Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 55-63 Insists on Jesus’ Humanity, Not His Divinity

Verse 55 is interesting for the different ways it would be interpreted by whomever is reading it. For instance, Christians would read this and assume that it is an outright praise of their religion and a guarantee that they are going to heaven. Why? Because it says that those who follow Jesus are placed above denying the truth. However, Muslims would read this and understand that Jesus was not the son of God and so Christians who believed in such things (taken a step further, the Trinity) would be wrong in their beliefs. Though I suppose the verse doesn’t really guarantee much other than a place above those who deny the truth (disbelievers?) – and honestly, is being above disbelievers really anything to be thrilled about? That just means that you’re not a disbeliever. Hmm. This is an interesting verse but I don’t think I’ve really cracked what it has to offer. What do you think?

I like the affirmation of the value of good works in verse 57. I’ve always found that to be a very important concept – as opposed to say faith or especially grace – because it is good works that make the world go round, no matter your religion, beliefs or anything else. We’re all people and we all deserve each others’ help and respect.

Boy are verses 58-60 the ultimate renunciation of a central Christian creed: namely, that Jesus is not human (at least not human only) but actually God. The Quran is making a real point of denying Christian beliefs about Jesus because Islam is monotheistic in the true sense of the word; Muslims cannot accept (reasonably so) the notion that Jesus – whom Islam considers a prophet like the others – is actually God . . . and simultaneously the son of God. NO! The Quran makes clear in three verses: Jesus was like Adam – human and from dust.

Verse 61 proposes an interesting way of resolving the dispute about Jesus’ divinity: get everybody together and then pray for a curse on whomever is wrong. Asad writes this about the actual confrontation regarding this verse:

“According to all the reliable authorities, verses 59-63 of this surah were revealed in the year 10 H., on the occasion of a dispute between the Prophet and a deputation of the Christians of Najran who, like all other Christians, maintained that Jesus was “the son of God” and, therefore, God incarnate. Although they refused the “trial through prayer” (mubahalah) proposed to them by the Prophet, the latter accorded to them a treaty guaranteeing all their civic rights and the free exercise of their religion.”

What do you think about these verses? Can you help me illuminate some of their meaning better?

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

Al-’Imran 55-63

55. Lo! God said: “O Jesus! Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto Me, and cleanse thee of [the presence of] those who are bent on denying the truth; and I shall place those who follow thee [far] above those who are bent on denying the truth, unto the Day of Resurrection. In the end, unto Me you all must return, and I shall judge between you with regard to all on which you were wont to differ. 56. “And as for those who are bent on denying the truth, I shall cause them to suffer a suffering severe in this world and in the life to come, and they shall have none to succour them; 57. whereas unto those who attain to faith and do good works He will grant their reward in full: for God does not love evildoers.” 58. THIS MESSAGE do We convey unto thee, and this tiding full of wisdom: 59. Verily, in the sight of God, the nature of Jesus is as the nature of Adam, whom He created out of dust and then said unto him, “Be” – and he is. 60 [This is] the truth from thy Sustainer; be not, then, among the doubters! 61. And if anyone should argue with thee about this [truth] after all the knowledge that has come unto thee, say: “Come! Let us summon our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves; and then let us pray [together] humbly and ardently, and let us invoke God’s curse upon those [of us] who are telling a lie.” 62. Behold, this is indeed the truth of the matter, and there is no deity whatever save God; and, verily, God – He alone – is almighty, truly wise. 63 And if they turn away [from this truth] – behold, God has full knowledge of the spreaders of corruption.

Advertisements

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 254-257 Speaks of Monotheism and the Invalidity of Forced Conversion

From Polytheism to Monotheism

An important element of the Quran’s continual affirmation of God being the only deity (verse 255) lies in the need to do away with the other deities worshiped by the Arabs in the Hijaz in Mohammed’s day. Not that affirming God being the only deity isn’t important anyway, because it is, but at the same time, it reinforces the notion that the other shrines in the Hijaz dedicated to other deities (daughters of God?) were illegitimate.

I find this interesting because the move from Arab tribalism to Islam was a move from accepted polytheism to strict monotheism with no monism in the middle. That’s a difficult transformation, and considering the time it took monotheism to root fully in Arabia I think it’s nothing short of astounding.

Consider the ancient Israelites. They weren’t monotheistic. They were monostic. That is, they believed in their god, Yahweh (God/Allah) but not to the exclusion of other gods. They worshiped him (well, at least for the short period that they were behaving) to the exclusion of other gods, but in the world of the ancient Israelites other gods existed – theirs was just superior and the only one worth believing in. This is particularly evident in the Ten Commandments which order the Israelites to worship no other gods before Yahweh.

On the contrary, Mohammed didn’t say, “You can’t worship the other gods.” He said, “Those aren’t other gods,” which was a rather dangerous thing to say, and ultimately, sent him out of Mecca for the safety of his life. And yet despite this, very quickly, Islam spread throughout Arabia and the Middle East and polytheism became monotheism with no extended period of monism in between. Truly incredible!

No Coercion

Verse 256 is terribly important for its invalidation of the notion of “conversion by the sword,” something that even Asad points out in his note, and an idea that runs wildly through western minds.

Would I say that Muslims have at some point in history converted people at the edge of the sword? Certainly, but those were rare instances, and not recognized in Islam as acceptable behavior or valid conversions. Are we really to believe that the entire Middle East and North Africa converted at the edge of a sword, became Muslims and then didn’t ever read this verse to realize that their conversion was illegitimate. I’m doubtful.

In addition, Christians are historically far greater perpetrators of forcible conversion, yet it is conservative Christianity which continues to spread this unreasonable and unjustified message. One instance of Christian forced conversion that comes to mind is the mass forced conversions of Jews that took place throughout 14th century Christian Spain. That’s why when Islam came knocking at the door in places that Jews lived during the 7th and 8th centuries (Spain being notably one of them), Jews welcomed the Muslims as liberators and helped them overthrow many cities from Christian rule. Indeed, when Muslims moved through Spain during the 8th century, they often left Jews in charge while the army marched forward, knowing that the Jews were far happier with them in power.

So, conversion by the sword – what narrow-minded rhetoric continually believed and spewed by westerners after centuries of Islamophobic behavior. Let’s stop spreading this nonsense and make an effort to understand Islam, an incredibly important world religion, better.

Please feel free to add anything that I neglected to discuss from these verses, and share your thoughts on them with us.

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

The Cow 254-257

254. O YOU who have attained to faith! Spend [in Our way] out of what We have granted you as sustenance ere there come a Day when there will be no bargaining, and no friendship, and no intercession. And they who deny the truth -it is they who are evildoers! 255. GOD – there is no deity save Him, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent Fount of All Being. Neither slumber overtakes Him, nor sleep. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. Who is there that could intercede with Him, unless it be by His leave? He knows all that lies open before men and all that is hidden from them, whereas they cannot attain to aught of His knowledge save that which He wills [them to attain]. His eternal power overspreads the heavens and the earth, and their upholding wearies Him not. And He alone is truly exalted, tremendous. 256. THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing. 257. God is near unto those who have faith, taking them out of deep darkness into the light – whereas near unto those who are bent on denying the truth are the powers of evil that take them out of the light into darkness deep: it is they who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.

Quran Day: The Cow 21-29 Speaks of Allah’s Omniscience and Other Qualities

God’s Characteristics

I was struck throughout these 9 verses by the flurry of ways that Allah, as He’s portrayed here in the Quran, reflects issues that the biblical reader will notice immediately. Then suddenly, at the end, there’s a huge difference (a difference that a biblical reader, though not necessarily a religious Christian or Jew, might notice).

In verse 29 of the Cow, we learn that God is omniscient; that is, he has knowledge of everything. Though predictable that the Quran would make sure to let us know this seemingly obvious fact, it is noteworthy that the Bible doesn’t actually tell us this about God.

Jews and Christians will insist that God is omniscient – after all, how could He not be? – but show me where it says that in the Bible. It doesn’t. The Jewish and Christian conception of God that developed in the centuries surrounding the year 0 was one of an omniscient and omnipotent deity, but God was not always thought of like this. In fact, there are instances in the Bible where we see that God just doesn’t know certain things (in Gen. 3 He has to look for Adam and Eve and calls to them because He doesn’t know where they are).

My point is that by the seventh century and the development of Islam, the concept of God in monotheistic traditions had developed in such a way that God was quite obviously omniscient, as the Quran states outright. God, we learn in these verses, is also the creator and the controller of nature.

Covenant?

One point I would love to understand better in these verses is from 27, when God’s “covenant” is spoken of. A covenant was a two-party agreement in the Ancient Near Eastern world, and either the word is being used generally or I’m having some trouble with it. Can anyone tell me what the Arabic word is?

Usually a covenant is not God’s, per se, but God’s covenant with person x. Is it implied that this is God’s covenant with mankind or individuals? Is this common language and should we understand what is being said?

Man as Creation’s Culmination

It seems a bit unfair of me to compare everything in the Quran to the Bible but as one who has studied that text and since the Bible is known to the Quran, I feel justified making such comparisons. Verse 29, that God made all that lies within the earth for you, is an interesting combination of the two creation stories in the Bible.

In Genesis 1, everything is created and human beings (not Adam and Eve) are the final creations: they are the culmination of creation. In Genesis 2, a different creation story (just read them and you’ll see that they are two different tales) tells us that man is created, and then everything else is created for him to enjoy.

These two different ideas – man as culmination of creation and as the catalyst for additional creation – seem to be harmonized in the Quranic verse, “God made for you all that lies within the earth.”

What do these verses make you think about? The notion of resurrection is also present in these verses? What is the Muslim understanding of resurrection? Are there any notions here about God that you find are the same as or different from those expressed in the Bible?

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read more Quran Read-A-Long.

The Cow 21-29

21. So, O you people, adore your Lord who created you, as He did those before you, that you could take heed for yourself and fear Him. 22. Who made the earth a bed for you, the sky a canopy, and sends forth rain from the skies that fruits may grow – your good and sustenance. So do not make another the equal of God knowingly. 23. If you are in doubt of what We have revealed to Our votary, then bring a Surah like this, and call any witness, apart from God, you like, if you are truthful. 24. But if you cannot as indeed you cannot, then guard yourslves against the Fire whose fuel is men and rocks, which has been prepared for the infidels. 25. Announce to those who believe and have done good deeds, glad tidings of gardens under which rivers flow, and where, when they eat the fruits that grow, they will say: “Indeed they are the same as we were given before,” so like in semblance the food would be. And they shall have fair spouses there, and live there abidingly. 26. God is not loath to advance the similitude of a gnat or a being more contemptible; and those who believe know whatever is from the Lord is true. But those who disbelieve say: “What does God mean by this parable?” He causes some to err this way and some He guides; yet He turns away none but those who trangress, 27. Who, having sealed it, break God’s covenant, dividing what He ordained cohered; and those who spread discord in the land will suffer assuredly. 28. Then how can you disbelieve in God? He gave you life when you were dead. He will make you die again then bring you back to life: To Him then you will return. 29. He made for you all that lies within the earth, then turning to the firmament He proportioned several skies; He has knowledge of every thing.