Sura 17 -- Bani Isra'il
This sura started and ended with a bit about the Children of Israel. There was a little more about them in other places, too. As one familiar with the Bible, I was very interested in reading a quranic chapter on these people for whom a whole, rather large book was written (or compiled). The Jews are central to the Bible especially the Old Testament so I feel I know quite a lot about their history and the development of their faith as compared to, say, Indian Hindus.
I was eager to see how their story was related to Muhammad and the Arabs of his day.
In the first part of verse 7, God told the Israelites this:
7. "If you do good, you will do so for your own good; if you do ill, you will do it for your own loss."
Although this isn't what the Quran is referring to, it did remind me of Jeremiah's letter to the Israelites when they had been exiled. He was a prophet God sent with a message for His people. Notice especially the last part about their conditions for prospering.
4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jeremiah 29)
Quite different from how most of us would treat being taken into captivity, huh? I think I'd be looking for every possible way to escape and wreak havoc on my captors! :) But God didn't want them to fight what He had allowed for them. Instead He encouraged them to work hard and prosper their captors so that they, too, would prosper in the land.
13. Round each man's neck We have hung his ledger of deeds, and on the Day of Resurrection will present it as a book spread out (and say): 14. "Read your ledger; this day you are sufficient to take your own account.
This compares rather well to Jesus' words in Matthew 12.
35"The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Kind of sobers you up from gossiping and throwing around curses, doesn't it?
How does this compare though to God's promises here? Were they only for Old Testament times?
"For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." -- Jeremiah 31:34
"'I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me." -- Jeremiah 33:8
"Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love." -- Micah 7:18
"I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins." -- Isaiah 43:25
15. "He who finds the right path does so for himself; and he who goes astray does so to his own loss; and no one who carries a burden bears another's load. We never punish till We have sent a messenger. 16. "And when We destroy a human habitation We send Our command to (warn) its people living a life of ease; and when they disobey, the sentence against them is justified, and We destroy them utterly.
Does this mean those who have never heard of Islam won't be held accountable?
19. "But he who desires the Hereafter, and strives for it with a will, and is a believer, will be favoured for his endeavour. 20. "We bestow from the gifts of your Lord on these and on those, for the gifts of your Lord are not restricted.
In Christianity, the gift of God is eternal life that He freely gives through Jesus. We don't "strive" to do His will in our own power. The good works we do are not to earn favor or to earn a spot in heaven. They are natural fruit from a life with God. When you learn about God and submit to Him and live life closely with Him ("abide in Him" - John 15) then HE produces good works through you. That way all glory goes to Him and not what we have done. I think Paul summed it up the best here in his letter to the Ephesians.
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.
God does the saving and He does the producing of good works. It's not about us. We cannot brag about how good we've been.
21. "See, how We favour one over the other; and in life to come are higher ranks and favours greater still.
God favors and ranks people? I'm thinking Indian caste system here, but suppose I should think instead "God's chosen people" [Israel], Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau and then it makes better sense. I just never thought the life to come would be the same...interesting!
I really loved the verses about being good to our parents and also the wonderful advice in this passage about sharing wealth, dealing with relatives, morality, rights and even not walking around in a proud way.
43. Too glorious and high is He, too exalted for what they say! 44. The seven skies, the earth, and all that lies within them, sing hallelujas to Him. There is nothing that does not chant His praises, but you do not understand their hymns of praise. He is verily clement and forgiving.
A lovely praise to God!
53. Tell My creatures only to speak words that are good. Verily Satan sows dissensions: Satan is indeed the acknowledged enemy of mankind.
Excellent advice! I wonder why if we are to speak good words, there are so many hateful fatwas. It's true that Satan is the one who divides us.
I thought the dialog between God and Satan was interesting especially when God gave Satan permission to lead people astray.
64. Mislead any of them you may with your voice, attack them with your cavalry and soldiers on foot, share their wealth and children with them, and make promises to them." -- But the promises of Satan are nothing but deceit.
At least we are assured in the following verse that none of those God protects will be lead astray.
65. "You will surely have no power over My devotees: Your Lord is sufficient as their protector."
One final passage ...
70. Indeed We have honoured the children of Adam, and carried them over land and sea, provided them with good things for their sustenance, and exalted them over many of Our creatures. 71. The day We shall summon all men with their leaders, whosoever is given his record in his right hand will be able to read his account, and none will be wronged the breadth of a thread 72. But whoso has been blind in this world shall be blind in the world to come, even farther astray from the path. 73. They had almost led you away from what has been revealed to you, that you may invent things about Us besides those revealed, when they would have taken you as friend. 74. If We had not kept you constant you had almost leaned towards them. 75. In that case We would have made you taste a double anguish of life and a double anguish of death, and then you would not have been able to find a helper against Us for yourself. 76. They had nearly expelled you from the land and driven you away from it. But then, they too would have stayed but a little after you. 77. This has been Our way with the apostles whom We sent before you. You will not find any variation in Our line of action.
At first I couldn't follow this passage and was confused about the "you" almost lead astray in verse 73. Was "you" the Reader (me?) or what? Then I reread it a few times and finally gathered it must be the apostles (vs. 77) who'd been sent to each land. So the way I understood it, God sent apostles to each people group and some of them were almost lead astray by the unbelievers. Verse 74 says that God kept that from happening although it appears to have been a close call in some cases!
The remainder of the sura had great parts about praying regularly and lovely words to say. I read about people wanting Muhammad to do miracles in order to prove his claims of prophethood. However, God declared He was good enough to vouch for Muhammad's authenticity. No other witnesses required!
Many good things to consider from this sura!