Archive for the ‘Sura 81: at-Takvir / The Folding Up’ Category

Sura 81: Apocalypse Now

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment

While this sura is basically about the end of days, I couldn't help but be struck by how beautifully it is written. In particular:

"I swear by the stars that slide/stars streaming, stars that sweep along the sky/By the night as it slips away/By the morning when the fragrant air breaths …"

Another thing that struck me: According to this sura, killing your girl babies seems to be BAD. To wit:

"When the girl-child buried alive/is asked what she did to deserve murder."

You would hardly think that this would be from the Qu'ran, at least by how some women are treated in some (I stress some) parts of the Muslim world  (and of course, the world over in general). I wonder if the leaders of the Taliban have read this sura recently … maybe they should give it a review.

Anyway, that aside, the sura, titled in English as "The Overturning," is clearly about the end of days/apocalypse, but it doesn't seem quite as fire-and-brimstone-y as the Book of Revelation. It more seems to be that when are these certain things have happened (the sun is overturned, the stars fall away, etc.) a person will see the truth, they will see God – and that their soul better have been prepared (ie: don't kill your daughter or else).

The last verse of this sura starts with the phrase "Where are you going?". It is a reminder that we should live by God's law, do what God wants us to do. Of course, what exactly God wants us to do is a big question. For me, it's live well, be kind, and help others, but all you have to do is turn on Fox news to see that this isn't an ideal shared by all who believe in a higher power (or at least an idea LIVED by those people). I think it's a question worth thinking about.

Where are you going?

**ETA: I just read Mike's blog about this sura. It's interesting how the difference in translation changes the way that the sura is read. For example, in his translation, "where are you going?" reads as "why do you stray?". I read those two phrases completely differently in the context of the sura.

Of course, the Bible is the same way. Full of different translations (often mistranslations). I guess that's what happens when you take something written in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew (the Bible) or Arabic (the Qu'ran) and translate it numerous times, over the years. But it makes you think: how much of what we read in any of our holy books is accurate? How much does this influence our reading? And how much does it change our understanding of the context of when and why it was written.


At-Takvir: Feels like Poetry

August 2, 2010 Leave a comment

This sura, it's all metaphor and image. You don't need my interpretation.

I wish I had a non-melodic recording of this sura. Getting down to it, I want this to be recited in Arabic as if it were English poetry, where the rhyme and verse are what matter, because I think I can see the poetry here. But everything I can find is like the recording after the break. It's beautiful, but in my opinion, it assumes a pre-familiarity with the words and the images.

When the sun is folded up,
The stars turn dim and scatter,
The mountains made to move,
The highly-prized pregnant camels abandoned,
The wild bests stampede on the run,
When the oceans surge and swell,
When souls are reunited with their bodies,
And the little girl buried alive is asked
For what crime she was put to death;
When the ledgers are laid open,
The curtain drawn back from the skies,
When Hell is set ablaze,
And Paradise is brought near,

Then every soul will know what it had prepared

            (for itself in the afterlife)

I could almost see that being the end of the sura, and it's not just because the message seems to change with the second half, which stresses the veracity of Muhammad and the message he delivers. Those lines all end with the same letter, "T" and the same short vowel marker, "a." Every line, "at" (or more accurately, "et")

So, I call the receding stars to witness,
The planets withdrawing into themselves,
The closing night,
The rising dawn,

These lines all end with "es."

That is indeed the word of an honored Messenger,
Full of power, well-established with the Lord and Master of the Throne,
Obeyed and worth of trust.
Your companion is not mad.
He had surely seen him
On the clear horizon.
He is not afraid of making public what is unknown.
This is not the utterance of an accursed devil.
So why do you stray?
This is a reminder for all the peoples of the world,
For those of you who desire to walk the path that is not straight,
Though you cannot desire except as God wills, the Lord of all worlds.

These lines, the rhyme isn't quite as tight, but all of them end with "iin", "iim" or "oon."

Read more…

At-Takvir: Hints of feminism (for the age)

August 1, 2010 Leave a comment

This sura is mainly painting a picture of the Day of Judgment, and a confirmation that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. But it also represents the first inkling of the fact that Muhammad, for his day and age, was a radical feminist.

Seriously. He was. For his day and age. I mean, from Paris to Rome to Constantinople, women weren't much more than property in 600 CE. Say whatever you want about Islam and women as it is practiced today, it doesn't jibe with how Muhammad perceived women, or at least, how I was taught that Muhammad perceived women. He was surrounded by wives and daughters for most of his life, and he liked it that way. Today's burqas and honor killings and all that horrible shit just don't jibe with how he must have viewed Khadija, his boss then wife and closest advisor. He didn't follow the tradition of the day and take another wife until after Khadija passed away (she was older than he), and then he did so for political purposes. Now, Muhammad would recognize the full body coverings that women wear today in Saudi Arabia and Iran and Afghanistan, but he would have thought they were Christian noblewoman doomed to live a cloistered, demeaned existence, and not appropriate for the strong-willed women surrounding him, such as 'Aisha, one of his wives after Khadija passed away (more on that when I get to the sura talking about the veil).

Anyway, here's a reference to one of the common and accepted practices of pre-Islamic Arabia (and good chunks of the rest of the world as well) that Muhammad (and thus God) wanted to put an end to:

And the little girl, buried alive, is asked [on the Day of Judgment]
For what crime she was put do death;

If you had too many daughters, you murdered them by burying them alive in the desert. This sura suggests that on the Day of Judgment, parents who murdered their daughters simply because they had too many children would be punished severely.

There's a heart-breaking hadith referenced in the footnotes to the Ali Unal translation:

After God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had declared his Messengership, a Companion told him what he had done with his daughter:

O Messenger of God, I had a daughter. One day I told her mother to dress her, for I was taking her to her uncle. My poor wife knew what this meant, but could do nothing but obey and weep. She dressed the girl, who was very happy that she was going to her uncle. I took her near a well, and told her to look down into it. While she was looking into the well, I kicked her into it. While she was rolling down, she was shouting "Daddy, Daddy!"

As [the Companion] was recounting this, [Muhammad], upon him be peace and blessings, sobbed (as if he had lost one of his nearest kinsfolk).

OK, I didn't mean to spend so much time on Muhammad and women, but it's hard to even think about this practice without getting absolutely furious. And it's hard to understand how Muslim theologians can simply brush under the rug the clear intent of Muhammad (and thus God), and treat females far worse than how the pre-Islamic infidel Quraysh would have treated them.

I'll cover the rest in another post.