Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 197-210 Speaks of Entropy and the Hajj

Verse 197 makes an important point (well, many, but I’ll touch on one). If you’re going to perform the pilgrimage, don’t be lustful or truculent and don’t sin. After all, what’s the point of pledging yourself to do something that God has commanded, a holy journey, both personal and sacred, if you’re going to be violating other elements of God’s law along the way. It’s almost a note against hypocrisy, a theme that comes up again later in these verses with the contentious man.

The next verses then run through some of the ceremonies performed on the hajj. Which steps are mentioned here and which are included? I know that there is a ceremony where stones are cast to represent the stones thrown at Satan by Abraham, and I don’t see that reference in here. Is that from another verse of the Quran or from other hadith? What else is missing?

The next verses (200-202) discuss a theme which, as we know, manifests often in the Quran, regarding people doing/believing as they should and getting just recompense. What made me smile was the end of verse 202, which notes God’s swift reckoning, I presume, when it comes time for one to be held accountable for his life and sins. What’s funny is that last week in the discussion that ensued, a quote was offered that mentioned how a man took 12 years to account for his life and sins. Considering His usual pace as stated here, perhaps God was like, “Come on, man, it’s okay that you left the sheep by the riverbank.” 🙂

God and Entropy

I find verse 205 fascinating when it says that God does not love disorder. As many of us learned in our high school physics classes, entropy (that is, randomness and disorder), is the way of things. As human beings we try to create order, whether through buildings with right angles, mowing lawns and planting gardens that if left untended will be overgrown by wilderness, stacking the glasses in our kitchen cabinets in a perfect line or anything else that we do. However, disorder is far easier to come by than order, which is quite logical if you think about it. The straighter you want that line of cups, the easier it is to mess it up, and the more options there are for it being messed up, whether a few cups being out of line, or the glasses getting shattered in an earthquake. This also reminds me of our discussion last week: human nature is also inherently disorderly, and that is why I find it so unlikely that people will cease oppressing within precisely the allowed time. As was argued, living life by the Quran -ideally – imposes that necessary order that ends oppression in an orderly fashion.

So, it’s fascinating that the Quran states that God does not love disorder because what is religion if an attempt to create order in a naturally disordered world? Religion is laws and rules and a way to live down to, in many cases (e.g. Judaism, Islam), the most minute details. That is an incredible amount of order imposed, as it were, from the ultimate force above: a force that loves order, yet interestingly, created a disorderly universe and then gave us a bunch of ways that it must be orderly. Both internally to religion this is interesting and in an anthropological sense as well. Religion is an attempt to create order in a world that generally lacks it.

What else can you tell us about these verses? Can you answer any of my questions, enlighten us generally on the verses or simply add anything? Thanks!

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The Cow 197-210

197. Known are the months of pilgrimage. If one resolves to perform the pilgrimage in these months, let him not indulge in concupiscence, sin or quarrel. And the good you do shall be known to God. Provide for the journey, and the best of provisions is piety. O men of understanding, obey Me. 198. It is no sin to seek the favors of your Lord (by trading). When you start from ‘Arafat in a concourse, remember God at the monument that is sacred (al-Mash ‘ar al-haram), and remember Him as He has shown you the way, and in the olden days you were a people astry. 199. Then move with the crowd impetuously, and pray God to forgive your sins. God is surely forgiving and kind. 200. When you have finished the rites and ceremonies, remember God as you do your fathers, in fact with a greater devotion. There are some who say: “Give us, O Lord, in the world;” but they will forego their share in the life to come. 201. But some there are who pray: “Give us of good in the world, O Lord, and give us of good in the life to come, and suffer us not to suffer the torment of Hell.” 202. They are those who will surely have their share of whatsoever they have earned; for God is swift at the reckoning. 203. Remember God during the stated days; but if a person comes away after two days, it will not be a sin; and if one tarries, he will not trangress, if he keep away from evil. Follow the law of God, and remember that you will have to gather before Him in the end. 204. There is a man who talks well of the world to your pleasing, and makes God witness to what is in his heart, yet he is most contentious; 205. For when his back is turned he goes about spreading disorder in the land, destroying fields and flocks; but God does not love disorder. 206. Whenever he is told: “Obey God,” his arrogance leads him to more sin; and sufficient for him shall be Hell: How evil a place of wide expanse! 207. And there is a man who is willing to sell even his soul to win the favor of God: and God is compassionate to His creatures. 208. O believers, come to full submission to God. Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan your acknowledged foe. 209. If you falter even after Our signs have reached you, then do not forget that God is all-powerful and all-wise. 210. Are they waiting for God to appear in the balconies of clouds with a host of angels, and the matter to be settled? But all things rest with God in the end.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 189-196 Speaks of Fighting, Aggression and Oppression

At first blush these verses seem to be a combination of injunctions for life about violence, aggression and fighting and at the same time about the specifics of Mohammed’s return to Mecca with his followers. For instance, verse 190 – and I like the emphasis placed here on not being aggressors or even aggressive – seems to be a rule to follow for life. However, verse 191 – which discusses returning to the place from which you were expelled and making sure not to fight near the Holy Mosque – seems more specific to the conquest of Mecca.

I feel like 194 is a dangerous verse to give people, because it effectively authorizes oppression in the name of God and piety, saying that it is allowed against those who oppress you to the same degree. Human nature is such, however, that people who oppress are often unable to discontinue doing so, even if the appropriate level of oppression authorized has been met. Oppression requires dehumanization and once dehumanized, oppression proceeds unhindered. Plus, why say in verse 191 that oppression is worse than killing if only a few verses later oppression, to whatever degree, is going to be allowed. It seems unreasonable, counterproductive, and plain not good. Unless of course the entire thing is a ruse to see whether people will abide by the earlier words and never oppress, knowing that it is wrong.

I was unaware of the ritual of shaving one’s head in Islam. What is the purpose of doing so and what does it mean to do so? Any help clarifying this would help. It seems here to be related to sending a sacrifice instead of visiting a holy place, but what is it directly related to? Is this related to hajj?

What else can you tell us about these verses? Can you answer any of my questions, enlighten us generally on the verses or simply add anything? Thanks!

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The Cow 189-196

189. They ask you of the new moons. Say: “These are periods set for men (to reckon) time, and for pilgrimage.” Piety does not lie in entering the house through the back door, for the pious man is he who follows the straight path. Enter the house through the main gate, and obey God. You may haply find success. 190. Fight those in the way of God who fight you, but do not be aggressive: God does not like aggressors. 191. And fight those (who fight you) wheresoever you find them, and expel them from the place they had turned you out from. Oppression is worse than killing. Do not fight them by the Holy Mosque unless they fight you there. If they do, then slay them: Such is the requital for unbelievers. 192. But if they desist, God is forgiving and kind. 193. FIght them till sedition comes to end, and the law of God (prevails). If they desist, then cease to be hostile, except against those who oppress. 194. (Fighting during) the holy month (if the sanctity) of the holy month (is violated) is (just) retribution. So if you are oppressed, oppress those who opress you to the same degree, and fear God, and know that God is with those who are pious and follow the right path. 195. Spend in the way of God and do not seek destruction at your own hands. So do good; for God loves those who do good. 196. Perform the pilgrimage and holy visit (‘Umra, to Makkah) in the service of God. But if you are prevented, send an offering which you can afford as sacrifice, and do not shave your heads until the offering has reached the place of sacrifice. But if you are sick or have ailment of the scalp (preventing the shaving of hair), then offer expiation by fasting or else giving alms or a sacrificial offering. When you have security, then those of you who wish to perform the holy visit along with the pilgrimage, should make a sacrifice according to their means. But he who has nothing, should fast for three days furing the pilgrimage and seven on return, completing ten. This applies to him whose family does not live near the Holy Mosque. Have fear of God and remember that God is severe in punishment.

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.

Around the World Pic: TGI Fridays – Some People Have a Different Pilgrimage Site

This is me and some of my friends at TGI Fridays in Philadelphia. Why are we here? To celebrate someone’s graduation from college. However, for some, TGI Fridays isn’t just a meal – it’s a religious experience.

The person graduating has been to numerous TGI Fridays around the globe – many of which I dined at with him. It’s not that the food or service is so great or that he misses America when he’s around the world.

It’s that TGI Fridays – and its crap on the walls – is the iconic exportation of Americanism, and no matter where you go, you can get any classic Fridays food. Sure, one could say the same of McDonalds, but the Golden Arches is the big name out front that everyone knows and thinks of America when they see, but the inside is bland and only makes one think he’s at a McDonalds.

TGI Fridays screams at you from every inch of every wall that each piece of junk and flare came straight from crap-town USA and there’s no where you can turn to forget it.

So why are we eating at TGI Fridays in Philadelphia rather than some place else since we’re not around the world? Well, good times were had by all, and it certainly reminded us that no matter how far away we all lived from each other, there was always some place that would remind us of our awesome friend, his hilarious rantings about TGI Fridays, and that we could celebrate his graduation.

What are your thoughts on TGI Fridays? How about your thoughts on the exportation of Americanism in the form of franchised restaurants?

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Around the World Pic of the Day: The Rock of Immortality in China

Jay at the Rock of Immortality

Jay at the Rock of Immortality

In March of 2006 I had the amazing honor of going to Beijing on an all expenses paid trip for my school’s Model United Nations team. Well, we didn’t actually compete in the tournament but actually spent ten days in a luxury hotel and traveling all over the city and the surrounding area. It was incedible and a really awesome time.

One of the things we did was go to a Summer Palace (though I forget the specifics) that was an enormous complex with a lake and lord knows how much other awesome land and how many cool buildings to explore. It was really beautiful and very neat. Towards the beginning of this place was this rock which ancient Chinese tradition says brings immortality. It’s often a site of pilgrimage, and dozens of Chinese people were all around it touching it and rubbing it with fervor and good cheer.

I touched it, too, as you can see, and though I have no desire to be immortal, I am curious whether or not I can still die. I’m not asking that anyone help me test that theory, but hey, I touched the rock.

Would you want to be immortal? I happen to think that there’s a lot more to the whole picture than this life and so sticking around in it forever, and continually watching those I love die would be a real shame – I think. Yes, it would be great to stick around and keep doing good in the world but it also means you’d have to do a lot more than financially plan for your retirement. I would also love to see more of history unfold and get to know how it was ‘back in the day’ more than anyone else and tell them about it. However, all of those things might get old. And what if there was a nuclear holocaust and I was the only person left on earth. That would suck!

So, immortality is not for me. I really hope the rock didn’t work. Have you been to Beijing? Actually, heres another picture of me at the Olympic countdown sign.

Jay at the Olympic Countdown Sign

Jay at the Olympic Countdown Sign

Funny time for this post, huh?

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Click HERE to read about my thoughts on the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Around the World Pic of the Day: Spinoza Street in Amsterdam

Jay at Spinoza Street

Jay at Spinoza Street

After 5 trips to Amsterdam I finally made it to the only place that I ever really wanted to go (aside from coffee shops and live sex shows, of course): Spinoza Street.

I really never cared about seeing that much else in Amsterdam, though I guess I have. Five times there and I’ve still never been to the Anne Frank House. I just don’t care. I’ve taken canal tours, hung out all over the city, relaxed in parks, and seen plenty of the great sites and museums. Once, two friends and I even took a nice day trip to Utrecht (beautiful place).

But here I am at Spinoza Street. Why do I care about this and why am I sharing with you what hardly seems like a religious site? Well, Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza was perhaps one of the greatest and most important philosophers to ever think and write about religion. His thought pretty much changed the face of the European Enlightenment, sending it in directions no one could have predicted. His intellect was truly mind-boggling and his words sensationally fascinating.

One of my favorite books of all time, Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, is overwhelmingly incredible in the scope and depth of its thought as well as the magnitude of its impact. I can read it again and again without my amazement ceasing even momentarily. Everyone should read this book (click HERE to purchase it now!).

Spinoza, though not the first to know it, was the first to make a stink out of the fact that there is no conceivable way that Moses could have written the Torah, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis-Deuteronomy), also known as The Five Books of Moses (I was asked if this could be the subject of a Fun with the Bible Monday – it will be). He investigated the Bible in a truly scholarly way, and indeed, was the first person ever known to live outside of any religious community. In abandoning his Judaism he never actually converted to Christianity, an unprecedented move that resulted in an amazing, if lonely life.

My reverence for Spinoza and his brilliant mind made me concerned only with visiting the street in Amsterdam – his home town – that bears his name. So, it’s a “religious” site for two reasons. First, because it commemorates a man whose life was dedicated to the scholarly study of religion and philosophy and second because I effectively made a pilgrimage there (even though it took me five times to get the pilgrimage right, but hey, Amsterdam can be a pretty distracting place….pretty lights…).

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