In 613 CE, the Byzantine armies were defeated in a significant way by the Persian armies in Syria.  This is the immediate background of this new surah and mention of the battle is made in the first few ayahs.  It is revealed here that there will soon be a change of fortunes and that the Persians will fall to the Byzantines once again.  By the early 620s CE, this is exactly what happened.  Interestingly, the Byzantines that are being mentioned here are Christians, not Muslims.  The Persians were not Muslims either; they were Zoroastrian.  Is this a note of support for the Christians?  The main point: God is in control of all things.

The rest of the surah is much the same message we have been seeing over and over again.  However, I guess I can see in this surah what Dean meant in his comment on this post about how the overall message of a surah may be similar to many others but the specific context causes the nuances of new meaning to come out.

Now, let me put a single ayah in juxtaposition to the seeming preference given to the Christians in this surah:

So [Prophet] as a man of pure faith, stand firm and true in your devotion to the religion.  This is the natural devotion to the religion.  This is the natural disposition God instilled in mankind — there is no altering God’s creation — and this is the right religion, though most people do not realize it. (30:30)

I guess it is possible that Christianity and Judaism were seen as under that umbrella of “right religion” in this surah given their common devotion to God, commitment to monotheism, and “the Book” (though differently defined).  But I suspect that was not the case.  I am not interested at this point in doing anything other than making one observation.

In popular American culture, traditional Christians are viewed as narrow-minded exclusivists who believe their religion is the one “right religion.”  With a verse like this one it is hard to deny the exclusivism that seems to be in traditional Christianity:

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

But those who object to the seeming exclusivity of Christianity are not quick to point out how this is also true of other religions.  What Buddhist believes that the teachings of the Buddha can be totally ignored and one still find nirvana?  What religious Jew is comfortable with adding Jesus to the concept of divinity?  What pagan wants to accept monotheism?  What atheist is willing to concede the existence of a god?  Does a relativistic pluralist not believe that he has discovered an absolute truth?  Do not most religious people believe that their way is the right way?

What is clear in this Quranic passage is that Muslims do.

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