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.


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  9. "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."

    There is no point in critisizing the Bible when we see those types of inconsistencies, since the Bible- even if it's inspired by God or the Holy Spirit according to Christians- was written by human hands; and errors are unavoidable in any human product. But the Quran, on the other hand, is the verbatim word of God; and no amount of inconsistency or contradiction, be it slight or major, should be found within.
    As God himself said in the Quran:

    "Then do they not reflect upon the Qur'an? If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction." [4:82]

    Concerning the issue of Noah's son, you should refer back to surah [11:46] where Allah (swt) said:

    "O Noah, indeed he is not of your family; indeed, he is [one whose] work was other than righteous, so ask Me not for that about which you have no knowledge. Indeed, I advise you, lest you be among the ignorant."

    In other words, he ceased to be a part of his family the moment he decided to reject the relegion. You can see this concept in other parts of the Quran too. For example in Shuaib's story:

    P.s: By going through your blog, I noticed that you are reading the Quran in a very shallow and superficial way. You're raising lots of issues and questions which can be solved by just putting a bit more effort into reading the text and pondering it with an open mind! I don't know why you stopped blogging but I advice you, for your sake and your readers' sake, to start reading the Quran from the begining again; this time with more contemplation.


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