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Ya Sin

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I've read and blogged about 40 suras, and as I read number 41, I'm feeling as though the themes are getting a bit repetitive. Let me try to list out the ones in this sura that have already been extensively covered:

  1. God sent messengers to remind man.
  2. Man has a bad habit of rejecting God's messengers, sometimes murderously.
  3. Disbelievers blame God for their woes, but claim all successes are their own (they're God's actually).
  4. Eventually, the deniers get punished, the believers are rewarded.
  5. Punishment can be subtle: believers shouldn't see a successful unbeliever and think God has favored the unbeliever. Punsishment will come later.
  6. God created man, and can resurrect men as well.

Maybe I'm not taking Ya Sin seriously enough, but it just doesn't have much new.

Only two things really jumped out at me: first, the use of Ar-Rahman instead of Allah for I think the first time in the regular text of a sura (judging by the translations, it's only been Allah and Lord); second an actual description of Paradise:

055: Surely the inmates of Paradise will be engaged in their pastimes
056: They and their companions will recline on couches in the shade.
057: For them will be fruits and whatever they ask.

al-Jinn: Back to the simply and easy suras

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Jinn (which became the West's genies) are spirits akin to angels, except that their realm is the earth, rather than the heavens.

Anyway, in this sura, the Jinns (or a group of them) hear the Qur'an and return to their worship of God. Interestingly, the Jinns were led astray by men, not by themselves:

05: We [the Jinns] had in fact thought that men and jinns would never speak a lie about God,
06: But some men used to seek refuge with some jinns, and this increased [the Jinns'] waywardness;
07: So they began to think, even as you [humans] do, that God would not resurrect any one.

This sura also includes a forceful reiteration of tawheed, or the oneness of God:

20: Say: "I call on my Lord alone and I don not associate any one with Him."
21: Say: "Neither is your loss within my power nor bringing you to guidance."
[it is God's power alone]

22: Say: "No one [not even another deity] can save me from God, nor can I find a place of refuge apart from Him."

Interestingly, this sura also talked specifically about the timing of the Day of Resurrection:

25: Say: "I do not know if what is promised you is near, or if my Lord prolongs its term."

al-A’raf: Narrate this history to them

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

172: When your Lord brings forth from their loins the offspring of the children of Adam, He makes the witnesses over themselves (and asks):
"Am I not your Lord?"
"Indeed," they reply. "We bear witness."
Lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection:
"We were not aware of this."
173: Or, lest they should say: "It were our fathers who had ascribed peers to God; we are only their offspring. Will you destroy us for the deeds of those who dealt in vanities?"

This is sort of an astounding line: God brought every single living being, every human, at some time around the creation and made them swear "You're God, and if we forget that, it's our fault. There's no ambiguity now."

The rest of the sura hammers home the general themes of al-A'raf:

  1. There is no god but God.
  2. Do not ascribe good things to any force, superstition or deity, except God.
  3. God sends periodic messengers to try to bring humans to the right path.
  4. Stand firm in your belief (if you believe in God).
  5. God's wrath is inescapable.

In closing…

196: [Say] "My saviour is God who has revealed this book; and He protects those who are upright."
199: Cultivate tolerance, enjoin justice, and avoid the fools.
203: … These (revelations) are an evident proof from your Lord, and a guidance and a grace for those who believe.
204: When the Qur'an is recited listen to it in silence. You may perhaps be blessed.
205: Meditate on your Lord inwardly with humility and trepidation, reciting His Book softly, morning and evening, and be not negligent.

al-A’raf: The Commandments and the Golden Calf

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The later part of Exodus and al-A'raf focus on the giving of the ten commandments and the Golden Calf.

The Qur'an, however, spends very little time–a mere six ayas–covering the commandments themselves in this sura, and only one directly references the commandments themselves:

145: And we wrote down on tablets admonitions and clear explanations of all things for Musa, and ordered him: "Hold fast to them, and command our people to observe the best in them."

The other five ayas cover Musa's interaction with god on the mountaintop, as well as condemning revelation those who "behave unjustly with arrogance" and deny god's signs–an indirect rebuke of the Qurayshi disbelievers. That's it for the ten commandments.

The Golden Calf, however, covers fourteen ayas (at least, according to my count/opinion). The matter of worshipping idols is much more relevant to the realities in Mecca: most pre-Islamic Arabs worshipped idols, whether they were Christian, pagan or Jewish.

The Qur'an:

148: In the absence of Musa his people prepared the image of a calf from their ornaments, which gave out the mooing of a cow. Yet they did not see it could neither speak to them nor guide them to the right path. Even then they took it (for a deity) and did wrong.
149: Then they were filled with remorse and saw that they had erred and said:
"If our Lord does not forgive us we will surely be lost."
150: When Musa returned to his people, indignant and grieved, he said:
"How wickedly you behaved in my absence…"
152: Surely those who have taken the calf (as a god) will suffer the anger of their Lord…
153: Yet those who do wrong, then repent and believe, are forgiven, for your Lord is forgiving and kind.

Exodus:

When the people saw that Moses was a long time before coming down the mountain, they… melted [gold] down in a mould and with it made the statue of a calf. "Israel," the people shouted, "here is your God who brought you here from Egypt."

Yahweh then said to Moses, "Go down at once, for your people… have become corrupt."

Moses and Yahweh then begin to horsetrade over whether or not Yahweh should kill all the people Moses brought out of Egypt. Yahweh relented, and then Moses went down the mountain, destroyed the golden calf, and castigated his people. The Moses gathered those who had remained true to Yahweh, and ordered them to slaughter three thousand men.

Holy shit.

So, in the Qur'an, the people created and worshipped a calf, but then realized it wasn't a god and begged for God forgiveness. Musa finds them after this point, and scolds them after the fact, but God forgives them (later in the sura) because they repented.

In Exodus, the Israelites don't repent until Moses scolds them; but even then, repentance isn't enough. Moses orders those loyal to Yahweh to slaughter three thousand of those who worshipped the calf.

And Islam is the violent religion? I gotta say, I like Musa far more than Moses.

There's a bit of Exodus in al-A'raf, but to be perfectly honest, slogging through this sura is one of the reasons I took a long break in blogging. I'm going to skip that, and jump right to the summation, which is pretty interesting.

al-A’raf: Moses and Pharaoh

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

The story of Musa (Moses) is a long one compared to the previous sections, and I'm not going into it in detail. I assume any reader would have some knowledge of the Exodus legend–it's so deeply embedded in Western culture, after all. What I will do is highlight some of the differences, as they are critical to maintaining the chain of God's messengers.

First, it's clear from the Qur'an that the listener was already intimately familiar with the story of Musa. There is no mention of Pharaoh ordering all the male babies born to Jews be killed; nor of Musa as baby in the reeds and rescued by one of Pharaoh's daughters, as detailed in Exodus 2.

In fact, some pieces are delivered merely in shorthand from the Biblical version. For example, the New Jerusalem Bible has a long exchange between Musa and Yahweh granting Musa miraculous powers to show the new Pharaoh (Exodus 4), as well as a variety of exchanges between Musa and Pharaoh. The Qur'an jumps right to the Plagues (Exodus 7).

104: Musa said: "O Pharaoh, I have been sent by the Lord of all the worlds;
105: I am duty bound to speak nothing of God but the truth. I have brought from your Lord a clear sign; so let the people of Israel depart with me."
106: Pharaoh said: "If you have brought a sign then display it, if what you say is true."
107: At this Musa threw down his staff, and lo, it became a live serpent.
108: And he drew forth his hand, and behold, it looked white (diseased) to those who beheld it."

No clear mention of the Jews being slaves; no explanation of the white hand meaning that Musa could change it from diseased to healthy and back at will. The listener must already have known all these details. The exchange with Pharaoh's sorcerers is different, though: In Exodus, the sorcerers also turned their staves into snakes, but then Musa's snake at the sorcerers' snakes. In the Qur'an, the sorcerers "bewitch the eyes of the people and petrify them," while Musa releases them from the enchantment.

But then comes the most interesting deviation between Exodus and the Qur'an:

120: The sorcerers fell to the ground in homage,
121: And said: "We have come to believe in the Lord of all the worlds,
122: The Lord of Musa and Aaron."
123: But Pharaoh said: "You have come to accept belief in Him without my permission!…
124: I will have your hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, and have you all crucified."
125: They answered: "…
126: "The only reason you have to hate us is that we believed in the signs of our Lord as they came to us. O our Lord, give us sufficient endurance that we may die submitting (to You)."

All of a sudden, Exodus has been subtly changed to turn Musa's message into one of conversion of all people, not just escape for the enslaved Jewish tribes. It also includes the same miracle of sudden conversion upon hearing the words of a messenger of God that is central to the founding of Islam. And you have the same issue of a secular ruler oppressing those who adopt the new faith.

The plagues, Passover, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh's troops are the rushed through quickly–the listener would know the story, of course–to get to the more relevant issues of faith and worship that occur on Sinai. Here's how quickly it goes:

127: And the leaders of Pharaoh's people said to him: "Would you allow Musa and his people to create disorder in the land and discard you and your gods?"
Pharaoh replied: "We shall now slay their sons and spare their women to subdue them."
130: We afflicted the people of Pharaoh with famine and dearth of everything that they might take heed.
131: Yet when good came their way they said: "It is our due;"
but when misfortune befell them they put the omen down to Musa… but surely the omen was with God.
133: So We let loose on them floods and locusts, and vermin, frogs and blood — how many different signs.
But they still remained arrogant, for they were a people full of sin.
134: Yet when punishment overtook them, they said: "O Musa, invoke your Lord for us…
If the torment is removed, we shall certainly believe in you and let the people of Israel go with you."
135: But no sooner was the punishment withdrawn for a time to enable them to make good their promise than they broke it.
136: So We took vengeance on them, and drowned them in the sea for rejecting Our signs and not heeding them.

Back after a long break

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment

I am back after a long, long break. Got a new job with Microsoft, got married, got pregnant, went on a honeymoon.

I've realized that I will take a number of long breaks from this project. I don't think I have any regular readers on this blog, and I've realized that doesn't really matter to me. This is a project I just want to complete. Say that I read the Qur'an, cover-to-cover, and I did it thoroughly and in detail.

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