Archive

Archive for the ‘Camel’ Category

al-A’raf: Thamud’s fall

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

073: We sent to Thamud their brother Saleh. "O you people," said he, "worship God, for you have no other god but He. Clear proof has come to you already from your Lord
074: Remember, how you were made leaders after the people of 'Ad… so that you could… carve dwellings out of mountains…
075: The chiefs among the people who were arrogant towards the weaker ones among them who believed, asked: "Do you really know that Saleh has been sent by his Lord?" They replied "Indeed we believe in the message he has brought."
076: Those who were arrogant answered: "We do not believe in what you believe."

Again, the set-up with Thamud is a direct parallel to Muhammad's message and the Qurayshi response.

Then we get to the camel.

073: Salih said "…this she-camel of God is the token for you. Leave her free to graze upon God's earth… lest a grievous punishment should befall you."
077: Then [the arrogant disbelievers] hamstrung the she-camel and rebelled against the command of their Lord, and said: "Bring, O Saleh, on us the affliction you promise, if you are one of the sent ones."
078: Then they were seized on by an earthquake…
079: Saleh turned away from them and said: "O my people, I conveyed to you the message of my Lord and warned you; but you do not like those who wish you well."

I shared an explanation about what this meant in a post a month ago, but I'm going to repeat the Michael Sell's explanation again here.

In disobeying their prophet, Salih, the people of Thamud slaughtered God’s camel mare. Nothing was more taboo in ancient Arabia than the unjustified killing of a camel mare. The central ritual of pre-Islamic poetry was the camel sacrifice and distribution of the meat throughout the tribe. The improper slaying of a camel mare was a sacrilege or abomination of such enormity that it led to tribal wars that lasted generations.

By slaughtering God’s camel mare, the people of Thamud committed what was by both ancient tribal standards and Qur’anic standards an abomination.

Final note: the bit about "carving dwellings out of mountains" is a reference to the Nabateans who carved beautiful facades of buildings in walls of what is today called Petra.

Advertisements

al-A’raf: Man’s fall

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

019: "And you, O Adam, and your spouse, live in the Garden and eat your fill wheresoever you like, but do not approach this tree, or you will become iniquitous."
020: But Satan suggested (evil) to them, in order to reveal their hidden parts of which they were not aware and said: "Your Lord has forbidden you this tree that you may not become angels or immortal."
022: …When they tasted of the tree their disgrace became exposed to them; and they patched the leaves of the Garden to hide it. And the Lord said to them: "Did I not forbid you this tree?…"

Read Genesis:3, and you'll get much the same story, albeit expanded, including a better explanation of what eating the fruit of the tree gave Man (the ability to tell good from evil, not just modesty and immortality).

But here's where it gets interesting; where the Qur'an forks from the Bible. First, Adam and Eve beg for forgiveness in the Qur'an, rather than making excuses about who tempted whom in Genesis.

023: They said: "O our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, If You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we shall certainly be lost."
024: "Go," said God, … "and live on the earth for a time ordained, and fend for yourselves."
025: You will live there, and there will you die," He said, "and be raised from there on Judgment Day."

The Bible moves right on to Cain and Abel after the explusion, but the Qur'an does something else entirely, which snaps to the entire narrative thread about Man being lost, and forgetting or garbling the message of God. The sons of Adam, the entire future lineage of mankind, is brought forth to receive a warning from God.

027: O sons of Adam, let not Satan beguile you as he did your parents out of Eden,… we have made the devils the friends of those who do not believe,
028: … [W]hen they (some of the sons of Adam) commit (future) shameful acts…
029: Tell them: "My Lord has enjoined justice, devotion in all acts of worship…"
033: Tell them: "My Lord has forbidden repugnant acts… sin and unjust oppression…
035: O sons of Adam, when apostles come to you from among you, who convey My messages, then those who take heed and amend will have neither fear nor regret.
040: …Those who deny Our signs and turn away in haughtiness from them, the gates of heaven shall not be opened, nor will they enter Paradise, until the camel passes through the needle's eye…
042: As for those who believe and do good… they are men of Paradise where they will abide forever.

From the moment of man's expulsion from Eden, all men and women not yet born received a warning from God about how to conduct their lives. More important, they are advised to heed future prophets from God, as it is likely that they will lose their way without guidance.

It's a stunning moment. Time is removed from the equation, and at one moment, every soul yet unborn receives a direct message from God.

al-Qamar: The Fate of Deniers, from Noah to Lot

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment

And in truth We (Allah) have made the Qur'an easy to remember, but is there any that remembers?

That question brings to a close each story of a civilization destroyed for failing to heed God's messenger to them. More importantly, it serves both as a literary device stressing the consistency of God's message over time, and a method to establish Muhammad's place as just one of a long string of messengers to different peoples.

The sura itself is about the consequences for when the message (or warning) is ignored or forgotten. Each story is brief: the listener must already have known the details. The content of God's message isn't explained either. Just the denial and the destruction by water, wind, earth or sound.

The sura is a litany of deniers–Noah's people, 'Ad, Thamud, Lot's neighbors, Pharoah and the Egyptians–that at the end pointedly asks the current listener, likely a leader of Qurayshi unbelievers:

43: Are your disbelievers better than those ('Ad, Thamud, Pharoah, etc.) or have ye some immunity in the scriptures?

Heed Muhammad's warning, the sura says, as you are no better than prior disbelievers.

Read more…

Al-Mursalat:

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.

Ash-Shams: Fleshing out Thamud

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

When I first read Al-Fajar and an-Najm, I had no idea who the Thamud were, though it was clear it was a collapsed “civilization” or city that was smoteth.

Here’s Michael Sell’s summary:

“By the time of Muhammad, ‘Ad and Thamud had become symbolic of great civilizations that had risen and fallen in times past. In the Qur’an, they become, along with the civilization of the Pharoah, emblematic of those peoples who refused to hear the reminders of their prophets and ultimately came to ruin.” (my emphasis)

“In both early Islamic poetry and the Qur’an, the destruction of Thamud became a parable for the passing of civilizations. The poets attributed the passing of the civilization to the incessant work of fate/time, which wears down all things and thwarts human aspirations. The Qur’an attributed the destruction of Thamud to the refusal of its people to heed the words of their prophet [Salih]…”

This second half of this sura goes into the details of what Thamud did:

The people of Thamud called truth a lie in their inhumanity
when they sent out their worst
The messenger of God said God’s camel mare, give her water!
They called him liar and hamstrung her for slaughter
Then their lord rumbled down upon them for their crime and wiped them away

Sells explains (because I wouldn’t have understood why a camel mare was so important):

In disobeying their prophet, Salih, the people of Thamud slaughtered God’s camel mare. Nothing was more taboo in ancient Arabia than the unjustified killing of a camel mare. The central ritual of pre-Islamic poetry was the camel sacrifice and distribution of the meat throughout the tribe. The improper slaying of a camel mare was a sacrilege or abomination of such enormity that it led to tribal wars that lasted generations.

By slaughtering God’s camel mare, the people of Thamud committed what was by both ancient tribal standards and Qur’anic standards an abomination.

Finally, Sells suggests there are two warnings in the example of Thamud:

  1. “The ephemeral nature of human grandeur… and the ruin that comes to civilization that refuses to hear the words of their prophets.”
  2. “The fact that sometimes wrongdoers seem to prosper and those who do right and follow the prophets remain oppressed.”

I did a bit of additional reading, and it’s thought that Thamud was associated with the Nabateans of Petra (remember the closing scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? The Valley of the Crescent Moon? The place where ornate buildings were carved out of the rock of the valley wall? That’s Petra).

The first half of ash-Shams sets up a near personification of the sun which is quite beautiful:

By the sun and her brightening
By the moon when it follows her
By the day when it displays her
By the night when it veils her
By the sky and what constructed her
By the earth and what shaped her
By the soul and what formed her
and revealed her debased and revealed her faithful
Whoever honors her flourishes
Whoever defiles her fails