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.

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Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 284-286 Complete the Second Sura

This repetition affirming the equality of the messages (despite differences in prophetic ability) from God’s different apostles (which is, I think, to say prophets) is very important. It makes Islam an incredibly inclusive religion, not shunning and belittling any of the other religions, which it acknowledges as other ways of believing in God and going to Heaven. I’m not particularly sure about the nuances of this understanding but generally speaking, this is my understanding after the conversations that have accompanied Quran Read-A-Long.

Asad tells us that the reference in verse 286 to God not laying the burden upon Muslims that he laid upon those before is a reference to the Mosaic law of Judaism and the world-renunciation of Christianity. If that is what’s being referred to here (and I can roll with that for the sake of argument) then I dare say that I concur with the burdensome nature of either of those things. I take this to mean, then, that the Quran considers its relatively long list of injunctions non-burdensome, and I ask, what is the difference between that which the Quran tells Muslims to do and that which the Torah tells Jews to do?

My own answer is obviously hindered by my lack of knowledge of what else, beyond the Cow, the Quran tells Muslims to do day to day, so my answer is only tentative, and it would seem to lie in the seeming arbitrariness of some of the things listed in the Torah – for instance, the kosher dietary laws. However, Islam shares a few of those laws (like a prohibition on eating pig), and so my question becomes whether or not this is a comparison not of the Torah itself but of the Rabbinic law (the Talmudic law, that is) that Mohammed would have theoretically seen the Jews around him abiding by – and that rabbinic law is a much longer and more tiresome list than the Torah’s own list. However, I would then offer a comparison between those legal minutae and the Hadith and other jurisprudence practiced of Muslims. If it is saying that the Quranic law is not burdensome because it is practical, then I would mention that a lot of what is mentioned in the Torah is practical too – like laws about sexual deviancy or treating society’s underprivileged fairly – despite the lengthy set of sacrificial laws that tax our modern sentiments.

Now, this isn’t meant to be me putting my foot down in these comparisons, because like I said, my knowledge of the rest of what the Quran is asking is not filled out yet (like my knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, believe it or not), but the Cow does seem to have a lot of directives, many atuned to running a balanced and just society, and some seemingly slightly less necessary (no pig?) – which isn’t to say there aren’t good reasons, but just to say that the differences in those elements of the religions aren’t entirely clear to me yet. As for the comparison with Christianity, it sounds like this is the Quran’s way of saying (at least according to Asad’s interpretation) that Islam, though focused on the next life like Christianity, is not obsessed to the exclusion of an appreciation and enjoyment of this life.

I’ve left a lot up in the air here and would be incredibly appreciative of any clarifying comments and thoughts.

We’ve made it to the end of The Cow, and though it’s the second sura, it’s also the first long one so that’s exciting! Thanks to everyone who’s made it this far with me and who has joined Quran Read-A-Long. I hope you’ll continue to read and comment as we move into the third sura, Al- ‘Imran, next week.

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The Cow 284-286

284. Unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. And whether you bring into the open what is in your minds or conceal it, God will call you to account for it; and then He will forgive whom He wills, and will chastise whom He wills: for God has the power to will anything. 285. THE APOSTLE, and the believers with him, believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer: they all believe in God, and His angels, and His revelations, and His apostles, making no distinction between any of His apostles; and they say: “We have heard, and we pay heed. Grant us Thy forgiveness, O our Sustainer, for with Thee is all journeys’ end! 286. “God does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: in his favor shall be whatever good he does, and against him whatever evil he does. “O our Sustainer! Take us not to task if we forget or unwittingly do wrong! “O our Sustainer! Lay not upon us a burden such as Thou didst lay upon those who lived before us!* O our Sustainer! Make us not bear burdens which we have no strength to bear! “And efface Thou our sins, and grant us forgiveness, and bestow Thy mercy upon us! Thou art our Lord Supreme: succor us, then, against people who deny the truth!”

Quran Read-A-Long: An Attempt to Grapple with the Notion of Faith in Islam

I like this quick tale about Abraham in verse 258. I can’t say I have anything in particular to add to its understanding, but I like it. I think it’s funny that the demonstrative tale in verse 259 would be placed between Abraham’s assertion of God’s greatness and his seeming lack of faith in verse 260.

It seems especially odd to me that someone speaking to God would then question matters that God says are so, like resurrection. It seems somewhat illogical since faith is believing without proof and Abraham already has proof of God since they’re chatting casually. Why would Abraham tell God that he has faith but that he just needs a little proof to lay his mind at ease. Needing proof is the essence of not having faith. As Jesus said, it is a wicked generation that needs signs. Not to go all Jesus quoting on anybody – I think it can be very annoying when people do that to make a point – but I do it to emphasize the notion of faith, which is Jesus’ point. You have to believe in things without being shown that they are so. Otherwise you don’t have faith.

I know it seems silly but it makes me think of the Keanu Reeves movie, Constantine. Reeves’ character, thought that he deserved to go to heaven because he believed in God and hell and damnation and all the stuff, as a Catholic, he was supposed to. The angel Gabriel (in the movie) tells him that he doesn’t believe in these things. He knows them to be true because he died briefly, saw these things, and was then resuscitated (or came back to life, if you prefer the symbolic language).

In any case, the point is that once you know, it’s no longer faith. It’s knowledge. That isn’t to say that faith is without knowledge, but just to say that Abraham’s request in this story, considering the mention of faith, is at odds with what my understanding of faith is (and I’ve worked very hard to understand faith). Perhaps faith in Islam is meant in another way (or the translation is tripping me up and Arabic has an in between word) and I’m failing to understand that (and when I say faith, I’m not using the word as a substitute for the word religion). If you can shed light on this issue, I’d be most appreciative.

Finally, my apologies for the two week hiatus from Quran Read-A-Long. Life became overwhelmingly busy and disappointingly, this and my other blogging “responsiblities” got pushed by the wayside. I felt an absence, not from the rest of it, but from this, and am glad to be doing it again. I hope that in the future I don’t have to skip any weeks. Thanks for your patience.

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The Cow 258-260

258. ART THOU NOT aware of that [king] who argued with Abraham about his Sustainer, [simply] because God had granted him kingship? Lo! Abraham said: “My Sus’tainer is He who grants life and deals death.” [The king] replied: “I [too] grant life and deal death!” Said Abraham: “Verily, God causes the sun to rise in the east; cause it, then, to rise in the west!” Thereupon he who was bent on denying the truth remained dumbfounded: for God does not guide people who [deliberately] do wrong. 259. Or [art thou, O man, of the same mind] as he who passed by a town deserted by its people, with its roofs caved in, [and] said, “How could God bring all this back to life after its death?” Thereupon God caused him to be dead for a hundred years; whereafter He brought him back to life [and] said: “How long hast thou remained thus?” He answered: “I have remained thus a day, or part of a day.” Said [God]: “Nay, but thou hast remained thus for a hundred years! But look at thy food and thy drink, untouched is it by the passing of years – and look at thine ass! And We did all this so that We might make thee a symbol unto men. And look at the bones [of animals and men] – how We put them together and then clothe them with flesh!” And when [all this] became clear to him, he said: “I know [now] that God has the power to will anything!” 260. And, lo, Abraham said: “O my Sustainer! Show me how Thou givest life unto the dead!” Said He: “Hast thou, then, no faith?”(Abraham) answered: “Yea, but [let me see it] so that my heart may be set fully at rest.” Said He: “Take, then, four birds and teach them to obey thee; then place them separately on every hill [around thee]; then summon them: they will come flying to thee. And know that God is almighty, wise.”

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 229- 231 Talks of Divorce Laws

It’s nice to see healthy divorce laws in a religion, just as it was nice last week to discuss healthy sexual laws within a religion. I would reiterate that living in a post-Puritanical culture means that divorce was only legal because people had “irreconcilable differences” within the past 50 years. And for such high divorce rates, we’re not talking about a country that handles marriage particularly well – nor its dissolution. In Catholicism, it’s still not kosher, so to speak, to get divorced, and I think it’s important that the Quran has such a healthy attitude towards the whole affair.

When it says in 230 that “you are not allowed to take away the least of what you have given your wives” does it simply mean that you can’t take away everything and leave – you have to leave her with a means of supporting herself (i.e. alimony, in a sense)?

What are these limits set by God that are spoken of? Are they how many times you can divorce and get back together (two acceptable, three not). Interesting that a marriage can be legal again between a man and a woman once that woman has married another man. That is a lot of back and forth. How common is this situation? It seems like one that would be far less common in the early years of Islam (though the very existence of this verse contradicts that, I think) and far more useful in modern Islamic societies today (I don’t pass a cultural value with the word modern – I simply mean that the mobility of today’s life, the lack of more local tribal affiliations, the comparative plethora of options make divorce and husband-hopping a more plausible situation).

Thoughts about these verses and their historical context and modern application would be most appreciated. All other comments welcome as well!

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The Cow 229-231

230. Divorce is (revocable) two times (after pronouncement), after which (there are two ways open for husbands), either (to) keep (the wives) honorably, or part with them in a decent way. You are not allowed to take away the least of what you have given your wives, unless both of you fear that you would not be able to keep within the limits set by God. If you fear you cannot maintain the bounds fixed by God, there will be no blame on either if the woman redeems herself. Do not exceed the limits of God, for those who exceed the bounds set by God are transgressors. 231. If a man divorces her again (a third time), she becomes unlawful for him (and he cannot remarry her) until she has married another man. Then if he divorces her there is no harm if the two unite again if they think they will keep within the bounds set by God and made clear for those who understand. 232. When you have divorced your wives, and they have reached the end of the period of waiting, then keep them honorably (by revoking the divorce), or let them go with honor, and do not detain them with the intent of harassing lest you should transgress. He who does so will wrong himself. Do not mock the decrees of God, and remember the favors God has bestowed on you, and revealed to you the Book and the Law to warn you of the consequences of doing wrong. Have fear of God, and remember, God is cognizant of everything.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 222-229 Talks about Family Planning, Oaths and Women’s Special Time

No, no, no – Don’t Touch!

In Judaism it’s also proscribed from nearing the womenfolk during their special time of the month. What’s interesting is that only the latter half of verse 222 implies that the “staying away” is of a sexual nature, saying that men may go near their women as “God has enjoined” when they are done with their womanly ways. The first half of the verse almost makes it seem like you should stay away from women altogether during this time. Is that what it’s saying? If the Quran says that men should stay away from women altogether during their monthly time then I must conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is a man – and that he was, at some point, married.

Planned Parenthood – Quran Style!

I’m having a tough time beginning my thoughts on verse 223, which effectively is God telling people to undergo family planning but that the man makes the family planning decisions. The intended listener of the verse is interesting also, “Women are like fields for you,” which means, for you men – as in, this book is directed at men (or at least these verses). Now, it was my understanding that women were meant to hear the Quran, too; if so, how should this verse be taken? More importantly, what’s the family planning policy?

The reason I find this so interesting is because of the value of family planning to stable societies. However, the key to family planning being efficacious is when women have the control over that family planning and are the ones that decide when to have children and how many to have. Apparently women, in many cases (and largely for biological/evolutionary reasons) make different decisions than men (the whole, they have to nurture for the whole childhood thing while men can go seeding many fields at once – or four wives, as the case may be – thing) when it comes to family planning. So, unstable societies are those in which women have fewer rights (often a result of theocracies that support such a policy) and little control over their own reproductive processes. That results in a lot more children and a lot more adolescent males of ‘warring ages’ who ultimately get restless in societies that also happen to generally be poorer – and that all turns bad. The book I’d recommend on this is one I’ve reviewed on this blog: Sex and War. The end of the verse does note women’s rights but it’s unclear how it pertains to this issue and it is noted that men have an edge over women. How to take that in this work-a-day world?

Swearing up and down

In verse 225, it says that God won’t hold us accountable for what is senseless in our oaths, but only what is so in our hearts. Does that include oaths in which we include God’s name or is this saying that oaths – no matter their form – are invaluable because God cares more for what is in our hearts rather than what leaves our lips? I ask because in the books of Deuteronomy and Exodus (in the Ten Commandments) the Bible forbids using God’s name in oaths that will not be kept. It’s bad business. Does that mean that the Quran doesn’t share the same concern or am I misreading?

A Note on Quran Read-A-Long

Please feel free to answer and address any and all questions and comments below or add anything that I’ve left out. I would like to let everyone know that I have learned a ton from Quran Read-A-Long, which isn’t to say from my own readings of the Quran as much as the wonderful contributors who give their time and minds, week after week, to make this a worthwhile experience and a fruitful endeavor. Without them the verses of the Quran, to an amateur reader such as myself, might appear repetative and their richness and diversity of thought and wisdom would hardly be so apparent. Thank you to those of you who contribute, and to those of you who are still just reading along, feel free to join in whenever you have something to say.

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The Cow 222-229

222. They ask you about menstruation. Tell them: This is a period of stress. So keep away from women in this state will they are relieved of it. When they are free of it, you may go to them as God has enjoined. For God loves those who seek pardon, and those who are clean.” 223. Women are like fields for you; so seed them as you intend, but plan the future in advance. And fear God, and remember, you have to face Him in the end. So convey glad tidings to those who believe. 224. Do not implicate God in your oaths to avoid doing good and being pious and keeping peace among men, for God hears all and knows everything. 225. God will not call you to account for that which is senseless in your oaths, but only for what is in your hearts; for God is forgiving and forbearing. 226. Those who swear to keep away from their wives (with intent of divorcing them) have four months of grace; then if they reconcile (during this period), surely God is forgiving and kind. 227. And if they are bent on divorce, God hears all and knows everything. 228. Women who are divorced have to wait for three monthly periods, and if they believe in God and the Last Day they must not hide unlawfully what God has formed within their wombs. Their husbands would do well to take them back in that case, if they wish to be reconciled. Women also have recognized rights as men have, though men have an edge over them. But God is almighty and all-wise.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 217-221 Speaks of Charity

A Sociological Phenomenon

The themes of verse 217 are ones that have continually risen throughout the Quran thus far, and I’m fairly confident they will continue to appear. Nevertheless, I can’t help but dwell on the idea here, as I have before, though I rarely say too much about it. It’s this constant talk of “they,” who are, unless I’m mistaken, the unbelievers – the deniers of Allah and his word. There’s so much warning about them, but the warning is one that goes beyond Islam.

As I see it, a religion’s text warning its readers to be chary of those who don’t believe in it would seem to be a common sociological phenomenon. “We believe in x, x being ultimate truth. Others don’t: they’re unbelievers. Moreover, they’re always going to try to get us not to believe what we believe.” What religion can’t claim this attitude? What’s particularly interesting to me, then, is that the Quran was not written long after the founding of Islam but was composed at the religion’s inception (though redacted later). That means that this fundamental understanding – a very human one, I might add – was likely based on experience with other religions (or simple logic). That’s not to question the status of the Quran as divine revelation, but only to note that this seems to me to be a particularly human understanding of the way people behave when they are challenged by others’ faith.

Drinkin’

Is line 219 the only place in the Quran that mentions gambling and wine or does it arise elsewhere? I ask because I know that alcohol is haram and I wonder if its status as such is based on a deduction from this verse or if it comes from another verse that states so more directly.

Charity

Verse 220 is a wonderful attitude towards orphans. Islam is nothing if not a religion that emphasizes the importance and value of charity. I think that is a marvelous value. To those who know many Muslims today, do you find that people really do give the most that they can or at least the prescribed amount? I consider Judaism and Christianity, which have the ideas of tzedaka and tithing/alms respectively, and think that in today’s day and age, though people certainly give, they don’t give all that they can. I imagine that it’s similar in Islam, as people are people and I would find it hard to imagine that everyone of a particular faith (at least a faith so large that it can’t be controlled directly within a single village or community) is out there giving all the charity they can. As long as there are rich and poor then this point seems self-evident enough.

However, it reminds us how important it is that the Quran (and other religions’ books) place such a serious emphasis on charity. Could we imagine how little might be given if people didn’t view charity as an injunction from God? Sure, contemporary human decency may persuade some people to do what they can, but history and life show us that people prefer to keep what they have than to give it away. I don’t mean to be a negative nancy about human nature; it is what it is and I think much of life is a challenge to rise above it so that we can all have a better life on this earth. For that reason, I’m grateful for many of the values taught by our religions.

Summary

What do you think about these verses? Can you tell us anything else about them?

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The Cow 217-221

217. They ask you of war in the holy month. Tell them: “To fight in that month is a great sin. But a greater sin in the eyes of God is to hinder people from the way of God, and not to believe in Him, and to bar access to the Holy Mosque and turn people out of its precincts; and oppression is worse than killing. They will always seek war against you till they turn you away from your faith, if they can. But those of you who turn back on their faith and die disbelieving will have wasted their deeds in this world and the next. They are inmates of Hell, and shall there abide forever. 218. Surely those who believe, and those who leave their homes and fight in the way of God, may hope for His benevolence, for God is forgiving and kind. 219. They ask you of (intoxicants) wine and gambling. Tell them: “There is great enervation through profit in them from men; but their enervation is greater than benefit.” And they ask you what they should give. Tell them: “The utmost you can spare.” So does God reveal His signs: You may haply reflect 220. On this world and the next. And they ask you about the orphans. Tell them: “Improving their lot is much better; and if you take interest in their affairs, they are your brethren; and God is aware who are corrupt and who are honest; and if He had pleased He could surely have imposed on you hardship, for God is all-powerful and all-wise. 221. Do not marry idolatrous women unless they join the faith. A maid servant who is a believer is better than an idolatress even though you may like her. And do not marry your daughters to idolaters until they accept the faith. A servant who is a believer is better than an idolater even though you may like him. They invite you to Hell, but God calls you to Paradise and pardon by His grace. And He makes His signs manifest that men may haply take heed.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 211-216 Speaks of Familiar Things and a Single Community

When verse 213 says that “men belonged to a single community,” is it saying that at one point we were all the same and only later separated or is it just referring to a single community? I’m not clear because of what follows it: God sent them messengers and the Book. If Book is a reference to originally sending the Bible, then it wasn’t to everyone, it was to the Israelites. Similarly, if Book refers to the Quran then there wasn’t one community at the time. So what is this reference to a single community? Is it a state of nature kind of thing?

I also find verse 216 particularly interesting. Bad things (e.g. fighting) is good for us and things that please us aren’t good for us. Only God knows. I find this particularly interesting because people often insist that certain things are or aren’t good for us – marijuana, sex, skiing, television, fat, etc. – and though we seek to find out and solve these riddles, many of our actual conclusions come down to moral or cultural judgments. E.g. Fat is ugly and bad (it’s not); marijuana is bad for you and should be illegal (worse things are legal); sex is wrong before marriage (for much of human history the convention didn’t exist – was the procreation wrong?), etc. Only God knows what’s really good and bad for us, so why do we keep trying to push our views on others?

Thanks for being a part of Quran Read-A-Long and leaving your thoughts with us, answering some of my questions and elaborating on other parts of these verses that I missed.

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The Cow 211-216

211. Ask the children of Israel how many a clear sign We had given them. But if one changes the favor of God after having received it, then remember, God is severe in revenge. 212. Enamored are the unbelievers in the life of this world, and scoff at the faithful. But those who keep from evil and follow the straight path will have a higher place than they on the Day of Reckoning; for God gives in measure without number whomsoever He will. 213. Men belonged to a single community, and God sent them messengers to give them happy tidings and warnings, and sent the Book with them containing the truth to judge between them in matters of dispute; but only those who received it differed after receiving clear proofs, on account of waywardness (and jealousies) among them. Then God by His dispensation showed those who believed the way to the truth about which they were differing; for God shows whom He please the path that is straight. 214. Do you think you will find your way to Paradise even though you have not known what the others before you have gone through? They had suffered affliction and loss, and were shaken and tossed about so that even the Apostle had to cry out with his followers: “When will the help of God arrive?” Remember, the help of God is ever at hand. 215. They ask you of what they should give in charity. Tell them: “What you can spare of your wealth as should benefit the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the needy, the wayfarers, for God is not unaware of the good deeds that you do.” 216. Enjoined on you is fighting, and this you abhor. You may dislike a thing yet it may be good for you; or a thing may haply please you but may be bad for you. Only God has knowledge, and you do not know.