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).

Advertisements

The main point of attention in the Qur’an thus far has been what one believes.  “There is no God except Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”  This is called the shahadah, the statement of faith, the first of five pillars of Islam.  It is a part of the daily prayers of a Muslim, it is what one would publicly recite to convert to Islam, and it is the backbone to the entire Islamic belief system. 

The Shahadah in Arabic

It is wise to place emphasis on belief.  Our behavior is generated and shaped by our beliefs.  Change beliefs and you are on the road to a transformed way of living too.  To some degree at least, we are “believers” before we are anything else, the main term the Qur’an has been using for people. 

But believers eventually must act.  How is a Muslim to act in this world?  We know what one is to think, but what is the desired lifestyle?  To be sure, we have already been given several answers along our way through the Qur’an so far.  In today’s reading we find much more:

  • Do what is just or fair to others (16:90)
  • Do the good or right thing in the situation (16:90)
  • Be generous to relatives (16:90)
  • Avoid actions that are shameful (16:90)
  • Avoid actions that oppress others (16:90)
  • Be a person of your word, fulfilling pledges and keeping oaths (16:91-92)
  • Do not lie (16:105, 116)
  • Avoid forbidden foods (carrion, blood, pork, ritual food) unless that is all there is to survive (16:115)
  • Argue with others in only the most courteous ways (16:125)
  • Try to avoid fighting back when opposed (16:126)

Aren’t these the very same ethics Christians (and others) wish to have as well? 

Before we finish with this surah let’s stop and notice that it has been several chapters since we have read much that could be interpreted as violent.  Direct attacks on Christianity or Judaism have been non-existent as well.  Is the Qur’an saying what we expected?

For the pagans of Arabia in Muhammad’s time, idolatry meant a whole complex system of superstitions and taboos (c.f., 6:136-44).  Maybe it does for us too, but I can’t really think of similarities.  How about you?  This sort of thing is easier to see in true religious paganism, such as the proverbial virgin thrown into the volcano or a baby sacrificed to Moloch as is mentioned in 6:137.  One more reason idolatry is repugnant.

In today’s short section Muhammad is told to tell his world the good news that what is right and wrong is plain.  There is no need for an elaborate system of taboos and religious rituals of suspect nature.  There is a simple moral law to be followed (6:151):

  1. Avoid idolatry
  2. Honor your parents
  3. Reject infanticide
  4. Live a pure life in every way
  5. Refuse to take a life unless it is necessary (which calls into question some popular depictions)
  6. Treat orphans justly, especially when money is involved
  7. Say only what is truthful and fair
  8. Keep your promises

This is an interesting list.  Two of the eight deal with idolatry.  Two deal with family relationships, or three if the orphans are under the charge of the man as it seems.  Two deal with killing.  Four uphold integrity.  Two relate to the tongue.  You could say from this list that the core values of this infant movement that became Islam were monotheism, honor, family, life, justice and integrity.  That’s a pretty good set of core values.

Now jump over to the Hebrew Bible and compare this list to the Ten Commandments (not to imply that this Qur’anic passage is a similar foundational law code).  As I see it, all of the ten core values of ancient Israel are covered by the eight commands of Islam, with the exception of the Sabbath command and the law to keep God’s name holy.

One more jump.  This time to the Sermon on the Mount, a text many see as every bit as foundational to the ethic of Christ’s followers as the Ten Commandments were to the Israelites:

  1. idolatry = Matthew 6:24
  2. parents (metaphorical for God) = Matthew 5:45; 6:8-9; 7:11
  3. infanticide = Matthew 6:21-22; 7:9-10
  4. purity (especially sexual) = Matthew 5:27-32; 7:12
  5. murder = Matthew 6:21-22; 38-39
  6. justice (especially financial) = Matthew 5:23-24; 6:2-3; 12; 19-21
  7. truthfulness = Matthew 5:36-37
  8. reliability = Matthew 5:33-37

Maybe number two is a stretch, but I see straightforward overlap between the Qur’anic list and the words of Jesus.  In fact, the correspondence between the ethics of all three codes for life is quite close.  Once again, there is a lot of common ground here.

An interesting question for another post some time is whether there is anything Jesus commands that Muhammad did not?  How about this one to get us started?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:43-45a)