Author Archive

Ta Ha: More Exodus

March 23, 2011 1 comment

There was a TON of Exodus material in Sura 7 / Al-'Araf, and Ta Ha includes some of the bits skipped.

It goes into detail about Musa's birth, the fiery bush, how the whole staff/snake/staff thing works, etc. It also has greater specificity around the parting of the sea:

077: We commanded Musa: "Journey by night with Our creatures, and strike a dry path for them through the sea. Do not fear of being overtaken, nor have dread of any thing."
078: The the Pharaoh followed them with his army, but the sea overpowered and engulfed them.
079: The Pharaoh led his people astray and did not rightly guide them.

That last line is the core difference between the Old Testament stories and the Qur'anic versions: everyone, not just the Jewish tribes, could follow god's word. The Qur'anic Pharaoh and his people rejected Musa's message from god, and paid the price. The Torah version, Pharaoh's fate was sealed because he didn't free his Jewish slaves.

The next interesting deviation comes with the story of the Golden Calf, which Ta Ha recounts in depth. I'm not surprised the Golden Calf is making its second appearance: Islam is not fond of idols, and the ease of man going astray is a common theme.

In Exodus, Moses commands some of his followers to slaughter 3,000 of those who worshipped the Golden Calf. No such thing here.

Categories: Exodus, Sura 20: Ta Ha

Maryam: You get lost when you’re not Christian or Muslim or Jewish

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I read this sura a couple of times before I realized I had to go to the New Testament.

It's called Mary. Jesus' mom, right? So this should be about Jesus. except that the first 15 lines are talking about god creating a child in Zachariah's wife's womb when they're barren. OK, that's pretty clear, it's not an immaculate conception. But when you read it quick…

Then it goes right to Mary who gives birth to a son despite the fact that "no man has touched" her.

There's no mention of Zachariah's wife's name, so I thought she was Mary. But the kid was named John (Yahya) not Jesus ('Isa). I even checked the Arabic to make sure there wasn't some mistake.

I couldn't make heads or tails of it, and it's part of the reason I haven't blogged in two weeks.

I went to the Bible, looked up Zachariah, and there's nothing in there about his wife, let alone her getting knocked up at god's command.

Well, yeah. Muhammad's followers knew all the biblical stories. Including that of John the Baptist's birth as described in the Gospel of Luke. Me, not being Christian, it was news to me. I don't really know anything about John, except that he lost his head after making a living of dunking people in the little stream called the Jordan River.

Beyond that, the sura is basically a litany of biblical figures to be commemorated in the Book. Each major figure is introduced with the same words: "Wa udhkur fi il-Kitab" or "And remember in the Book," though "remember" is a bit more formal in this case than mere recollection, but more of a command to remember.

It's another in example of placing Muhammad in the already existing chain of messengers from god.

There's an additional theme about piety and the granting of children, an interesting fertility theme. Zachariah is devout but his wife is barren; she is given a miraculous birth. Abraham is devout but without childern; his wife eventually gives a miraculous birth. Mary is devout and a virgin, and god creates a fetus in her womb.

Then we come to the last set of ayas:

88: They say: "God has begotten a son."
89: You have uttered a grievous thing
90: Which would cleave the skies asunder, rend the earth, and split the mountains,
91: For they have attributed a son to Ar-Rahman,
92: When it does not behove the Merciful to have a son.
95: Every one of them will come before Him all alone on the Day of Resurrection.
96: Surely Ar-Rahman will show love for those who believe and do the right.

Islam was very much more hostile to Christianity's Nicean Creed holding Jesus to be the same being as God, both the son and the father, than it was to Judaism, where the prophets were all human. But even then, those who would make such a shocking claim–that Isa was the son of god–will still be judged by their actions, not just by their erroneous belief.

Part of me wonders whether there was any news of the debates at the First Council of Nicea in Mecca, or even any remembrance of Arianism–the doctrine which held Jesus was specially created by god, but not the same being as god. Only 300 years had passed since the time when a bunch of bishops in Turkey decided that Jesus was god.

al-Fatir: Creations and such

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

OK, as I've said, I have an axe to grind: I want to talk about the Islam that I was taught about in college, and I want to directly counter some of the misconceptions many Americans have about Islam.

So when I get another sura that talks about the oneness of God, and about the deniers vs. the believers, I can't help but not get excited. Sorta bored, actually. This sura details a lot of the same messages from the forty-plus that were revealed earlier.

The twist on this one is that it talks about god's creation, including fruits of variegated color, salt and freshwater, beasts and cattle, blah blah blah.

I'll include one quote, a better definition of hell than I've seen so far:

36: As for the unbelievers, there is the fire of Hell. It will neither consume them wholly that they should die, nor will its torment be lessed for them.

It is really fascinating that there's no conception of an altered state for the afterlife. You'll have a second life that'll last forever, but you won't get wings or anything like that.

Anyway, my apologies for not looking into this sura in greater depth. It's been a long week.

al-Furqan: Answers to questions

March 2, 2011 Leave a comment

The same themes as the previous forty-plus suras are covered here. Muhammad is still trying to address the basic objections of the Qurayshis who refute his message.

But this sura specifically addresses what must have been two major objections to Muhammad's message: Muhammad's normalcy, his basic humanity; and the gradual, sura-by-sura revelation of the message.

First, Muhammad was just a normal guy. Yes, messenger of God and all that, but not only wasn't he the son of god, he went hungry in lean times like everyone else, he didn't get fabulously wealthy all of a sudden, he got sick just like everyone else, he didn't have any special powers (such as water walking or parting the sea or whatever).

07: But they say: "What sort of prophet is this who eats food and walks the market places? Why has no angel sent to hum to act as admonisher with him?
08: Or a treasure should have been given to him, or he should have had an orchard from which he could eat."
And these wicked people say: "You only follow a man ensorcelled."

20: [God says] "We never sent before you apostles who did not eat food and walk the market places. We make some of you the means of trying the others."

I don't know, but I find those three ayas really cool. God's saying "I picked one of you–just another dude, just another human–and I'm using him to test the rest of you. Stop looking for superpowers, you idiots."

Second, why didn't God just send down the whole Qur'an at once, say, on some stone tablets or something? The Quraysh knew the story of Musa/Moses, so they knew there was precedent.

32: The unbelievers say: "Why was the whole Qur'an not sent down all at once to him?"
It was sent thus that We may keep your heart resolute. So We enunciated it by steps and distinctly."

"Remember the whole thing about testing all y'all? Yeah, this is a test. The believers get regular updates to help them keep the faith. I'll help the believers pass the test. "

As a final thought, I like this description of muslims (because I find it hard to reconcile this with the fundies):

63: Devotees of Ar-Rahman are those who walk with humility on the earth, and when they are addressed by the ignorant, say: "Peace."

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.