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