The one who purifies his soul succeeds and the one who corrupts it fails. (91:9-10)

This is a great hallmark passage.  So much of the Qur’an can be summarized by these words.  What does Islam expect of you? How does one purify or corrupt their soul?  I have chosen to focus on these questions as we read through the next five surahs: 91, Al-Shams (The Sun); 92, Al-Layl (The Night); 93, Al-Duha (The Morning Brightness); 94, Al-Sharh (Relief); and 95, Al-Tin (The Fig).

1.  Avoid arrogance and rejection of the message of God:  The people of Thamud did not.  “Arrogant cruelty” overtook their souls so when the messenger of God came to them, they rejected him as a liar and even hamstrung his camel (91:11-14).  For such people “the raging Fire” is prepared (92:14-16).

2.  Give generously in mindfulness of God:  This is specifically called “self-purification” (92:18).  Those who corrupt their souls are “miserly,” storing up wealth for themselves, “den[ying] goodness” to those in need (92:8-10).

3.  Model the compassion of God:  We too were once orphans in need of help, and God cared for us (93:7-8).  Likewise, we ought to show compassion on those who need help in our communities (93:9-11).

4.  Pray dependently on God:  The purified soul lifts its requests to God (94:8).  It is God who “relieves” the “burden that weigh so heavily on your back” (94:1-3), so one does well to look to Him in “mindfulness” (92:5), not try to handle it himself in self-satisfied arrogance (92:8; 91:11).

In summary, who is it that purifies his soul and succeeds?  It is “those who believe and do good deeds” (95:6).

Today we start a new surah, Al-Nisa’ or “Women” in English, so named because of the many mentions of women and how men should treat women in particular (stay tuned, it may not be what you are expecting!)

The surah starts out sounding a whole lot like Leviticus.  This is legal code, especially related to family relationships and one’s financial responsibilities to those in one’s care.

As I read today’s section, I was quite struck by how enlightened these instructions all sounded.  This is not the medieval, oppressive system of laws set up to solely benefit men that Islamic law is sometimes made out to be.  I know modern-day Islamic or sharia law comes as much from the legal rulings and traditions (hadiths) that developed after the Qur’an as from the Qur’an itself, so maybe things change in significant ways after the time this was written.  I will have to do more research about this soon, or maybe you can help us understand how Muslim law developed.  Still, I am impressed with the level of compassion in this section.

I find ayah 9 to be a key to interpreting what we read today:

Let them be mindful of God and speak out for justice.

So, specifically how would a thirst for justice shape our relationships? 

  • Husbands and wives would see themselves as parts of a single soul, necessary for each other (4:1).  More on this provocative thought another day.  This doesn’t sound like patriarchal servitude.
  • Guardians would take care of fatherless children (“orphan” doesn’t necessarily also mean motherless in the ancient world) in their care, being sure to handle their finances fairly (4:2, 6, 10).
  • A man would only commit to marital relationships with the number of women he can treat fairly (4:3).  Yes, polygamy was allowed by the Qur’an.  More on this to come, for sure. 
  • A husband would not exploit his wife financially, living off of her money or keeping her enslaved to him financially (4:4).
  • People would treat the intellectally disabled with respect, caring for them materially, if need be (4:5).
  • Executors would dispense the estate of deceased parents fairly irregardless to the gender of the recipients (4:7).
  • People would not just worry about the future of their own kids (4:9).  That one preaches still today!
  • Parents would provide for the future of all of their children without bias, though they acknowledge that sons will have greater financial needs in the future because of their role in society (4:11).
  • People would always pay off debts with inheritance money before buying anything else (4:11-12). 
  • For the sake of society as a whole, parents would not allow sons or daughters guilty of homosexuality (see commentator Abdullah Muhammad Ali on this interpretation) to run wild.  However, they would allow room for repentance (4:15-16).  So it seems the honor killing we are seeing in parts of the Muslim world would not be congruous with this instruction, at least this single ayah.
  • A man would never take a woman as his wife against her will (4:19).
  • A husband would treat his wife fairly and kindly, always looking for the best God has placed in her (4:19).  WOW! 

This all seems very high-handed and honorable.  There is a great amount of respect and concern for others, especially anyone who is disadvantaged.  These will be some interesting points to hang onto as we go forward in this study.