Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 189-196 Speaks of Fighting, Aggression and Oppression

At first blush these verses seem to be a combination of injunctions for life about violence, aggression and fighting and at the same time about the specifics of Mohammed’s return to Mecca with his followers. For instance, verse 190 – and I like the emphasis placed here on not being aggressors or even aggressive – seems to be a rule to follow for life. However, verse 191 – which discusses returning to the place from which you were expelled and making sure not to fight near the Holy Mosque – seems more specific to the conquest of Mecca.

I feel like 194 is a dangerous verse to give people, because it effectively authorizes oppression in the name of God and piety, saying that it is allowed against those who oppress you to the same degree. Human nature is such, however, that people who oppress are often unable to discontinue doing so, even if the appropriate level of oppression authorized has been met. Oppression requires dehumanization and once dehumanized, oppression proceeds unhindered. Plus, why say in verse 191 that oppression is worse than killing if only a few verses later oppression, to whatever degree, is going to be allowed. It seems unreasonable, counterproductive, and plain not good. Unless of course the entire thing is a ruse to see whether people will abide by the earlier words and never oppress, knowing that it is wrong.

I was unaware of the ritual of shaving one’s head in Islam. What is the purpose of doing so and what does it mean to do so? Any help clarifying this would help. It seems here to be related to sending a sacrifice instead of visiting a holy place, but what is it directly related to? Is this related to hajj?

What else can you tell us about these verses? Can you answer any of my questions, enlighten us generally on the verses or simply add anything? Thanks!

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The Cow 189-196

189. They ask you of the new moons. Say: “These are periods set for men (to reckon) time, and for pilgrimage.” Piety does not lie in entering the house through the back door, for the pious man is he who follows the straight path. Enter the house through the main gate, and obey God. You may haply find success. 190. Fight those in the way of God who fight you, but do not be aggressive: God does not like aggressors. 191. And fight those (who fight you) wheresoever you find them, and expel them from the place they had turned you out from. Oppression is worse than killing. Do not fight them by the Holy Mosque unless they fight you there. If they do, then slay them: Such is the requital for unbelievers. 192. But if they desist, God is forgiving and kind. 193. FIght them till sedition comes to end, and the law of God (prevails). If they desist, then cease to be hostile, except against those who oppress. 194. (Fighting during) the holy month (if the sanctity) of the holy month (is violated) is (just) retribution. So if you are oppressed, oppress those who opress you to the same degree, and fear God, and know that God is with those who are pious and follow the right path. 195. Spend in the way of God and do not seek destruction at your own hands. So do good; for God loves those who do good. 196. Perform the pilgrimage and holy visit (‘Umra, to Makkah) in the service of God. But if you are prevented, send an offering which you can afford as sacrifice, and do not shave your heads until the offering has reached the place of sacrifice. But if you are sick or have ailment of the scalp (preventing the shaving of hair), then offer expiation by fasting or else giving alms or a sacrificial offering. When you have security, then those of you who wish to perform the holy visit along with the pilgrimage, should make a sacrifice according to their means. But he who has nothing, should fast for three days furing the pilgrimage and seven on return, completing ten. This applies to him whose family does not live near the Holy Mosque. Have fear of God and remember that God is severe in punishment.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 183-188 Speaks of Ramadan and Fasting

I had no idea that Ramadan was the holy month that it is because it was the month in which the Quran was revealed! Boy, you learn something knew every day, don’t you? Well, I guess that’s particularly true if you’re reading the Quran every day!

What I guess I’m not entirely sure about is why (according to verse 185) one should fast during the month of Ramadan. I guess the question comes down to what the purpose of fasting is in Islam. In Judaism, fasting is done in large part for commemoration and remembrance. A day is spent without food in order to be reminded of some terrible event in the past or so that one can constantly recall the purpose of a particular day. Is it similar in Islam? Is fasting conducted during the month of Ramadan in order that Muslims constantly be reminded that this is the month in which they were given the Quran? That’s what the end of verse 185 seems to indicate (“give glory to God for the guidance”).

The remainder of this section is the specific ways that the fasting should be followed. I think it’s interesting that sex with one’s wife is acceptable at night, and therefore not during the day. It seems that the day is a time for deprivation in all senses and that nothing should be satiated during the day except for one’s desire to assiduously devote himself to God. I like the consistency.

I find the end of verse 187 particularly interesting, because it enjoins people to stay “well within” the bounds fixed by God. That seems to mean – to me – that you shouldn’t go treading close to the edge of God’s proscriptions. When God says you can do something until the very beginning of dawn, don’t go starting the moment before dawn and trying to eat your fill right around first light. That’s cutting it close, and you shouldn’t risk violating God’s laws for that. The end of the verse, telling men that God has given them laws that they may take heed for themselves, reinforces this personal level of responsibility associated with being a Muslim.

What do you think of these verses? Have I missed anything or would you like to add anything?

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The Cow 183-188

183. O believers, fasting is enjoined on you as it was on those before you, so that you might become righteous. 184. Fast a (fixed) number of days, but if someone is ill or is traveling (we should complete) the number of days (he had missed); and those who find it hard to fast should expiate by feeding a poor person. For the good they do with a little hardship is better for men. And if you fast it is good for you, if you knew. 185. Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed as guidance to man and clear proof of the guidance, and criterion (of falsehood and truth). So when you see the new moon you should fast the whole month; but a person who is ill or traveling (and fails to do so) should fast on other days, as God wishes ease and not hardship for you, so that you complete the (fixed) number (of fasts), and give glory to God for the guidance, and be grateful. 186. When My devotees enquire of you about Me, I am near, and answer the call of every supplicant when he calls. It behooves them to hearken to Me and believe in Me that they may follow the right path. 187. You are allowed to sleep with your wives on the night of the fast: They are your dress as you are theirs. God is aware you were cheating yourselves so He turned to you and pardoned you. Eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appears clear from the dark line, then fast until the night falls; and abstain from your wives (when you have decided) to stay in the mosques for assiduous devotion. These are the bounds fixed by God, so keep well within them. So does God make His signs clear to men that they may take heed for themselves. 188. And do not consume each other’s wealth in vain, nor offer it to men in authority with intent of usurping unlawfully and knowingly a part of the wealth of others.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 177-182 Creates Two Ways of Keeping Wills Honest

The First Half

What a wonderful opening verse! At a basic level it seems to speak of what piety is. Is piety related to which direction you face (presumably for prayer), which is to say a religious matter? No. Piety is about those few fundamentally important beliefs (God, Last Day, etc.) and in being a charitable person who helps others. Piety and social responsibility, then, are rather related – a wonderful message. Interestingly, though, this discussion turns into one about wills, inheritance and retribution.

What is meant by “recompense (for blood) paid with a grace?” This seems related to the retribution for the murdered, but I’m wondering if we’re talking about the same dead person. Is it saying that God gives grace (i.e. brings to Heaven) whosoever is murdered? Obviously it couldn’t be anyone who gets that privilege, but some who may have made amends, surely. Perhaps that’s why it is seen as a concession by God, because the idea is that the murdered man may not have been worthy of Heaven at that moment but could have become so given time. I feel like I’m stretching to make this verse work when I simply don’t understand what it’s saying.

The Second Half

At first I was very confused about verses 180-182, but by the end I think I got it. I kept asking myself, Why does one need to give away his stuff at the end of his life rather than after his death, but 182 makes it quite clear why: because people have been known to change wills. What’s interesting is how the Quran recognizes this societal problem (there would not be laws about it if it were not a problem) and takes a two-pronged approach to solving it.

On the one hand, there is a practical, on the ground approach, and on the other, a celestial approach. First, the solution is that people nearing death will bequeath their goods before they die, thereby ensuring that the people who are supposed to have them do indeed have them. Thus, there can be no mistaking that the will was not altered. Second, the Quran makes this more than a mundane matter and tells us that anyone who does mess with wills will be divinely punished, and it even encourages those who suspect will-tamperers to come forward by ensuring that such people will not be punished, either by God or, I assume, other people (at least the Godly injunction would seem to prevent such thing).

I must say that I find this to be very clever. It is by no means a unique way of doing things. The Torah is all over this dual method of ensuring that problems are solved with a heavenly and an earthly solution, as well as other societies in which religion and penal codes are one and the same, but this is very well done. Identify a problem: will-tampering. Propose a solution: give away stuff before death. Reinforce divinely: God punishes those who break this law. Bravo!

Do you have anything to add to my assessment or would you like to point out anything that I’ve missed? What do you think of these verses?

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The Cow 177 – 182

177. Piety does not lie in turning your face to East or West: Piety lies in believing in God, the Last Day and the angels, the Scriptures and the prophets, and disbursing your wealth out of love for God among your kin and the orphans, the wayfarers and mendicants, freeing the slaves, observing your devotional obligations, and in paying the zakat and fulfilling a pledge you have given, and being patient in hardship, adversity, and times of peril. These are the men who affirm the truth, and they are those who follow the straight path. 178. O believers, ordained for you is retribution for the murdered, (whether) a free man, or a slave of a slave, or a woman of a woman. But he who is pardoned some of it by his brother should be dealt with equity, and recompense (for blood) paid with a grace. This is a concession from your Lord and a kindness. He who trangresses in spite of it shall suffer painful punishment. 179. In retribution there is life (and preservation). O men of sense, you may haply take heed for yourselves. 180. It is ordained that when any one of you nears death, and he owns good and chattels, he should bequeath them equitably to his parents and next of kin. This is binding on those who are upright and fear God. 181. And any one who changes the will, having heard it, shall be guilty and accountable; for God hears all and knows everything. 182. He who suspects wrong or partiality on the part of the testator and brings about a settlement, does not incur any guilt, for God is verily forgiving and merciful.

Quran Read-A-Long: We Learn about the first Halal Laws in the Cow 168-176

Making the Dietary Laws as Serious as Possible

I think that the opening line here begs a question: how do we know what things of the earth are lawful and good to be eaten? That is, what’s Halal? As we read on and see that verses 168b-171 all relate to not following Satan and only obeying God, and that they are sandwiched in by lines 168a and 172, both about eating the good food given by God. We come to think (at least I did) that the food being spoken of is not your typical french fries and hambuger (or humus and falafel if you prefer – yum!), but rather, the spiritual nourishment and guidance provided by God, particularly through the right words of the Quran.

But then suddenly, we’re right back into the food again. So my question becomes, are these interim lines an intentional blurring of concepts here so that we come to equate eating what is right and following God’s law with being a good person and following God spiritually? It would certainly serve to make the commands weightier, and this seems to be further echoed by the verses that proceed the list of taboo foods as well.

The Specific Foods

The actual list of forbidden foods is fascinating, I think, because each is paralleled in the Torah, which is to say the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut (that’s why many in Israel who are not fanatical about what they eat but just don’t want to eat anything really wrong will eat at both kosher and halal restaurants since it’s effectively the same).

No blood, which is forbidden in the Torah because it was considered the lifeforce of the animal and that part was reserved explicitly for God. Somehow I think that Islam’s commandment was based on something less religiously primitive. No carrion birds for Jews or Muslims either, and of course nothing that was sacrificed in the name of any other God.

No pig, which is interesting, and many theories have been derived for why. After noticing that it was forbidden in both religions, one scholar concluded that the pig is a terrible animal to raise in the desert climate of the Middle East because it needs to be kept cool, and without adequate water will resort to filthy means of doing so (rolling in its own feces). Thus, that law insured that people would not waste time keeping and tending to pigs. Just a theory though. There are numerous theories for laws that don’t seem to have a scientific basis – all interesting – but all just that: theories. We don’t really know why it is that such things were forbidden, though the consistency in God’s commandments in the Torah and Quran is noteworthy.

Please feel free to comment on and add anything that I missed or said. What are your thoughts upon reading these verses? Do you keep halal (is that the phrase – it’s keep kosher)? What do you think the correlation between the texts and religions is here?

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The Cow 168-176

168. O men, eat only the things of the earth that are lawful and good. Do not walk in the footsteps of Satan, your acknowledged enemy. 169. He will ask you to indulge in evil, indecency, and to speak lies of God you cannot even conceive. 170. When it is said to them: “Follow what God has revealed,” they reply: “No, we shall follow only what our fathers had practiced,” – even though their fathers had no wisdom or guidance! 171. The semblance of the infidels is that of a man who shouts to one that cannot hear more than a call and a cry. They are deaf, dumb and blund, and they fail to understand. 172. O believers, eat what is good of the food We have given you, and be grateful to God if indeed you are obedient to Him. 173. Forbidden to you are carrion and blood, and the flesh of the swine, and that which has been consecrated (or killed) in the name of any other than God. If one is obliged by necessity to eat it without intending to transgress, or reverting to it, he is not guilty of sin; for God is forgiving and kind. 174. Those who conceal any part of the Scriptures that God has revealed, and thus make a little profit thereby, take nothing but fire as food; and God will not turn to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor nourish them for growth; and their doom will be painful. 175. They are those who bartered away good guidance for error, and pardon for punishment: How great is their striving for the Fire! 176. That is because God has revealed the Book containing the truth; but those who are at variance about it have gone astray in their contrariness.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 97-103 Is A Tough Nut to Crack

The Angel Gabriel and Allah’s Message Continued

As verse 97 insinuates, it was Gabriel who revealed the words of Allah to Mohammed. This, as we see here, “had been revealed before.”

Again and again these verses emphasize both that God has already revealed his message in previous books and that some people continue to reject this new message, which is quite obviously a continuation of the first. What’s more, God is the enemy of these people. My first question is, if God is the enemy of those who deny the continuation of his message, and Jews fall under this rubric, how come Jews are given the status of dhimmi in Muslim societies which would seem to accept their decision not to believe in God’s latest message? Do the Jews fall into two groups here, as we’ve discussed before?

Verses 102 and 103

Why did the sorcerers of Solomon’s time explicitly say that they were trying to deceive people? It seems like a silly question but at the same time, I can’t help but think that it’s a silly statement that I’m sure has been thought about, and answered, by others.

There is a tone in this verse that I don’t know if I’ve sensed before. I think I’m generally having trouble understanding this verse. Can anybody shed some light on it? Hmm, and the next one. What’s really going on here?

Summary

This Quran Read-A-Long post definitely has more questions than answers but I found it difficult to understand and more than a little confusing. What are your thoughts and reflections about these verses?

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The Cow 97-103

97. Say: “Whosoever is the enemy of Gabriel who revealed the word of God to you by the dispensation of God, reaffirming what had been revealed before, and is a guidance and good news for those who believe, – 98. Whosoever is the enemy of God and His angels and apostles, and of Gabriel and Michael, then God is the enemy of such unbelievers.” 99. We have sent clear signs to you, such as none can deny except those who trangress the truth. 100. And every time they made a pledge some of them pushed it aside, and many of them do not believe. 101. When a messenger was sent to them by God affirming the Books they had already received, some of them put (His message) behind their backs as if they had no knowledge of it. 102. And they follow what devilish beings used to chant against the authority of Solomon, though Solomon never disbelieved and only the devils denied, who taught sorcery to men, which, they said, had been revealed to the angels of Babylon, Harut and Marut, who, however, never taught it without saying: “We have been sent to deceive you, so do not renounce (your faith).” They learnt what led to discord between husband and wife. Yet they could not harm any one without the dispensation of God. And they learnt what harmed them and brought no gain. They knew indeed whoever bought this had no place in the world to come, and that surely they had sold themselves for something that was vile. If only they had sense! 103. Had they come to believe instead, and taken heed for themselves, they would surely have earned from God a far better reward. If only they had sense!

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 87-97 Alludes to the Problem with Jewish Chosenness

Since this entire passage seems to me to discuss how the Jews don’t believe in revelations that came after the Torah despite their verification of the Jews’ own text, I’m going to focus only on verse 94, which concerns, I think, chosenness. Please feel free to comment on any other part of this passage, however, as it’s all up for discussion.

The Idea of Chosenness

Jews believe that they are the chosen people. Apparently, they were elected by God way back in the day to possess a certain land and forever be God’s chosen and consecrated people. Personally, I don’t live way back in the day – though I may recall it frequently in anecdotes and such – but rather, I live today. What’s important to me are the concerns that we face today and how to make today a better place.

Living in the Now

Many people don’t share those concerns to the extreme that I do, which isn’t to say that they’re not interested in present day issues as much as to say that they’re not concerned with them to the exclusion of what was once important. I am. Some see that as a flaw or as foolishness, but it’s just who I am. I very rarely see the value of preserving tradition solely for the sake of tradition and particularly if it’s detrimental to modern concerns and progress.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t value and respect tradition and the past. After all, I’m trained as a historian and I love studying and understanding religion (hence, The Zen of South Park). However, I’m not attached to ideas or traditions from the past so much so that I can’t give them up to make the world a better place. Most people aren’t with me on that, and I can appreciate that.

The Problem with Chosenness

The idea of being chosen by God, I think, is a dangerous notion. Chosenness implies elitism and a “better than others-ness” that I find pernicious to people’s ability to interact, coexist and progress. How can we talk to one another knowing that the other considers his race/religion/ethnicity/family superior to everyone else’s – and I don’t just mean to have its general advantages and qualities (which is probably okay) but that he believes that he has been chosen by God as an elect?

That’s a pretty twisted notion and makes mutual dialogue difficult. I constantly struggle with the idea of chosenness because I dislike it when people think that there’s something innately special about themselves that is not so in others – that birth precedes merit. This idea manifests itself in many forms throughout the world, but is quite apparent in the notion of Jewish chosenness – the suggestion that only the Jews are God’s chosen people.

Summary

Now, this passage doesn’t provide a flattering portrayal of the Jews, considering that it lambasts them for rejecting these very words which verify the truth of the Torah, and I must point out that my own sentiments on the matter of chosenness do not follow this general thread of condemnation. However, I found the larger point here – that the Jews stick to the Torah and its notion of chosenness to the exclusion of others being able to reach God, which is a patently absurd idea (that we can’t all be with God in the afterlife) – that I find it damaging and unhelpful and wanted to speak out about it myself.

What do you think of this passage? Do you have anything to add? What do you think of the idea of chosenness, whether in this particular instance as it relates to the Jews or in its general application to so many people’s understanding of themselves and their people as supremely special?

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The Cow: 87-97

87. Remember We gave Moses the Book and sent after him many an apostle; and to Jesus, son of Mary, We gave clear evidence of the truth, reinforcing him with divine grace. Even so, when a messenger brought to you what did not suit your mood you turned haughty, and called some imposters and some others you slew. 88. And they say: “Our hearts are enfolded in covers.” In fact God has cursed them for their unbelief; and only a little do they believe. 89. And when the Book was sent to them by God verifying what had been revealed to them already – even though before it they used to pray for victory over the unbelievers – and even though they recognized it when it came to them, they renounced it. The curse of God be on those who deny! 90. They bartered their lives ill denying revelation of God out of spite that God should bestow His grace among His votaries on whomsoever He will, and thus earned wrath upon wrath. The punishment for disbelievers is ignominious. 91. And when it is said to them: “believe in what God has sent down,” they say: “We believe what was sent to us, and do not believe what has come thereafter,” although it affirms the truth they possess already. Say: “Why have you then been slaying God’s apostles as of old, if you do believe?” 92. Although Moses had come to you with evidence of the truth, you chose the calf in his absence, and you transgressed. 93. Remember when We took your pledge and exalted you on the Mount (saying: ) “Hold fast to what We have given you, firmly, and pay heed,” you said: “We have heard and will not obey.” (The image of) the calf had sunk deep into their hearts on account of unbelief. Say: “Vile is your belief if you are believers indeed!” 94. Tell them: “If you think you alone will abide with God to the exclusion of the rest of Mankind, in the mansions of the world to come, then wish for death if what you say is true.” 95. But they will surely not wish for death because of what they had done in the past; and God knows the sinners well. 96. You will see they are covetous of life more than other men, even more than those who practice idolatry. Each one of them desires to live a thousand years, although longevity will never save them from punishment, for God sees all they do.

Quran Day: The Cow 62-71 Discusses Who Gets Into Heaven and What They Need to Believe

This is a very interesting passage, but I’m only going to comment on the beginning of it.

The Other Part, Though I Just Promised Otherwise

If you have anything to say or add about God’s command regarding the cow and the ensuing conversation between Moses and the Israelites, I’d love to hear it and better understand what’s going on. In part, it seems like a microcosm of Jewish law and debate, perhaps the Quran’s way of noting the constant struggle between the Jewish people and what they think they should be doing to please God: not just doing it, but arguing about it all day long and finally doing something. I certainly appreciate that sentiment and anyone’s help understanding these verses better.

Who is Going to Heaven – The Cow 62

I LOVE this verse of the Quran, which states explicitly that not just Muslims go to Heaven. This is not the most common of religious beliefs. Though many Christians today think that good people get into Heaven, traditional Christianity is quite clear that only those who believe in Jesus as God (plus other stuff) go to Heaven. The rest of us burn.

So, that the Quran states front and center that many other people besides practicing Muslims go to Heaven (pending, “shall have his reward” means that) is really incredible. Of course, you must believe a few key things, but hey, what good party lets just anybody in, right?

I also find it fascinating (and I think this is in another comment of mine elsewhere on a Quran Day Post) that instead of Christians, it’s written Nazareans, as in, those who follow the Nazarite (or Jesus), since Christians do not really do so much what Jesus said as follow the religion that Paul created about him. This Quranic verse implicitly recognizes this important historical fact, though as JDsg and I have discussed, Muslims also believe that the Torah followed by the Jews is a corrupted text, leading me to wonder if the Jews mentioned hear refers to Jews generally, or Jews whose hearts are with this real Torah or something else like that.

Follow up

What do you think about these verses from the Quran? Do you have answers to any of my questions? Who do you think gets into Heaven? And why?

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The Cow 62-71

62. Surely the believers and the Jews, Nazareans and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and whosoever does right, shall have his reward with his Lord and will neither have fear nor regret. 63. Remember the day We made the covenant with you and exalted you on the Mount and said; ‘ Hold fast to what We have given you, and remember what is therein that you may take heed.’ 64. You know and have known already those among you who had broken the sanctity of the Sabbath, and to whom We had said: ‘Become (like) apes despised,’ 66. And whom We made an example for the people (of the day) and those after them, and warning for those who fear God. 67. Remember, when Moses said to his people: God demands that you sacrifice a cow,” they said: “Are you making fun of us?’ And he said: “God forbid that I be of the ignorant.’ 68. ‘Call on your Lord for us,’ they said, ‘that He might inform us what kind she should be.’ ‘Neither old nor young, says God, but of age in between,’ answered Moses. ‘So do as you are bid.’ 69. ‘Call on your Lord,’ they said, ‘to tell us the color of the cow.’ ‘God says,’ answered Moses, ‘a fawn colored cow, rich yellow, well pleasing to the eye.’ 70. ‘Call on your Lord,’ they said, ‘to name its variety, as cows be all alike to us. If God wills we shall be guided aright.’ 71. And Moses said: ‘He says it’s a cow unyoked, nor worn out by ploughing or watering the fields, one in good shape with no mark or blemish.’ ‘Now have you brought us the truth,’ they said; and then, after wavering, they sacrificed the cow.