Archive for September, 2010

Qaf: Shoulder Angel/Devil. It’s like a cartoon!

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Devil+and+angel+homer2 17: Remember that the two recording angels, seated on the right and on the left, receive and record.
18: Not a word does he utter but there is a watcher by him, ever-present.
21: And every person will come (before the Supreme Court) with one (angel) driving, and one (angel) bearing witness
23: And the one (the witnessing angel) who accompanies him say: "This is (his record) that I keep ready with me."
27: His companion (the devil who accompanied him into the world and seduced him into evil) will say: "Our Lord! I did not cause him to rebel and transgress, but he himself was far astray."

Seriously, did this sura just put an angel and a devil on every person's shoulder? How cool is that! That's such an iconic image. I'm sure someone has written a Ph.D. on where that first came from. Probably some Greek god thing or something.

Anyhoo, this whole sura covers exactly what will happen on the Day of Judgment (after a bit of recap on the validity of the revelation, fallen civilizations, etc.). First, these two "angels" have been eavesdropping on everything–even doing a little nudging and pushing sometimes–and they bear witness to one's deeds. The baddies, God asks "is Hell full yet?", but Hell replies "there's always room for one more." The goodies… I think this may actually be the first reference to what Paradise will look like:

31: And Paradise will be brought near for the God-revering, pious…
32: This is what was promised for you — for everyone who was penitent, careful in keeping his duties (to God).
34: Now enter [Paradise] in peace. That is the Day of immortality
35: Therein will be for them everything that they desire, and in Our Presence there is yet more.



September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Sorry. But I've been looking at this sura for days, and it's a yawner. Yeah, probably not fair, but this sura's fifty lines basically combines the message in four or five of the suras that I've already covered into one package.

It includes a description of the Day of Judgment, hints at 'Ad and Thamud and Pharoah, covered the creation (gushing fluid put in a secure place and carried to term), the gnashing of unbeliever teeth, the special hell for the rich, yada yada yada.

The full text is here, since I'm skipping this one.

Al-Balad: The most concise set of commandments yet

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I'm writing this using the Internet Explorer 9 Beta that I have to dogfood as a Microsoft employee. Everyone says IE9 is fantastic, even the New York Times. They must have a different IE9 beta build than I do. I type faster than the IE9 can render the text on screen. How annoying. This is worse than dogfooding Office 2007, when auto-save was bugged.

Moving on:
This sura has the most concise summary of the Qur'an's early message I have see yet.

12: Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Ascent is! –
13: (It is) to free a slave,
14: And to feed in the day of hunger
15: an orphan near of kin
16: or some poor wretch in misery,
17: And to be of those who believe and exhort one another to perseverance and exhort one another to pity.
18: Their place will be on the right hand.
19: But those who disbelieve Our revelations, their place will be on the left hand.
20: Fire will be an awning over them.

How clean is that?

Al-Humazah: “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced”

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Woe to every backbiting slanderer
Who gathers his wealth and counts it
Thinking that with his wealth he will never die
Nay, let him be thrown into the

This reminds me of a quote from Andrew Carnegie: "The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced." Avarice is a long-running theme in the early suras, and clearly The Big Sin.

I also think the connection between immortality and wealth is interesting. It can't be meant literally, no rich person thinks they are immortal, no matter the time period. But many, many rich men have believed that through their wealth, they can keep the memory of them alive. The result, though, is not what they may have though, whether it be the dissipation and waste of heirs who never learned the value of the money they were granted, to being remembered more for the rapacious manner in which the wealth was collected than in the institutions they endowed after their deaths. I think the de Medicis would serve as potent examples of both.

But the punishment has been far more generic and vague: the Fire. This sura gets more specific, naming the punishment–the Hutama–and describing exactly what it will entail. And what is the Hutama, you may ask? It is "that which Breaks to Pieces" or "the Consuming One" or "the crushing disaster" depending on which translation you use.

But I get a bit verbose in translations and quotes, so I buried the rest below the break.

Read more…

Al-Qiyamah: The power to create is the power to resurrect

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

The final line of this sura asks a question, which comprises the sura's entire message:

Is not He [who created man and woman] able to bring the dead back to life?

It's taken me a while to get what the Islamic Day of Judgment is really about. I think I've picked up by osmosis this Christian Evangelical thing where the spirits arise and go to Heaven (or Hell) after being judged. But in Islam, before being judged, everyone is resurrected, in the flesh, back to life, rather than just rising in spirit form. When you're judged, you are fully corporeal and alive.

This sura must be addressing doubts among the Quraysh about this resurrection in corporeal form. Muhammad's contemporaries believed that Allah was the senior god, the one who create humanity. But Allah had left the world after creating man. He was a disinterested god, and could only be approached via intermediaries, namely other lesser gods, and specifically, three female deities, Uzzah, Manat and al-Lat who were also sort of Allah's progeny. Not only that, but Allah only had the power of creating life, not of bringing back to life one who has died.

This sura denies this (and by implication any) limitation on the power of Allah by equating the power to resurrect with the power to create:

Thinketh man that We shall not assemble his bones?
Yea, verily! We are able to restore his very fingers
But man would fain deny what is before him

Thinketh man that he is to be left aimless?
Was he not a drop of fluid which gushed forth?
Then he became a clot; then (Allah) shaped and fashioned
And made of him a pair, the male and female
Is not He (Who doeth so) Able to bring the dead to life?

I feel like I'm finally getting a grasp of where the Quraysh were religiously. They worshiped Allah already and believed him to be the most powerful god. They were almost monolatrists–people who recognize that there are many gods but worship only a single one. I say almost in that the cult of Allah had three lesser dieties who would intercede with Allah on behalf of their worshipers. Muhammad was changing the definition of Allah. He wasn't the most senior of many. He was the only one, and, as we saw in The Star, these three deities were simply angels. No one needed to pray to them. 

There's a lot more text to this sura, of course: I only picked a few lines. There's a bunch of stuff about the Day of Reckoning and how the unrighteous will plead for forgiveness and be denied, and descriptions of what the day will be like. But I've seen that before. You can read the entire text here.

Al-Quraysh: Divine capitalism?

September 20, 2010 1 comment

Over just a couple generations, Muhammad's tribe, the Quraysh, went from a Bedouin nomads struggling to scrape by in one of the most brutal environments on Earth, to a wealthy, settled culture funded by trade of luxury goods.

This wealth had changed Muhammad's tribe from the far more charitable (and more violent) Bedouin culture, to a more selfish (and more peaceful) "city" culture.Why were Bedouin charitable (at least, among their extended family)? Because a year of bounty could easily be followed by a year of famine. If you shared your surplus one year, the odds that the recipients of your largess would return the favor in a following year when the tables were turned would be much higher.

For the taming of Quraysh
For their taming (We cause) the caravans to set forth in winter and summer
So let them worship the Lord of this House,
Who hath fed them against hunger and hath made them safe from fear.

I can't help but read "taming" in this sura to encompass the "urbanization" of the Quraysh, and this sura pointedly claiming all credit for this wealth to God, who caused the caravans to run each season. It's a potent message: while the Quraysh weren't Bedouin anymore, the fierce independent streak of the Bedioun would likely have persisted despite the "taming." A wealthy Qurayshi would attribute his/her success entirely to his/her own efforts and ingenuity. God is telling them they are wrong: it is he that has caused their success in this world.

At-Tin: Original sin again

September 17, 2010 2 comments

When I first read Al-'Asr, I thought there was talk of original sin. Not so, the experts say, but then there's this:

Surely we created man of the best stature
Then we reduced him to the lowest of the low
Save those who believe and do good works, and this is a reward unfailing

I guess it's not sin, per se, that laid man low here. It was an explicit act of God, not the temptation and fall of man. But the idea that man is flawed in some fundamental fashion is the same, regardless of the causality.

On the other hand, I infer from this that the extreme Calvinist viewpoint about pre-destination–that some people are doomed to hell no matter the good works they do–could never hold water in Islam. Good works and belief in God are enough for rebirth on Judgment Day, no matter who you are.

Full text (different translation) after the break.

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