With its recurring refrain, this new surah — The Lord of Mercy — is more poetic than any other I have seen thus far.  Throughout the chapter an aspect of creation is mentioned then humanity and the jinn are asked:

Which, then, of your Lord’s blessings do you both deny? (55:13). 

This refrain is stated thirty-one times throughout the surah.  As a Christian, today’s reading reminded me of Psalm 136 with its refrain: “His love endures forever.”

The message of the surah is simple: Be sure you know what you are denying if that is really going to be your choice, because judgment is coming.  The images, however, are picturesque.  For example:

They [who are in Paradise] will sit on couches upholstered with brocade, the fruit of both gardens within easy reach. (55:54)

This surah advances Islamic cosmology as well.  The afterlife is described here having three possible destination for humans (and three parallel destinations for the jinn, if I am reading this correctly).  The painful punishment of Hell is described first (55:43f).  Then “two gardens” are mentioned (55:62f), both luxurious and filled with reward.  More will be said about these in the next surah.  Translator Haleem gives this note here:

Paradise exists in two ranks: the higher level for the truly favored, and this lower level described for the less exalted pious.

So it seems we have Hell, a lower Paradise, and a higher Paradise. 

It is easy to see in this surah (55:56, 70-74) that the stereotype that Muslims believe in a male-centered afterlife where the follower is rewarded with “virgins” (or “maidens” as it says in my translation) is not completely untrue.

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Another short collection of notable passages from today’s ending of the twenty-third surah.

Those who stand in awe of their Lord, who believe in His messages, who do not ascribe partners to Him, who always give with hearts that tremble at the thought that they must return to Him, are the ones who race toward good things, and they will be the first to get them. (23:57-61)

This is both a vivid description of God’s desire to bless the believer and a list of desirable character traits in the devoted.

We do not burden any soul with more than it can bear.  (23:62)

“Pat” has gone quiet in the comment section of this blog, but she would say this makes her think of 1 Corinthians 10:13.  And I agree! 

When We bring Our punishment on those corrupted with wealth, they will cry for help. (23:64)

The Qur’an seems to acknowledge that wealth inherently possesses a corrupting power.  Yes, money can be used for good for evil.  Yes, greed is the real insidious side to wealth.  But we are naive if we think that money itself has no power of its own to tempt, control, and estrange us from God.

They say, “What?  When we die and turn to dust and bones, shall we really be resurrected?” . . . Say, “Who owns the earth and all who live in it? . . . Who is the Lord of the seven heavens?  Who is the Lord of the Mighty Throne? . . . Who holds control of everything in His hand? Who protects?” (23:82-89)

This is a return to yesterday’s focus on resurrection.  We are given more of an answer here as to why one should believe in the resurrection.  God is in control.  This is His world.  He has power to protect and power over Heaven.  A god that powerful surely can raise the dead.  Of course, having raised a dead person in a notable way already would mean even more. 

Repel evil with good. (23:96)

Another good, Bible-sounding saying.

Those whose good deeds weigh heavy will be successful, but those whose balance is light will have lost their souls for ever and will stay in Hell. (23:102-03)

More “weighing of the heart” language.

Mary and the baby Jesus

Today we come to a new surah, Maryam, so named because Mary the mother of Jesus is discussed early on.  As has been said here before, Mary is actually mentioned more in the Qur’an than in the Bible. 

Much of the surah is a recounting of “the Lord’s grace towards” eight of “His servant[s]” (19:1), all but one of which we know well from the Bible.

  • Zechariah is granted in his old age an heir and protector for his wife when he is gone. 
  • John (the Baptist) is graced with wisdom, purity, and compassion.  In response to these gifts, John was a most submissive son. 
  • Mary was given a child though still a virgin.  Even during the pains of childbirth she was provided for bountifully with a cool stream of fresh water and an endless supply of dates.
  • Jesus is granted the ability to speak as a baby in order to make clear that he too is a prophet and given a “Scripture” or “revelation” (the Gospels or Injil?).  Like his cousin, Jesus too responds by living a respectful life in submission to his mother. 
  • To Abraham, God gave a “noble reputation” and the chance to share with his idolatrous father the greater truth of One God.  When driven away from his family by their faithless threats of stoning should he not recant this foolish monotheism, Abraham was granted a new family with Isaac and Ishmael. 
  • Ishmael was made a prophet and messenger of God, and he led his family well. 
  • Moses was honored to be God’s prophet and messenger when he was called by God into “secret communion” on the mountain.  When reticent, God even made Aaron a fellow prophet to work alongside Moses.
  • Last, God also blessed the prophet Idris and made him a “man of truth.”  Some have said Idris is another name for Enoch from Genesis 5, but his exact identity is unknown.

After mentioning Jesus, this surah also throws in an aside that clearly denies that God could have children.  Such is not “befitting” (19:34b-40).  Given the context, it would certainly seem this is aimed at Christianity and our view that Jesus is the “son of God.”  The issue is that Christians would certainly agree.  It is not befitting to talk of Jesus as the son of God, if we are talking about God somehow fathering an entirely separate being called Jesus.  But that is not what Christians believe.  Jesus IS God.  They are one.  The Son is an extension of the God-essence, just as the Father is as well.  Christians really wouldn’t have a hard time giving a hearty “Amen!” to this foundational verse from the Qur’an:

There is no god other than God. (59:22)