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al-Layl: The slippery slope

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

This sura follows the same "god-created/do you heed the word?/yes, go to heaven/no, go to hell" theme of the past few suras. But it introduces an interesting concept: the slippery slope.

As for him who shares what he has and is mindful
who affirms the right–
Him we will ease to the good life

As for him who hoards what he has
Thinking it makes him secure
who denies the right–
Him we will ease to hardship
Wealth will not save him from ruin.

(The voice of this sura is God, so the "we" is… God.)

The slippery slope concept is so crystal clear in this (though I needed to read Michael Sells' commentary to catch it myself–I'm in a mellow, post-prandial state, having just enjoyed a lemon chicken tagine and a glass or two of red wine). If you follow the right path, God will make following that path easier. If you follow the path of greed, God will do the same. It's a different concept from what I think exists in Christianity, that God is always trying to save you. No matter how firm a grasp pre-destination eventually took in Islam, free will is evident. And God will help you on your way, whichever way you choose.

The simple definition of sin is also quite different from, say, the seven deadly sins in Catholicism (wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony). The past few suras I've read stress avarice/charity above all else save belief in God and his Messenger. 

This would seem to pose a few modern problems.

First, I think of the Saudi royal family: they are avarice epitomized, and no doubt, God is easing them to the path of hardship. I just wish they weren't pulling us all down with them by funding terrorism abroad and breeding terrorists at home through oppression.

Second, anti-terrorism finance laws and the Islamic religious mandate to give to charity. Peace-loving Muslims need to give to charity, but face serious dangers. The charities to which they may donate can easily deceive, funneling funds intended for hospitals and schools to military expenditures. If the charity takes such an action, the donors could face severe criminal penalties. Of course, Muslims in America could give to established "Christian" charities such as the United Way or the Salvation Army, but if they want to meet their religious obligations via Muslim charities and help the poor in their country of origin as many other immigrant groups have (Irish, Italian, Jewish, etc.), they face far more risks than anyone else. Seriously, do you think an Irish-American who gave money to an aid group in Northern Ireland would face jail time if that money made it into the hands of the Provisional Irish Republican Army? I doubt it. Or at least, I suspect the burden of proof for a Muslim would be a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.

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