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Abu Lahad and The Elephant

August 31, 2010 Leave a comment

In Ashland Oregon, right after I got stumped by the Elephant again, I picked up a book called "Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources" by Martin Lings. Within a century or so of Muhammad's death, a number of historians had codified biographies of Muhammad collectively referred to as sīra. This book is basically a summary of the broader sīra literature. It feels–to me–a lot like some of the early parts of the New Testament that I've read about Jesus. Or at least, maybe its the stories outside of the New Testament that have sprung up.

Clarification about al-Masadd and Abu Lahab

Anyway, when I was blogging about Abu Lahab, it felt wrong, specifically the bit about familial relationships. The footnotes told me that Muhammad had been raised by his uncle, Abd al-Uzza b. Abd ul-Muttalib and his wife Jumayl. I dutifully repeated this.

Wrong.

Maybe Muhammad spent some time in their household, but according to Ling's book Muhammad was raised by his grandfather Abd ul-Muttalib after his mother died when he was just a few years old, and the subsequently by his uncle Abu Talib after Abd ul-Muttalib passed away.

Anyway, doesn't change the story of Abd ul-Uzza and Jumayl's opposition, but it does confuse me as to the "why" of the footnotes in that one edition of the Qur'an.

The Elephant

Ling's book also explains the Elephant. It wasn't a story from Muhammad's time as I thought. It dates to the time of Abd ul-Mutallib, Muhammad's paternal grandfather. Apparently, a Yemeni deputy to the Abyssinian king decided to build a new temple to wrest away the lucrative pilgrimage business from Mecca and the Quraysh. After building the temple in Sana'a, the deputy took an army to raze the Ka'bah in Mecca, and that army was led by a single war elephant that was supposed to terrify and trample on the Qurayshi forces.

When the army arrived, the elephant just sat down and refused to advance, even when tortured. The elephant would get up and move as long as it was in a direction away from Mecca. But not forward.

Then, a flock of seagulls that would put Alfred Hitchock to shame blackened the sky and dropped pebbles (three per bird) from their months that moved with such force they pierced armor and organs, decimating the Yemeni army and driving them home in disarray.

Having recently watched the first half of Henry IV Part I (we skipped out on the 2nd half–we were tired from a long drive from Eugene which included our rental car breaking down in Rice Hill), I can but wonder if an Arab Jack Falstaff was an officer in the Abyssianian Army who told the exaggerated story of the Abyssianian defeat. Hal and Ned Poins would have burst their spleens and died of laughter.

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Al-Fil: Elephants again!?

August 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Seest thou not how thy Lord dealt with the Companions of the Elephant?
Did He not make their treacherous plan go astray?
And He sent against them Flights of Birds,
Striking them with stones of baked clay.
Then did He make them like an empty field of stalks and straw (of with the corn) has been eaten up
.

I got nothing. I'm guessing there was a battle where the Quraysh got some elephants and used them against the Muslims? Got trounced? Dunno.

What the hell am I thinking

August 29, 2010 2 comments

I’m sitting in a hotel room at the south-east corner of Olympic National Park. My friend and colleague Rob Bentley is getting married, and I brought my laptop and several Qur’ans because I knew I’d have some free time.

I keep flipping into my Ali Unal translation to look at the footnotes (there are a LOT of footnotes). It’s a thick book, and even though I’ve been through only about half of suras 80 to 114 (maybe one-fifth of the suras) I’m only looking at a fraction of the pages. I mean, there are 1,250 pages in the Ali Unal translation (again, crap-ton of footnotes) and sura 73, the second post of this blog, is on page 1,181.

I’ve covered about half of 69 out of 1,250 pages. That’s 5.5% of the whole book. Well, OK, I’ve only done half of the 69, so that 2.75%.

Fuck.

Categories: Uncategorized

Al-Kafirun: To you your religion and to me mine

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

One of my Arabic professors, Farouk Mustafa, required us to memorize three suras (or ayas from longer suras) as part of our second-year Arabic course. Farouk specifically called out this one for his non-Muslim students, partly because the last line is just great.

To you your religion, and to me mine

(That's my translation, by the way–the word for religion is also more strictly translated as in Qur'anic Arabic as "way" with a capital W, meaning way of life or religion or what have you).

That line accurately captures the entire message of this brief sura. I'm sure there's more context to it–that this is related to a specific discussion with someone, perhaps a follower of the god il-Lah that wasn't willing to make the jump from monolatry to a monotheistic world with only Allah (same letters, same root, very similar word) . But the live-and-let-live principle, at least with respect to those who are religious but not Muslims, is a vital principle of Islam that is built into a millennia of religious and secular law in Muslim countries establishing a degree of religious tolerance that wouldn't be seen in Europe and North America until the last century or so.

Here's the full text:

Say: O ye that reject Faith!
I worship not that which ye worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship
Nor will ye worship that which I worship
To you be your Way, and to me mine.

Somewhat related story: when I was on a study-abroad program in Jordan in 1995, one of the bits of advice the program leaders gave–in the event someone suggested you might want to convert to Islam because of your interest in the religion–was to reply that your family was Christian/Jewish/Buddhist, whatever. This would imply that your family wouldn't approve, and while this wouldn't matter in American culture, it's a polite and accepted way to end that train of thought. I actually had a long chat with a fellow in Syria who did make that suggestion, and I barely even finished the phrase "my father was a priest" before he was withdrawing his comment as if it were inappropriate.

Anyway, that exchange, to me, seems to have some roots in this little sura.

Al-Maun: Small kindnesses

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This sura answer a few questions for me. First, in ad-Dhuha, I wasn't sure whether the orphan references and second, around the issue of insincere prayer–the preceeding suras, in my opinion, seemed to imply that the act of prayer was sufficient.

Seest thou one who denies the Judgment (to come)?
Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness)
And encourages not the feeding of the indigent.

Adh-Dhuha may have referenced Muhammad initially (it's not clear to me) but this leaves no doubt the intent of that sura was to elevate the status of all orphans.

So woe to worshippers
Who are neglectful of their prayers,
Those who (want but) to be seen
But refuse (to supply) (even) neighbourly needs.

This second bit must've meant that the small Muslim community had long since extended beyond Muhammad, Ali, Khadija and a few servants. It must have become large enough to include some people who were just going through the motions for whatever reason, or only praying some of time; as well as those who prayed but didn't extend their religious practice to the charity so frequently demanded in earlier suras.

Prior to this, it was only unbelievers and deniers in hell. Now, "believers" who missed the point (I'm thinking specifically of the massive amounts of charity work the Taliban and al-Qaeda don't deliver) are at risk of hell as well.

At-Takathur: Keeping up with the Joneses

August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Don't try to keep up with the Joneses.

From a financial planning perspective, this is a no-no. Spending on luxuries because your neighbors or co-workers have them is not a path to prosperity. There's all sorts of research showing that wealthy Americans are those who look like they live relatively poorly, but have a high savings rate. The ones who buy stuff to keep up with what the neighbors are buying? The better car, the bigger grill? Debt. Debt out the wazoo.

The Qur'an makes it easier for you (if you're a Muslim). According to this sura, if you try to keep up with the Joneses, you'll go to hell. Ha ha!

The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more
serious things),
Until ye visit the graves.
But nay, ye soon shall know (the reality).
Again, ye soon shall know!
Nay, were ye to know with certainty of mind, (ye would beware!)
Ye shall certainly see Hellfire!
Again, ye shall see it with certainty of sight!
Then, shall ye be questioned that Day about the joy (ye indulged in!)

Yeah, I'm playing fast and loose with this sura. But it seems so clear, that first line. "The mutual rivalry for piling up the good things of the world diverts you from more serious things… Ye shall certainly see Hellfire."

Obviously, charity is implied here, as it is in most of the suras I've read so far.

Al-Kauthar

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

To thee have We granted the Fount (of Abundance)
Therefore to thy Lord turn in Prayer and Sacrifice.
For he who hateth thee, he will be cut
off (from Future Hope).

That's it. Pretty clear: get yourself full of hate, and you'll be cut off from Heaven. Huh. I guess that means the Tea Party and al-Qaeda will be sittin' next to each other in Hell. So much Hate.

Me, though, well, I should be good, right? I mean, there are people in this world who do not love their fellow human beings and I HATE PEOPLE LIKE THAT. (Stole that from Tom Lehrer).