Friday, March 22, 2013

I Stand Corrected.....

I always enjoy hearing from readers, either on Google + or in the comment section here on the blog. This morning, I found a great comment from a concerned Muslim on yesterday's post, a part of The Quran Project series, The Islamic Creation Story and Ranting About Unbelievers. His/her response to that post was much better than some responses to posts I've had in the past.

I'll break down their comment point by point, but first of all, anonymous, I appreciate your concern, and the help in trying to clarify the passages of the Quran, they can be difficult to interpret. For the sake of this post, I'll refer to this person as Concerned Muslim or CM:

Sure, CM, what I mean about proselytizing in the warning that you see above the comment section is a warning against people trying to convert me to their religion, Pascal's Wager arguments, etc, that won't be tolerated. Comments that are in disagreement, but are civil, and attempts to clarify something I've said in a post are not only acceptable, but encouraged.  

Yes, there probably are many misconceptions about Islam, both from a lack of knowledge about it in the Western world, (it's not a common religion in many places), and deliberate smears for various reasons, especially religiously motivated attacks. In the Koran, chapters are typically referred to as Surahs in Arabic, I usually just simply use the term "chapter" instead. 

Chapter/Surah 2 is rather difficult to read and understand, especially for someone who is not familiar with Islam to begin with. I have noticed that the Quran doesn't go with a narrative style like the Old Testament, but instead presumes that the reader already knows what it is talking about. I'm not the only one who has noticed this. It looks like my good blogging friend Ahab of the extremism watch blog Republic of Gilead feels the same way:

Back to CM's comment:

OK, my fault, I have been interpreting it very much from a Christianity based perspective, it's probably because quite frankly, Christianity is the only religion that I'm thoroughly familiar with (which is something that I was hoping to change with this project). I have also noticed, as I stated in yesterday's post, that I keep finding an incredible amount of parallels between the Bible and Quran, and I listed the similar verses, and compared them side by side.

I probably should try to look at it more from it's own perspective, and let the Quran speak for itself.

From what I have found through research, it is true, Allah does later forgive Adam:
When Adam and Eve realized that they have disobeyed God by eating the fruit they called:  
"They said:   
'Our Lord we have wronged ourselves souls. If You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers' " (Quran 7:23)   
And God accepts their plea: 
".. Thus did Adam disobey his Lord, so he went Astray. Then his Lord chose him, and turned to him with forgiveness, and gave him guidance." (Quran 20:121-122)  
There is also no concept of original sin in Islam, Christianity teaches that because of Adam's sin death and sin entered into this world, and that his sinned passed to all of us, because we are all his descendants, (this is typically known as "original sin", the Quran has no such concept. Each person is responsible for their own actions, and no one else's:
Every Person is Responsible for Their Action. 
This is what Islam preaches. This is what people throughout the world preach. We consider fair that no person be held accountable or responsible for someone else's mistake. That if blame is due, then it is due on who deserves it. That if punishment is to be made, it ought to be on the one who wronged. We consider that to be fair.  
The Quran states:"That no burdened person (with sins) shall bear the burden (sins) of another. And that man can have nothing but what he does (of good and bad). And that his deeds will be seen, Then he will be recompensed with a full and the best recompense [fair] " (Quran 53:38-41)

It also appears that CM is right that Judaism rejects original sin:
The doctrine of original sin is totally unacceptable to Jews (as it is to Christian sects such as Baptists and Assemblies of G-d). Jews believe that man enters the world free of sin, with a soul that is pure and innocent and untainted. While there were some Jewish teachers in Talmudic times who believed that death was a punishment brought upon mankind on account of Adam's sin, the dominant view by far was that man sins because he is not a perfect being, and not, as Christianity teaches, because he is inherently sinful.
More of CM's comment:

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the concept of Fitra:
According to Islamic theology, human beings are born with an innate inclination of tawhid (Oneness), which is encapsulated in the fitra along with compassionintelligenceihsan and all other attributes that embody what it is to be human. It is for this reason that some Muslims prefer to refer to those who embrace Islam as reverts rather than converts, as it is believed they are returning to a perceived pure state.
Fitra has a physical component as well as a spiritual one. The fitra of the human body is its beauty and perfection as created by God. Although created perfectly by God, humans are permitted to enhance their appearance through means approved by God, such as clothes, bathing and perfumes. These are changes to surface appearance, but not to one's essential fitra. 
However, radical changes to one's body to suit personal taste or social fashion are condemned as unlawful changes to fitra. Procedures to remove or hide deformities resulting from disease or injury are seen as restoring fitra, rather than changing it, and are therefore allowed.[1] 
I wonder what CM means by misunderstanding of the word khalifa, and  of the Islamic concept of free will. I hope he/she stays around and explains that. If you are out there, CM, stop by any time and comment.

I think much of my misunderstandings here about the Quran are due to two factors. One, I really need to stop trying to look at it through a more Biblical/Christianity based perspective, and two I need to research everything, every concept of the Quran, and every statement I make before I post.

I think a major problem here is due to the fact that the Quran follows a "stream of consciousness" style in it's writing, as Ahab says, and presumes a lot on the part of the reader, instead of going with the more narrative style that you see in the Old Testament. Nothing seems to be in an order that would be familiar to readers today, and it seems out of order. For example, I'm only into Surah 2, and there details that are missing from the account of Adam's life, such as Allah forgiving him, which didn't show up until Surah 20.

If only someone would re edit the Quran so that it follows what we would consider in this era to be a more logical order, listing all details of Adam's life right there in Surah 2, instead of leaving details for to be written much later in the text (and leaving the reader in the dark until then).


  1. Great post. I am a bit confused on the Islamic notion of sin though. How does, "That no burdened person (with sins) shall bear the burden (sins) of another. And that man can have nothing but what he does (of good and bad). And that his deeds will be seen, Then he will be recompensed with a full and the best recompense [fair] " (Quran 53:38-41)" Possibly fit with honor killings? Are they really saying that a rape victim has done something wrong?

    1. I don't even know where to start with questions like that......

      I haven't gotten far enough into the Quran to know just how much of what goes on in Middle Eastern countries is actually based in the Quran, and how much is cultural.

  2. @ Sheldon

    I sympathize with your problem. The reason Surah 2 is difficult is because it has a lot of nuance and packs a lot of concepts/themes. Most beginners (including muslims) read the last 30th of the Quran first after Surah 1.(The Quran is divided into 30 parts called the Juz) The Quran does not have a beginning or end---If the Quran is read From Surah 1, 2---the last part of the Quran acts as a Summary of the main themes/concepts and if the Quran is read From Surah 1, 114, 113...etc then these act as introduction to the main themes/concepts that are later elaborated on. The purpose of the Quran is not to tell stories or histories---but to teach/show ethico-moral principles.

    There is no need to be too hard on yourself. The best way to approach the Quran is with questions rather than with assumptions.
    (later on the Quran will illustrate this point in the story of Prophet Abraham )

    The story of Prophet Adam in Surah 2 30-39 continues on in Surah 7 verses 11-25. Some things that should be noticed (in S 2)---verse 34 mentions Iblis which is changed to Satan in verse 36. (this change is explained in S 7 which tells of the "fall of Iblis"---this is a significant story relating to the concept of inherent equality of all creation.---if you want we can go through it now or leave it for later. Another matter is in verse 30---The Angels ask God what possessed him to create an imperfect creature like humanity, when they (Angels) are so perfect. (This relates to the "nature" of humanity/Fitra and is explained in depth in later surahs ---but we can go into it now if there is interest.)

    Thankyou for the various links and information you have provided. With such effort---perhaps discussions may become interesting......

    I'm afraid I did not understand your question fully...perhaps you could elaborate or re-phrase?.....

    "Sin"(mistakes)---there are 3 general types
    Kaffir--Sinner by disbelief
    Fajir--Sinner by action
    Fasiq--Sinner by law
    "Sin" is likely understood differently from Christianity....?....


    1. I probably shouldn't be trying to read the Quran as one long narrative then, right?

      After I finish Surah 2, which Surah should I read next?

      Did you see my comment on the last post about whether you would like to write a guest post on the Quran, CM?

  3. @ Sheldon

    You are doing fine.

    Quran as narrative---Yes and No. If we consider narrative to have a beginning, middle, end, then no we should not consider Quran as a narrative---however, if we consider a narrative as a unity of ideas/themes---then yes, we should consider it as a narrative. Some people say the Quran is like a spiders web or lego blocks--the various concepts build on each other to form a whole.

    Surah 2--Surah 2 is a difficult Surah and it is also the longest---if you are going to make the effort to go through it---just keep going to 3, 4 ...and so on. Let me give you some tips to make things easier......
    Surah 2 addresses Jews (S 3 addresses Christians) so brushing up on Judaism might be helpful.
    As you are from a Christian background, you probably have the advantage of being familiar with the O/T---however the way Christians interpret the O/T and the way Jews understand the Torah are different---so keep that in mind.
    Also, there are differences between a Jewish worldview (Jewish self-definition)---and the Quranic worldview---The Quran tries to encourage/persuade Jews to rethink their world view.
    The title of this Surah is "the cow/heifer" and this story will come up---Though it is in a Jewish context---its message is for all religious people. (Human beings make religions difficult)
    Both Judaism and Islam are religions of "Law" (Halakha--Judaism, Sharia---Islam) and aspects of "Law" will also come up.
    This is (more or less) an early Medinian Surah and it is a time when the Prophet(pbuh) is forming a community, setting up of a system of law/justice and well as defence/protection.
    Do keep in mind that though the Quran was revealed over an approx 22 yr period (610CE to 632CE)---its chronology is not as important---Medinan Surahs (these are later revelations occurring after 622CE) contain verses from earlier Meccan Surahs and some Meccan Surahs contain verses from later Medinan surahs.
    Events that will effect the understanding of Medinian Surahs are---
    622CE--Peace treaties with outlying tribes and tribal affiliations/communities around Medina/Yathrib.
    624CE--battle of Badr
    625CE--battle of Uhud
    627CE--Battle of the trench
    628CE--Treaty of Hudaibiya
    (dates are approximate---Islam uses a lunar calender)

    For those who may be interested in extra reading---Muhammed: Prophet of our time by Karen Armstrong can help situate the Quran in its historical context. (It is from a neutral perspective)

    Thankyou for the invitation to write a guest post. I am an average Muslim, not a scholar and am uncertain of the quality of my work, not to mention, I don't know what to write about either........


    1. You know far more about it than I could ever hope to know, CM, lol.

      I do know that Judaism's view of the OT is very different, and there's the issues of later adding on via the Talmud and rabbinical tradition.

      I think I'll finish Surah 2 next week


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