Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reading the Qur'an: Juz' 3 (2:253 - 3:92)

I finally had a chance to sit down and read some more of the Qur'an this weekend, so here's my synopsis of Juz' 3.  This section contains the rest of the second sura (The Heifer), and the first half of the third sura (The Family of Imran).

Now that blogger added a stand-alone page editor, I've also created a sort of hub page for all of my writing on the Qur'an, for easy reference.  If you haven't read my earlier posts, you can find the two earlier Juz' I've written about, and the introductory stuff, describing what I'm doing.

Now, back to sura #2:
253. Those apostles We endowed with gifts, some above others: To one of them Allah spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the holy spirit. If Allah had so willed, succeeding generations would not have fought among each other, after clear (Signs) had come to them, but they (chose) to wrangle, some believing and others rejecting. If Allah had so willed, they would not have fought each other; but Allah Fulfilleth His plan.
This Juz' begins with this problem that I had with the previous one:  contradictory statements about the free will of humans.  If God could have willed something that denies humans full control, then free will is a useless concept.  You can give human free will, but God "freer" will.  A commenter, kat (whose been very helpful; I'm glad to have another point of view on the Qur'an), said this about free will:
Free-Will----look at verse 6 and 7 in the previous Juz [#1]. verse 6 says "as to those who reject faith/trust.... then verse 7 says God has set a seal....Therefore---one has to first choose of ones own free-will before any Divine action is taken. And---as another Quran verse will explain, We will always have the choice to repent our decision and go back to Guidance. God is compassionate and merciful.
So if you choose to reject faith, then God puts a seal on your heart.  But you still can repent and accept faith later (being forgiven isn't really relevant, the fact that you can change your mind is all that matters to me in this case).  Then what exactly is the seal on your heart doing?  It just seems that if humans have free will, then God cannot plan the things he is purported to in the Qur'an.  
254. O ye who believe! Spend out of (the bounties) We have provided for you, before the Day comes when no bargaining (Will avail), nor friendship nor intercession. Those who reject Faith they are the wrong-doers.
A doomsday verse, along with the claim that those who lack faith must be wrong-doers.  Just like other religious texts, the premise is that regardless of your deeds, its what you think that matters.  No matter how many people you help, you're still in the wrong because you didn't do it to please a magical sky-man.  It's probably one of my least favorite assertions that religions make, that without god, we couldn't possibly be moral people (hence my previous post).
256. Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.
According to M. Asad, the beginning of this verse refers to the fact that forced conversion is not valid.  Although this entails some measure of free will (which I've already discussed), it is good to condemn forced conversions.  However, there's also nothing about how we should treat those who choose not to believe here.  And the next verse, along with many others, are pretty clear about non-believers being evil:
257. Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the evil ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the fire, to dwell therein (For ever). 

258. Hast thou not Turned thy vision to one who disputed with Abraham About his Lord, because Allah had granted him power? Abraham said: "My Lord is He Who Giveth life and death." He said: "I give life and death". Said Abraham: "But it is Allah that causeth the sun to rise from the east: Do thou then cause him to rise from the West." Thus was he confounded who (in arrogance) rejected faith. Nor doth Allah Give guidance to a people unjust.
More bad science in verse 258, nothing surprising if we assume the Qur'an is not inspired by a god.
261. The parable of those who spend their substance in the way of Allah is that of a grain of corn: it groweth seven ears, and each ear Hath a hundred grains. Allah giveth manifold increase to whom He pleaseth: And Allah careth for all and He knoweth all things.
262. Those who spend their substance in the cause of Allah, and follow not up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury,-for them their reward is with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
263. Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury. Allah is free of all wants, and He is Most-Forbearing.
264. O ye who believe! cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury,- like those who spend their substance to be seen of men, but believe neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. They are in parable like a hard, barren rock, on which is a little soil: on it falls heavy rain, which leaves it (Just) a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned. And Allah guideth not those who reject faith.
265. And the likeness of those who spend their substance, seeking to please Allah and to strengthen their souls, is as a garden, high and fertile: heavy rain falls on it but makes it yield a double increase of harvest, and if it receives not Heavy rain, light moisture sufficeth it. Allah seeth well whatever ye do.
Verses 261-273 promote charity once again, mostly good stuff.  However, verse 264 does include the idea that those who don't have faith aren't charitable.  Also, verse 263 contains the phrase "Allah is free of all wants," which is odd.  God makes plenty of demands throughout all of his holy books, it seems that he wants us to act a certain way and think certain things.  I just talked about God's plan earlier, suggesting he has desires.  I suppose they mean to say that God has no petty wants, like wanting money or material possession, but that should be obvious (what use would he have for any of that?).  Asad's translation says "God is self-sufficient," which again seems either false (he requires a lot from people), or obviously true (in the sense that God doesn't need anything because he can do whatever he needs himself). Verse 267 says something similar.

267. O ye who believe! Give of the good things which ye have (honourably) earned, and of the fruits of the earth which We have produced for you, and do not even aim at getting anything which is bad, in order that out of it ye may give away something, when ye yourselves would not receive it except with closed eyes. And know that Allah is Free of all wants, and worthy of all praise.
 This verse also contains another ideal (the first bold section), which leaves me somewhat torn.  I think the main sentiment here is that when we give to charity, we shouldn't just give junk we don't want, that's not a sacrifice.  We should give the poor some of the things we value.  While I agree that we should sacrifice what we can, it's also the case the the poor will appreciate things that we may not value ourselves.  I'm probably overthinking this particular line, but I think the sentiment should be a bit more nuanced.
271. If ye disclose (acts of) charity, even so it is well, but if ye conceal them, and make them reach those (really) in need, that is best for you: It will remove from you some of your (stains of) evil. And Allah is well acquainted with what ye do.
Verse 271 reminds me of the saying: "Character is how we act when no one is watching."  While most people are willing and able to perform under supervision, it takes discipline to do what's right when no one is watching you.  Of course the idea of an ever-present god seems to cheapen this, since no matter what, you're always watched by someone.  In fact, you're always watched by the most important watcher there is; the only one that matters.  

273. (Charity is) for those in need, who, in Allah's cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (For trade or work): the ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. Thou shalt know them by their (Unfailing) mark: They beg not importunately from all the sundry. And whatever of good ye give, be assured Allah knoweth it well.
Nothing new here, but I still don't understand why modest believers would require charity, if God is really looking out for them.  The whole "God is testing us" argument doesn't fly with me.  It's been beaten to death, so I'm not going to do it here.
277. Those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and establish regular prayers and regular charity, will have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
This verse seems to give a quick rundown of what's been presented throughout the rest of this sura, which a Muslim must do.  I agree with righteousness and charity, not so much with believing and praying.   Again, deeds just seem more important to me than beliefs.

Near the end, we learn about the rules for holding debts.  I agree with verse 280:
280. If the debtor is in a difficulty, grant him time Till it is easy for him to repay. But if ye remit it by way of charity, that is best for you if ye only knew.
Be flexible, and don't demand payment from someone who can't afford to pay you right away.  I can get behind that.  The problem I have in this section, though, it with part of verse 282:

282. O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah Has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear His Lord Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If they party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable Himself to dictate, Let his guardian dictate faithfully, and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her...
Yes, because those women can't remember anything, with their periods and their emotions.  Again, no surprise given the time this book was written, but not something we should aspire to.
285. The Messenger believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believeth in Allah, His angels, His books, and His apostles. "We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His apostles." And they say: "We hear, and we obey: (We seek) Thy forgiveness, our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys."
286. On no soul doth Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (Pray:) "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; our Lord! Lay not on us a burden Like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith."
The penultimate verse of this sura remind us again that all of his messengers (Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc.), were all inspired by God.  The last verse presents the old proverb, that God does not place burdens on people greater than they can bear.  That's quite a statement.  People are quite resilient, often surprisingly so in dire situations, but I don't believe that a just and loving God would allow what has happened in places like Haiti, New Orleans, Sudan, etc.

So to wrap up this sura, it is mostly a rehashing of the laws given to the Jews by God (obey God, be charitable, be fair to your debtors, etc.).  It also points out that true men of God, such as the prophets, submitted to God, and thus were Muslims (ones who submit to God).  Abraham was a Muslim, for example, because he submitted himself to all of God's commands.  However, they also point out that the Jewish people in general were idolaters, who worshiped foreign gods and golden calves.    

Chapter 3: Al-'Imran (The Family of 'Imran):

We made it, the third sura!  I thought that second one would never end.

OK, so this sura, like the previous one, was revealed in Medina.  The Family of 'Imran refers to the lineage of both Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  According to M. Asad, this sura emphasizes that while Jesus was a man of God, he was not a God himself, and the interpretation of Jesus' message by Christians is arbitrary and misguided.  So let's get to it.

It begins like the second sura: believe in God, unbelievers will suffer, and verse 6 contains more bad science:
6. He it is Who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases. There is no god but He, the Exalted in Might, the Wise.
Unfortunately, genetics says otherwise.  When God produces someone with genes that could not have come from their mother or father, I'll reconsider this.
7. He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:" and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.
Verse 7 was quite surprising to me.  It's basically saying "don't take everything so seriously" in these holy books.  (Perhaps literally is a better word than seriously.)  Of course, the problem here is that if only Allah knows the hidden meaning, and which verses are allegorical, then how are we supposed to figure it out and conduct ourselves according to God's wishes?   Of course this suggests to me there will be others who explain which verses are allegorical, and what the meaning are.  And M. Asad suggests this is true, referring to Tabari's method for identifying ayat muhkamat ("messages that are clear in and by themselves").  But if he's right, then it's not true that only Allah knows its hidden meaning. 

The sura continues by predicting the Day of Jugment (verse 9), and what awaits those who reject faith (I'll give you a hint, it's worse than heck).  And verse 13 describes more proof of the assertions made:

13. "There has already been for you a Sign in the two armies that met (in combat): One was fighting in the cause of Allah, the other resisting Allah. these saw with their own eyes Twice their number. But Allah doth support with His aid whom He pleaseth. In this is a warning for such as have eyes to see."
Asad suggests a couple of things this verse could possibly allude to, either specifically to the battle of Badr, or more generally to the fact that these types of victories are seen often throughout history.  If course this isn't very good prove.  As I already said when talking about the David & Goliath story in the last Juz', sometimes the smaller army wins, for a multitude of reasons (Brain over brawn, advantage over the environment, just plan luck, etc.)

In addition, if this verse is referring to the act that history seems to show that smaller armies often beat bigger ones, that's likely due to the fact that the underdog stories are more interesting, and thus told and passed along, whereas the story about a large army beating a smaller one isn't interesting, surprising or inspiring.

Through the next few verses, we hear more about punishments for unbelievers (verse 16: save us from the agony of the Fire; verse 21: announce to them a grievous penalty).  Verse 17 contains some mostly good advice (other than the worship part, so far I'm not convinced that's important to act righteously):
17. Those who show patience, Firmness and self-control; who are true (in word and deed); who worship devoutly; who spend (in the way of Allah.; and who pray for forgiveness in the early hours of the morning.
And again, we hear about the problems with the "People of the Book" in verse 19:
19. The Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will): Nor did the People of the Book dissent there from except through envy of each other, after knowledge had come to them. But if any deny the Signs of Allah, Allah is swift in calling to account.
The meaning of this verse, acording to Asad:
all these communities at first subscribed to the doctrine of God's oneness and held that man's self-surrender to Him (Islam in its original connotation) is the essence of all true religion. Their subsequent divergencies were an outcome of sectarian pride and mutual exclusiveness.
That's interesting, given the sectarian sentiments we've already seen in the Qur'an, and what has happened to the religion since then.  One can say that Islam is about self-surrender to God, but there's always the caveat that it has to be done in a certain way; our way.  What if I don't pray 5 times everyday, or I don't fast during Ramadan?  I try my best to be patient, compassionate, and make the world a better place, with what little I can do.  Why must I also believe the unbelievable and, in my mind, waste time reciting repetitious prayers?

Verse 24 is also personally annoying:
24. This because they say: "The Fire shall not touch us but for a few numbered days": For their forgeries deceive them as to their own religion.
It seems to suggest that those who reject faith are unaware of what awaits, according to said faith.  We know what hell is purported to be like.  It wouldn't have to be so painful if your belief system were more likely to be true.  Fear is not a good reason to hold a belief.  It's a bullying move, because there is no other reason for us to believe what you tell us.
28. Let not the believers Take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah. except by way of precaution, that ye may Guard yourselves from them. But Allah cautions you (To remember) Himself; for the final goal is to Allah.
So Muslims shouldn't even be friends with me, or help me at all.  More insular, intolerant, in group/out group stuff. 
32. Say: "Obey Allah and His Messenger.: But if they turn back, Allah loveth not those who reject Faith.
How compassionate...

Next, we learn about the family of 'Imran, which includes Mary (and thus Jesus), and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
33. Allah did choose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of 'Imran above all people,-
34. Offspring, one of the other: And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.
35. Behold! a woman of 'Imran said: "O my Lord! I do dedicate unto Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service: So accept this of me: For Thou hearest and knowest all things."
36. When she was delivered, she said: "O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!"- and Allah knew best what she brought forth- "And no wise is the male Like the female. I have named her Mary, and I commend her and her offspring to Thy protection from the Evil One, the Rejected."
I don't recall this story from the Bible.  I'm curious where this comes from.

37. Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty: To the care of Zakariya was she assigned. Every time that he entered (Her) chamber to see her, He found her supplied with sustenance. He said: "O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?" She said: "From Allah. for Allah Provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure."
38. There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying: "O my Lord! Grant unto me from Thee a progeny that is pure: for Thou art He that heareth prayer!
39. While he was standing in prayer in the chamber, the angels called unto him: "(Allah) doth give thee glad tidings of Yahya, witnessing the truth of a Word from Allah, and (be besides) noble, chaste, and a prophet,- of the (goodly) company of the righteous."
40. He said: "O my lord! How shall I have a son seeing I am very old and my wife is barren?" "Thus" was the answer "doth Allah accomplish whatt He willeth."
41. He said: "O my Lord! Give me a Sign!" "Thy Sign," was the answer, "Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three days but with signals. Then celebrate the praises of thy Lord again and again, and glorify Him in the evening and in the morning."
I do remember these verses (37-41) from the Bible (in Luke, I think, possibly in other gospels as well), though I'm not sure what this story adds here.  Next we have Jesus' birth and life in verses 45-59
45. Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah.
46. "He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous."
Jesus' childhood is not mentioned in the Bible, although I know some of the non-canonical gospels do describe his childhood, so perhaps verse 46 refers to that.  
47. She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?" He said: "Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, 'Be,' and it is!
48. "And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel,
49. "And (appoint him) an apostle to the Children of Israel, (with this message): "'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah's leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe;
50. "'(I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (Before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah, and obey me.
51. "'It is Allah Who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a Way that is straight.'"
So it's the standard Jesus story from the Bible.  Next, the Qur'an plays up unbelief again:
52. When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: "Who will be My helpers to (the work of) Allah." Said the disciples: "We are Allah's helpers: We believe in Allah, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims.
53. "Our Lord! we believe in what Thou hast revealed, and we follow the Messenger. then write us down among those who bear witness."
54. And (the unbelievers) plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah.
55. Behold! Allah said: "O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.
56. "As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help."
57. "As to those who believe and work righteousness, Allah will pay them (in full) their reward; but Allah loveth not those who do wrong."
58. "This is what we rehearse unto thee of the Signs and the Message of Wisdom."
59. The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: "Be". And he was.
Finally, verse 59 compares Jesus to the creation of Adam.

This whole section plays on the things Jesus said about God as an external agent to himself in the Bible.  This is not surprise, since Muslims reject that Jesus was God; they believe he was a prophet and a man of God, but not a God himself.  Asad describes But they completely gloss over the parts where Jesus does claim to be God (see this site as a small collection of evidence that Jesus claimed to be God).  It's no surprise that Muhammad was quote mining the Bible, everyone else does too.  It's just too inconsistent to be the basis of anything without picking and choosing what you like.

But there seems to be a mistake here.  Verse 45 refers to "Christ Jesus," where "Christ" means Messiah.  Why would God say that Christ is the Messiah, if he is not?
60. The Truth (comes) from Allah alone; so be not of those who doubt.
Truth doesn't come from someone, it's what is in the world.  If I say that 2 + 2 = 4, it doesn't matter if God says so or not, it's true by definition.  Not to mention we've already seen all kinds of bad or incomplete information in the Qur'an, including the bad science I've mentioned.  My experience has shown that the truth comes from doubt and skepticism, not blind faith.  Blind faith means we must believe certain propositions without question, limiting your ability to examine evidence for each proposition.  Whereas skepticism allows us to examine any belief with an open-mind.  
61. If any one disputes in this matter with thee, now after (full) knowledge Hath come to thee, say: "Come! let us gather together,- our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves: Then let us earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie!"
Damn, I should have kept my mouth shut.  Now Muslims are going to have to put a curse on me.  Very nice...
64. Say: "O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah. that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah." If then they turn back, say ye: "Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah's Will).
So they're asking Christians here to reject Christ as God (no partners, etc.).  It almost sounds like Muhammad is trying to sound as if they're making compromises ("common terms"), when of course he's asking others to completely reject a main tenet of their faith.

65. Ye People of the Book! Why dispute ye about Abraham, when the Law and the Gospel Were not revealed Till after him? Have ye no understanding?
66. Ah! Ye are those who fell to disputing (Even) in matters of which ye had some knowledge! but why dispute ye in matters of which ye have no knowledge? It is Allah Who knows, and ye who know not!
67. Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to Allah's (Which is Islam), and he joined not gods with Allah.
Of course I agree that Abraham could not have been a Christian, because Jesus didn't exist yet.  But he was part of God's chosen people, in fact he is the patriarch of all of them, so I would suggest he was a Jew.  The Qur'an says that because the law didn't exist yet (it was given to Moses), he could not have been Jewish.  But of course Islamic law didn't exist either.  That's not the proper criteria here.  Neither sets of laws existed, so if its possible for him to be a Muslim, its also possible for him to be a Jew.  I suppose he could be both, being both one of God's chosen people, and completely submitting to God (which is the definition of Islam), but that gets even more confusing.  I'm no theologian, but this appears to simply be a semantic ploy to convince people that even before the Qur'an existed, the major prophets were Muslims.

69. It is the wish of a section of the People of the Book to lead you astray. But they shall lead astray (Not you), but themselves, and they do not perceive!
70. Ye People of the Book! Why reject ye the Signs of Allah, of which ye are (Yourselves) witnesses?
71. Ye People of the Book! Why do ye clothe Truth with falsehood, and conceal the Truth, while ye have knowledge?
72. A section of the People of the Book say: "Believe in the morning what is revealed to the believers, but reject it at the end of the day; perchance they may (themselves) Turn back;
73. "And believe no one unless he follows your religion." Say: "True guidance is the Guidance of Allah. (Fear ye) Lest a revelation be sent to someone (else) Like unto that which was sent unto you? or that those (Receiving such revelation) should engage you in argument before your Lord?" Say: "All bounties are in the hand of Allah. He granteth them to whom He pleaseth: And Allah careth for all, and He knoweth all things."
More problems with Jews and Christians here, as people who will distract you from the truth.  I actually agree that those religions are distractions, although I don't think Muslims are any better.  I also find the phrase in verse 73 problematic: "Allah careth for all," because verse 32 already contradicted that for those who reject faith.  (Asad's translation says that God is infinite and all-Knowing, nothing about caring for all things.  Perhaps this is a bad translation by Yusuf Ali.)
74. For His Mercy He specially chooseth whom He pleaseth; for Allah is the Lord of bounties unbounded.
A God would allow anyone (and I mean anyone) to burn in Hell for eternity is not merciful, by any reasonable definition of the word.  I understand punishment for bad behavior and suffering, but an eternity is not merciful.  It can't be, its the worst possible punishment.  If merciful has any definition, it cannot be given someone the worst possible punishment imaginable.

76. Nay.- Those that keep their plighted faith and act aright,-verily Allah loves those who act aright.
Again, this isn't true, unless we're including beliefs as actions.  They've already made it clear that happens to non-believers, regardless of their actions.

The rest of the Juz' (except for the last verse) talks more about non-believers and People of the Book who distort God's message.
77. As for those who sell the faith they owe to Allah and their own plighted word for a small price, they shall have no portion in the Hereafter: Nor will Allah (Deign to) speak to them or look at them on the Day of Judgment, nor will He cleans them (of sin): They shall have a grievous penalty.
78. There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: (As they read) you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, "That is from Allah," but it is not from Allah. It is they who tell a lie against Allah, and (well) they know it!
79. It is not (possible) that a man, to whom is given the Book, and Wisdom, and the prophetic office, should say to people: "Be ye my worshippers rather than Allah's": on the contrary (He would say) "Be ye worshippers of Him Who is truly the Cherisher of all: For ye have taught the Book and ye have studied it earnestly."
So here in verse 79, they're making it impossible for anyone to claim that God does not exist, or that something else deserves our respect or worship.  It's a version of the classic (non)argument: If someone disagrees with our dogma, they must be against God/with the devil.  It makes it impossible to question anything, and is common among most religions. 
84. Say: "We believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them, and to Allah do we bow our will (in Islam)."
85. If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah., never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good).
Verse 85 is very clear, one must submit to Allah if you want to make it to a good Hereafter.  There is not valid religion other than Islam.
86. How shall Allah Guide those who reject Faith after they accepted it and bore witness that the Messenger was true and that Clear Signs had come unto them? but Allah guides not a people unjust.
87. Of such the reward is that on them (rests) the curse of Allah, of His angels, and of all mankind;-
88. In that will they dwell; nor will their penalty be lightened, nor respite be (their lot);-
89. Except for those that repent (Even) after that, and make amends; for verily Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
90. But those who reject Faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of Faith,- never will their repentance be accepted; for they are those who have (of set purpose) gone astray.
Verse 90 is confusing.  Allah forgives those who repent (that's been said many times earlier, including verse 89, the previous verse).  But not someone who adds defiance of faith.  I'm not sure what that means.  Asad's translation is similar:
Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith, and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted: for it is they who have truly gone astray.
What exactly does "growing more stubborn" mean, and how stubborn do I have to get before my repentance will never be accepted, no matter what?  
91. As to those who reject Faith, and die rejecting,- never would be accepted from any such as much gold as the earth contains, though they should offer it for ransom. For such is (in store) a penalty grievous, and they will find no helpers.
So why should we offer our money if our penalty is for not believing?  How does offering money fix that? 
92. By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love; and whatever ye give, of a truth Allah knoweth it well.
This Juz' finishes up with again a promotion of charity and generousity, which is good.  It's saying, once again, that you should give things that have value to you, not just junk that you don't want.  Sacrifice is good, it dissaudes people from greed and promotes being happy with what you have (materially).  

So although this Juz' ends on a good note, it was filled with punishments for those who reject God, regardless of their deeds.  I'm not sure why God is so hung up on being believed in and worshiped.  If people are doing good on earth, why exactly does it matter?  Nonbelievers can make sacrifices, be charitable, help one another.  This reinforces what I talked about in my previous post, that most religions view any dissidents as being completely incapable of morality. 

After reading the last two Juz', I'm struck by how much the Qur'an has, so far, focused on reiterating again and again, what happens to unbelievers.  Unfortunately, it's pretty skim on why I should become a believer, other than fear of punishment.  Perhaps these first few sura are meant to get unbelievers listening, and the good stuff comes later on.  So far, I'm not convinced the Qur'an has anything unique to offer.  I've already been told I'm in trouble by the Bible.  I hope this gets more interesting in the future suras.

Next up, I'll move onto the fourth Juz', where I'll finish this third sura, and move on to the fourth.  So stay tuned!

5 comments:

  1. Some very intelligent questions Jeff. I hope you will continue asking probing questions like the one about free-will.

    How does free-will work (from a Muslim perspective)-----God has no gender (male, female or both male and female) He is One, Indivisible, and Unique. God is "Uncreated", all else is "created". God is infinite, all else is "finite". All "creation" works within "laws" (laws of biology, physics...etc) God is independent of these Laws. There are 2 sides to the "law" of free-will---the one we prefer to see is that of choice---the one that the Quran tries to emphasise is the other side---which is accountability. While we all have free-will, our degree of free-will differs---that is, some of us have more choices than others,....sometimes we have more choices some of the time and less at other times. We are accountable for our choices to the degree of our free-will. Our choices have consequenses---for example---Someone gives me guidance/advice to give to charity---I refuse out of greed or arrogance or egoic desires...etc---I have turned my back on goodness, on compassion for others, on sharing. The consequence is that I will continue to reject charity (goodness),unless I come to the realization that my actions are spiritually harmful. If, with this realization, I turn back towards goodness (charity), I will grow in compassion and the consequence of that will be a strengthening of spirituality. So, where is God in all this?---Our degree of free-will and therefore our degree of accountability is determined by God along with the consequences of our choices. This determiniation is based on the principles of Justice tempered with compassion and mercy.

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  2. verse 253---The verse mentions 2 "wills" ---Divine will and the will of man. If God so wills, human beings would have no "free-will". But, it is Divine will that we make our own choices and suffer the consequences, and unfortunately, we choose trouble instead of peace, division instead of harmony, hate instead tolerance, ego instead of compassion.

    "without God we cannot be moral".---I feel those who may not subscribe to a particular "concept of God" can also be good, moral people who may even be spiritual seekers. And in fact, that is what happened to Prophet Muhammed(pbuh). He grew up in a polythiest environment (much like Prophet Abraham(pbuh)), Yet, he did not believe in "Allah" the supreme "God" of the Meccan polythiests. He was a spiritual seeker who would go off to meditate in the mountains (before he became a Prophet--which was approx at the age of 40) So, if we are inherently good as both Islam and Judaism say, why believe in God? The Quran explains....God has no needs. Our belief or disbelief does not effect his existence. (He is independent of his creation). What we believe effects us, in that, it effects the choices we make. If we make decisions based on inadequate or wrong information, there are chances we will make wrong choices. Therefore, it is best to seek knowledge because that will help prevent mistakes out of ignorance. For example, if we undertake a chemistry experiment, we can choose to do so from scratch, using trial and error, or we can use the available knowledge and build on that. We human beings are here for a period of time from birth to death. We can pursue knowledge so as to gain in wisdom, or we can use trial and error on our spiritual journey. It is our choice.
    Verse 271 (see verse 249)---your analysis is correct--this is about spiritual dicipline.
    verse 273---Why charity? The Quran explains that all the wealth we have is a "loan" from God. Some have more of it than others. Those who have more, also have a higher degree of responsibility to use it for the benefit of all of God's creations. So why are we "different"? because it is through our differences that we can learn tolerance and compassion.
    verse 282---women witness---this is limited to bussiness transactions and does not apply to other areas such as witnessing for criminal cases--where woman witness stands alone. (The verse simply gives an extra benefit to women when such a benefit will not compromise justice---it does not mean women are incapable.)
    Verses 285-286.---These verses must be understood with the concept that those who have more blessings also have more responsibilty. In Islam, all Prophets are equal, however, some have more blessings than others but this is balanced by their greater responsibility. (thus making them equal)
    I have to take a break---will get back to you about Haiti (great point by the way)---and Surah 3 soon.

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  3. My apologies for such long comments...and also, thankyou for giving me the opportunity to express my views.

    God and disasters---Human beings are intelligent, capable creations with free-will. We have the ability to aquire knowledge and use it for the benefit of all of God's creations. We can understand the forces that cause natural disasters and the technology to alleviate the impact they cause. Blaming God is childish and a waste of our intellectual abilities. For example, During the Asian Tsunami, not all of the damage and sufferring was caused by the natural disaster---but because of man-made causes. Many of the coastlines near the disaster zone used to be covered with mangroves, but they were cleared in order to make "prisitne beaches" for tourism, fancy hotels further built up the coastline and killed off the coral barriers.---intensifying the disaster. Not to mention, technology was available that detected the earthquake in adequate time for a warning---which was not given.....much of the other disasters have a similar pattern---for Haiti, look up the articles in the guardian.co.uk
    Natural disasters are caused by the "laws" of geology (and other laws) that govern our planet. Ofcourse, there was no need for the planet to be created and no need for capable, intelligent beings with free-will either. But we were created and we are responsible for using the tools we have for the betterment of all---but that choice is ours to make.
    (By the way, in Islam---all knowledge is from God---scientific, medical, philosophical, mathematical..etc)

    will have to get back to you on surah 3---sorry.

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  4. Surah 3---The Quran is primarily addressed to the Arabs (decendents of Prophet Abraham's(pbuh) son Ishmael)which is why it is in Arabic. However, Surah 2 also addresses the other believers, the Jews and Surah 3 addresses the Christians. This is the 7th Century and the Christians in this region are the "Eastern"(Early)Christians--not the "Western"(Roman)Christians.
    Islam and Science----Since all knowledge is from God, Muslims have no problem using science to interpret the verses in order to understand them better. Therefore, we have no problem with the explanations of genetics and biochemisty in the formation of the baby. However, these "laws" of of genetics and biochemistry work with Divine will. These laws can stop if God wills---As in the case of Prophet Jesus(pbuh) and Prophet Adam(pbuh)or they can be suspended, as in the case of Prophet Abraham(pbuh) and Zakariya.
    Verse 7---is important. It says that some aspects of the Quran are clear and can be plainly understood, but others should not be taken literally as they are allegorical/metaphorical/similitude....some subjects that fall into this category are Paradise, Hell, Judgement Day....and such. There are some verses that we do not have knowledge of and these verses should be left alone until God sees fit to impart knowledge to us---for example verse 1 of Surah 2 and 3. There were other verses which in the 7th century seemed beyond belief---but can be understood better with today's scientific explanations---such as the big bang theory.----by the way, the translated word "heaven" usually refers to "outer space" while heaven, used in the Christians sense, is called "Paradise".
    Concept of Time---When referrring to time, the Quran does not always use the "earth-centric" time. As the Quran explains, "day" as in Judgement day for example,(Youm=Arabic) does not mean the earth-centric 24 hour day, it can be a thousand earth years or 50 thousand earth years. Basically it means a "fixed period of time as God wills". Likewise Paradise/Hell and such are understood as "long periods of time as God wills"---and not "eternity" in the Christian sense.
    Islam/Muslim---as explained previously, in the Quran, these words are not used as nouns/labels but express a state of spirituality. Therefore all messengers/wisdom teachers sent by God, both biblical and non-biblical, tought "Islam" (submission)---and this includes Prophet Abraham (pbuh) that is why he was not a Jew or Christian ---because these are labels that denote a group of people---but he was a Muslim(one who submits)---because this expresses a state of spirituality.
    God cares for all---While we are here on earth, regardless of our belief or disbelief, God provides us with sustenance, nurtures us, gives us opportunities for growth both spiritually and in knowledge. Why? so that those who disbelief have every opportunity to come to belief---and those who believe--will have their belief tested and strengthened. verse 32 simply points out the warning that our choices have consequences and rejecting "faith" is a choice.
    Once again---let me define "faith"-Islam DOES NOT advocate blind belief---remember the Meccans?---they blindly believed that their "Gods"/stone idols were powerful and their supreme "God" had daughters....etc. The Quran wants us to use our intellectual abilities and our capacity for reason to understand with conviction.---that is what Faith/Trust means in Islam. This understanding of "faith" will put verse 90 in context---in Islam, it is not just our actions that are important but also our intentions. thus, someone who is convinced that Islam teaches goodness, and knowingly rejects it (goodness) has likely done so out of malicious intent.

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