I have saved these last three surahs for the end as they seemed like they would sum up the Qur’an well.

Surah 112 is precisely such a summation.  Muslim tradition says this minuscule surah is equal to one-third of the entire message of the Qur’an.  Given its emphasis on monotheistic devotion, I can certainly see why people think that.

Say, “He is God the One, God the eternal.  He begot no one nor was He begotten.  No one is comparable to Him.” (112:1-4)

As a Christian, I can’t help but feel that this surah is addressing the trinitarian beliefs of Christianity, and maybe also the pagan beliefs popular in Arabia at the time of the Qur’an.  Nonetheless, there may be no more foundational thought in Islam than this one.

One of the last revelations ever received by Muhammad before his death was Surah 110:

When God’s help comes and He opens up your way [Prophet], when you see people embracing God’s faith in crowds, celebrate the praise of your Lord and ask His forgiveness: He is always ready to accept repentance. (110:1-3)

As one of the final words from Allah, I am struck by this message.  It is prophetic in a sense: there are days coming when people will accept Islam in droves. That will be a reason to celebrate.  Yet the final word of all is an admonition to seek forgiveness and a reassurance that Allah is always ready to receive truly repentant people.  That is such a fitting ending to the Qur’an.  The door to God is always open.  Step through with a repentant heart, and a humble spirit that knows we are always in need of forgiveness.  But it is an open door.  What a welcoming ending.

Interestingly, down at the end of the Qur’an is this realistic surah.  Evidently, a group of pagans had come to Muhammad and proposed a compromise.  They pledged to worship Allah for a year if the Prophet would worship their gods for a year.  Muhammad was told to give this response:

Say [Prophet], “Disbelievers: I do not worship what you worship, you do not worship what I worship, I will never worship what you worship, you will never worship what I worship: you have your religion and I have mine.” (109:1-6)

As I read this surah I couldn’t help but think that these are precisely my sentiments as well.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading closely the Qur’an this past year.  Even more so, I have enjoy the conversations I have had with people that this blog fostered, especially those with the Muslims who took the time to further educate me on their religion.  What is even more clear to me now than it was when I started is how intractable the religious differences are between differing religions.  It was true 1400 years ago when Muhammad spoke to these pagans.  It is true today when Muslims talk with Christians and Jews.  It is true of me as well.  I have an immense amount of respect for the religion of Islam (more on that in the next post).  I found a true zeal in the Muslims who have followed this blog.  I believe we can show love to each other as humans.  I believe we can cooperate with each other in areas of social concern.  I do believe we can learn to coexist in a democratic society that does not assert any religion over another.  But Muslims have their religion and I have mine.  I can’t bring myself to worship God apart from Jesus, and they couldn’t imagine doing so.  We are at an impasse.

One more final post later in the week as I reflect back on the past year.

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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!

“The End is Near!”

It is coming.  Be guaranteed.  People may doubt, but be assured.  Everyone will be judged for what they have done.  Then sit back and enjoy your reward on a comfortable couch with a beautiful woman, sumptuous food and drink that does not make you drunk.  Or dread the day you wrote the Prophet off as a mad-man. 

Such is the message of this new surah, a now familiar refrain. 

Towards the end of today’s section, the Meccan disbelievers are quoted as saying the following:

We will wait to see what happens to this dubious poet, then decide. (52:30)

We think he just made this up himself. (52:33)

The Prophet is instructed to answer them with these ten questions:

  1. Are you being driven by reason or insolence? (52:32)
  2. Can they come up with a message like the Qur’an? (52:34)
  3. Did they create all of this? (52:35-36)
  4. Do they have control over the “treasures” of this world? (52:37)
  5. Can they listen in on God’s deliberations? (52:38)
  6. Do you really think God has daughters when you yourself only want sons? (52:39)
  7. Am I [Muhammad] trying to burden you with debt by following this God? (52:40)
  8. Do they really think they can see and describe the unseen? (52:41)
  9. Why are they trying to ensnare the Prophet when it won’t succeed? (52:42)
  10. Is there really some other god they think they can set alongside the one true God? (52:43)

Maybe the one question that sums all of this up is, “Who do you think you are?”  Quite an on-target question from a religion that is all about submission.

Today’s surah argues for the validity of the Resurrection based on the original Creation.  If God has the power to create in the beginning, he can surely re-create in the end.  Though people may doubt, look around; there are ample reasons to believe. 

I found several interesting phrases in today’s reading.  Sometimes very lyrical or rich in imagery:

  • Denying the supernatural is not as rational as we sometimes think: “The disbelievers deny the truth when it comes to them; they are in a state of confusion.” (50:5)
  • The regenerative nature of water: “Do they not see . . . how with water We give [new] life to a land that is dead?” (50:6, 11)
  • The immanent, intimate, knowledgable presence of God: “We know what his soul whispers to him: We are closer to him than his jugular vein.” (50:16)
  • All will be convinced in the end: “The trance of death will bring Truth with it.” (50:19)
  • Judgment cannot be escaped: “Each person will arrive [to the place of judgment on Judgement Day] attended by an [angel] to drive him on and another to bear witness.” (50:21)
  • All will see clearly eventually: “You paid no attention to this [Day]; but today We have removed your veil and your sight is sharp.” (50:22)
  • The ravenous hunger of Hell: “We shall say to Hell on that day, ‘Are you full?’ and it will reply, ‘Are there no more?'” (50:30)
  • A comforting image of Paradise: “But Paradise will be brought close to the righteous and will no longer be distant.” (50:31)
  • An image of Resurrection: “On the day when the earth will be split open, letting them rush out — that gathering will be easy for us.” (50:44)

"Sacred Heart and Resurrection Body" by Graham Eadie

It’s not religion that matters most of all.  It is not even just belief alone.  It is faith submissively expressing itself in obedience, respect, and love. 

Such is the message of today’s short surah, “The Private Rooms.”   

The desert Arabs say, “We have faith.”  [Prophet] tell them, “You do not have faith.  What you should say instead is, ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts.” . . . The true believers are the ones who have faith in God and His Messenger and leave all doubt behind, the ones who have struggled [jihad?] with their possessions and their persons in God’s way: they are the one who are true. . . . They think they have done you [Prophet] a favor by submitting.  Say, “Do not consider your submission [islam] a favor to me; it is God who has done you a favor, by guiding you to faith, if you are truly sincere.”  (49:14-15, 17)

As we read through this surah we read of Muslims who treat Muhammad with such disrespect that they stand outside his “private rooms” and yell for his to come out (49:4).  When he is talking, they shout over him, presumably not laking what he is saying (49:2).  They have forgetten Muhammad is God’s chosen Messenger, not just one of the guys (49:2). 

People are believing any report they hear, without showing the accused brother or sister the respect to find out if it is true first (49:6).  Of course, this causes tension and even arguments, which they are all only too willing to get into (49:9-10).  Offensive remarks, name-calling, back-biting, mockery, looking down on other Muslims, trying to catch people doing something wrong, jumping to conclusions about each other — too many were engaging in this kind of unsuitable behavior (49:11-12). 

And yet these same Muslims were quick to say they have faith (49:14).  No, they have religion.  No, they wear a label that identifies themselves as one of the group.  Do they believe in Allah?  Sure, it seems they do, but that belief has had little effect on their life.  They have a religion called “Islam,” but they have completely missed what “islam” really is: submission. 

Sure, they have “submitted” to Muhammad, in the sense that they do not rebel against his authority.  But real submission requires a heart that is tender and kind to others.  A true submitter has “struggled” or “done war” with his own “person” or will or desires, so that he treats others with respect and love.  A true believer would not act the way this group is acting. 

That is a great message!  And universally applicable, regardless of your religion.

The Apostle Paul of the Bible said it this way:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

The Prophet Muhammad, 17th century Ottoman cop...

Image via Wikipedia

The people of Mecca don’t want to believe what Muhammad is teaching.  It seems preposterous: life after death (46:17).  It is beneath them: it is mainly poor people accepting this new-fangled religion (46:11).  That crazy man made this all up (46:8).    Muhammad is told to ask them the one question we all must ask: 

What if this Qur’an really is from God and you reject it? (46:10)

The Qur’an is logical: if God can create this intricate world, don’t you think he can bring the dead back to life again (46:33)?  Muhammad could point to Jews in Mecca who had accepted the Qur’an as another revelation from their God (46:10, 12).  The parents of these unbelievers even believed (46:15, 17).  Even the jinn were accepting the veracity of this message when they heard it (46:29-31).  Why reject it?

Things will not turn out well if they do reject it.  One only has to think about the example of the people of `Ad, a civilization bigger and more established than Mecca in Muhammad’s time (46:26), yet God wiped them out from amongst the “sand dunes” (the reason for the name of this surah) with a desert storm when they would not heed the warning Hud was bringing (46:21-25).   

“This is a warning” (46:35).  One better have a really good reason to reject the Qur’an.

Raising two sons is one of the most challenging tasks I have ever undertaken.  Definitely rewarding, but certainly a task for the stout-hearted.

There is nothing I want more than for my sons to walk in the way of faith I have taught them.  I believe their devotion to God will contribute more to their future happiness than education, career, power, love, or money.  I certainly want them to make wise decisions about each of these too, but the love of a woman without the acceptance of God is ultimately meaningless.  A good job with no greater purpose for the work of one’s hands is ultimately unrewarding.  What education about true life is complete without an awareness of the Creator?  I want my boys to walk in the way of Jesus.

Hence, the “competing stories” for life pose a great threat to all I am working for in my family (and in my ministry, but that is another topic entirely).  These other “metanarratives” offer a way of seeing and living life that I do not believe are anchoring in truth and, therefore, do not lead in the best way to the Author of Truth and to the kind of life that He engineered to be fulfilling.

What are some of those “competing stories,” at least in my American context?

The Power Metanarrative:  The ability to control one’s own life is the supreme value. Be strong enough to bring your will to pass in your world.  Through skill, hard work, intimidation, or pure monopoly rise to the top and dominate, maybe nicely, but be the top dog, for sure.

The Work Metanarative:  You are what you do.  You are defined by your work and you are only worth what your work is worth.  You must be a self-made man.  True reward is found in what you can produce with your own two hands.  Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

The Pleasure Metanarrative:  Happiness is found in the high that comes from satisfying one’s desires.  Those may be physical desires for sex or food or comfort.  Those may be emotional desires for acceptance or ego-stroking.  You are happiest when you feel good and feel good about yourself.

The Materialistic Metanarrative:  The truest realities are material, so gather as much as possible.  It seems this life is all we have because anything else is hard to prove materially, so end this life with the greatest number of toys.  Money helps, so stay in school, work hard, and do whatever is necessary to increase the flow of capital into your life.

The Romance Metanarrative:  There is no feeling more satisfying that the love of another person.  Find your “soul-mate” and you will find fulfillment.  The greatest curse is to be alone.  Your worth is determined by your lover.  Your soul is completed by another.

I am sure there are others.  These are the one’s that fit me first.  Of course, there is truth hidden in each of these, as corrupted as each has now become.  Love is a divine virtue.  We are material people in a material world.  We have work to do on this planet.  Pleasure does feel good.  Free people need the ability to self-govern.  The issue comes when each of these are elevated to such a level that they themselves become our sources of meaning, our avenues for fulfillment, really, our gods.

I want more for my boys.  There is no greater love than that found in God.  Our souls were made by God and He holds the key to true fulfillment.  Productive work is just a way to worship God.  Physical and emotional pleasures fade long before the pleasure of God’s acceptance.  God is best qualified to hold the keys of power.  Life lived in submission to God and service to others: this is what I want for my sons.  So the “competing stories” of our culture concern me as I prepare them to understand these stories as counterfeit narratives that offer false “happy endings.”

It would appear this is the same motivation a wise man named Luqman had so many years ago.  According to translator Ali, little is known of Luqman for sure.  His wisdom is so storied that a whole tradition of wise saying has arisen around him, not unlike Aesop.  Luqman is also thought to have lived a long time.  What is clear from this passage is Luqman’s desire for his son to walk in the ways of God and to be careful of people who tell “distracting tales” intended to lead him away from “God’s way” (31:6).  Today’s surah is largely the recounting of the counsel of Luqman to his son.

Keep up the prayer, my son; command what is right; forbid what is wrong; bear anything that happens to you steadfastly: these are things to be aspired to. (31:17)

Fathers — back then or today — want the same for our sons: devotion to God in a world of competing stories.

I am interested to know what a modern-day, orthodox, spiritual Muslim would say are the “competing stories” of this world?  What metanarratives are being offered up to us and our children that work against all that the Qur’an is working for?