Loyalty is a hard thing to come by. 

Moses didn’t have it (61:5).  People rose up and doubted his leadership.  They second-guessed his decisions.  Rebellion came. 

So too with Jesus (61:6).  His popularity sky-rocketed, but it plummetted just as quickly.  He was opposed bitterly by the Jewish religious leaders.  They turned against him, like they had with Moses.   

Now is there any wonder that people oppose Muhammad?  There shouldn’t be. 

But what God desires are people who will do what they say, people who will “fight in solid lines for His cause” (61:4).

Interestingly, this surah ends with Jesus’ disciples extolled for their faithfulness to God’s cause (61:14).  Essentially, they stand as an example of what to be.  God supports such people.

Jesus is quoted in today’s surah as saying the following:

Children of Israel, I am sent to you by God, confirming the Torah that came before me and bringing good news of a messenger to follow me whose name will be Ahmad. (61:6)

Of course, the Bible does not state that Jesus ever said anything of the sort.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come after him (John 16:7).  He talked about his own second coming (Matthew 24).  But Jesus never said another prophet would come after him.  In Jesus’ mind he was the end.  This new move of God was the culmination of what came before.  The Church that would follow was simply the working out of the Kingdom that started with Jesus.  That working out continues to this day.   

The name “Ahmad” means “praised” or “the praised one.”  This happens to be what the name Muhammad means too.  Clearly, the implication is that Jesus is foreshadowing the coming of Muhammad.  As convenient as that would be for Islam, Christians are going to have a hard time accepting this.

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The Treaty of Hudaybiyya

In 628 CE, Muhammad and a band of 1400 Muslims marched out from Medina armed only with animals to sacrifice in Mecca on pilgrimage.  For some time they had been barred from entering Mecca to worship at the Ka’ba by the pagan Meccans.  Battles had ensued between the two sides.  Now they tried a different tack: go peacefully and avoid bloodshed.  This new Medinan surah recounts aspects of this journey and the “triumph” (the name of the surah) that resulted.

The Muslims were met by the Meccans outside the city in a small town called Hudaybiyya.  They were stopped there and barred once again from entering Mecca but this time a treaty was drawn up between the two sides in which the Muslims would be granted free access to Mecca and the Ka’ba for the following ten years in order to complete their pilgrimages and sacrifices.  The Meccans even agreed to leave the city so the Muslims could worship in peace.  This became known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyya.  The treaty lasted all of one year, but it was the first time the nascent Muslims were acknowledged by their neighbors to be a legitimate bargaining power, one with which it might be better to strike a treaty than to fight.  In this way, the Treaty was most certainly a triumph. 

Hudaybiyya today

Much of the surah takes up the issue of loyalty within the Muslim group.  As the plan for the peaceful pilgrimage to Mecca was birthed and vetted amongst the people, the desert Muslim tribes were not especially fond of the plan.  They offered up excuses and stayed home.  There was no war booty to be had in the campaign.  Worse, there was the very real possibility of the loss of possessions or even death.  Thinking with earthly minds, this pilgrimage didn’t make sense.  God says he is less than impressed.  He will be dealing with them. 

Three passages stood out to me in this surah.  First:

Those who pledge loyalty to you [Prophet] are actually pledging loyalty to God himself — God’s hand is placed on theirs. (48:10)

We can conclude from this ayah that a Muslim who pledged fidelity to Muhammad would place their hand on his.  Then it was as if God were placing his hand on the top of the other two, to seal the pledge.  What strikes me is the rare anthropomorphism assigned to Allah in this passage.  Allah has so often been described in purely spiritual ways.  Allah is almost never described in bodily fashion (in fact, I can’t recall a passage at all so far in our reading).  And yet he is here.  Interesting! 

The second passage also has to do with the body, but this time the Muslim’s:

You see them kneeling and prostrating, seeking God’s bounty and His good pleasure: on their faces they bear the marks of their prostrations. (48:29)

Does this have a spiritual connotation?  Probably.  Commentator Ali says  this refers to gentleness, kindness, and love.  But it is also likely meant physically.  Daily prayer, five times a day, forehead to the ground — well, that’s going to leave a mark!  It is very admirable when your spiritual devotion leaves a physical mark on your person.

The third passage appears to be an expansion of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.  This ayah describes what a firmly devoted worshiper is like:

This is how they are pictured in the Torah and the Gospel: like a seed that puts forth its shoot, becomes strong, grows thick, and rises on its stem to the delight of its sowers. (48:29)

Medina

In the mid 620s CE, the Muslims were growing in popularity and power.  After standing strong in both the Battle of Badr in 624 and the Battle of Uhudin 625, the Muslims had become a force to reckon with.  The Muslims had been expelled from Mecca in 622 and migrated to Medina.  By 627, a confederacy of those concerned with Muslim expansion — Meccans, Jews, and the Banu Qurayza tribe — marched against Medina.  In anticipation of battle, the Muhammad-led Muslims dug a “trench” around the city that immobilized the confederacy’s cavalry.  Though outnumbered three to one, the Muslims withstood what was a three week “battle of the wits.”  Discouraged and bothered by poor weather, the confederacy disbanded and returned home.  So went the Battle of the Trench.

Of course, the battle was seem by the Muslims as a great deliverance from God.  The first part of this new Medinan surah, “Joint Forces” or “The Confederates,” recounts the emotions of that campaign. The Muslims were surrounded.  Their “eyes rolled with fear” (33:10).  Some were ready to give up on God.  They looked for a way to escape the battle (33:13).

Others saw this for what it was: a test (33:11, 24).  They rose to the occasion.  They promised not to abandon their calling as God’s people (33:15), even if that meant to fight and even die (33:23).  These people God protected and rewarded.

The Battle of the Trench will be used in the rest of this surah as a “reminder” (33:9) of God’s care and control.

In this new short, Meccan surah, “Bowing Down in Worship” or “Prostration,” we read many of the same ideas we have already had: the Qur’an comes from God, not from the imagination of Muhammad; God testifies to himself through creation; the Hereafter is real and coming, so be prepared; God has given disbelievers a chance, so they should only be expecting punishment now; good people are rewarded and rebellious people are punished.

I really like the description of a believer that comes halfway through the surah:

The only people who truly believe in Our messages are those who, when they are reminded of them, bow down in worship, celebrate their Lord’s praises, and do not think themselves above this.  Their sides shun their beds in order to pray to their Lord in fear and hope; they give to others some of what We have given them.  No soul knows what joy is kept hidden in store for them as a reward for what they have done. . . . Those who believe and do good deeds will have Gardens awaiting them as their home and as a reward for what they have done. (32:15-17, 19)

They say “clothes make the man.”  I believe it, but not in the way you may think.

A decade ago I was finishing my graduate degree and seeking a job in ministry.  My job search narrowed to three very good options, one of which is the fantastic job with a private Christian high school I still have to this day.  Another very enticing option was your traditional preaching position at a great church in upstate New York.  I have never regretted turning down that job offer — because of the fulfillment I have in my present ministry — but I am sure I would have been very happy with that welcoming community of believers too. 

Throughout the interviewing process with this church, my main contact had always been a particular man whose name I am afraid I can no longer remember.  But I will never forget his heart.  I imagine we have all met people for whom it seems God is as present a reality as a flesh-and-blood companion.  This man was one of those kind of people.  I guess I had met a few others like that through my life up to that point, and I have met others since then, but they are rare and so inspiring when you find them.  My New York contact left quite an impression on me.  God was always lurking under the surface or around the corner in every conversation.  He was as active a participant in the events of this man’s life as his wife or kids.  God’s actions were as certain to this man as those of his boss or his friends.  And God got all the credit for the good my contact found in the world and in others.  Some of the last words this man said to me as we sat in the airport waiting for my plane back to Memphis were: “I am very thankful for the God I see in you.”  The GOD I see in you!  He didn’t say he was thankful for me or my abilities or my willingness to serve.  No, he was able to look past me and see that anything good in me was truly coming from the God in me.  How impressionable!  How right!  What a blessing my encounter with this man has remained a decade later. 

In today’s reading we come to a perfect word for what this man possessed: “God-consciousness.”  This idea is connected in this passage with the clothing metaphor that runs throughout.

Children of Adam, We [Allah] have given you garments to cover your nakedness and as adornment for you; the garment of God-consciousness is the best of all garments. (7:26)

It was this clothing of God-consciousness that Adam and Eve possessed.  But it was not long before Satan stripped them of these clean clothes and God began to fade from humanity’s collective consciousness (7:27).  But the Children of Adam can once again “dress well” (7:31) by directing our “worship straight to Him,” by devoting our “religion entirely to Him” (7:29).  This is the worship of a person like the man I met from New York whose God is so big it fills his consciousness.  This is the kind of person for whom it is as important to “put on” God in the morning as it is a pair of pants.  This man is always properly dressed.  At the end of life, a “God-conscious” man gives all praise to God for guiding him there, knowing had it not been for God he never would have found his resting place in the Garden of delights (7:43).  Like the New Yorker, God is always just under the surface.  That is God-consciousness.    

Commentator Abdullah Yusuf Ali says this about this clothing metaphor in his translation of the Qur’an:

There is a double philosophy of clothes here. Spiritually, God created man “bare and alone” (6:94): the soul in its naked purity and beauty knew no shame because it knew no guilt. After it was touched by guilt and soiled by evil, its thoughts and deeds became its clothing and adornments, good or bad, honest or meretricious [tawdry], according to the inner motives which gave them colour. . . . But the best clothing and ornament we could have comes from righteousness, which covers the nakedness of sin, and adorns us with virtues.

These “clothes” really do make the man.