142. The fools among the people will say: "What hath turned them from the Qibla to which they were used?" Say: To Allah belong both east and West: He guideth whom He will to a Way that is straight.The Qibla is the direction in which Muslims pray, which today is toward the Kaaba in Mecca. The passage refers to the fact the prophet Muhammad used to pray toward Jerusalem, but received revelation while in Medina that the Kaaba was the correct Qibla, which angered the Jews of Medina.
143. Thus, have We made of you an Ummat justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves; and We appointed the Qibla to which thou wast used, only to test those who followed the Messenger from those who would turn on their heels (From the Faith). Indeed it was (A change) momentous, except to those guided by Allah. And never would Allah Make your faith of no effect. For Allah is to all people Most surely full of kindness, Most Merciful.
Ummat means community in Arabic. Thus verse 143 is saying that the Muslim community should be balanced. According to M. Asad:
a community that keeps an equitable balance between extremes and is realistic in its appreciation of man's nature and possibilities, rejecting both licentiousness and exaggerated asceticism. In tune with its oft-repeated call to moderation in every aspect of life, the Qur'an exhorts the believers not to place too great an emphasis on the physical and material aspects of their lives, but postulates, at the same time, that man's urges and desires relating to this "life of the flesh" are God-willed and, therefore, legitimate.That's a sentiment I can get behind, and it seems to contradict extremist interpretations of Islam. Of course this is just one verse; holy books are known for containing contradictory information and precepts. I'll have to read on, to see how this advice plays out through the rest of the Qur'an.
It's also possible that Asad's interpretation is incorrect. M.M. Ali translates the beginning of verse 143 as "We have made you an exalted nation", although his commentary does mention "the middle part of everything," and "one not inclining to either extreme." Given that three different translations/commentaries agree, I'm willing to accept this is an anti-extremism sentiment. Hopefully this type of message continues.
145. Even if thou wert to bring to the people of the Book all the Signs (together), they would not follow Thy Qibla; nor art thou going to follow their Qibla; nor indeed will they follow each other's Qibla. If thou after the knowledge hath reached thee, Wert to follow their (vain) desires,-then wert thou Indeed (clearly) in the wrong.
146. The people of the Book know this as they know their own sons; but some of them conceal the truth which they themselves know.Here, verse 145 seems to condone close-mindedness, perhaps again saying that God has made us the way we are, and we cannot change. If God already knows that non-Muslims will not follow the Muslim way, and Muslims will not consider other paths, then how are any of us responsible for our religious beliefs? Then the last sentence of verse 145 says it would be wrong for a Muslim were to follow another (vain) religious teaching, even though it was already said that a Muslim would not do that. Similarly, verse 146 seems to give non-Muslims knowledge of their transgressions.
I noticed similar themes when I read the Bible. It seems to be inconsistent with respect to free will. God hardens peoples hearts, but also punishes them for it. If God is the one doing it, how could one be blameworthy for that? And if that person were going to reject God anyway, why does God have to intervene at all?
According to M. Asad, verse 148 refers to "the various religious communities and their different modes of 'turning towards God' in worship." It seems like a message of tolerance, but that has to be balanced with what's already been said about the Jews (idol worship, covenant breaking, etc.), and other people of the book.
147. The Truth is from thy Lord; so be not at all in doubt.
148. To each is a goal to which Allah turns him; then strive together (as in a race) Towards all that is good. Wheresoever ye are, Allah will bring you Together. For Allah Hath power over all things.
Verses 155-157 contain the classic explanation of why bad things happen to good people. Nothing new here.
155. Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere,
156. Who say, when afflicted with calamity: "To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return":-
157. They are those on whom (Descend) blessings from Allah, and Mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance.
158. Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of Allah. So if those who visit the House in the Season or at other times, should compass them round, it is no sin in them. And if any one obeyeth his own impulse to good,- be sure that Allah is He Who recogniseth and knoweth.Now we get to repentance, which seems similar to Catholicism and other versions of Christianity I'm familiar with. What's always bothered me about this is that every religion does it the same way: God will forgive you if you repent and make amends, but only while you're alive. But death, according to these religions, isn't really death. So why does physical death mean that God can no longer forgive your transgressions? It's seems arbitrary, if you really believe in eternal life. I understand the idea of making amends while your alive as an atheist, because all we have is this life, there's no other chance. But for God to torture people while they are still capable of repenting seems cruel, not merciful.
159. Those who conceal the clear (Signs) We have sent down, and the Guidance, after We have made it clear for the people in the Book,-on them shall be Allah.s curse, and the curse of those entitled to curse,-
160. Except those who repent and make amends and openly declare (the Truth): To them I turn; for I am Oft-returning, Most Merciful.
161. Those who reject Faith, and die rejecting,- on them is Allah.s curse, and the curse of angels, and of all mankind;
162. They will abide therein: Their penalty will not be lightened, nor will respite be their (lot).
164. Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which Allah Sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which they Trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth;- (Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise.Here's the first explicit explanation of what these Signs (proof) of God's existence are, and I'm not surprised that all of these no longer require a supernatural explanation. The Big Bang, heliocentric solar system, evolution by natural selection, and meteorology are better explanations for these phenomena.* Of course I wouldn't expect a book from the 7th century to mention any of these things, unless, of course, it were written (at least indirectly) by an all-knowing supernatural agency. Perhaps more justification will come later, but so far I'm not impressed.
165. Yet there are men who take (for worship) others besides Allah, as equal (with Allah): They love them as they should love Allah. But those of Faith are overflowing in their love for Allah. If only the unrighteous could see, behold, they would see the penalty: that to Allah belongs all power, and Allah will strongly enforce the penalty.More of the "If only non-believers would believe, then they would see that they should believe" argument. This is question-begging 101. This time, they're saying that if they knew the penalty for not believing, then they would believe. This isn't an argument, its just a scare tactic. The message isn't convincing in and of itself, so they resort to making the alternative too scary to consider.
166. Then would those who are followed clear themselves of those who follow (them) : They would see the penalty, and all relations between them would be cut off.
167. And those who followed would say: "If only We had one more chance, We would clear ourselves of them, as they have cleared themselves of us." Thus will Allah show them (The fruits of) their deeds as (nothing but) regrets. Nor will there be a way for them out of the Fire.
Let me make it clear to religious folk, in case anyone is unaware. The majority of atheists (myself included) are very much aware of what awaits us if you're right and we're wrong. I know that I took a long look at the evidence, because if I'm wrong, it could be a miserable eternity for me. The fact is, we find it so unlikely that you're right, based on evidence, that the risk is negligible.** I think that's the reason hell is depicted as being so unpleasant. The unpleasantness has to counteract the fact that its ridiculously unlikely that a good God would create such a place. If it were more believable, hell would only have to be mildly unpleasant to convince people to follow the rules (especially given how great paradise is supposed to be).
168. O ye people! Eat of what is on earth, Lawful and good; and do not follow the footsteps of the evil one, for he is to you an avowed enemy.I'm torn on verses 168-171. On one hand, I agree that we all have certain temptations that need to be controlled (I'm not a hedonist). Moderation, patience and discipline are good qualities to pursue and practice, and the forces against those things are often depicted as demons (or an evil one) in ancient writings.*** On the other hand, these verses suggest that these demons primarily come from other people, such as peer pressure. I think this is wrong, temptation is from within, and blaming others just shifts the responsibility. Not only that, it is used to justify horrific acts against others (even if the majority of adherents don't agree with their justification). For instance, verses 174-176 give us an easy scapegoat:
169. For he commands you what is evil and shameful, and that ye should say of Allah that of which ye have no knowledge.
170. When it is said to them: "Follow what Allah hath revealed:" They say: "Nay! we shall follow the ways of our fathers." What! even though their fathers Were void of wisdom and guidance?
171. The parable of those who reject Faith is as if one were to shout Like a goat-herd, to things that listen to nothing but calls and cries: Deaf, dumb, and blind, they are void of wisdom.
174. Those who conceal Allah's revelations in the Book, and purchase for them a miserable profit,- they swallow into themselves naught but Fire; Allah will not address them on the Day of Resurrection. Nor purify them: Grievous will be their penalty.This could apply to anyone who do not believe scripture, or who argue about the meaning of scripture (i.e., don't agree with you).
175. They are the ones who buy Error in place of Guidance and Torment in place of Forgiveness. Ah! what boldness (They show) for the Fire!
176. (Their doom is) because Allah sent down the Book in truth but those who seek causes of dispute in the Book are in a schism Far (from the purpose).
The next several verses describe the laws prescribed by God, similar to the laws of the Old Testament. Some are good (charity), some are arbitrary (fasting), and some are brutal, as in verse 190-193:
190. Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.M. Asad suggests that these verses mean that only self defense is a justification for war. However, in verse 191 it says "tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter." M. Asad defines "oppression" as "any affliction which may cause man to go astray and to lose his faith in spiritual values." In other words, anything that causes a person to not value spiritual things is worse than slaughter. To me, that suggests that either Asad is wrong, or the Qur'an is inconsistent here. If oppression really is worse than slaughter, it would be better to start war with those who oppress Muslims than to allow oppression to continue. And by this definition of oppression, someone who argues against Islam as the truth could be considered oppressors. While it may be the case that Muhammad wanted violence to be a last resort, his other argument that oppression is worse than violence means that would be an unreasonable expectation, if Asad's interpretation and translation (which is similar enough to Yusuf Ali's) are both correct.
191. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.
192. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
193. And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah. but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.
Verses 196-203 describes the pilgrimage (Hajj or Umra) Muslims are required to make to Mecca once a year. Nothing that interesting for me here.
204. There is the type of man whose speech about this world's life May dazzle thee, and he calls Allah to witness about what is in his heart; yet is he the most contentious of enemies.This seems to be a warning about charlatans who will use the name of Allah and dazzle you with words to sell you nonsense. I don't think anyone using the name of Allah is selling anything legitimate, including the authors of this book. Unless we start to see some real evidence presented, the Qur'an appears to also be simply dazzling us with words and promises that this is what God wants. It is good to be cautious when dealing with these types of people, and perhaps some will take this advice.
205. When he turns his back, His aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But Allah loveth not mischief.
206. When it is said to him, "Fear Allah., He is led by arrogance to (more) crime. Enough for him is Hell - An evil bed indeed (To lie on)!
210. Will they wait until Allah comes to them in canopies of clouds, with angels (in His train) and the question is (thus) settled? but to Allah do all questions go back (for decision).Again, more scare tactics, without evidence to back them up. I'm not (nor are most atheists I have met) asking for God to come down on a cloud, but I'm not going to believe in an of this based on faith alone. We need evidence. It mentions the signs given to the Children of Israel, but nothing specific. I've read the Bible already, and nothing was convincing there.
211. Ask the Children of Israel how many clear (Signs) We have sent them. But if any one, after Allah's favour has come to him, substitutes (something else), Allah is strict in punishment.
212. The life of this world is alluring to those who reject faith, and they scoff at those who believe. But the righteous will be above them on the Day of Resurrection; for Allah bestows His abundance without measure on whom He will.
It is most certainly true that "the life of this world is alluring." The world is an amazing place, and the fact that those of us who were lucky enough to be born are here to see it, even if for a brief moment, is a precious gift. Why we squander it by diminishing this life in pursuit of another that seems very unlikely to exists is beyond me.
216. Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.M. Asad recommends that verse 216 has to be balanced by verses 190-193. As I said earlier, I'm not sure that Asad's interpretation really makes fighting as forbidden as he suggests, if you think about what 190-193 says (at least according to Asad). Verse 217 also says "Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can," which suggests that many are trying to convert you from your faith, and they will always fight you. It seems to leave a lot of wiggle room for justifying violence via oppression, as defined by M. Asad.****
217. They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: "Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members." Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein.
Verse 220 promotes helping orphans, which is great. But then we get to some misogyny in verses 221-223:
221. Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe: A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise.It mostly presents women as property ("Your wifes are a tilth unto you"), and presents their "monthly course" (i.e., menstration) as pollution. Verse 226-237 also discusses the rules for divorcing wives. While most of the rules do urge men to treat women fairly, it still presents men as the controllers of the relationships. For instance, see verse 228:
222. They ask thee concerning women's courses. Say: They are a hurt and a pollution: So keep away from women in their courses, and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves, ye may approach them in any manner, time, or place ordained for you by Allah. For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.
223. Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah. And know that ye are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give (these) good tidings to those who believe.
228. Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah Hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (emphasis mine)It's no surprise we see such primitive views, given the Qur'an was written during the 7th century. But again, an omnipotent being should know better. This is very similar to the sentiments presented in the Bible.
The rest of this Juz' attempts, once again, to provide evidence (the Signs) for Allah's power (and thus his existence).
242. Thus doth Allah Make clear His Signs to you: In order that ye may understand.I'm not sure who the Qur'an is referring to in verse 243 specifically (neither is M. Asad in his commentary). It seems to be saying that these people (perhaps Muslims in general, or some specific group), are willing to fight and die for their God. This isn't convincing, if that's what's being said here. Plenty of people have fought and died for an idea that turns out to be false. Just because they are convinced God exists and wants them to lay their lives down for their religion does make it true. It just makes the message and/or messenger convincing.
243. Didst thou not Turn by vision to those who abandoned their homes, though they were thousands (In number), for fear of death? Allah said to them: "Die": Then He restored them to life. For Allah is full of bounty to mankind, but Most of them are ungrateful.
244. Then fight in the cause of Allah, and know that Allah Heareth and knoweth all things.Again, another verse which seems to promote violence to protect Islam. What constitutes protection depends on your interpretation of earlier verses (as I talked about earlier).
245. Who is he that will loan to Allah a beautiful loan, which Allah will double unto his credit and multiply many times? It is Allah that giveth (you) Want or plenty, and to Him shall be your return.There's no evidence that people who believe in and trust God are more likely to be prosperous than those who don't. Most evidence today suggests that education promotes prosperity, not religion. And more education is correlated with less religiosity. That of course does not mean that religion causes less prosperity, but it does show that religion does not guarantee, or even promote, prosperity.
246. Hast thou not Turned thy vision to the Chiefs of the Children of Israel after (the time of) Moses? they said to a prophet (That was) among them: "Appoint for us a king, that we May fight in the cause of Allah." He said: "Is it not possible, if ye were commanded to fight, that that ye will not fight?" They said: "How could we refuse to fight in the cause of Allah, seeing that we were turned out of our homes and our families?" but when they were commanded to fight, they turned back, except a small band among them. But Allah Has full knowledge of those who do wrong.Now they present the story of David and Goliath, in verses 246-251, as proof of Allah's power. (Note that "Talut" here refers to Saul in the Bible.) It's not clear the there ever really was a David and Goliath. But even if we accept that it really happened for the sake of the argument, the story does not need a God to have happened. Sometimes David beats Goliath (in the metaphorical sense) by luck. Often, the David character is physically weaker but smarter, quicker, or more skillful, and actually at an advantage against the strong but less agile (mentally and/or physically) Goliath.
247. Their Prophet said to them: "(Allah) hath appointed Talut as king over you." They said: "How can he exercise authority over us when we are better fitted than he to exercise authority, and he is not even gifted, with wealth in abundance?" He said: "(Allah) hath Chosen him above you, and hath gifted him abundantly with knowledge and bodily prowess: Allah Granteth His authority to whom He pleaseth. Allah careth for all, and He knoweth all things."
248. And (further) their Prophet said to them: "A Sign of his authority is that there shall come to you the Ark of the covenant, with (an assurance) therein of security from your Lord, and the relics left by the family of Moses and the family of Aaron, carried by angels. In this is a symbol for you if ye indeed have faith."
249. When Talut set forth with the armies, he said: "(Allah) will test you at the stream: if any drinks of its water, He goes not with my army: Only those who taste not of it go with me: A mere sip out of the hand is excused." but they all drank of it, except a few. When they crossed the river,- He and the faithful ones with him,- they said: "This day We cannot cope with Goliath and his forces." but those who were convinced that they must meet Allah, said: "How oft, by Allah.s will, Hath a small force vanquished a big one? Allah is with those who steadfastly persevere."
250. When they advanced to meet Goliath and his forces, they prayed: "Our Lord! Pour out constancy on us and make our steps firm: Help us against those that reject faith."
251. By Allah's will they routed them; and David slew Goliath; and Allah gave him power and wisdom and taught him whatever (else) He willed. And did not Allah Check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief: But Allah is full of bounty to all the worlds.
252. These are the Signs of Allah. we rehearse them to thee in truth: verily Thou art one of the apostles.
So we saw the first few attempts at providing evidence for Allah, but so far, it hasn't been very convincing (at least to me).
We're almost done with the second sura! Juz' 3 finishes it up, and moves on to the beginning of the third sura (Al Imran - The Family of Imran). So stay tuned!
* I know there's still a lot to learn about some of these theories. For instance, there is still so much we don't know about the Big Bang. But that does not mitigate the fact that we know a lot about what the universe looked like 13+ billion years ago. And that knowledge points to a natural explanation for the beginning, even if we don't know enough to say what that explanation is in full detail yet.
** I know this disregards the more liberal religious people who believe everyone goes to heaven no matter what you believe, as long as you're a good person. The problem here is that your holy books completely contradict this. Plus if you're right, I'd prefer to be wrong based on the evidence than be accidentally right based on faith.
*** I'm not suggesting here that we should bottle up all of our desires and deprive ourselves of all pleasure. I'm just saying that excess in both directions is often bad, and it takes work to develop the discipline to respect moderation.
**** I know there are Muslims who will not interpret this verse in that way. However, it seems to be an interpretation that should at least be considered, given what is said. My point is simply that just like other holy books I've had the opportunity to read, I expect there to be parts of the Qur'an that can be used to justify both acts of kindness and of hatred. If some think the interpretation is wrong, then you're going to have to present evidence, not just wishful thinking.