Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 217-221 Speaks of Charity

A Sociological Phenomenon

The themes of verse 217 are ones that have continually risen throughout the Quran thus far, and I’m fairly confident they will continue to appear. Nevertheless, I can’t help but dwell on the idea here, as I have before, though I rarely say too much about it. It’s this constant talk of “they,” who are, unless I’m mistaken, the unbelievers – the deniers of Allah and his word. There’s so much warning about them, but the warning is one that goes beyond Islam.

As I see it, a religion’s text warning its readers to be chary of those who don’t believe in it would seem to be a common sociological phenomenon. “We believe in x, x being ultimate truth. Others don’t: they’re unbelievers. Moreover, they’re always going to try to get us not to believe what we believe.” What religion can’t claim this attitude? What’s particularly interesting to me, then, is that the Quran was not written long after the founding of Islam but was composed at the religion’s inception (though redacted later). That means that this fundamental understanding – a very human one, I might add – was likely based on experience with other religions (or simple logic). That’s not to question the status of the Quran as divine revelation, but only to note that this seems to me to be a particularly human understanding of the way people behave when they are challenged by others’ faith.

Drinkin’

Is line 219 the only place in the Quran that mentions gambling and wine or does it arise elsewhere? I ask because I know that alcohol is haram and I wonder if its status as such is based on a deduction from this verse or if it comes from another verse that states so more directly.

Charity

Verse 220 is a wonderful attitude towards orphans. Islam is nothing if not a religion that emphasizes the importance and value of charity. I think that is a marvelous value. To those who know many Muslims today, do you find that people really do give the most that they can or at least the prescribed amount? I consider Judaism and Christianity, which have the ideas of tzedaka and tithing/alms respectively, and think that in today’s day and age, though people certainly give, they don’t give all that they can. I imagine that it’s similar in Islam, as people are people and I would find it hard to imagine that everyone of a particular faith (at least a faith so large that it can’t be controlled directly within a single village or community) is out there giving all the charity they can. As long as there are rich and poor then this point seems self-evident enough.

However, it reminds us how important it is that the Quran (and other religions’ books) place such a serious emphasis on charity. Could we imagine how little might be given if people didn’t view charity as an injunction from God? Sure, contemporary human decency may persuade some people to do what they can, but history and life show us that people prefer to keep what they have than to give it away. I don’t mean to be a negative nancy about human nature; it is what it is and I think much of life is a challenge to rise above it so that we can all have a better life on this earth. For that reason, I’m grateful for many of the values taught by our religions.

Summary

What do you think about these verses? Can you tell us anything else about them?

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The Cow 217-221

217. They ask you of war in the holy month. Tell them: “To fight in that month is a great sin. But a greater sin in the eyes of God is to hinder people from the way of God, and not to believe in Him, and to bar access to the Holy Mosque and turn people out of its precincts; and oppression is worse than killing. They will always seek war against you till they turn you away from your faith, if they can. But those of you who turn back on their faith and die disbelieving will have wasted their deeds in this world and the next. They are inmates of Hell, and shall there abide forever. 218. Surely those who believe, and those who leave their homes and fight in the way of God, may hope for His benevolence, for God is forgiving and kind. 219. They ask you of (intoxicants) wine and gambling. Tell them: “There is great enervation through profit in them from men; but their enervation is greater than benefit.” And they ask you what they should give. Tell them: “The utmost you can spare.” So does God reveal His signs: You may haply reflect 220. On this world and the next. And they ask you about the orphans. Tell them: “Improving their lot is much better; and if you take interest in their affairs, they are your brethren; and God is aware who are corrupt and who are honest; and if He had pleased He could surely have imposed on you hardship, for God is all-powerful and all-wise. 221. Do not marry idolatrous women unless they join the faith. A maid servant who is a believer is better than an idolatress even though you may like her. And do not marry your daughters to idolaters until they accept the faith. A servant who is a believer is better than an idolater even though you may like him. They invite you to Hell, but God calls you to Paradise and pardon by His grace. And He makes His signs manifest that men may haply take heed.

Fun with the Bible: 6 Great Reasons that Moses Could Never Have Written the Bible

I was asked during the first Fun with the Bible post to talk about the authorship of Genesis-Deuteronomy, also known as the Pentateuch, the Torah or the Five Books of Moses. The question was, is Moses the author of the books whose collective title bears his name. The answer is no.

What Are Our Premises?

Now, numerous religious people will be popping their lids right now and claiming that I’m wrong, a blasphemer, a moron, evil, Satan, etc. And who would I be to deny most of those appellations. But as for the first one, I must object. Moses is not the author of any part of the Bible.

How do I know such things? Well, I must admit that my criteria for investigating the Bible are reason, logic, linguistics, archaeological evidence and the actual words of the Bible. I’m not concerned with what religious authorities say unless they are basing their arguments on these criteria and not just tradition, which is the only thing that could contend for Moses’ authorship.

Though I can’t supply a full list of reasons right here, I will offer a few examples as food for thought to get you started, and then send you on your way to read the first books of the Bible yourself.

A Few Good Reasons

1. Reason number one is that the Bible NEVER claims to be authored by Moses or anyone else for that matter. No one internally claims authorship. If Moses authored the Bible, you think he’d have said something – or anyone who wanted to be remembered for doing so for that matter. Only later religious people, hoping to attribute authorship and lend validity, claimed that Moses was the author.

2. Another issue is time. The Pentateuch is written in such a way – and doesn’t try to hide the fact! – that implies looking backward. It refers to the present day by saying things like “until this day” or “that was current then.” For instance, Genesis 23:16 refers to weights and measures as they were current in the time of the story, not the author’s time. Things are said in Moses’ time that they are there until this day.

3. Getting things plain wrong is a problem too. Presumably if God was telling Moses the way things were, he wouldn’t get facts wrong. For instance, in Genesis 21:32-34, the Bible speaks of Abraham residing in the land of the Philistines, a people that, archaeologically speaking, weren’t in the land until hundreds and hundreds of years after the supposed time of Abraham.

4. Mistakes and inconsistencies exist in the text, problems that surely Moses, if God were telling him what to say, would not have created. The reason for these problems, scholars have discovered, is that there are multiple authors’ voices and texts in the Pentateuch. In fact, Genesis through Deuteronomy is the weaving together of multiple texts to create one story. It was done very well but the originals were not changed. Some characters have multiple names, contradicting or repeating stories, etc. We don’t have to get into the details here but this is called the Documentary Hypothesis. If you want to know more, we can talk about it. Just ask.

5. Logical inconsistencies exist. Read the first verse of Deuteronomy. “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan.” Well, it’s logically impossible for Moses to have written such a sentence. “Beyond the Jordan” means on the other side of the Jordan (though some crappier translations try to gloss over this wording, the original biblical Hebrew has precisely this meaning) and it is a biblical fact that Moses never went into the land of Canaan. Therefore, if he was only on the eastern side of the Jordan River and the person said he spoke on the other side of the Jordan River the person writing must logically be writing from inside of Canaan (approximately modern day Israel). That person can’t be Moses. Get it?

6. Moses can’t speak of his own death, right? In the end of Deuteronomy, Moses talks of his own death – saying, “Moses died.” The author also says that Moses was “unequaled” after we are told earlier that Moses was the most humble man ever. Seems illogical that he could say both things about himself, huh?

Where to Go from Here

There are numerous other reasons besides and many more examples for each of the points I’ve mentioned but this should get you started. If you read Genesis through Deuteronomy from the beginning without the usual religious biases that people have trouble with then you’ll see all this for yourself.

Read the Bible like any other book that you would read, not affording it the privilege of not making sense simply because it doesn’t and because it’s the Bible. Ask questions and see what’s wrong. I’m here to help if you get stuck or don’t understand something.

This is having fun with the Bible – reading it on our own to see all the great things we can learn from it while trying to get at the truth about its history and origins.

Do you have any questions? Do you disagree with everything I’ve said and want to tell me why? Do you think Moses wrote the Pentateuch? Why?

Can you give any other examples of why Moses couldn’t have written the Pentateuch?

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Enjoy more Fun with the Bible posts.

Inshallah, God’s hands and South Park

The International Herald Tribune had an article today about the Arabic word “Inshallah” which is being used in Egypt like hookers in Vegas and I thought I’d say a word about it. Or a few words. First, click HERE for the article (thanks to my old friend Courtney for bringing this to my attention).

Effectively, Inshallah means “god willing” and the idea behind using it, of course, is that everything happens because God wills it. Egyptians are using this word for everything, it seems. It is the ubiquitous answer that applies to everything because everything, as life would have it, is in God’s hands. Fine for religious people, but I must say, this is not just going on in Egypt. Israelis have their own phrase for this: baruch hashem. It means, “God bless” but is used for everything in the same way that Inshallah is.

How are you?

Baruch Hashem.

Really, you’re God bless. Will we get there by 3 p.m.?

Baruch Hashem.

See, it’s as good as Inshallah, and I’ll tell you what, it used to annoy the shit out of me. Baruch hashem is not an answer to how you’re doing. It’s also not an answer to when we’re going to be there. And neither is Inshallah. I appreciate that you think everything is in God’s hands but you’re basically making speech worthless if you can’t provide a real answer. We should all walk around saying nothing but “Inshallah! Baruch Hashem!” if this is all everything is. We should lie down in the middle of the roads and say, “we won’t get hit, Inshallah,” or “that car is about to cruch my ribs, baruch hashem.” This is a silly approach to life. I appreciate that it emphasizes your piety and faith in God but it also breaks down working elements of society once it’s taken too far.

This is a point that South Park has not failed to make over the years, constantly insisting that we pay attention to the words we’re using. This is best conveyed in episode 502, “It Hits the Fan” when people are cursing too much and it releases evil forces, but also in the way the show treats our use of the words God and Jesus as common elements of our everyday lexicon. Think particularly of the episodes in the future with “Science H. Logic!” and “Science be praised!” I’ve made these points before, but in light of this article I think they’re worth throwing out again.

Inshallah we all start to pay attention to our language and recognize what its repititions and excessive use does to it and us. There’s nothing wrong with conveying the way you think the universe works, Inshallah, in your daily speech but if I constantly said, “Logic, determiner of all,” after every sentence you would get a little annoyed. I think that should be taken to account the next time an Egyptian says “Inshallah” or an Israeli says “Baruch Hashem.” Unfortunately it won’t be, but there it is.