Friday, March 15, 2013

The Quran Project (part 1): Allah Is Merciful?

Unlike the Bible, which starts with it's own explanation of how the world came into being, the Quran opens with introductory chapters that do not explain much, but are passages of praise for Allah, and have a few choice words for the unfaithful.

I have noticed a constant repeating theme of statements that Allah is merciful (each chapter so far starts with the tag line "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful"), and that theme is repeated in the chapters themselves, as well as warnings to those who chose not to believe, or to Muslims who are allegedly not following the teachings of Islam and the Quran closely enough.

The Opening

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

[1.1] All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

[1.2] The Beneficent, the Merciful.

[1.3] Master of the Day of Judgment.

[1.4] Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help.

[1.5] Keep us on the right path.

[1.6] The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors. Not (the path) of those upon whom Thy wrath is brought down, nor of those who go astray.

I notice a lot of common themes here between Islam and other monotheistic faiths especially Christianity. You have an all powerful god, who is depicted as merciful (especially to his followers, he is willing to rescue his followers in time of need), but is harsh, delivering swift judgement upon those who reject him.

I noticed the mention of the "Day of Judgement", as it turns out, there is a lot of prophecy in Islam, and Islam has it's own theological field of eschatology (study of religious prophecy, and it's interpretations), just like Christianity does.

Islam believes that there will be an end of the world, where the evil will be judged, the righteous rewarded. Before this time, there will be chaos and calamity that will happen. Before this time, there will be decadence, immorality, and a a falling away from Islam. Many people will claim to be Muslims, but few of them will read the Quran and act upon it's words.

A false prophet called the Masih ad-Dajjal will lead people, including Muslims astray, and a man sent by god called the Mahdi will fight back against him, and rule over the earth until the final Day of Judgement.

This all sounds very familiar, like I have heard a story with this common theme, but I can't place it. What was that book called? Wait, I know, it sounds remarkably similar to Revelation! That's it! 

OK, enough with the sarcasm. Seeing all of the claims by the Quran about Allah being a merciful god made me wonder how Muslims explain the problem of suffering. If god is an all powerful god (which verse 1 seems to suggest: All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.), then either god planned the events that cause suffering, or he let it happen.

In doing some research, I ran across an article written by the religious discussion site Patheos.

Here's what it had to say:

The monotheistic faiths must consider the problems of suffering and evil within the context of God's power and mercy. In Islam, there are two views of suffering, both of which resemble views held by its sister faiths, Judaism and Christianity. Suffering is either the painful result of sin, or it is a test.  
In the latter view, suffering tests belief; a true Muslim will remain faithful through the trials of life. But suffering also reveals the hidden self to God.  Suffering is built into the fabric of existence so that God may see who is truly righteous. In other words, God not only allows the various agonies and struggles of life, but has a purpose for them. Suffering opens up the soul and reveals it to God. God uses suffering to look within humans and test their characters, and correct the unbelievers. 
Suffering is also a painful result of sin. In Islam, sin is associated with unbelief.  Muslims surrender to God's will, and find peace in that surrender.  Sometimes people forget to listen to the prophets, and fail to serve God in all that they do. This is the state of unbelief, called kufr, which literally means to forget through hiding of the truth. Therefore someone who is a kafir is someone who has purposefully forgotten the Lord. They become preoccupied with their own particular needs and their passions. Islam does not condemn human passions or human needs, seeing them as a necessary part of a full and useful life. 
I wanted a perspective on this from someone who is actually a Muslim ( from the perspective of the writing, it didn't sound like the last writer was a Muslim herself), so I found this by someone named Mubasher Ahmad, he's from an organization out of Louisville, Kentucky called the Islamic Research Foundation International, he takes the view that suffering is a test by Allah to prove a Muslim's faith, and that it is the result of evil in this world. Muslims who suffer in this life, (if they dedicated their life to "fighting evil") will be rewarded in the next life:

Therefore, according to the teachings of the Holy Quran, it does not matter how much a person suffers in this world, as long as he or she is engaged, according to his or her capacity, in repelling the evil and doing the good works. The joys and comforts of the life yet to come are far greater, unparalleled and everlasting as compared with human sufferings of this life! The human sufferings of the present life are termed as "a trial" -- a test, an evaluation and a validation to measure the success and strength of each human soul, its capacity to do good deeds.
So, according to the Holy Quran, all the tragedy, affliction, anguish, grief and fear that we may have to go through in this life are actually tests and trials from God. If we succeed in the test by remaining prayerful and patient, showing complete perseverance and trust in God during the period of suffering, and we continue doing good deeds, and we avoid evil thoughts and actions, then the end result is that God grants us boundless joy, happiness and His everlasting pleasure. 
So suffering is caused by god testing us, our own sin, or by evil in this world? These are the exact same explanations that I used to hear from all the people around me in my fundamentalist past. 4 verses into the Quran, and a little research into Islamic beliefs and I'm already finding an incredible amount of similarities with Christianity? No wonder fundamentalist parents hate world religion classes like the one taught by the author of the blog Teach Not Preach. It shatters the illusion that their religion is incredibly unique and superior to all others, which then leads the students to question and learn more.


  1. Maybe the constant emphasis on the deity's "mercy" (despite evidence to the contrary) is a form of cognitive dissonance among believers?

    1. It probably is. It's the reason why apologetics came about, to explain away the glaring contradictions in religious texts.

  2. "Islam does not condemn human passions or human needs"

    As long as they're the right sort of passions or needs, natch.

  3. "The monotheistic faiths must consider the problems of suffering and evil "

    If by consider, you mean use cognitive dissonance to ignore it, well then I know you and that is what you meant lol.

    1. Lol. True, it has to be explained away or ignored somehow.

  4. Wait, you're only rewarded in the after life if you both:
    -submit to god's will
    -fight against the evil in the world put here by god's will to test people

    They conflict. No surprise, it's religion. Conflicting is what they do.

  5. Great start Sheldon, I agree with you, it is funny how similar these apologetics sound to the Christian apologetics I am used to looking at.

    1. Many major religions are similar to each other. I think that's why fundie parents don't want their kids to meet people of other religions, or learn about them (from the perspective of the religion itself), they will start to realize how similar they are, and that will lead them to doubt.

    2. I agree with the idea, although my guess would be that most fundie parents don't know much about other religions either. My guess would be that it is more the church leaders who encourage the parent in their congregation to not let their children learn about other religions.

    3. No, the parents don't know much about other religions either. I think it's a combination of both the parents and the ministers deliberately keeping the children in the dark.

      Whenever the beliefs of other religions are brought up, they are often misquoted, misrepresented, and given in the context of how to counter them when trying to proselytize. The other religions and their texts are not allowed to speak for themselves.

    4. haha, that's totally true. I can remember when other religions were talked about it church it was demonizing them and either telling us to avoid them altogether or how to convert them.

    5. Ha! I remember those days well. The plot backfired on them, though, I started doubting because of the Bible itself, but meeting a Wiccan for the first time showed me that people of other religions weren't the evil monsters that the people around me portrayed them to be.

      In fact, the Wiccan woman I met was a more loving person, and had better character than most of the fundamentalist I knew.

  6. A very interesting question---but perhaps only half the question....if we are to contemplate about suffering, then we must also contemplate about blessings.

    Both suffering and blessings are primarily a test---not punishment or reward even though they may be perceived this way.

    There are 2 types (and Sheldon mentions these when he writes..."god planned the events that cause suffering, or he let it happen") 1)There are blessings and trials caused by God (circumstances out of human control) ---God plans
    2)and there are also those prompted by human actions. ----God allows.
    Trials caused by God's plan test humanities compassion and charity towards their fellow human beings. Trials caused through human actions test a persons patience and their trust in God.
    Blessings caused by Gods plan test humanities arrogance and abuse and blessings caused through human actions test their charity and gratefulness to God.
    Actual Punishment/Reward---This happens at Judgement. The blessings we receive in our lives come with responsibilities which we will be held accountable for. The trials we go through come with merit (God's Mercy/Grace).

    life/death---here too, death is not a punishment and life is not a reward. The value is not measured in the span of a life---either long or short---it is in how it is used....for benefit of all of God's creation or for harm.......



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