Quran Read-Along: The Opening Verses of Al-Nesaa’

I’m very intrigued by the opening line to this sura, which says that mankind was created out of one living entity. The reason is that the latter part of the sentence makes sense: out of two (a man and woman or Adam and Eve), mankind came. Makes sense. However, the earlier part of the sentence only makes sense if I apply Genesis 2-3, the story in which God creates Eve out of Adam (his rib). That isn’t being said here, but is there an alternative Quranic version of creation in which the first woman comes from the first man? Or am I missing this entirely? Also, by way of biblical reference, there are two humanity creation stories, the aforementioned, and the one in Genesis 1, in which God creates man and woman at the same time.

I also like that it is God who provides the order for civilization, which is to say that from God we claim human rights. As philosophically relevant as that is, I feel like it had particular relevance in the early umma when people were still accustomed to tribal rule and loyalty, and order amongst more than internal tribal entities was only possible by ascribing to something higher – namely, God.
2: A familiar Quranic trope: respect and protect the orphan. God’s going to know if you engage in any funny business related to the orphans’ accounting.

There’s always a great deal of concern in “modern” Western society that polygamy is all about male domination and pleasure and that nothing governs the institution, but here’s one of those lines that tells us that it’s being meditated on. That is, take more than one wife if you want, but treat them all equally – and if you don’t think you can, keep it to one.

Now, if Big Love has taught us anything, it’s the difficulty of truly treating multiple women equally, and personally, I think one’s enough of a handfull – I couldn’t imagine a second. However, some people, I think, like this way of life, and though it’s not for me (or most), I think that if all parties agreed, it’s something that’s worth trying.

That said, I was watching (I know, horror of horrors), True Life on MTV (not my choice – I was staying with friends and apparently it was tevoed quite thoroughly), and the episode we watched was about polyamorous relationships. Now, if you are willing to put your polyamorous relationship on MTV for the rest of us to watch, then I contend that you are not mature enough to have one, but at the same time, at least these unmarried polyamorous relationships can happen, and if equality proves impossible (or even too difficult, which it often does), the participants can split up and no harm no foul. That, however, is most unlike the conventionally religious take on polygamy. I can hardly pass judgment on something I have difficulty imagining, but I just feel like it’s so fraught with difficulty and that a lot of people end up stuck in a situation which perhaps is far from ideal for them. Thoughts?

The placement of these ideas makes sense, as this is a sura on women and addressing these issues as they are for women is important. But the addressee is definitely men, it seems. In what ways to women conventionally listen to the Quran, if at all? Is the Quran addressed in specific places at women and not men?

Am I reading verse 7 right? Are both women and men and allowed to inherit? If so, that’s awesome, and quite unusual at this time.

Please share your thoughts on these verses and comment and critique what I’ve said. And accept my apologies for my negligence in replying to comments on past posts. I wrote them down in a doc while I was flying and I’m not sure if they made it back or if I posted them or what. I’ll be more conscientious from here forward.

Al-Nesaa’ 1-10


1. O MANKIND! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women. And remain conscious of God, in whose name you demand [your rights] from one another, and of these ties of kinship. Verily, God is ever watchful over you! 2. Hence, render unto the orphans their possessions, and do not substitute bad things [of your own] for the good things [that belong to them], and do not consume their possessions together with your own: this, verily, is a great crime. 3. And if you have reason to fear that you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among [other] women such as are lawful to you – [even] two, or three, or four: but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [only] one – or [from among] those whom you rightfully possess. This will make it more likely that you will not deviate from the right course. 4. And give unto women their marriage portions in the spirit of a gift; but if they, of their own accord, give up unto you aught thereof, then enjoy it with pleasure and good cheer. 5. And do not entrust to those who are weak of judgment the possessions which God has placed in your charge for [their] support; but let them have their sustenance therefrom, and clothe them, and speak unto them in a kindly way. 6. And test the orphans [in your charge] until they reach a marriage able age; then, if you find them to be mature of mind, hand over to them their possessions; and do not consume them by wasteful spending, and in haste, ere they grow up. And let him who is rich abstain entirely [from his ward’s property]; and let him who is poor partake thereof in a fair manner. And when you hand over to them their possessions, let there be witnesses on their behalf – although none can take count as God does. 7. MEN SHALL have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, and women shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, whether it be little or much – a share ordained [by God]. 8. And when [other] near of kin and orphans and needy persons are present at the distribution [of inheritance], give them something thereof for their sustenance, and speak unto them in a kindly way. 9. And let them stand in awe [of God], those [legal heirs] – who, if they [themselves] had to leave behind weak offspring, would feel fear on their account – and let them remain conscious of God, and let them speak [to the poor] in a just manner. 10. Behold, those who sinfully devour the possessions of orphans but fill their bellies with fire: for [in the life to come] they will have to endure a blazing flame!
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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.