Today, for the first time, we get to a Meccan surah, entitled “Livestock” or “Cattle” in English.  Scholars have noted that because the Meccan surahs were written at a time when Islam was still getting a foothold in Arabia.  They are more persuasive and less enfranchised.  By the time the Muslims moved to Medina, Islam had gained power and these later surahs have a slightly more dictatorial tone.  Well, we may very well see that difference in tone for the first time.

I am struck in this section by how the Islamic basis for belief and obedience is quite different from that of Christianity.  Simply put, Muhammad is told to persuade the polytheists of Mecca with reward or avoidance, in other words “to get/not get.”  I see this coming out in four ways in this passage:

  • God is in control of all things as the Creator, so don’t try to work against his control (6:4-5)
  • God is the supreme power in this world, so don’t make him use it against you (6:6)
  • God is inclined to punish those who reject him, so don’t do it (6:15)
  • God rewards those who believe, so come get it (6:16)

In this mentality, the favor of God is still up in the air.  Who knows how he will respond to you?  That is up to you.  Earn a reward.  Avoid a punishment. 

This section ends with the warning that there is no greater sin than to reject God or to look to some other god for power or control (6:21).  These other gods will be of no help in the end, so stop it and turn to God (6:22-24). 

Medieval Mecca

Let’s remember the context of Mecca, from where this surah originated.  Islamic tradition says Mecca was started by the descendents of Ishmael shortly after he and his father Abraham built the Ka’ba, the large, square, black shrine still at the center of city.  Positioned at the crossroads of important trading routes, Mecca quickly grew in size and wealth.  It was not long before Mecca also became the center of Arabian paganism and the Ka’ba became a shrine to the many gods worshiped by the Arabs.  It is this highly polytheistic environment that Muhammad grew up in and into which the Qur’an comes with its push for radical monotheism.  These admonitions to turn from all other gods and find a reward with Allah make more sense in that context. 

Nonetheless, I find all of this very different from the winsome motivation put forward by Christianity.  The way of Christ is not a reward or avoidance worldview.  Jesus and his followers did not come talking about something that could be earned from a God whose favor was still very much up in the air.  Christianity is based on a response motivation; we love because we were first loved, we obey because of what has already been given.  God’s mind was made up to work for our good long before we were even born, long before we even turn towards him.  I see a great difference in the very nature of God in these two depictions.  How about you?

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)