Quran Read-Along: Is Al’-Imran 181-189 Talking About the Jews?

Slay Them Prophets

Whenever I see talk of slaying prophets, I immediately think of the accusations leveled against the ancient Israelites and assume that we must be talking about them. This would also fit, in parts of the Bible, with, “God is poor while we are rich.” For instance, during the Conquest of Cana’an that happens in the book of Joshua (and only in the book of Joshua I might add as the rest of the Bible and history itself make it rather clear that none of this really occurred, but it was only a story to demonstrate a few lessons), the people take some of the riches that were meant to belong to God. There’s no prophet slaying, though (beyond disobedience of Joshua), and this seems a rather literal interpretation of the fact.

The history of the First Temple during the reign of the Kings of Judah (pre-Josiah) might also call attention to this, as this was the period during which the people (priests) grew wealthy, ignored God, and killed his prophets (supposedly). But again, this seems quite literal, when in fact I detect a spiritual element to this idea: the presumption that we know what God doesn’t and are rich in life (and spirit), and that we ignore the prophets who are sent to him (i.e. slaying prophets is perhaps less literal and more along the lines of ignoring them, like say, what the Jews of Medina are doing to Mohammed).

Can We Start the Sacrifices Again, or What?

As we move into verses 183 and 184 my suspicions feel both confirmed and belied.

That is, the Jews would want their apostles (or prophets) to come to them with news related to burnt offerings – that is, the reinstatement of sacrifice and presumably news of all this happening at the Temple in Jerusalem (that implies fresh autonomy and perhaps the arrival of the messiah).

The rabbis say that prophecy ended with Alexander the Great (c.332 BCE in Jerusalem) because with him came Hellenization, a process that the rabbis considered antithetical to their own tradition and culture. Thus, prophecy was long considered over (nearly 1000 years over) by the time of Mohammed (this disregards the fact that the book of Daniel was written in the 160s BCE because it was believed to be from the early 6th C. BCE) and therefore Jews would have been most disinclined to believe Mohammed unless, presumably, he told them what they wanted to hear: that the future held sacrifices and a reinstatement of their tradition. The Quran seems to be saying that even back in the day when prophets said what Jews claimed they wanted to hear, you killed them.

Spread a Little Revelation

By verse 187 it sounds as though we’re talking about the notion of chosenness. That is to say that the messages of revelation were meant to be shared and spread around the world but instead they were turned inward and used for trifling gain – to make the Jews special for themselves (this is my guess). Christianity was doing the opposite (as an early proselytizing religion) so this seems to be a reference to only the Jews (unless I’m totally missing someone else here). I’m not sure where the line to ‘make it known to mankind’ comes from though. Where was this said?

As basic advice (toned down a smidge-a-roo), I like this: “Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done – think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come]” When I say toned down, I mean, it doesn’t have to be about grievous suffering for it to tell us that we don’t have to love pretentious people, what Holden Cofield might call phonies. Don’t pay them any mind, it seems to say (without the suffering part…).

Please feel free to comment and critique!

Al’-Imran 181-189

181. God has indeed heard the saying of those who said, “Behold, God is poor while we are rich!”  We shall record what they have said, as well as their slaying of prophets against all right, and We shall say [unto them on Judgment Day]: “Taste suffering through fire 182. in return for what your own hands have wrought – for never does God do the least wrong to His creatures!” 183.  As for those who maintain, “Behold, God has bidden us not to believe in any apostle unless he comes unto us with burnt offerings”  – say [unto them, O Prophet]: “Even before me there came unto you apostles with all evidence of the truth, and with that whereof you speak: why, then, did you slay them, if what you say is true?” 184. And if they give thee the lie – even so, before thy time, have [other] apostles been given the lie when they came with all evidence of the truth, and with books of divine wisdom, and with light-giving revelation. 185. Every human being is bound to taste death: but only on the Day of Resurrection will you be requited in full [for whatever you have done] – whereupon he that shall be drawn away from the fire and brought into paradise will indeed have gained a triumph: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion. 186. You shall most certainly be tried in your possessions and in your persons; and indeed you shall hear many hurtful things from those to whom revelation was granted before your time, as well as from those who have come to ascribe divinity to other beings beside God. But if you remain patient in adversity and conscious of Him – this, behold, is something to set one’s heart upon. 187. AND LO, God accepted a solemn pledge from those who were granted earlier revelation [when He bade them]: “Make it known unto mankind, and do not conceal it!” But they cast this [pledge] behind their backs, and bartered it away for a trifling gain: and how evil was their bargain! 188. Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done – think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come]. 189. AND UNTO GOD belongs the dominion over the heavens and the earth: and God has the power to will anything.

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Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 21-30 Speaks of Judgment Day and Allies

Considering the stories in the Bible about the Israelites slaying their prophets, is verse 21 a reference to them? The following verses makes me believe so because they are a discussion of, I think, the Israelites and their laws (the Torah). At the end of verse 23, is the “it” that is turned away from, the Torah, the true uncorrupted Torah or neither, but actually the Quran which Jews are currently not accepting? This line about the fire not touching them but for a limited time is something we saw in The Cow, I think. As for the false beliefs, is this a reference to the corrupted Torah and the associated “silly” laws or is this something more ‘present,’ – as in, their corrupted Torah has caused Jews to betray the larger faith that the Quran now teaches and they aren’t accepting the latter because of the purnicious influence of the former?

Lot of questions there but I didn’t seem to be getting these opening verses with an overwhelming amount of clarity.

The remainder of this section seems to be a recognition of God’s power and what will happen on Judgment Day when everyone will be required to reckon for his deeds. In the midst of this larger theological speech is a point about acquiring allies and how Muslims cannot accept allies who are deniers of the truth rather than believers. Interestingly, there seems to be a caveat in place that is quite practical and allows non-believing allies to be acquired if good strategy and safety require it. I suppose that in the early years of the Medinan community, it would have been an absolute necessity for this to be so and were it not, the nascent Muslims may have been destroyed. However, strategic allying and political decision making by Mohammed allowed for the community’s survival and thriving.

What can you tell us about these verses? I feel like I left out a lot, but I wasn’t quite sure what to address and how.

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Al-‘Imran 21-30

21. Verily, as for those who deny the truth of God’s messages, and slay the prophets against all right, and slay people who enjoin equity – announce unto them a grievous chastisement. 22. It is they whose works shall come to nought both in this world and in the life to come; and they shall have none to succour them. 23. Art thou not aware of those who have been granted their share of revelation [aforetime]? They have been called upon to let God’s writ be their law – and yet some of them turn away [from it] in their obstinacy, 24. simply because they claim, “The fire will most certainly not touch us for more than a limited number of days”: and thus the false beliefs which they invented have [in time] caused them to betray their faith. 25. How, then, [will they fare] when We shall gather them all together to witness the Day about [the coming of] which there is no doubt, and every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has done, and none shall be wronged? 26. SAY: “O God, Lord of all dominion! Thou grantest dominion unto whom Thou willest, and takest away dominion from whom Thou willest; and Thou exaltest whom Thou willest, and abasest whom Thou willest. In Thy hand is all good. Verily, Thou hast the power to will anything. 27. “Thou makest the night grow longer by shortening the day, and Thou makest the day grow longer by shortening the night. And Thou bringest forth the living out of that which is dead, and Thou bringest forth the dead out of that which is alive. And Thou grantest sustenance unto whom `Thou willest, beyond all reckoning.” 28. LET NOT the believers take those who deny the truth for their allies in preference to the believers – since he who does this cuts himself off from God in everything – unless it be to protect yourselves against them in this way. But God warns you to beware of Him: for with God is all journeys’ end. 29. Say: “Whether you conceal what is in your hearts or bring it into the open, God knows it: for He knows all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and God has the power to will anything.” 30. On the Day when every human being will find himself faced with all the good that he has done, and with all the evil that he has done, [many a one] will wish that there were a long span of time between himself and that [Day]. Hence, God warns you to beware of Him; but God is most compassionate towards His creatures.

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 Day: Verses 60 and 61 of The Cow speak about the Israelites in the Desert

What’s in the Bible

The premise of this short passage is in the Bible: the Israelites grumbled about water and they complained about food. Regarding the water, Moses did strike a rock with his staff. There is no talk of the division of tribes here in the Bible, but in the Quran the passage leads us to the point of saying that what was derived from this experience was the tribes learning their place and that they should spread no discord in the land because God will provide for them all. I like that.

Where This Passage Goes

At first, this passage is speaking of the Israelites’ complaints against God but very quickly it ends up speaking of God chastising them for wanting to exchange what is good with what is bad (?) and telling them to go to the city. This, I don’t understand. I’m not sure what the city refers to nor why them going there will get them what they want. In addition, the Israelites are then disgraced. I’m unsure why, other than them questioning God’s ability to provide what is right, the same theme of the previous verse. However, at the end, everything returns to a common biblical theme whereby the Israelites don’t listen to the word of God and treat the prophets unjustly. It was a quick move and link from the complaining in the desert to a characterization of the Israelites’ behavior for the next 700+ years.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with these two verses, as they start and end with familiar ideas (to me) but speak of things I don’t understand in the middle. Do you know what is being discussed here? Should this city, whether symbolic or actual, be obvious to me?

Follow-up

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The Cow 60-61

60. And remember, when Moses asked for water for his people, We told him to strike the rock with his staff, and behold, twelve springs of gushing water gushed forth so that each of the tribes came to know its place of drinking. Eat and drink, (enjoy) God’s gifts, and spread no discord in the land. 61. Remember, when you said: “O Moses, we are tired of eating the same food (day after day), ask your Lord to give us fruits of the earth, herbs and cucumbers, grains and lentils and onions;” he said: “Would you rather exchange what is good with what is bad? Go then to the city, you shall have what you ask.” So they were disgraced and became indigent, earning the anger of God, for they disbelieved the word of God and slayed the prophets unjustly, for they transgressed and rebelled.