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…]
This final post in the series covers chapters 99-114 (“The Quake”, “The Charging Stallions”, “The Battering”, “Rivalry in Wealth”, “Afternoon”, “The Backbiter”, “The Elephant”, “Quraysh”, “Liberality”, “Abundance”, “The Unbelievers”, “Victory”, “Fibre”, “True Devotion”, “Break of Dawn”, and “Mankind”).
“The Quake” (chapter 99) takes us back to yet another version of the Last Day, when “mankind will come out in scattered throngs” – presumably following instantaneous resurrection – and “be shown their rights and wrongs”.
“The Charging Stallions” (chapter 100) is another complaint that “man…for love of wealth he is miserly to excess” and ignores warnings of judgement. There’s a similar message two chapters later in “Rivalry in Wealth” (chapter 102), this time about competing with others in wealth.
“The Battering” (chapter 101) seems to be about chaos of the Last Day, though that isn’t made explicit.
“Afternoon” (chapter 103) is claimed to contain the entire message of the Qur’an, which – after an opening “By the afternoon!”- it states very simply: “Man is surely amiss! All save those who believe, who do righteous deeds, who enjoin truth upon one another, who enjoin patience upon one another.” Not bad.
“The Backbiter” (chapter 104) warns those who defame others, and who hoard their wealth, that they’re destined for the Fire.
According to the Study Quran, “The Elephant” (chapter 105) relates to events supposed to have taken place shortly before Muhammed’s birth, when a neighbouring king set up a church in order to lure pilgrims away from the Kaaba, and when that failed, he sent an army with an elephant (or elephants) to pull it down. But they were miraculously defeated by a flock of birds which pelted them with hot stones leaving them “like worm-eaten leaves”. This is a cracking story. Unfortunately, the author chose not to include it and the text leaves the reader guessing what it’s all about.
“The Quraysh” (chapter 106) – the name of Muhammed’s tribe, and the guardians of the Kaaba – having been saved from the People of the Elephant, are urged to “worship the Lord of this House”, presumably meaning they should accept that God is the boss of the Kaaba, and not the idols it contains.
“Liberality” (chapter 107) starts by equating a person who “denies the Judgement” with someone who “drives away the orphan, who enjoins not the feeding of the poor” – a false accusation familiar to many atheists and humanists. It then attacks “those who pray” but are insincere.
“Abundance” (chapter 108) is the shortest in the Qur’an – just three lines: “We gave to you in abundance, so pray to your Lord, and sacrifice. He who baits you: it is he who shall be childless!” OK.
“The Unbelievers” (chapter 109) is surprising. Apparently it’s an early chapter and strikes a very different tone to the some of those that came later, including the next chapter (110). It reads as an acceptance of religious pluralism (it seems atheists didn’t come into it at that stage): “Say: ‘O unbelievers! I do not worship what you worship, nor do you worship what I worship, nor will I ever worship what you worship, nor will you ever worship what I worship. You have your religion, and I have mine.'”
“Victory” (chapter 110) is then a huge contrast: “When there comes the victory of God, and the Conquest, and you see people entering the religion of God in swarms, glorify the praises of your Lord, and ask His forgiveness, for He is ever pardoning.” It is, according to the Study Qur’an, considered to be probably the last chapter to have been “revealed in its entirety”. Apparently the victory in question is generally taken to mean Muhammed’s conquest of Mecca and the adoption of Islam by the Meccans, though it doesn’t actually say taht. Read – as in my translation – in the future tense, it is easy to see how it can be related to the spread of Islam beyond its Arab home by military means.
[I guess the argument that the Qur’an only permits the use of force in defence, and then in line with its rules of war, could be sustained even with the conquest of Mecca, on the basis that the Meccans were the aggressors in the first place. But it doesn’t work if applied to Islam’s spread after Muhammed’s death.]
“Fibre” (chapter 111) makes it abundantly clear that Muhammed doesn’t like “Abu Lahab” (a hated uncle according to my translation), or his wife: “..His wealth shall not avail him, nor what he earned. He shall be scorched by a fire, ablaze, as too his wife, carrying the faggots; around her neck is a rope of fibre.” There’s no explanation here of what Abu Lahab has done to deserve this fate, nor whether his wife was guilty in her own right or – more likely – simply by association. Why it’s included is unclear.
“True Devotion” (chapter 112) simply says that God is “unique…neither begetting nor begotten, and none can be His peer”.
The final two short chapters, “Break of Dawn” (chapter 113) and “Mankind” (chapter 114) are prayers for protection from evil – and the Jinn make a final guest appearance:
- “Break of Dawn”: “Say: ‘I seek refuge with the Lord of the break of dawn! From the evil He created, from the evil of the approaching night, from the evil of women who blow on knots, from the evil of the envier when he envies'”
- “Mankind”: “Say: ‘I seek refuge with the Lord of mankind, King of mankind, God of mankind, from the evil of the One who whispers and recoils, who whispers in the hearts of mankind, of Jinn and mankind'”
And that’s the end.