Quran Read Along: Al’-Imran 190-200 – The Message of the Final Verses

Nature Ex Nihilo
The opening verse here is very philosophical in its nature, insinuating that written all throughout nature is evidence of God – we only have to know what we’re looking at. That is to say, everything comes from God and the reason there is so much harmony in nature and things are designed as they are is because it is all divinely planned.
A few examples regarding the absurd construction of natural things often pop into my head when people talk about how perfect nature is, but setting these things aside, nature certainly is wondrous and the argument of God being behind its design is a most necessary one religiously for a great many people.
The terminology here makes me want to confirm, though: does Islam believe in creation ex nihilo? Islam has a strong philosophical tradition, and much of that philosophy champions the notion that the cosmos are eternal. What is the traditional Islamic line about that notion?
The Conclusion of Al’-Imran
Verse 195 holds quite a promise and a reassurance for the downtrodden. The notion of suffering in God’s name is one I associate generally with Christianity, as it is a religion focused almost obsessively on suffering. This is not a focus of Islam, or at least I haven’t found that to be so, but it makes sense that God would promise those who do happen to suffer for righteous reasons a stake in the afterlife. “Efface their bad deeds” sounds like “sin forgiveness,” another concept I associate with Christianity.
Pointing out these similarities is not meant to undermine what is written here by applying a syncretistic bend to it, but merely to say that it is rather logical that these religions born of the same impetus (people who needed more than they were getting) and of the same God are to emphasize these inherently humane notions: all will be okay for those who are good yet suffer. When we think, why do bad things happen to good people, the Quran replies, God straightens it all out in the end.
My thoughts incline towards the fact that these are the concluding verses of Al’-Imran. Why? Are they a warning to the new Muslim community not to ultimately misinterpret this revelation as the religions before it misinterpreted theirs’? Verse 199 certainly seems to champion this notion as it provides the other side of this coin: that there are those of earlier revelations who have remained true to said religions and who deserve the same recompense as Muslims in the hereafter.
Please add what you can to our understanding of these final verses of Al’-Imran!
Al’-Imran 190-200
190. Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, 191. [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire! 192. “O our Sustainer! Whomsoever Thou shalt commit to the fire, him, verily, wilt Thou have brought to disgrace [in this world]; and such evildoers will have none to succor them. 193. “O our Sustainer! Behold, we heard a voice call [us] unto faith, `Believe in your Sustainer!’ – and so we came to believe. O our Sustainer! Forgive us, then, our sins, and efface our bad deeds; and let us die the death of the truly virtuous! 194. “And, O our Sustainer, grant us that which Thou hast promised us through Thy apostles, and disgrace us not on Resurrection Day! Verily, Thou never failest to fulfill Thy promise!” 195. And thus does their Sustainer answer their prayer: “I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labors [in My way], be it man or woman: each of you is an issue of the other. Hence, as for those who forsake the domain of evil, and are driven from their homelands, and suffer hurt in My cause, and fight [for it], and are slain – I shall most certainly efface their bad deeds, and shall most certainly bring them into gardens through which running waters flow, as a reward from God: for with God is the most beauteous of rewards.” 196. LET IT NOT deceive thee that those who are bent on denying the truth seem to be able to do as they please on earth: 197. it is [but] a brief enjoyment, with hell thereafter as their goal – and how vile a resting-place! – 198. whereas those who remain conscious of their Sustainer shall have gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: a ready welcome from God. And that which is with God is best for the truly virtuous. 199. And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God’s messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer – for, behold, God is swift in reckoning! 200. O you who have attained to faith! Be patient in adversity, and vie in patience with one another, and be ever ready [to do what is right], and remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state!

Nature Ex Nihilo
The opening verse here is very philosophical in its nature, insinuating that written all throughout nature is evidence of God – we only have to know what we’re looking at. That is to say, everything comes from God and the reason there is so much harmony in nature and things are designed as they are is because it is all divinely planned.
A few examples regarding the absurd construction of natural things often pop into my head when people talk about how perfect nature is, but setting these things aside, nature certainly is wondrous and the argument of God being behind its design is a most necessary one religiously for a great many people.
The terminology here makes me want to confirm, though: does Islam believe in creation ex nihilo? Islam has a strong philosophical tradition, and much of that philosophy champions the notion that the cosmos are eternal. What is the traditional Islamic line about that notion?
The Conclusion of Al’-Imran
Verse 195 holds quite a promise and a reassurance for the downtrodden. The notion of suffering in God’s name is one I associate generally with Christianity, as it is a religion focused almost obsessively on suffering. This is not a focus of Islam, or at least I haven’t found that to be so, but it makes sense that God would promise those who do happen to suffer for righteous reasons a stake in the afterlife. “Efface their bad deeds” sounds like “sin forgiveness,” another concept I associate with Christianity.
Pointing out these similarities is not meant to undermine what is written here by applying a syncretistic bend to it, but merely to say that it is rather logical that these religions born of the same impetus (people who needed more than they were getting) and of the same God are to emphasize these inherently humane notions: all will be okay for those who are good yet suffer. When we think, why do bad things happen to good people, the Quran replies, God straightens it all out in the end.
My thoughts incline towards the fact that these are the concluding verses of Al’-Imran. Why? Are they a warning to the new Muslim community not to ultimately misinterpret this revelation as the religions before it misinterpreted theirs’? Verse 199 certainly seems to champion this notion as it provides the other side of this coin: that there are those of earlier revelations who have remained true to said religions and who deserve the same recompense as Muslims in the hereafter.
Please add what you can to our understanding of these final verses of Al’-Imran! Al’-Imran 190-200
190. Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, 191. [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire! 192. “O our Sustainer! Whomsoever Thou shalt commit to the fire, him, verily, wilt Thou have brought to disgrace [in this world]; and such evildoers will have none to succor them. 193. “O our Sustainer! Behold, we heard a voice call [us] unto faith, `Believe in your Sustainer!’ – and so we came to believe. O our Sustainer! Forgive us, then, our sins, and efface our bad deeds; and let us die the death of the truly virtuous! 194. “And, O our Sustainer, grant us that which Thou hast promised us through Thy apostles, and disgrace us not on Resurrection Day! Verily, Thou never failest to fulfill Thy promise!” 195. And thus does their Sustainer answer their prayer: “I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labors [in My way], be it man or woman: each of you is an issue of the other. Hence, as for those who forsake the domain of evil, and are driven from their homelands, and suffer hurt in My cause, and fight [for it], and are slain – I shall most certainly efface their bad deeds, and shall most certainly bring them into gardens through which running waters flow, as a reward from God: for with God is the most beauteous of rewards.” 196. LET IT NOT deceive thee that those who are bent on denying the truth seem to be able to do as they please on earth: 197. it is [but] a brief enjoyment, with hell thereafter as their goal – and how vile a resting-place! – 198. whereas those who remain conscious of their Sustainer shall have gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: a ready welcome from God. And that which is with God is best for the truly virtuous. 199. And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God’s messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer – for, behold, God is swift in reckoning! 200. O you who have attained to faith! Be patient in adversity, and vie in patience with one another, and be ever ready [to do what is right], and remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state!

Talking About Jesus Is a Great Way to Get Left Alone

Jesus Cartoon

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

Enjoy some hilarious Motivational Posters.

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?

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

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

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: Al-’Imran 93-101 Addresses Jewish Arguments Against Islam

Wow! Verse 93 kicked off with a fascinating topic: what Jews can and can’t eat. And why. I would concur with the Quran that Jewish dietary laws – from here forward, kashrut – were never meant to be for everyone and were only meant for the Israelites. Whether they came from God, well, that’s for each person to decide for him/herself. Do I think so? No. I think that the laws found in the Bible were a conglomeration of local Canaanite, Semitic and Ancient Near Eastern customs, which became part and parcel of Jewish law. Their ascription to Moses on Mount Sinai was an etiological way for ancient Israelites to explain why they ate what they did – or didn’t, as the case may have been – in their own time.

The Torah actually says that originally God intended for all men and animals to be vegetarians. That didn’t work, however, so then people were allowed to eat meat but not the blood. Still people kept eating the blood, which was supposed to belong to God, so eventually, if you believe the Torah, God singled out the Jewish people to be his people – the notion of chosenness arises here – so that they could do something close to what he wanted: eating only certain animals and no blood. The very notion offered in the Torah is counter to the idea that kashrut was for more than just the ancient Israelites and their descendants. That’s the very point of the book.

After protesting the universality of kashrut argued by the Jews (and it seems odd to me that any would argue that, but that’s what Asad says), the Quran insists that Mecca should be the direction of prayer, as the precursor to the Ka’aba is the oldest Temple. Since, even accepting that the Ka’aba was erected by Abraham, it would not, archaeologically speaking, be the oldest Temple, I’m going to infer that the Quran means the oldest temple set up to the one true God by a true (the first) monotheist. As a result of this prestigious designation, people should pray in that direction, instead of Jerusalem. It’s my understanding that Mohammed originally prayed towards Jerusalem, but an argument with the Jews caused him to recognize that there way was flawed and that the true direction was in Arabia: Mecca!

Obviously this section is about arguing against certain protestations put forth by the Jews.

On a separate and amusing note, I’ve begun substitute teaching at the Jewish day school that I went to kindergarten through 8th grade. Tomorrow I am substituting for the 8th grade history teacher and they are beginning their unit on Islam! That means I get to give these kids their first lesson in Islam. Admittedly, the school is very good about giving an honest portrayal of other religions, but I’m still glad I get to do it.

Please add whatever you can to our understanding of these verses.

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

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

Al-’Imran 93-101

93. ALL FOOD was lawful unto the children of Israel, save what Israel had made unlawful unto itself [by its sinning] before the Torah was bestowed from on high. Say: “Come forward, then, with the Torah and recite it, if what you say is true!” 94. And all who henceforth invent lies about God – it is they, they who are evildoers! 95. Say: “God has spoken the truth: follow, then, the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God.” 96. Behold, the first Temple ever set up for mankind was indeed the one at Bakkah: rich in blessing, and a [/source] guidance unto all the worlds, 97 full of clear messages. [It is] the place whereon Abraham once stood; and whoever enters it finds inner peace. Hence, pilgrimage unto the Temple is a duty owed to God by all people who are able to undertake it. And as for those who deny the truth – verily, God does not stand in need of anything in all the worlds. 98. SAY: “O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you refuse to acknowledge the truth of God’s messages, when God is witness to all that you do?” 99. Say: “O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you [endeavor to] bar those who have come to believe [in this divine writ] from the path of God by trying to make it appear crooked, when you yourselves bear witness* [to its being straight]? For, God is not unaware of what you do.” 100. O you who have attained to faith! If you pay heed to some of those to whom revelation was vouchsafed aforetime, they might cause you to renounce the truth after you have come to believe [in it]. 101. And how could you deny the truth when it is unto you that God’s messages are being conveyed, and it is in your midst that His Apostle lives? But he who holds fast unto God has already been guided onto a straight way.

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 81-92 Continue the Discussion about Those Who Follow Former Revelation

I definitely see the value of the pledge being made in verse 81. However, based on what is being said, doesn’t it make sense that Jews and Christians rejected Mohammed and Islam since, as was mentioned last week multiple times, the revelations Mohammed was receiving contradicted some of the stories in the Bible? I even said last week that, “Asad proposes (and he believes this) that the verse [72] means that Jews and Christians accepted some of Mohammed’s earlier revelations but not later ones that conflicted with biblical stories.” In this discussion, it’s necessary to set aside the Muslim belief that the Bible was long-since corrupted, because we have to be in the minds of Jews and Christians of Mohammed’s day to understand what they were thinking – particularly as it relates through verse 81.

They wouldn’t have understood that their text was corrupted, so as they saw it, someone was revealing revelation (that according to Asad they believed in the beginning), but then that person started saying things that no longer “confirmed the truth already in your possession,” and so according to Asad they later rejected Mohammed. This is not in any way my passing judgment on the validity of anyone’s revelation or the connection it has to other revelation, but I’m just trying to get in the head of Jews/Christians at Mohammed’s time from the perspective of Muslims, and it seems to me that there’s a good reason that those people were “turning away:” because of the very reason and pledge they took articulated in verse 81. It hardly seems fair that they should be scorned or punished for their actions based on this logic.

Verses 84-85 sound credo-like in their words. There is nothing in true religion but surrender to God, and all the prophets from Abraham forward knew this.

Verses 86-88 actually seem to stand in sharp contrast to some of the verses that we discussed from The Cow in which everyone who believed in God and some other basic concepts could go to Heaven. I know that we’ve encountered other verses that contradicted those already, but I am beginning to find those original verses particularly overshadowed by the animosity being shown towards Jews and Christians that just aren’t accepting Mohammed. Again, that makes me believe that something was happening in the life of the prophet with the Jews and Christians that was troubling and frustrating. I remember a verse that said that those who are given the ability to know the truth and then deny it will not go to Heaven, which seems to be a reasonable subgroup of the larger Jews and Christians group that could go to Heaven because they submitted to God in their own way. It would seem, however, that such people can’t have been confronted by Mohammed and have denied him or they’re not going up anymore. Verse 90 itself really seems to reflect this attitude by combining the original idea and the sentiment within these verses.

The complementary nature of verses 90 and 91 is rather striking. On the one hand, no amount of money will serve as an acceptable ransom for the souls of nonbelievers. Likewise, however, for believers, no amount of belief will be acceptable if they don’t, in a phrase, put their money where their mouths are, and provide for others’ needs. Very interesting contrast.

What can you add to these verses to help elucidate their meaning better?

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

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

Al-’Imran 81-92

81. AND, LO, God accepted, through the prophets, this solemn pledge [from the followers of earlier revelation]: “If, after all the revelation and the wisdom which I have vouchsafed unto you, there comes to you an apostle confirming the truth already in your possession, you must believe in him and succour him. Do you” – said He – “acknowledge and accept My bond on this condition?” They answered: “We do acknowledge it.” Said He: “Then bear witness [thereto], and I shall be your witness. 82. And, henceforth, all who turn away [from this pledge] – it is they, they who are truly iniquitous!” 83. Do they seek, perchance, a faith other than in God, although it is unto Him that whatever is in the heavens and on earth surrenders itself, willingly or unwillingly, since unto Him all must return? 84. Say: “We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the [other] prophets: we make no distinction between any of them. And unto Him do we surrender ourselves.” 85. For, if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the lost. 86. How would God bestow His guidance upon people who have resolved to deny the truth after having attained to faith, and having borne witness that this Apostle is true, and [after] all evidence of the truth has come unto them? For, God does not guide such evildoing folk. 87. Their requital shall be rejection by God, and by the angels, and by all [righteous] men. 88. In this state shall they abide; [and] neither will their suffering be lightened, nor will they be granted respite. 89. But excepted shall be they that afterwards repent and put themselves to rights: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. 90. Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith, and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted: for it is they who have truly gone astray. 91. Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth and die as deniers of the truth – not all the gold on earth could ever be their ransom. It is they for whom grievous suffering is in store; and they shall have none to succour them. 92. [But as for you, O believers,] never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you cherish yourselves; and whatever you spend – verily, God has full knowledge thereof.

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.

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

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

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 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.

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

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

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?

Fun with the Bible: The Many Interpretations of Deuteronomy 18:15

How We Arrived at This Topic

Last week, on Quran Read-A-Long Kay asked, What do the passages of Deuteronomy 18: 15-18 refer to? (there are different English versions of this passage and not all versions use the term “brother”). She also wrote, “There is a passage in Deuteronomy 18 (NIV) 15 to 18-15 says “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to him.” I don’t know what this passage means to Christians or Jews but the use of the words “from among your brothers” is interesting as from the Muslim perspective—the brotherhood of the sons of Prophet Abraham could possibly give these passages significance.”

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible translates this verse as, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.”

Now usually I rely heavily upon the NRSV. It’s an excellent, scholarly translation that takes account of the most ancient Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and even sometimes Latin (the Vulgate) texts of the Bible in order to render the most accurate translation possible. It eschews translations that are misleadingly theological in nature; where discrepancies in the ancient texts exist, it footnotes those differences.

Kay has raised the issue of what exactly this verse means, and more importantly, to whom it means such things. Briefly, I’d like to say what it means to each religion and then comment on the interpretation itself.

Christians and Jews: Different Interpretations – How Strange!

For Christians, the meaning here is abundantly clear: this prophet raised up from among your own people is Jesus. How could it be anyone else? A prophet comparable to Moses, an Israelite, etc. Definitely the J-Man.

For the Jews, this isn’t anyone in particular. It wouldn’t be far fetched to say that this is a reference to the future messiah, but no such word is used and it certainly wasn’t written with that in mind. For the Jews, this could be any of the prophets that came in a long line of prophets after Moses. “Like me” doesn’t necessarily mean in extreme quality, as one who speaks face to face with God, but only “a prophet, like me.” This is simply, ‘be prepared for more prophets because you said that you wanted prophecy to know what God wants so be on the lookout.’ This coincides perfectly with the fact that the verse can also be translated acceptably with all of the references to “prophet” in the plural, as in “The Lord your God will raise up prophets for you like me from among your own people; you shall heed such prophets.”

At the same time, it warns that such prophets will only come from among your own people, that is, the Israelites. This would have been quite a warning for Jews when it came to Mohammed. He was not from among their people. He was an Arab, a notably different people, though Semitic, that exists in the Bible. So, in some sense, for the Israelites/Jews, this verse is cautionary against someone like Mohammed bringing revelation from God because he couldn’t possibly be a prophet.

From A Muslim Perspective

And that, of course, brings us to a Muslim perspective on this verse and the translation of the verse itself. The word used for “your own people” is achichah, which is a plural possessive of the Hebrew word, ach, whose most immediate and obvious translation is “brother.” It’s a curious place to use the word. Of course, ach can also be translated as “kinsman” or “friend,” hence the natural leap to “your own people.” Few would question the reach. However, rather than use a word like am (nation), in which case the meaning would be pretty blatant (though, notably, still not exclude Jesus), the text uses the word ach which even when translated otherwise, still has the connotation of brother.

It is this that makes Kay’s translation from the NIV so valid and the subsequent Muslim outlook on this verse so viable. She has pointed out, quite rightly, that Isaac and Ishmael were brothers. Thus, with the Israelites/Jews descending from Isaac and the Arabs descending from Ishmael, these two tribes are in fact, brother-tribes, or in a sense, kinsman. Thus, a line in the Bible that could acceptably be translated as foreshadowing the rise of a prophet like Moses (a big-time prophet) that comes from among your brothers, could quite easily be seen as a reference to Mohammed for Muslims.

The Historical-Critical Take

Where do I stand? I think that all of these interpretations, from a religious perspective, take into account the possible and appropriate translations of this verse, and therefore are equally viable depending on the perspective of where you’re sitting. I study these things because of the many fascinating and possible interpretations, what they reveal about each religion individually and the ways that they theologically interact with one another.

However, I also know that the book of Deuteronomy was written in the middle of the seventh century BCE and that this line has been written retrospectively. What this line is really doing is letting the future readers of this book know that Moses knew that there would be more prophets to come. Seeing as how the last five hundred years of Israelite history had been littered with prophets, this was a good way of showing Moses’ knowledge and verifying the legitimacy of prophecy.

It is possible that this line also ensured the exclusion of certain people who had been coming around Judea in these tough times claiming to be prophets (remember that the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires were taking over the known world at this time and people were claiming prophetic powers all over the place and there needed to be a way to discern who was legit and who was full of it – similar to what happened in Jesus’ time with the Romans). In this way, the writer of these lines used a word that would intentionally exclude all non-Judeans from possibly offering true prophecies so that his readers would have some criteria by which to discern legitimacy.

Later on, Christians and Muslims and Jews in their own ways, could look back at this line and see it as a way of foreseeing Jesus or Mohammed or whomever else – which, religiously, is fine – but reading it in the context of its historical circumstances can also help us understand what it’s doing here.

Summary

I would like to point out that interpreting this verse as Jews and Arabs being brother-tribes and kinsman, as long as no proselytizing efforts accompany the gesture, is an awesome way to look at this verse from a modern perspective. It’s a shame that more people aren’t focusing on this relationship, like Kay is. A brotherhood, kinsman perspective can sometimes help to reduce tensions and make people think a little harder about why the hatred is necessary.

What do you think? Anything to add? Questions?

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

Enjoy more Fun with the Bible posts.

Russians Try to Ban South Park for its Extremism and Negative Comments about Religion

The Situation

This is an amazing news story for a couple of reasons, and I can’t help but share it with you. Usually, Religion in the News day is a day that I branch off from my usual South Parkian rantings and ravings in order to discuss other relevant things that are happening around the world related to religion.

However, this week I get to take you all the way around the world – to Moscow no less – to discuss the show that’s near and dear to my heart, South Park! which a bunch of pissed off Christians (The Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, to be more specific) are trying to get banned.

WHAT!!?? Conservative Christians trying to ruin a good thing for other people because they can’t handle it themselves. Reminds me a lot of sex, booze and the Bible.

A statement from the group’s leader was that, “South Park is just one of many cartoons that needs to be banned from open broadcast…as it insults the feelings of religious believers and incites religious and national hatred.” The group, ironically, also called the show “extremist.”

So why are these accusations outrageous?

Why They Don’t Get It

South Park is a satirical comedy, meaning in part that its scenarios are constructed on outrageous situations and plotlines because only by being so extreme can the show shock us into understanding the point that it’s making. Subtlety is not the name of the game. However, extreme situations do not mean extremism. One of the show’s primary messages is that extremism of all kinds should be eschewed at all costs. That means that these Russian viewers totally missed the point of the show because they were too preoccupied being angry about what they didn’t understand!

As far as insulting the feelings of religious believers and inciting hatred, I’ll grant that the first one is true, but the only reason that someone needs to be particularly offended and have their feelings hurt regarding South Park‘s portrayal of certain religious people is if said believers are engaging in the unsavory actions being criticized. In which case, screw them! They should take a hint. They’re not supposed to like it – they’re supposed to reflect on it. It’s satire! What’s more, the show isn’t spreading hatred (except of Scientology) – the show is trying to explain that hatred is not the answer, another point entirely lost on these viewers.

My Message to These Morons

You know what I say to these people: you’re idiots. No, not because you don’t like South Park. You’re entitled to your opinion: a lot of people don’t like South Park, and South Park would be the first to defend your right to do as you please and not watch or like it. You’re idiots because you try to impose your views, likes and dislikes on other people. You’re small-minded, intolerant, and a perfect characterization of attempted religious dominance. You claimed you were out to protect your children from this bad cartoon, but you’re just scared that they’ll be exposed to views other than the one’s you want to cram down their throats. So, stop trying to ruin the fun for the rest of us (or other Russians, as the case may be) and keep your bs to yourself.

Whew. Where did that come from? Usually I never have strong opinions about anything. That was so unlike me…glad I got that off my chest.  🙂

What do you think about these issues?

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

Read more Religion in the News posts.

Around the World Pic: A Statue of Jesus with a Jewish Prayer on a Prague Bridge

When I first went to Prague I thought this statue was incredibly fascinating. It is a statue of Jesus on the cross but around him are the words, in Hebrew, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts.” These words are part of an important prayer uttered by Jews every day the world over. They, under no circumstances, refer to Jesus, and so finding this statue on the Charles Bridge in Prague was a bizarre discovery for me.

As it happens, these golden Hebrew letters were part of a humiliating punishment assigned to a Jew at the end of the 17th century who’d been accused of blasphemy. He was forced to pay for them, and it made it seem that when the Jews said this prayer, they were referring to Jesus.

Needless to say, my love of European history and studying Jewish-Christian relations, made stumbling across this statue a wonderful treat.

Plus, a friend of mine stripped down to his boxers right here and planned to jump over the edge before something (Jesus?) compelled him to stop, because the river was likely more shallow than he imagined.

Have you ever been to Prague? Have you seen this statue? What’d you think?

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

Read about and see more Around the World Pic posts.

To read about Jesus’ connection to King David in the book of Matthew because of Hebrew lettering, click HERE.