Thursday, November 16, 2006

God is all over the place (Qur'an, Ch. 2)

Re: Chapter 2: AL-BAQARA (THE COW)

Thy ears are companions of the Fire

Estimates vary, but let’s safely suppose there are over a billion Muslims in the world at this very moment. That makes the assumption--that at any given moment (including this one) there are thousands of Muslims studying Chapter 2 of the Quran--a safe one. If that is the case, the ears of every disbeliever (and that includes every non-Muslim and even some who say they are Muslims) should be burning. You’re being talked about, and in less than flattering terms.

If you don’t believe in God in the Quran, this chapter is largely about you. It starts right in on you. It’s gossipy (i.e. not to you, but to the true believers about you). Of course you, the disbeliever, is in for it. Sucks for you. Worse, you’re not a disbeliever by choice. Nope, you’re a disbeliever because God made you that way. In essence, God screwed you over so he can disrespect you to his true believers and ultimately punish you as an example to his true believers. Your whole purpose for being, it seems, is to keep the true believers feeling superior and on the straight and narrow.

God is a real trash talker. Consider yourselves defamed.

Allah of the Israelites

It seems the Quran was written for an audience that is well versed in the Old and New Testaments. So much so, that no good Muslim should be without a Torah and/or(?) a Bible. In no uncertain terms, Chapter 2 makes clear that Allah and the God of the Jews and Christians are one in the same. Interesting that, because if “Allah” is the Jewish and Christian “God”, and he most certainly is, why isn’t the English translation of “الله” “God”? Apparently it’s an issue. I didn’t mean to look it up either. Rather, I meant to look up the Arabic characters. You can take the fact that this inconsistency occurred to me in a vacuum (an observation from ignorance) for what it’s worth. Regardless of why, I note in myself a subtle enlightening that Allah is in fact the God of Adam, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus…the children of Israel. I suspect that although we know better (I did!), calling God Allah has the insidious effect of distinguishing in our minds the God of the Muslims from the God of the Jews and Christians. It’s a false distinction, and, at minimum, a counterproductive one. And one that, even though I knew better, had played its trick on me. It wasn’t until I started reading the Quran that I noticed I didn’t associate Allah with all the things I associated God with, and vise versa.

For God too, the third time is the Quran

So it’s about 600 AD. There are Jews and Christians, and just as in modern times, among them you’ll find hypocrites. In fact, just like today, there was apparently a lot not to like about Jews and Christians circa the seventh century. What do you do? You take their God, you take their signs, you take their prophets, you take their texts, and you write a scathing criticism of the establishment along with instructions on how to avoid their hypocrisy. You start their religion anew. The mistakes of the past were those of the Jew and the Christian. You needn’t carry the burden of their sins. Rather, let them serve as lessons for those who would not repeat them. And better still, lessons for those who, if they had been Moses’ charge, would not have worshiped the calf, or if they had been at Jesus’ side, would not have slain him.

Here is God, here is religion, but without all the baggage of men. You see, in Mohammed’s time, Islam had no history. It was a newborn, and as such, unsullied by men who would practice it. That’s the appeal. Here is a religion that is yet to be ruined, and more, unruinable by men. Unfortunately for Islam, it is no longer immune from the criticisms it levels at the Jews and the Christians. And that’s what you’ll find in Chapter 2. A critical refutation of Jews and the Christians that today is just as valid if leveled against Muslims. Or, to put it another way, if you were to write the Quran today, and include in it the hook, you’d be remise if you didn’t include Muslims along side Jews and Christians as poor examples.

If God is being honest

He wrote the Quran for men to read. He talks about women, but not to them. God says they have rights similar to those of men, according to what’s equitable (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but adds that men have a degree of advantage. So basically, women are not to be treated equally, but the inequality with which they are treated should only be to the degree which is required for men come out on top.

The Quran does say it’s a good individual act to free slaves. But it also talks about proper relations with slaves as if slaves are a fact of life. I imagine they were. But conspicuously lacking is a mandate to free all slaves. This, to me, is symptomatic of how the Quran bends over backwards to accommodate a myriad of conditions or circumstances in an effort to appeal to as many people as possible. You don’t want to alienate he who hath slaves, so you don’t tell him he has to free all slaves, but if he wants to feel better about himself he can free one or two. You don’t want to alienate slaves, and if in your religion one curries favor with God by freeing slaves, well, you’re on their side. What’s not lost on me is that according to God, a slaves freedom is bought, not won, i.e. the buying and selling of slaves is a legitimate practice.

God hath covered every base

In chapter 2 you’ll find instructions for Ramadhan, the Hajj, bequeathing your worth and the particulars of divorce. The instructions are both accommodating to a variety of circumstances such as under what circumstances you can remarry your ex-wife. They are often practical. For example, in the case of the Hajj, be well behaved and once you’ve completed the Hajj, get the hell out of the way quickly least you cause a traffic jam. But often, in an apparent effort to consider all possible circumstances that might come up, the instructions leave room to disregard the original aim. Take Ramadhan, the holy month. You’d think it would be a good excuse to stop fighting. But if you tell your people they can’t fight during Ramadhan, sooner or later they’re going to get slaughtered. So you have to spell out under what circumstances they can fight. And in doing so, you basically defeat the whole purpose, since it is often repeated that God knows what’s in your heart and mind, so if you can convince yourself that the conditions for fighting during Ramadhan are met, well, you can fight.

The word of God is still just a word

All in all, I found Chapter 2 interesting in parts and mind numbing in others. What more I know about Islam is probably best summed up as better understanding of where it fits into history, and given the transparency of its mechanisms (to me at least), a renewed sense of resignation that I’d learned to ignore. There’s just something incredibly pathetic about the human race.

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