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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.

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