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