Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 254-257 Speaks of Monotheism and the Invalidity of Forced Conversion

From Polytheism to Monotheism

An important element of the Quran’s continual affirmation of God being the only deity (verse 255) lies in the need to do away with the other deities worshiped by the Arabs in the Hijaz in Mohammed’s day. Not that affirming God being the only deity isn’t important anyway, because it is, but at the same time, it reinforces the notion that the other shrines in the Hijaz dedicated to other deities (daughters of God?) were illegitimate.

I find this interesting because the move from Arab tribalism to Islam was a move from accepted polytheism to strict monotheism with no monism in the middle. That’s a difficult transformation, and considering the time it took monotheism to root fully in Arabia I think it’s nothing short of astounding.

Consider the ancient Israelites. They weren’t monotheistic. They were monostic. That is, they believed in their god, Yahweh (God/Allah) but not to the exclusion of other gods. They worshiped him (well, at least for the short period that they were behaving) to the exclusion of other gods, but in the world of the ancient Israelites other gods existed – theirs was just superior and the only one worth believing in. This is particularly evident in the Ten Commandments which order the Israelites to worship no other gods before Yahweh.

On the contrary, Mohammed didn’t say, “You can’t worship the other gods.” He said, “Those aren’t other gods,” which was a rather dangerous thing to say, and ultimately, sent him out of Mecca for the safety of his life. And yet despite this, very quickly, Islam spread throughout Arabia and the Middle East and polytheism became monotheism with no extended period of monism in between. Truly incredible!

No Coercion

Verse 256 is terribly important for its invalidation of the notion of “conversion by the sword,” something that even Asad points out in his note, and an idea that runs wildly through western minds.

Would I say that Muslims have at some point in history converted people at the edge of the sword? Certainly, but those were rare instances, and not recognized in Islam as acceptable behavior or valid conversions. Are we really to believe that the entire Middle East and North Africa converted at the edge of a sword, became Muslims and then didn’t ever read this verse to realize that their conversion was illegitimate. I’m doubtful.

In addition, Christians are historically far greater perpetrators of forcible conversion, yet it is conservative Christianity which continues to spread this unreasonable and unjustified message. One instance of Christian forced conversion that comes to mind is the mass forced conversions of Jews that took place throughout 14th century Christian Spain. That’s why when Islam came knocking at the door in places that Jews lived during the 7th and 8th centuries (Spain being notably one of them), Jews welcomed the Muslims as liberators and helped them overthrow many cities from Christian rule. Indeed, when Muslims moved through Spain during the 8th century, they often left Jews in charge while the army marched forward, knowing that the Jews were far happier with them in power.

So, conversion by the sword – what narrow-minded rhetoric continually believed and spewed by westerners after centuries of Islamophobic behavior. Let’s stop spreading this nonsense and make an effort to understand Islam, an incredibly important world religion, better.

Please feel free to add anything that I neglected to discuss from these verses, and share your thoughts on them with us.

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The Cow 254-257

254. O YOU who have attained to faith! Spend [in Our way] out of what We have granted you as sustenance ere there come a Day when there will be no bargaining, and no friendship, and no intercession. And they who deny the truth -it is they who are evildoers! 255. GOD – there is no deity save Him, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent Fount of All Being. Neither slumber overtakes Him, nor sleep. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. Who is there that could intercede with Him, unless it be by His leave? He knows all that lies open before men and all that is hidden from them, whereas they cannot attain to aught of His knowledge save that which He wills [them to attain]. His eternal power overspreads the heavens and the earth, and their upholding wearies Him not. And He alone is truly exalted, tremendous. 256. THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing. 257. God is near unto those who have faith, taking them out of deep darkness into the light – whereas near unto those who are bent on denying the truth are the powers of evil that take them out of the light into darkness deep: it is they who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.

Inshallah, God’s hands and South Park

The International Herald Tribune had an article today about the Arabic word “Inshallah” which is being used in Egypt like hookers in Vegas and I thought I’d say a word about it. Or a few words. First, click HERE for the article (thanks to my old friend Courtney for bringing this to my attention).

Effectively, Inshallah means “god willing” and the idea behind using it, of course, is that everything happens because God wills it. Egyptians are using this word for everything, it seems. It is the ubiquitous answer that applies to everything because everything, as life would have it, is in God’s hands. Fine for religious people, but I must say, this is not just going on in Egypt. Israelis have their own phrase for this: baruch hashem. It means, “God bless” but is used for everything in the same way that Inshallah is.

How are you?

Baruch Hashem.

Really, you’re God bless. Will we get there by 3 p.m.?

Baruch Hashem.

See, it’s as good as Inshallah, and I’ll tell you what, it used to annoy the shit out of me. Baruch hashem is not an answer to how you’re doing. It’s also not an answer to when we’re going to be there. And neither is Inshallah. I appreciate that you think everything is in God’s hands but you’re basically making speech worthless if you can’t provide a real answer. We should all walk around saying nothing but “Inshallah! Baruch Hashem!” if this is all everything is. We should lie down in the middle of the roads and say, “we won’t get hit, Inshallah,” or “that car is about to cruch my ribs, baruch hashem.” This is a silly approach to life. I appreciate that it emphasizes your piety and faith in God but it also breaks down working elements of society once it’s taken too far.

This is a point that South Park has not failed to make over the years, constantly insisting that we pay attention to the words we’re using. This is best conveyed in episode 502, “It Hits the Fan” when people are cursing too much and it releases evil forces, but also in the way the show treats our use of the words God and Jesus as common elements of our everyday lexicon. Think particularly of the episodes in the future with “Science H. Logic!” and “Science be praised!” I’ve made these points before, but in light of this article I think they’re worth throwing out again.

Inshallah we all start to pay attention to our language and recognize what its repititions and excessive use does to it and us. There’s nothing wrong with conveying the way you think the universe works, Inshallah, in your daily speech but if I constantly said, “Logic, determiner of all,” after every sentence you would get a little annoyed. I think that should be taken to account the next time an Egyptian says “Inshallah” or an Israeli says “Baruch Hashem.” Unfortunately it won’t be, but there it is.

Around the World Pic of the Day: Dome of the Rock

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And here I am, in this week’s picture of the week! Where am I? The center of the world – the spot of creation. Holy crap! Now, don’t get me wrong, do I really think that the rock under the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount is the point at which God created the universe. No, of course not, but that doesn’t keep this place from having an amazing aura to it and at the very least a sensational history.

As for the lore, not only was this the place at which God supposedly began the creation of the universe, but it’s also where the Jews eventually concluded that Abraham tried to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). This place is supposed to be the land of Moriah – the place connected to where God punished King David for taking a census of the people (does that seem like a good reason to kill 70,000 people?). After seeing the destruction he was reaping, God relented and ordered his angel to stop killing everyone. The place God stopped the angel’s hand was the same place the angel stopped Abraham’s hand from killing Isaac which was over the future site of Jerusalem – and here, on what is now the Temple Mount, was the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. David bought it, built an altar and sacrificed animals there to God.

In the exact spot of this altar, King Solomon built the first Temple to God, destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and here the Temple was rebuilt sometime in the fifth century BCE, only to be made huge and beautiful by Herod the Great, visited by Jesus himself – who was not pleased by the money changing he saw going on but did teach some lessons (wish I could have been there) – and eventually destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE after a huge Jewish revolt (The Great Revolt).

The Romans built a temple to the god Jupiter on this very site in order to piss off the Jews and after 135, another Jewish revolt (The Bar Kochba Revolt), the Jews were forbidden from ever visiting the area. By the time the Byzantines took over from the fourth through sixth centuries, the site was turned into a garbage dump in order to demonstrate Christian thoughts about the Jewish Temple. Not until the Muslims conquered Jerusalem and still only 60 or so years after that (though Muslim histories will claim that it was Omar, the Muslim conquerer of Jerusalem who built it) was the site cleared and the Dome of the Rock constructed. Due to upkeep and repairs it has stood there ever since the end of the seventh century.

Amazing that one building has been there for over 1300 years. Jerusalem, for the Muslims, is the third holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem is never mentioned by name in the Koran, but a number of references are tied to it. After the 1967 War, known in Israel as the Six Day War, the Temple Mount (Har Ha Bait) as it is known to Jews, was taken and has ever since been under Jewish control, though the Dome of the Rock is still there – and rightfully so.

Now, for some opinions:

The Dome of the Rock has every right to continue standing on the Temple Mount. That beautiful building has been there for a long time, as I mentioned, and should not just be destroyed because Jews (and Christians) want a Third Temple there. Indeed, a Third Temple is a bad idea. Why?

First of all, the Temple implies that there will be a resumption of the animal sacrifice that went on there, which is ludicrous. Jews do not need to start sacrificing animals. Talk about bad additional press. Most of them don’t really understand that modern rabbinic Judaism was actually an attempt to function as a religion without sacrifice when the Temple had been destroyed. So what happens to rabbinic law once sacrifice resumes? Serious problems.

Moreover, from a security standpoint, it’s great that the Dome of the Rock is there because during Israeli-Arab wars, Arab and Muslim countries won’t fire rockets at Jerusalem for fear of their inaccuracy destroying the holy site. That’s a pretty sweet security measure.

So why do Jews and Christians want a Third Temple built? To bring the Messiah of course. Jews just think it will be some dude that can only come with the building of the Temple, and Christians obviously think that it will result in Jesus’ second coming. Supposedly the Messiah will rise over the Mount of Olives and walk through the Lions’ Gate, followed by the recently risen dead of all those buried close. Right…

This is why some of the world’s biggest advocates of bulldozing the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding the Temple are American conservative Christians. They’re the ones who are in the process of breeding a red cow (needed for sacrifice) so that we’ll be totally ready when the time comes and Jesus can return as soon as possible.

Frankly, though, holy, historical sites should not be destroyed and we should all try to get along better, perhaps putting the site itself under international control and allowing visitors only at certain hours so that the site can be maintained for Muslim worship throughout the day.

Interestingly, school children’s classrooms are up on the Temple Mount and they play soccer in its gardens. It’s a fascinating place and it should be left alone to the designs of history – not deliberate interference.

What do you think? Destroy it and rebuild the Temple? Bring on Jesus? Ever been there? What’d you think? Send me your pictures at JaySolomon@thezenofsouthpark.com and visit http://www.thezenofsouthpark.com for more.

South Park Tonight: the 10 pm episode, “Grey Dawn,” has a great speech by Father Maxi at the memorial service towards the beginning of the episode where he talks about God’s warped sense of humor when He has old people kill others with their cars. Great and poignant. Do we really need to make up ways of understanding God when we don’t understand why things happen?

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