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!

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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

This new surah, “The Ranged Ones” or “Ranged in Rows,” (shorter than it appears from the number of ayahs) refers to the collection of angels (or men, depending on your interpretation) arranged in ranked rows ready to serve God in the way he most immediately needs.  Angels factor into this surah a few times.  These are the passages that stood out to me.

We have adorned the lowest heaven with stars, and made them a safeguard against every rebellious devil: they cannot eavesdrop on the Higher Assembly — pelted from every side, driven away, they will have perpetual torment — if any [of them] stealthily snatches away a fragment, he will be pursued by a piercing flame. (37:6-10)

This is an interesting take on spiritual warfare.  It appears the stars in this passage are animated in some way.  And I wonder if the pelting of the devils here has anything to do with the “stoning of Satan” that is a part of the Hajj?

[God’s true servants] will have familiar provisions — fruits — and will be honored in gardens of delight; seated on couches, facing one another.  A drink will be passed around among them from a flowing spring: white, delicious to those who taste it, causing no headiness or intoxication.  With them will be spouses — modest of gaze and beautiful of eye — like protected eggs. (37:41-49)

Here we have some new images of Paradise.  Couches, I guess, connote comfort.  This white, non-alcoholic drink is interesting.  Again, we see the male-centeredness of this description in that it is beautiful women that are mentioned.

Then he [a man in heaven] will say, “Shall we look for him [a friend]?”  He will look down and see him in the midst of the Fire, and say to him, “By God, you almost brought me to ruin!  Had it not been for the grace of my Lord, I too would have been taken to Hell.” (37:55-57)

What is the “grace” this man receives here?  Is it protecting him from the influence of his friend?  Is this Islamic grace: help to the person who still has the make the decisions and exercise his own power to obey?

Then he will say [to his blessed companions], “Are we never to die again after our earlier death?  Shall we never suffer?  This truly is the supreme triumph!” (37:58-60)

This reminds me of 1 Corinthians 15:51-57

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

 “Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But I have to ask again, where is the evidence that Allah can resurrect?  Compare that to the Christian claim that God can resurrect as shown through the already-manifested resurrection of Jesus.

Is this the better welcome, or the tree of Zaqqum, which We have made a test for the evildoers?  This tree grows in the heart of the blazing Fire, and its fruits are like the devil’s heads.  They will fill their bellies eating from it; then drink a scalding mixture of top of it; then return to the blazing Fire. (37:62-68)

What is this tree?  It sounds almost like the opposite of the Tree of Life.  Commentator Ali says that is exactly right, the point being that “the appetite for Evil grows with what it feeds on.”

Now [Muhammad], ask the disbelievers: is it true that your Lord has daughters, while they chose sons for themselves?  Did We create the angels as females while they were watching?  No indeed!  It is one of their lies when they say, “God has begotten.”  How they lie! (37:149-52)

There was a pagan Arab idea that angels were Allah’s daughters.  The insult of this claim was that those same Arab man preferred to only have sons themselves, to the point that female infanticide was known to occur.  Hence, Allah is painted in an inferior manner than a man would want to be seen himself.

Another short collection of notable passages from today’s ending of the twenty-third surah.

Those who stand in awe of their Lord, who believe in His messages, who do not ascribe partners to Him, who always give with hearts that tremble at the thought that they must return to Him, are the ones who race toward good things, and they will be the first to get them. (23:57-61)

This is both a vivid description of God’s desire to bless the believer and a list of desirable character traits in the devoted.

We do not burden any soul with more than it can bear.  (23:62)

“Pat” has gone quiet in the comment section of this blog, but she would say this makes her think of 1 Corinthians 10:13.  And I agree! 

When We bring Our punishment on those corrupted with wealth, they will cry for help. (23:64)

The Qur’an seems to acknowledge that wealth inherently possesses a corrupting power.  Yes, money can be used for good for evil.  Yes, greed is the real insidious side to wealth.  But we are naive if we think that money itself has no power of its own to tempt, control, and estrange us from God.

They say, “What?  When we die and turn to dust and bones, shall we really be resurrected?” . . . Say, “Who owns the earth and all who live in it? . . . Who is the Lord of the seven heavens?  Who is the Lord of the Mighty Throne? . . . Who holds control of everything in His hand? Who protects?” (23:82-89)

This is a return to yesterday’s focus on resurrection.  We are given more of an answer here as to why one should believe in the resurrection.  God is in control.  This is His world.  He has power to protect and power over Heaven.  A god that powerful surely can raise the dead.  Of course, having raised a dead person in a notable way already would mean even more. 

Repel evil with good. (23:96)

Another good, Bible-sounding saying.

Those whose good deeds weigh heavy will be successful, but those whose balance is light will have lost their souls for ever and will stay in Hell. (23:102-03)

More “weighing of the heart” language.

The main point in today’s reading is that the reception Muhammad is receiving is not unlike that given to many prophets before him.  We have seen this message many times already. 

The most interesting part of the reading, though, is what the disbelievers say to an unnamed prophet before Muhammad’s time when he claims that we will be resurrected on the Last Day:

The leading disbelievers . . . said, “He is just a  mortal like you — he eats what you eat and drinks what you drink — and you will really be losers if you obey a mortal like yourselves.  How can he promise you that after you die and become dust and bones you will be brought out alive?  What you are promised is very far-fetched.  There is only the life of this world: we die, we live, but we will never be resurrected.  He is just a man making lies up about God.  We will never believe in him.”  (23:33-38)

How can this prophet or Muhammad after him promise the dead will be resurrected? 

It is claimed that the topic of the Hereafter is discussed more than any topic in the Qur’an with the sole exception of monotheism and idolatry.  Resurrection is foundational to the Islamic worldview, so it begs the question “what is the basis for believing this claim?”  This is a religious belief, so it will have a degree of faith involved, to be sure.  But one can hope that there is some reason to believe that this faith is more than wishful thinking.  I do hope that those better versed in Islam can provide evidence for faith in the claim of resurrection.  All I have found is this: 1) Allah has revealed the truth of resurrection in the Qur’an, thus it is true; and 2) as is said in this passage, the truth will be shown in the end (23:40).  If one believes that the Qur’an is the inspired word of God, then yes these arguments would be persuasive.  But it is not realistic to think that #1 would mean much to a person who does not yet trust the Qur’an.  It is not like Muhammad was raised from the dead.   

Resurrection is also foundational to Christianity, so it is only fair to ask what basis do Christians have to believe that they will be resurrected on the Last Day.  Is it because the Bible claims it to be true?  Again, this argument alone does not hold water with someone who does not yet believe the Bible is the word of God.  Does the Bible offer any better reason for believing that resurrection is a reality?

The Apostle Paul devotes an entire chapter to exactly this point.  It seems there were some in his time who were saying something similar to what the disbelievers above were saying.  Paul’s response is the foundational argument for the resurrection in Christianity.  How can we know that we will be resurrected?  Jesus’ resurrection.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.  But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Why should we believe in resurrection?  Because Jesus was raised from the dead.  Jesus wasn’t just resuscitated in the same body; he received a renewed, resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:44).  If Jesus was not resurrected, then Christianity falls apart.  Resurrection is the linchpin.  Why can a Christian believe that resurrection will be a reality?  Not simply because a book says so.  We have been given proof that God has this power and desire in that He raised Jesus from the dead during our time.  We know we can be resurrected in the future because God has already resurrected in the past. 

This argument can be charged with the same circular reason I mentioned earlier in regards to the Qur’an, can’t it?  Christians believe the Bible’s claim of resurrection because the Bible describes a resurrected Jesus.  Isn’t that the same as saying, “I believe the Bible because of the Bible”?

This is where further reasoning and research bolsters the faith one can have in what we read in the Bible.  Why should we believe that Jesus was resurrected? 

  1. If the resurrection of Jesus were nothing more than a hoax, the apostles who started that hoax went on to suffer and die for Jesus.  Would you die for a lie?  What did the apostles stand to gain from the hoax: popularity, fame, money, women?  The apostles received none of these in their life-time.  Consider this verse from 1 Corinthians 15:30, “And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?”
  2. Maybe Jesus just passed out and never really died.  We know from history that a great number of people being flogged before resurrection (as Jesus was) actually died during the beating.  The suffering Jesus endured was simply too severe to live through.  Also, the mixture of water and blood oozing from Jesus’ wound is a tell-tale sign of a fatal wound. 
  3. Maybe the people who thought they saw a resurrected Jesus were just hallucinating.  But over 500 people claimed to see the same resurrected Jesus.  It is illogical that there would be such a mass hallucination.  In addition, the closeness between event and writing made it possible for people who doubted the resurrection account to actually find and talk with these supposed eyewitnesses. 
  4. Maybe someone stole Jesus’ body?  Who?  The only people who would want to do so would be the apostles.  It is illogical to think they could get past an armed battalion of Roman guards who were trained to kill and would be killed themselves if they failed or fell asleep.  It is also not likely that they would be able to move the stone. 
  5. The resurrection accounts are actually crafted as weak arguments if they are fake.  Women are claimed to be the first eyewitnesses.  The testimony of women was not even accepted in a court of law at that time.  Why create such a story?
  6. How did the apostles go from timid fishermen so afraid of dying that they hid to fearless messengers who all died a martyr’s death (except John who died in exile on the island of Patmos)?  How did Paul have such an about-face that he went from murderer to martyr in such a short amount of time?  The best explanation is a miraculous event. 
  7. Anyone who wished to disprove the resurrection could have done so easily.  All they had to do was produce Jesus’ body.  The Jewish religious leaders had every reason to do so as the Christian group grew in popularity after Pentecost only two months after the Crucifixion.  But no one ever did.   

The best and most logical explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth truly was resurrected from the dead as claimed.  And because of that we can have a confidence that we too will be resurrected.    

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

This new Meccan surah promises to be an interesting one.  The synopsis in my translation indicates it is more narrative in nature.  I have noticed that the Qur’an does not use many stories; it is much more sermonic.  Because of that, I hate to say, it is a different and slightly more laborious form of literature than what most Westerners may prefer, as story-based as our culture is.

Before the surah launches into its first story, the first eight ayahs mention Allah is testing people’s hearts. What is it about the nature of Allah that requires a “test” to determine a person’s heart (18:7)?  Does He not know already?  Is this all one big game to Him?  Is the heart’s inclination not a reality until the event, thus it must take place?  I am hoping for the last option.

The Companions of the Cave

Next we have the story of the Companions or Sleepers of the Cave.  This is a most interesting story!  The tale, which certainly is told as a parable with a bigger point, tells of three or four or seven young men and a dog who are fleeing oppression at the hands of pagan worshipers and seek refuge in a north-facing cave.  God keeps them there undetected as if a wall had been built obscuring the cave and causes the youths to fall into a deep sleep.  They sleep for what seems like only hours or days but what turns out to be hundreds of years, maybe three or twelve hundred years or longer.  Hungry, they send one of the men down into the city to inconspicuously buy food.  However, his antiquated dress, speech and money draw attention. The people of the city, then, decide a great move of God has taken place at this cave and plan to build a place of worship there.  Then the people argue amongst themselves over the number of youths had been in the cave and for how long.

It turns out this story was originally Christian, not Islamic.  Commentator Abdullah Yusuf Ali states that the great chronicler of ancient Roman history Edward Gibbons first told the story in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Ali describes the original story this way:

The bare Christian story (without the spiritual lessons taught in the Qur’an) is told in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (end of chapter 33). In the reign of a Roman Emperor who persecuted the Christians, seven Christian youths of Ephesus left the town and hid themselves in a cave in a mountain near by. They fell asleep, and remained asleep for some generations or centuries. When the wall which sealed up the caves was being demolished, the youths awoke. They still thought of the world in which they had previously lived. They had no idea of the duration of time. But when one of them went to the town to purchase provisions, he found that the whole world had changed. The Christian religion, instead of being persecuted was fashionable: in fact it was now the State religion. His dress and speech, and the money which he brought, seemed to belong to another world. This attracted attention. The great ones of the land visited the Cave, and verified the tale by questioning the man’s Companions. When the story became very popular and circulated throughout the Roman Empire, we may well suppose that an Inscription was put up at the mouth of the Cave.

Ali opines that Christians would have posed this story to Muhammad at some point asking him to weigh in on how many youth had been in the cave and for how long as a way to discredit him.  Muhammad then takes the story and makes a larger, grander point from the story.

Kahf Al-Raqim, the cave today

The point now becomes that it is foolish to argue over the minor points of this all important story and miss the life-changing message of God hidden in this parable.  How long did they stay?  Only God knows (18:26)!  Restrain the hubris that makes you think you too can know the mind of God.  Much more important than “how many?” or “how long?” is that God did protect the youth from death and awaken them again to a life that was safer and better than what it had been when they fell asleep.  It is like they were living a whole new life.  As you can guess, the original Christian story was taken as an analogy about Resurrection.  At least some Muslims take the story the same way as well, as is clear from Abdel Haleem’s translation of ayah 21:

In this way We brought them to people’s attention so that they might know that God’s promise [of resurrection] is true and that there is no doubt about the Last Hour, [though] people argue among themselves.

From an artistic and literary point of view, this story is superb!  It is also a truly great message for religious people to bear in mind!  We have a God who will protect us through oppressive times, who will make death seem only like a night’s sleep, and who will raise us again to a life superior to what we now know.  In the mean time, embrace a “generous orthodoxy” that allows for varying views of the minor points of the story, hanging on firmly to the main point.