Quran Read-Along: Is Al’-Imran 181-189 Talking About the Jews?

Slay Them Prophets

Whenever I see talk of slaying prophets, I immediately think of the accusations leveled against the ancient Israelites and assume that we must be talking about them. This would also fit, in parts of the Bible, with, “God is poor while we are rich.” For instance, during the Conquest of Cana’an that happens in the book of Joshua (and only in the book of Joshua I might add as the rest of the Bible and history itself make it rather clear that none of this really occurred, but it was only a story to demonstrate a few lessons), the people take some of the riches that were meant to belong to God. There’s no prophet slaying, though (beyond disobedience of Joshua), and this seems a rather literal interpretation of the fact.

The history of the First Temple during the reign of the Kings of Judah (pre-Josiah) might also call attention to this, as this was the period during which the people (priests) grew wealthy, ignored God, and killed his prophets (supposedly). But again, this seems quite literal, when in fact I detect a spiritual element to this idea: the presumption that we know what God doesn’t and are rich in life (and spirit), and that we ignore the prophets who are sent to him (i.e. slaying prophets is perhaps less literal and more along the lines of ignoring them, like say, what the Jews of Medina are doing to Mohammed).

Can We Start the Sacrifices Again, or What?

As we move into verses 183 and 184 my suspicions feel both confirmed and belied.

That is, the Jews would want their apostles (or prophets) to come to them with news related to burnt offerings – that is, the reinstatement of sacrifice and presumably news of all this happening at the Temple in Jerusalem (that implies fresh autonomy and perhaps the arrival of the messiah).

The rabbis say that prophecy ended with Alexander the Great (c.332 BCE in Jerusalem) because with him came Hellenization, a process that the rabbis considered antithetical to their own tradition and culture. Thus, prophecy was long considered over (nearly 1000 years over) by the time of Mohammed (this disregards the fact that the book of Daniel was written in the 160s BCE because it was believed to be from the early 6th C. BCE) and therefore Jews would have been most disinclined to believe Mohammed unless, presumably, he told them what they wanted to hear: that the future held sacrifices and a reinstatement of their tradition. The Quran seems to be saying that even back in the day when prophets said what Jews claimed they wanted to hear, you killed them.

Spread a Little Revelation

By verse 187 it sounds as though we’re talking about the notion of chosenness. That is to say that the messages of revelation were meant to be shared and spread around the world but instead they were turned inward and used for trifling gain – to make the Jews special for themselves (this is my guess). Christianity was doing the opposite (as an early proselytizing religion) so this seems to be a reference to only the Jews (unless I’m totally missing someone else here). I’m not sure where the line to ‘make it known to mankind’ comes from though. Where was this said?

As basic advice (toned down a smidge-a-roo), I like this: “Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done – think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come]” When I say toned down, I mean, it doesn’t have to be about grievous suffering for it to tell us that we don’t have to love pretentious people, what Holden Cofield might call phonies. Don’t pay them any mind, it seems to say (without the suffering part…).

Please feel free to comment and critique!

Al’-Imran 181-189

181. God has indeed heard the saying of those who said, “Behold, God is poor while we are rich!”  We shall record what they have said, as well as their slaying of prophets against all right, and We shall say [unto them on Judgment Day]: “Taste suffering through fire 182. in return for what your own hands have wrought – for never does God do the least wrong to His creatures!” 183.  As for those who maintain, “Behold, God has bidden us not to believe in any apostle unless he comes unto us with burnt offerings”  – say [unto them, O Prophet]: “Even before me there came unto you apostles with all evidence of the truth, and with that whereof you speak: why, then, did you slay them, if what you say is true?” 184. And if they give thee the lie – even so, before thy time, have [other] apostles been given the lie when they came with all evidence of the truth, and with books of divine wisdom, and with light-giving revelation. 185. Every human being is bound to taste death: but only on the Day of Resurrection will you be requited in full [for whatever you have done] – whereupon he that shall be drawn away from the fire and brought into paradise will indeed have gained a triumph: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion. 186. You shall most certainly be tried in your possessions and in your persons; and indeed you shall hear many hurtful things from those to whom revelation was granted before your time, as well as from those who have come to ascribe divinity to other beings beside God. But if you remain patient in adversity and conscious of Him – this, behold, is something to set one’s heart upon. 187. AND LO, God accepted a solemn pledge from those who were granted earlier revelation [when He bade them]: “Make it known unto mankind, and do not conceal it!” But they cast this [pledge] behind their backs, and bartered it away for a trifling gain: and how evil was their bargain! 188. Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done – think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come]. 189. AND UNTO GOD belongs the dominion over the heavens and the earth: and God has the power to will anything.

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Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 64-71 Appeal to Jews and Christians to Worship Only God

To all of the wonderful participants and readers of Quran Read-A-Long,

I’m so sorry for the extended hiatus I took. Not only did I move from San Francisco to Atlanta over the past month and a half, both breaking down one life and setting up another anew elsewhere, but I traveled during part of the interim to San Diego and twice to Washington, leaving me very little time to address any facet of this blog, much less something that takes the thought and energy of reading the Quran (fortunately I’d set a few motivational posters to future-post). In any case, I really appreciate your patience and hope that you’re willing to resume reading the Quran with me each Wednesday. Most of the rest of this blog will be ignored for a while, but I think that Quran Read-A-Long is the one thing that is important to me to continue doing each week. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and input.

Thank you so much for being a part of this project,

Jay

Without further ado, let’s discuss Al-‘Imran 64-71.

Verse 64 seems to be an amicable outreaching towards both Christians and Jews, hoping that neither will recognize or worship any but God. At its most obvious level, this is a dig at Christianity, asking Christians to set aside the notion that a man – however prophetic – could also be divine. Interestingly, Asad’s note from this verse indicated that this was also aimed at the Jews who sometimes attributed a quasi-divine status to Ezra or certain Talmudic scholars.

Though I’ve heard of prophets and even the greatest Talmudic sages being described as shining with the light of God or some other comparable phrase, I’ve never heard or read anything about these people actually holding some kind of divine or even quasi-divine status as a being more than human. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t believe that such a belief amongst Jews could be true. The reverence ascribed to some of these figures and the language used to discuss them could definitely get muddled through the generations and in the right environment (read: a Christian environment where the idea of a human having a touch of the divine is conceptually acceptable) could certainly come out this way. However, having not heard of it, I can only imagine that this occurrence was few and far between (and gone now), making this verse an open invitation to all whose revelation came before and, in its specifics, is aimed primarily at Christians.

Amen to the appeal offered in verse 65. The idea that Abraham (or, in Judaism, the other forefathers like Isaac and Jacob) obeyed the laws of the Torah is absurd. Let’s exercise a little reason. Now, I’ve no doubt that the rabbis sometimes knew they were being silly and fanciful when they suggested that instead of being sacrificed, Isaac went to study Torah with the sages for three years (and other comparable stories), but it gets a little nutty when other people can’t recognize those capricious words for what they are and start insisting that the forefathers did such things and obeyed the Torah. The same goes for the Gospel. Abraham wasn’t an obedient Christian (though some of his behavior, I would agree with parts of Paul’s letters, does provide a model for what a good Christian is supposed to be – namely, Abraham’s faith, particularly as seen through the eyes of Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling) just as he wasn’t a good Jew.

I’m most curious about the note that Asad includes at the end of verse 70. He writes, “Lit., ‘when you [yourselves] bear witness:’ an allusion to the Biblical prophecies relating to the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.” I think that we’ve already encountered one or two of these that got brought up, but I’d love to hear about more places in the Bible that are considered to be allusions to Islam and Mohammed. Is there a list of those anywhere online or a book that someone’s written?

Overall there’s a certain frustration evident in these verses. It seems as if Mohammed is getting tired of the back and forth with the local Jews and Christians. Certainly many of them have been and still are hassling him about his new religion and prophetic claims, but I’m wondering if there’s anything particular in history that is ascribed to these verses – a notable argument with a notable Jew or Christian or something. They just seem like they’re uttered in frustration.

That’s it for this week, but I’m so glad to be back and doing Quran Read-A-Long. Please leave your own thoughts and comments below, and as always, please answer any of my questions or pose and answer any of your own.

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Al-’Imran 64-71

64. Say: “O followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God.” And if they turn away, then say: “Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him.” 65. O FOLLOWERS of earlier revelation! Why do you argue about Abraham, seeing that the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed till [long] after him? Will you not, then, use your reason? 66. Lo! You are the ones who would argue about that which is known to you; but why do you argue about something which is unknown to you? Yet God knows [it], whereas you do not know: 67. Abraham was neither a “Jew” nor a “Christian,” but was one who turned away from all that is false, having surrendered himself unto God; and he was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him. 68. Behold, the people who have the best claim to Abraham are surely those who follow him – as does this Prophet and all who believe [in him] – and God is near unto the believers. 69. Some of the followers of earlier revelation would love to lead you astray: yet none do they lead astray but themselves, and perceive it not. 70. O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you deny the truth of God’s messages to which you yourselves bear witness? 71. O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you cloak the truth with falsehood and conceal the truth of which you are [so well] aware?

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 21-30 Speaks of Judgment Day and Allies

Considering the stories in the Bible about the Israelites slaying their prophets, is verse 21 a reference to them? The following verses makes me believe so because they are a discussion of, I think, the Israelites and their laws (the Torah). At the end of verse 23, is the “it” that is turned away from, the Torah, the true uncorrupted Torah or neither, but actually the Quran which Jews are currently not accepting? This line about the fire not touching them but for a limited time is something we saw in The Cow, I think. As for the false beliefs, is this a reference to the corrupted Torah and the associated “silly” laws or is this something more ‘present,’ – as in, their corrupted Torah has caused Jews to betray the larger faith that the Quran now teaches and they aren’t accepting the latter because of the purnicious influence of the former?

Lot of questions there but I didn’t seem to be getting these opening verses with an overwhelming amount of clarity.

The remainder of this section seems to be a recognition of God’s power and what will happen on Judgment Day when everyone will be required to reckon for his deeds. In the midst of this larger theological speech is a point about acquiring allies and how Muslims cannot accept allies who are deniers of the truth rather than believers. Interestingly, there seems to be a caveat in place that is quite practical and allows non-believing allies to be acquired if good strategy and safety require it. I suppose that in the early years of the Medinan community, it would have been an absolute necessity for this to be so and were it not, the nascent Muslims may have been destroyed. However, strategic allying and political decision making by Mohammed allowed for the community’s survival and thriving.

What can you tell us about these verses? I feel like I left out a lot, but I wasn’t quite sure what to address and how.

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Al-‘Imran 21-30

21. Verily, as for those who deny the truth of God’s messages, and slay the prophets against all right, and slay people who enjoin equity – announce unto them a grievous chastisement. 22. It is they whose works shall come to nought both in this world and in the life to come; and they shall have none to succour them. 23. Art thou not aware of those who have been granted their share of revelation [aforetime]? They have been called upon to let God’s writ be their law – and yet some of them turn away [from it] in their obstinacy, 24. simply because they claim, “The fire will most certainly not touch us for more than a limited number of days”: and thus the false beliefs which they invented have [in time] caused them to betray their faith. 25. How, then, [will they fare] when We shall gather them all together to witness the Day about [the coming of] which there is no doubt, and every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has done, and none shall be wronged? 26. SAY: “O God, Lord of all dominion! Thou grantest dominion unto whom Thou willest, and takest away dominion from whom Thou willest; and Thou exaltest whom Thou willest, and abasest whom Thou willest. In Thy hand is all good. Verily, Thou hast the power to will anything. 27. “Thou makest the night grow longer by shortening the day, and Thou makest the day grow longer by shortening the night. And Thou bringest forth the living out of that which is dead, and Thou bringest forth the dead out of that which is alive. And Thou grantest sustenance unto whom `Thou willest, beyond all reckoning.” 28. LET NOT the believers take those who deny the truth for their allies in preference to the believers – since he who does this cuts himself off from God in everything – unless it be to protect yourselves against them in this way. But God warns you to beware of Him: for with God is all journeys’ end. 29. Say: “Whether you conceal what is in your hearts or bring it into the open, God knows it: for He knows all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and God has the power to will anything.” 30. On the Day when every human being will find himself faced with all the good that he has done, and with all the evil that he has done, [many a one] will wish that there were a long span of time between himself and that [Day]. Hence, God warns you to beware of Him; but God is most compassionate towards His creatures.

Cartman Wants to Feel Jesus’ Salvation All Over His Face in South Park Episode 709, “Christian Rock Hard”

As an episode about South Park exploiting the Christian music industry in order to win a bet with Kyle, you can only imagine how much I love “Christian Rock Hard.”

So, now you know the premise, and what’s left to enjoy are Cartman’s experiences creating his awesome band. By taking the lyrics from old songs and replacing key words with Jesus, we’re left with a series of sensual, sexual and disturbing song about Cartman and Jesus. The songs also have great names that recall issues like salvation, crucifixion, sin and forgiveness. The names of the other Christian rock bands, like “Trinity,” also speak to South Park‘s amusing understanding of Christianity.

At Christfest, where Cartman hopes his band will perform, there is a stand selling bibles and another selling items with your favorite psalm printed on them. A particularly hilarious scene is when Cartman and the band are in the record company’s president’s office about to have their band signed. Cartman challenges God to strike him with lightening if he is being insincere about his love of Jesus. Butters scoots away.

In the meantime, in addition to mocking Christian rock and Cartman’s exploitation of evangelical Christians everywhere, the show comments on a social issue prevalent at the time: downloading big bands’ music from Napster and the internet. This lambasting of Metallica and others for their self-obsession, greediness, conceit and lack of interest in the music when compared to the money is both blatant and, I’d say, deserved. Sure, musicians have a right to protect their music – it is theirs after all – but to try to stand in the way of what, we can see 6 years later, is an unstoppable progression in the way music is acquired and listened to, is foolish and short-sighted.

What did you think about this episode? What was your favorite part?

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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.

Witnesses

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.

The Art of Taking Ourselves Less Seriously For the Public Good

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