Quran Read-Along: Is Al’-Imran 181-189 Talking About the Jews?

Slay Them Prophets

Whenever I see talk of slaying prophets, I immediately think of the accusations leveled against the ancient Israelites and assume that we must be talking about them. This would also fit, in parts of the Bible, with, “God is poor while we are rich.” For instance, during the Conquest of Cana’an that happens in the book of Joshua (and only in the book of Joshua I might add as the rest of the Bible and history itself make it rather clear that none of this really occurred, but it was only a story to demonstrate a few lessons), the people take some of the riches that were meant to belong to God. There’s no prophet slaying, though (beyond disobedience of Joshua), and this seems a rather literal interpretation of the fact.

The history of the First Temple during the reign of the Kings of Judah (pre-Josiah) might also call attention to this, as this was the period during which the people (priests) grew wealthy, ignored God, and killed his prophets (supposedly). But again, this seems quite literal, when in fact I detect a spiritual element to this idea: the presumption that we know what God doesn’t and are rich in life (and spirit), and that we ignore the prophets who are sent to him (i.e. slaying prophets is perhaps less literal and more along the lines of ignoring them, like say, what the Jews of Medina are doing to Mohammed).

Can We Start the Sacrifices Again, or What?

As we move into verses 183 and 184 my suspicions feel both confirmed and belied.

That is, the Jews would want their apostles (or prophets) to come to them with news related to burnt offerings – that is, the reinstatement of sacrifice and presumably news of all this happening at the Temple in Jerusalem (that implies fresh autonomy and perhaps the arrival of the messiah).

The rabbis say that prophecy ended with Alexander the Great (c.332 BCE in Jerusalem) because with him came Hellenization, a process that the rabbis considered antithetical to their own tradition and culture. Thus, prophecy was long considered over (nearly 1000 years over) by the time of Mohammed (this disregards the fact that the book of Daniel was written in the 160s BCE because it was believed to be from the early 6th C. BCE) and therefore Jews would have been most disinclined to believe Mohammed unless, presumably, he told them what they wanted to hear: that the future held sacrifices and a reinstatement of their tradition. The Quran seems to be saying that even back in the day when prophets said what Jews claimed they wanted to hear, you killed them.

Spread a Little Revelation

By verse 187 it sounds as though we’re talking about the notion of chosenness. That is to say that the messages of revelation were meant to be shared and spread around the world but instead they were turned inward and used for trifling gain – to make the Jews special for themselves (this is my guess). Christianity was doing the opposite (as an early proselytizing religion) so this seems to be a reference to only the Jews (unless I’m totally missing someone else here). I’m not sure where the line to ‘make it known to mankind’ comes from though. Where was this said?

As basic advice (toned down a smidge-a-roo), I like this: “Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done – think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come]” When I say toned down, I mean, it doesn’t have to be about grievous suffering for it to tell us that we don’t have to love pretentious people, what Holden Cofield might call phonies. Don’t pay them any mind, it seems to say (without the suffering part…).

Please feel free to comment and critique!

Al’-Imran 181-189

181. God has indeed heard the saying of those who said, “Behold, God is poor while we are rich!”  We shall record what they have said, as well as their slaying of prophets against all right, and We shall say [unto them on Judgment Day]: “Taste suffering through fire 182. in return for what your own hands have wrought – for never does God do the least wrong to His creatures!” 183.  As for those who maintain, “Behold, God has bidden us not to believe in any apostle unless he comes unto us with burnt offerings”  – say [unto them, O Prophet]: “Even before me there came unto you apostles with all evidence of the truth, and with that whereof you speak: why, then, did you slay them, if what you say is true?” 184. And if they give thee the lie – even so, before thy time, have [other] apostles been given the lie when they came with all evidence of the truth, and with books of divine wisdom, and with light-giving revelation. 185. Every human being is bound to taste death: but only on the Day of Resurrection will you be requited in full [for whatever you have done] – whereupon he that shall be drawn away from the fire and brought into paradise will indeed have gained a triumph: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion. 186. You shall most certainly be tried in your possessions and in your persons; and indeed you shall hear many hurtful things from those to whom revelation was granted before your time, as well as from those who have come to ascribe divinity to other beings beside God. But if you remain patient in adversity and conscious of Him – this, behold, is something to set one’s heart upon. 187. AND LO, God accepted a solemn pledge from those who were granted earlier revelation [when He bade them]: “Make it known unto mankind, and do not conceal it!” But they cast this [pledge] behind their backs, and bartered it away for a trifling gain: and how evil was their bargain! 188. Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done – think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come]. 189. AND UNTO GOD belongs the dominion over the heavens and the earth: and God has the power to will anything.

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

Monotheistic Usury Banning

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

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

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

Managing My Anger

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

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

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

Sinning

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

Teaching Islam to a 7th Grade History Class

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

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

The Turning Tides of Fortune

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

What can you share with us about these verses?

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Al’-Imran 130-143

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

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

Was Pope Benedict XVI’s Visit to Israel Worth It

Check out my latest article in the Nashville Free Press: The Pope’s Visit to Israel – Was It Worth It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Cow 284-286

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

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 282-283 Continues Our Discussion of Business

More On Economics and Business

Clearly, these verses continue the economic-related verses that precede them, perhaps indicating that I halted my previous discussion in haste. However, due to the lengthy comments my previous post engendered, I’ll take it as a good thing that these verses were separated out and can become their own conversation.

Writing out the terms to an agreement, no matter how simple those terms are or how apparently understood by either party in a transaction, is supremely important. It removes every element of guesswork and supposition and that, when dealing with finances (and many other things, besides), is important. It is with verses like these that we so clearly see, as was discussed in the after-post comments last week, the degree to which Islam is more than a religion but an all-encompassing way of life that governs all facets of life, including economic ones.

Witnesses

The need for two witnesses in the event of executing a transaction equitably is an idea also present in Judaism, both biblically and talmudically. The idea that multiple witnesses should be present for something important stems back to common practices in the ancient world that had been retained in both Jewish and Arab culture. Alternatively, the notion of two witnesses is something that Mohammed could have learned from the Jews of Medina. Though speculative in either case, my guess is that it’s the former. However, I’d be incredibly curious to know whether or not two witnesses was already a common practice amongst others in Arabia before Mohammed, particularly amongst the tribe of Quryash in Mecca, as that tribe was the most business-centered of the Arabic tribes in Mohammed’s time (to my knowledge).

As I’m sure regular Quran Read-A-Long participants foresaw, I’m going to bring up the notion that two female witnesses can be substituted for one male witness. Now, I certainly don’t think that this is misogynistic and I certainly wouldn’t conclude anything negative about Islam’s attitude towards women through this verse. We’ve been down this road before as a discussion topic. I do want to understand what the commentators say about the reasoning behind this: that one woman could remind the other if the second made a mistake. Asad notes that this is due to women being less familiar with business proceedings then men, which I suppose was definitely true back in the day. However, as Kay pointed out last week, Mohammed’s first wife was a well-respected business woman. Would she or a woman similarly adept at business have been required to stand alongside a second woman in order to function as a witness? Do Muslim women today who act as witnesses still do so with another woman present or is it acceptable for a Muslim woman today to act as one of the two witnesses? What is the minimum age that someone need be in order to act as a witness?

And as we’ve discussed before, God and the constant thought of God is brought into these economic transactions as a means of infusing the mundane with the celestial so that we will always act in the most honorable and upright fashion, knowing that God is watching and judging. I’m wondering if this thorough fusing of God in daily affairs is in part a reflection on a degradation of honest business practices in pre-Islamic Arabia or if it’s simply the result of turning to a lifestyle that recognizes the supremacy and sole-existance of God alone and the implications of that belief. That is, does God’s presence in economic issues reflect a pressing issue in Mohammed’s day or act as just one more example of the way God was brought into everything so that we would always act properly?

Please feel free to add anything that I’ve missed and share other points from these verses with us.

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The Cow 282-283

282. O YOU who have attained to faith! Whenever you give or take credit for a stated term, set it down in writing. And let a scribe write it down equitably between you; and no scribe shall refuse to write as God has taught him: thus shall he write. And let him who contracts the debt dictate; and let him be conscious of God, his Sustainer, and not weaken anything of his undertaking. And if he who contracts the debt is weak of mind or body, or, is not able to dictate himself, then let him who watches over his interests dictate equitably. And call upon two of your men to act as witnesses; and if two men are not available, then a man and two women from among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses, so that if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her. And the witnesses must not refuse [to give evidence] whenever they are called upon. And be not loath to write down every contractual provision, be it small or great, together with the time at which it falls due; this is more equitable in the sight of God, more reliable as evidence, and more likely to prevent you from having doubts [later]. If, however, [the transaction] concerns ready merchandise which you transfer directly unto one another, you will incur no sin if you do not write it down. And have witnesses whenever you trade with one another, but neither scribe nor witness must suffer harm; for if you do [them harm], behold, it will be sinful conduct on your part. And remain conscious of God, since it is God who teaches you [herewith] – and God has full knowledge of everything. 283. And if you are on a journey and cannot find a scribe, pledges [may be taken] in hand: but if you trust one another, then let him who is trusted fulfil his trust, and let him be conscious of God, his Sustainer. And do not conceal what you have witnessed* – for, verily, he who conceals it is sinful at heart; and God has full knowledge of all that you do.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 274-281, Mohammed’s Final Revelation, Forbids Usury

The subject of usury is one that comes to the fore in Judaism, Christianity, and now as I finally see, Islam. The Bible says, “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them” (Exodus 22:25). It is this verse, in large part, which makes usury so repulsive to Christianity (well, not now but back in the day). Christians were forbidden to lend money at interest to one another. Jews were also forbidden, according to this verse, from lending money at interest to one another – but not to Christians. Why? Because the verse specifies “My people,” which for Jews means only other Jews. Thus, Jews can lend with interest to Christians.

Indeed, this is where the Christian stereotype of the greedy, money-grubbing Jew came from. There was a need in 10th century Christian society for money-lenders because Christians couldn’t do it themselves, and Jews were forbidden from doing pretty much everything else (couldn’t be part of guilds and do crafts, couldn’t own land and farm, etc. – hence, money-lending and middle-men traders). Thus, Jews became money-lenders in the Christian world. Today, neither Christians nor Jews seem to have such a problem with what we just call now, banking.

The questions that these verses bring up for me pertain to the nature of banking in modern-day Islam. With usury forbidden, how does banking work in theocratic Islamic countries, like say, Saudi Arabia. Is it forbidden? Is it considered a necessary evil? How do many modern Muslims in general reconcile this verse with what seems to have become the modern capitalist norm (not that all Muslims are modern capitalists but for those who subscribe)? I don’t expect anyone to be able to answer these questions for everyone else, but just generally to share how s/he deals with this. I find that Christians and Jews simply ignore it at this point.

I’d like to add a note by Asad about verse 281: that according to the uncontested evidence of Ibn’ Abbas this verse was the last revelation granted to the Prophet, who died shortly afterward.

Is there anything else you can tell us about these verses?

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The Cow 274-281

274. Those who spend their possessions [for the sake of God] by night and by day, secretly and openly, shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. 275. THOSE who gorge themselves on usury behave but as he might behave whom Satan has confounded with his touch; for they say, “Buying and selling is but a kind of usury” – the while God has made buying and selling lawful and usury unlawful. Hence, whoever becomes aware of his Sustainer’s admonition, and thereupon desists [from usury], may keep his past gains, and it will be for God to judge him; but as for those who return to it -they are destined for the fire, therein to abide! 276. God deprives usurious gains of all blessing, whereas He blesses charitable deeds with manifold increase. And God does not love anyone who is stubbornly ingrate and persists in sinful ways. 277. Verily, those who have attained to faith and do good works, and are constant in prayer, and dispense charity – they shall have their reward with their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. 278. O yo who have attained to faith! Remain conscious of God and give up all outstanding gains from usury, if you are [truly] believers;  279. for if you do it not, then know that you are at war with God and His Apostle. But if you repent, then you shall be entitled to [the return of] your principal: you will do no wrong, and neither will you be wronged. 280. If, however, [the debtor] is in straitened circumstances, [grant him] a delay until a time of ease; and it would be for your own good – if you but knew it – to remit [the debt entirely] by way of charity. 281. And be conscious of the Day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has earned, and none shall be wronged.

Fun with the Bible: Jesus as the Passover Sacrifice in the New Testament Gospel of John

My latest column in the Nashville Free Press is all about Passover and Easter and what that means for Jesus being John’s Lamb of God. Enjoy “Lamb – It’s What’s For Dinner.”

If you liked that then you’ll also enjoy my previous post, The Synoptic Gospels and John Crucify Jesus on Different Days – Want to Know Why?

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