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

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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.

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“You are not alone.”

Today’s passage begins with this reminder to the Prophet:

Messengers before you [Muhammad] were also ridiculed. (21:41)

Muhammad is a part of a long line of prophets — Moses and Aaron, Abraham, Noah, David and Solomon, Job, Ishmael, Idris, Dhu-l’Kifl (Ezekiel), Jonah, Zechariah, Mary.  God has always been with His messengers.  Today’s section ends with this reassurance:

We answered him [Jonah] and saved him from distress: this is how We save the faithful. (21:88)

Muhammad was not alone.  There were other prophets before him who had experienced the same sting of ridicule.  There were others who watched the destruction of people they had been called to preach to.  There were others who might have felt like failures because those people did not repent.  Others who felt frustrated, angry, or depressed.  He was not alone in this sea of emotions.

Loneliness from rejection is a primal fear.  People everywhere feel it.  Alone in our fears and insecurities.  Alone in our guilt and shame.  Alone in our quirkiness and idiosyncrisy.  That’s why the fear of loneliness is so often a topic of religion, this system we construct from our questions and answers to life’s biggest questions. 

Whether it is Muhammad in Mecca, Moses on Mt. Sinai, or Jesus in Gethsemane, each needed to know they were not alone.  And so do we.

Jesus said “a prophet is without honor in his own hometown” (Luke 4:24).  Muhammad knew exactly what he meant. 

Muhammad

Muhammad began receiving his revelations in the Cave of Hira overlooking his hometown of Mecca.  He went to his own people and they were not impressed.  Most of his first converts were his own family members, friends, and business partners.  When he would preach he was dismissed as a “mad-man.”  Most would push on past him; only a few believed in Muhammad’s monotheistic ideal.  Those who did believe tended to be lower class people or, at best, common workers.  His popularity would soon grow, but early on Muhammad was easy to ignore. 

Muhammad was not alone in his experience of rejection.  In today’s very long reading we come to an extensive rehearsal of the many prophets of old — Noah, Hud, Salih, Lot, Shu`yab, Moses — who were ignored when they in fact brought revelations from God.  It would appear the point of this passage is to weave Muhammad into this line as another such prophet.  In so doing, he is given credibility.  At the time, he also could have found encouragement in this history.  Such is the fate of God’s great prophets.  He is not alone. 

I am afraid my ability to blog will likely be impeded until the end of the weekend.  If you are still reading through the Qur’an with these readings this will give you a chance to catch up and work your way through today’s longer reading.  Blessings!