Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sura 11 - Hud

I think the traditional name of “Hud” is because it specifically says he has no sign and this is similar to Muhammad.

Date and Context

This sura is really a sura of pleading. It has a clear structure in which is parallels the lives of previous prophets to that of Muhammad. It is a late Meccan sura. This is yet another sura dealing with the fact that Muhammad brought no sign from Allah. This must have really been and issue for Muhammad to have it addressed in so many suras.


vv. 1-4, Muhammad’s concern for the Meccans.

vv. 5-24, The sins of the Meccans and why they need to repent. They have invented lies against Allah and denied his revelations.

vv. 25-48, Noah preaches and pleads with his people but they reject him. They live with injustice and sin. The judgement comes and Noah is saved.

vv. 50-60, Hud preaches and people reject him. They live with injustice and sin. Hud brings no sign from God but the judgement comes and Hud is saved.

vv. 61-68, Salih preaches and the people reject him. They live with injustice and sin, but the judgement comes and Salih is saved.

vv. 69-83, Abraham, Lot and Sodom. Lots speaks to him people but they will not listen. They live with injustice and sin. The judgement comes but Lot is saved.

Vv. 84-95 Shu'eyb, pleads with his people to repent and worship Allah alone. His righteous life is the sign. They do not listen and are destroyed.

Vv. 96-99 Moses spoke to Pharaoh but Pharaoh did not listen but was destroyed.

vv. 100-102 summary of vv. 25-99 as a warning to the Meccans.

Vv. 103-108 What is going to happening on judgement day

vv. 109-123 Live in repentance and wait

What I found interesting.

1. The voice of Muhammad is strong in this sura. Maybe because it is a pleading sura. I have not seen this before. Normally it is “We” speaking, but here it is Muhammad.
Alif. Lam. Ra. (This is) a Scripture the revelations whereof are perfected and then expounded. (It cometh) from One Wise, Informed, (Saying): Serve none but Allah. Lo! I am unto you from Him a warner and a bringer of good tidings. And (bidding you): Ask pardon of your Lord and turn to Him repentant. He will cause you to enjoy a fair estate until a time appointed. He giveth His bounty unto every bountiful one. But if ye turn away, lo! (then) I fear for you the retribution of an awful Day. Unto Allah is your return, and He is Able to do all things. 11:1-4

And, O my people! Let not the schism with me cause you to sin so that there befall you that which befell the folk of Noah and the folk of Hud, and the folk of Salih; and the folk of Lot are not far off from you. Ask pardon of your Lord and then turn unto Him (repentant). Lo! my Lord is Merciful, Loving. 11:89-90

2. No sign again and the Qur’an offered as the sign.
A likely thing, that thou wouldst forsake aught of that which hath been revealed unto thee, and that thy breast should be straitened for it, because they say: Why hath not a treasure been sent down for him, or an angel come with him? Thou art but a warner, and Allah is in charge of all things. Or they say: He hath invented it. Say: Then bring ten surahs, the like thereof, invented, and call on everyone ye can beside Allah, if ye are truthful! 11:12-13

This claim of uniqueness is not limited to the Qur'an alone but equally applies to all of God's books.
Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Then bring a scripture from the presence of Allah that giveth clearer guidance than these two (Qur'an and Torah)(that) I may follow it, if ye are truthful. 28:49

Therefore the "sura like it" challenge can be used to prove that all of God's books are from him and not just the Qur'an.
3. Again we see that the story of the prophets are retold to fit into Muhammad’s life.
The chieftains of his folk, who disbelieved, said: We see thee but a mortal like us, and we see not that any follow thee save the most abject among us, without reflection. We behold in you no merit above us - nay, we deem you liars. (11:27 also 10:88)

They said: O Shu'eyb! We understand not much of that thou tellest, and lo! we do behold thee weak among us. But for thy family, we should have stoned thee, for thou art not strong against us. 11:91

4. The act of pray wipes away sin.
Establish worship at the two ends of the day and in some watches of the night. Lo! good deeds annul ill-deeds. This is reminder for the mindful. 11:114

It is interesting that this is not saying pray five times a day.

5. Again there is a strong sovereignty theme. In this case predestination to hell.
Save him on whom thy Lord hath mercy; and for that He did create them. And the Word of thy Lord hath been fulfilled: Verily I shall fill hell with the jinn and mankind together. 11:119

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sura 10 - Jonah

My Title Jonah is a great title as Jonah is the prophet whose people listened to him and were saved from judgement.

Date and Context

This is a late Meccan sura and deals with the Meccan’s rejection of Muhammad, and also the issue of why Muhammad has no sign.


vv. 1-71, The signs that Allah has given the Meccans. The sun, moon and plants (v. 6, 25) all show his power. Allah is merciful to you (13, 22-23) but after you have received it you forget and turn away. The religion of the Meccans is a lie against Allah.

vv. 72-75, Noah warned his people. They rejected him and then the judgement came.

vv. 76-96, Moses warned the Egyptians. They rejected him and then the judgement came.

v. 99, Jonah warned his people. They listened to him and were saved from judgement.

vv. 100-110 The Meccans are going to meet Allah and judgement day and Muhammad will testify against them.

What I found interesting.

1. Things we learn about Muhammad

a. Called a wizard
Is it a wonder for mankind that We have inspired a man among them, saying: Warn mankind and bring unto those who believe the good tidings that they have a sure footing with their Lord? The disbelievers say: Lo! this is a mere wizard. 10:3

b. Asked to change the Qur’an. He did this with the Satanic Verses.
And when Our clear revelations are recited unto them, they who look not for the meeting with Us say: Bring a Lecture other than this, or change it. Say (O Muhammad): It is not for me to change it of my accord. I only follow that which is inspired in me. Lo! if I disobey my Lord I fear the retribution of an awful Day. 10:16

c. Muhammad has spent his life in Mecca.
Say: If Allah had so willed I should not have recited it to you nor would He have made it known to you. I dwelt among you a whole lifetime before it (came to me). Have ye then no sense? 10:17

d. Is this verse suggesting that Muhammad was waiting for a sign too?
And they will say: If only a portent were sent down upon him from his Lord! Then say, (O Muhammad): The Unseen belongeth to Allah. So wait! Lo! I am waiting with you. 10:21

e. Muhammad is to believe the earlier prophets if he doubts the revelation he has received.
And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers. And be not thou of those who deny the revelations of Allah, for then wert thou of the losers. 10:95-96

2. Since Muhammad has not miraculous sign from Allah, the Qur’an is again said to be the sign.
And this Qur'an is not such as could ever be invented in despite of Allah; but it is a confirmation of that which was before it and an exposition of that which is decreed for mankind - Therein is no doubt - from the Lord of the Worlds. Or say they: He hath invented it? Say: Then bring a surah like unto it, and call (for help) on all ye can besides Allah, if ye are truthful. 10:38-39

There is more to this "sura like it" challenge though because this claim of uniqueness is not limited to the Qur'an alone but equally applies to all of God's books.
Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Then bring a scripture from the presence of Allah that giveth clearer guidance than these two (Qur'an and Torah)(that) I may follow it, if ye are truthful. 28:49

Therefore the "sura like it" challenge can be used to prove that all of God's books are from him and not just the Qur'an.
3. The day of judgement.
And for every nation there is a messenger. And when their messenger cometh (on the Day of Judgment) it will be judged between them fairly, and they will not be wronged. 10:48

4. It is interesting how the way the story of Moses is told is really addressing the issue of how the Muslims are to live in Mecca when people are hostile to them.
And We inspired Moses and his brother, (saying): Appoint houses for your people in Egypt and make your houses oratories, and establish worship. And give good news to the believers. 10:88

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sura 9 - Repentance

My Title

I think that “Repentance” is a good title, though “The Great Commission” could also work.

Date and Context

This is the last main sura that Muhammad gives, 9 A.H. It really is his great commission for the Islamic community. His forces have conquered Mecca, he has sent envoys to all the surrounding empires calling them to Islam and now he is beginning his push north into the Byzantine empire. This first northern push was with a battle at Tabuk. Many Muslim tribes did not join him for this offensive and much of this sura is aimed at them.


vv. 1-28 What to do with Mecca and the Arabs who hold to the traditional religions now that Islam controls Mecca. Fight them; they are unclean and ban them from Mecca.
vv. 29-35 Fight the Christians and Jews because they are heretics.
vv. 36- 98 The Muslims who would not fight at Tabuk covenant breakers, have rejected the Quran, are unclean and so you must fight them.
vv. 97-99 The Wandering Arab - some help some don't.
vv. 100-129 To the believers: paradise, reward how to behave

It is interesting that this sura comes after sura 9. Sura 8 is the beginning of fighting while sura 9 is the last word on fighting. This canonical position seems deliberate.

What I found interesting.

1. New Rules for Mecca

Mecca was the religious centre for the region. Now that Muhammad controls Mecca he can control the shape of Arab religion.
It is not for the idolaters to tend Allah's sanctuaries, bearing witness against themselves of disbelief. As for such, their works are vain and in the Fire they will abide. 9:17

O ye who believe! The idolaters only are unclean. So let them not come near the Inviolable Place of Worship after this their year. If ye fear poverty
(from the loss of their merchandise) Allah shall preserve you of His bounty
if He will. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise. 9:28

The Muslims are to fight the idolaters. If they have a treaty with them they are to wait until the treaty ends and then fight. There is no obligation to have peace with them. Warfare is the only state of existence. (9:3-5)

2. Fight Christians and Jews because they are heretics
Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low. And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they! ... Fain would they put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah disdaineth (aught) save that He shall perfect His light, however much the disbelievers are averse. He it is Who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may be averse. 9:29-33

3. Fighting in Allah’s cause is the highest service to God
Count you the slaking of a pilgrim's thirst and tendance of the Inviolable Place of Worship as (equal to the worth of) him who believeth in Allah and the Last Day, and striveth in the way of Allah? They are not equal in the sight of Allah. Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk. Those who believe, and have left their homes and striven with their wealth and their lives in Allah's way are of much greater worth in Allah's sight. These are they who are triumphant. 9:19-20

4. Muhammad’s War on Muslims

Many of the Muslims seemed not interested in Muhammad’s war against everyone. They are called hypocrites, unclean, unbelievers and covenant breakers. It is very serious for Muslims not to join the jihad. Their destiny is hell and Muhammad is to make war on them.
They alone ask leave of thee who believe not in Allah and the Last Day, and whose hearts feel doubt, so in their doubt they waver. 9:45

They will swear by Allah unto you, when ye return unto them, that ye may let them be. Let them be, for lo! they are unclean, and their abode is hell as the reward for what they used to earn. 9:95

So He hath made the consequence (to be) hypocrisy in their hearts until the day when they shall meet Him, because they broke their word to Allah that they promised Him, and because they lied. 9:77

The road (of blame) is only against those who ask for leave of thee (to stay at home) when they are rich. They are content to be with the useless. Allah hath sealed their hearts so that they know not. 9:93

O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey's end. 9:73

This is one of the reasons why “true” Muslims fight nominal Muslims today.

5. Choose God over your family.
O ye who believe! Choose not your fathers nor your brethren for friends if they take pleasure in disbelief rather than faith. Whoso of you taketh them
for friends, such are wrong-doers. 9:23

This is like what Jesus says in the gospel.

6. Zakat - The Charity Tax?

The Zakat is a tax that all Muslims pay and is often translated as “charity”. This verse shows what it is to be spent on:
The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarer; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise. 9:60

Therefore it is not just charity but also for the “cause of Allah” which is Sura 9 is fighting on Jihad. I have seen many Islamic “charity” organisations get in trouble for supporting the Mujahadeen but they are simply doing what the Qur’an says.

7. Independent Mosque Planting!

It seems that there were other mosques that were not under Muhammad’s control. Maybe Muhammad was just part of a broader monotheistic movement? These other Muslims did not follow Muhammad exclusively and did not want to fight. They were peaceful Muslims. Muhammad had their mosque burnt down. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 609)
And as for those who chose a place of worship out of opposition and disbelief, and in order to cause dissent among the believers, and as an outpost for those who warred against Allah and His messenger aforetime, they will surely swear: We purposed naught save good. Allah beareth witness that they verily are liars. Never stand (to pray) there. A place of worship which was found upon duty (to Allah) from the first day is more worthy that thou shouldst stand (to pray) therein, wherein are men who love to purify themselves. Allah loveth the purifiers. 9:107-108

8. The Gospel of Jihad

In order to justify his doctrine of Jihad Muhammad claimed that this was the message of all the prophets.
Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain. It is a promise which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur'an. Who fulfilleth His covenant better than Allah? Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph. 9:111

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sura 8 - Spoils of War

My Title: Let the war begin

Date and Context

This sura refers to the Battle of Badr and so can be dated to 2 A.H. The Battle of Badr is a famous event in Muslim history. The people of Mecca had rejected Muhammad and so he had left Mecca to live in Medina. Here he began the first Islamic state and formed an army. Now a Meccan caravan was returning home from Syria. Muhammad decided to raid it. An army came from Mecca to defend the caravan however Muhammad was able to defeat this army when they arrived. This battle is seen as the first great victory to Islam.


This is a shorter sura (75 verses) and seems to discuss several topics throughout. The topics are:
1. What to do with war booty.
2. What fighting will look like in Islam.
3. Why the fighting is necessary.

It is the Muslims who are addressed in this sura

What I found interesting.

1. This sura seems to be answering a lot of arguments that have arisen due to the battle: how did we win, what happens to all the money, why fight, the scope of the fighting?

2. The true believers defined.
They only are the (true) believers whose hearts feel fear when Allah is mentioned, and when His revelations are recited unto them they increase their faith, and who trust in their Lord; Who establish worship and spend (on Jihad) of that We have bestowed on them. Those are they who are in truth believers. For them are grades (of honour) with their Lord, and pardon, and a bountiful provision. 8:2-4

Whoso on that day turneth his back to them, unless manoeuvring for battle or intent to join a company, he truly hath incurred wrath from Allah, and his habitation will be hell, a hapless journey's end. 8:16

Lo! those who believed and left their homes and strove with their wealth and their lives for the cause of Allah, and those who took them in and helped them: these are protecting friends one of another. And those who believed but did not leave their homes, ye have no duty to protect them till they leave their homes; but if they seek help from you in the matter of religion then it is your duty to help (them) except against a folk between whom and you there is a treaty. Allah is Seer of what ye do. 8:72

3. This is the famous verse about cutting off the infidels heads and fingers. It is often quoted in Islamic Jihad movies before they cut someone’s head off.
... Then smite the necks and smite of them each finger. 8:12

4. I thought that this was an interesting verse acknowledging that God’s judgement falls on those who do not deserve it.
And guard yourselves against a chastisement which cannot fall exclusively on those of you who are wrong-doers, and know that Allah is severe in punishment. 8:25

5. The reason for war
What (plea) have they that Allah should not punish them, when they debar (His servants) from the Inviolable Place of Worship, though they are not its fitting guardians. Its fitting guardians are those only who keep their duty to Allah. But most of them know not. 8:34

And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then lo! Allah is Seer of what they do. 8:39

So you need to fight till “religion is all for Allah” not just till persecution is ended.
And when Our revelations are recited unto them they say: We have heard. If we wish we can speak the like of this. Lo! this is naught but fables of the men of old. 8:31

It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land. Ye desire the lure of this world and Allah desireth (for you) the Hereafter, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. 8:67

6. This battle and the teaching that accompanies it is to be a model for future warfare. This is obviously important for understanding how to apply this teaching to other contexts.
O ye who believe! When ye meet an army, hold firm and think of Allah much, that ye may be successful. 8:45

O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred (steadfast) they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are a folk without intelligence. 8:65

7. Grace
That is because Allah never changeth the grace He hath bestowed on any people until they first change that which is in their hearts, and (that is) because Allah is Hearer, Knower. 8:53

And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah. Lo! He, even He, is the Hearer, the Knower. 8:61

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sura 7 - The Heights

My Title: The Evidence for Muhammad

Date and Context

A late Meccan sura most likely just before sura 6. It is Muhammad calling on the Meccans to accept him as a prophet.


vv. 1-10 Revelation has come warning of judgement.
vv. 11-58 Adam - Satan the deceiver of all mankind.
vv. 59-102 Noah, Hud, Salih, Lot and Shu’eyb - A prophet from among there own people.
vv. 103-171 The miraculous signs of a prophet.
vv. 172-206 Adam and the culpability of mankind

What I found interesting.

1. This sura is comparing the town of Mecca, which rejects Muhammad, to the towns that God has destroyed in the past.
How many a township have We destroyed! As a raid by night, or while they slept at noon, Our terror came unto them. 7:4

2. Adam (vv. 11-58) - It begins with the story of Adam and Satan. This seems to explain the universal human situation.
And We created you, then fashioned you, then told the angels: Fall ye prostrate before Adam! And they fell prostrate, all save Iblis (Satan), who was not of those who make prostration. He said: What hindered thee that thou didst not fall prostrate when I bade thee? (Iblis) said: I am better than him. Thou createdst me of fire while him Thou didst create of mud. 7:11-12

It is interesting how Satan is called to bow down before Adam. I thought you were only to bow to Allah? But bowing to Adam is a very Christological understanding of Adam.
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." In speaking of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire." (Hebrews 1:6-7, NIV)

Satan is now the great deceiver turning humanity away from Allah.
He said: Now, because Thou hast sent me astray, verily I shall lurk in ambush for them on Thy Right Path. 7:16

O Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you as he caused your (first) parents to go forth from the Garden 7:27

Adam and his wife eat the fruit and are cast out of paradise (v. 24) which seems to be in heaven (a literal fall?). The main lesson here is that you are to wear clothes and be modest. Maybe the Meccans were immodest and this was a rebuke to them.

2. Six Days
Lo! your Lord is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, then mounted He the Throne. 7:54

The Bible never speaks about the six days of creation without mentioning the seventh day of rest. But in the Qur’an the six days have been detached from the goal of rest.

3. There is a big section (vv. 59-102) with Noah, Hud, Salih, Lot and Shu’eyb. They are all prophets from their own people. Muhammad is using their example to justify himself speaking to his fellow Meccans. It seems that “a prophet is not welcome in his hometown” is also true of Islam. In using these examples Muhammad is again promising judgement on the Meccans.

4. Moses - There is a big section with Moses vv. 103-171.

a. Moses is different to the prophets of vv. 59-102 because he is not an Egyptian but he speaks to Egyptians.
b. Moses give miraculous signs. The emphasis on miracles here seems to have caused a problem for Muhammad because he did not do miracles, therefore to use Moses as an example did not work. Therefore the next sura chronologically (sura 6) is an explanation why Muhammad did not do miracles. If this is the case then it is interesting to think that Muhammad recites something that doesn’t completely work and then needs to address the problem that it causes.
c. The magicians of Pharaoh’s court convert to Allah. This really reminded me of the stories of the Saints (2-6th century) that I have read from the Coptic church. The Qur’an seems to be part of this genre.
d. Many of the event of Moses’ life are briefly referred to but in the wrong order or incorrectly.
e. The Torah foretells the coming of Muhammad.
Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them. ... 7:157

5. Adam is also the theme for how the sura concludes.

Adam is the representative of all so all know not to associate partners with Allah.
And (remember) when thy Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their reins, their seed, and made them testify of themselves, (saying): Am I not your Lord? They said: Yea, verily. We testify. (That was) lest ye should say at the Day of Resurrection: Lo! of this we were unaware; Or lest ye should say: (It is) only (that) our fathers ascribed partners to Allah of old and we were (their) seed after them. Wilt Thou destroy us on account of that which those who follow falsehood did? 7:172-173

Adam is the first to associate partners with Allah.
He it is Who did create you from a single soul, and therefrom did make his mate that he might take rest in her. And when he covered her she bore a light burden, and she passed (unnoticed) with it, but when it became heavy they cried unto Allah, their Lord, saying: If thou givest unto us aright we shall be of the thankful. But when He gave unto them aright, they ascribed unto Him partners in respect of that which He had given them. High is He Exalted above all that they associate (with Him). 7:189-190

How can Muslims say prophets never sin with Adam did this?

6. I really felt that knowing the Bible helped to understand this part of the Qur’an. Many of stories in these sura were too brief to understand what they actually were. There seems to be an assumed level of Bible knowledge therefore Muslims would do well to read the Bible to better understand the Qur’an.

7. 7:171 says that God held Mt Sinai above the Israelites as a threat.
And when We shook the Mount above them as it were a covering, and they supposed that it was going to fall upon them (and We said): Hold fast that which We have given you, and remember that which is therein, that ye may ward off (evil). 7:171

The original source of this detail is from Jewish commentaries, in this case rabbi Abdimi bar Hama bar Hasa.
This (Exodus 19:17) teaches that the Holy One, blessed He, held the mountain over (the people of) Israel like a cask and said to them, `If you accept the Torah, well and good, and if not, then there is where your grave will be. (Jacob Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation, Vol. II.C: Shabbat, Ch. 7-10, Scholars Press: Atlanta, Georgia, 1993, ch. 9, I.25, p. 82)

This gives us some insight as to what literature/oral traditions Muhammad was exposed to.