains of all blessing, whereas He blesses charitable deeds with manifold increase. And God does not love anyone who is stubbornly ingrate and persists in sinful ways. 277. Verily, those who have attained to faith and do good works, and are constant in prayer, and dispense charity – they shall have their reward with their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. 278. O yo who have attained to faith! Remain conscious of God and give up all outstanding gains from usury, if you are [truly] believers;  279. for if you do it not, then know that you are at war with God and His Apostle. But if you repent, then you shall be entitled to [the return of] your principal: you will do no wrong, and neither will you be wronged. 280. If, however, [the debtor] is in straitened circumstances, [grant him] a delay until a time of ease; and it would be for your own good – if you but knew it – to remit [the debt entirely] by way of charity. 281. And be conscious of the Day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has earned, and none shall be wronged.


Quran Read-A-Long: An Attempt to Grapple with the Notion of Faith in Islam

I like this quick tale about Abraham in verse 258. I can’t say I have anything in particular to add to its understanding, but I like it. I think it’s funny that the demonstrative tale in verse 259 would be placed between Abraham’s assertion of God’s greatness and his seeming lack of faith in verse 260.

It seems especially odd to me that someone speaking to God would then question matters that God says are so, like resurrection. It seems somewhat illogical since faith is believing without proof and Abraham already has proof of God since they’re chatting casually. Why would Abraham tell God that he has faith but that he just needs a little proof to lay his mind at ease. Needing proof is the essence of not having faith. As Jesus said, it is a wicked generation that needs signs. Not to go all Jesus quoting on anybody – I think it can be very annoying when people do that to make a point – but I do it to emphasize the notion of faith, which is Jesus’ point. You have to believe in things without being shown that they are so. Otherwise you don’t have faith.

I know it seems silly but it makes me think of the Keanu Reeves movie, Constantine. Reeves’ character, thought that he deserved to go to heaven because he believed in God and hell and damnation and all the stuff, as a Catholic, he was supposed to. The angel Gabriel (in the movie) tells him that he doesn’t believe in these things. He knows them to be true because he died briefly, saw these things, and was then resuscitated (or came back to life, if you prefer the symbolic language).

In any case, the point is that once you know, it’s no longer faith. It’s knowledge. That isn’t to say that faith is without knowledge, but just to say that Abraham’s request in this story, considering the mention of faith, is at odds with what my understanding of faith is (and I’ve worked very hard to understand faith). Perhaps faith in Islam is meant in another way (or the translation is tripping me up and Arabic has an in between word) and I’m failing to understand that (and when I say faith, I’m not using the word as a substitute for the word religion). If you can shed light on this issue, I’d be most appreciative.

Finally, my apologies for the two week hiatus from Quran Read-A-Long. Life became overwhelmingly busy and disappointingly, this and my other blogging “responsiblities” got pushed by the wayside. I felt an absence, not from the rest of it, but from this, and am glad to be doing it again. I hope that in the future I don’t have to skip any weeks. Thanks for your patience.

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The Cow 258-260

258. ART THOU NOT aware of that [king] who argued with Abraham about his Sustainer, [simply] because God had granted him kingship? Lo! Abraham said: “My Sus’tainer is He who grants life and deals death.” [The king] replied: “I [too] grant life and deal death!” Said Abraham: “Verily, God causes the sun to rise in the east; cause it, then, to rise in the west!” Thereupon he who was bent on denying the truth remained dumbfounded: for God does not guide people who [deliberately] do wrong. 259. Or [art thou, O man, of the same mind] as he who passed by a town deserted by its people, with its roofs caved in, [and] said, “How could God bring all this back to life after its death?” Thereupon God caused him to be dead for a hundred years; whereafter He brought him back to life [and] said: “How long hast thou remained thus?” He answered: “I have remained thus a day, or part of a day.” Said [God]: “Nay, but thou hast remained thus for a hundred years! But look at thy food and thy drink, untouched is it by the passing of years – and look at thine ass! And We did all this so that We might make thee a symbol unto men. And look at the bones [of animals and men] – how We put them together and then clothe them with flesh!” And when [all this] became clear to him, he said: “I know [now] that God has the power to will anything!” 260. And, lo, Abraham said: “O my Sustainer! Show me how Thou givest life unto the dead!” Said He: “Hast thou, then, no faith?”(Abraham) answered: “Yea, but [let me see it] so that my heart may be set fully at rest.” Said He: “Take, then, four birds and teach them to obey thee; then place them separately on every hill [around thee]; then summon them: they will come flying to thee. And know that God is almighty, wise.”