Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 267-273 Continues the Discussion of Charity

It’s interesting that in verse 268, when the Quran warns of Satan threatening us with poverty, it’s not that Satan will bring that poverty upon us himself. It’s that Satan is the one who makes us concerned that poverty might afflict us if we do not guard our money more carefully and if we don’t stop giving it to the needy. We cannot be swayed by his nagging.

I like the praise of wisdom in verse 269. Surely it’s not a praise of wisdom in a vacuum or praise of wisdom instead of faith, but that wisdom itself is valuable is important. These promises of other things (i.e. wisdom) all fall amidst this conversation of doing the right thing with the gifts that God has given us. By equating wisdom to wealth, it seems to me that intelligence and wisdom (which aren’t necessarily the same thing, and forgive me if I’m using them that way) should only be used for good – and charitably. If you are wise and capable, help other people with your wisdom and abilities – don’t keep them all to yourself, reading all day and trying to amass knowledge just for the sake of knowledge.

Verse 271 returns to the concept I addressed last week of doing charity secretly, because, as Maimonides tells us, the best form of tzedakah (charity) is that in which the recipient does not know his benefactor nor the benefactor his recipient. I’m curious about the atonement element here, though. It seems to me that perhaps giving charity to atone for your sins is not the right reason to give – that seems like a selfish reason rather than doing it for a godly reason (i.e. because it’s right). This could just be informational – ‘by the way, when you give charity like this it atones for your sins’ – but it seems hard to conclude that people would be able to set that informational fact aside and give charity in this fashion for the right reasons while knowing that to be true. Truly, I don’t look at this and think it’s a big deal – I just wonder about the order of priorities in the donor’s mind considering the emphasis placed on giving willingly and because it’s the right thing to do (next verse included!).

And in the next verse is that mention of whatever you give coming back to you – Islamic Karma 🙂

Asad, in the notes of his translation, mentions some very interesting ideas here that I’d like to bring up: that Mohammed had, because of Muslims’ penury, advised that charity only be given to Muslims in need. This verse reverses that and means that all people in need should be given charity – regardless of faith. A. That’s wonderful. B. It’s interesting because as Asad points out, giving charity to only Muslims could encourage converts for the wrong reasons and ultimately be construed as coercing conversion, something expressly forbidden (2:256). Very interesting.

Please feel free to share your thoughts about my comments and these verses.

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

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

The Cow 267-273

267. O you who have attained to faith! Spend on others out of the good things which you may have acquired, and out of that which We bring forth for you from the earth; and choose not for your spending the bad things which you yourselves would not accept without averting your eyes in disdain. And know that God is self-sufficient, ever to be praised. 268. Satan threatens you with the prospect of poverty and bids you to be niggardly, whereas God promises you His forgiveness and bounty; and God is infinite, all-knowing, 269. granting wisdom unto whom He wills: and whoever is granted wisdom has indeed been granted wealth abundant. But none bears this in mind save those who are endowed with insight. 270. For, whatever you may spend on others, or whatever you may vow [to spend], verily, God knows it; and those who do wrong [by withholding charity] shall have none to succor them. 271. If you do deeds of charity openly, it is well; but if you bestow it upon the needy in secret, it will be even better for you, and it will atone for some of your bad deeds. And God is aware of all that you do. 272. It is not for thee [O Prophet] to make people follow the right path, since it is God [alone] who guides whom He wills. And whatever good you may spend on others is for your own good, provided that you spend only out of a longing for God’s countenance: for, whatever good you may spend will be repaid unto you in full, and you shall not be wronged. 273. [And give] unto [such of] the needy who, being wholly wrapped up in God’s cause, are unable to go about the earth [in search of livelihood]. He who is unaware [of their condition] might think that they are wealthy, because they abstain [from begging]; [but] thou canst recognize them by their special mark: they do not beg of men with importunity. And whatever good you may spend [on them], verily, God knows it all.

Advertisements

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 261-266 Speaks of Charity Given From the Heart

The message in verse 262 about the way that charity should be given (I think that’s what it means to spend one’s possessions for the sake of God) is very similar to the Jewish ‘levels’ of tzedakah (charity) that the 12th century Jewish philosopher (and doctor to the Sultan Saladin) expounded. The greatest kind of charity one could do is to give charity when neither the donor nor the recipient knew of the other. In that way, the donor has nothing to feel special about – he merely did his duty – and the recipient never has to have his feelings hurt or feel lower than or indebted to anyone.

Funny enough, the parable reminds me of a very “karmic” understanding of giving. The good you put out into the universe (in the right way, of course) comes back ten-fold. I used to wait tables when I was 19, and whenever I went out after work with my waiter friends to another restaurant they would tip so generously you’d think they’d been served gold. “Tipping Karma,” they used to say. It’ll all come back when people tip us later – but leave a crummy tip or begrudge another server his tip and you’d be like that lightening-struck rock with a run of bad tips that could last for weeks.

Now, that could seem superstitious, and far be it for me to reduce the words of the Quran to karma, but I think what it actually shows is the universality of this important ideal – generosity and the spreading of wealth beget more generosity and wealth for everyone. In the Quran, it’s just made clear that this principle originates with God. Only in this way does a Reaganomics Trickle Down Theory work because by the Quran a spiritual element and understanding have been infused into the importance of spreading the wealth, forcing us to remembers that all we have we have by God’s grace and mercy.

After these verses I read verse 266 and fail to understand the idea therein. Is the person in this verse a person who failed to share the wonderful bounty he’d been given with this marvelous land? Is it saying that he should not have let the fruit remain solely within his garden and should have spread it around so that none of it ever went bad? Verse 267 didn’t help me grasp the meaning, but if anyone could shed some light on this verse I would be grateful. I feel as though it brings these other verses in an interesting direction that I’m failing to get.

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

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

The Cow 261-266

261. THE PARABLE of those who spend their possessions for the sake of God is that of a grain out of which grow seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains: for God grants manifold increase unto whom He wills; and God is infinite, all-knowing. 262. They who spend their possessions for the sake of God and do not thereafter mar* their spending by stressing their own benevolence and hurting [the feelings of the needy] shall have their reward with ‘their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. 263. A kind word and the veiling of another’s want is better than a charitable deed followed by hurt; and God is self-sufficient, forbearing. 264. O you who have attained to faith! Do not deprive your charitable deeds of all worth by stressing your own benevolence and hurting [the feelings of the needy], as does he who spends his wealth only to be seen and praised by men, and believes not in God and the Last Day: for his parable is that of a smooth rock with [a little] earth upon it – and then a rainstorm smites it and leaves it hard and bare. Such as these shall have no gain whatever from all their [good] works: for God does not guide people who refuse to acknowledge the truth. 265. And the parable of those who spend their possessions out of a longing to please God, and out of their own inner certainty, is that of a garden on high, fertile ground: a rainstorm smites it, and thereupon it brings forth its fruit twofold; and if no rainstorm smites it, soft rain [falls upon it]. And God sees all that you do. 266. Would any of you like to have a garden of date-palms and vines, through which running waters flow, and have all manner of fruit therein – and then be overtaken by old age, with only weak children to [look after] him-and then [see] it smitten by a fiery whirlwind and utterly scorched? In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might take thought.

Fun with the Bible: The Importance of Charity in a Ten Commandments Time

I wrote an article for the Nashville Free Press in my column, No Holier Than Thou, about the importance of charity and the concept of charity among Judaism, Islam and Christianity. To check out this article, please click HERE and please feel free to leave comments either there or here.

Enjoy!

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

Enjoy more Fun with the Bible posts.

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?

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

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

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.

A Thank You for An Unnecessary Kindness

Though this blog often contains a great deal of personal information about me, my life and its goings-on, I don’t think I ever get too sappy or self-indulgent with personal anecdotes that aren’t relevant to an overall point (please feel free to disagree and cite your evidence – three examples makes a case, I’d say). However, I must share a quick story.

Tonight Eszter and I went to Sausalito to have dinner with some of my family that lives out here (my family has been very sweet in their reaching out to us since we’ve moved here). We had sensational Chinese food and a lovely time at a restaurant called Feng Nian. After dinner we had to drive (in our Zip Car) back across the Golden Gate Bridge, and upon recalling that the toll was 5 dollars and that we had no cash, pulled off the last exit to see if we could find an ATM or gas station. This sucked all the more (or mainly because) I had to pee really really bad (small bladder) and because we had to have our car back within 22 minutes.

In any case, a few minutes off the exit we saw a restaurant, and I’m not sure why I went in since nice restaurants in Sausalito don’t do cash back, but I decided to ask if they knew of an ATM or whether the toll could be paid with a card. The two bar tenders and the only couple at the bar began talking with me about my options and the bar tender remembered that the toll could be mailed to my home address if I had no cash.

Much to my surprise, however, the couple produced a five dollar bill that they insisted I take. I told them I had only come for information (though I wondered if I seemed like one of those scam artists who complains of a broken down car around the corner containing his pregnant girlfriend and a flower in rare bloom that needs to be photographed immediately in order to get the payout such a special find earns) and that I could just have the toll people mail me a bill. They insisted, though, that I take the five dollars, and as I did – so dumbstruck by their unnecessary kindness that I didn’t know what else to do – I assured them that at some point I would pass the five dollars onto someone who needed it far more than I.

I know it wasn’t such a big deal monetarily nor the best use of their five dollars (multiple children in Africa could be vaccinated against deadly diseases rampaging their villages with that money), but I was still struck by how forthcoming they were to just help a stranger out and make his life easier.

Have you had a similar experience with unnecessary kindness that you’d like to share? Please do so below.