Monday, May 23, 2011

Sura 37 - Those who set the ranks.

The title comes from v. 1 & 165 and seems to be referring to “the ranks” of faithful Muslims.
(The) single-minded (chosen) slaves of Allah. 37:40, 74, 128, 160, 169

Date, Context and Theme

It is a middle Meccan sura again dealing with the rejection of the Meccans to Muhammad and his message. The main body of the sura is an extended description of paradise and hell. In this description the “single-minded” service to God is explained, illustrated and defended.

vv. 1-5, Introduction addressing those faithful Muslims who live the genuine Muslim life.

vv. 6-10, The planets or stars seem to hinder the devils from listening to the Qur’an. They are the source of turning people away. They contrast to vv. 1-5.

vv. 11-17, The Meccan are rejecting Muhammad and his message about the resurrection and judgement.

* vv. 18-34, But they will be resurrected and judged. Judgement day described.

* vv. 35-37, They would not accept Allah alone and Muhammad. In the judgement you will either go to paradise for hell.

vv. 38-61, The reward, welcome and conversation of paradise. How I was saved from hell.

vv. 62-73, The reward and conversation of hell. The illustration show how to be saved from hell.

* vv. 74-82, Noah, a single minded slave, saved from the flood while others drowned.

*vv. 83-113, Abraham opposed the star worship of his people and was persecuted but he was saved. Allah rewarded Abraham with a son, whom he was prepared to sacrifice and Isaac will be a prophet like Abraham.

*vv. 114-122, Moses and Aaron were believing slaves and were saved while others drowned.

*vv. 123-132, Elijah and Baal event and Elijah was saved while others died.

* vv. 133-138, Lot was saved but the old woman destroyed.

* vv. 139-148, Jonah did wrong but was saved.

vv. 149-159 Therefore repent and be saved. Does God have daughters while you have sons? God does not have children from relations with the angels or the genies. Stop believing this.

vv. 160-173, We are serving God while the others turn away.

Vv. 174-182, Conclusion: Muhammad, withdraw from them for a while and wait.

What I found interesting.
1. Introduction

I found the introduction to be a beautiful poetic moving start to the sura.
By those who set the ranks in battle order, And those who drive away (the wicked) with reproof, And those who read (the Word) for a reminder, Lo! thy Lord is surely One; 37:1-4

2. Cosmology

There seems to be an understanding that planets or stars help to defend the devils.
Lo! We have adorned the lowest heaven with an ornament, the planets; With security from every froward devil. They cannot listen to the Highest Chiefs for they are pelted from every side, 37:6-8

3. Poet or Prophet?

Again Muhammad is said to be a poet but replies by saying he is like the prophets before him.
And said: Shall we forsake our gods for a mad poet? Nay, but he brought the Truth, and he confirmed those sent (before him). 37:36-37

4. Descriptions of Paradise and Hell

The follow description of paradise is interesting because the wine is “non-alcoholic”. I wonder if this is an answer to any objections that may have been raised about the rivers of wine that Muhammad had mentioned in his previous descriptions of paradise? Certainly the wine must be real and not symbolic to make such a qualification. The reward of virgins in paradise is also in these verses.
In the Gardens of delight, On couches facing one another; A cup from a gushing spring is brought round for them, White, delicious to the drinkers, Wherein there is no headache nor are they made mad thereby. And with them are those of modest gaze, with lovely eyes, (Pure) as they were hidden eggs (of the ostrich). 37:43-49

The punishment of hell is quite detailed in this sura.
Is this better as a welcome, or the tree of Zaqqum? Lo! We have appointed it a torment for wrong-doers. Lo! it is a tree that springeth in the heart of hell. Its crop is as it were the heads of devils And lo! they verily must eat thereof, and fill (their) bellies therewith. And afterward, lo! thereupon they have a drink of boiling water. And afterward, lo! their return is surely unto hell. 37:62-68

5. Repeated Phrases
Save single-minded slaves of Allah. 37:40, 74, 128, 160, 169

This phrase was often repeated. I wonder if the Arabic, “muhlaseen”, is a desirable title in Islamic culture?

This phrase too was often repeated.
Peace be unto Noah among the peoples! 37:79 (109 Abraham, 120 Moses and Aaron, 130 Elijah)

This blessing of the prophet certainly is part of the Islamic culture. In this case it is a reward for the prophet and their righteous behaviour.

This is a point of difference to the Bible. In the Bible people are not praised like this, only God is praised in this systematic fashion. The Qur'an does think more highly of the righteousness of men than the Bible does.

6. Noah

In sura 11 it was said that one of Noah’s sons did not come onto the ark.
And Noah called to his son, who was standing apart (from the ark), "Embark with us, my son, and be thou not with the unbelievers!" He said, "I will take refuge in a mountain, that shall defend me from the water." ... And the waves came between them and he was drowned. (Sura 11:42-43, Arberry)

But in this sura it was his whole family.
And Noah verily prayed unto Us, and gracious was the Hearer of his prayer And We saved him and his household from the great distress, And made his seed the survivors, 37:75-77

I do not see this as a problem. We have similar situations in the gospels where different details are given at different times. However Muslims should not be critical of the Bible when they see these types of differences there.

7. Abraham

The longest illustration in the was about Abraham.

A. Abraham opposes the worship of his people and they build a furnace to throw him in, vv. 84-99. The origin of this story is very interesting. In the Law of Moses we read,
"I am the Lord who brought you (Abraham) from Ur of the Chaldeans". (Genesis 15:7)

Ur is the ancient city where Abraham come from, but the word “Or” in Hebrew means light/fire (Strongs 215-217). A misreading of the Babylonian “Ur” for the Hebrew “Or” led to an interpretation, and subsequent tradition, where Abraham was brought out of a fire not out of a city.
See 2. Story of Abraham's deliverance from the fire which Nimrod made to destroy him.

This means that Abraham coming out of a fire is in no sense historical because we know exactly how the incorrect story developed. This is another example of the Jewish myths that Christians are warned to stay away from.
(P)ay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. (Titus 1:13, NIV)

It also means that the Qur'an fails to be a watcher over all scripture.
And unto you (Muslims) have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them (Jews and Christians) by that which Allah hath revealed ... 5:48

The story of Abraham being saved from a fire is a myth that we know the origin of. Abraham came out of the city of Ur not a fire. The Qur'an however, fails to correct this false idea and instead perpetuates this false story.

B. Abraham's Sacrifice. Abraham then prays to God and is given a son. He is then instructed to sacrifice his son, (vv. 100-111). This account is differen to the account in the law of Moses in that in the Qur'an the son is willing and obedient too while in the Bible this is not mentioned. This distinction is important because this event in the Qur'an is not just about Abraham but it is equally about the obedience of his son.
And when (his son) was old enough to walk with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice thee. So look, what thinkest thou? He said: O my father! Do that which thou art commanded. Allah willing, thou shalt find me of the steadfast. Then, when they had both surrendered (to Allah), and he had flung him down upon his face 37:102-103

An important question is which son was it? Muslims today hold that it was Ishmael who was sacrificed but this is not what the Qur’an says. First Abraham prays to God.
My Lord! Give me of the righteous. So We gave him tidings of a gentle son. 37:100-101

He is given a son but the son is not named. As I said before the test shows the righteousness of not only Abraham but also his son. After this event both Abraham and his son are commended. Firstly, Abraham is said to be one of Allah's slaves and his son is declared to be "of the righteous" and will be a prophet. "Of the righteous", is what Abraham asked for in the beginning.

My Lord, give me one of the righteous. 37:100

Then We gave him the good tidings of Isaac, a Prophet, one of the righteous. 37:112 Arberry

The reading seems to be that Isaac is the son. Pitckhall adds the phrase “of the birth of” but this is not in the Arabic. The flow seems to be that Abraham asks for not a son directly but “of the righteous”. He is given a son, then he and his son obey God. Abraham is then praised and his son is then declared to be “of the righteous” too and a prophet, and this son is clearly named as Isaac. This reading agrees with Islam’s greatest scholar.
The earliest sages of our Prophet's nation disagree about which of Abraham's two sons it was that he was commanded to sacrifice. Some say it was Isaac, while others say it was Ishmael. Both views are supported by statements related on the authority of the Messenger of God. If both groups of statements were equally sound, then - since they both came from the Prophet - only the Quran could serve as proof that the account naming Isaac is clearly the more truthful of the two. (Al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, Vol. II, p. 82, Prophets and Patriarchs (trans. William M. Brenner), State University of New York Press, Albany 1987)

I really get the feeling that much of Islam is a development away from the Qur’an. The Qur’an stipulates three daily prayers (24:58, 11:116, 17:78-79, 20:130, 30:17-18) but Muslims have five. The Qur’an says Muhammad gave no miracle (14:10) yet the Hadith has many. And here we see that the Isaac of the Qur’an has been replaced by Ishmael.

C. The substitute sacrifice that God provides Abraham is seen as a ransomed. This is quite similar to the Christian idea.
Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim. 37:107

8. We learn about the Meccan beliefs that God has daughters.
(And again of their falsehood): He hath preferred daughters to sons. Allah hath begotten. Allah! verily they tell a lie. 37:152-153

Then produce your writ (book), if ye are truthful. 37:157

9. The Voice of the Qur’an.

Normally the voice of the Qur’an is “We” and is referring to Allah, but in these verses the “We” is clearly angels or the Muslims community.
There is not one of us but has his known position. Lo! we, even we are they who set the ranks, Lo! we, even we are they who hymn His praise 37:164-166

This change in voice is similar to Sura 1, 2:286, and 19:64-65.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sura 36 - Ya Sin

The name of the sura comes from the two letters of verse 1.

Date, Context and Theme

This is a middle Meccan sura that continues to deal with the Meccan rejection of Muhammad, the Qur’an and the teaching that there is only one God with no associates.
So let not their speech grieve thee (O Muhammad). Lo! We know what they conceal and what proclaim. 36:76


vv. 1-12, Introduction - The Qur’an is guidance and it is Allah’s sovereign choice who will believe.

Vv. 13-44 Parables and Stories to prove the message of Muhammad.

* Vv. 13-32, The story of the three messengers from Allah who went to a city and were rejected and mocked but one person from the city accepted. Then the city was destroyed.

* Vv. 33-36, The dry ground giving life when rain comes

* Vv. 37-40, The movement of the sun and moon.

* Vv. 41-44, The danger of travelling by ships. Your life is in the hands of God and at his mercy.

Vv. 45-53 Dealing with the arguments of the Meccans who rejects the Qur’an:

* vv. 45-53 They reject the signs/parables that are given in the Qur’an and ask when will the judgement come? They are told that the judgement will come and each will get what he deserve and go to paradise or hell.

* Vv. 54-68, The dialogue of and a description of judgement day

* vv. 69-70 Muhammad is not a poet but a warner.

* Vv. 71-75, the Sign of domesticated animals. Allah has given us these animals yet we do not give thanks and worship others.

Vv. 76-83, Conclusion - Do not be grieved by their rejection Muhammad. Consider the evidence. Allah brings you forth from seed, give you fire, created the heavens and earth and only has to say for something to be. Worship Allah alone.

What I found interesting.

1. God’s Sovereignty

There is a strong theme of God’s sovereign choice.
Lo! We have put on their necks carcans reaching unto the chins, so that they are made stiff-necked. And We have set a bar before them and a bar behind them, and (thus) have covered them so that they see not. 36:8-9

This is similar to the Bible.

2. Examining the arguments.

In this sura, and many others, there are arguments put forward for why Muhammad’s message is true. These seem to fit into three categories.
A. The stories of the earlier prophets.
B. Referring to the cycles of creation.
C. The logic of the fact that if those you associate with Allah are powerless what use are they.

I think it is good to consider these arguments. They show us the thought world of Muhammad, maybe the thought world of his hearers, and also raise the question of how do these arguments engage with the modern world? This same question can be asked of the Bible too.

It does seems that the arguments of the Qur’an were not convincing to the Meccans.
Never came a token of the tokens of their Lord to them, but they did turn away from it! 36:46

3. Which City?

The first story/parable in the sura is to the coming of three prophets to a city.
Coin for them a similitude: The people of the city when those sent (from Allah) came unto them; When We sent unto them twain, and they denied them both, so We reinforced them with a third, and they said: Lo! we have been sent unto you. 36:13-14

The point of the story is straight forward, this city rejected their messengers in the same way the Meccans are rejecting Muhammad, but who are the messengers and what was the city? This is not an unreasonable question to ask if the story is meant to be taken as true history. Where are the basic details like names of people and places? Islamic scholars identify them in various ways, some even suggesting that they were disciples of Jesus, one being Paul (Bulus).

4. Women in paradise.

We often think of Islamic paradise as being a place for men and their pleasure. Certainly this is true in other parts of the Qur’an, but this verse shows that wives will be happy too.
Lo! those who merit paradise this day are happily employed, They and their wives, in pleasant shade, on thrones reclining; 36:55-56

5. The dialogue of judgement day.

I found this an interesting method of teaching. It is like a play were the lines for each actor are written out. In this case it is the discussion between God and the believers and unbelievers on judgement day.
The word from a Merciful Lord (for them the believers) is: Peace! But to you, O you guilty, this day! Did I not charge you, O you sons of Adam, that you worship not the devil - Lo! he is your open foe! - But that you worship Me? That was the right path. 36:58-61

6. Muhammad the Poet?

It seems that the Meccans were saying the Muhammad was just like their poets. That is to say that Muhammad is not unique in what he was reciting.
And We have not taught him (Muhammad) poetry, nor is it meet for him. This is naught else than a Reminder and a Lecture making plain, To warn whosoever liveth, and that the word may be fulfilled against the disbelievers. 36:69-70

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sura 35 - Angels

The title takes its name from the reference to angels in the first verse.

Date, Context and Theme
An early Meccan sura dealing with the Meccan rejection of Muhammad and his message. The illustrations in this sura are not of the earlier prophets but of the power of Allah.

vv. 1-3, Praise Allah and remember his grace.

Vv. 4-8, Those who reject Muhammad and Allah are doomed.

Vv. 9-17, Examples of how Allah makes and controls all things, therefore pray and serve him alone.

Vv. 18-26 Muhammad is a warner like the warners before him. Those who rejected their warner were punished.

Vv. 27-35 Allah brings life to this world so serve him and the righteous have done in the past.

Vv. 36-39, The unbelievers will suffer for their rejection.

Vv. 40-45, Conclusion. Deals with a few final complaints from the Meccans. Ends with the idea that everyone needs Allah’s mercy.

What I found interesting.
1. Angels.
Praise be to Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, Who appointeth the angels messengers having wings two, three and four. He multiplieth in creation what He will. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things. 35:1

2. A wide range of illustrations of Allah’s power and application.
Whoso desireth power (should know that) all power belongeth to Allah. Unto Him good words ascend, and the pious deed doth He exalt; but those who plot iniquities, theirs will be an awful doom; and the plotting of such (folk) will come to naught. 35:10

Allah created you from dust, then from a little fluid, then He made you pairs (the male and female). No female beareth or bringeth forth save with His knowledge. And no-one groweth old who groweth old, nor is aught lessened of his life, but it is recorded in a Book, Lo! that is easy for Allah. 35:11

And the two seas are not alike: this, fresh, sweet, good to drink, this (other) bitter, salt. And from them both ye eat fresh meat and derive the ornament that ye wear. And thou seest the ship cleaving them with its prow that ye may seek of His bounty, and that haply ye may give thanks. 35:12

He maketh the night to pass into the day and He maketh the day to pass into the night. He hath subdued the sun and moon to service. Each runneth unto an appointed term. Such is Allah, your Lord; His is the Sovereignty; and those unto whom ye pray instead of Him own not so much as the white spot on a date-stone. 35:13

Say: Have ye seen your partner-gods to whom ye pray beside Allah? Show me what they created of the earth! Or have they any portion in the heavens? Or have We given them a scripture so they act on clear proof therefrom? Nay, the evil-doers promise one another only to deceive. 35:40

3. Pray only to Allah not to your intercessors.
If you (the Meccans) pray unto them they hear not your prayer, and if they heard they could not grant it you. On the Day of Resurrection they will disown association with you. None can inform you like Him Who is Aware. 35:14

My question is if this is the case why do Muslims pray to Muhammad in the Salaat?

4. The Earlier Scriptures and Believers

There were several verses about the earlier scriptures and believers.

And if they deny you (Muhammad), those before them also denied. Their messengers came unto them with clear proofs (of Allah's Sovereignty), and with the Psalms and the Scripture giving light. 35:25

As for that which We inspire in thee of the Scripture, it is the Truth confirming that which was (revealed) before it. Lo! Allah is indeed Observer, Seer of His slaves. 35:31

Here we see that there are three different types of earlier believers before the Muslims.
Then We gave the Scripture as inheritance unto those whom We elected of Our bondmen. But of them are some who wrong themselves and of them are some who are lukewarm, and of them are some who outstrip (others) through good deeds, by Allah's leave. That is the great favour! 35:32

The example of the earlier scriptures and believers is given as a way of contrast to the rejection of the Meccans to Muhammad and the Qur’an.
And they swore by Allah, their most binding oath, that if a warner came unto them they would be more tractable than any of the nations; yet, when a warner came unto them it aroused in them naught save repugnance, 35:42

5. Lost in the grave.
And they cry for help there, (saying): Our Lord! Release us; we will do right, not (the wrong) that we used to do. Did not We grant you a life long enough for him who reflected to reflect therein? And the warner came unto you. Now taste (the flavour of your deeds), for evil-doers have no helper. 35:37

This is sort of like Jonah crying out from the grave.

6. All fail and need Allah’s mercy.
If Allah took mankind to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a living creature on the surface of the earth; but He reprieveth them unto an appointed term, and when their term cometh - then verily (they will know that) Allah is ever Seer of His slaves. 35:45

This is an interesting verse because it clearly says none are righteous.

7. Science in the Qur’an.

There is a whole area of promoting Islam that seeks to show that modern science is in the Qur’an. A common verse that is used is the following.
He hath loosed the two seas. They meet. There is a barrier between them. They encroach not (one upon the other). 55:19-20

This is meant to show that the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea do not mix even though they are connected. However 35:12 seems to identify the “two seas” as fresh and salt water.
And the two seas are not alike: this, fresh, sweet, good to drink, this (other) bitter, salt. And from them both ye eat fresh meat and derive the ornament that ye wear. And thou seest the ship cleaving them with its prow that ye may seek of His bounty, and that haply ye may give thanks. 35:12

8. "Say"

Often in the Qur'an we read at the start of a verse, "Say". This normally is indicating a set answer to an objection raised against Muhammad. It seems to me that the suras are like the letters of the New Testament in that they often are addressing particularly issues. Certainly the suras are a different type of genre but they still function like the letters in addressing a particular situation.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sura 34 - Saba

The title of the sura comes for v. 15 where the people of Saba are referred to as an example of those who were proud and destroyed.

Date, Context and Theme

This is a Meccan sura and the main theme is dealing with the pride of those who reject the belief in one God, in resurrection to judgement, the Qur’an and Muhammad as a prophet.
Those who were proud say unto those who were despised: Did we drive you away from the guidance after it had come unto you? Nay, but ye were guilty. 34:32

Say (unto them, O Muhammad): I exhort you unto one thing only: that ye awake, for Allah's sake, by twos and singly, and then reflect: There is no madness in your comrade. He is naught else than a warner unto you in face of a terrific doom. 34:46


vv. 1-9 Praise belongs to Allah so do not be proud. Accept that there is only one God, the resurrection unto judgement, the Qur’an and Muhammad.

Vv. 10-11, David received blessings from God and was thankful not proud.

Vv. 12-14, Solomon received blessings from God and was thankful and proud.

vv. 15-21, Saba received blessing from God but were not thankful and so were destroyed.

Vv. 22-54, A dialogue with the Meccans which discusses.
* There is only one God and your worship of partners, angels, jinn will not help you.
* There will be a the resurrection of the dead unto judgement.
* You have rejected the Qur’an as you rejected the other books.
* You have rejected Muhammad as you rejected the other prophets.
* Your problem is pride and that you are pampered.

What I found interesting.

1. Striving against the Qur’an.
But those who strive against Our revelations, challenging (Us), theirs will be a painful doom of wrath. 34:5, 38

I was expecting the word for “strive” here to be jihad as it was in 31:15, but it is not. It is saaiaou instead. This is important to note for those of us who want to know what the Qur’an says about striving/jihad. This idea is expressed in a variety of words and we need to consider all of them to understand the subject properly.

2. Meccan Objections.

Again there is a good description of the objections of the Meccans to Muhammad.
And those who disbelieve say: We believe not in this Qur'an nor in that which was before it; but oh, if thou couldst see, when the wrong-doers are brought up before their Lord, how they cast the blame one to another; how those who were despised (in the earth) say unto those who were proud: But for you, we should have been believers. 34:31

And if Our revelations are recited unto them in plain terms, they say: This is naught else than a man who would turn you away from what your fathers used to worship; and they say: This is naught else than an invented lie. Those who disbelieve say of the truth when it reacheth them: This is naught else than mere magic. 34:43

3. Set Answers

The start of each verse for 22-27 and 46-50 began with “say”. Say this ... Say this ... Say this ... etc. This really emphasises that the Qur’an was to be used by the Muslims to answer the objections of those who rejected Islam. The Qur’an originally provided the set answers for the early Muslim community.

Here is two examples.
Say: You will not be asked (by God) of what we committed, nor shall we be asked of what you do. 34:25

Say: The Truth hath come, and falsehood showeth not its face and will not return. 34:49

4. David

The reference to David was interesting. It included a reference to the Psalms and to him making chain mail armour.
And assuredly We gave David grace from Us, (saying): O ye hills and birds, echo his psalms of praise! And We made the iron supple unto him, Saying: Make thou long coats of mail and measure the links (thereof). And do ye right. Lo! I am Seer of what ye do. 34:10-11

The history I have read says that chain mail actually replaced metal scales sewn onto a vest as a means of armour around the year 400BC. David was 1000BC. It seems that the Qur’an has the wrong technology for the time of David.

5. Solomon

In sura 27:17 we saw that the genies fought for Solomon. Here we see that they build for him whatever he wants. This is also the verse were the idea of travelling on a magic carpet comes from. The Islamic commentaries say that Solomon was carried by the wind on a carpet.
And unto Solomon (We gave) the wind, whereof the morning course was a month's journey and the evening course a month's journey, and We caused the fount of copper to gush forth for him, and (We gave him) certain of the jinn who worked before him by permission of his Lord. And such of them as deviated from Our command, them We caused to taste the punishment of flaming Fire. 34:12

It is interesting to see what the genies built for Solomon.
They made for him what he willed: synagogues and statues, basins like wells and boilers built into the ground. Give thanks, O House of David! Few of My bondmen are thankful. 34:13

It is true that Solomon built many things but what about the temple? Does the Qur’an realise that Solomon’s greatest building achievement was the temple in Jerusalem. The temple is mentioned in 17:7 (called a mosque) but does the Qur’an understand that Solomon built a temple? I will have to keep reading.

7. Intercession

It seems that the Qur’ an is not opposed to all intercession before but just the wrong intercession before God.
No intercession availeth with Him save for him whom He permitteth. Yet, when fear is banished from their hearts, they say: What was it that your Lord said? They say: The Truth. And He is the Sublime, the Great. 34:23

They will say: Be Thou Glorified. Thou (alone) art our Guardian, not them! Nay, but they worshipped the jinn; most of them were believers in them. 34:41

8. While the Meccans may know about the scripture of Jews and Christians the Qur'an is clear that they have not received a scripture directly themselves.
And We have given them no scriptures which they study, nor sent We unto them, before thee, any warner. 34:44

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sura 33 - The Clans

The title for this sura comes from the context of the sura which is clear, the battle of the Clans, also known as the Battle of the Trench.

Date, Context and Theme

The contents of this sura allow it to be dated to the famous Battle of Trench, 5-7th years of the Hijrah, a Medinan sura. This battle was initiated by the Meccans and some other tribes who wanted to defeat Muhammad once and for all. The Jewish tribe, Bani Qureyzah, broke their truce with Muhammad and supported these Arab tribes. They marched against Medinah and lay siege to it. But Muhammad had a trench dug on the side of attack and this halted their advance. After no progress for a month and difficult conditions, these tribes departed. Muhammad then marched on the towns of Jewish Bani Qureyzah and all their men were executed.

While this is the context of the sura it is not the main theme of the sura. The main theme is dealing with the complaints of “hypocritical” Muslims. There were two complaints. One had to do with questioning Muhammad’s advice about the situation under the siege, and the second was to do with Muhammad and the wives he was taking. Most of the sura deals with the issue of his wives and not the battle. The main theme is do not slander Muhammad but bless him instead.
O ye who believe! Be not as those who slandered Moses, but Allah proved his innocence of that which they alleged, and he was well esteemed in Allah's sight. 33:69

Lo! Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation. 33:56


vv. 1-3 Do not listen to the unbelievers and hypocrites but listen to Allah instead.

vv. 4-6 All adoptions are now cancelled.

Vv. 7-27. Reflections on the battle of the Clans or Trench. Allah gave victory but the hypocritical Muslims did not trust Muhammad but the true Muslims did.

Vv. 28-34, Muhammad’s wives must be careful how they live among the hypocrites. They will be punished if they sin, so speak carefully, stay inside and obey Muhammad.

Vv. 35-36, The true believers must live carefully among the hypocrites too and obey Muhammad.

Vv. 37-38, Now they adoptions are cancelled Allah has given Muhammad Zayd’s wife.

vv. 39-48 Who is Muhammad? Father of none, a warner, a summoner, announcing good tidings. Therefore, listen to Muhammad and not the hypocrites.

Vv. 49-52 Marriage: Consummation makes the marriage, Muhammad alone can take whoever he likes in marriage, his wives are not to remarry

v. 53, Do not annoy the prophet, he does not like it and is too shy to say so.

vv. 53-62, Behaviour of his wives, must not remarry, can talk to their male relatives, must talk from behind a screen, must dress. Must not give the hyprocites any excuse.

* Vv. 56-58 Bless Muhammad and lift him up in the presence of the hypocrites.

* Vv. 59, Muhammad’s wives must dress with dignity.

* vv. 60-62, If the hypocrites do not stop complaining then fight them.

Vv. 63-73 The Final Hour - The hypocrites will pay and the true believers be rewards

What I found interesting.

1. Disjointed?

I have often heard non-Muslim scholars say that the Qur’an is disjoined and jumps from one topic to another. Sura 33 appears to be such a sura as it talks to and fro about the battle and then Muhammad’s wives, but I do not agree with these scholars. I think each sura does have a unity and we just need to work out what it is. In this case it is the accusations of the “hypocritical” Muslims against Muhammad. They are complaining about the battle and his wives.
Lo! those who malign Allah and His messenger, Allah hath cursed them in the world and the Hereafter, and hath prepared for them the doom of the disdained. 33:56

2. Adoption and Zaynab

The opening verses of the sura announce that all adoptions are now cancelled.
Allah hath not assigned unto any man two hearts within his body, nor hath He made your wives whom ye declare (to be your mothers) your mothers, nor hath He made those whom ye claim (to be your sons) your sons. This is but a saying of your mouths. But Allah saith the truth and He showeth the way. 33:4

I can understand why Islam wants remove idolatry, theft, gambling, but why adoption? The context behind this is quite revealing.
One day the Messenger of God went out looking for Zayd (his adopted son). Now there was a covering of haircloth over the doorway, but the wind had lifted the covering so that the doorway was uncovered. Zaynab (Zayd’s wife) was in her chamber, undressed, and admiration for her entered the heart of the Prophet. (Al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, vol. viii, p. 4)

Here we see why adoption is forbidden in Islam. Muhammad saw his daughter-in-law undressed and “admiration for her entered” his heart. Zayd offers to give Zaynab to Muhammad but this is scandalous as Muhammad would be marrying his daughter-in-law. Muhammad then receives a message from God saying that all adoptions are canceled. He then receives another word saying that Allah has given him Zaynab.
... So when Zeyd had performed that necessary formality (of divorce) from her, We gave her unto thee in marriage, so that (henceforth) there may be no sin for believers in respect of wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have performed the necessary formality (of release) from them. The commandment of Allah must be fulfilled. 33:37

It seems that the practice of adoption is cancelled so that Muhammad can be righteous. That is, the law confirms to Muhammad.

3. The Privileged Prophet

In 33:50 there is a big list of all the women that Muhammad can take as a wife or slave. The list is very broad but it is clear that it is,
... a privilege for you (Muhammad) only, not for the (rest of) believers ... 33:50

33:51 then says that Muhammad does not have to share his time equally with wives but can visit for sex whichever wife he wishes. So here we see that Muhammad has sexual privileges that no other Muslim is allowed to have.
Narrated Aisha (Muhammad’s wife): ... I said (to the Prophet), "I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires." (Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 60, no. 311, Khan)

4. Do not annoy the prophet.
O Ye who believe! Enter not the dwellings of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time, unless permission be granted you. But if ye are invited, enter, and, when your meal is ended, then disperse. Linger not for conversation. Lo! that would cause annoyance to the Prophet, and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of the truth. And when ye ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. And it is not for you to cause annoyance to the messenger of Allah, nor that ye should ever marry his wives after him. Lo! that in Allah's sight would be an enormity. (Qur’an 33:53)

Muhammad did not like being annoyed.

These examples of “revelations” demand questions to be asked. It really seems to me that Muhammad received revelations that fulfilled his desires. Revelations that allowed him to take another man’s wife, to have sexual privileges and to not be annoyed. It seems to me that these words are from Muhammad not God.

5. Bless the prophet

Maybe the reason the “hypocritical” Muslims were complaining was that they were not convinced that a Muhammad should be so privileged. This sura makes it very clear that you are not to question Muhammad about any of this. He is the best example and you must bless him.
The Prophet is closer to the believers than their selves, and his wives are (as) their mothers. And the owners of kinship are closer one to another in the ordinance of Allah than (other) believers and the fugitives (who fled from Mecca), except that ye should do kindness to your friends. This is written in the Book (of nature). 33:6

Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example for him who looketh unto Allah and the Last Day, and remembereth Allah much. 33:21

And it becometh not a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His messenger have decided an affair (for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their affair; and whoso is rebellious to Allah and His messenger, he verily goeth astray in error manifest. 33:36

There is no reproach for the Prophet in that which Allah maketh his due. That was Allah's way with those who passed away of old - and the commandment of Allah is certain destiny - 33:38

Lo! Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O you who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation. 33:56

This last verse explains why Muslims say, “peace be upon him” whenever they mention Muhammad’s name. The problem I have is the context. If the context was just, bless Muhammad, that would be ok, but the context here is do not question Muhammad, instead bless him. Therefore saying “peace be upon him” is actually a method of stopping any examination of Muhammad.

When we consider all of these previous points we see that no one is allowed to question Muhammad or annoy him, and that he is allowed special sexual privileges. We must be honest here and not make excuses. No other prophet is given these types of privileges. This type of behaviour is normally associated today with a cult leader.

6. The True Believers and Hypocrites

As we have seen there was a lot in this sura about true and hypocritical Muslims. The hypocrites are reminded that they are under a covenant. This is a very important verse for understanding the concept of covenant in the Qur’an and for seeing how it compares to the Bible.
And when We exacted a covenant from the prophets, and from thee (O Muhammad) and from Noah and Abraham and Moses and Jesus son of Mary. We took from them a solemn covenant; 33:7

The true believers will be rewarded, the hypocrites punished.
There were the believers sorely tried, and shaken with a mighty shock. And when the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, were saying: Allah and His messenger promised us naught but delusion. 33:11-12

That Allah may reward the true men for their truth, and punish the hypocrites if He will, or relent toward them (if He will). Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. 33:24

On the day when their faces are turned over in the Fire, they say: Oh, would that we had obeyed Allah and had obeyed His messenger! 33:66

So Allah punisheth hypocritical men and hypocritical women, and idolatrous men and idolatrous women. But Allah pardoneth believing men and believing women, and Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. 33:73

Here is another verse that threatens war on the hypocrites.
If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and the alarmists in the city do not cease, We verily shall urge thee on against them, then they will be your neighbours in it but a little while. Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter. (33:60-61, 2:278-279, 9:73, 49:9)

It is important to realise that the Qur’an and Hadith actually command war on hypocrite Muslims. I say this because I keep hearing people say, “that person is not a Muslim because he attacked other Muslims”. This fails to engage with the many verses of the Qur’an which command such action. See The War on Muslims. It also raises the practical question of who are the "true" Muslims who have the duty to fight "hypocritical" Muslims? Who decides?

7. The seal of the prophets

This is the famous verse from which Muslims understand that Muhammad is the last prophet.
Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets; and Allah is ever Aware of all things. 33:40

In the Hadith literature, the “seal” is a literal seal or birthmark on Muhammad
Narrated As-Sa'ib:My aunt took me to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! My nephew is- ill." The Prophet touched my head with his hand and invoked Allah to bless me. He then performed ablution and I drank of the remaining water of his ablution and then stood behind his back and saw "Khatam An-Nubuwwa" (The Seal of Prophethood) between his shoulders like a button of a tent. (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 7, bk. 70, no. 574, Khan)

Abdullah b. Sarjis reported: ... I then went after him (Muhammad) and saw the Seal of Prophethood between his shoulders on the left side of his shoulder having spots on it like moles. (Sahih Muslim: bk. 30, no. 5793, Siddiqui)

8. The Sunnah

This verse is a key verse for the sunnah.
Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example for him who looketh unto Allah and the Last Day, and remembereth Allah much. 33:21

The Sunnah is the practices of Muhammad. Muslims are required to imitate him.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sura 32 - The Prostation

The title comes from verse 15 and seems to represent the ideal response to the sura.

Date, Context and Theme

It is a middle Meccan sura. The main theme seems is answering the objections of the Meccans who say that what Muhammad is saying is strange and doubtful.


v. 1, Mystery letters.

Vv. 2-3, Doubting the Qur’an and Muhammad. This is the issue the sura addresses.

Vv. 4-9, Allah is the one God who created all things. A declaration of tawheed. You should not doubt this.

Vv. 10-22, How can Allah recreate us when we are dead? Allah will and will bring you to judgement.

Vv. 23-26 You have seen a book before with Moses so be not surprised at the coming of the Qur’an..

Vv. 27-30 Allah will bring his judgement therefore wait for the victory.

What I found interesting.

1. This sura seems to answer this verse.
Or say they (the Meccans): He hath invented it? Nay, but it is the Truth from thy Lord, that thou mayst warn a folk to whom no warner came before thee, that haply they may walk aright. 32:3

There were three main evidences that were put forward for why the Qur’an and Muhammad are genuine.

a. Allah is the one God who rules over all. This is logically seen in the created order. Tawheed, one God, is the logical conclusion from creation.

b. The idea that Allah would send a book is not new. You already know this from Moses.
We verily gave Moses the Scripture; so be not ye in doubt of his receiving it; and We appointed it a guidance for the Children of Israel. 32:23

This assumes that the Meccans know about Moses.

c. Allah will resurrect to judgement. Look at the dry land and see how it goes from death to life.
Have they not seen how We lead the water to the barren land and therewith bring forth crops whereof their cattle eat, and they themselves? Will they not then see? 32:27

This is similar to Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:35-36.

2. God and Time
He directeth the ordinance from the heaven unto the earth; then it ascendeth unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a thousand years of that ye reckon. 32:5

This is similar to Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8.

3. The Creation Account.
Allah it is Who created the heavens and the earth, and that which is between them, in six Days. Then He mounted the Throne. Ye have not, beside Him, a protecting friend or mediator. Will ye not then remember? 32:4

At first I thought that this verse was saying the same thing as Genesis 1. But I do not think so now because in the Bible it never says God created the world in six days and finish there. It always refers to the seven days. There is work and then there is rest. A rest that we as the image of God share in.

This is just another example of how the Qur’an appears to be similar to the Bible yet lacks the content and details. For example the Qur’an mentions Abraham but there is no mention of covenant of circumcision. It has sacrifices but none for sin. It talks about the Spirit but there is no gift. It alludes to many of the Biblical stories yet has very few details. Most of the content and detail from the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms and the Gospel are missing.

4. The sura ends with promise of victory to the Muslims. Muhammad must have been preaching that he would rule and the Meccans did not seem to think that this would happen.
And they (the Meccans) say: When cometh this victory (of yours) if ye are truthful? Say (unto them): On the day of the victory the faith of those who disbelieve (and who then will believe) will not avail them, neither will they be reprieved. So withdraw from them (O Muhammad), and await (the event). Lo! they (also) are awaiting (it). 32:28-30

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sura 31 - Luqman

The name of this sura comes from v. 12. Luqman is recounted in this sura as a man of wisdom.

Date, Context and Theme

The scholars say that it could be a Meccan or Medinan sura so I am not sure. It felt like it was dealing with Meccan issues to me. The theme is wisdom. The Qur’an and Islamic worship are portrayed as the wise way to live.


v. 1, Mystery letters, Alif. Lam. Mim.

Vv. 2-3, the Qur’an is introduced as wisdom.

Vv. 4-11, Those who believe in the here-after will receive this guidance but the unbelievers turn away and will receive doom.

Vv. 12-34 The story of the wisdom of Luqman and it application to Muhammad’s situation.

* vv. 12-13 Luqman’s receives wisdom from God.

* Vv. 14-15 Luqman’s wisdom applied to Muhammad’s situation.

* vv. 16-20 Luqman’s conversation of wisdom to his son.

* Vv. 21-34 Luqman’s wisdom applied to Muhammad’s situation.

What I found interesting.

1. This sura was quite short and had an easy structure. My Muslim friends tell me that Luqman is a famous name in Islamic culture for wisdom. Lugman is not a person from the Christian and Jewish scriptures. Thus the Qur'an is not bound to the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

2. It is interesting to see that the word for Jihad is used of those (Meccans?) who are trying to turn the Muslims away from Allah.
But if they strive (jihad) with thee to make thee ascribe unto Me as partner that of which thou hast no knowledge, then obey them not. ... 31:15

3. We learn about what the pre-Islamic Meccans believe in these verses.
And if it be said unto them: Follow that which Allah hath revealed, they say: Nay, but we follow that wherein we found our fathers. What! Even though the devil were inviting them unto the doom of flame? 31:21

If thou shouldst ask them: Who created the heavens and the earth? they would answer: Allah. Say: Praise be to Allah! But most of them know not. 31:25

4. Some Muslims have said to me that John 21:25 is a bit ridiculous,
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. John 21:25

But there is a similar description in the Qur’an.
And if all the trees in the earth were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it, (were ink), the words of Allah could not be exhausted. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise. 31:27

5. I want to think more on this verse.
Your creation and your raising (from the dead) are only as (the creation and the raising of) a single soul. Lo! Allah is Hearer, Knower. 31:28

When it talks about creation and a “single soul” is that referring to Adam or is it describing the ease with which Allah creates and resurrects?

6. I thought that this verse beautifully preserves the ancient view that ships lead to discovery and wonder, in this case Allah's wonders. I think we do not view ships this way any more, though we may view space ships this way?
Hast thou not seen how the ships glide on the sea by Allah's grace, that He may show you of His wonders? Lo! therein indeed are portents for every steadfast, grateful (heart). 31:31

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sura 30 - The Romans

The title of this sura comes from v. 2 which speaks of the Roman (Byzantine) armies.

Date, Context and Theme

The Byzantine armies have just lost territory to the Persians. The Byzantines are considered monotheists at this stage and the theme is this sura is that the monotheists will win out in the end. It is a middle Meccan sura.
So have patience (O Muhammad)! Allah's promise is the very truth, and let not those who have no certainty make thee impatient. 30:60


v. 1, Mystery letters, ALM

vv. 2-4, The defeat and future victory of the Roman armies.

vv. 3- 16 Allah gives victory to those who believe, but most do not believe but follow false hopes.

Vv. 17-31, Therefore worship Allah. Consider his signs. Worship him alone.

Vv. 32-59, Persevere and know that the others are wrong.

v. 60, Conclusion related to vv. 2-4 but applied to Muhammad now.

What I found interesting.

1. The Romans

The reference to the Roman (Byzantine) defeat is mentioned and used as a lesson for Muhammad and his armies, vv. 2-4. The Romans are seen as fellow believers to the Muslims. It is predicted that they will win against the Persians again within 10 years.
Within ten years - Allah's is the command in the former case and in the latter - and in that day believers will rejoice 30:4

There are not many prophecies in the Qur’an but this is one of them. The Romans were victorious over the Persians and this prophecy is used by Muslims to show that the Qur’an is true.

It is interesting to note that at this early period the Romans are seen as monotheists and there victory something that will make the Muslims rejoice. This attitude changes dramatically by the end of Muhammad’s life where he instructs his followers to now conquer the Romans.
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! 9:29-30

This is a good example of abrogation and how the Qur’an not only revolves around Muhammad’s life but also evolves around his life.

2. Beautiful Repetition.

Verses 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 all begin with the phrase, “And of His signs ...”and then proceed to declare the natural signs of Allah. I found this memorable even in the translation so I am sure that it is beautiful in the original Arabic.
And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colours. Lo! herein indeed are portents for men of knowledge. 30:22

3. This seems to be another reference to worship being three times a day, not five.
So glory be to Allah when ye enter the night and when ye enter the morning - Unto Him be praise in the heavens and the earth! - and at the sun's decline and in the noonday. 30:17-18 (see 24:58, 11:116, 17:78-79, 20:130)

4. Fitra

This is the verse often used by Muslims to show that we are not corrupted by sin but are born pure and that the religion of Islam is the natural religion or Fitra. Fitra is an important doctrine in Islam.
So set thy purpose (O Muhammad) for religion as a man by nature upright - the nature (framed) of Allah, in which He hath created man. There is no altering (the laws of) Allah's creation. That is the right religion, but most men know not - Turning unto Him (only); and be careful of your duty unto Him and establish worship, and be not of those who ascribe partners (unto Him); 30:30-31

This idea is further developed in the Hadith literature.
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "No child is born but has the Islamic Faith, but its parents turn it into a Jew or a Christian. It is as you help the animals give birth. Do you find among their offspring a mutilated one before you mutilate them yourself?" The people said, "O Allah's Apostle! What do you think about those (of them) who die young?" The Prophet said, "Allah knows what they would have done (were they to live)." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 8, bk 77, no. 597, Khan)

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "Five practices are characteristics of the Fitra: circumcision, shaving the pubic region, clipping the nails and cutting the moustaches short." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 7, bk 72, no. 777, Khan)

5. Evidence from the Scriptures

I have often read verses like this one which ask for scriptural evidence for associating others with God.
Or have We revealed unto them any warrant which speaketh of that which they associate with Him? 30:35

Muslims would be critical of Christians at this point. However, Christians do have much scriptural evidence for how we understand Jesus: The doctrine of the image of God, the son of man and the son of God are teachings in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms and the Gospel.

But I would ask Muslims what evidence they have for kissing the black stone, including Muhammad in the Shahada, praying to him in the Salaat, relying on his intercession on the last day, having his tomb in a mosque and collecting his relics. Muhammad is associated with Allah at every point of Islamic practice. I am currently writing an article about this where I will provide all the references.

6. Beautiful Description

I found the phrase, “the prints of Allah's mercy” to be a moving description of how to think about the signs of God in creation.
Look, therefore, at the prints of Allah's mercy (in creation): how He quickeneth the earth after her death. Lo! He verily is the Quickener of the Dead, and He is Able to do all things. 30:50

7. The issue of Muhammad not providing a miracle is still a matter that is being addressed.
Verily We have coined for mankind in this Qur'an all kinds of similitudes; and indeed if thou camest unto them with a miracle, those who disbelieve would verily exclaim: Ye are but tricksters! 30:58

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sura 29 - The Spider

The title for this sura comes from v. 41 where a spider’s web is used to illustrate the lack of security of those who reject Muhammad.

Date, Context and Theme

This is a Meccan sura and the main theme is the testing the God brings on those who worship him.
Lo! We tested those who were before you. Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere, and knoweth those who feign. 29:3

It is a call to stand firm and remember the example of those who opposed God in the past and were destroyed in the end.


v. 1, Mystery letters: ALM

vv. 2-4, All are tested.

Vv. 5-13, Living with the coming judgement in mind.

Vv. 14-15 Noah preached and was patient and waited then the flood came.

Vv. 16-35 Abraham and Lot. Abraham preached and was patient and waited. Lot believed and warned his own people. Their people were judged and are a sign today.

vv. 36-37 Shu'eyb warned his people and an earthquake came.

v. 38, A'ad and Thamud were warned and then his people were destroyed.

Vv. 39-40 Korah, Pharaoh and Haman were all warned and destroyed.

Vv. 41-44, Summary. Those who worship other than Allah have only a spider’s web for defence.

Vv. 45-69 Continue to practice Islam. Various issues dealt with regarding Christians and Jews and the objections of the Meccans. God’s judgement day with come.

What I found interesting.

1. Jihad.

Here are two verses were the word Jihad (striveth) is used and in each case they are not referring to warfare.
And whosoever striveth, striveth only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether Independent of (His) creatures. 29:6

As for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good. 29:69

This clearly shows that Jihad is a bigger concept than just warfare, but it does include warfare.

2. Bearing the sins of others.
But they verily will bear their own loads and other loads beside their own, and they verily will be questioned on the Day of Resurrection concerning that which they invented. 29:13

That they may bear their loads complete on the Day of Resurrection, and some of the loads of those that they lead astray without any knowledge. 16:25 Arberry

Narrated Ibn Abbas: A man came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! My mother died and she ought to have fasted one month (for her missed Ramadan). Shall I fast on her behalf?" The Prophet replied in the affirmative and said, "Allah's debts have more right to be paid." ... (Sahih al-Bukhuri: vol. 3, bk. 31, no. 174, Khan)

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: A woman from the tribe of Juhaina came to the Prophet and said, "My mother had vowed to perform Hajj but she died before performing it. May I perform Hajj on my mother's behalf?" The Prophet replied, "Perform Hajj on her behalf. Had there been a debt on your mother, would you have paid it or not? So, pay Allah's debt as He has more right to be paid." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 3, bk. 29, no. 77, Khan)

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The mother of Sad bin 'Ubada died in his absence. He said, "O Allah's Apostle! My mother died in my absence; will it be of any benefit for her if I give Sadaqa on her behalf?" The Prophet said, "Yes," Sad said, "I make you a witness that I gave my garden called Al Makhraf in charity on her behalf." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 4, bk. 51, no. 19, Khan)

These references show that others can bear your load. The Islamic opposition to Jesus being unable to pay our debt could be challenged by these references.

3. Justice

Again we see that Allah’s justice will favour Muslims on judgement day.
And as for those who believe and do good works, We shall remit from them their evil deeds and shall repay them the best that they did. 29:7

4. Details.

In previous posts I have noted that the Qur’an normally does not contain the details of the events it records, however, on this occasion there was quite specific details about the age of Noah and this actually agrees with the Bible (Genesis 9:29).
And verily we sent Noah (as Our messenger) unto his folk, and he continued with them for a thousand years save fifty years; and the flood engulfed them, for they were wrong-doers. 29:14

5. Abraham and Prophethood
And We bestowed on him Isaac and Jacob, and We established the prophethood and the Scripture among his seed, and We gave him his reward in the world, and lo! in the Hereafter he verily is among the righteous. 29:27

6. Muslims are to believe all the previous scripture.
And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender. 29:46

In like manner We have revealed unto thee the Scripture, and those unto whom We gave the Scripture aforetime will believe therein; and of these (also) there are some who believe therein. And none deny Our revelations save the disbelievers. 29:47

7. Muhammad’s Literacy

Often Muslim writers will appeal to 7:157 to show that Muhammad was illiterate, however this verse seems to do a better job at explaining Muhammad’s relation to the previous scripture.
And thou (O Muhammad) wast not a reader of any scripture before it, nor didst thou write it with thy right hand, for then might those have doubted, who follow falsehood. 29:48

8. Still No Sign
And they say: Why are not portents sent down upon him from his Lord? Say: Portents are with Allah only, and I am but a plain warner. Is it not enough for them that We have sent down unto thee the Scripture which is read unto them? Lo! herein verily is mercy, and a reminder for folk who believe. 29:50-51

9. The Meccans and the Creator.

It seems that the Meccans did know that Allah was the creator.
And if thou wert to ask them: Who created the heavens and the earth, and constrained the sun and the moon (to their appointed work)? they would say: Allah. How then are they turned away? 29:61

And if thou wert to ask them: Who causeth water to come down from the sky, and therewith reviveth the earth after its death? they verily would say: Allah. Say: Praise be to Allah! But most of them have no sense. 29:63

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sura 28 - The Story

The title of the sura comes from v. 25 where “the story” of Moses is told. My choice for a title would be, “A Prophet like Moses”.

Date, Context and Theme

This is a late Meccan surah through some scholars say that vv. 52-55 are Medinan. The theme is similar to show that Muhammad is a prophet like Moses.


vv. 1-2, The mystery letters are present. The Qur’an is described as a scripture that makes plain the truth of the situation

vv. 3- 43 The story of Moses

* vv. 3-13, Beginning with Pharaoh and Haman killing the baby boys.
* vv. 14-21 Moses kills the man who is oppressing another.
* vv. 22-28 Moses flees to Midan and gets a wife.
* vv. 29-35 Moses and the burning bush.
* vv. 36-38 Moses before Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks Haman to build a tower to see Moses’ god.
* vv. 39-42 Pharaoh and Haman killed as a sign
* v . 43 Moses given the scriptures.

Vv. 44-51 Muhammad and Moses. Muhammad was not in the time of Moses but is now for the Meccans. God raises up a prophet for every nation.

vv. 52-56 The Christians and Jews accept Muhammad.

vv. 57-59 If we (Meccans) accept you we will lose our town and power. No you wont.

Vv. 60-75 The comfort of this world (Mecca) is nothing at the resurrection and judgement.
* vv. 76-82 The example of Korah and comfort.

Vv. 83-88 Do good works. Stay with the Qur’an and you will return to Allah.

What I found interesting.

1. The sura has a simple structure and its main point is to compare Muhammad to Moses. Just as Moses was rejected, but in the end triumphant, so to will Muhammad be. Many objections and concerns of the Meccans are addressed and given assurances. There is also much teaching on the role of prophets and the judgement of nations. I found it easy to remember the main points of the sura.

2. The story of Moses is told fairly well, though, again surprising details are left out. For instance we are never told that it is the Israelites who are being delivered; they are just be a “tribe”.
Lo! Pharaoh exalted himself in the earth and made its people castes. A tribe among them he oppressed, killing their sons and sparing their women. Lo! he was of those who work corruption. 28:4

3. Moses and Muhammad. One of the problems of comparing Moses to Muhammad is that Muhammad did not do any mircles (according to the Qur’an). Therefore when this comparison is made it raises this obvious question. The answer is given in this verse.
But when there came unto them the Truth from Our presence, they said: Why is he not given the like of what was given unto Moses? Did they not disbelieve in that which was given unto Moses of old? They say: Two magics that support each other; and they say: Lo! in both we are disbelievers. 28:48

4. Haman

I found it very strange to read about Haman (from the book of Esther) working with Pharaoh to persecute the Israelites. Haman seems to build the tower of Babel (Genesis 11).
And Pharaoh said: O chiefs! I know not that ye have a god other than me, so kindle for me (a fire), O Haman, to bake the mud; and set up for me a lofty tower in order that I may survey the God of Moses; and lo! I deem him of the liars. 28:38

And Haman seems to have died in the red sea exodus event.
Therefor We seized him and his hosts, and abandoned them unto the sea. Behold the nature of the consequence for evil-doers! 28:40

We have seen this type of confusion before with Mary (Mariam) the mother of Jesus being the sister of Aaron (19:28) and the daughter of Imran (3:35ff) and with the Samaritan being present at Mt Sinai with Moses (20:85).

The are many Muslim leaders who say there is evidence for Haman in Egypt at the time of Pharaoh that this has been exposed as a hoax.

5. Korah.

Korah was from the time of Moses. In the Law of Moses, Korah leads a rebellion against Moses (Numbers 16). But in the Qur’an is a rich man who loves the wealth of this world and is filled with pride and oppresses others.
Now Korah was of Moses' folk, but he oppressed them; and We gave him so much treasure that the stores thereof would verily have been a burden for a troop of mighty men. When his own folk said unto him: Exult not; lo! Allah loveth not the exultant; 28:76

Then went he forth before his people in his pomp. Those who were desirous of the life of the world said: Ah, would that we had the like of what hath been given unto Korah! Lo! he is lord of rare good fortune. 28:79

6. Produce a sura like it - the challenge. There is a challenge that Muslims often put to others. It is to produce something like the Qur’an. This is meant to be proof that the Qur’an is from God (2:23-24, 10:38, 11:13, 17:88, 52:33-34). However as sura 28 is a comparison to Moses it seems that this challenge is also issued to the Torah of Moses.
Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Then bring a scripture from the presence of Allah that giveth clearer guidance than these two (that) I may follow it, if ye are truthful. 28:49

I will need to remember this the next time the challenge is presented.

7. Part of the proof that the Qur’an is from God is that Christians have accepted it.
Those unto whom We gave the Scripture before it, they believe in it, 28:52

I am sure that Muslims would see these as the true Christians.

8. There was a very interesting discussion about how each nation has there own prophet and that God will not judge a nation until it has had a chance to hear.
And We shall take out from every nation a witness and We shall say: Bring your proof. Then they will know that Allah hath the Truth, and all that they invented will have failed them. 28:75

9. The doctrine of tawheed as usual was prominent. I thought that this verse was a good example of its significance to Islam.
And He is Allah; there is no God save Him. His is all praise in the former and the latter (state), and His is the command, and unto Him ye will be brought back. 28:70

10. Allah’s Judgement. Again we see that Allah will show a favourable judgement to those who worship him alone.
Whoso bringeth a good deed, he will have better than the same; while as for him who bringeth an ill-deed, those who do ill-deeds will be requited only what they did. 28:84

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sura 27 - The Ants

The title comes from v. 18 in which an ant speaks to Solomon.

Date, Context and Theme

This is a Meccan sura that again deals with the Meccan rejection of Muhammad. Muhammad is compared to the earlier prophets.



vv. 1-6 Introduces what the Qur’an is and how there are two types of people, those who believe in the hereafter and those who do not.


Vv. 7-14 Moses spoke with God, presence of God, signs, rejection, victory.

vv. 15-44 Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

vv. 45-53 Salih and the people of Thamud

vv. 54-58 Lot

Conclusion and Application

vv. 59-93 Directed at Muhammad, the Muslims, the Meccans, the Jews, believers. Deals with shirk, the resurrection, and that the time will come for judgement though we will have to wait.

What I found interesting.

1. This sura was similar to the previous one in that it had many examples from the stories of the prophets. The difference here though was that each story had a different point whereas in Sura 26 each story had the same point.

I found the stories memorable and am sure that they are well known in Islamic culture. Each story of the prophets again seems to reflect the situation of Muhammad’s life.

Muhammad is like Moses in that Moses experienced the presence of God (v. 9) and the Qur’an that Muhammad speaks is from the presence of God (v. 6). Moses gave signs, was rejected but had victory.

Muhammad is like Solomon in that Solomon called the rich polytheist (the Queen of Sheba) to worship one God and Muhammad is calling the Meccans. Solomon had the army of God which had humans, geniis and animals so too Muhammad heads the army of God.

Muhammad is like Salih who called his people to repent but they plotted (compare v. 50 to v. 70) against him. In the end Salih’s opponents were destroyed.

Muhammad is like Lot who tried to call his people to their senses and away from such obvious corruption. In the end Lot’s opponents were destroyed.

There are more connections than what I have listed here but this seems to be how the stories function. Again, Muhammad is the key to understanding the Qur’an.

2. Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The story in the Quran is very different to what is found in the Bible but it is very similar to what is found in the 2 Targum of Esther.

* Solomon is the heir of David
* He is given knowledge to talk to animals.
* He has an army of birds, genies and men.
* A bird tells him about the Queen of Sheba.
* Solomon sends her a letter. She sends him a gift. Solomon threatens to send his army against her.
* While the queen is on her way a genii brings her throne to Solomon.
* The queen arrives, sees the throne and becomes a Muslim.

This story of Solomon is not just different to what is found in the Bible but it is an example of how the historical Solomon has moved into myth and fable. In 1 Kings 4 we read about Solomon’s wisdom.
God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite--wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29-34, NIV)

Notice how Solomon teaches about plants and animals in what seems to be a type of botany and zoology. However in the Qur’an, it is not science that Solomon does, instead he talks to animals and genies. This is a traceable movement from history to myth.

It is true that the Bible has talking animals too (Genesis 3, Numbers 22). I am not denying that God can miraculously make an animal speak. However, while the Bible contains such accounts it also warns us to be careful of myths that develop.
... pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. (Titus 1:14, NIV)

I believe in a miraculous working God and I also believe that there are false myths. How do we discern the difference? It seems to me that the only option is that when we have evidence to consider we must consider it. The example of Solomon seems to provide clear evidence of the type of myth that Paul said to avoid.

Finally, in the Bible, Solomon’s wisdom is offered for all to learn through his book of Proverbs. This is not the case in the Qur’an though I have heard of Islamic leaders trying to control genies.

3. Lot’s Wife. In the previous sura we read,
So We saved him (Lot) and his household, every one, save an old woman among those who stayed behind. 26:170-170

While in this sura we read,
Then We saved him and his household save his wife; We destined her to be of those who stayed behind. 27:57

Is it fair to suggest that Muhammad has learned more details about the story of Lot?

4. Justice and Salvation. Again we see that God the judge will give a favourable even biased judgement to Muslims.
Whoso bringeth a good deed will have better than its worth; and such are safe from fear that Day. And whoso bringeth an ill-deed, such will be flung down on their faces in the Fire. Are ye rewarded aught save what ye did? 27:89-90

Whoso bringeth a good deed will receive tenfold the like thereof, while whoso bringeth an ill-deed will be awarded but the like thereof; and they will not be wronged. 6:160

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sura 26 - The Poets

This sura is named after v. 224 which refers to the poets of Mecca who seem to be the orators that the Meccans are listening to instead of Muhammad.

Date, Context and Theme

This is a middle Meccan sura. Muhammad does not control Mecca yet and the Meccas are still asking for a sign that he is a prophet. Muhammad himself cannot provide one but this sura speaks of the signs that are available for the Meccans to consider.



vv. 1-6, The Meccans are rejecting Muhammad. They are asking for a sign but will not believe even if one was given to them. They will face Allah’s wrath. While Muhammad may not have a sign Allah does give signs though.

The Signs of Allah

Vv. 7-9 Creation is a sign of Allah. Look at the way fruit grows.

vv. 10-68 The sign of Moses. The story of Moses before Pharaoh to the crossing of the sea.

Vv. 69-104 The sign of Abraham. It is logical to serve one god and not idols.

vv. 105-122 The sing of Noah.

vv. 123-140, The sign of Hud.

vv. 141-159 The sign of Salih and the camel.

vv. 160- The sign of Lot and human perversion.

vv. 176, The sign of Shu'eyb and bad business dealing.


vv. 192-227, Muhammad and the Qur’an are like the earlier prophets in the earlier scriptures.

What I found interesting.

1. Structure

This sura has a similar structure to sura 7 and 11 with the same prophets being referred to.

The sura is highly repetitive. When each prophet is referred to the follow points are said about them.

* They were asked for a sign.
* They wanted no wage for their preaching.
* They called on the people to obey them.
* They were rejected for various reasons
* The people were judged by Allah.
* The prophet was a sign from God.

Each section ends with these verses,
Lo! herein is indeed a portent; yet most of them are not believers. And lo! thy Lord! He is indeed the Mighty, the Merciful. 26:190-191

2. Assumed Knowledge. The retelling of these stories was often brief and with few details. This seems to indicate that the story was already known to some degree. This particularly seems to be the case in view of the reference to the Jewish scripture.
And lo! it is in the Scriptures of the men of old. Is it not a token for them that the doctors of the Children of Israel know it? 26:196-197

Again this shows how knowing the Bible aids a reader of the Qur’an.

3. Additions to the Biblical Accounts. The stories of the prophets in this sura have additional features. For instance, when Moses gives a sign in Pharaoh’s court, Pharaoh’s magicians become Muslims with a fully developed Islamic theology.
And the wizards were flung prostrate, Crying: We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, The Lord of Moses and Aaron. (Pharaoh) said: Ye put your faith in him before I give you leave. Lo! he doubtless is your chief who taught you magic! But verily ye shall come to know. Verily I will cut off your hands and your feet alternately, and verily I will crucify you every one. They said: It is no hurt, for lo! unto our Lord we shall return. Lo! we ardently hope that our Lord will forgive us our sins because we are the first of the believers. 26:46-51

This addition though is not unique to the Qur’an. Similar court conversion stories can be found in early hagiography like the account of Saint Katrina.

4. Abraham and Logic. Abraham is again seen as the prophet of logic and no doubt this convinces Muslims that any religion must be logical.
When he said unto his father and his folk: What worship ye? They said: We worship idols, and are ever devoted unto them. He said: Do they hear you when ye cry? Or do they benefit or harm you? They said: Nay, but we found our fathers acting on this wise. 26:70-74

5. The Use of the Prophets. Again we see that the way the stories are told about the prophets reflects what is happening in Muhammad’s life. Issues like the demand for a sign, that his followers are from the poorer people, that people think he is mad, etc., are all current issues for Muhammad. Thus reading these stories actually tells us a lot about Muhammad and his issues even though they are talking about an earlier prophet.

In fact sometimes the details of the early prophets are unimportant compared to Muhammad. Thus when Lot flees Sodom it is not his wife who is left behind but simply and "old woman" 26:171.

The way that Jesus retells the stories of the prophets is similar and different to Muhammad. Jesus, in the gospels, does sometimes retell the stories of the prophets and apply them to himself, but he gets the facts right.

6. Life in the Grave. There were several references to people in the grave crying out for a second chance but not being giving it.
Then will they be hurled therein, they and the seducers And the hosts of Iblis, together. And they will say, when they are quarrelling therein: By Allah, of a truth we were in error manifest When we made you equal with the Lord of the Worlds. It was but the guilty who misled us. Now we have no intercessors Nor any loving friend. Oh, that we had another turn (on earth), that we might be of the believers! 26:94-102

7. Medinan Verses. Islamic scholars say that the last verse is from the Medinan period and has been added on to the sura.
Save those who believe and do good works, and remember Allah much, and vindicate themselves after they have been wronged. Those who do wrong will come to know by what a (great) reverse they will be overturned! 26:227

Certainly the verse acts like a concluding prayer and so have been added on, but it also does contain the themes of the sura and could be an original ending.