Two ideas hit me as I read today’s passage.  And I’m throwing in a third one just because it is too sensational not to! 

If you avoid the great sins you have been forbidden, We [royal “we” for God] shall wipe out your minor misdeeds and let you in [to Paradise] through the entrance of honor. (4:31)

He [God] doubles any good deed and gives a tremendous reward of His own. (4:40)

I am stashing these two ayahs away in my mental file cabinet under the category of “Islamic view of salvation.”  I have come into this study with the impression that Islam teaches one is saved by the grace of Allah but based on the good one has done.  Hence, we are talking about a merit-based version of “grace,” though merit and grace don’t seen to go together in my mind.  If God only extends grace to those who have been good enough to sway God in their favor, it seems like the deciding factor in salvation is human behavior, not the unmerited charity of God.  I have heard people explain it like a weighing balance.  Allah weighs our good deeds against our bad deeds and if the good deeds are heavier, then salvation is granted.  I am quite willing to be dispossessed of this view if it proves to be erroneous, but these two ayahs seem to support this conception of salvation.  In 4:31 we see a God who removes minor sins and in 4:40 we see One who doubles the good deeds, thus giving one more “weight.”  This does sound like the language you would use to describe a situation in which you are assessing good and bad against each other.

You who believe, do not come anywhere near the prayer . . . if you are in a state of major ritual impurity . . . not until you have bathed; if you are ill, on a journey, have relieved yourselves, or had intercourse, and cannot find water, then find some clean sand and wipe your faces and hands with it.  (4:43)

I have often seen depictions on television or in movies of Muslims washing their hands and faces thoroughly before they prayed.  Here is the instruction to do so.  Many Muslims wash their feet as well.  The reason is ritual impurity.  You meet God with cleanliness.  From a symbolic perspective, it makes perfect sense: you are reminding yourself of the utter holiness of God in which nothing and no one unclean can stand.  Some schools of thought include washing as a precursor to handling the Qur’an.  As someone who is particularly fond of physical symbols as concrete reminders of spiritual realities, I like the spirit of this practice.  What do you think? 

Washing Hands, Face and Feet before Prayer

One more:

We shall send those who reject Our revelations to the Fire.  When their skins have been burned away, We shall replace them with new ones so that they may continue to feel the pain. (4:56) 

Ouch!  Wow!

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