Monday, September 20, 2010

Sura 20 - Ta Ha

This sura is named after the first two letters of v. 1. These are the mystery letters of the Qur’an at the beginning of some suras. No one knows for sure their purpose.

Date, Context and Theme

This is an early Meccan sura and continues the theme that the Qur’an is from Allah, Allah’s judgement is coming so you must listen to Muhammad. It puts forward the example of Moses and the miraculous work that Allah did through him. Adam is mentioned as an example of being deceived and repenting in the conclusion.

The sura is also famous as it is said to be the sura that lead to the conversion of Umar to Islam. Umar became a powerful supporter of Muhammad and the second caliph after Muhammad’s death.

I think the key verse is,
And they say: If only he would bring us a miracle from his Lord! Hath there not come unto them the proof of what is in the former scriptures? 20:133

There is a clear simply structure to this sura.

vv. 1-8, Introduces Muhammad, the Qur’an and Allah and the purpose

vv. 9-48, Moses and the burning bush.
Vv. 49-58 , Moses in Pharaoh’s court.
Vv. 59-76, Moses brings the signs and the Egyptian magician convert to Islam and preach Muhammad’s message.
Vv. 77-79 The Exodus event
vv. 80-98, The golden calf

vv. 99-114, Words addressed to Muhammad and the Muslims about the purpose of the Qur’an and the terrible judgement awaiting those who reject the Qur’an.
Vv. 115-123, Adam is the model of those who listen to Satan, reject Allah’s word but later repent. He is an example to the Meccans.

Vv. 124-132, A call for the Meccans to turn to Allah and be saved on judgement day and a call for Muhammad to continue in worship.
Vv. 133-135 Answering Meccan objections to Muhammad’s call to repentance.

What I found interesting.

1. Moses preaches Muhammad’s message to Pharaoh, then the Egyptian magicians all convert to Islam.
Then the wizards were (all) flung down prostrate, crying: We believe in the Lord of Aaron and Moses. 20:70

Then the magicians instantly preach fully developed Islam theology. This type of story again reminds me of the hagiography I have read from the Coptic church. I think it was the story of Katrina.

2. Moses and the Samaritan. In Sura 19 I showed how Muhammad called Mary of the mother of Jesus, the sister of Aaron and the daughter of Imram, and that this showed that he seems to be unaware of history. Well here we see the same situation again but this time with a Samaritan. It is a Samaritan who mislead the Israelites into worshipping the golden calf.
He said: Lo! We have tried thy folk in thine absence, and As-Samiri hath misled them. 20:85, 87, 95

There were no Samaritans at the time of Moses. The Samaritans come into about 700 years after the Assyrian conquest of the ten norther tribes of Israel.

3. The story of Adam’s sin is told in some detail. Some details are the same as the Bible, others different.
And verily We made a covenant of old with Adam, but he forgot, and We found no constancy in him. 20:115

It is (vouchsafed) unto thee that thou hungerest not therein nor art naked, 20:118

But the devil whispered to him, saying: O Adam! Shall I show thee the tree of immortality and power that wasteth not away? 20:120

The Bible stories must have been well know to the Meccans for them to be used so often as examples.

4. Again there are three times for prayer not five.
Therefor (O Muhammad), bear with what they say, and celebrate the praise of thy Lord ere the rising of the sun and ere the going down thereof. And glorify Him some hours of the night and at the two ends of the day, that thou mayst find acceptance. 20:130

5. Still not sign from Muhammad. The Meccans have been asking for some evidence from Muhammad for what he is saying. To this stage he has not given anything. In this sura it seems that he offers the miracles that Moses did (the stories he has just told) as sufficient evidence.
And they say: If only he would bring us a miracle from his Lord! Hath there not come unto them the proof of what is in the former scriptures? 20:133

This is very interesting because it means that Muhammad is not like Moses in this regard.

6. Again we see that intercession with Allah is not banned but is not through the Mecca gods.
On that day no intercession availeth save (that of) him unto whom the Beneficent hath given leave and whose word He accepteth. 20:109

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sura 19 - Mary

This sura is named after Mary, the mother of Jesus, though the sura is not about her in particular.

Date, Context and Theme

It is a Meccan sura. The story behind this sura is that some of the early Muslims fled from Mecca and went to Abyssinia (a Christian kingdom). The Christian king (Negus) gave them protection. He asked about their beliefs and it is reported that sura 19 or part of it was read out to him.


The example and pious life of the prophets
vv. 1-11 Zechariah
vv. 12-15 John
vv. 16-34 Mary and Jesus
vv. 35-40 A rebuke to the Meccans (or maybe Christians???)
vv. 41-50 Abraham
vv. 51-53 Moses and Aaron
vv. 54-55 Ishmael
vv. 56- 57 Idris (Enoch)
v. 58 summary
The final address to the Meccans
vv. 59-66 Turn to God, blessing if your do, hell if you don’t.
Vv. 67-72 Meccan questions - Will I really be judged?
Vv. 73- 83 Meccan boast - Our army and families are bigger than yours
vv. 84-98 Be patient Muhammad. Your time will come.

What I found interesting.

1. The sura has a clear structure that is easy to follow.

2. Again the lives of the prophets are told in such a way (very few details) that it assumes you know about them already, like Hebrews 11.

3. Often the details it does give are just wrong.
(It was said unto him): O Zachariah! Lo! We bring thee tidings of a son whose name is John; we have given the same name to none before (him). 19:7

John is a common name in Israel and was widely used before John the Baptist.
He said: My Lord! Appoint for me some token. He said: Thy token is that thou, with no bodily defect, shalt not speak unto mankind three nights. 19:10

Zechariah could not speak until the birth of John.

Jesus' mother Mary, is Mary (Miriam) the sister of Aaron.
O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot.

4. Jesus’ conception and birth is described in this sura.
He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son. 19:19

He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me. And (it will be) that We may make of him a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained. 19:21

Jesus is a revelation for all mankind not just Israel. And he speaks from the cradle.

5. A very clear denunciation of God having a son.
It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. 19:35

And they say: The Beneficent hath taken unto Himself a son. Assuredly ye utter a disastrous thing 19:88-89

In fact you can never be more than a slave with Allah.
When it is not meet for (the Majesty of) the Beneficent that He should choose a son. There is none in the heavens and the earth but cometh unto the Beneficent as a slave. 19:92-93

But you can be a loved slave.
Lo! those who believe and do good works, the Beneficent will appoint for them love. 19:96

How different this is to the prophets that talk about Israel and the Messiah and all God’s people being sons.

6. Here is a reference to Abraham being given Isaac and Jacob.
So, when he had withdrawn from them and that which they were worshipping beside Allah, We gave him Isaac and Jacob. Each of them We made a prophet. 19:49

But it seems that it should read Isaac and Ishmael. This is particularly the case in,
And make mention in the Scripture of Ishmael. Lo! he was a keeper of his promise, and he was a messenger (of Allah), a prophet. 19:54

Here Ishmael is not connected to Abraham as a son. In Medinan suras Ishmael is Abraham’s son, but it does not seem to be the idea here. It would be interesting to see when Ishmael is explicitly said to be Abraham’s son. Is it part of Meccan or Medinan theology?

7. Here is an interesting verse in which the “we” of the Qur’an is not referring to God but angels. This is a record of angels speaking not God.
We (angels) come not down save by commandment of thy Lord. Unto Him belongeth all that is before us and all that is behind us and all that is between those two, and thy Lord was never forgetful - Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them! Therefor, worship thou Him and be thou steadfast in His service. Knowest thou one that can be named along with Him? 19:64-65

8. It seems that everyone is taken to the edge of hell and then Allah rescues those he wills.
There is not one of you but shall approach it. That is a fixed ordinance of thy Lord. Then We shall rescue those who kept from evil, and leave the evil-doers crouching there. 19:71-72

9. There is no intercession except if you have a covenant with Allah.
They will have no power of intercession, save him who hath made a covenant with his Lord. 19:87