Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sura 18 - The Cave

The title comes from one of the stories in the sura.

Date, Context and Theme

It is a middle Meccan sura and deals not this time with “Biblical” stories but with folk stories that were known at the time. These stories are used as signs as to why the Meccans should accept Muhammad and Allah.


vv. 1-8 Opening statement that the Qur’an is from God and the challenge to the Meccans to accept it because of the signs that Allah gives.

vv. 9-27 The sign of the sleepers in the cave.

vv. 28-32 Warning the Meccans again.

vv. 33-45 The parable of the two gardeners, one who thanks Allah and the other who doesn’t.

v. 46 Parable of life, comes from water, dies and is scattered by the wind.

vv. 47-50, The coming of judgement on all.

vv. 51-60 Therefore turn to God now and don’t be deceived.

Vv. 61-83 Moses and his servant sail a boat, lose their food, meet a man, travel with the man and then have all of the events in the days explained as to why they happened. The reason for each thing was not apparent at the time.

Vv. 84-102 Muhammad is asked about Dhu'l-Qarneyn.

Vv. 103-111 Final address to the Meccans to accept Muhammad and Allah.

What I found interesting.

1. The use of stories as signs. In this sura there are many non-biblical stories. It seems that Muhammad was asked about these stories (possibly as a test). But on this occasion Muhammad assumed that he would receive a revelation to answer their question and he was rebuked.
And say not of anything: Lo! I shall do that tomorrow, except if Allah will. And remember thy Lord when thou forgettest, and say: It may be that my Lord guideth me unto a nearer way of truth than this. 18:24-25

But even when the answer comes I found it vague. In the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (a Christian hagiography about Christian martyrs sealed in a cave) Muhammad is asked how many sleepers there were and how long they were in the cave. To both these he basically says,
Say: Allah is Best Aware how long they tarried. 18:27

It just seems that Muhammad cannot really answer their questions.

2. The story about Moses traveling and having different events happen and then having the events explained was quite interesting and showed how revelation makes sense of random events. I thought this was a useful message.

3. The story of Dhu'l-Qarneyn is about a man who travels to the furthest part of the world. It seems that he actually finds the place where the sun sets!
Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring 18:87

The people he meets ask for help from Gog and Magog and so he build them and iron wall (v. 97). It would be good to examine these stories historically.

4. Again, Muhammad is the context of this sura because it is his interactions with the Meccans that are shaping the use of these stories.

5. "And to warn those who say: Allah hath chosen a son" 18:4

6. There does seem to be a sense of assurance in this verse.
Lo! as for those who believe and do good works - Lo! We suffer not the reward of one whose work is goodly to be lost. 18:31

7. Here is a short description of paradise.
As for such, theirs will be Gardens of Eden, wherein rivers flow beneath them; therein they will be given armlets of gold and will wear green robes of finest silk and gold embroidery, reclining upon throne therein. Blest the reward, and fair the resting-place! 18:32

8. The doctrine of human free will and God’s sovereignty are taught side by side.
And naught hindereth mankind from believing when the guidance cometh unto them, and from asking forgiveness of their Lord unless ...18:56
... Lo! on their hearts We have placed coverings so that they understand not, and in their ears a deafness. And though thou call them to the guidance, in that case they can never be led aright. 18:58

9. God’s words are unchangeable.
And recite that which hath been revealed unto thee of the Scripture of thy Lord. There is none who can change His words, and thou wilt find no refuge beside Him. 18:28

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sura 17 - The Children of Israel

The title comes from the first and last verses of the sura but Israel is not the main theme of the sura. Muhammad’s experience is parallel to that of Moses.

Date, Context and Theme

The context of this sura is well known. Muhammad claimed that he had been taken by a magical horse to Jerusalem and this is meant to have happened one year before the Hijrah. This makes the sura a late Meccan sura. The sura continues the themes of Muhammad’s interactions with the Meccans and some references to the Jews.


v. 1 The vision/journey of Muhammad to Jerusalem
vv. 2-8 God’s judgement on the temple as a sign for today.
Vv. 9-10 The Qur’an as a sign
vv. 11-15 All men are destined for judgement
vv. 16-22 Allah has judged many towns so repent
vv. 23-39 The righteous life the Muslims are to live.
vv. 40- 64 Charges against the Meccans and how they have rejected the Qur’an and Muhammad. Engages with their reasons for rejecting Muhammad and explains why they reject.
Vv. 65-72 God’s provision and expectation from mankind
vv. 73-96 Issues addressed to Muhammad in particular explaining who he is and why the Meccans respond the way they do.
Vv. 97-100 Words against the Meccans
vv. 101-111 Moses the example for Muhammad.

What I found interesting.

1. Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem
Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night from the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Far distant place of worship the neighbourhood whereof We have blessed, that We might show him of Our tokens! Lo! He, only He, is the Hearer, the Seer. 17:1

There are many interesting things to consider with this event.

a. Jerusalem is not named. Why not? In fact there are no details of the journey to Jerusalem. To get any details you have to read the Hadith.

b. We are not told what Muhammad did at Jerusalem but instead told about the destruction of the temple.
(Saying): If you (Jews) do good, you do good for your own souls, and if you do evil, it is for them (in like manner). So, when the time for the second (of the judgments) came (We roused against you others of Our slaves) to ravage you, and to enter the Temple even as they entered it the first time, and to lay waste all that they conquered with an utter wasting. It may be that your Lord will have mercy on you, but if ye repeat (the crime) We shall repeat (the punishment), and We have appointed hell a dungeon for the disbelievers. 17:7-8

This verse is saying that if the Jews repeat their crimes God will repeat his punishment, that is the destruction of the temple. But there is know temple. From my reading it seems that Muhammad thinks a 3rd temple is now standing and could be judged. This of course is not the case as there was no temple in Jerusalem at the time.

c. Muhammad and Ezekiel - The references to a journey to Jerusalem and a threat of the destruction of the temple seems to be a copy of the prophet Ezekiel (chapter 8). Maybe Muhammad had read Ezekiel’s story.

d. The claim of the journey to Jerusalem still does not seemed to have provided evidence of the miracle that the Meccans were asking for.
(The Meccans say) Or thou have a house of gold; or thou ascend up into heaven, and even then we will put no faith in thine ascension till thou bring down for us a book that we can read. Say (O Muhammad): My Lord be Glorified! Am I aught save a mortal messenger? 17:93

e. In the Hadith, this journey to Jerusalem is when Muhammad is told to pray 5 times a day. However in this sura, from the journey itself, says to pray three times a day!
Establish worship at the going down of the sun until the dark of night, and (the recital of) the Qur'an at dawn. Lo! (the recital of) the Qur'an at dawn is ever witnessed. And some part of the night awake for it, a largess for thee. It may be that thy Lord will raise thee to a praised estate. 17:78-79 also 11:116, 24:58.

2. Judgement Day - There were many interesting verses about judgement.
And every man's augury have We fastened to his own neck, and We shall bring forth for him on the Day of Resurrection a book which he will find wide open. (And it will be said unto him): Read thy Book. Thy soul sufficeth as reckoner against thee this day. 17:13-14

Whosoever goeth right, it is only for (the good of) his own soul that he goeth right, and whosoever erreth, erreth only to its hurt. No laden soul can bear another's load, We never punish until we have sent a messenger. 17:15

On the day when We shall summon all men with their record, whoso is given his book in his right hand - such will read their book and they will not be wronged a shred. 17:71

3. Muhammad is still be rejected by the Meccans and it is an issue for him (and the Qur’an)
And We place upon their hearts veils lest they should understand it, and in their ears a deafness; and when thou makest mention of thy Lord alone in the Qur'an, they turn their backs in aversion. 17:46

We are Best Aware of what they wish to hear when they give ear to thee and when they take secret counsel, when the evil-doers say: Ye follow but a man bewitched. 17:47

And verily We have displayed for mankind in this Qur'an all kind of similitudes, but most of mankind refuse aught save disbelief. 17:89

Say: Verily, though mankind and the jinn should assemble to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like thereof though they were helpers one of another. 17:88

Regarding this last verse, the 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.
4. David is mentioned.
And thy Lord is Best Aware of all who are in the heavens and the earth. And we preferred some of the prophets above others, and unto David We gave the Psalms. 17:55

5. The Satanic Verses - The event of the Satanic verses is where Muhammad said that the gods of the Meccans were ok. Later he said that Satan gave him these words not God. This event is recorded and accepted by all the early accounts of Muhammad’s life. This sura is after this event yet claims it never happened!
And they indeed strove hard to beguile thee (Muhammad) away from that wherewith We have inspired thee, that thou shouldst invent other than it against Us; and then would they have accepted thee as a friend. And if We had not made thee wholly firm thou mightest almost have inclined unto them a little. 17:73-74

But Muhammad did give in to the Meccans and accepted their gods. The Meccans did accept Muhammad as a friend for doing this. Muhammad did "incline unto them a little." This verse is a blatant lie.

6. Moses and Muhammad - Here the experience of Moses is paralelled to Muhammad, expect for the miracles of course.
We gave unto Moses the Scripture, and We appointed it a guidance for the children of Israel, saying: Choose no guardian beside Me. 17:2

And verily We gave unto Moses nine tokens, clear proofs (of Allah's Sovereignty). Do but ask the Children of Israel how he came unto them, then Pharaoh said unto him: Lo! I deem thee one bewitched, O Moses. 17:101

It also seems that the Qur’an only knows about the nine plagues on Egypt.

7. I am sure that these verses are famous ones for Muslims about the righteous lives they are to live.

Set not up with Allah any other god (O man) lest thou sit down reproved, forsaken. Thy Lord hath decreed, that ye worship none save Him, and (that ye show) kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with thee, say not "Fie" unto them nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word. And lower unto them the wing of submission through mercy, and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they did care for me when I was little. Your Lord is Best Aware of what is in your minds. If ye are righteous, then lo! He was ever Forgiving unto those who turn (unto Him). Give the kinsman his due, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and squander not (thy wealth) in wantonness. Lo! the squanderers were ever brothers of the devils, and the devil was ever an ingrate to his Lord. But if thou turn away from them, seeking mercy from thy Lord, for which thou hopest, then speak unto them a reasonable word. And let not thy hand be chained to thy neck nor open it with a complete opening, lest thou sit down rebuked, denuded. Lo! thy Lord enlargeth the provision for whom He will, and straiteneth (it for whom He will). Lo, He was ever Knower, Seer of His slaves. Slay not your children, fearing a fall to poverty, We shall provide for them and for you. Lo! the slaying of them is great sin. And come not near unto adultery. Lo! it is an abomination and an evil way. And slay not the life which Allah hath forbidden save with right. Whoso is slain wrongfully, We have given power unto his heir, but let him not commit excess in slaying. Lo! he will be helped. Come not near the wealth of the orphan save with that which is better till he come to strength; and keep the covenant. Lo! of the covenant it will be asked. Fill the measure when ye measure, and weigh with a right balance; that is meet, and better in the end. (O man), follow not that whereof thou hast no knowledge. Lo! the hearing and the sight and the heart - of each of these it will be asked. And walk not in the earth exultant. Lo! thou canst not rend the earth, nor canst thou stretch to the height of the hills. The evil of all that is hateful in the sight of thy Lord. This is (part) of that wisdom wherewith thy Lord hath inspired thee (O Muhammad). And set not up with Allah any other god, lest thou be cast into hell, reproved, abandoned. 17:22-39

8. The traditions say that Muhammad was asked about the spirit (holy or human? and gave this reply:
They are asking thee concerning the Spirit. Say: The Spirit is by command of my Lord, and of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little. 17:85

To be honest I do not find this a very impressive answer. He basically says nothing.