December 2011


Of possible interest to some of you may be two new blogs I have started recently.  Please check them out and consider following these, if you deem them worthy your time.  I would love to have you join me on these blogs.

A Kingdom Year

I have committed to once again read closely through the New Testament in 2012.  I believe the structure and community of a blog will help keep me disciplined.  If you have never read the basis for the Christian religion or have just wanted some accountability for your own Bible reading, consider joining me on my journey.

 

A Knight’s Miscellany

I am starting a personal blog to help collect the ideas, thoughts, images, and quotes about faith and religion but so many other mundane topics as well (i.e., nature, hiking, culture, humor, Memphis, Canada, reading, and the like).  You can expect short, periodic posts on this blog as this is all life allows right now.

 

 

I have chosen a single ayah from each of the next ten surahs and made a Wordle word cloud out of these.  I picked these ayah simply by which were most representative of the surah, not which were most interesting or striking.

Only after the fact, as I typed these into the Wordle word cloud generator, did I notice a common theme: the surety of judgment and a just afterlife based on one’s choices here and now.  No surprise there!

I think these passages from the next five surahs are worthy of extra consideration:

76: Al-Insan (Man) & 77: Al-Mursalat ([Winds] Sent Forth)

This [Paradise] is your reward.  Your endeavors are appreciated. (76:22)

[They will be told], “Eat and drink to your heart’s content as a reward for your deeds: this is how We reward those who do good.” (77:43-44)

We see in these two passages what is very much a reward-oriented perspective.  Paradise is very much a reward for how one has lived.  Allah responds to the actions of the human, not vice versa like the grace-oriented Christianity.  However, this passage did make me think of this line from Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21)

78: Al-Naba’ (The Announcement)

Did we not build seven strong [heavens] above you. (78:12)

I would like to hear more about these seven heavens.  Why the differing levels? Are they different degrees of reward?

79: Al-Nazi`at (The Forceful Chargers)

For anyone who feared the meeting with his Lord and restrained himself from base desires, Paradise will be home. (79:40-41)

This is a good baseline statement of the Islamic worldview.

80: `Abasa (He Frowned)

For the self-satisfied one you go out of your way — though it is not your responsibility if he does not attain purity — but from the one who has come to you full of eagerness and awe you are distracted. (80:5-10)

This can be so sadly true.  We desire certain kinds of people and miss those who are really receptive.  The man who can fund the new addition to the church or mosque too often gets more attention than the meth addict mother with problematic kids.  No wonder Allah frowned.

Here are the verses from the next five surahs that stood out the most to me for various reasons.

71: Nuh (Noah)

Every time I [Noah] call them, so that You may forgive them, they thrust their fingers into their ears, cover their heads with their garments, persist in their rejection, and grow more insolent and arrogant. (71:7)

As a teacher, every now and then I have a particularly recalcitrant student who I desperately want to introduce to Jesus but resists anything I say.  It is like they have made up their mind not to believe and no argument of reason or appeal to emotion or need has much traction.  This ayah made me think of such students.

72: Al-Jinn (The Jinn)

We [jinn] used to sit in places there, listening, but anyone trying to listen now will find a shooting star lying in wait for him — [so now] we do not know whether those who live on earth are due for misfortune, or whether their Lord intends to guide them. (72:9-10)

The idea that jinn or angels (I know they are not the same) are not all-hearing is an interesting idea I have only ever heard once before.  They must be listening to hear.  Words must be spoken for them to know.  I once heard a preacher encourage the crowd not to mention their fears out loud, so as not to give a toe-hold to demons who might be listening.  It sounded a little silly to me at the time.  Sounds like he is not the only one who thought this.

73: Al-Muzzammil (Enfolded)

Night prayer makes a deeper impression and sharpens words — you are kept busy for long periods of the day (73:6-7)

That the days are filled with work and busyness is absolutely true.  There is great temptation to drop the discipline of prayer to compensate for a growing to-do list.  It is a temptation too easy to give into.  So the idea of setting aside time in the evenings is a good one.  Muhammad sometimes spent half of the night praying (73:20).  I have also found that prayer at the end of the day is in fact more thoughtful.  I like these ayahs a lot.

74: Al-Muddaththir (Wrapped in His Cloak)

You, wrapped in your cloak, arise and give warning!  Proclaim the greatness of your Lord; cleanse yourself; keep away from all filth; do not weaken, feeling overwhelmed; be steadfast in your Lord’s cause. (74:1-7)

Muslim tradition says these were some of the first words revealed by Muhammad.  Coming down from the Cave of Hira, Muhammad rushed to his house and asked his wife to wrap him in his cloak to sleep.  Maybe he thought, as many would, that he was a little out of his mind.  But the words stayed with him.  Such a fitting first revelation too!

75: Al-Qiyama (The Resurrection)

Truly you [people] love this fleeting world and neglect the life to come. (75:20-21)

This is such a sadly true thought, even amongst those who do believe in the resurrection.  We love what we can see and experience.  We hang on to what he have already.  But there is so much more to come.  Oh, to be renewed in mind!

Surah 68 is an early Meccan surah defending Muhammad against the claim that he is “madman.”  The unbelievers are experiencing a good life filled with prosperity and family, so divine punishment is the last thing they are thinking about.  They are reminded that “disaster” can come overnight.  Muhammad need not worry about the slander he is receiving; God will vindicate him. 

The reader is reminded in surah 69 that the “Inevitable Hour” is guaranteed, just look at what happened to the people of Thamud and `Ad.  This “Great Event” is described in truly apocalyptic fashion.  A luxurious “Garden” will be the “reward” for obedience, while only “Fire” and “filth” await the unbelievers (once again, we see a quid pro quo soteriology).  So, listen to Muhammad; “attentive ears may take heed” (69:12). 

The catastrophic, foreboding images of the last surah return in surah 70.  We will each be friendless and alone on the great “Day of Judgment.”  We should bear in mind that “the punishment of the Lord is not something to feel safe from” (70:28).  There are some who “rushing out” head long “to their graves” (70:43).  But “Gardens of bliss” await those who are constant in prayer, charitable to the poor, fearful of God, mindful of Judgment, sexually chaste, and unwaveringly trustworthy (70:22-35). 

As we have seen many times already this year, the Qur’an offers judgment, fear, and the threat of punishment as very strong sources of motivation to obey Allah.  This is certainly different from the love-heavy message of modern-day American Christianity.

In this short surah Allah is described as “All Aware” (67:14), “the Lord of Mercy” (67:29), “He who holds all control in His hands; who has power over all things” (67:1), and one who has knowledge of all things (67:26).  Even the surah itself is called “Control.”  Clearly, Allah is depicted as an all-powerful, all-caring, all-knowing deity who controls all things.

Some Christians talk about their God this way too (though as process theology and open theism gain traction, not all Christians believe this exactly).  When Christians talk about their God this way, doubters are quick to ask something like, “If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, why does he allow evil events to take place in the life of good people?”  This is usually called “the problem of evil.”  My desire here is not to rehearse a Christian answer to that question.  There are a million better places to go for that. 

I was just struck as I read today’s surah how the same question could be asked of Muslims in regard to Allah.  In this world that is said to be created by Allah, overseen by Allah, and loved by Allah, why do tsunamis, drive-by shootings, and brain cancer take place?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Is Allah not powerful enough to stop them, or is He not charitable enough?  That might be how the question would be asked by those same doubters I mentioned. 

I am wondering if Muslims are asked about “the problem of evil” as much as Christians are, and if so what answers are often given?