Those who read the comments on this blog have read an explanation for “grace” according to Muslim thinking, given by people who would understand better than I would.  Grace is unmerited favor.  It is grace when people of all sorts receive life, provision, safety, and wholeness.  Seeing a new day is grace.  Having food in your pantry is grace.  Enjoying the work of your hands and the beauty of our world is grace.  Grace is when people who don’t even accept Allah receive the blessings of life we might expect only believers would receive.

Today’s new surah recounts many of these such “acts of grace” Allah gives to the world:

  • The revelation of the Qur’an (36:5)
  • The warning of possible punishment (36:6)
  • A historical record of punishment and reward (36:31)
  • Food and the fertility of soil (36:33)
  • Well-watered crops of produce (36:34)
  • A balanced and paired creation (36:36)
  • Consistent constellation patterns (36:37-40)
  • The Ark and other vessels in the midst of flooding (36:41-43)
  • Enjoyment of life (36:44)
  • Eyesight (36:66)
  • Mobility (36:67)
  • The ability to domesticate animals for food, milk, and transportation (36:71-73)
  • Fire (36:80)

No doubt, this is grace.  Each is certainly unmerited favor.  I am still left to wonder, though, is that the extent to Allah’s grace?  Does Allah have grace for sin?  Not just that he allows any person to live, as we all sin.  Will Allah do something about the sins of people who can’t or don’t?  Or are people still left to rectify their own sins, hence earning God’s favor?

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Today we come to the seventh surah entitled “The Heights” or “The Elevations.”  Abdel Haleem, the translator of my copy of the Qur’an says this surah gets its name from “the heights of the barrier which will divide the righteous from the damned on the Day of Judgment.”  Intriguing!  That will be some interesting topography! 

This is a Meccan surah again, so we should expect paganism to be the main opposition and Muhammad to still be somewhat tentative.  That, in fact, is what we see again in only the first few ayahs:

This Book has been sent down to you [Prophet] — let there be no anxiety in your heart because of it. (7:2)

The accounting of deeds mentioned yesterday is made even clearer today:

On that Day the weighing of deeds will be true and just: those whose good deeds are heavy on the scales will be the ones to prosper, and those whose good deeds are light will be the ones who have lost their souls through their wrongful rejection of Our messages. (7:8-9)

Next, we are re-introduced to Iblis.  Christians know him as Lucifer or simply Satan, a name that is used in this passage as well.  We have come today to the Qur’an’s near-identical account of what Christians typically call the “Fall,” though the Bible doesn’t actually use this term.

Adam and Eve from a copy of the Falnama, Iran, c.1550

In the Qur’an, the events in the Garden are actually preceded by a divine showdown of power.  God creates Adam from clay and commands the angels to bow before him.  Most do, but not Iblis and those with him.  Having been created from fire, Iblis claims simply, “I am better than him.”  God banishes the arrogant angel from the pure Garden, but before he goes Iblis whispers lies into Adam and Eve’s ears suggesting God is only preventing them from eating of “this tree” (it would seem the Tree of Life, though it is not called that here) because He wants to keep them subjugated and deprived of the immortality that could be their’s. 

Iblis

Today’s section ends with all three cast from the Garden and made to roam the earth.  Animosity will mark human interactions with Iblis, and the latter swears to take down as many of God’s cherished humans as possible.  God promises to fill Hell with Iblis and those who chose to follow him.

Again, we see immense overlap between the Bible and the Qur’an (though I know some question whether the Bible ever claims that Satan was once an angel).  By now this should come as no surprise.  Islam was not declaring itself to be a new religion; it was a continuation or, even better, a purification or “restoration” (as Glenn called it several weeks back in some comment) of the original story of God.

Here are the two ayahs I would like to focus on from today’s section, the last part of the “Livestock” or “Cattle” surah:

Whoever has done a good deed will have it ten times to his credit, but whoever has done a bad deed will be repaid only with its equivalent. (6:160)

Each soul is responsible for its own actions; no soul will bear the burden of another. (6:164)

Two of the handful of questions that all worldviews answer are: 1) What is humanity’s basic problem? and 2) What is the solution to humanity’s basic problem?  

All three of the Abrahamic religions answer the first question the same way: sin, though each defines sin in slightly different ways.  One of the biggest differences between Christianity and Islam (and all the other religions) is how each answers the second question.  A fundamental tenet of Christianity is that we are saved by the grace of God through faith in the atoning blood of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7, 2:8).  What does Islam teach about how one solves the problem of sin?   

First and foremost, one must believe sincerely in the One God (tawheed) and be totally devoted to him (islam).  This element alone can “seal the deal” or jeopardize one’s eternal destiny irreparably.   

Next, belief is validated through good deeds, the absence of which calls belief into question:

We [Allah] shall admit those who believe and do good deeds into Gardens graced with flowing streams, there to remain for ever. (4:122; c.f., 14:23)

It is said by Muslims that good deeds don’t merit a person a place in Paradise; that only comes through the mercy of God.  If this is the case, then this very similar to Christian grace.  (Note, though, that Christian depictions of the Islamic view of salvation more often describe it as a works-based system, the opposite to what has been stated here.)

Then, sin is forgiven when a person shows repentance.  But what is it that allows God to forgive sins?  What or who makes amends for sin?  This is where the greatest difference is seen between the Christian and Islamic views.  According to the Qur’an, we make amends for our sins (c.f., 5:89, 95).  That leads us back to the second of the two ayahs highlighted from today’s reading.  We are all responsible for our own sins and no one else can make amends for you (c.f., 39:7).  This is very different from the sacrifice of the Christian Savior. 

How do we make amends for our sins?  Socially, we may have to repay a debt.  Spiritually, we may have to do some sort of ritual.  Cosmically, we produce more good in our life than bad.  As we will see in the next surah, there will come a “great accounting” of our deeds on Judgment Day.  On that day it is hoped that our good outweighs our bad.  So in a sense, is salvation not up to us?  Do our deeds not determine some element of our destiny? 

Which leads us to the first ayah quoted at the beginning of this post.  God’s mercy is seen in the way he multiplies the number/weight/effect of the good deeds of believers.  This ayah talks about a 10:1 ratio, and those are some good odds! 

Let’s continue to collect more information from the Qur’an to flesh out the Islamic view of salvation.  I suspect we will find by the end of the year that this theme is a big one.