As we get closer to the end of the Qur’an the surahs are getting shorter, so I will be combining surahs in many posts.  Today’s two surahs go well together as both of them deal with two of the five pillars of Islam: prayer (salat) and giving (zakat).

Surah 62 encourages the worshipper not to forsake daily times of prayer.

When the call of prayer is made on the day of congregation, hurry towards the reminder of God and leave off your trading–that is better for you, if only you knew–then when the prayer has ended, disperse in the land, and seek out God’s bounty. (62:9-10)

Surah 63 exhorts worshippers give to those in need.

Give out of what We have provided for you, before death comes to one of you and he says, “My Lord, if you would only reprieve me for a little while, I would give in charity and become one of the righteous.”  God does not reprieve a soul when its turn comes: God is fully aware of what you do. (63:10-11)

These two surahs are connected also by a common problem: an hypocrisy produced by the desire for wealth.

In surah 62 Jews are castigated for claiming to love God and follow His Law, yet being so attached to wealth that they loathe the day of their death because they have lost the opportunity to gain more wealth.  Though they should rush to pray with the community, instead “they scatter towards trade or entertainment whenever they observe it, and leave you [Prophet] standing there” (62:11).  Their love for money has made them “asses carrying books” they do not read or obey (62:5).  Should they not welcome the day of their death instead as an opportunity to be reunited with God their “friend” (62:6)?  They need to remember that “what God has is better than any entertainment or trade: God is the best provider” (62:11).

In surah 63–appropriately called “Hypocrites”–a group of supposed believers ask Muhammad to ask God to extend them time to fulfill the admonition to give to the poor.  Yet the reason for this request reveals their hypocrisy: their wealth and children have become a distraction to their duty.  They are not giving to others because they have other desires for their money (63:9).  God offers no reprieve for such a mentality (63:11).

(Now, I must note the irony that it is the eve of Black Friday, the busiest shopping day in America, as I write this post.  HA! )

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True religion hates hypocrisy.  Why?  Because it makes a mockery of God.  A hypocrites dares to think he can pull the wool over the eyes of the very Creator of their soul.  Hypocrisy also makes a mockery of believers who really do try to live out their religion yet are labeled “hypocrites” right along with those who really are.  Personally, my heart breaks each time I hear students tell me that already, before they have even reached 18 years of age, they have written off religion because religious people are all fake and do just as many bad things as anyone else.

Jesus showed his distaste with hypocrites, and maybe nowhere stronger than in Matthew 23:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:23-28)

In today’s section, we find the Qur’an attack hypocrisy as well.  “Hypocrite” here seems to be synonymous with “sinner” or “disbeliever,” but the point is still the same.  Over the course of this section, the following is said of hypocrites:

  • Their cowardice causes them to look for any way out of conflict (9:56-57)
  • They look at alms as an entitlement not gracious support and resent when they do not receive what they think they should be given (9:58-59)
  • They think nothing of insulting and subverting Muhammad, even trying to harm him (9:61, 74)
  • They easily swear oaths by the name of God but don’t actually try to please that God (9:62)
  • Deep down they live in fear of being exposed (9:64)
  • They promote wickedness and oppose righteousness (9:67)
  • They are tight-fisted and miserly, even after promising God to share the blessings he might choose to give them (9:67, 76)
  • They have put a priority on finding enjoyment right now (9:69)
  • They ignore clear warnings to change (9:70)
  • They criticize the benevolence of others, even those who go to great pains to give (9:79)
  • They are destined for the “Fire of Hell” (9:63, 68, 73, 79)

Early in the life of this blog we clarified that hypocrisy is not the same as failing to withstand the pressure of temptation.  Hypocrisy is willful duplicity.  Hypocrisy is consciously passing oneself as something we know we are not and have no intention to actually be.

May we always be guarded from the pitfall of hypocrisy.

“Hello!” to the several who have subscribed in the past few days, maybe due to the gracious, unsolicited plug from my friend and preacher Chris Altrock (check out his voluminous blog; his discipline is exemplary and his guidance is always sure).  I guess the fact that he is still willing to own me as a friend means I haven’t been too heretical yet.

Today we begin the longest surah, a Medinan one (that will be important by the end) and interestingly titled “The Cow” because of a reference to come.  At this point Allah speaks, usually in the royal “we.”  Interestingly, 2:2-4 mention three of the five pillars of Islam, the five basic acts a devote Muslim is expected to do — the statement of faith, prayer, and almsgiving.  All that is missing is pilgrimage and fasting.    

From what I understand, ancient Arabic and Hebrew are linguistic cousins.  The word Haleem translates in 2:2 “mindful” in “those who are mindful of God” is connected to the Hebrew word in Proverbs 1:7 usually translated “fear.”

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. (Prov. 1:7)

“Mindful:” what a great translation!  I have never preferred “fear.”  Sure, I was taught it had the connotation of “respect” and I could get that.  I respect my father in such a way that I would never dream about doing some things to or around him (except when I was a stupid 14-year-old).  But “mindful” says it so well.  We will be led in the right way when we keep our minds fixed on God.  We will begin to find knowledge that changes our lives when our minds are full of God.  How could we dare seek self-glory when there is no room for “self” in our focus for the day?  As Haleem says in his notes on this ayah (verse), the opposite of “mindful/fear” is not familiar or cozy or overly-friendly with God as it sounds like it should be when translated “fear” (not to say that these can’t be a problem, of course) but “to ignore Him.”  Yes, that seems to capture it nicely.  I like it! 

At this point the surah picks up the three kinds of responses to Allah mentioned in 1:7 — belief and devotion; outright rejection that stirs up anger; and an hypocrisy that attempts to straddle the fence but progressively leads one astray.

Islamic predetermination really comes out strongly in 2:6-7.  “It makes no difference” what you say to them, unbelievers are “sealed” for “great torment.” 

Then 2:8-20 is one of the most astounding images of hypocrisy I have ever read.  If you read nothing else from this surah, read these ayahs.  So much could be said here, so I will focus on what exactly hypocrisy is.  So often I hear Christians get it wrong.  The implication seems to be with some that if you claim to be a Christian but then commit a sin Christians are known to look down upon, you are a hypocrite.  In other words, we are all hypocrites in some way, at some time.  That is not hypocrisy, though; that is frailty, depravity, failure.  Yes, we all fail, but we are not all hypocrites.  Hypocrites (the word means “actors” in ancient Greek) set out to deceive and trick, to give the impression that they are something when they know full well they are not and don’t even intend to be that.

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

Praise God for his mercy on those who fail.  But heaven forbid that we should try to fool God and others with vain religion.