Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sura 23 - The Believers

The title comes from the main theme of sura which is that Allah will save the believers.

Date, Context and Theme

This is a late Meccan sura, maybe the last Muhammad said before he fled to Medina (the hijrah). The theme is that the believers will have success and be saved.

Key Verses
And when thou art on board the ship, thou and whoso is with thee, then say: Praise be to Allah Who hath saved us from the wrongdoing folk! 23:28

He who crieth unto any other god along with Allah hath no proof thereof. His reckoning is only with his Lord. Lo! disbelievers will not be successful. 23:117


vv. 1-11, Introduction - The success of those who practice genuine religion.

Vv. 12-21, The signs of Allah’s power. This shows that the believers with have success.

vv. 22-30, Noah was rejected by his people for being just a mortal (like Muhammad) but Allah saved him from unbelievers.

Vv. 31-41, An unnamed prophet, rejected by his people for only being mortal, resurrection denied, but the unbelievers were destroyed and the prophet saved.

Vv. 42-44 A general summary of how the nations of the world have rejected their prophets.

Vv. 45-49, Moses and Aaron, they were denied as prophets because they were only mortal. Their scriptures they gave led to success.

V. 50 Jesus and Mary lead to success.

Vv. 51-54, The messengers from Allah do right and have one religion therefore leave the unbelievers in their error.

Vv. 55-77, The character of the unbelievers and their punishment.

Vv. 78-90 A dialogue between Allah and the unbelievers.
*vv. 78-80, Allah has made you and spread you out on the earth.
*vv. 81-84, The unbelievers say they still reject Muhammad and that his story is a fable. They see their proof for how to live in the lives lived by their forefathers. They reject the resurrection and judgement.
*85-90 They confess to knowing Allah but are liars.

Vv. 91-92, Allah has no son and is exalted by they deny him and the resurrection.

Vv. 93-98, The believers do the opposite, the request guidance.

Vv. 99-108, Dialogue genre. The torment of the unbelievers on judgement day will be irreversible.

Vv. 109-114, Dialogue genre. At the judgement the believers will win.

Vv. 115-118, Conclusion. Allah did not create you for nothing but for a purpose and therefore judgement.

What I found interesting.

1. 23:1-11 sounded a bit like Beatitudes.

Successful indeed are the believers
Who are humble in their prayers,
And who shun vain conversation,
And who are payers of the poor-due;
And who guard their modesty -
Save from their wives or the (slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are not blameworthy,
But whoso craveth beyond that, such are transgressors -
And who are shepherds of their pledge and their covenant,
And who pay heed to their prayers.
These are the heirs
Who will inherit paradise. There they will abide. 23:1-11

2. Muhammad and Galen - Some Muslims say that the Qur’an has scientific information that was unknown at the time. The following verse is an example.

Then fashioned We the drop a clot, then fashioned We the clot a little lump, then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators! 23:14

The description is actually wrong as the bones are not made and then clothed with flesh. But the description was the commonly understood development from Galen a 2nd-3rd century physician, surgeon and philosopher.

3. There was a reoccurring theme of the prophets just being mortals. It seems that the Meccans were rejecting Muhammad because he was just a man.

4. A great verse about the fact that there is only one religion with God.
And lo! this your religion is one religion and I am your Lord, so keep your duty unto Me. But they (mankind) have broken their religion among them into sects, each group rejoicing in its tenets. So leave them in their error till a time. 23:52-54

5. The dialogue structure of much of this sura was interesting. It is almost like reading the script of a play. In this case it was used for the conversations that the unbelievers and believers would have with God on Judgement day. I guess you could say it was like Matthew 25:34-46.

6. The resurrection is rejected by the Meccans but the many references to the Biblical stories show that they were known. Therefore while the Biblical stories are know, in some form, the Meccans to not have Biblical beliefs. If the Meccans were Christian to some degree then we would expect them to accept the resurrection?

7. Here is an interesting reason for why there cannot be two gods.
Allah hath not chosen any son, nor is there any god along with Him; else would each god have assuredly championed that which he created, and some of them would assuredly have overcome others. Glorified be Allah above all that they allege. 23:91

8. What happens on Judgement Day?
Then those whose scales are heavy, they are the successful. And those whose scales are light are those who lose their souls, in hell abiding. 23:102-103

Lo! there was a party of My slaves who said: Our Lord! We believe, therefor forgive us and have mercy on us for Thou art Best of all who show mercy; 23:109

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sura 22 - The Pilgrimage

This sura is named after what seems to be the main issue (v. 25) of the sura, that is, that the Muslims have been denied access to perform pilgrimage in Mecca.

Date, Context and Theme

There are mixed opinions for the date of this sura. Some scholars say it is a late Meccan while others an early Medinan. This difference is not an issue because what is clear is that Mecca is under the control of the Meccans (Quraysh) and not the Muslims. 22:39 seems to indicate fighting so I go with an early Medinan date.

The main theme is the day of doom (judgement) for those who reject God. There is a lot in this about how great God is. I think the key verse is,
They measure not Allah His rightful measure. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty. 22:74

This is a warning to the Meccans who are denying the Muslims access to Mecca for pilgrimage. The irony is the when the Muslims took control of Mecca they banned all non-Muslims from pilgrimage (sura 9).


The Day of Doom (Judgement)
vv. 1-2 Announce that the day of doom (judgement) is coming.

Issues about the Day of Doom
Vv. 3-4 Do not let the devil turn you away from this warning.
Vv. 5-7 How can people be raised to life to be judged? Allah causes you to grow and gives life by rain to the desert so he can raise you from death.
Vv. 8-10 People without knowledge doubt this message
vv. 11-13 Some only believe when things are good but turn away when there is hardship.
Vv. 14 But Allah will reward the believer.
v. 15 If you want Muhammad to fail then you should hang yourself.
Vv. 16-17 The Qur’an is clear and explains itself. All people will be judged by what they believe and do.

It is right to worship Allah
v. 18 All of creation worships Allah and so should you.
Vv. 19-22 Those who refuse to will be in hell.
Vv. 23-24 The righteous will be in paradise.

The Pilgrimage
V. 25 The Muslims are being barred from performing the pilgrimage.
Vv. 26-41 The pilgrimage is for all mankind. Perform it and live the righteous life. Abraham did it.

The Messenger Denied
v. 42-56 A short history of how the prophets before Muhammad were denied. Reaffirming that Muhammad is just a prophet.
Vv. 57-62 Allah will judge and reward those who listen to the messenger.
63-78 Look at Allah’s power. He will judge and just mercy. Do not reject the message but serve Allah.

What I found interesting.

1. This verse sounded like Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.
On the day when ye behold it, every nursing mother will forget her nursling and every pregnant one will be delivered of her burden, and thou (Muhammad) wilt see mankind as drunken, yet they will not be drunken, but the Doom of Allah will be strong (upon them). 22:2

And they will bid thee hasten on the Doom, and Allah faileth not His promise, but lo! a Day with Allah is as a thousand years of what ye reckon. 22:47

2. I have been told that suicide is strictly forbidden in Islam, yet Muhammad wishes it upon his enemies.
Whoso is wont to think (through envy) that Allah will not give him (Muhammad) victory in the world and the Hereafter (and is enraged at the thought of his victory), let him stretch a rope up to the roof (of his dwelling), and let him hang himself. Then let him see whether his strategy dispelleth that whereat he rageth!. 22:15

3. It is true that Islam has the doctrine of taqiya (hiding you are a Muslim) but Muslims are still to tell the truth. It has both teachings.
That (is the command). And whoso magnifieth the sacred things of Allah, it will be well for him in the sight of his Lord. The cattle are lawful unto you save that which hath been told you. So shun the filth of idols, and shun lying speech, 22:30

4. It is clear that Allah does not need the sacrifices but they are a way of showing devotion.
Their flesh and their food reach not Allah, but the devotion from you reacheth Him. Thus have We made them subject unto you that ye may magnify Allah that He hath guided you. And give good tidings (O Muhammad) to the good. 22:37

5. The destruction of any acceptable religious building is seen with disapproval.
Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah - For had it not been for Allah's repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down. Verily Allah helpeth one who helpeth Him. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty - 22:40

6. I did not know that Moses was denied in Midian.
(And) the dwellers in Midian. And Moses was denied; but I indulged the disbelievers a long while, then I seized them, and how (terrible) was My abhorrence! 22:44

This comes in a section where many prophets are said to have been rejected. It seems that Muhammad has gone too far and assumed that Moses was rejected in Midian.

7. The Meccans have been opposing Muhammad’s message (and the other prophets?).
While those who strive to thwart Our revelations, such are rightful owners of the Fire. 22:51

While those who disbelieved and denied Our revelations, for them will be a shameful doom. 22:57

And when Our revelations are recited unto them, thou knowest the denial in the faces of those who disbelieve; they all but attack those who recite Our revelations unto them. Say: Shall I proclaim unto you worse than that? The Fire! Allah hath promised it for those who disbelieve. A hapless journey's end! 22:72

8. Here is some more cosmology.
Hast thou not seen how Allah hath made all that is in the earth subservient unto you? And the ship runneth upon the sea by His command, and He holdeth back the heaven from falling on the earth unless by His leave. Lo! Allah is, for mankind, Full of Pity, Merciful. 22:65

9. There were some great descriptions of the greatest of God in this sura.
Lo! those who believe (this revelation), and those who are Jews, and the Sabaeans and the Christians and the Magians and the idolaters - Lo! Allah will decide between them on the Day of Resurrection. Lo! Allah is Witness over all things. 22:17

And they will bid thee hasten on the Doom, and Allah faileth not His promise, but lo! a Day with Allah is as a thousand years of what ye reckon. 22:47

The Sovereignty on that day will be Allah's, He will judge between them. Then those who believed and did good works will be in Gardens of Delight, 22:56

And He it is Who gave you life, then He will cause you to die, and then will give you life (again). Lo! man is verily an ingrate. 22:66

Hast thou not known that Allah knoweth all that is in the heaven and the earth? Lo! it is in a record. Lo! that is easy for Allah. 22:70

They measure not Allah His rightful measure. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty. 22:74

He knoweth all that is before them and all that is behind them, and unto Allah all things are returned. 22:76

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sura 21 - The Prophets

The title is from the fact that this sura deals with the mission and nature of the former prophets.

Date, Context and Theme

Some scholars date this is as a Meccan sura, others as a Medinan sura. Both of these dates seem to come from the contents of the sura itself which is a bit ambiguous. It feels as though Muhammad is addressing the Meccans (Meccan sura) yet there is an engagement with strong Christian themes (Medinan period). From my reading it seems that it is a Meccan sura but that the Meccans were far more Christian than we might think.


1-24 against the Meccans or maybe Christians. They are not accepting Muhammad and are sinning in their understanding of God.

Main Argument
25-29 The nature of the prophets.
30- 47 You are mortal and going to judgement.
48-50 The Qur’an is the new revelation like the revelations of Moses and Aaron.
51-71 Righteous Abraham who destroyed the idols of his tribe and was saved from his people.
72-73 Isaac and Jacob established true worship
74-75 Righteous Lot was saved from unrighteous people.
76-77 Righteous Noah was saved from unrighteous people
78-82 David and Solomon were righteous in judgement.
83-84 Job
85-86 Ishmael, and Idris, and Dhu'l-Kifl
87-88 The repentance of Dhu'n-Nun
89-90 Zechariah and John
91 Mary or Elizabeth??
92 Summary verse of the above

93- 100 Concluding remarks to the Meccans. You have rejected the true religion and are going to hell.
101-105 Believers go to paradise
106-112 The final words Muhammad is to say on this matter.

What I found interesting.

1. Rejecting Muhammad
With hearts preoccupied. And they confer in secret. The wrong-doers say: Is this other than a mortal like you? Will ye then succumb to magic when ye see (it)? 21:3

Nay, say they, (these are but) muddled dreams; nay, he hath but invented it; nay, he is but a poet. Let him bring us a portent even as those of old (who were God's messengers) were sent (with portents). Not a township believed of those which We destroyed before them (though We sent them portents): would they then believe? 21:5-6

2. The prophets were just men and nothing more. This seems to be an interaction with Christians who are claiming that Jesus is more than a prophet.
And We sent not (as Our messengers) before thee other than men, whom We inspired. Ask the followers of the Reminder if ye know not? 21:7

Say: It is only inspired in me that your God is One God. Will ye then surrender (unto Him)? 21:108

Now We have revealed unto you a Scripture wherein is your Reminder. Have ye then no sense? 21:10

Unto Him belongeth whosoever is in the heavens and the earth. And those who dwell in His presence are not too proud to worship Him, nor do they weary; 21:19

Or have they (the prophets) chosen other gods beside Him? say: Bring your proof (of their godhead). This is the Reminder of those with me and those before me, but most of them know not the Truth and so they are averse. And We sent no messenger before thee but We inspired him, (saying): There is no God save Me (Allah), so worship Me. And they say: The Beneficent hath taken unto Himself a son. Be He Glorified! Nay, but (those whom they call sons) are honoured slaves; They speak not until He hath spoken, and they act by His command. He knoweth what is before them and what is behind them, and they cannot intercede except for him whom He accepteth, and they quake for awe of Him. And one of them who should say: Lo! I am a god beside Him, that one We should repay with hell. Thus We Repay wrong-doers. 21:24-26

We appointed immortality for no mortal before thee. What! if thou diest, can they be immortal? Every soul must taste of death, and We try you with evil and with good, for ordeal. And unto Us ye will be returned. 21:34-35

3. God has the right to judge and question everyone.
He will not be questioned as to that which He doeth, but they will be questioned. 21:23

And We set a just balance for the Day of Resurrection so that no soul is wronged in aught. Though it be of the weight of a grain of mustard seed, We bring it. And We suffice for reckoners. 21:47

4. Abraham smashes the idols of his family and when questioned asks them to question the remaining idol.
They said: Is it thou who hast done this to our gods, O Abraham? 21:62

This sounds like a modified version of Gideon's story in Judges 6 but it actually comes straight from Jewish commentaries. In the Genesis Rabbah we find this story by Rabbi Hiyya to explain Genesis 11:28.
Terah was an idol-manufacturer. Once he went off on a trip and put Abraham in charge of the store. Someone would come in and want to buy an idol. He would say to him, `How old are you?' He said `Fifty years old.' He said, `Woe to that man, who is fifty years old and is going to bow down to something a day old.' So the man would be ashamed and go on his way. One time a woman came in with a bowl of flour, and said to him, `Take this and offer it before them.' He went and took a stick, and broke the idols, and put the stick in the hand of the biggest idol. When his father came back he said to you (sic), `Why in the world have you been doing these things?' He said to him, `How can I hide it from you? One time a woman came in with a bowl of flour, and said to me, "Take this and offer it before them." Then this idol said, "I'll eat first", and that idol said, "I'll eat first." One of them, the largest, got up and grabbed the stick and broke the others.' (Terah) said to him, `Why are you making fun of me! Do those idols know anything (that such a thing could possibly happen)? (Obviously not!)' He said to him, `Should not your ears not hear what your mouth is saying?' He took him and handed him over to Nimrod. He said to him, `Bow down to the fire.' He said to him, `We really should bow down to water which puts out fire.' He said to him, `Bow down to water.' He said, `We really should bow down to the clouds, which bear the water.' He said to him, `Then let's bow down to the clouds.' He said to him, `We really should bow down to the wind, which disperses the clouds.' He said to him, `Then let's bow down to the wind.' He said to him, `We really should bow down to human beings, who can stand up to the wind.' He said to him, `You are just playing word games with me. Let's bow down to the fire. So now, look, I am going to throw you into the fire, and let your God whom you worship come and save you from the fire.' Now Haran was standing there undecided. He said, `What's the choice?' If Abram wins I'll say I'm and Abram's side, and if Nimrod wins, I'll say I'm on Nimrod's side. (So how can I lose?)' When Abram went down into the burning furnace and was saved, Nimrod said to him, `On whose side are you?' He said to him `Abram's.' They took him and threw him into the fire, and his guts burned up and came out, and he died in the presence of his father. That is in line with the verse of Scripture: `And Haran died in the presence of his father, Terah' (Gen. 11:28)(Jacob Neusner, Genesis Rabbah: The Judaic Commentary To The Book of Genesis, Atlana, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1985, pp.55-56)

This identification of the original source of the story gives us some clue as to what type of literature/oral tradition Muhammad was exposed to.

5. God and Magog are part of the end of the times and coming of God’s judgement.
Until, when Gog and Magog are let loose, and they hasten out of every mound, 21:96

The Day when We shall roll up the heavens as a recorder rolleth up a written scroll. As We began the first creation, We shall repeat it. (It is) a promise (binding) upon us. Lo! We are to perform it. 21:104

6. A quote from the Gospel?
And verily we have written in the Scripture, after the Reminder: My righteous slaves will inherit the earth: 21:105

7. Qur’anic cosmology

Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe? And We have placed in the earth firm hills lest it quake with them, and We have placed therein ravines as roads that haply they may find their way. And we have made the sky a roof withheld (from them). Yet they turn away from its portents. And He it is Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They float, each in an orbit. 21:30-33