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Archive for the ‘Hud and ‘Ad’ Category

al-A’raf: ‘Ad’s fall

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

065: And we sent Hud, their brother, to the people of 'Ad. He said: "O you people, worship God, for you have no other god but He…"
066: The chiefs of his people who were infidels replied: "We find you full of folly, and a liar to boot."
070: "Have you come to say to us that we should worship only one God, abandoning those our ancestors had worshipped? If so, bring on us what you threaten us with, if what you say is true."
071: Hud said…"Why dispute with me about names [of other deities] invented by you and your ancestors for which no sanction was sent down? So wait (for what is to come), I am waiting with you."
072: Then We saved him and those on his side by Our grace, and destroyed to the very last those who rejected Our signs and denied the truth.

Not a lot of detail in this one, beyond 'Ad denying the message and the messenger. This is perhaps the "fall" that is the most similar to the back-and-forth that Muhammad and the Quraysh were having.

Not much else to add here.

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…

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.

Al-Buruj: Religious persecutors

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

The introduction to Karen Armstrong's second, post-11-SEP-01 biography of Muhammad were fresh in my mind when I read this sura, specifically:

"We have a long history of Islamophobia in Western Culture that dates back to the time of the Crusades… Since the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, members of the Christian Right in the United States and some sectors of the Western media have continued this tradition of hostility…

"[T]his type of bigotry… is a gift to extremists who can use such statements to "prove" that the Western World is indeed engaged on a new crusade against the Islamic world."

As I read this sura, I found myself a bit in the mind of one of those extremists, and saw all of us in these lines (full text is below the jump):

As for those who put to the trial the men of faith and the women of faith,
     remorseless for the wrong they did–
     for them is the pain of
Jahannam and the pain of the burning
And as for those who kept the faith and worked justice–
     for them are gardens with rivers flowing underground

Have you heard about the armies marching
Pharoah and Thamud?

To an Muslim extremist, we are the modern Thamud and 'Ad and Pharaoh–a civilization that denies the word of God. In their eyes, we persecute the men of faith and the women of faith–the Islamophobia in our media and our political leaders would be clear evidence that our political and military actions in the Islamic world over the past sixty years (supporting brutal regimes in Saudi, Iran, Egypt, Iraq; our invasions of Iraq & Afghanistan; our support of Israel) are based on a hatred of Islam, no more no less. And we show no remorse, at least, not in a way a Muslim extremist would understand.

The Muslim extremist, he believes he keeps the faith, and somehow, in his twisted mind, he has taken Muhammad's view of justice (protecting/feeding the weak, education/literacy, treating women well, honesty in business etc.) and turned it into retribution against the West for it's persecution (both imagined and real) of Muslims.

Have we heard the armies marching?

Perhaps it just my state of mind, but I find this sura a sad vision, not because of its actual message, but because of how the entire text that I have read so far seems so badly corrupted, and how easily the evil empires of Muhammad's time could be replaced by us. And by how those who are so desperately afraid of Islam here at home unwittingly aid and abet the few thousands (out of 1.6 billion Muslims) who defame Islam with the actions they take against us in Allah's name.

<sigh/>

Beyond my impressions, Michael Sells had a few interesting points.

Regarding "By the sky with its mansions" this isn't some description of mansions in Heaven. Instead, he writes:

In the night sky of the desert, without lights, trees, or clouds to obscure them, the stars take on an overwhelming presence. The stars were guides for the bedouin who used them to navigate the trackless desert.

I also didn't get the bit about "gardens with rivers flowing underground." Apparently, it's a metaphor for an oasis:

"The imagery is clearly based on the lifo of the inhabitants of Arabia, where gardens were found in oases fed by underground rivers… To anyone who has ever walked into an oasis from the desert, the reference is clear. To those who have not it must be imagined: after insufferable heat, dust and glare, the air suddenly becomes fragrant with blossoms and fruit. The sounds of birds and the rippling of streams replace the howl and lash of wind-whipped sand.

Read more…

Al-Fajr: Driving the theme of charity

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

When I read Al-Fajr the first time, I focused on the smited peoples of ‘Ad and Thamud because I had no idea who they were and why they were important.

After reading Sells’ translation of the this sura, I feel like I also missed the core message of the text entirely. Sells does a much better job than Yusuf ‘Ali, I think.

…To the orphan your are ungiving
You do not demand food for those who hunger
You feed on inheritances and devour
You love possessions with love-consuming

Does that even need any analysis? Give to the poor. If you were born with wealth, give it away. Don’t be materialistic.

An-Najm: Making gods of angels

September 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m almost done with the short ones. A handful left, and then they get longer and longer. I’m not sure how I’ll handle that, but excerpts seems the way to go. At least, that’s what I’m going to try here.

This sura seems mainly focused on validating Muhammad’s message, the source of the revelations, and tying it to prior prophetic traditions.

Your companion is neither astray nor misled
It is no less than inspiration sent down to him
He was taught by one Mighty in Power…
     … for he appeared
While he was in the highest part of the horizon
Then he approached and came closer,
And was at a distance of but two bow-lengths.
So did God convey the inspiration to His servant…
The Prophet… in no way falsified that which he saw.

The passage above conveys a core concept of Islam: the message was burned directly into Muhammad’s memory by God. According to this sura, God did the deed Himself at least twice, but the tradition I learned is that Gabriel was the intermediary most of the time. The message isn’t interpreted, it’s not distorted, not even by Muhammad. And it didn’t come to Muhammad via intermediaries–except for Gabriel, but an Angel wouldn’t fudge things.

Have ye see Lat and Uzza
And the third Goddess Manat?

These are but names which ye have devised, you and your fathers, for which Allah has sent down no authority.

Those who believe not in the hereafter name the angels with female names.
But they have no knowledge therein; they follow nothing but conjecture; and conjecture avails nothing against truth

Those three names are pre-Islamic gods, I believe. Now, this sura doesn’t deny the existence of these gods. It implies instead that they are angels, not gods. What’s interesting is the obsession over gender, and it seems to me the key piece is the bit about “names which ye have devised.” It says, to me, that those angels were deified solely by the imagination of man, who gave them names, their powers, genders, everything. in short, that pagan religions are ones wherein man makes their gods in their own images.

Those who avoid great sins and shameful deeds and shameful deeds, only falling into small faults, verily thy Lord is ample in forgiveness.

I like that. You don’t need to be pure and perfect. God will forgive the little things, as long as you avoid the big ones.

The rest of the sura is a list of God’s powers, and of those he condemned. Among the powers:

  • Laughter and tears
  • Death and life
  • Creation of male and female
  • Great wealth and satisfaction
  • The North Star

I guess the last isn’t a power, per se, but it’s importance to a mercantile people who have to navigate through the desert on a regular basis… If you haven’t tried to wander in a desert, you may not get how easy it is to become lost. At White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, there are signs warning hikers to always keep an eye on where their car is parked, and ideally keep it in sight if possible, so you don’t become lost. I have a pretty good sense of direction, and made a point of trying to reorient myself to the parking lot and the sand dunes in between. Regardless, I hiked for hours in what I thought was about a mile radius from the parking lot. When I finally walked back to where I thought my car was parked… I found the road to the parking lot, and had over a mile to walk back. I can only imagine what it would be like over multi-day treks. The North Star would be a power in and of itself.

Among the destroyed:

  • ‘Ad
  • Thamud
  • Sodom
  • Gomorrah
  • All of Noah’s contemporaries except for Noah.

This is the first mention of Noad and the Flood that I’ve encountered. Same with Sodom & Gomorrah. Again, there are no details, suggesting Muhammad’s contemporaries were wholly familiar with these stories, and it underlines the continuity of the Abrahamic prophetic tradition.

Al-Fajr: Huh?

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Seest thou how the Lord dealt with the 'Ad people
of the city of Iram with lofty pillars
The like of which were not produced in all the land?
And with the Thamud who cut out huge rocks in the Valley
And with Pharoah, Lord of stakes.

Iram? 'Ad? Thamud? Yeah, clearly they were naughty and were thusly smited, but how exactly? Why? Who were they? Trying to deduce context from the Qur'an isn't easy to begin with, but there's clearly an existing mythology referenced in Al-Fajr that Muhammad's contemporaries shared (and of which I am ignorant). 

After that, though, we come back to a common theme–greed–with a contradictory take on the earlier slipper slope language of surat Al-Layl. In this case, God explicitly punishes men in this this life, not the next, for their greed, rather than reinforcing greed by making each step of the way easier. 

Now, as for man, when his Lord trieth him, giving him honour and gifts, then saith he, (puffed up), “My Lord hath honoured me.”
But when He trieth him, restricting his subsistence for him, then saith he (in despair), “My Lord hath humiliated me!”
Nay, nay! But ye honour not the orphans! 
Nor do ye encourage one another to feed the poor!
And ye devour inheritance—all with greed,
And ye love wealth with inordinate love! 
Nay! When the earth is pounded to powder,
And thy Lord cometh, and His angels, rank upon rank,
And Hell, that Day,is brought (face to face), on that Day will man remember, but how will that remembrance profit him?

I remember from Fred Donner's quarter of my U of C Islamic Civ sequence that a major tension in Qurayshi society of Muhammad's time was around the concentration of wealth with a few families; a class struggle between the haves and the have-nots. But I never realized how central this was in the early revelations. I assumed "sin" would be more broadly defined–sex before marriage, lying, murder, etc.

Greed. Charity.

One will send you to the Fire on the Day of Judgment, the other will lead to your rebirth and entry into heaven.

Full text of the sura after the jump.

Read more…