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at-Tariq: A twist on turning the other cheek

October 6, 2010 Leave a comment

At this point, I've noticed a distinct turn in phrase and tone with respect to those who questioned Muhammad's message. At least, it seems that way: earlier suras referred to doubters and persecuters, but I don't recall much of a need to preach patience to early Muslims, and vengeance wasn't even referenced (except for a few special individuals).

But the last three lines of this sura suggest to me that the persecution had escalated, and the early converts were feeling much more negative pressure to strike back:

15: Lo! They plot a plot (against thee, Muhammad)
16: And I (Allah) plot a plot (against them)
17: So give a respite to the disbelievers. Deal thou gently with them for a while.

It's not what I understand to be the Christian version of turning the other cheek–my understanding is that there isn't any implied divine intervention at a later date. But the practical concept is the same: if someone is persecuting you, you don't suddenly have the right to strike back at them. Quite the reverse.

Considering what I've read about Hijaz culture in the 500s and 600s CE, revenge, an eye-for-an-eye, was the rule. In a harsh region with minimal agricultural output, you had to strike back for survival. It almost feels like the hints of divine retribution here are a way of satisfying a tribal culture's learned need to strike back, without enacting the actual revenge. God will handle that later if it's warranted. Almost a way of saving face in the short term to achieve the more important moral goal of treating others (even persecuting disbelievers) the way any human should be treated–with respect.

Nice. I like it. I mean, every one feels a little need to strike back at people who hurt you over what you believe. Knowing they might get a little divine payback helps release the pain and move past it, rather than getting all petty on the dude.

Beyond that, this sura hits on the major themes of Allah creating life, Judgment Day, and the veracity of the Qur'an. You can read the full text here.