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

Monday, May 31, 2010

End of May & Notes on Quran - Sura 21

Wow, another month is over! I can't believe how quickly 2010 is going by! Before I know it, I'll be having to drag the ol' Christmas tree out of the attic and decorate that thing again! Blah! :)

I hope you all are having a great Memorial Day weekend and enjoying the holiday especially if you have today off from work and/or school.

A big thank you to all who have commented on my Quran notes posts. (They start here.) I have enjoyed the feedback and found much of it helpful in getting a better understanding of quranic teachings. I've read over half of my translation of the Quran now. Not half as far as sura numbers go since they number past 100, however, having read 25 suras, the book is half finished simply because the latter suras are much shorter. I have posts ready to share, but I'll try to be a bit less hasty so you can keep up with more ease. I apologize for going too fast, but I just have these spurts of talkativeness sometimes...especially when I'm reading something that inspires me to share, share, share. And that's my "problem" with reading the Quran. So let's blame that person *ahem* who encouraged me to just read it already! Oh, Person, you know who you are so consider yourself BLAMED, Darling. With a capital B, L, A, M, E, D!

Also for those reading and commenting on the Christian Q&A Session post, I have a draft about Paul that I will publish within the next day or so. You -- along with things I've read and heard about Paul mostly from Muslims - have inspired me to rethink Paul and justify to myself why I am OK with his teachings. Oh, and thanks for the great comments there so far. I hope to reply to you soon. Just wanted to acknowledge them and let you know I wasn't ignoring you.

I think you all will enjoy the upcoming post concerning Father Jerzy Popieluszko as I have an inspiring story of the Poles' Christlike response related to his death by the Communist regime in late 1984 that is flat-out awesome, in my opinion!

So, yeah, I've been reading some pretty good stuff lately although looking at my May Books post you'd not think so.

And of course I enjoy reading your blogs and seeing what is inspiring you, taking your attention or simply what you've been doing in life.

For those who wanted more sura notes to read ...

Sura 21 -- al-Anbiya

This chapter - The Prophets - had a number of interesting verses. For starters it began with many verses concerning people who often turned away from the revelations of the Lord, how they didn't take seriously the Message of the prophets because they questioned the messengers as being mere men who invented these things or who were speaking poetry. Namely prophets were rarely accepted among their own people. Can we blame them? Who wants to hear a doom-and-gloom sermon and warnings of judgments to come if you don't turn from your wicked ways. Wicked ways are fun, right?

So the Quran speaks of the men God sent - mere mortals not immune to hunger. It also reminds us of the numerous habitations destroyed for continuing in their sinfulness. I wondered about these verses.

16. We have not created the heavens and the earth, and all that lies between them, out of fun.
17. If We had pleased to make a plaything We could have made it Ourself, if We had cared to do so.

Were people perhaps having too much fun so they didn't take eternal life and spiritual things seriously? Was life all fun and games and entertainment? I live in a culture that tends towards this. Americans are more likely to know the top songs and best movies than the fact that Obama is our current President. OK, slight exaggeration, but not much! :)

In verses 25-29 there is a statement about God not sending an apostle without teaching him "that there is no god but I, so worship me" (vs. 25). Of course there are those who insist in saying God has begotten a son whereas the Quran makes the case of those merely being God's "honoured votaries" (vs. 26).

29. If any one of them said: "I am God besides Him," We should award him Hell; for this is how We requite the evil-doers.

And although I may speak of Jesus as the Son of God, I in no way mean that Jesus is God besides God. Jesus himself said he does the will of his Father and that "I and my Father are one." Notice the unity there.

35. Every soul will know the taste of death. We tempt you with evil and with good as a trial; and to Us you will return.

It's interesting to see that God tempts people as part of a test.

47. We shall fix the scales of justice on the Day of Resurrection, so that none will be wronged in the least; and even if it were equal to a mustard seed in weight We shall take it (into account). We are sufficient for computation.

I admit that the scales of Islam intrigue me. I read things about doing this deed means you get so many good deed points. And how doing something special on a holy day means even more good deed points. I wonder if there is a list somewhere that someone has compiled so a Muslim can judge each day how many good deed points s/he has accumulated in a particular day. Is there something in the Quran or hadith about this topic?

Verse 51 begins a dialogue between Abraham and some idolaters. Basically Abraham destroys all their idols except one and when they ask who dared to destroy them, Abraham lies and tells the people to ask their idol for answers. They admit their idol cannot speak (vs. 66). Abraham challenges them on why they then worship these mute idols and not serve God! Then apparently something bad would have happened to Abraham so God rescued Abraham and Lot and put them in a land blessed by God. Additionally, Abraham was gifted with Isaac and Jacob (vs. 71-72).

This sura also mentioned Noah, David and Solomon (in some extrabiblical dispute), Job, Zachariah and Jonah.

Mary and Jesus were mentioned. Jesus as a "token for mankind" (vs. 91) though I'm not sure what that means quranically.

The rest of the verses were about future events, heaven for the good and hell for the bad. It is also a call for accepting and bowing down to God (vs. 108).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 20

Sura 20 - Ta Ha

So, call me crazy, but who knew Ta Ha was going to be a rather interesting sura with much of the story of Moses in it. At least a condensed form of Moses' story. Unlike the Bible which - as I remember - tells the story from birth and progresses towards later years, this sura starts with Moses seeing some suspicious fire and wandering over to it with hopes of getting an ember or finding direction from it. Did he have an inkling it might be a supernatural fire that could offer guidance for life? I didn't see mention of a bush that was burning yet not consumed. So anyway, the story begins with fire and God's calling out to Moses to take off his shoes because Moses was on holy ground.

Then there is the dialog between God and Moses with most similarities to the Bible though a few details are mixed up. For instance in the Bible Moses initially refused (well, he hemmed and hawed if not outright refused) to go to Pharoah because of his speech problem so God suggested Aaron to be sent with him. In the Quran Moses made the plea for Aaron to accompany him.

The Quran and Bible both have the rod turning to a snake story. Additionally the Bible has the miracle where Moses' hand becomes leprous when placed within his cloak. Then it becomes clean again when the same thing is done. These were signs God told Moses to use when Moses went to demand that the people of Israel be freed. This wasn't mentioned in the Quran from what I could tell, but I thought it worth sharing from Exodus 3.

5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

Isn't this wonderful? God heard the people crying out to Him and was "concerned about their suffering." So He sent Moses as His spokesman and deliverer.

Moses rightly wondered if he were up to the task. Sure he'd been well educated in Egypt as part of the royal household -- the "adopted" son of Pharoah's daughter -- however, he'd spent the last few decades tending sheep. Quite a chance that Moses had lost his polish after spending time rounding up and caring for the flock. Wondering is one thing, but Moses decided to question God about this task.

11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

12 And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"

14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "

This is where the biblical "I am" statement concerning God came from. New Testament author John also quoted Jesus as using this: 58"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" (see context in the latter part of John 8) . Ever notice how God uses ordinary people and sometimes those with not much self-confidence or people who think they are unable to speak well? I think God uses willing people and HE makes them usable. It doesn't matter so much if you aren't the most brilliant, best looking, most well spoken or whatever, it matters that you are willing to let God work through you. When this happens, He is glorified through your life! All glory belongs to God, right?

Back to sura Ta Ha... so God reminds Moses that His favor has been on him for a long time. God recalls the story of Moses' birth and how God instructed his mom to save him in such a clever way then had Moses nurtured by his own mother. (Like Joseph, Moses is another of those favorite Bible stories that all Sunday School-attending children learn.) God also reminds Moses of the circumstances of Moses' fleeing Egypt -- he killed another man!

In verse 55 there is talk of a Magic Rod Duel with Moses and Pharoah's magicians setting up a show-down time to see whose rod will be superior. This isn't exactly how the biblical version goes so it was interesting to note. It's almost like the story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel when he has a show down of sorts with the prophets of Baal. (Another favorite Sunday School story which I love!) So the Quran's version is - to me - a mixture of the Moses and Elijah stories. (Kind of fitting since these two prophets are the same ones who visited Jesus. See this from Matthew 17...

1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.)

So the rod duel happens, Moses' rod and the magicians' rods turn into snakes. They were able to copy God's miracle!! Whoa ho, but not so fast. Lookee here. Moses' rod snake ate the others' rod snakes! The magicians were convinced and bowed to the God of Moses! Even when threatened with persecution - limbs cut off and crucifixion [which I didn't realize existed back then]- they still didn't turn their backs on what they were convinced of -- the God of Israel was supreme!

The discussion between Pharoah and Moses definitely needs to be read from the Bible as the Quran skimps so much on details that it's like reading the cliff notes when you really need to read the full story to appreciate everything. In its defense, the Quran admits it is a reminder, therefore, you are supposed to refer back to the Torah for the details. The Quranic version of the ten plagues, the hardening of Pharoah's heart, the preparation for the exodus - the meal, the instructions, the importance of the blood in saving lives - is told (or not) in a matter of a handful of verses. Definitely read the full story if all the details you know are from the Quran. (Unless the full version is somewhere that I've just not read yet.) By reading the story in full, you will know more about the Passover as well.

The Quran then moves to Pharoah's army pursuing, getting drowned and then Moses going somewhere fast (vs. 83) and leaving his people behind. This was when the Israelites were encouraged by the Sameri (who are they?) to make a golden calf. The Sameri told them that this was their God. In the Bible something similar happens with a bit more detail provided there. Moses went up to Mt. Sinai where God revealed His laws to him concerning many issues. Moses was gone so long the people got restless. Here is the first part of Exodus 32.

1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."

2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."

You'll have to read the rest of the chapter to see God's and Moses' reaction to this blatant idolatry. Also note how Moses pleads for the Israelites even though they have sinned.

From the Quran I saw that Moses pulled Aaron's hair (vs. 93-94). Is this some custom to show frustration or anger or a bit of temper on Moses' part?

92. But (Moses) said: "O Aaron, when you saw that they had gone astray, what hindered you 93. From coming after me? Did you not disobey my command?" (And Moses pulled him by the hair). 94. "O son of my mother," (Aaron cried), do not pull me by my beard or my hair! I was really afraid you may say that I had created a rift among the children of Israel, and did not pay heed to your command."

This sura also mentions Adam and Eve. Here is a passage I marked "curious" as I wanted your take on what it means in order to make better sense of it.

113. That is why We have sent it down as an eloquent Qur'an, and explained in different ways the intimidations through it that they may haply take heed, or perhaps it may lead them to contemplate. 114. Exalted then be God, the real King; and do not try to anticipate the Qur'an before the completion of its revelation, but pray: "O Lord, give me greater knowledge." 115. We had commanded Adam before, but he disregarded it: We found him lacking in resolution.

I'm specifically interested in trying not to anticipate the Quran (were people trying to figure out what God would say next?) and the charge against Adam in the last verse. I guess it has to do with his sinning in the Garden of Eden.

Overall a nice sura with some interesting parts about Moses, Adam and Eve and a lovely beginning with praise for God.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 19

Sura 19 - Maryam

I anticipated reading this sura since I thought it would be another chapter similar to Joseph. You know, a narration of people and events familiar to me already from my reading of the gospels. It was pretty interesting to read the Quranic version first of Zachariah and his longing for a son and later of Mary as she was told she would have a child though unmarried! The sura ended with mention of other Bible characters - Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael and others.

So Zachariah first.

Immediately in the sura we see him asking God for a son, a successor and heir to himself and the house of Jacob (vs. 6). We see God agreeing to this and promising Zachariah a son, however, as similar to the biblical account Zachariah questions how this can happen. I suppose he wanted his prayer to be answered, but forgot the example from his own Scriptures of how God gave the elderly parents, Abraham and Sarah, a child in their old age. Zachariah has the same lack of faith as often we do perhaps. God rightly declares He can accomplish whatever He chooses -- advanced age is no match for the Creator.

I liked the fact that the naming of John was pointed out in the Quran's version as this was also a point in the Bible. John was not a family name and it seemed to be custom to name your child - especially a firstborn son - after someone in the family. However Zachariah insisted the child would be named John as the Lord instructed.

John meaning "God is gracious" was one of only a few people God named in the Bible. Others include Ishmael ("God will hear"), Isaac ("laughter") and Jesus ("Yahweh is salvation"). Can you think of someone else named by God whom I missed?

In the Quran, Zachariah asked for a sign that this miracle birth would happen and the angel said for three days Zachariah would be unable to speak. This differs a bit from the Bible's version which reads in Luke 1:

18Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."

19The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."

The Quran has these nice words to say about John. I am curious, though about the Book John is supposed to hold onto. Did John get a Book revealed to him, too?

12. (We said:) "O John, hold fast to the Book;" and We gave him wisdom right from boyhood, 13. And compassion from Us, and goodness. So he was devout, 14. And kind to his parents, neither arrogant nor disobedient. 15. So peace on him the day he was born, the day he will die, and the day that he will be raised from the dead.

And here is what the angel Gabriel said to Zachariah about the son God would give them. Notice the powerful position of John.

13But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1)

Even after John was in prison and sent his disciples to question Jesus whether or not Jesus were the promised one to come, Jesus sent words of assurance for John with John's disciples. (Oh wow, can you follow that?! :-O) As they were leaving Jesus said this as recorded in Matthew 11,

11I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

When John was born the Bible records a song of praise from his father. Notice especially verses 76 through 79.

67His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
69He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."

So as you can gather, John's birth was celebrated and he was the forerunner of the Christ as foretold by the prophet Isaiah (40:3).

3 A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the LORD ;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God."

The story of Mary was kind of interesting though the details were quite different from the Bible's version. The Quran reports her leaving town for a far place after having conceived. It seems she was alone. And then when she goes into labor, she finds herself birthing Jesus under a tree and almost wishing she could die rather than birth this special baby whom God foretold (Q 19:27) and conceived supernaturally!

Mary's curious words:

23. The birth pangs led her to the trunk of a date-palm tree. "Would that I had died before this," she said, "and become a thing forgotten, unremembered."

Well, I hear that women sometimes say crazy stuff while laboring so maybe that's all it was. :)

So she had Jesus and later returned to her people who were astonished that she had a child! They say something about Mary having a brother named Aaron, but biblically it was Miriam from the Old Testament who had a brother Aaron and both Miriam and Aaron were siblings of the famous Moses. But maybe Jesus' mom had a brother Aaron that we never heard of before. Mary is accused of fornication, but Jesus comes to her defense.

Except for the virgin birth, this story differs considerably from the Bible's version which anyone interested can read about here in Matthew and Luke.

The remainder of this sura dealt with remembrances of former prophets, thoughts of Paradise, words about casting people into hell and adamant statements about God not having a son.

May Books

It's nearly the end of another month so I figured it was time to post the few books I finished in May. It looks like I didn't do much reading, but if you notice my previous posts you will realize I have been reading quite a bit. Just didn't finish the translation of the Quran that has taken my attention the last several days. Additionally I've been reading two other books that I'll, hopefully, complete in time for the June listing of books finished.

I'll try to slow down a bit on posting notes from the Quran. I realize I've been reading and posting like a maniac so I will take a Chill Pill and force myself to calm down. You'd think being a Southerner I would have this trait down pat. Alas, it's only a stereotype. Southerners, in fact, are quite feisty go getters when they have a "cause." And here lately, my "cause" has been reading and posting about the chapters I've read from the Quran. Sorry if I've driven you crazy as you've tried to keep up. I just get so excited about sharing new things and asking for your help in understanding! :-)

Another interesting book I've been reading -- it's over 400 pages -- is God & Government by Charles Colson. It's a book I bought well over a year ago that has sat on my shelf daring me to pick it up and read it! So I finally decided it was time. I have a super-duper, fantastic bit from it to share in the coming days. It was a wonderful example of true Christlike living by the Poles in relation to the murder of their beloved priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko , by the Communist regime in October 1984. Stay tuned for that post. I absolutely loved that part of this book!

Enough chitchat, here are the few books I finished in May.

Mountain Top
is a novel by Robert Whitlow -- it's setting is the NC mountains and the main characters are lawyer-turned-pastor Mike Andrews and his client, Sam Miller; the book says this about itself

"Supernatural visions filled with images of keys, hatchets, hammers and fires. An eccentric old man in jail -- accused of robbing a church and knowing things he has no right to know. A lawyer turned pastor -- suddenly summoned to a stranger's cell by a dream. How much will one man risk to defend another, when the truth lands him in prison ... and the only evidence proving his innocence comes by a dream?"

This book was a good reminder to love all people - even those who want to do evil against you.

American Taliban by Pearl Abraham -- The story of how John, an all-around American college student with a love of surfing, skating techniques, reading and learning ended up fighting in Afghanistan. This is more a story of how one was slowly reeled into a certain mindset, not in any forceful or evil ways, but by decisions he made to further his education, visit places, follow adventure and strive to be like his "hero," Sir Richard Burton. Interesting novel. At times it made me want to be immersed in a different culture as John was just to experience how others live.

The Last Day -- a novel by James Landis -- a young soldier spends a day - his last one on earth - reviewing his life with Jesus

"When you're at war, you don't know if you're fighting for the dead or for the living. Then one day you realize you fight to keep the dead alive as much as to keep the living from becoming dead. The same as Jesus. He redeems my soul from the power of the grave." (pg. 175)

"The Mahdi Army was Shiite. The Omar Brigade was Sunni. They killed each other. They killed their children. Their own children -- because when they killed their enemies, their enemies killed their children. The whole place was a vengeance factory." (pg. 250)

Rainwater by Sandra Brown -- Ella's life as a boarding house owner and operator is changed when a new boarder enters her house for a short time. This is a story set in the Depression-era South touching on racial issues and also the difference people can make when they care to get involved. Solly, Ella's son, reminds me of a young child I met one time with autism. So many characteristics of Solly remind me of things I saw in Grant -- sensitivity to touch, fixating on things, the tantrums. This book reminded me of the hardships many people endure when they have special-needs children who are misunderstood by society.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 18

Am I posting these notes too fast?

Sura 18 -- Al Kahf

This sura is called "The Cave" and fittingly enough there is a rather "cute" story near the beginning (note that! hehehe) about some people (the number is debated) and a dog who went into a cave, slept for a number of years and then woke up thinking they'd only slept a day or a few hours. I think they were hiding from evil people and, welllllllll, I didn't quite follow all the particulars, but I think the moral of the story was that God protected them because they were believers. If anyone wants to add more commentary on this story, please do. What is it: an allegory, parable, myth, supposed true story?

27. Recite what has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord. There is no one who can change the word of God; and you will not find refuge except in Him.

Another pretty strong statement about NO ONE being able to change the word of God. Does this include the former Word of God?

Beginning in verse 32 there is a parable of two men who had vineyards. One man's crops fell into disaster and he rued the day he ever associated anyone with the Lord (vs. 42).

56. We never send apostles but to convey happy tidings, and to warn. But those who disbelieve contend with false arguments to nullify the truth. They make a mockery of My revelations and of what they had been warned.

Sadly most of the Old Testament prophets seemed to have gloomy words because the people had turned away from God, but I do agree that occasionally there were "happy tidings" about God having mercy and caring for His people like a good shepherd. I love this visual from Isaiah 40.

10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

I found the dialog between Moses and (this translation said ) Joshua peculiar. I gathered that Joshua left the fish for lunch behind on a stone, they retraced their steps and encountered someone guided by God. This person agrees to take Moses with him after warning Moses not to question what he does. However, Moses observes this guy's actions and can't help but react! Why take a boat with holes? Are you going to drown your passengers? Why kill an innocent child? Why rebuild a wall? The person keeps warning Moses that he doesn't understand and to stop questioning. Only later does this person explain the bigger picture. I totally agree that we don't always know the bigger picture and that God's ways are higher than ours.

8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

(Isaiah 55)

However, I must admit to having a problem with the little child being killed and reading the explanation for it. I would hope God could keep his people dedicated to Himself regardless of how a young man grows up to defy what his parents believe. And the hope that God would bless the parents with another child...well, I doubt I'd like to hear this explanation if I were the grieving parents. See what I mean?

80. As for the boy, his parents were believers, but we feared that he would harass them with defiance and disbelief. 81. We hoped their Lord would give them a substitute better than him in virtue and goodness.

After this story is something about Dhu'l-Qarnain (vs. 83). Who is this guy? And also who or what are Gog and Magog in your beliefs? The translation I have has very few notes, however, it does make a short case for Dhu'l-Qarnain being Cyrus the Great of Persia and Gog and Magog being two Mongolian tribes. Is this the generally-accepted thought among most Muslims?

103. Say: "Shall I tell you whose labour will be wasted? 104. Theirs whose effort is misspent in pursuit of the pleasures of the world, even though they think they are doing good things."

Lastly, I thought these verses were a superb reminder to all of us caught up in pursuing earthly pleasures even when we believe we are doing good things. Great reminder!

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!

Christian Q&A Session

As you all know I've been reading a translation of the Quran that I borrowed from the library. If you didn't know, wellllll check the previous two thousand posts and you'll see. (Ah, I'm using a bit of that Middle Eastern exaggeration now, I see!) I've greatly enjoyed reading, posting my thoughts and interacting with several lovely ladies who have been so kind in helping me better understand things. I've heard various points of view and gotten some answers and clarifications. Thank you all so much! I hope you will continue to read and comment as time allows. I value your opinions.

In the comments section of one of the posts, a couple Muslim women asked me to answer some questions from my faith as they had some things they were curious about and wanted to finally get some answers. I answered one question which lead to a great follow-up reply and more questions. So, I thought instead of trying to answer them all there on a post about the Quran, I'd begin a new post where people can ask questions and we can all interact. I welcome all of you to question and try to answer the questions posed. I don't claim to be some authority on Christianity so I covet (in the not-breaking-the-ten-commandments sense of the word..ha!) your help (yes, YOU!) in explaining.

Instead of going back and answering those questions one by one, I'm going to tweak and copy a couple of comments I made on someone else's blog two months ago to jump start things. I believe part of the answer is within these comments. Thus you can read what I said and ask follow-up questions or simply ask again what you want to know if this isn't helpful in the least!

Here goes!

The discussion on that blog lead to someone reminding us of how bloody the Abrahamic religions were with circumcision, the offering of sacrifices according to Jewish Law, the significance of the blood of Jesus for Christians, and the slaughtering of lambs for one of the Muslim Eids. It was within this context that I replied with this first comment.

I know what you mean about how bloody the Abrahamic religions are. I’ve sometimes wondered about it as well since it creeps me out looking at it from a 21st-century point of view. I wonder how God could be sooooo bloody!

But then I wonder if perhaps it should show us just how awful our sins are in God’s eyes especially when we consider the sin offerings the children of Israel had to offer.

If you take the story of Adam and Eve according to the Biblical version, when they sinned God took the skin of an animal to cover them. An innocent animal lost its life (unless God somehow provided skin to make a garment without the animal being slaughtered..which He could). And each time the Israelites put their hands on the heads of animals in a “transfer” of their sins to the animal who then was sacrificed, it should have been a sobering reminder to them that sin is not cheap. It’s not something God shrugs and dismisses.

Leviticus 17:11 — “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

I’ve never been able to explain God and why He requires what He does, but then I guess it’s not my place to be His apologist. I’m sure when He looks at me, He wonders why I do what I do and accept what I accept soooooo…

I just chalk it up to His ways being different and higher than mine (Isa. 55:6-8) and leave it at that if I can. :)

Notice the mention of blood being necessary for atonement in the verse from Leviticus! This is why Jesus' blood has such great significance in forgiveness of sins! Jesus was the perfect lamb of God who was sent as the final sacrifice! In the OT, the people went to the Temple to offer sacrifices for their sins - deliberate ones and even unintentional ones. If you read the Torah, you will see precise details of what had to be offered for various sins. Sin is not cheap! It costs innocent creatures their lives! We believe this is a foreshadowing of the Lamb whom God would send as the one who would take the sins of mankind on himself and pay for them...for all those who believed in the work he had done on the cross. This is why I have a problem with the Quran and its taking out the blood of Jesus. Yes, it says nice things about him, but without the shedding of blood, the Bible says, there is no payment for sin. Without Christ's work, there is no salvation! Yeah, it's that serious. Contrary to what we'd like to believe, we cannot work hard enough to wash ourselves clean in front of a Holy, Perfect Almighty God. Quite simply, we cannot save ourselves. God is our Savior. Both the Bible and Quran agree on this. Yet most of us act as if we can somehow make ourselves clean enough that God will see fit to let us into heaven.

Picture something with me for a minute. Suppose you were a mechanic busy working under the hood of a car. You can imagine how greasy your fingers would be after a few hours on the job. You catch a glimpse of yourself in the side-view mirror and notice a smudge of pizza from lunch that somehow dropped on your chin. Without thinking you take a swipe at this tomato-y red stain and instead of wiping yourself clean, you leave a black grease spot on your face. The crux of the matter is: you cannot clean yourself when your hands are dirty! No matter how hard you try to get that smear of pizza sauce off your face, you will still be dirty as long as your hands are black with grease.

Now, apply this spiritually. In God's eyes we are all sinners. One sin made us imperfect and I am willing to bet my life (if I were a betting woman, that is) that all of you reading this now have done at least one thing wrong. Some of you maybe even two or three. For me, it's up near, ooooohhhhh, a billion sixty four, I'm sure. So. We are all sinners. We all have dirty hands like the mechanic. We can work hard at cleaning the spots off us, but in reality, we are only smearing the dirt. It's hopeless for us to clean ourselves! Ahhhhh, what do we do? We ask God for help. We call for the Savior which God claims to be! Both the Bible and Quran say this, in fact!

Joseph in Sura 12:

101.  O my Lord, you have given me dominion and taught me the interpretation of dreams; O Creator of the heavens and the earth, You alone are my saviour in this world and the world to come; let me die submitting to You, and place me among the upright."

And I did a post about God as our Savior from the OT earlier this year. In that post, I mentioned this lovely Psalm (40) from David. I think it explains how our "cleaning" is from the Lord, not our own efforts.

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.

2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.

Notice how much of that is "He" doing the work and not "I." "He" even put a new song of praise in David's mouth! Why are you taking credit for what GOD has done?

Back to the blog where I left another comment. A bit later in the discussion we were talking about repentance. I thought this comment might be helpful to the one who asked about forgiveness of sin.

First we must understand repentance which isn’t merely a “Oops, they caught me…I’m sorry, God.” Repentance isn’t just turning from your sins either. John Edwards could stop sleeping with his mistress and go back home to Elizabeth without being truly repentant. (I’m just using him for an example since he is in the news a lot these days and lives in my state. Substitute Tiger Woods, Mark Sanford or Cheater of Your Own Choice if you’d rather.)

Biblical repentance is changing your mind about your sin to the extent that your actions change. (We believe it’s a work of GOD in our hearts.) Like when Jesus visited Zacchaeus and salvation was brought to Z’s house. Z then repented and said he’d give half of his goods to feed the poor and restore fourfold what he’d taken from others. He wasn’t merely “sorry” for cheating his people in tax collecting, his change of heart changed his actions.

Notice the message of John the Baptist, Jesus and the disciples to repent. My point of bringing up repentance is to show that we cannot flippantly say, “Oh, I believe Jesus cleanses our sins so I can sleep around, get drunk, cheat others, lie, steal and live like the devil and still be OK.”

That’s a mistaken notion that Jesus’ blood is like an insurance policy — it gets me out of hell while I live like hell every day. Not so.

So if Hitler had a change of heart that resulted in a change of action and he asked God to forgive his sins, yes, I believe he would be forgiven. The same with Osama bin Laden which, by the way, an older friend of mine told me last weekend she was praying for his salvation. And the same for any other mass murderer. Yes, what they did is wrong and they will have to live with the guilt of what they did, but can OBL go back and apologize to those he killed? Can Hitler? Can George Bush?

Could King David go back and apologize to Uriah after Uriah was killed? No. Do I think God forgave David after he repented? Sure do.

This may differ from other Christians, but it is my understanding of repentance and forgiveness of sins. If you disagree or want to add or change something I said, please speak up!

Now I will leave the post open for more questions or simply feedback/comments/whatever you want to add on this subject or any other. I'll continue with the Quran posts soon. I have three in drafts ready to be published whenever I get the notion. Thanks again to all who've left feedback. You've been very helpful!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 16

Sura 16 -- al-Nahl

OK, it's not something I've brought up before now though I've seen it over and over and over again so, in reality, I probably should have commented on it in a previous post. I purposefully avoided mentioning it before since it's something I knew already about the message of the Quran. "It" being the third on this list.

1. The Quran is for real.

2. Muhammad is not a sorcerer so we should take what he says seriously, as from God.

3. God should not be associated with partners.

I loved the verses about cows. I live in the country and I've always found it cheery to see the cows grazing in the fields. In fact as I read this verse Monday evening,

6. There is life and cheer for you as you drive them home in the evening, and lead them out in the morning to graze.

I heard cows mooing and had to smile at how appropriate it was to read about and hear cows at the same time! :-)

I enjoyed all the verses about nature and God's provision for the earth and its inhabitants. God surely thought of all the details - food and water for us all.

17. So, could one who creates be like one who cannot? Will you not then contemplate?

20.  As for those they call besides God, they cannot create a thing, and have themselves been created.

These verses on creation reminded me of two things: John's words about Jesus:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

and also the Quran's view of Jesus creating life from a bird. Granted, I know in the latter it was "by God's permission," however, it still came to mind as I read about those who could create life. As you can read above, John believed without Jesus nothing that is made was created.

I thought verses 33-37 were interesting. It's the story of unbelievers who accused God of not guiding them. God countered that He sent apostles to every community and, therefore, the people's destruction was due to their not accepting the apostles' message and instead accusing them of lies.

63. By God, We sent apostles to many a people before you, but Satan made their acts seem attractive to them, and he is their friend this day, and a painful torment awaits them.

More talk of people who enjoyed their sinfulness, made friends with the devil and await a painful torment.

This next part was rather fun to visualize as I read it:

65. God sends down water from the skies and quickens the dead earth to a new birth. Here is a sign for those who listen. 66. And surely in cattle there is a lesson for you: We give you a drink from the extract of food in their bellies and blood-purest milk so delicious to drink. 67. And in fruits of the date-palm and the vine, from which you obtain inebriating drinks and excellent food. In this indeed are signs for those who understand. 68. Your Lord predisposed the bees to make their hives in mountains, trees and trellices, 69. And suck from all fruits and flit about the unrestricted paths of their Lord. A drink of various hues comes out of their bellies which contains medicine for men. In this is a sign for those who reflect.

I'm not sure if it's scientifically correct, but maybe more "poetic license" in describing the way nature -- cows, trees, and bees -- provide for us. I see at this point in Muslim history alcohol must not have been forbidden unless God was only discussing "inebriating drinks" that the nonMuslims made from the fruit.

79. Do you not see the birds held high between the heavens and the earth? Nothing holds them (aloft) but God. There are verily signs in this for those who believe.

Recently it was a breezy day and I was reading on my porch. I glanced around and birds were soaring way up high so I stopped for a few minutes just to watch them and wonder what it was like to view the earth from high in the sky!

93.  If God had pleased He would surely have made you a single community of belief; but He leads whosoever He wills astray, and guides whosoever He please. But you will surely be questioned about what you used to do.

Another predestination verse? I think this a good verse to use against those (few, I think) extreme types who believe all people need to convert. God didn't even will this to happen. It's His desire that some be lead astray while He will guide others to Himself.

96. For what you possess will pass, but what is with God will abide. We shall certainly award those who persevere a recompense in keeping with their deeds

The first part of this verse reminded me of Jesus' words during his sermon on the mount:

19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6)

101. When We replace a message with another -- and God knows best what He reveals -- they say: "You have made it up;" yet most of them do not know.

So it seems Muslims believe God does replace messages. He gave the Jews one Law, to Christ another to give to his followers and maybe Islam for everyone who lived after Muhammad's time on earth. However, I hear Muslims say that God's message has always been the same yet the holy books of the Jews and Christians were changed. Therefore, does God preserve His message or replace it maybe update it as the mood hits? Let me say that I do believe God makes covenants with people. If you read the OT you will see God making covenants with Noah and Abraham and the children of Israel. Jesus claimed to have fulfilled the Law, and, in my thinking a new covenant based on this passage from Jeremiah 31 was foretold.

31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD,
"when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.

32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,"
declares the LORD.

33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."

So God makes and fulfills covenants and here perhaps He instituted a new one. Maybe Muhammad's message was yet another?

106.  Whosoever denies having once believed -- unless he is forced to do so while his heart enjoys the peace of faith -- and opens his mind to disbelief will suffer the wrath of God. Their punishment will be great, 107. For they loved the life of this world more than the life to come; and God does not guide those who do not believe.

OK, so this passage really took my attention especially the last phrase. First we must believe then God guides us. This is why it was so important for the people to trust Muhammad and this message he was bringing. When they could submit to belief in Muhammad (and by extension God) THEN they could follow the Islamic rules and the end result would be guidance to God in the Hereafter. Right? That's not really different from the faith other prophets have required. We do have to accept the Messenger and Message in order to believe what is said as truth or error. This is why it's crucial to examine the Messenger and Message to see if it is truth!

125. Call them to the path of your Lord with wisdom and words of good advice; and reason with them in the best way possible. Your Lord surely knows who strays from His path, and He knows those who are guided the right way.

This is good advice for dealing with people especially when talking about potentially-charged topics such as spiritual beliefs!

Notes on Quran - Sura 15

I read this on May 24 and wrote the post the following morning ... too early in the day. Would love to read your thoughts on my rather disjointed notes. Thanks!

Sura 15 -- al-Hijr

The first part of this chapter discusses a time of judgment which is coming at an appointed time.

4. Not one habitation have We destroyed but at the time determined for it. 5. No people can hasten or delay the term already fixed for them.

This should be proof enough for certain people who think by orchestrating certain world events they can bring the End Time events to pass and usher in the Messiah or whatever they believe will happen towards the end. I hear this occasionally. Really.

9. We have sent down this Exposition, and We will guard it.

I assume "this Exposition" is the Quran and since Muslims believe the Torah and Gospels were corrupted, God decided this time He would personally guard it from being changed. What do you think?

12. We place in the hearts of sinners (disbelief). 13. So, they will not believe in it: The example of former people is there.

So from my reading thus far, I am getting the impression that if you are a "sinner" then God will make you disbelieve and guide you astray. However, if you have some measure of goodness already in you, He will help you believe and guide you the right way. I suppose the twenty-five thousand dollar question is: how much goodness do I have to possess in order for God to show me the right way?

Verses 16 and following have some pretty interesting descriptions of the creation - God stretching out the world (is it flat then?) and fastening it down with stabilizers. Rain-laden winds and "water from the sky." Kind of fascinating to visualize all this.

And then we get to how God created man:

28. But when your Lord said to the angels: "I am verily going to create a human being from fermented clay dried tingling hard; 29. And when I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My spirit, bow before him in homage;"

The Bible's account says Adam was made from the dust of the ground, God breathed into him the breath of life (Genesis 2:7) and also that we are made in the image of God. (Gen. 1:26). In what ways do you believe we are in the "image of God" or do you think this is a grossly false statement?

39. "O my Lord," he said, "since You have led me into error I'll beguile them with the pleasures of the world and lead them astray, 40. Except the chosen ones among Your creatures."

I thought this was an interesting talk by Satan since he blamed God for leading him in error. Does God lead us astray?

There was some more of Lot's story in this passage -- the visitors he received, the message of doom for Sodom and the instruction for Lot and his family to flee.

80.  The people of Al-Hijr denied Our apostles;

Good to see where the name of this sura came from. I found it interesting how the Quran noted these people hid in mountains. I remember the caves I'd see in Maaloula, Syria and how fascinated I was by them as we'd drive by. I could well imagine how someone would hide out in them. Unfortunately for the Hijri people, they couldn't hide from God and when they rejected His message, a "mighty blast" got them and their attempts at finding security in the mountains failed.

Verses 88 through 93 took my attention. Something about not coveting the things God has given others to enjoy, His being a "distinct warner" such as those apostles, I suppose, who were sent to other people previously. I'm guessing the Jews and Christians since this version reads:

89. And say: "I am a distinct warner," 90. Like (those) We had sent to those schismatics who slandered their Books 91. And severed their Scripture into fragments.

What's the meaning of these verses?

It follows that those people will be questioned for their deeds and for the Muslims not to worry at those who scoff at them. Instead they should keep worshiping, keep bowing in submission and glorifying God with their praises until death comes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 14

I think I'll just jump right in with some thoughts on the verses today. Come join me! :)

Sura 14 -- Ibrahim

4. We never sent a messenger who did not speak the tongue of his people, that he may explain to them distinctly. God leads whosoever He wills astray, and shows whoever He wills the way: He is all-mighty and all-wise.

Two things about this verse. Did God promise messengers to all people? If so, where is the one for the English speakers? Another, if God leads people astray does He also oversee the corruption and changing of His precious Word to mankind so they will be lead astray?

11. Their apostles said to them: "Indeed we are men like you, but God bestows His favours on whomsoever He wills among His creatures. It is not in our power to bring a miracle for you without the leave of God. The believers should only place their trust in God. 12. And why should we not repose our trust in God when He has shown us our paths of duty to Him? We shall bear with fortitude the hardships you inflict upon us. The trusting place their trust in God."

I like this part about trusting God. I believe the part about God granting favors to whichever of His creatures He chooses. I've often pondered the fact that I have been blessed so much whereas others in the world cannot speak freely without grave repercussions and still others can barely survive for lack of food and clean water.

18. Like ashes are the deeds of those who deny their Lord, which the wind blows away on a windy day. They shall have no power over what they earned. This is the farthest limit of going astray.

This reminds me of some poetic verses from the Psalms. The first Psalm, for instance, contrasts the righteous who is like a tree taking root by a stream of water, yielding fruit, not withering but prospering. On the other hand,

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

22. When the reckoning is over Satan will say: "The promise that was made to you by God was indeed a true promise; but I went back on the promise I had made, for I had no power over you except to call you; and you responded to my call. So blame me not, but blame yourselves. Neither can I help you nor can you give me help. I disavow your having associated me earlier (with God). The punishment for those who are wicked is painful indeed."

This verse reminded me a bit of Amber's post recently about Satan being a "job." I am not so sure about that theory, however, I did agree with her that we cannot always say "the devil made me do it" as we are free to choose to follow temptation or follow what we know is right to do. So I can see Satan here making a case for this very thing with his urging us to blame ourselves and not him. Is the phrase about "disavowing your having associated me with God" a direct reply to the charge some Bible readers make about Satan's fall from heaven being a result of his wanting to be equal with God? Intriguing!

34. He gave you whatsoever you asked. If you try to count the favours of God you will not be able to calculate. Man is most unjust indeed, full of ingratitude.

Whenever we are feeling down about life and rotten circumstances we are going through, counting our blessings - no matter how small they seem - is a wonderful way to lift our spirits. My preacher often says that a person cannot be both thankful and discouraged at the same time. So he encourages us to start praising the Lord and thanking Him when we are in discouraging times. This helps us remember how big our God is and that problems are tiny in comparison to His might.

35. Remember when Abraham prayed: "O Lord, make this a city of peace, and preserve me and my progeny from worshipping idols: "

This a great prayer -- one for a city of peace and for us and our children to always follow God.

52. This is a message for mankind that they may take a warning from it, and may know that He is the one and only God, and that men of wisdom may reflect.

Oh to be one who is wise enough to reflect on the teachings and goodness of God. Great verse!

I have actually read and written posts up through sura 17, but I am trying to refrain from publishing them as quickly as I write them because I know it's a lot to read already. However, I wanted to tell you this in case what I write now has already been covered by you in the comments section of previous posts. Thanks to all who have contributed to a great discussion thus far. I am learning a lot from you!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 13

So here I sit again. Gmail opened since it saves my notes automatically, another tab with the translation of the Quran and still another at Biblegateway.com for easy access to the Bible verses I may need. These posts have been quite a lot of fun. It's like once I made up my mind to read the Quran, I've been a reading and posting machine! :-)

Sura 13 -- al-Ra'd

In English this sura is "Thunder" and it's basically a chapter reminding us of God's creation and control over nature. It had quite lovely and picturesque verses.

2. It is God who raised the skies without support, as you can see, then assumed His throne, and enthralled the sun and the moon (so that) each runs to a predetermined course. He disposes all affairs, distinctly explaining every sign that you may be certain of the meeting with your Lord.

I thought this was a lovely verse declaring God's power in creation and also in putting things into place. However, I was curious about this phrase "distinctly explaining every sign" as I feel there are many things about God that are still mysteries to me. Perhaps this is a reference to God giving us His Word so we may be certain of things as the time approaches to meet Him on Judgment Day. What do you think?

4. On the earth are tracts adjoining one another, and vineyards, fields of corn and date-palm trees, some forked, some with single trunks, yet all irrigated by the self-same water, though We make some more excellent than the others in fruit. There are surely signs in them for those who understand.

I enjoy visualizing all of this and also imagining what fruit some may find more excellent. I know I really love cantaloupe and watermelon among others. How about you? Also I wonder what signs are in the fruit? Obviously I'm not among those who understand since I'm asking this question. Have any of y'all figured it out? :)

11. His angels keep watch over him in succession (night and day), in front and behind, by God's command. Verily God does not change the state of a people till they change themselves. When God intends misfortune for a people no one can avert it, and no saviour will they have apart from Him.

I've heard many Muslims quote this phrase ("God does not change the state of a people till they change themselves") on blogs. I recall my Syrian friend sharing how 20 to 40 years ago the Arab people were quite liberal, however, they saw themselves getting defeated and their countries basically being pitiful so they decided to "go back to" the religion. Thus the women started donning the headscarf and society got more conservative. Their hope was that God would notice how they were changing themselves so He would then step in as their Savior. I can see how this verse would be special as one I hear quoted quite often and in a similar fashion is this promise from God to the children of Israel,

"14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (II Chronicles 7)

Some preachers and other religious folks urge Americans to do this so that God will heal our land.

13. The thunder sings His praises, and the angels too, for awe of Him. He sends thunder-bolts and strikes whosoever He will with them: Even then it is God they contend about! But mighty is He in (His) power.

I love the first part of this verse and hope next time I hear thunder, I realize it's merely singing praises! Love that imagery! Reminds me of David's words in Psalm 19

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

27. The unbelievers say: "How is it that no miracle was sent down to him by his Lord?" Say: "God leads whosoever He wills astray, and guides whoever turns to Him in repentance. 28. Those who believe and find peace in their hearts from the contemplation of God: Surely there is peace of heart in the contemplation of God!"

I've heard people say that God guides people to Himself, but I am not sure I've heard the same thing about God leading people astray. Those in Christianity who believe in predestination would say that man is so depraved - so sinful - that they follow their own lusts astray so God cannot be blamed for that. But in agreement with the Quran, they would agree that God guides people to Himself.

I love verse 28 and how contemplating God brings peace to our hearts. I suppose this is true only if we are in right relationship with God. I can't imagine a person living in sin enjoying thoughts of God. :)

I noticed descriptions of Paradise several times in the suras. It always sounds green and refreshing!

38. We sent many apostles before you, and bestowed on them wives and children, but it was not for any apostle to come up with a miracle unless by the leave of God. For every age there is a law. 39. God abrogates or confirms whatsoever He will, for He has with Him the Book of Books.

I thought this part about every age having a law, God abrogating and confirming to be interesting. I assume the "Book of Books" refers to the Quran?

43. Yet those who are disbelievers say: "You are not the apostle sent (by God)." Tell them: "God is sufficient as witness between me and you, and he who has knowledge of the Book."

I thought this was a nice assurance for Muhammad. God is a sufficient witness for him. Who is "he who has knowledge of the Book"? Was the Quran a book at this time? I keep seeing references to it as either "Book" or "this Quran." I was always under the impression it wasn't written down at this point except maybe on scraps of leather or paper. Does anyone know?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 12

Last night was very pleasant so I sat out on the porch reading Sura 12-- Yusuf. Now this book about Joseph was what I had in mind when I read Jonah. You'll recall from my post the other day how surprised I was about Jonah's book in the Quran since it shared very little about the man unlike the Bible's version. However this sura was different and I found it highly enjoyable to read the details of Joseph's life from an Islamic point of view. I am very familiar with the story of Joseph as told in Genesis as it is one we are taught often in church and Sunday school. It seems to be a favorite story full of action, life lessons, "you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" kind of things. Also it's a story of forgiveness. Just a wonderful person to read about and although the Bible doesn't have a book of Joseph, his story is told starting in Genesis 37. Go ahead and give it a read and compare for yourself how and where the Bible's and Quran's versions are similar and different. I think you will find it as enjoyable as I did.

In the Bible it is told that Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob (Israel). While not the oldest of his twelve sons, Joseph was the older of the two boys born to Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel. Perhaps this was the reason for Israel's favoritism of Joseph. For whatever reason (oh, and I just looked. The Bible says Joseph was the son of Israel's old age), Joseph was favored and even given a special coat with many colors. His older brothers, no doubt, seethed with envy. Imagine one day when little brother Joe shows up with a story of dreams he had where symbolically his family members bowed down to him! So cute to hear the little chap saying such things, right? Heh...not on your life! Even Joseph's father found it laughable and rebuked him, "Indeed, Child, shall I bow to you one day?" (paraphrased by me from Gen. 37:10).

I don't want to mix the stories too much although in what I've shared thus far, I think the two books were very similar. The plotting for Joseph's removal from the family was a bit different, but not terribly much. I rather enjoyed the Quranic version of The Older Sons speaking with their father about taking Joseph out to play and Israel's concern that Joseph would be devoured by a wolf. The Older Sons' assurance that this wouldn't happen on their watch and then, sadly, the fact that it "did." Well, we know it didn't since Joseph was actually stuck in a well at this point. In the Bible, Joseph's father actually instructed Joseph to visit his brothers because Israel wanted word that they were doing all right (see Gen. 37:12-14). It was as they saw Joseph approaching from afar that The Older Sons plotted to get rid of him. They carried out their scheme and as is similar in both accounts, they went back to their father with the bad news. In the Quranic version Israel seemed to know of their plot, whereas in the Biblical version he grieved as a father who truly believed his precious son was lost in this life.

See what I mean?

Quranic version:

18. They showed him the shirt with false blood on it. (Their father) said: "It is not so; you have made up the story. Yet endurance is best. I seek the help of God alone for what you impute."

Biblical version:

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. "No," he said, "in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son." So his father wept for him.

In both books Joseph ends up in an Egyptian's household - we refer to him as Potiphar, an official of Pharoah. You can read the Biblical account in Genesis 39 if you wish. Joseph was a great worker and God blessed him so much that Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household. The downside is that Joseph was a handsome young man and Mrs. Potiphar lusted after him. (Unbelievably to some perhaps, yes, women can and do lust after men sometimes!)

So this happens (Bible):

11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, "Come to bed with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

And you know that old saying about "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"? Well, it's true. And Mrs. Potiphar was angry that this servant had refused her! Indeed he ran away from her advances. (Great lesson here about fleeing from youthful lusts and not trying to stick around to fight them. You will often lose so don't fight -- flee, scram, leave, get outta Dodge, man!)

The two versions differ a bit in that the Quran finds Joseph innocent while the Bible finds Joseph guilty in Potiphar's eyes. In Potiphar's eyes being the key phrase as the reader knows Joseph is innocent of any wrongdoing and is being falsely accused and imprisoned.

The Quran has a bit about a banquet that Potiphar's wife held after women of the community gossiped about her lust for her servant boy. She wanted to prove to them how lovely this man was so she invited them to a dinner, gave them knives and then called out for Joseph to appear before them. I admit I laughed so hard when I read this. I am one who likes visualizing things and this was just too cute of an image in my mind's eye. I read it to my husband and he laughed as well.

30. In the city the women gossiped: "The minister's wife longs after her page. He has captured her heart. We think she is in clear error." 31. When she heard their slanderings, she sent for them and prepared a banquet, and gave each of them a knife (for paring fruit), and called (to Joseph): "Come out before them." When they saw him, the women were so wonderstruck they cut their hands, and exclaimed: "O Lord preserve us! He is no mortal but an honourable angel."

It just makes me laugh to think of the Egyptian Ladies' Society meeting at Mrs. Potiphar's house, eating a wonderful meal, cutting fruit and then Wonder Boy walks in causing them to cut their hands and exclaim at his beauty. Reminds me of women at country music concerts when Tim McGraw comes on stage. :)

I know this post is different than my previous ones on the Quran. I suppose since the story of Joseph is so familiar to me, I could read this sura more quickly and enjoy seeing how Joseph's account was relayed to Muhammad. A few things to add from the Quran.

3. Through the revelation of this Qur'an We narrate the best of histories of which you were unaware before.

I agree that Joseph's story is one of the best to be retold, however, I am not so sure it was unaware unless this means among the Arabs. It seems the Jews knew of it for years before.

28. When the husband saw the shirt torn at the back, he said: "Surely this is a woman's ruse, and the wiles of women are great. 29. Ignore this affair, O Joseph; and you, O woman, ask forgiveness for your sin, for you were surely errant."

This is part of the Mrs. Potiphar story where I mentioned the Quran's version declaring Joseph's innocence in Potiphar's eyes. I found Potiphar's words curious and wondered if this was part of the reasoning of people who claim women should be covered and women are the problem in leading men astray. Let me not claim women cannot be seductive. I know many are and many try to be. However, should this mean all women are to be treated in a certain way? Honestly, if I were a man and was told I could not be trusted around pretty women or half-naked women because I couldn't control my lust, I would feel offended and reduced to the status of one who cannot think and control himself when tempted. I question those who dare to claim women are deficient in religion or to the intellect of men when these same people excuse men when they are aroused to temptation by looking at women. You cannot be both superior to women in religion and intellect and at the same time be reduced to - often by fellow men's opinions -- a mindless sexual being who cannot cannot cannot control his sexual urges thus women must cover! I am offended for you men out there, really!

99. When they went back to Joseph he gave his father and mother a place of honour, and said: "Enter Egypt in peace by the will of God." 100. He seated his parents by his side on the throne; and they fell down before him in homage. "O my father," said Joseph, "this is the meaning of my earlier dream. My Lord has made it come true. He was gracious in getting me out of the prison, and bringing you out of the desert to me after the discord created by Satan between me and my brothers, for my Lord is gracious to whomsoever He please. He is indeed all-knowing and all-wise.

I'm curious which of Israel's wives was considered Joseph's parent here since I'm pretty sure Joseph's mom, Rachel, died after giving birth to the baby of the Twelve Sons, Benjamin. Oh, yes, I found it in Genesis 35:16-19.

101. O my Lord, you have given me dominion and taught me the interpretation of dreams; O Creator of the heavens and the earth, You alone are my saviour in this world and the world to come; let me die submitting to You, and place me among the upright."

I love this declaration by Joseph that God is his Savior in the present world and the world to come! (I did a post about this from the OT earlier this year, in fact.)

I won't go into much of the rest of the story as many of the details are the same. I greatly enjoyed this sura. Joseph's story is one that shows when injustice is done to us, we should not panic. We should not seek to rectify things only in our own power. I love the Bible's version at the end when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and they were frightened. They knew this powerful leader in Egypt - the brother they had sold into slavery - could have them killed. However Joseph lovingly forgave them and declared as a lesson to us even now:

19 But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50).

Although humans may have evil intentions, don't fret. If God is in control as many of us believe, even that which men intended for harm can accomplish something good. With God on our sides, we never truly have to worry.

Thanks again for all the wonderful feedback. I know I'm cranking out these posts rather quickly and they are long, but I deeply appreciate all who have been reading and adding to the discussion. Please keep your thoughts coming as time and inclination allow. :)