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Al-A’la: The Theme Continues

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I'm sensing a theme: God created the universe and he can destroy it. In fact, at some point, he will destroy it–on Judgment Day. So everyone should heed his message. Those who don't will burn in hell after Judgment day. Those who do heed the word will live an eternal afterlife that apparently is awesome.

I'm not making light of this, I'm just surprised at the simple explicitness of it. From what I recall of the Bible (and I haven't read much of that either) it's much more story and allegory. But I guess it fits the early context of Islam: Muhammad was trying to warn the Quraysh to change their ways. Or else. He was also trying to make a big jump: paganism to monotheism. Judaism took millennia to move from paganism to monolatrism (worshiping a single god among many, specifically the only god worth worshiping) to monotheism (there is only one god).

Two interesting points: first, "We will make you recite. You will not forget" is a core tenet of Islam, memorizing the word of god. Now, I take it from the translation that this is God talking to Muhammad, but at the same time, it feels like God is also talking to all Muslims.

The other bit is the stress on Abraham and Moses: again, this highlights the idea that Muhammad is one in a long line of Messengers from God, with Abraham and Moses receiving the same Message.

Beyond that, not much to add on my part. I'm looking forward to change of theme.

Holy be the name of your lord most high
Who created then gave form
Who determined then gave guidance
Who made the meadow pasture grow
then turned it to a darkened flood-swept remnant

We will make you recite. You will not forget
   except what the will of God allows
He knows what is declared
   and what lies hidden
He will ease you to the file of ease
So remind them if reminder will succeed
Those who know awe will be brought to remember
He who is hard in wrong will turn away
He will be put to the fire
neither dying in it nor living
He who makes himself pure will flourish
who remembers the name of his lord and
   performs the prayer

But no. They prefer the lower life
Better is the life ultimate, the life that endures
As is set down in the scrolls of the ancients
the scrolls of Ibrahim (Abraham) and Musa (Moses)

Now we’re talking: al-Muzammil

July 25, 2010 Leave a comment

al-Muzammil, or the "enwrapped one" is getting into comfortable territory for me.

Well.

Parts of it.

I see three separate pieces to this sura.

This sura was, according to several commentators, delivered to Muhammad at night when he was wrapped in a cloak or blanket, unable to sleep due to the weight of concerns over his community. Now, I find this a little surprising from a chronological perspective, as my understanding is that Muhammad did not reveal the first revelations outside his immediate household for quite some time, so his concerns would have been far more parochial than the Muslim community. But putting that aside (apparently, suras were expanded upon at later dates), the message is really quite soothing for a man unable to calm his brain and catch some much-needed shut-eye.

O you (Prophet Muhammad) wrapped,
rise (to pray) the night except a little
half the night, or a little less
or a little more; and with recitation, recite the Koran
We are about to cast upon you a weighty Word.
Surely in the watches of the night the soul is most receptive and words more telling.
You have by day prolonged occupations.

In short, seems to mean to me, that Allah is telling Muhammad to forget his worldly troubles for a little by praying and reciting the words Allah has already revealed to him. I can't help but think that the recommended repetition has several purposes. First, of course, is the explicit message that in the dead of night, away from the hustle and the bustle of the day, the mind is more likely to absorb the words and the meaning behind them. But I also see a bit of a benevolent god here, knowing that one way to solve what a friend of my called "gerbil brain" is to take control of the thought processes, whether by reading, or counting sheep, or whatever. Something that commands enough brain capacity to put aside those racing thoughts keeping you awake. 

I suspect serious commentators would scoff at that interpretation, but I myself have recited memorized passages–Shakespeare, the Qur'an, etc.–to wrest control of my brain when I can't sleep.

The rest of the sura will come another day.