"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 17

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

Any thoughts?

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!


Wafa' said...

(Does this mean those who have never heard of Islam won't be held accountable?)
Lots of Muslim schoolars says No, they are not gonna be held accountable .some even say that they will be asked in the hereafter to choose between Islam and whatever they worshipped in life , But i am not buying the last part.

( 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) actually in Islam we can use this goodness -we did- to our advancement in a good way of course. for example, you can pray for God's help and protection with the good things you did. It's adavisable because God knows your intent and He knows that you are not doing this good to brag about. cuz people who do good and brag about it don't get a thing in Islam.We are adviced to doo good secretly and in public. the most important thing is your intent " you are doing it for God's sake and not to brag and show off".

i hope i was of a help in explaining a bit. Thanks dear :)

Suroor said...

"Does this mean those who have never heard of Islam won't be held accountable?"

No, because the verse clearly says "a messenger" and not "the messenger" (We never punish till We have sent a messenger) so if you have been sent a messenger (Jesus) you have been guided and then if you go astray you will be punished :)

But remember in an earlier Surah there was this bit about God leading astray and here it is people going astray on their own. Confusing...

Susanne said...

Wafa', yes, those were great explanations. I agree that intent is very important, however, I sometimes think people focus so much on intent that they never DO. It's like "well, God knows I *intended* to do that," as an excuse for their laziness.

There is a saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." So sometimes we have to stop intending and DO. :)

But I agree with what you said. You mean it more along the lines of if we are doing some deed for our glory or for God's. And I agree that having the right intention there is important. Is my doing this all for show so people can see how righteous I am or is this to please God? Huge difference.

You are good at explaining. Thanks so much!!

Susanne said...

Suroor, I agree that I have been sent a messenger (Jesus), but I was thinking of some remote tribal people who are still living without contact to outsiders who haven't had a messenger. I was curious about the Islamic thought on this scenario.

Your last point was interesting. Yes, maybe it's we who go astray, but if we go far enough God helps us along.

Thanks for your comment.

Did I correctly understand the "you" in that final passage? I understood it to mean the apostles at times were nearly swayed to the side of the people over their heavenly duties.

Suroor said...

Susanne, there are "some remote tribal people who are still living without contact to outsiders who haven't had a messenger" but then it is also said that "We never punish till We have sent a messenger" so I guess they won't be punished if they don't follow Islamic laws/rules/rituals.

The 'you' refers to Muhammad and refers to the Satanic Verses which I have explained in details here if you are interested - http://iqrabismirabik.wordpress.com/2009/04/28/lessons-that-can-be-learnt-from-the-satanic-verses/

Susanne said...

Ohhhhhhh!!! THESE are the infamous Satanic verses? I really had no idea where they were. I thought they were removed. Funny that this passage jumped out at me, but I really did try to make sense of it. Thanks for the explanation!

Susanne said...

OK, I just read the link to your blog article on this. Very interesting! Thank you, Suroor!

Suroor said...

No, no. These are not the Satanic Verses. These are the admonishing verses for the Satanic Verses. The Satanic Verses never made it into the Quran and were actually in support and glory of the idols of Kaaba.

If you get the time please do read my article on it. It is a very intriguing episode from early Islam.

Susanne said...

Got ya! I will reread your link. Sorry. :(

Heather said...

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."

I love this verse! It's one of my favorites. : )

Susanne said...

Thank you for your comment, Heather. It's one of my favorites as well! :)

Durriyyah said...

I just barely glanced at the comments because I'm trying to catch back up. You write so fast... I took a weekend off and got behind. hehehe

17: 13-14: You're right, this does really sober you up! We can't ever think that we can hide from our deeds. The OT verses you mentioned are also found very closely in the Qur'an. I learned once that hope and fear in our faith should be like the wings of a bird. Neither one should overpower the other, or we will fall.

The verses you mentioned though, I feel discredit the need for Jesus's (pbuh) sacrifice in the Christian doctrine.

17:15 - Yes, basically, it does mean that. We are responsible for the knowledge we have, and don't have. They will be held accountable based on what they knew and of course obvious things like killing I'm sure are going to be held up, but God knows best.

17:19 - Ah, and you've hit the mark in a test within our "works." We can not boast and we can not claim the power is from ourselves, but the fact is, we can not be lazy after we claim our belief in our Creator. As Paul says "Faith without works is dead." In Islam, we believe there are 7 layers of Heaven/Paradise. It is our works (worship) that gets us to the better levels. Our belief will get us in the door, but what did we DO with our belief? Did we sit on the couch and think "Oh, I believe, so I'm set." or did we go out an benefit the world around us, making it better for God's creation and using the gifts that God gave us?

17:21 - Same thing with levels of Heaven. None of us will feel like we have been shorted in the least still.

17:53 - Just on your comment… it's disturbing how much hate comes out of religion and this is a big argument for the atheists - that religion causes so many problems in the world and we would be better off without it. We can look at people like Pat Robertson who makes statements against those who are afflicted by natural disasters and Catholic Popes, so this effects so many around the world. It really is sad.

Susanne said...

Durriyyah, thanks for your thorough comments. I forgot about the levels of heaven - that's cool. What happens if you are on level 6, but your husband is only on 3? Do you not get to visit with others for eternity? It's interesting to contemplate, huh? :)

I enjoyed what you shared. Thanks much!! Glad to see you back. :)

Durriyyah said...

Actually, in God's Mercy, both husband and wife will remain united in the higher level of the two.