Talking About Jesus Is a Great Way to Get Left Alone

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Quran Read-A-Long: Al’-Imran 130-143 Affected My Life Today

Monotheistic Usury Banning

Usury is forbidden in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Now, many would say that usury is allowed in Judaism, but what the Torah says is that an Israelite can’t lend with usury to another Israelite. At the time of the writing of the Bible, this law certainly makes sense as well as why considering other peoples in the matter was totally irrelevant.

Christianity, in fact, used that very biblical verse to insist that usury was entirely illegal, and Jews, considering usury acceptable with someone else (i.e. Christians), were perfect for the job of money-lenders in Christendom because Christians couldn’t do it for themselves but needed the service and Jews were forbade from most else (e.g. owning land and farming, joining guilds, etc.). That Islam continues this ‘tradition’ and also bans usury is most significant, I think.

Asad offers an interesting reason for this: that the pagan Meccans had ammassed their wealth and armies through usury and this practice was not to be emulated.

Managing My Anger

The middle of verse 134 jumped out at me. Not only does it fall amidst an idea that I don’t think we’ve had too thoroughly yet (paradise), but it mentions that those who attain to the afterlife and who are God conscious and who presumably God appreciates the behavior of are those who “hold in check their anger.”

I’ve been very frustrated lately with a lot of things, largely mundane. In short, things that are supposed to work and that shouldn’t be a hassle are proving hassle-filled time sinks. I know that such things are part of life, but these things just seem to be compounding lately and my frustration and anger are getting the better of me.

It’s nice to have this soft warning here to say, God appreciates it when you curb your anger. This was definitely one of my most personal moments with the Quran so far.

Sinning

135: Is there some particular shameful deed that one sins against himself that’s being referenced here or are there a host of these sins? I ask because I’m wondering if this is likened to all shameful deeds that we commit against all people and the verse is just saying that a sin against anyone is a sin against yourself. But I may be misreading.

Teaching Islam to a 7th Grade History Class

139: So I finally got my opportunity to discussed Islam with a 7th grade history class at a private Jewish day school. Though I didn’t get the introductory lesson, I did get “Islamic Expansion” (i.e. Ummayad dynasty). It was definitely fun, and I was amazed at how engaged the students were. I tried to convey how amazing it was that the Arabs managed to knock down the Persian Empire, push back the Byzantines considerably, and sweep in every direction.

Because we’d just read about the Battle of Uhud here, I was thinking about the importance of faith in God when going into battle – knowing that God will secure your victory but that one must believe in victory through God. This verse just recalled that for me because it references the Battle of Uhud and says that you will rise high if you believe.

The Turning Tides of Fortune

Verse 140 seems to carry on with my theme noted above from verse 134: we all experience fortune and misfortune, and we’re not the first to get either. Interestingly, this verse also pertains to martyrdom in the name of God, and though that is not how it has affected me personally, I imagine that many others have drawn faith and strength from this verse. For me, however, the beginning has proven a reminder that life has it’s ups and downs and that seeing ourselves through all of those times is important. I actually feel a lot better about things than when I first began this post.

What can you share with us about these verses?

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Al’-Imran 130-143

130. O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not gorge yourselves on usury, doubling and re-doubling it* – but remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state; 131. and beware of the fire which awaits those who deny the truth! 132. And pay heed unto God and the Apostle, so that you might be graced with mercy. 133. And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer’s forgiveness and to a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which has been readied for the God-conscious 134. who spend [in His way] in time of plenty and in time of hardship, and hold in check their anger, and pardon their fellow-men because God loves the doers of good; 135 and who, when they have committed a shameful deed or have [otherwise] sinned against themselves, remember God and pray that their sins be forgiven – for who but God could forgive sins? – and do not knowingly persist in doing whatever

they may have done. 136. These it is who shall have as their reward forgiveness from their Sustainer, and gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: and how excellent a reward for those who labour! 137. [MANY] WAYS of life have passed away before your time. Go, then, about the earth and behold what happened in the end to those who gave the lie to the truth: 138. this [should be] a clear lesson unto all men, and a guidance and an admonition unto the God-conscious.139. Be not, then, faint of heart, and grieve not: for you are bound to rise high if you are [truly] believers. 140 If misfortune touches you, [know that] similar misfortune has touched [other] people as well; for it is by turns that We apportion unto men such days [of fortune and misfortune]: and [this] to the end that God might mark out those who have attained to faith, and choose from among you such as [with their lives] bear witness to the truth – since God does not love evildoers – 141 and that God might render pure of all dross those who have attained to faith, and bring to nought those who deny the truth. 142. Do you think that you could enter paradise unless God takes cognizance of your having striven hard [in His cause], and takes cognizance of your having been patient in adversity? 143. For, indeed, you did long for death [in God’s cause] before you came face to face with it; and now you have seen it with your own eyes!

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 72-80 Continue Talking of Difficulties with Muslims and Jews

Asad offers two understandings of verse 72, both of which make sense to me. The one which came to mind as I read the verse seemed to be saying that Jews and Christians would say to the Muslims that they believed Mohammed’s revelation but would later renege amongst themselves. This would serve to keep the Muslim community, presumably, from pressuring them too much and therefore allow them to keep their own faith (however slighted it was by their behavior). Alternatively, Asad proposes (and he believes this) that the verse means that Jews and Christians accepted some of Mohammed’s earlier revelations but not later ones that conflicted with biblical stories. Quite frankly, I don’t know why both options can’t be the case. What do you think it means?

In verse 73, when Muslims are told not to trust anyone who doesn’t follow their faith, I’m wondering if this is meant to be in the historical moment or a larger directive. That is to say that I can understand why Muslims could not have trusted the local Jews and Christians in Mohammed’s day. Despite their shifting alliances, from a religious perspective, they were waffling. Thus, as they were not part of the umma without being Muslim, no one could be sure if they were friend or foe. However, my question is whether or not this is still meant to apply to Muslims. Should Muslims still not trust those of other faiths? Further, in a Muslim community that is far larger than a tribe (i.e. a society that is entirely Muslim), can trust really be given to everyone based on his/her faith alone? That’s not to say that we can’t trust people or that we can’t trust those with whom we feel a common kinship, but is it really a great idea to trust everyone on that basis alone?

I would definitely agree that there is no basis to the claim made, allegedly, by Jews, that they don’t have any moral responsibility towards non-Jews. The only thing that the Bible says is that Israelites can’t loan at interest to each other, but presumably they can to others. That doesn’t exempt anyone from moral responsibility though. It seems that verse 75, however, is true of every group of people. There are always some who will do the right thing and always others who won’t. I hardly think that this is Jew-specific, though I know that the Quran uses immediate examples from Mohammed’s present to provide us with statements that hold forever.

Ascribing things to the Bible that are not there is wrong, but I would hope that this refers to people who are intentionally manipulating it. True, the Quran says that it does refer to those who know that they lie, but it’s hardly fair – pending the Bible did once have a different form and was corrupted to its current state, even intentionally – to refer to all Jews and Christians who read the Bible and think that what it says is true when they were not involved in its corruption. They’re just saying what they ‘know.’ Indeed, Asad refers to ascribing meaning to something that is not intended to be as such, but that’s an entirely different matter (and no good).

I find verse 79 to be incredibly intriguing. Obviously it’s a reference to Jesus, but the verse says that Jesus said, “Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof].” That, I would agree, is  something that definitely would have come from Jesus’ lips. I think it accompanies quite nicely the oft ignored verse from the Gospel of Matthew 5:17 in which Jesus tells his disciples and followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Setting aside the Christian religious interpretations of “fulfill,” Jesus is saying what the Quran is: keep studying the law (which means Torah) and spreading knowledge of God’s revelation. Of course, Jesus was talking to Jews, and as we’ve discussed from the second surah, God delivered messages in different ways to different peoples so that they could understand His revelation. Thus, it’s not problematic for Jesus to have been confirming for Jews that they should continue studying/practicing/spreading their revelation and laws.

My interest arises due to the fact that Jesus’ words validate the Torah as it was composed in his time. Whatever corruptions of the text were happening to the Torah to make it so irreparably unsatisfying to Muslims would have happened long before Jesus’ time both because of the general scrutiny and spread of the texts by this time and because the historical matching-ups of the text not being a single original text (i.e. The Documentary Hypothesis) are centuries and centuries earlier. Would Jesus really have encouraged people to continue believing a corrupted revelation, or is Jesus talking about something else entirely?

Can’t wait to find out what we held off on last week: what was going on in the life of Mohammed and the umma at the revelation of these verses. Please share anything else that I missed or that strikes you about these verses.

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Al-’Imran 72-80

72. And some of the followers of earlier revelation say [to one another]: “Declare your belief in what has been revealed unto those who believe [in Muhammad] at the beginning of the day, and deny the truth of what came later, so that they might go back [on their faith]; 73. but do not [really] believe anyone who does not follow your own faith.” Say: “Behold, all [true] guidance is God’s guidance, consisting in one’s being granted [revelation] such as you have been granted.” Or would they contend against you before your Sustainer? Say: “Behold, all bounty is in the hand of God; He grants it unto whom He wills: for God is infinite, all-knowing, 74. singling out for His grace whom He wills. And God is limitless in His great bounty.” 75. AND AMONG the followers of earlier revelation there is many a one who, if thou entrust him with a treasure, will [faithfully] restore it to thee; and there is among them many a one who, if thou entrust him with a tiny gold coin, will not restore it to thee unless thou keep standing over him – which is an outcome of their assertion, “No blame can attach to us [for anything that we may do] with regard to these unlettered folk”: and [so] they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie].”76. Nay, but [God is aware of] those who keep their bond with Him, and are conscious of Him: and, verily, God loves those who are conscious of Him. 77. Behold, those who barter away their bond with God and their own pledges for a trifling gain – they shall not partake in the blessings of the life to come; and God will neither speak unto them nor look upon them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He cleanse them of their sins; and grievous suffering awaits them. 78. And, behold, there are indeed some among them who distort the Bible with their tongues, so as to make you think that [what they say] is from the Bible, the while it is not from the Bible; and who say, “This is from God,” the while it is not from God: and thus do they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie]. 79. It is not conceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, “Worship me beside God”; but rather [did he exhort them], “Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof].” 80. And neither did he bid you to take the angels and the prophets for your lords: [for] would he bid you to deny the truth after you have surrendered yourselves unto God?

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 55-63 Insists on Jesus’ Humanity, Not His Divinity

Verse 55 is interesting for the different ways it would be interpreted by whomever is reading it. For instance, Christians would read this and assume that it is an outright praise of their religion and a guarantee that they are going to heaven. Why? Because it says that those who follow Jesus are placed above denying the truth. However, Muslims would read this and understand that Jesus was not the son of God and so Christians who believed in such things (taken a step further, the Trinity) would be wrong in their beliefs. Though I suppose the verse doesn’t really guarantee much other than a place above those who deny the truth (disbelievers?) – and honestly, is being above disbelievers really anything to be thrilled about? That just means that you’re not a disbeliever. Hmm. This is an interesting verse but I don’t think I’ve really cracked what it has to offer. What do you think?

I like the affirmation of the value of good works in verse 57. I’ve always found that to be a very important concept – as opposed to say faith or especially grace – because it is good works that make the world go round, no matter your religion, beliefs or anything else. We’re all people and we all deserve each others’ help and respect.

Boy are verses 58-60 the ultimate renunciation of a central Christian creed: namely, that Jesus is not human (at least not human only) but actually God. The Quran is making a real point of denying Christian beliefs about Jesus because Islam is monotheistic in the true sense of the word; Muslims cannot accept (reasonably so) the notion that Jesus – whom Islam considers a prophet like the others – is actually God . . . and simultaneously the son of God. NO! The Quran makes clear in three verses: Jesus was like Adam – human and from dust.

Verse 61 proposes an interesting way of resolving the dispute about Jesus’ divinity: get everybody together and then pray for a curse on whomever is wrong. Asad writes this about the actual confrontation regarding this verse:

“According to all the reliable authorities, verses 59-63 of this surah were revealed in the year 10 H., on the occasion of a dispute between the Prophet and a deputation of the Christians of Najran who, like all other Christians, maintained that Jesus was “the son of God” and, therefore, God incarnate. Although they refused the “trial through prayer” (mubahalah) proposed to them by the Prophet, the latter accorded to them a treaty guaranteeing all their civic rights and the free exercise of their religion.”

What do you think about these verses? Can you help me illuminate some of their meaning better?

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Al-’Imran 55-63

55. Lo! God said: “O Jesus! Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto Me, and cleanse thee of [the presence of] those who are bent on denying the truth; and I shall place those who follow thee [far] above those who are bent on denying the truth, unto the Day of Resurrection. In the end, unto Me you all must return, and I shall judge between you with regard to all on which you were wont to differ. 56. “And as for those who are bent on denying the truth, I shall cause them to suffer a suffering severe in this world and in the life to come, and they shall have none to succour them; 57. whereas unto those who attain to faith and do good works He will grant their reward in full: for God does not love evildoers.” 58. THIS MESSAGE do We convey unto thee, and this tiding full of wisdom: 59. Verily, in the sight of God, the nature of Jesus is as the nature of Adam, whom He created out of dust and then said unto him, “Be” – and he is. 60 [This is] the truth from thy Sustainer; be not, then, among the doubters! 61. And if anyone should argue with thee about this [truth] after all the knowledge that has come unto thee, say: “Come! Let us summon our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves; and then let us pray [together] humbly and ardently, and let us invoke God’s curse upon those [of us] who are telling a lie.” 62. Behold, this is indeed the truth of the matter, and there is no deity whatever save God; and, verily, God – He alone – is almighty, truly wise. 63 And if they turn away [from this truth] – behold, God has full knowledge of the spreaders of corruption.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 284-286 Complete the Second Sura

This repetition affirming the equality of the messages (despite differences in prophetic ability) from God’s different apostles (which is, I think, to say prophets) is very important. It makes Islam an incredibly inclusive religion, not shunning and belittling any of the other religions, which it acknowledges as other ways of believing in God and going to Heaven. I’m not particularly sure about the nuances of this understanding but generally speaking, this is my understanding after the conversations that have accompanied Quran Read-A-Long.

Asad tells us that the reference in verse 286 to God not laying the burden upon Muslims that he laid upon those before is a reference to the Mosaic law of Judaism and the world-renunciation of Christianity. If that is what’s being referred to here (and I can roll with that for the sake of argument) then I dare say that I concur with the burdensome nature of either of those things. I take this to mean, then, that the Quran considers its relatively long list of injunctions non-burdensome, and I ask, what is the difference between that which the Quran tells Muslims to do and that which the Torah tells Jews to do?

My own answer is obviously hindered by my lack of knowledge of what else, beyond the Cow, the Quran tells Muslims to do day to day, so my answer is only tentative, and it would seem to lie in the seeming arbitrariness of some of the things listed in the Torah – for instance, the kosher dietary laws. However, Islam shares a few of those laws (like a prohibition on eating pig), and so my question becomes whether or not this is a comparison not of the Torah itself but of the Rabbinic law (the Talmudic law, that is) that Mohammed would have theoretically seen the Jews around him abiding by – and that rabbinic law is a much longer and more tiresome list than the Torah’s own list. However, I would then offer a comparison between those legal minutae and the Hadith and other jurisprudence practiced of Muslims. If it is saying that the Quranic law is not burdensome because it is practical, then I would mention that a lot of what is mentioned in the Torah is practical too – like laws about sexual deviancy or treating society’s underprivileged fairly – despite the lengthy set of sacrificial laws that tax our modern sentiments.

Now, this isn’t meant to be me putting my foot down in these comparisons, because like I said, my knowledge of the rest of what the Quran is asking is not filled out yet (like my knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, believe it or not), but the Cow does seem to have a lot of directives, many atuned to running a balanced and just society, and some seemingly slightly less necessary (no pig?) – which isn’t to say there aren’t good reasons, but just to say that the differences in those elements of the religions aren’t entirely clear to me yet. As for the comparison with Christianity, it sounds like this is the Quran’s way of saying (at least according to Asad’s interpretation) that Islam, though focused on the next life like Christianity, is not obsessed to the exclusion of an appreciation and enjoyment of this life.

I’ve left a lot up in the air here and would be incredibly appreciative of any clarifying comments and thoughts.

We’ve made it to the end of The Cow, and though it’s the second sura, it’s also the first long one so that’s exciting! Thanks to everyone who’s made it this far with me and who has joined Quran Read-A-Long. I hope you’ll continue to read and comment as we move into the third sura, Al- ‘Imran, next week.

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The Cow 284-286

284. Unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. And whether you bring into the open what is in your minds or conceal it, God will call you to account for it; and then He will forgive whom He wills, and will chastise whom He wills: for God has the power to will anything. 285. THE APOSTLE, and the believers with him, believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer: they all believe in God, and His angels, and His revelations, and His apostles, making no distinction between any of His apostles; and they say: “We have heard, and we pay heed. Grant us Thy forgiveness, O our Sustainer, for with Thee is all journeys’ end! 286. “God does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: in his favor shall be whatever good he does, and against him whatever evil he does. “O our Sustainer! Take us not to task if we forget or unwittingly do wrong! “O our Sustainer! Lay not upon us a burden such as Thou didst lay upon those who lived before us!* O our Sustainer! Make us not bear burdens which we have no strength to bear! “And efface Thou our sins, and grant us forgiveness, and bestow Thy mercy upon us! Thou art our Lord Supreme: succor us, then, against people who deny the truth!”

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 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.