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Al-Fajr: Driving the theme of charity

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

When I read Al-Fajr the first time, I focused on the smited peoples of ‘Ad and Thamud because I had no idea who they were and why they were important.

After reading Sells’ translation of the this sura, I feel like I also missed the core message of the text entirely. Sells does a much better job than Yusuf ‘Ali, I think.

…To the orphan your are ungiving
You do not demand food for those who hunger
You feed on inheritances and devour
You love possessions with love-consuming

Does that even need any analysis? Give to the poor. If you were born with wealth, give it away. Don’t be materialistic.

Al-Fajr: Huh?

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Seest thou how the Lord dealt with the 'Ad people
of the city of Iram with lofty pillars
The like of which were not produced in all the land?
And with the Thamud who cut out huge rocks in the Valley
And with Pharoah, Lord of stakes.

Iram? 'Ad? Thamud? Yeah, clearly they were naughty and were thusly smited, but how exactly? Why? Who were they? Trying to deduce context from the Qur'an isn't easy to begin with, but there's clearly an existing mythology referenced in Al-Fajr that Muhammad's contemporaries shared (and of which I am ignorant). 

After that, though, we come back to a common theme–greed–with a contradictory take on the earlier slipper slope language of surat Al-Layl. In this case, God explicitly punishes men in this this life, not the next, for their greed, rather than reinforcing greed by making each step of the way easier. 

Now, as for man, when his Lord trieth him, giving him honour and gifts, then saith he, (puffed up), “My Lord hath honoured me.”
But when He trieth him, restricting his subsistence for him, then saith he (in despair), “My Lord hath humiliated me!”
Nay, nay! But ye honour not the orphans! 
Nor do ye encourage one another to feed the poor!
And ye devour inheritance—all with greed,
And ye love wealth with inordinate love! 
Nay! When the earth is pounded to powder,
And thy Lord cometh, and His angels, rank upon rank,
And Hell, that Day,is brought (face to face), on that Day will man remember, but how will that remembrance profit him?

I remember from Fred Donner's quarter of my U of C Islamic Civ sequence that a major tension in Qurayshi society of Muhammad's time was around the concentration of wealth with a few families; a class struggle between the haves and the have-nots. But I never realized how central this was in the early revelations. I assumed "sin" would be more broadly defined–sex before marriage, lying, murder, etc.

Greed. Charity.

One will send you to the Fire on the Day of Judgment, the other will lead to your rebirth and entry into heaven.

Full text of the sura after the jump.

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