Quran Read-A-Long: 153-163 Has a Line That’s Nearly Identical to Deuteronomy 6:4

I’m going to start out with a bold question and I hope no one takes offense. I’m just looking to understand what I read and understand how it relates to Islam or anyone who believes or interprets the Quran in any way.

Is verse 154 one that people use to kill and die in the name of God? To ask that more bluntly, is this a verse that terrorists exploit? It tells us not to think “that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware.” If I was reading this more innocently I would say that this line means that those who die as good Muslims live on in the afterlife, but all things considered, I can see how someone could exploit this line to justify their actions as for God and insist that they are going to the good afterlife.

What are Safa and Marwa and in what ways are they the symbols of God?

Verse 158, I think, is referring to the Hajj, a Muslim’s required journey once in his lifetime to Mecca at a particular time of year to worship at the Ka’aba. The latter part of the verse, though I don’t think it’s saying this directly, seems to excuse the person who can’t do this (it’s allowed not to if you are truly unable for some reason) and say that his judgment will be based entirely on his merit – whether or not he does good of his own accord. Gotta appreciate that.

Interesting that the latter half of verse 159 brings up people who are worthy of condemning others. I know that judgment is reserved for God and that God has already condemned those who are being judged in this verse, but are there really people who are allowed to pass such judgment, too. I recall discussing that simply passing judgment is something that can get you condemned, if nothing else, so who is doing the condemning?

Verse 163 sounds like Deuteronomy 6:4 which is a prayer of supreme importance in Judaism, called the shemah. It is a one line prayer about God being the only God: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” This line says, “Your God is one God. There is no god other than He.” Pretty similar, hmm? Very interesting.

What are your thoughts about these verses? Did I miss anything important or get anything wrong?

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The Cow 153-163

153. O you who believe, seek courage in fortitude and prayer, for God is with those who are patient and persevere. 154. Do not say that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware. 155. Be sure We shall try you with something of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and life and the fruits (of your labor); but give tidings of happiness to those who have patience, 156. Who say when assailed by adversity: “Surely we are for God, and to Him we shall return.” 157. On such men are the blessings of God and His mercy, for they are indeed on the right path. 158. Truly Safa and Marwa are the symbols of God. Whoever goes on pilgrimage to the House (of God), or on a holy visit, is not guilty of wrong if he walk around them; and he who does good of his own accord will find appreciation with God who knows every thing. 159. They who conceal Our signs and the guidance We have sent them and have made clear in the Book, are condemned of God and are condemned by those who are worthy of condemning. 160. But those who repent and reform and proclaim (the truth), are forgiven, for I am forgiving and merciful. 161. But those who deny, and die disbelieving, bear the condemnation of God and the angels and that of all men, 162. Under which they will live, and their suffering will neither decrease nor be respite for them. 163. Your God is one God; there is no god other than He, the compassionate, ever-merciful.

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Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 148-152 Reminds Us to Be Grateful

These verses feel as though they stem immediately from the ones preceding them. Of course, all Quranic verses of a particular surah stem from the verses preceding them, but oftentimes the guiding breaks we find (and use for Quran Read-A-Long), make for a neat subject break, too. Here, however, it seems that we are still talking of the importance of turning towards the Qa’aba and the Holy Mosque that enshrines it.

I think the line in verse 150 is interesting, when it asks everyone to turn towards the Holy Mosque so that “people may have no cause for argument against you.” My curiosity is about the ability to take issue with others’ way of worship that is conveyed here. On the one hand, it’s nice because it says that we shouldn’t argue so long as we all pray the right direction. Seems easy and basic enough and leaves little room for argument. However, it does seem to imply that there is cause to argue with one another about such issues as prayer. I also wonder (if this is even so), whether or not this argument can be taken up with non-Muslims who obviously aren’t facing this direction. Or is this just something internal to Islam so long as those not praying in the right direction aren’t actually wicked?

The message in verse 152 is lovely: be grateful. That’s right: be grateful! There is always something for which to be grateful. My mother hammers that lesson into me all the time. When I’m down or dejected or complaining, she always reminds me that there’s always something for which to be grateful. This isn’t meant to be annoying or to belittle my problems but to help me see past them. By telling me to look for that for which I am grateful and concentrate on it, it’s amazing how quickly I can feel better. I don’t know the last time my mom cracked the Quran open, but it looks like her message to me comes straight from God. Ah, the universal wisdom to be found in the Quran. Gotta love it!

Summary

What did you think of these verses? Do you have anything that you can add to help us understand their meaning better?

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The Cow 148-152

148. Each has a goal to which he turns. So strive towards piety and excel the others: God will bring you all together wheresoever you be. God has power over every thing. 149. Wherever you come from turn towards the Holy Mosque: This in truth is from your Lord. God is not negligent of all you do. 150. Whichever place you come from turn towards the Holy Mosque, and wherever you are, turn you faces towards it so that people may have no cause for argument against you, except such among them as are wicked. But do not fear them, fear Me that I may accomplish My favors on you, and you may find the right way perchance. 151. Even as We sent a messenger from among you to convey Our messages to you and cleanse you, and teach you the Book and the wisdom, and what you did not know; 152. So, therefore, remember Me, and I shall remember you; and give thanks and do not be ungrateful.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 142-147 Teaches About the Qiblah, the Direction of Prayer

These verses seem to reflect a familiar theme draped in a new guise: the direction of prayer. Muslims are supposed to pray in the direction of the Ka’aba in Mecca, which is indicated by the Qiblah, a mark in the wall of every mask or house of prayer.

What seems to be happening in these verses is that an actual direction is being used as a means of addressing the direction of the straight path towards God – straight to the Ka’aba, if you will. Those who face the direction of the Qiblah believe what they have been given and know it to be true, but we must understand that asking why people turn away is a foolish inquiry, since we know that God possesses all directions.

This is a minimalistic post this week. If there is something you’d like to mention in these verses that I glossed over, please don’t be shy.

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The Cow 142-147

142. The foolish will now ask and say: “What has made the faithful turn away from the Qiblah towards which they used to pray?” Say: “To God belong the East and the West. He guides who so wills to the path that is straight.” 143. We have made you a temperate people that you act as witness over man, and the Prophet as witness over you. We decreed the Qiblah which you faced before that We may know who follow the Apostle and who turn away in haste. And this was a hard (test) except for those who were guided by God. But God will not suffer your faith to go waste, for God is to men full of mercy and grace. 144. We have seen you turn your face to the heavens. We shall turn you to a Qiblah that will please you. So turn towards the Holy Mosque, and turn towards it wherever you be. And those who are recipients of the Book surely know that this is the truth from their Lord; and God is not negligent of all that you do. 145. Even though you bring all the proof to the people of the Book they will not face the direction you turn to, nor you theirs, nor will they follow each other’s direction. And if you follow their whims after all the knowledge that has reached you, then surely you will be among transgressors. 146. Those to whom We have sent down the Book know this even as they know their sons. Yet a section among them conceals the truth knowingly. 147. The truth is from your Lord, so be not among those who are sceptics.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 130-141 Speaks of Islam’s Relationship to Judaism, Christianity and Their Shared Prophetic History

Verses 130 to 133 affirm the commitment of the ‘forefathers,’ if I can use a particularly Jewish word for referring to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (is that word used in Islam?) to the one and only God and Abraham’s very language reminds us of the importance of submitting to God – of Islam.

In verse 134 something fascinating happens: we are told that each person is judged by his own merit. Fantastic! In the Bible this is not so. Numbers 14:18 says, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Well that sucks!

We’re responsible for what the people before us did? In the real world this sometimes seems to be the case: future generations will suffer the transgressions of our current (and recent politicians), by having to mend relations with the world, endure the destruction of social security’s false promises and bail ourselves out of a seemingly insurmountable debt – but is God inflicting this punishment on us because of previous generations? The Bible says yes and the Quran says no. Each man is responsible for his own fate, a notion that manifests again at the end of this section.

I also like the call of verse 135, which says, forget the religion (Judaism or Christianity) and emulate the righteous and pious person who came before them both: Abraham. Of course, we are supposed to understand, I’d imagine, that Abraham was the archetype of the good Muslim and being a good Muslim means being like Abraham, but we see that the importance here is the qualities: upright and not an idolater. The Quran follows up by showing reverence for all the prophets to whom God provided revelation and who acted properly, not distinguishing between them.

The continuation and links to the previous religious traditions, I think, is a very special element of Islam. For obvious reasons, Judaism can’t easily link forward, and the development of modern Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity is the story of the two traditions trying to differentiate themselves from one another in the early centuries of the Common Era. Islam, however, draws on the strengths of both (their righteous prophets and not their tangential modern results) and gives us, in a sense, a more inclusive religious offering.

What do you think about these verses? What did I miss?

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The Cow 130-141

130. Who will turn away from the creed of Abraham but one dull of soul? We made him the chosen one here in the world, and one of the best in the world to come, 131. (For) when his Lord said to him: “Obey,” he replied: “I submit to the Lord of all the worlds.” 132. And Abraham left this legacy to his sons, and to Jacob, and said: “O my sons, God has chosen this as the faith for you. Do not die but as those who have submitted (to God).” 133. Were you present at the hour of Jacob’s death? “What will you worship after me?” he asked his sons, and they answered: “We shall worship your God and the God of your fathers, of Abraham and Ishamel and Isaac, and one and only God; and to Him we submit.” 134. Those were the people, and they have passed away. Theirs the reward for what they did, as yours will be for what you do. You will not be questioned about their deeds. 135. They say: “Become Jews or become Christians, and find the right way.” Say: “No. We follow the way of Abraham the upright, who was not an idolater.” 136. Say: “We believe in God and what has been sent down to us, and what had been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their progeny, and that which was given to Moses and Christ, and to all other prophets by the Lord. We make no distinction among them, and we submit to Him.” 137. If they come to believe as you did, they will find the right path. If they turn away then they will only oppose; but God will suffice you against them, for God hears all and knows everything. 138. “We have taken the coloring of God; and whose shade is better than God’s? Him alone we worship.” 139. Say: “Why do you dispute with us about God when He is equally you Lord and our Lord? To us belong our actions, to you yours; and we are true to Him.” 140. Or do you claim that Abraham and Ishamel and Isaac and Jacob and their offspring were Jews or Christians? Say: “Have you more knowledge than God?” Who is more wicked than he who conceals the testimony he received from God? God is not unaware of all you do. 141. They were the people, and they have passed away. Theirs the reward for what they did, as yours will be for what you do. You will not be questioned about their deeds.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 122-129 Introduces us to Abraham, Ishmael and the Ka’aba

Verse 123 is a sad day to imagine, when men stop acting on behalf of one another and no one is willing to stand up for another.

Abraham and Such

The verses about Abraham fascinate me, primarily for their similarities to and differences from the biblical story. According to the Bible Abraham didn’t ask about his progeny – he was simply promised by God that he would be the father of many nations (among a few other things). Biblically, God made no caveats regarding the transgressors among Abraham’s progeny, though once Israel was with Moses in the desert they were reassured that if they were bad they would get kicked out of Cana’an.

So what is the relevance of Abraham here being told that God doesn’t tolerate transgressors or make them leaders among men? Well, for one thing, it adds an element of merit into the story that the Bible lacks. Abraham, in the Bible, is singled out by God for absolutely no reason. Numerous stories about “why Abraham” have been invented but none exist in the Bible itself. That is, no merit is involved with Abraham or his offspring. In the Quran, however, whether or not there is a reason for picking Abraham (I’m not there yet if there is), he is told that God will not honor his progeny who have what seems to be negative merit; that is, who are transgressors. This is a more long-sighted and thoughtful God. The God of Genesis makes an arbitrary promise and seems forced by the honor of His word to follow through for hundreds of years.

The Ka’aba

The connection of Abraham and Ishmael to the Ka’aba is also an interesting element to the understanding of Abraham for those familiar with only the biblical stories. It adds an entirely new dimension to the characters, particularly Ishmael, who plays a backseat role in the Bible. Connecting this revered figures to this spot and its sanctification must truly enhance the spirituality of worship.

The Bible connects Abraham with numerous spots in Canaan (Beer Sheba, Bethel, etc.), and though some people visit them out of reverence none is actually turned into a place of worship. Of course, it is believed that the spot where Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice occured at Mount Moriah, which is allegedly the same place that the Temple was eventually located (where the Dome of the Rock now stands), but that is merely speculative (and in Islam the attempted sacrifice wasn’t of Isaac anyway!). All we know is that Abraham walked three days from Be’er Sheba and there is no real connection to the Temple Mount being Mount Moriah, nor does the Bible say it is so. The attempt to draw the connection in Jewish history, however, reinforces the understanding of the significance for Muslims that Abraham was involved with the Ka’aba.

Abraham and Islam

Abraham’s entreaty of God is also fascinating. By asking to be made to submit and by asking for submissive progeny it seems to me that he is literally asking for Islam, which means submission.

Though Jews like to say that Abraham was the first Jew, the Bible doesn’t make this claim and it is relatively unfounded. In the Quran, however, Abraham seems to be asking for, and therefore in a sense founding, Islam. Of course, Islam doesn’t begin until Mohammed’s time, but this lays the foundation for that in the earliest relevant generation.

Is verse 129 meant to be a specific reference to a particular apostle or a general plea for apostles to come and provide guidance? That is to say, is this a reference to Mohammed?

Summary

What do you think of these verses? What can you add that I didn’t mention or correct that I said? Have you ever been to the Ka’aba? Can you share your experience with us?

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The Cow 122-129

122. O Children of Israel, remember the favors I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world. 123. Fear the day when no man will stand up for man in the least, and no ransom avail nor intercession matter nor help reach. 124. Remember, when his Lord tried Abraham by a number of commands which he fulfilled, God said to him: “I will make you a leader among men.” And when Abraham asked: “From my progeny too?” the Lord said: “My pledge does not include transgressors.” 125. Remember, We made the House (of Ka’bah) a place of congregation and safe reatreat, and said: “Make the spot where Abraham stood the place of worship;” and enjoined upon Abraham and Ishmael to keep Our House immaculate for those who shall walk around it and stay in it for contemplation and prayer, and for bowing in adoration. 126. And when Abraham said: “O Lord, make this a city of peace, and give those of its citizens who believe in God and the Last Day fruits for food,” He answered: “To those will I also give a little who believe not, for a time, then drag them to Hell, a dreadful destination!” 127. And when Abraham was raising the plinth of the House with Ishmael (he prayed): Accept this from us, O Lord, for You hear and know everything; 128. And make us submit, O Lord, to Your will, and our progeny a people submissive to You. Teach us the way of worship and forgive our trespasses, for You are compassionate and merciful; 129. And send to them, O Lord, an apostle from among them to impart Your messages to them, and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and correct them in every way; for indeed You are mighty and wise.”

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 Read-A-Long: The Cow 83-86

The Ten Commandments, More or Less

This passage begins with what seems to be a reference to the Ten Commandments because it starts by referencing a covenant with the people of Israel. The commandments here that align with the biblical injunctions are 1. to worship only God and 2. to be good to one’s parents. We get some bonus commandments mentioned in the Quranic version which I think are excellent additions: speak of goodness to men and give charity. There are certain provisions throughout other law-giving moments in the Torah that speak about charity and caring for orphans but not right in the 10 commandments as they are presented here – and this speaking of goodness to men is a great one, I must say.

The Disobeying Israelites

The rest of the passage is about a familiar theme: the Israelites reneging on their promises. They say they won’t kill (also a commandment) but they do. They also claim that they won’t kick their people out of their homes, but they do. Is this reference to kicking certain people out of their homes a particular reference to something in the Bible or does Islam explain what event(s) this refers to in other literature (or elsewhere in the Quran)? Perhaps it refers to inner-tribal warfare (like when the Benjamites go to war with the rest of the tribes of Israel).

The Issue of the Book – Again

The Israelites are asked in verse 85 if they believe only part of the Torah and reject the rest. Within these and other quranic verses it would certainly seem that way. I can’t be sure what this refers to within Islam in particular (though I’d be fascinated to find out if you know), though I can say that within Judaism it seems that this is true.

Jews today, and in Mohammed’s time, no longer obeyed any of the sacrificial laws (a large chunk of the Torah’s laws) because they didn’t have the Temple in which to sacrifice. The rabbis had, by this time, created innumerable additional laws and turned other laws around (it should be added, not maliciously and deceptively but in order to preserve a religion that was no longer Temple-centric) and so if one were to read the Torah that the Jews had in the 7th century and compared this with their practices one would definitely see a series of discrepancies. However, I can’t be sure if this is referring to the actions of the Israelites historically (probably so) or to the contemporary Jews. Maybe both?

Judgment

In any case, a theme that has appeared repeatedly and no doubt one that will reappear again and again as a central tenet of Islam, is that we will all be judged. The bad will be disgraced and the good rewarded. No matter what we do, God is aware and there is no escaping His judgment. Verse 86 makes it clear that there is no value in trading the quality of the next life for anything in this one.

Summary

What do you think of these verses and what do they make you think of? Can you help answer anything that I mentioned above? What can you add to help us understand these verses better?

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The Cow 83-86

83. Remember, when We made a covenant with the people of Israel and said: “Worship no one but God, and be good to your parents and your kin, and to orphans and the needy, and speak of goodness to men; observe your devotional obligations, and give zakat (the due share of your wealth for the welfare of others),” you went back (on your word), except only a few, and paid no heed. 84. And remember, when We made a covenant with you whereby you agreed you will neither shed blood among you nor turn your people out of their homes, you promised, and are witness to it too. 85. But you still kill one another, and you turn a section of your people from their homes, assisting one another against them with guilt and oppression. Yet when they are brought to you as captives you ransom them, although forbidden it was to drive them away. Do you, then, believe a part of the Book and reject a part? Ther is no other award for them who so act but disgrace in the the world, and on the Day of Judgment the severest of punishment; for God is not heedless of all that you do. 86. They are those who bought the life of the world at the cost of the life to come; and neither will their torment decrease nor help reach them.