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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.

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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.

al-A’raf: Midian’s fall

October 22, 2010 1 comment

This is a new "fallen civilization", though the story is the same: a messenger appears to rail against polytheism, a ruling elite rejects the message and persecutes the messenger's followers, and then God destroys the doubting, ruling elite.

Honestly, it's so similar to the other stories, I don't see the need to include some relevant passages.

What is interesting to add is that Midian appears in the Psalm 83 as well:

Treat them like Midian and Sisera…
Wiped out at En-Dor,
they served to manure the ground.

My God, treat them like thistledown,
like Chaff at the mercy of the wind.

al-A’raf: The fall of Lot’s tribe

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

080: And We sent Lot, who said to his people: "Why do you commit this lecherous act which none in the world has committed before?
081: In preference to women you satisfy your lust with men. Indeed you are a people who are guilty of excess."
082: His people made no answer, and only said: "Drive them out of the city. They profess to be pure."
083: But We saved Lot and his family, except for his wife, who was one of those who stayed behind.
084: And we rained down on them a shower (of stones). So witness the end of sinners.

That's a short story with Lot, and as someone who isn't that familiar with the Bible, I went to the source to compare.

Lot definitely wasn't a messenger in Genesis. He was just a man living in Sodom, though one could infer from Genesis 18:16-33 that Lot was a righteous man and a member of Abraham's tribe. Lot encountered two male visitors/angels on evening, and took them to his house to have dinner. Then a mob of Sodomites showed up, asking Lot to toss the angels/visitors out of his house so that the mob could have an orgy with the two men (or gang rape them if they weren't willing). Instead of sending out the angels, Lot offered to let the mob gang rape two of his virgin daughters. Nice fucking guy, pardon my French. A footnote in the New Jerusalem Bible states "at that period the honour of a woman was of less account… than the sacred duty of hospitality." Hospitality more important than letting your daughters get gang raped?

Anyhoo, nobody is gang raped, best as I can tell, but at dawn, the angels rush Lot and his family out of Sodom (but not his future sons-in-law, and can you blame them? Would you believe a man who just gave a gang of your neighbors permission to gang rape your bride-to-be if he told you God was about to destroy your house? Not only wouldn't I believe him, but he'd be saying that through a mouth full of broken teeth). God unleashes fire and brimstone, destroying the cities on the plains, and Lot's wife looks back (against God's command) and gets turned to a pillar of salt.

I find it interesting the Qur'an doesn't mention the desired gang rape of two angels, nor the offering of two virginal daughters to be gang raped instead. The gang isn't interested in rape at all, they just want to run Lot out of town.

The Biblical Lot frankly deserves eternal damnation. The Qur'anic Lot is just a homophobe.

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.

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.