Qur’an 11: The Cave & other stories

I’m a British humanist reading The Qur’an (Tarif Khalidi’s translation) and blogging about it as I go. I’m doing my best not to make assumptions, apart from assuming it was written – not necessarily in the order given – by a man (or men) in Arabia in the 7th century. I realise that some Muslims will consider the whole exercise blasphemous, and some anti-theists will say it’s not critical enough. The aim is not to be offensive, but simply to share a personal, non-scholarly, view of one of the most influential texts of our time. [More…]

In common with Chapter 12 (“Joseph”) – but unlike the other chapters so far – Chapter 18 (“The Cave”) contains plenty of narrative. As usual, there’s no apparent logic behind the order of points in the chapter, so I’ll start with some of the other items here, then look at the stories.

After a prayer, it begins with another example of God’s thinking: “We [God] fashioned what lies upon the earth as an ornament for it, to test them as to who shall be the best in works. And We shall turn all that lies upon it into a desolate plain”, presumably on the Last Day. The author thinks that creation is a test for humans and the results will be marked on Judgement Day.

Embedded in The Cave story itself, there’s an injunction “…do not say of anything: ‘I shall do this tomorrow’ unless you add: ‘If God wills’.” Inshallah. God can do anything and no-one can know whether the Last Day will come before tomorrow. We should feel insecure.

God’s revelation is unchangeable: “And recite what has been revealed to you from the Book of your Lord; no change shall come over his words, nor will you ever find a berth, apart from him”. This seems to refer to the idea in previous chapters that God has the master version of His Book and decides what to reveal, when, how and to whom, the Qur’an being simply the latest example, after the Torah, the ‘Evangel’ (New Testament) and others unnamed.

If this verse is read to mean that any translation from the ‘original’ Arabic is considered a “change over his words”, then the Qur’an was presumably intended solely for Arabic-speakers. And it underlines the difficulty of saying what the definitive Arabic version is, or was, as God – for reasons unclear – chose to reveal His word to someone who couldn’t write it down.

Confusingly, God’s master Book is apparently infinite in size: “If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea itself would run dry before the words of my Lord had run dry, even if We [God] provided its like to replace it.”

In previous chapters we’ve been told of two different methods by which God created man: one from clay, the other from a drop of sperm. Here the author bolts the two together: God “created you from clay, then from a sperm, then fashioned you into a man”. This makes little logical sense. It’s almost as if he’s aware of the inconsistency and is trying to fix it.

God says about the angels: “I did not make them witness the creation of the heavens and earth [fair enough – they were created later] nor witness their own creation“. I wonder how they could do that?

There’s a nice liberal line about belief and blasphemy: “Whoso wishes, let him believe; whoso wishes, let him blaspheme”, which seems to go further than “no compulsion in religion” to imply that blasphemers should be free to express their views. It’s somewhat marred by the threat that follows: “For the wicked [read blasphemers] We [God] have prepared a Fire…” and when they’re in it and cry out for help, they are “helped to water resembling molten metal, scorching their faces”. Presumably that’s alongside being forced to drink boiling water and pus, which we’ve heard about in previous chapters. Sadly, the use of fear to induce belief does seem to work.

Once more the author’s frustration comes over that not everyone accepts what he’s saying. He, or more strictly God, moans that “man is, of all beings, the most argumentative” and “They have taken My [God’s] verses, and the warnings they received, as a laughing matter.” What it doesn’t say is that the author or his followers should use force to silence unbelievers. He seems to accept that, annoying though it is, they’re free to argue.

On the other hand, he also makes clear that good works are not enough to protect blasphemers from the Fire: “they whose manner of living in this present world has strayed far , while all the time imagining that they are acting righteously…they blasphemed…Their works are voided”.

Now, here are the stories….

 

The Cave

Like the story of Joseph, the eponymous “Cave” is apparently a re-write of an existing legend – in this case a post-Biblical one – called the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus”.

Here’s a short version of the original story according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “During the persecution of Christians (250 CE) under the Roman emperor Decius, seven (eight in some versions) Christian soldiers were concealed near their native city of Ephesus [modern day Turkey] in a cave to which the entry was later sealed. There, having protected themselves from being forced to do pagan sacrifices, they fell into a miraculous sleep. During the reign (408–450 CE) of the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II, the cave was reopened, and the Sleepers awoke. The emperor was moved by their miraculous presence and by their witness to their Christian doctrine of the body’s resurrection. Having explained the profound meaning of their experience, the Seven died, whereupon Theodosius ordered their remains to be richly enshrined, and he absolved all bishops who had been persecuted for believing in the Resurrection.” There are other versions, for example,with eight men, or where they wake up, not realising how long they’ve been asleep, and one of them goes to Ephesus to buy food only to find that everyone’s a Christian and marvel at his out-of-date silver currency. A longer, Orthodox Christian, version is here.

The Qur’anic version has embellishments and omissions. There’s no mention of Ephesus, or of the number of people (“youths”) – we’re told not to be distracted by arguments about that – and they sleep for longer (300 years, plus 9, apparently to cover the lunar year). And they have a dog.

They leave their town because people “have taken to themselves gods apart from Him” and they don’t know how to “provide manifest proof [that their is the true God]”. They decide to take refuge in a cave in the hope that “God will…make it easy for [them] to find the prudent path to follow in this matter.” They go to sleep. During the course of each day while they’re asleep “We [God] would turn them from right side to left, as their dog spread its paws across the entrance [to the cave].” For a reason the author doesn’t explain, we’re told that, if anyone had seen them, they “would have turned and fled from them, filled with terror of them”. When God wakes them up, they think they’ve only been asleep for about a day. One of them is sent to the town with silver to buy some food. He’s told to be discreet as they don’t want to be caught by the unbelievers. There’s no mention of the proof provided by the old currency of how long they’ve been asleep – rather an important feature as this version doesn’t involve a sealed cave opened by local people themselves. The author gets round this narrative problem by saying: “We [God] divulged their presence”. He doesn’t say how. And we’re not told the reaction of the townspeople. There’s just: “Remember when they argued among themselves, saying: ‘Build on top of them a structure – their Lord knows best about them’. Those who won the argument said: ‘Let us build on top of them a house of prayer.'”. It’s not clear what that refers to. And we’re not told what happened to the sleepers, or their dog, in the period after they woke.

The time lapse is important in the original story because Ephesus moved from being controlled by pagans at the start of the 200 year sleep to becoming Christian by the end of it. But in the Qur’anic version we are not told what happened in the (unnamed) town over the (longer) sleep period. Did the inhabitants remain unbelievers? Was the question of whether the Qur’anic God was the true one still a ‘live’ issue? Had they all become believers? The setting was, logically, hundreds of years before the Qur’an was written, so what/whose Divine message were they supposed to be believers in?

The stated point of the story is “that they [presumably the townspeople – and by extension the readers of the Qur’an] might know that God’s promise is true and that the Hour shall come, no doubt about it.” While the story shows God’s power to perform a miracle, it ‘s hard to see in what way it proves that “the Hour shall come” (i.e. Judgement Day).

The original (Christian) versions of the sleepers legend have clear narratives and make pretty clear points. To me, the Qur’anic version leaves too many important loose ends. It’s poor story-telling. And it’s not clear why the author chose to include it at all when its key feature – the long time delay – is irrelevant for his purpose, and actually detracts from it, as the original townspeople – and 300 years’ of their successors – remain ignorant of the miracle. And no-one learns anything about the “Last Hour”. Perhaps “The Sleepers” was simply a well-known legend and he wanted to find a way to incorporate it.

Parable of two men

In the second story, God gives one of two men them plentiful water, two “gardens of vine”, fruit trees and a bumper harvest. This man (no names given) boasts to the other one, who’s not doing as well, about his wealth and influential family. He arrogantly assumes that his fields will “never become desolate” (irony alert!)  and that – although he doubts that it will ever happen – if the Hour of Judgement comes along, he will get an even better reward in heaven.

The other man says “Are you blaspheming against Him Who created you from clay, then from a sperm, then fashioned you into a man? Assuredly it is God my Lord, and I associate nothing with Him. If only you had entered your garden and said ‘This is the will of God! There is no strength save in God!’ If you see me as inferior in wealth and offspring, perhaps my Lord will bring me what is better than your garden. Or perhaps he will cast down upon it thunderbolts from the sky and it will become a slippery plain. Or perhaps its waters will sink into the earth and you will not be able to make use of them.”

Inevitably, God then destroys the first man’s garden: “his fruit was utterly consumed.”

We’re told at the end that God “is greater in reward and more beneficent in destiny”.Given that, it’s odd that there is nothing about what happened to the other man. Was his hope of favour rewarded? Arguably, he too displayed a hint of arrogance: by virtue of his lack of God-given agricultural luck and success relative to the first man, he implied he might be in line for a place in heaven. The first man seems to have been punished, not for his boastful and arrogant behaviour towards the other man, but because he failed to appreciate that God was the source of his good fortune, he was sceptical about the Last Day, and was guilty of “associating others with God”. Maybe arrogance is not intrinsically bad.

Parable of this present life

Present life: “…is like water We caused to descend from the sky, with which the vegetation of the earth was mingled. But it [presumably the vegetation] turned into chaff, scattered by the winds. God has power over all things.” The idea is clear, but it’s not very clearly put – I suspect it’s the translation I’m using. He goes on to spell out that “property and progeny” of this present life are ephemeral – “virtuous deeds are better” – and that everything on earth will be flattened on Judgement Day.

All you think important is ultimately time-bound and unimportant except good deeds, which will be counted on the Last Day and used by God to make the either/or decision on whether you’re going to the gardens of heaven or the fire of hell. The realities of this present life should always be discounted in favour of the (promised) afterlife.

The Story of al-Khidr – The Green Man

Apparently this is a famous story about a wise, saintly guide to Moses called al-Khidr. In fact his name isn’t mentioned in the Qur’an – perhaps the author assumed people would already know who he was referring to.

After a strange introduction about Moses turning back at the end of a long journey because his servant had forgotten the (live) fish he was supposed to be bringing, “They came upon one of Our [God’s] servants…..to whom We had from on high brought knowledge.” Moses follows him and he demonstrates his wisdom by three initially odd actions that he later explains:

  • He scuttles a fishing vessel, because it belongs to poor fishermen and he knows that, if they continue to sail it, it will be seized by a pirate king.
  • He kills a young man, because “his parents were believers, and we feared he might overburden them with his arrogance and blasphemy” while a future son would be more pure and caring.
  • Despite people in a town refusing to give him and Moses food, he re-builds a damaged wall free of charge, because it belongs to orphans of a virtuous father who buried a legacy for the orphans beneath it.

As exemplars of divinely-inspired behaviour, it’s an eccentric list. In particular, the idea that there’s divine sanction to kill a young man simply because he’s an arrogant blasphemer is morally objectionable, and contrary to Quranic injunctions on killing. And why couldn’t he have simply warned the poor fisherman about the danger instead of damaging their ship? It’s also strange that Moses features here: in other chapters the author has emphasised that he’s one of God’s messengers, on a par with Muhammed. So what is the status of the mysterious guide to which Moses is apparently inferior in wisdom? Again, it reads as though the author has taken an existing legend and woven it in without being put off by some muddled thinking.

The story of Dhu’l Qarnayn

All my translation can say about him is: “The Two-Horned; a mysterious figure, possibly related to stories surrounding Alexander the Great”. It would be interesting to know what Qur’anic literalists make of what is clearly a mythical story, about this character (Alexander?) who God “established firmly on earth and granted him a path to knowledge of all things.”

His path leads him first to a hot pool where the sun sets. There he finds a people, and God says “..either you torment them or you follow with them the way of virtue” to which Dhu’l Qarnayn replies that he’ll torture whoever is wicked and then turn them over to God for further torture. The faithful who do good deeds will be ok and he’ll help by teaching them.

Then he goes to where the sun rises on a people “for whom We [God] had provided no shelter from it. Thus did We encompass in our knowledge all that he had achieved.”  That’s all it says.

Finally he comes to a people who live “between two towering barriers” and are barely able to understand human speech. They want Dhu’l Qarnayn to build them a defence against “Gog and Magog [who are] working corruption on earth”. He builds them an impenetrable iron fortification, but warns them that it will be flattened on the Last Day.

Again, it’s sketchy story-telling, as if listeners would know the story already, including who, or what, Gog and Magog are. And it appears to sanction the torture of the living, rather than leaving punishment to God. Unless I’m missing something, it’s hard to discern the meaning of the Dhu’l Qarnayn story. If it’s a parable, it’s not a very effective one.

Dhu’l Qarnayn isn’t presented as one of God’s messengers, but – like al-Khidr – he clearly has a special, saintly, status.

 

Overall, it’s nice to see some more narrative. But confess I found this chapter hard work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: HumanistJ

I'm a humanist - someone who thinks you can live a good life without believing in anything supernatural. I chair South West London Humanists, I'm a trustee of Humanists UK and its Dialogue Officer. This blog is purely my personal view.

19 thoughts on “Qur’an 11: The Cave & other stories”

  1. Peace and blessings!

    I am reading your blog here and have some feedback. As a Sufi, I would like to share my experiences with the Quran and how they differ or are similar to yours. I’ll start with something you said at the beginning of the blog.

    You said: As usual, there’s no apparent logic behind the order of items in the chapter…

    My response: The Quran is not organized like a biography or textbook or novel. Quran is not a simple Q&A book. You will find it is more like a weaving or tapestry. This way the seeker is encouraged to contemplate as they search the various signs (the word typically called verse is ayat in Arabic and actually means signs). This type of seeking is more likely to inspire true understanding. Often the seeker finds signs that originally they would not have expected by combing through the surahs.

    I will make my responses to each separately so we don’t have confusing threads.

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    1. Hello – firstly, thank you for reading my blog and taking the trouble to comment on it.

      As I said in the introductory post, I am a humanist – and an atheist – but a believer in the importance of mutual understanding and respect for good people of all beliefs, including Muslims. I think we should be careful to separate debate on ideas and beliefs, which should all be open to critical thinking, from prejudice against people. I am a humanist as I see no evidence for the existence of a God or gods. Therefore the only basis on which I can approach the Qur’an (or the Bible or any other holy book) is to view it as a human creation. So someone (maybe more than one person) must have written it, or perhaps created it initially in oral form.

      I understand that, as a Muslim, you probably won’t accept that. But I’m afraid we will need to agree to disagree on the fundamental point of the existence of God if we are to go much further.

      On that basis, is it more likely that the general lack of organisation – including the illogical order of the chapters and of many of the verses within each chapter – is the result of the author deliberately weaving in massive and subtle complexity which readers are invited to allow to ‘speak to them’, or is it a feature of accident, history and human disorganisation? In my view, the latter is infinitely more likely.

      But I can see that the fact of the disorganisation means that a believer can perceive any number of subtle patterns, whether they are intentionally there or not.

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      1. Actually, the Qur’an was put together after the Prophet’s death and not by God. By people. So we agree on anything there. 🙂

        I’m just sharing with you the knowledge I have about how Muslims engage with Quran. Are you aware there was more than one version when it was first made into a book?

        We do differ quite a bit though. You see no book as Divine.

        I can’t even count how many books I read as a kid that spoke to me in a very soulful way….don’t you love when a book does that…its almost like your heart swells in response.

        Yet a tree is one of those gorgeous revelations from the Source. I read the stars just like I read a sign in Quran. Have you gotten to any of the verses about how nature follows the Tao?

        Do you remember how we would spend hours in the summer as kids exploring nature. Kids can watch an ant parade for an hour, mesmerised. Maybe you’ve heard of centering prayer? It can be done with any “book” by people of any or no faith. The ants are beautiful sources of truth.

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  2. You said: “We [God] fashioned what lies upon the earth as an ornament for it, to test them as to who shall be the best in works. And We shall turn all that lies upon it into a desolate plain” —– The author thinks that creation is a test for humans and the results will be marked on Judgement Day.

    My response: Lets say half of “We” is earth since so many consider earth their mother. Not necessarily do people deify earth by the name mother, but by recognizing she is the nourisher, the actual nourishment that creates our bodies. Without the elements and whatever magic keeps our hearts thumping, you wouldn’t have the blessing of a life.

    You will find many people, religious and not so, who question what they have accomplished while on this planet. As people age, they recognize death is getting closer and it becomes more important to many to leave something behind that matters. Whether it is wisdom for the next generation of the family, something in form of charity that betters the planet or the creation on it, etc.. My grandmother left all her grandchildren tiny teacups and I cherish it 40 years later. That teacup reminds me of who I am and where I come from.

    What is your relationship with earth? How blessed do you feel to have a life? Are you aware you lucked out when an egg and a sperm knocked up to create you and give you a moment to experience this planet? Are you grateful you have lived?

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    1. Consciousness has been called the “hard question” as no-one has yet truly understood it. All I can say is that I have a strong sense of my own personhood, as everyone does, that I feel privileged to live a life that is currently largely free of suffering, and that I feel an obligation to try to do some good in the world, even if only on a small scale.

      I don’t think it’s meaningful to say that I lucked out by being created, as without that creation there would not be an “I” to consider it.

      I think I am just another animal on a smallish planet orbiting a rather insignificant star on the outer edge of a galaxy containing billions of other stars and a massive black hole in the middle, among billions of other galaxies in an expanding universe, which has existed for around 14 billion years and may itself be one among many other universes.

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      1. Actually, the Quran was gathered into a book after the Prophet’s death so no disagreements there.

        I’m just sharing with you the knowledge I have about how Muslims engage with Quran. Are you aware there was more than one version when it was first made into a book?

        We do differ quite a bit though. You see no book as Divine.

        I can’t even count how many books I read as a kid that spoke to me in a very soulful way….don’t you love when a book does that…its almost like your heart swells in response.

        Yet a tree is one of those gorgeous revelations from the Source. I read the stars just like I read a sign in Quran. Have you gotten to any of the verses about how nature follows the Tao?

        Do you remember how we would spend hours in the summer as kids exploring nature. Kids can watch an ant parade for an hour, mesmerised. Maybe you’ve heard of centering prayer? It can be done with any “book” by people of any or no faith. The ants are beautiful sources of truth.

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      2. We can recognize how we are truly nothing at all yet also recognize that we have been given an opportunity that is worth celebrating. It brought me out of a deep depression. It gave me back my life when I realized I am here on this earth with the birds, the ocean, 21st century technology, my pets, my partner and more books than I’ll ever have time to read.

        There are no words for it when I try to absorb just how much it means to be one of the ones who got this experience of life.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You said: ‘I shall do this tomorrow’ unless you add: ‘If God wills’.” Inshallah. God can do anything and no-one can know whether the Last Day will come before tomorrow. We are urged to feel insecure.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of Alcoholics Anonymous. The first three steps teach the addict to rely on God. They use the slogan: “Let go and let God”. Have you ever read the Tao? The entire Tao tells us to go with the flow. The feeling of being in control is only an illusion and a very insecure one. It is not a strong pillar at all and it is why people break when something huge like the death of one’s child or a natural catastrophe shows them that they only think they are controlling things. “Insha’Allah” is a way of recognizing that we are not really in charge of our lives. And when one ultimately accepts it…we bend supply in the storms of life so we don’t break rather than rigid so we snap.

    Nature teaches us that lesson.

    Don’t forget Allah is beyond all being. Allah is not saying, “be insecure”. The source of all that is is teaching a lesson about how to live most naturally. The “words” are limiting the “message” because humans are limited by their “need for words”. Aren’t their times you wish you weren’t so dependent on words?

    How do you describe Mozart symphony to a woman who can’t hear? How do you describe a field of sunflowers to a child who can’t see?

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    1. I think there’s a big difference between the Buddhist idea of impermanence – change is the normal state and resisting it can be a cause of suffering – and the idea stated in this ayat, which is that God decides whether we live to see tomorrow. Given God’s vengeful character as exhibited repeatedly in the Qur’an, and given the repetition of the doctrine of the Last Day with its threat of perpetual agonising torture, and the uncertainty of when it will come, it’s hard not to read this as an invitation to fear for the future.

      But if your reading is that it is the same concept as Buddhist impermanence (which does not invoke God), then we agree.

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      1. But “God” or “Nature” does “decide” if we see tomorrow. Is it up to you if you are hit by a car or die in an earthquake tomorrow?

        I hear you on the vengeful God part. But that’s if you see God as an anthropomorphic character and don’t realize that “He” is like the other “myths”. If you were to study Druidry, for example, the Celtic myths are not just a bunch of stories. The stories are representing truths. That goes back to the days when the wisdom was passed on orally. It was easier to pass on orally.

        If you were to say “God has a body” or behaves in anyway like a “human”, you would be guilty of shirk (making partners with God). You are reading the myth of God. Quran is not as straightforward as a textbook.

        Hell is not a place. Hell is what destroys us and causes us to harm ourselves and others. Hell is the thoughts of a murderer or what leads to murdering.

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    2. I didn’t respond to your point about Mozart/sunflowers: the Qur’an is a book with words in it conveying ideas and stories. I am reading the words and saying how I understand the ideas and the stories. So far I have not come across anything that gave me the sense of a deeper insight into the human condition, in the way that great poetry might do – though that may come later.
      It might be possible to explain Mozart’s music to a deaf woman in an intellectual sense, but it is an auditory art form and has to be heard and experienced as such. Same for the sunflowers.

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      1. I’ve responded to signs you’ve read already. You could read a book Hitler wrote ….and you could be changed forever. Great Sufis say things about forgiveness that have changed me forever. Learning to forgive your worst enemy…you think you haven’t read it. You have read about the Children of Israel. You have read a verse that says killing one person is like killing all humanity and saving one is like saving all humanity.

        I feel that way about the Holocaust. I watched a movie last night about a little Jewish boy who was orphaned and forced to hide from the Nazis until the war was over. To me the suffering of that child should hurt like the suffering of all humanity. And it was only a movie and it was based on a novel…

        but even fiction – myths are filled with truths.

        The Qur’an teaches M/muslims that 124,000 Prophets have brought wisdom to the world. All people received a message of wisdom and truth. Look for the Real and decipher from there. Or read the comics because I know you’re smart enough to see all kinds of things other humanists don’t see in the Qur’an. And it has to do with reality, not the jaded God.

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      2. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen says: My brothers, we must consider how the Qur’an came from Allah, and we must delve deep within it. In order to understand its true meaning, we must be in the same state as that original Qur’an was when it emerged from Allah. It came as a resplendence, a radiance, a resonance, and a grace. Then it came as a light to Gabriel. And when it came to Muhammad, the Messenger, it came as the grace and attributes of Allah. Next Muhammad brought it to us as a revelation. Then the sound of these revelations was transformed into letters and formed into words. What was revealed in those words ultimately became public knowledge and part of history. The interpretations of this knowledge later gave rise to religious differences, divisions, and bigotry, which in turn gave rise to prejudice, fighting, and wars. This is the state the world has come to.

        We, however, must delve into the depths of the Qur’ an; we must experience each step of the way as it originally came from Allah. As we look deeper and deeper, we will see the Messenger of God, and once we see him, we will know how Gabriel came to him and how he received that grace. We will see the light, and if we look through that light we will experience the resonance of Allah within the Qur’an. As we understand that resonance, we will understand our life and our death; we will understand the Day of Judgment, the Day of Questioning, and the ninety-nine attributes22 of Allah.

        This is from “Inner Quran”

        Have you ever listened to music and wondered why it effects you a certain way? Why certain instruments played a certain way are so melancholy? There is an inner meaning in everything, in every word because words aren’t facts…they are symbols.

        If I say no to a person who only speaks Arabic or they say la to a person who only speaks Spanish….the meaning is lost. If I know you as a humanist, is that all you are? I’m not talking about ‘God’. I’m talking about the ultimate reality and putting aside our ideas that we “know it all”. We will never “know it all”.

        Do either of us actually know what happens after we die? No. Neither of us can prove 100% what comes later.

        All I know is by searching and contemplating in sacred books (and that includes Rumi and the Norse myths of my ancestors, etc.) I continue to learn and the more I learn, the more I want to know. Are you reading Quran as a seeker or as someone who claims to already know?

        Because Trump and Cruz, etc., speak of putting Muslims in ghettos and watching them. They speak of not letting Muslims into the US. Based on assumptions that all Muslims are terrorists. This is a time when Muslims are in great danger. They are attacked on both sides….by the militant groups and terrorists and the west.

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      3. I am reading the Qur’an in order to understand the facts about its contents, as opposed to what people – especially those who are bigoted towards Islam and Muslims – claim that it says. I don’t pick up anything from it that conveys the sense of the “spiritual” that you clearly feel. Unlike, say, the slow movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, or the architecture of the mosque at Cordoba, which appeal across language and culture, it’s strange that just about the only people who have that sense about the Qur’an are those who have been told that it is so. No-one else sees or feels it, even if they come form otherwise similar cultural backgrounds. Just because someone says there’s a deep mystery to be discovered doesn’t mean that there actually is a deep mystery to be discovered. And just because people have been saying that for a long time doesn’t make it more likely to be true. At the end of the day, it is a matter of faith.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You said: There’s a nice liberal line about belief and blasphemy: “Whoso wishes, let him believe; whoso wishes, let him blaspheme”, which seems to go further than “no compulsion in religion” to imply that blasphemers should be free to express their views. It’s somewhat marred by the threat that follows: “For the wicked [read blasphemers] We [God] have prepared a Fire…” and when they’re in it and cry out for help, they are “helped to water resembling molten metal, scorching their faces”

    My response: This verse (18:29) is a difficult one and we have one of those hell threats we spoke about. Do you know how I spoke of the way Quran weaving and inspiring more research. I would advise you to look up what was done to the Muslims by the Quraysh and a couple of the Jewish tribes when verses like these were revealed. For 13 years, the Muslims responded non-violently to the violence of these tribes. The enemies would force them to the ground on the desert, put a rock on them and leave them scorched in the sun to force them to take back their shahada. They made a long boycott against the Muslims which caused them to starve and it contributed to Khadijah’s death. They tortured and beat people, attempted to murder. This is what is meant by “wicked”.

    And like I said about hell. It isn’t a place; I know this is not the usual definition, but I think you understand what I’m saying. I do believe in an afterlife because I’ve studied near death experiences, but that also means that my understanding of hell is the “life review”…where we feel what we caused others to feel during our lifetime. So for the sake our discussion, we can say I don’t believe in hell….definitely not “hell-fire”.The signs might scare the hell out of some of those wicked ones who are torturing …. but I doubt it, don’t you? Usually, the kind of person who could torture someone could care less about eternal fire…

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    1. All I’m doing is reading the Qur’an and giving my reaction. I’m aware that in reality Islam is much more than the Qur’an, including a whole body of hadiths – all written much later – and a long history, and wide range, of interpretations and traditions.
      But I’m just taking the Qur’an as it is. It’s simply a fact that on multiple occasions, in every chapter I’ve read so far, it says very clearly that eternal agonising physical torture in an afterlife, with no hope of remission, awaits those who God judges on the Last Day as bad, including specifically those who blaspheme or fail to believe.
      The good thing is that, with the exception of the “Repentance” chapter, it does not say that Muslims should take the law into their own hands and kill or torture those who fall into these categories – punishment is for God.
      Of course, I respect the fact that you and many other Muslims don’t share the brutal version of hell depicted in the Qur’an.

      By the way, there’s now a pretty clear understanding of the physical causes of Near Death Experiences: http://www.koestler-parapsychology.psy.ed.ac.uk/Documents/MobbsWattNDE.pdf

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      1. I am with you on all those ayat on hell. I struggled with them. It has probably scared a lot of people away from Islam actually.

        As for the Near Death Experiences, the thing is the experiences are so similar going from age 3 to 93. They vary according to religion which to me has more to do with “level or state” because a person is not beyond a place of return yet. What is amazing is how people are transformed by them or have developed special gifts after them. And how small children remember them so clearly.

        Of course, we disagree on this so I don’t expect to persuade you and I ask that you not expect to persuade me. The world is full of all sorts of people and we know how bad things get when we deny each other freedom.

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      2. We keep talking about classical music. Have you ever heard this. Its pretty amazing how they mix Mozart and traditional Middle Eastern sounds.

        I am not sure if you noticed my blog yet. And I am thankful to have finally figured out how to change the Name I’m using…Durranur. This Name effects my outlook on everything in life. It is a Shia title of Fatima meaning the Path of Light or the Way of Light. The Name has a lot to do with the mystic path, but its not the Path of Nonsense not is the humanist path the Path of Nonsense.

        You say: No-one else sees or feels it, even if they come form otherwise similar cultural backgrounds. Just because someone says there’s a deep mystery to be discovered doesn’t mean that there actually is a deep mystery to be discovered.

        My response:

        A traditional translation by Yusuf Ali of 18:1 = Praise be to Allah, Who hath sent to His Servant the Book, and hath allowed therein no Crookedness:

        Some of the mystics translations:

        All beauty and balance in the Universe is the living evidence that Allah is Praiseworthy. Praise be to Allah who has revealed this Book to His servant, and made it flawless. (Shabbir Ahmed)

        Hamd (the evaluation of the corporeal worlds as He wills) belongs to Allah, who has disclosed to His servant the knowledge of the reality and sunnatullah (Book) in which there is no discrepancy. (Ahmed Hulusi)

        Do you remember what I told you about the meanings of the Book. The Book is not simply the Quran you hold in your hands. The Book is every sacred book that has been revealed by the Revealer. And not all Books are Books. The actual “Book” is with the Source. Contemplate on what that means. Seriously, dig out a notebook and fill up at least 25 pages with what it means that the “Source” (the creator of the Big Bang, the reason the sun continues to rise and fall for us every day, the cause of life on our planet and no life on other planets, the thing that makes us love people even after despising them for decades) touches the human heart with a bunch of stupid words. Even if they look stupid and look like Muhammad made them up himself, what does the first verse mean deep down.

        It means: We give a positive response to the causes of reality by living willfully in reality. It is the causes of reality that have created a way to speak to the human heart*, guiding people toward a way of life that is in balance and harmony with reality. In this Book which is merely a shadow** of the ultimate reality, there is flawlessness.***

        * (whether through Muhammad, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Christ, Buddha or our grandmothers)
        ** (no one can behold the actual reality, not even the most talented scientists)
        *** (the one who contemplates/thinks knows this. Look up how reality calls us to contemplate over and over again. and how often what appears evil is deleted by a sign/ayat/verse of Mercy)

        But the Quran also leaves room for free will. God did not create robots.

        So that’s just a few minutes on 18:1. 18:1 is not something to read in less than a second. It is filled with depth. Now that we have created more depth, there will be more and more depth if you are willing to dive into the ocean of 18:1. Are you?

        I’m not asking you to be Muslim. I’m not Muslim.

        Though I am a muslim….one who is flowing with the reality.

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  5. Thanks for this post. I find your cross referencing the concepts and stories of the Qur’an with the other divine books very helpful. The story of Moses’s journey with the mysterious man is one of the most puzzling tales in the Quran. It looks odd and out of context and meaningless, often brutal. I am not sure if there is something similar in the Torah or Talmud? There must be something close, since the author of the Qur’an relied heavily on these two sources. Maybe he confused Moses with another character?

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