Qur’an 15: Peace, and a Hydrology problem

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…]

Chapter 25 is called “The Criterion” in my translation, though an alternative of “the separator of right from wrong” makes rather more sense, referring to the beginning: “Blessed is He Who sent down the Criterion upon His servant to be a warning to mankind!” There seems to be nothing much new here, with the usual strictures about blasphemy, the Last Day and the fate of blasphemers, the need to repent and do good deeds, and so on, and a brief repeat that earlier peoples who failed to heed messengers, including Moses and Noah, were destroyed.

There’s an example here of the mixed use of first and third person narrative: one verse is from the author’s viewpoint (“There comes a Day when He shall herd them….”) then two verses later it’s God’s (“If any of you commits such sin, We shall make him taste a mighty torment.”).

The chapter contains two examples of “science” in the Qur’an. There’s an understandably anthropocentric, and poetic, view of the cosmos: “Blessed is He who set up constellations in the sky, and fixed therein a lamp, and a resplendent moon.” Fair enough.

But he also says: “It is He who merged the two seas, this one fresh and sweet water, that one salty and bitter. Between them He erected a barrier, an impassable boundary.” This has been taken to mean that fresh and salt water don’t mix.

If so, it’s wrong. Unlike oil and water, which are geninely immiscible with a clear boundary surface between them, fresh and salt water do mix. Arguments about differing densities, salinities and temperatures causing stratification at river mouths don’t alter that fact, as anyone can demonstrate in their kitchen. Otherwise it would be impossible to dilute any solution of salt in water. Maybe this is a case of an interesting observation being picked up by the author, and reported in the Qur’an, only to be interpreted too literally.

The same verse goes on to say; “It is He Who, from water, created man, conferring on him kinship, of blood and of marriage” which seems to contradict earlier verses where God created man from clay and/or a sperm.

But most importantly,there’s a verse that the Jihadis would do well to focus on, which provides a welcome complement to the warlike verses of previous chapters: “The true servants of the All-Merciful are those who walk the earth in humility, and when the vicious address them their only word is: ‘Peace‘!”

Interestingly the author says here, for the first time that I recall, that “…We made it [the Qur’an] to be chanted, a sublime chant!”


Author: HumanistJ

I'm a humanist - someone who thinks you can live a good life without believing in anything supernatural. I'm active in Humanism in the UK, both through Humanists UK and as chair of South West London Humanists. This blog is purely my personal view.

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