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?

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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 10-20 Discuss Hell and Surrender to God

I can’t assume that verse 11 refers to anything but the story of the Exodus and the Pharaoh who refused to free the enslaved Hebrews. True or false?

Is there something larger going on in this warning about hell and who goes there? It just seems like it’s straight-up talking about hell. You’re bad. Okay, to hell you go. I hate to ask, is there more going on here? It’s the Quran! Of course there’s more going on here 😉 but what is going on exactly?

As for verse 13 about the unequally matched forces in battle, Asad offers the dual interpretation (favoring the second) that this refers to the Battle of Badr but also to the more general occurrence of a battle between two sides, one numerically weaker but with faith and conviction in its cause and which therefore ultimately wins. Not that I can speak to the timing of this revelation, but I would tend to think that both interpretations are correct. On more than one occasion, to my knowledge, the Medinan Muslim community faced foes much larger than it and was victorious. Depending on the time of this revelation this verse could be referring to any number of those battles that any person being addressed witnessed (just a supposition, though). Thoughts?

In verse 19 it sounds like two different kinds of people are being discussed. On the one hand there are those who have received previous revelations but whose texts have become corrupted and whose communities have become fractured with sectarianism. These people, however, do not “deny the truth of God’s messages,” (except perhaps in their refusal to adopt Islam, though they are surrendering in their own ways to a single God, presumably) and so, therefore, they can still go to Heaven. I think. On the other hand are those who deny the truth of God’s messages, and they are another matter entirely. They, to be sure, cannot go to Heaven because they deny what is revealed. Verse 20 would seem to affirm this, pointing out that it is Mohammed’s duty to proselytize and bring the message of surrender to God to all people, those with previous revelation and those without. Whether or not they accept Mohammed’s Islam, so long as they surrender to God, they’ll be okay (i.e. get the opportunity to go to Heaven) because God knows what’s in their hearts and whether or not they’re truly surrendering, regardless of what they call their religion. Surrender to God is surrender to God.

What can you tell us about these verses or my interpretation of them?

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Al-`Imran 10-20

10. BEHOLD, as for those who are bent on denying the truth – neither their worldly possessions nor their offspring will in the least avail them against God; and it is they, they who shall be the fuel of the fire! 11. [To them shall – happen] the like of what happened to Pharaoh’s people and those who lived before them: they gave the lie to Our messages – and so God took them to task for their sins: for God is severe in retribution. 12. Say unto those who are bent on denying the truth: “You shall be overcome and gathered unto hell – and how evil a resting-place! 13. You have already had a sign in the two hosts that met in battle, one host fighting in God’s cause and the other denying Him; with their own eyes [the former] saw the others as twice their own number: but God strengthens with His succor whom He wills. In this, behold, there is indeed a lesson for all who have eyes to see. 14. ALLURING unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and lands. All this may be enjoyed in the life of this world – but the most beauteous of all goals is with God. 15. Say: “Shall I tell you of better things than those [earthly joys]? For the God-conscious there are, with their Sustainer, gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide, and spouses pure, and God’s goodly acceptance.” And God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His servants – 16. those who say, “O our Sustainer! Behold, we believe [in Thee]; forgive us, then, our sins, and keep us safe from suffering through the fire” – 17. those who are patient in adversity, and true to their word, and truly devout, and who spend [in God’s way], and pray for forgiveness from their innermost hearts. 18. GOD [Himself] proffers evidence* – and [so do] the angels and all who are endowed with knowledge – that there is no deity save Him, the Upholder of Equity: there is no deity save Him, the Almighty, the Truly Wise. 19. Behold, the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man’s] self-surrender unto Him; and those who were vouchsafed revelation aforetime* took, out of mutual jealousy, to divergent views [on this point] only after knowledge [thereof] had come unto them.** But as for him who denies the truth of God’s messages – behold, God is swift in reckoning! 20. Thus, [O Prophet,] if they argue with thee, say, “I have surrendered my whole being unto God, and [so have] all who follow me!” – and ask those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime, as well as all unlettered people,* “Have you [too] surrendered yourselves unto Him?” And if they surrender themselves unto Him, they are on the right path; but if they turn away – behold, thy duty is no more than to deliver the message: for God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His creatures.

Jimmy Takes Steroids While Cartman Becomes Retarded in “Up the Down Steroid,” South Park Episode 803

I love this episode. It’s one of those socially profound episodes that is simultaneously so hilarious that you just have to love it.

Jimmy, intent on competing successfully (i.e. winning) in the Special Olympics, begins taking steroids. This ruins his relationship with his friend Timmy, who can’t believe he would cheat in such a vile manner. Jimmy, hopped up on steroids, turns violent and at one point beats the shit out of his girlfriend with his crutches and then even hits his mother. Hitting women is not funny or right yet something about this is so disturbing that you laugh out of discomfort.

In the meantime, Cartman has decided that to win the grand prize at the Special Olympics he just has to pretend to be retarded, compete with, as he thinks of them, a bunch of cripples and retards, and then take the money. He convinces his mom to sign him up and spends the entire episode learning how to behave like a handicapped individual. Again, terrible and hilarious.

When Kyle morally objects to Cartman’s behavior, genuinely concerned that his actions will send him to Hell, Cartman explains that it is actually Kyle, as a Jew, who is in danger of an eternity of damnation.

At the Special Olympics, Cartman comes in last place because he is out of shape and being handicapped doesn’t stop the other kids from being successful athletes. Jimmy wins, but when he realizes that he only won by cheating, he confesses his actions and gives a lengthy lecture – while we stare at Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Jason Giambi – about how people who use steroids are worthless pussies who should confess that they are big cheaters and insist that their names be stricken from the record books.

Awesome. What did you think of this episode? How do you feel about steroid use in professional sports?

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Kenny Saves Heaven from Satan During a Right to Life Debate in South Park Episode 904, “Best Friends Forever”

With the release of the new PSP and the accompanying game, Heaven vs. Hell, Kenny is found to be the greatest player on earth. Thus, God strikes him with a truck so that he can come to Heaven and defend it against the minions of Hell. That’s right: God designed the game to find Heaven’s very own Keanu Reeves (think, Constantine).

But in the past Satan has actually been a rather pleasant – if misunderstood – fellow, so why is he now attacking Heaven? Well, his minion/adviser/boyfriend, Kevin, has persuaded him to do so, and so in Lord of the Rings fashion (this episode hits just about everything) orcs are created to do battle against Heaven.

Unfortunately for Heaven’s retention of Kenny and his excellent ability to defend it against Hell, doctors on earth have hooked Kenny up to life support, thereby trapping his soul in his vegetative body. Think Terry Schiavo. I told you: this episode hits everything. Since Kenny left his PSP to Cartman in his will, Cartman wants him to remain dead, but sensing Cartman’s evil machinations, Kyle and Stan try to keep Kenny alive. As it turns into a national debate with Republican involvement on the pro-life, and in this case, Satanic side.

In the end more of Kenny’s will is discovered; he requested that he never be shown on tv in a vegetative state. Realizing that they were wrong but for the right reasons, Kyle and Stan allow Kenny to die. He goes to Heaven and defends it successfully in a battle that is amazing but which we are never allowed to see.

This great episode tackles so many elements of pop culture while making a mockery of America’s handling of the Terry Schiavo situation. A true testimony to Matt and Trey’s skills.

What did you think? What was your favorite part?

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Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 164-167

Why Give a Creation Account?

Well as the end of verse 164 tells us, the results of creation are “signs for the wise.” Every single one of these natural phenomena that we take for granted should be reminders to us that God is the ultimate creator, all-powerful and capable of anything.

Foolishly, however, there are people who don’t recognize this seemingly obvious fact of life and worship something other than God, giving that thing the love due God. No good, we learn, but this seems like par for the course when reading a religious text such as this.

But That’s Not Where My Confusion with These Verses Lies

My confusion concerns what follows in verses 166 and 167, the discussion of which I’ll begin by noting that all of the followers (of those people who were receiving God’s love) burn forever in Hell. That is, those who didn’t recognize that they should worship God, who didn’t see the signs inherent in creation, are going to Hell for worshiping something else (is that something else a person – e.g. kings or royalty – or a thing, like the sun?).

Okay, makes sense from the back end, but what I don’t get is how it seems that they understood what they did wrong by saying that, knowing what they know now about God, they would leave those they had followed just as they were left by what they followed. If they understood enough to leave and repented, despite their foolishness from the outset, shouldn’t a merciful God show them their deeds and fill them with remorse but then not make them burn in eternal hellfire?

Is my question clear because without understanding it I fear that my great companions on this journey through the Quran will not be able to correct my reading where I have erred?

So, to any and all who can help me understand who is being punished, why they are being punished and how that fits into a larger Muslim understanding of Allah in these verses, I would be most appreciative.

Summary

What are your thoughts about these verses? Did I miss anything important you’d like to add?

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The Cow 164-167

164. Creation of the heavens and the earth, alternation of night and day, and sailing of ships across the ocean with what is useful to man, and the rain that God sends from the sky enlivening the earth that was dead, and the scattering of beasts of all kinds upon it, and the changing of the winds, and the clouds which remain obedient between earth and sky, are surely signs for the wise. 165. And yet there are men who take others as compeers of God, and bestow on them love due to God; but the love of the faithful for God is more intense. If only the wicked could see now the agony that they will behold (on the Day of Resurrection), they will know that to God belongs the power entirely! And the punishment of God is severe. 166. When those who were followed will disclaim those who followed them, and see the torment all ties between them shall be severed, 167. And the followers will say: “Could we live but once again we would leave them as they have abandoned us now.” God will show them thus their deeds, and fill them with remorse; but never shall they find release from the Fire.

The Vatican’s Newspaper Forgives John Lennon for Thinking the Beatles are Bigger Than Jesus

The paper was the semi-official L’Osservatore Romano, which recognized that Lennon’s remark was just the youthful ebullience of a young working class man who was shocked at his own unexpected success. Who will die out first, Christianity or Rock and Roll?

The article came along with the 40th anniversary of the critically acclaimed White Album.

Well, I must say, who the hell cares if the Vatican, or some subsidiary paper, forgives you. What does that mean anyway? Does it mean Lennon isn’t burning in Hell anymore? Does it mean that we can all rest easy that Catholicism isn’t holding a grudge?

I don’t think the paper was trying to do anything official or spark any controversy but I think it’s pretty presumptuous to think that your forgiveness matters to anyone – but I guess we are talking about the Vatican here, which is the institution par excellence for forgiveness and thinking itself extremely important in that department.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for forgiveness, but John Lennon wasn’t a Catholic and I’m fairly sure that he doesn’t give a shit what the Vatican thinks about him wherever he is. It’s a bit presumptuous is all.

What do you think about this?

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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.