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: Al-‘Imran 72-80 Continue Talking of Difficulties with Muslims and Jews

Asad offers two understandings of verse 72, both of which make sense to me. The one which came to mind as I read the verse seemed to be saying that Jews and Christians would say to the Muslims that they believed Mohammed’s revelation but would later renege amongst themselves. This would serve to keep the Muslim community, presumably, from pressuring them too much and therefore allow them to keep their own faith (however slighted it was by their behavior). Alternatively, Asad proposes (and he believes this) that the verse means that Jews and Christians accepted some of Mohammed’s earlier revelations but not later ones that conflicted with biblical stories. Quite frankly, I don’t know why both options can’t be the case. What do you think it means?

In verse 73, when Muslims are told not to trust anyone who doesn’t follow their faith, I’m wondering if this is meant to be in the historical moment or a larger directive. That is to say that I can understand why Muslims could not have trusted the local Jews and Christians in Mohammed’s day. Despite their shifting alliances, from a religious perspective, they were waffling. Thus, as they were not part of the umma without being Muslim, no one could be sure if they were friend or foe. However, my question is whether or not this is still meant to apply to Muslims. Should Muslims still not trust those of other faiths? Further, in a Muslim community that is far larger than a tribe (i.e. a society that is entirely Muslim), can trust really be given to everyone based on his/her faith alone? That’s not to say that we can’t trust people or that we can’t trust those with whom we feel a common kinship, but is it really a great idea to trust everyone on that basis alone?

I would definitely agree that there is no basis to the claim made, allegedly, by Jews, that they don’t have any moral responsibility towards non-Jews. The only thing that the Bible says is that Israelites can’t loan at interest to each other, but presumably they can to others. That doesn’t exempt anyone from moral responsibility though. It seems that verse 75, however, is true of every group of people. There are always some who will do the right thing and always others who won’t. I hardly think that this is Jew-specific, though I know that the Quran uses immediate examples from Mohammed’s present to provide us with statements that hold forever.

Ascribing things to the Bible that are not there is wrong, but I would hope that this refers to people who are intentionally manipulating it. True, the Quran says that it does refer to those who know that they lie, but it’s hardly fair – pending the Bible did once have a different form and was corrupted to its current state, even intentionally – to refer to all Jews and Christians who read the Bible and think that what it says is true when they were not involved in its corruption. They’re just saying what they ‘know.’ Indeed, Asad refers to ascribing meaning to something that is not intended to be as such, but that’s an entirely different matter (and no good).

I find verse 79 to be incredibly intriguing. Obviously it’s a reference to Jesus, but the verse says that Jesus said, “Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof].” That, I would agree, is  something that definitely would have come from Jesus’ lips. I think it accompanies quite nicely the oft ignored verse from the Gospel of Matthew 5:17 in which Jesus tells his disciples and followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Setting aside the Christian religious interpretations of “fulfill,” Jesus is saying what the Quran is: keep studying the law (which means Torah) and spreading knowledge of God’s revelation. Of course, Jesus was talking to Jews, and as we’ve discussed from the second surah, God delivered messages in different ways to different peoples so that they could understand His revelation. Thus, it’s not problematic for Jesus to have been confirming for Jews that they should continue studying/practicing/spreading their revelation and laws.

My interest arises due to the fact that Jesus’ words validate the Torah as it was composed in his time. Whatever corruptions of the text were happening to the Torah to make it so irreparably unsatisfying to Muslims would have happened long before Jesus’ time both because of the general scrutiny and spread of the texts by this time and because the historical matching-ups of the text not being a single original text (i.e. The Documentary Hypothesis) are centuries and centuries earlier. Would Jesus really have encouraged people to continue believing a corrupted revelation, or is Jesus talking about something else entirely?

Can’t wait to find out what we held off on last week: what was going on in the life of Mohammed and the umma at the revelation of these verses. Please share anything else that I missed or that strikes you about these verses.

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Al-’Imran 72-80

72. And some of the followers of earlier revelation say [to one another]: “Declare your belief in what has been revealed unto those who believe [in Muhammad] at the beginning of the day, and deny the truth of what came later, so that they might go back [on their faith]; 73. but do not [really] believe anyone who does not follow your own faith.” Say: “Behold, all [true] guidance is God’s guidance, consisting in one’s being granted [revelation] such as you have been granted.” Or would they contend against you before your Sustainer? Say: “Behold, all bounty is in the hand of God; He grants it unto whom He wills: for God is infinite, all-knowing, 74. singling out for His grace whom He wills. And God is limitless in His great bounty.” 75. AND AMONG the followers of earlier revelation there is many a one who, if thou entrust him with a treasure, will [faithfully] restore it to thee; and there is among them many a one who, if thou entrust him with a tiny gold coin, will not restore it to thee unless thou keep standing over him – which is an outcome of their assertion, “No blame can attach to us [for anything that we may do] with regard to these unlettered folk”: and [so] they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie].”76. Nay, but [God is aware of] those who keep their bond with Him, and are conscious of Him: and, verily, God loves those who are conscious of Him. 77. Behold, those who barter away their bond with God and their own pledges for a trifling gain – they shall not partake in the blessings of the life to come; and God will neither speak unto them nor look upon them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He cleanse them of their sins; and grievous suffering awaits them. 78. And, behold, there are indeed some among them who distort the Bible with their tongues, so as to make you think that [what they say] is from the Bible, the while it is not from the Bible; and who say, “This is from God,” the while it is not from God: and thus do they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie]. 79. It is not conceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, “Worship me beside God”; but rather [did he exhort them], “Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof].” 80. And neither did he bid you to take the angels and the prophets for your lords: [for] would he bid you to deny the truth after you have surrendered yourselves unto God?