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 236-242 Reminds Us that Using Our Reason with God in Mind Will Lead to the Effective Execution of Social Justice

Again, these divorce laws never cease to amaze me in their understanding of social justice. A man, according to his means, must provide for his divorced wife (presumably, so long as she is not being supported by another). I would like to point out though that these laws are most effective and necessary in a society in which men work and women, well, women work too but not necessarily for a paycheck. In many societies today I would argue that, barring a prenuptial agreement, a woman should get diddlysquat when she is divorced (if she initiates it or doesn’t keep up her end of the marriage) because she is entirely capable of making her own way, getting a job, supporting herself, etc.

Okay, perhaps diddlysquat is a little harsh. It’s not easy to live 40 years unemployed and then suddenly work to support yourself, with no 401k (not that anybody has those anymore anyway) or experience. However, I do think that a divorced woman in a society that allows her to, should be required to work to support herself, even if she still requires assistance from her previous husband. But those are my opinions which are only relevant in certain societies. In the days that the Quran was revealed, for a long time afterward and in many places today, this is still a necessary law. It’s also spun in a surprisingly nice way: if it happens that things don’t work out with your wife, be a good person and support her in whatever way you are able.

The God-Consciousness in reference to the social injunctions again underscores the importance of interacting with each other in such a way that God would approve. As this has been a theme so far I imagine that it will continue to be one, and Asad’s note points out that prayer is the most intimate form of God-consciousness – hence its place here.

This entire talk then ends brilliantly: with God providing commands this way so that people can use their reason. In what way, I would ask? And then answer, vaguely. The amount of alimony hasn’t been specified, the acceptable legal behavior hasn’t been specified (so far), and I think that’s because of exactly what the Quran states here: that God doesn’t want to solve all of our problems for us and sort out every little detail. He wants us to use our reason and be good people. We can do this most effectively by keeping Him in our minds and always acting in accord with the knowledge that he is watching us and knows what’s in our hearts.

Please feel free to comment, correcting or adding to what I’ve said here.

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The Cow 236-242

236. You will incur no sin if you divorce women while you have not yet touched them nor settled a dower upon them; but [even in such a case] make provision for them – the affluent according to his means, and the straitened according to his means – a provision in an equitable manner: this is a duty upon all who would do good. 237. And if you divorce them before having touched them, but after having settled a dower upon them, then [give them] half of what you have settled – unless it be that they forgo their claim or he in whose hand is the marriage-tie* forgoes his claim [to half of the dower]: and to forgo what is due to you is more in accord with God-consciousness. And forget not [that you are to act with] grace towards one another: verily, God sees all that you do. 238. BE EVER mindful of prayers, and of praying in the most excellent way;* and stand before God in devout obedience. 239. But if you are in danger, [pray] walking or riding; and when you are again secure, bear God in mind – since it is He who taught you what you did not previously know. 240. AND IF any of you die and leave wives behind, they bequeath thereby to their widows [the right to] one year’s maintenance without their being obliged to leave [the dead husband’s home].* If, however, they leave [of their own accord], there shall be no sin in whatever they may do with themselves in a lawful manner.** And God is almighty, wise. 241. And the divorced women, too, shall have [a right to] maintenance in a goodly manner:* this is a duty for all who are conscious of God. 242. In this way God makes clear unto you His messages, so that you might [learn to] use your reason.

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.

Book Review: Sex and War, by Potts and Hayden, is a Fascinating Look at the Biological Bases of War

I have to thank the BenBella Book Publishers for cluing me into this gem of a book. Generally, when we think of gems we think small. Think big. This is a big book. But if I was going to lay out the case for why men are inherently violent at a basic biological level, how empowering women is the solution to world peace, and how we can overcome our genetic predisposition towards outgroup violence, then I would probably need a fair amount of pages too.

Malcolm Potts, an obstetrician and research biologist, and the journalist Thomas Hayden, take up the remarkable challenge of setting out to show the average person, who is not particularly well-versed in the biological bases of behavior, the genetic code, chimpanzee behavior or a million fascinating and germane examples throughout history, how and why men are violent and how we can overcome our natural predispositions. The solution: become aware of them and empower women.

Rather than do this book an injustice by attempting to summarize its intelligent and very well-argued points, I will liken it to Guns, Germs and Steel, the wonderful work by Jared Diamond that set out to demonstrate how the world’s power structure is based on where people started and therefore what technology and weapons they had access to and what diseases they were immune to. In the same way, this book describes the state of our world based on fascinating and uncontrollable factors and has an epic task at hand.

I must admit that the author’s disapproval of President Bush and his actions did shine through as a prominent motif, and though I generally don’t appreciate political opinions intervening in works such as these, if I were writing a book during the presidency of a man who had created so many apt examples then I could hardly deny myself the luxury of using them. If you removed these examples it would actually do the book and the argument an injustice and I believe that their inclusion truly was not politically motivated. That, however, doesn’t necessitate the footnotes of stupid Bush quotes (which were at least funny).

In short, an excellent book and a must read for anyone who loves to see the complex interplay of so many fascinating factors in this world and their results.

Get your very own copy of Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World

Great Motivational Posters about Friends, Anime, Necks and Jessica Alba

Here ya go:

Which was your favorite?

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Zen Talk: 21 Rules for a Sarcastic Zen Life

Thought this might be a nice change of pace from the usual seriousness of our Sunday Zen Talk days.

The Zen of Sarcasm

01. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me the heck alone.

02. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and leaky tire.

03. Its always darkest before dawn. So if you’re going to steal your neighbor’s newspaper, that’s the time to do it.

04. Don’t be irreplaceable. If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

05. Always remember that you ‘re unique. Just like everyone else.

06. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

07. If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

08. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.

09. If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is probably not for you.

10. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

11. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably a wise investment.

12. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

13. Some days you’re the bug; some days you’re the windshield.

14. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

15. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

16. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

17. Duct tape is like ‘The Force’. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

18. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.

19. Generally speaking, you aren’t learning much when your lips are moving.

20. Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.

21. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

22. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

Got any good ones to add?

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Mamma Mia!, as Reviewed by Lisa, Receives Wonderful Accolades for Spirit and Fun

There are some movies this summer that I just won’t get to, but lucky me, my stepmom, Lisa, was ready and willing to write a review of Mamma Mia! Now, I can’t really say that we have the same taste in movies, but with her own watchful eye and scrutinizing ways, she has put together an excellent review of what she calls one of the summer’s most fun movies. Hope you enjoy!

It’s about time.  All summer long I’ve wanted to go to the movies and be entertained. I didn’t want to spend the little time I had for “fun” scared out of my wits, or gripping the seat in anxiety during some kind of race or shoot-out. I’ve been waiting to go to a movie that is fun, uplifting, and most of all, entertaining. Mamma Mia! is it.

Even if you start out watching Mamma Mia! with little confidence that a musical, based on the songs of successful Swedish pop group ABBA, will be worth your while, the clear singing, beautiful ocean blue eyes, and exuberant style of Sophie (played by Amanda Seyfried) in the opening scenes will irresistibly sweep you in. Suspend your rational thinking, and allow yourself to be charmed by Meryl Streep, who stars as Donna Sheridan, a former 70’s rocker and Sophie’s mother.  Ms. Streep, an Oscar winning actress, puts the same energy and intensity into this role as she has with other serious characters from previous movies (Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, Out of Africa, The Devil Wears Prada).

Sophie is about to be married on an idyllic Greek island and wants to invite her dad to her wedding, but alas, doesn’t know who he is. She finds her mother’s diary and doesn’t know whether her dad is Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) or Harry (Colin Firth). But even though she knows them only as names in the diary, she manages to track them down and secretly invites all three to her wedding (like I said, suspend logic).  Lo and behold, they all show up, as do Donna’s old friends from her rock-n-roll youth, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters).

Baranski almost steals the show with a number (“Does Your Mother Know?”) that is funny, sexy and a real show-stopper. Pierce Brosnan, always easy on the eyes, works hard to belt out several duets with Streep.  Also, the movie has some touching and tender moments, particularly as Donna helps Sophie prepare for her wedding day.  The movie ends with an unexpected but delightful twist, and don’t leave the theater until all the credits roll for some hysterical last scenes.

Go see Mamma Mia! – one of those films that works on every level. If you discount this movie solely based on the material you may be missing out on one of the most surprisingly fun moments to be had in theaters this year.

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