Sharia law does not forgive: Slow Painful Death for Christian Mother in Pakistan, by Raymond Ibrahim

  • While working as a farm laborer on a hot day, Asia Bibi was told to fetch water. When she returned, Muslim coworkers refused to drink from the water, saying it was unclean because a Christian had touched it.
  • Six years later, Asia Bibi still has not been executed. Instead, sick, isolated, and regularly beaten by both prison guards and Muslim inmates, she has evidently been left to rot to death.
  • Every time any Western organization calls for her release, Pakistani Muslims threaten to take Sharia law into their own hands. One mosque prayer leader has even offered $6000 to anyone who kills her — a strong incentive, since many in Pakistan would probably kill her for free.
  • According to Islamic law, the word of a Christian is not valid against the word of a Muslim. Accusations of blasphemy against Christians by Muslims routinely result in the Christians being imprisoned, beaten, and sometimes killed — in some cases even without evidence. Pakistan does not require proof of a crime, only allegations — often made for extraneous reasons, and totally unfounded.

Pakistan’s authorities appear to have found a solution to at least one of their problems in the international arena: Aasiya Noreen — or “Asia Bibi” — a 50-year-old Christian woman and mother of five, who has been on death row for six years for allegedly insulting Muhammad.

Instead of executing Asia Bibi and further advertising to the international community that theirs is a savage and backwards nation — and instead of releasing her and provoking millions of angry Muslims to turn on the government and accuse it of supporting “apostasy” — Pakistan’s authorities appear to be letting time, wretched conditions, severe maltreatment, and beatings slowly kill her.

Asia Bibi and two of her five children, pictured prior to her imprisonment.

Recent reports state that she is deathly ill and “so weak she could hardly walk.” Mission Network News says that Asia Bibi has “internal bleeding, abdominal pain, and is vomiting blood. If she does not receive immediate medical care, she could die.”

According to Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International, “She suffers terrible pain, and she can hardly eat. … Here’s this woman, languishing in a prison under this death sentence for a crime that she vehemently denies.”

In June 2009, while working as a farm laborer on a hot day, Asia Bibi was told to fetch water. Because she had drunk some of the water, the Muslim workers refused it: both the cup and the water were, they said, unclean because a Christian had touched them. (See this video of an Egyptian cleric saying how disgusted he is by Christians and how he could not drink from a cup that was merely touched by a Christian.)

Before the “cup” incident, it seems, a feud between Asia and one of her Muslim neighbors concerning property damage had existed.

After the “cup” incident, her enemies and some of the Muslim workers complained to a Muslim cleric. They accused Asia Bibi of making insulting statements about the Muslim prophet, Muhammad. Her official “crime,” therefore, which she vehemently denies, is “insulting” the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Shortly after the complaint was registered, a mob stormed her home and severely beat her and her family, including her children. They put a noose around her neck and dragged her through the streets. She was then arrested; and in November 2010, a Punjabi court fined her and sentenced her to death by hanging, in accordance to Section 295-C, which prohibits on pain of death any insult against the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Because her case attracted attention and condemnation from the international community, six years later, she still, mercifully, has not been executed. Instead, however, sick, isolated and regularly beaten by prison guards and Muslim inmates, she has evidently been left to rot to death.

In late 2011, a female prison-officer — assigned to provide security for Asia — was discovered beating her, “allegedly because of the Muslim officer’s anti-Christian bias, while other staff members deployed for her security looked on in silence.”

In late December 2013, Asia Bibi, a Catholic, sent a message to Pope Francis, saying that, “only God will be able to free me. … I also hope that every Christian has been able to celebrate the Christmas just past with joy. Like many other prisoners, I also celebrated the birth of the Lord in prison in Multan, here in Pakistan… I would have liked to be in St. Peter’s for Christmas to pray with you, but I trust in God’s plan for me and hopefully it will be achieved next year.”

It was not. In 2014, a Pakistani court upheld her death penalty. Recently, Pope Francis called for clemency for Asia Bibi while the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom pressed the Obama administration to designate Pakistan a “country of particular concern.”

Last year, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, citing Asia Bibi in particular, as well others, called for the use of the $900 million in U.S. aid to Pakistan as leverage to help persecuted religious minorities. If these funds are not used as leverage, nearly $1 billion in U.S. aid can be seen as “rewarding” Pakistan for being openly unjust to its minorities.

Christian minorities are still arrested for “defaming Muhammad” — that is, if a Muslim mob does not get to them first and burn them alive, as happened to a Christian couple last year, and as was recently attempted against a mentally disabled Christian man.

According to Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association:

Asia Bibi is by no means the only Christian on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan. There are a number of others, and there are also other Christians who are in there for crimes they did not commit, and are in effect in there because they are Christians.

People have to contact leaders of their nations and ask them to engage on dialogue with the Pakistani government for humanitarian rights alone renew the primary place of human rights when they engage in dialogue with foreign governments which habitually violate them. We see what happens when someone tries to challenge the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, it got two key politicians killed.

In a country with such animosity against Christians, I don’t believe a Supreme Court judge will be brave enough to exonerate her.

A report from 2012 found that “Since 1990 alone, fifty-two people have been extra-judicially murdered on charges of blasphemy” in Pakistan.

Yet every time any Western entity calls for her release, Pakistani Muslims threaten to take Sharia law into their own hands and murder her. Five years ago, a mosque prayer leader announced that anyone who manages to kill her would be rewarded with $6,000. It is a strong incentive, considering that many in Pakistan would probably kill her for free.

As Asia Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, puts it:

“The Maulvis [clerics] want her dead. They have announced a prize of Rs 10,000 to Rs 500,000 (£60 to £3,200) for anyone who kills Asia. They have even declared that if the court acquits her they will ensure the death sentence stands.

“I am planning our protection. If she is set free I hope we are moved to a safer country, as Pakistan cannot protect her.

“She has not made any mistake. We all know she has not committed any crime. We all know how Pakistan treats Christians. She was framed, she never committed any crime.”

Even some of those who have stood up for Asia Bibi have been murdered: two of her most prominent advocates, Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shabaz Bhatti, were both slaughtered. Taseer was shot twenty-seven times by Mumtaz Qadri — his own bodyguard — as he left his mother’s home. The bodyguard cited as his motive that the governor was supportive of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

After the murder, more than 500 Muslim clerics voiced support for the crime, and further pushed for a general boycott of Taseer’s funeral. Supporters of Mumtaz Qadri blocked police who were attempting to arrest him, and some supporters showered him with rose petals.

As for Bhatti, a Christian, Taliban-linked Muslims murdered him for his outspoken position against Pakistan’s blasphemy law and his support for Asia Bibi. His car was ambushed and sprayed with bullets. A letter left at the scene said that anyone who tried to tamper with Pakistan’s blasphemy law would suffer the same fate.

Bhatti, who received innumerable death threats, predicted his own murder. In a prerecorded video released after his death, he said, “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us … and I am ready to die for a cause … I am living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.”

The investigation into his murder was so lax (a series of suspects were freed) that it has been suggested that the Pakistani government may have been involved in — or at least sympathetic to — his assassination, for being a Christian and opposed to the blasphemy law.

Pakistan does not require proof of a crime, only allegations — often made for extraneous reasons, and totally unfounded.

Pakistanis’ extreme sensitivity to any potential insult to Muhammad is reflected in several laws in the nation’s penal code. Section 295-C reads:

Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

Because non-Muslims — particularly Christians, who by definition are known to reject Muhammad’s prophecy — are more likely to be suspected of blasphemy, and because,according to Islamic law, the word of a Christian is not valid against the word of a Muslim, blasphemy accusations by Muslims against Christians routinely result in the Christians being imprisoned, beaten and killed. Sometimes the accused is killed even when there is no evidence.

In Pakistan, this scenario plays itself out over and over again. Christians, who reportedly make up less than one percent of the population in Pakistan, are especially vulnerable to charges of blasphemy.

Years before Asia Bibi was falsely accused, in 1994, Amnesty International reported:

Several dozen people have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan over the last few years; in all the cases known to Amnesty International, the charges of blasphemy appear to have been arbitrarily brought, founded solely on the individuals’ minority religious beliefs. . . . The available evidence in all these cases suggests that charges were brought as a measure to intimidate and punish members of minority religious communities . . . hostility towards religious minority groups appeared in many cases to be compounded by personal enmity, professional or economic rivalry or a desire to gain political advantage. As a consequence, Amnesty International has concluded that most of the individuals now facing charges of blasphemy, or convicted on such charges, are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their real or imputed religious beliefs in violation of their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The British Pakistani Christian Association has started a petition calling for Bibi’s release, and offers more ways to help Asia’s case and help her husband Ashiq with legal fees.

In a recent interview, Asia Bibi’s husband said:

“I really love her and miss her presence. I cannot sleep at night as I miss her. I miss her smile; I miss everything about her. She is my soulmate. I cannot see her in prison. It breaks my heart. Life has been non-existent without her. … My children cry for their mother, they are broken. But I try to give them hope where I can.”

Raymond Ibrahim is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War in Christians(published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013).

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Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 33, “The Confederates,” verses 1-27

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“The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves”

This Medinan sura provides a principal foundation for the central role of Muhammad, and hence of the Hadith (traditions of his words and deeds), in the formulation of Islamic law. It also contains a dramatic example of Allah’s solicitude for his prophet, further solidifying his pivotal role.

In verses 1-8, Allah tells Muhammad not to listen to the unbelievers and hypocrites (v. 1), but rather to follow divine inspiration (v. 2). We get a hint of what this is about when Allah says that no man has two hearts, a man cannot make his wife his mother, and a man cannot make an adopted son a real son (v. 4). In those days men would divorce their wives by telling them, “You are to me like the back of my mother” — the Qur’an is here saying that this doesn’t affect any real change or make them actually into their mothers, but the point here is not about divorce. Rather, the passage is intended to end the practice of adoption, starting with Muhammad’s own family. Ibn Kathir explains: “This was revealed concerning Zayd bin Harithah”¦the freed servant of the Prophet. The Prophet had adopted him before prophethood, and he was known as Zayd bin Muhammad. Allah wanted to put an end to this naming and attribution.” An adopted son should be known by the name of his natural father: he can never truly enter into his adoptive household (v. 5).
Why was Allah so intent on ending the practice of adoption? Because Muhammad wanted to marry Zayd’s ex-wife, Zaynab bint Jahsh “” and as a result of his dalliance with his former daughter-in-law, says Maududi, “the hypocrites and the Jews and the mushriks [unbelievers] who were already bent on mischief would get a fresh excuse to start a propaganda campaign against Islam.” So Allah here emphasizes that an adopted son cannot be a true son, and so by extension Zaynab was never really Muhammad’s daughter-in-law at all, and there is no cause for scandal.

This sura will return to this subject later, but at this point it turns, in verses 9-27, to a discussion of the Battle of the Trench. Anticipating an attack by the pagan Arabs, whereupon Muhammad had a trench dug around Medina. According to Muhammad’s earliest biographer, Ibn Ishaq, once when Muhammad was helping the trench diggers, he wielded a pick at a large rock, and every time he hacked at the rock, lightning shot from the pick. One of the Muslims asked Muhammad: “O you, dearer than father or mother [cf. v. 6], what is the meaning of this light beneath your pick as you strike?”

Muhammad replied: “The first means that God has opened up to me the Yemen; the second Syria and the west; and the third the east.”

As the Quraysh, along with another tribe, the Ghatafan (known collectively in Islamic tradition as “the Confederates,” as in v. 20), laid siege to Medina, the trench prevented the invaders from entering the city. Yet the Muslims were unable to force them to end the siege. Then to make matters even worse, a tribe of Jews in Medina, the Banu Qurayzah, broke their covenant with Muhammad (perhaps after seeing how Muhammad had exiled two other Jewish tribes, the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir) and began collaborating with the Quraysh.

As the siege dragged on, according to Ibn Ishaq, one Muslim remarked bitterly about Muhammad’s designs on the Persian empire of Chosroes and the Byzantine empire of Caesar: “Muhammad used to promise us that we should eat the treasures of Chosroes and Caesar and today not one of us can feel safe in going to the privy!” Allah responded by saying that those who complain that “Allah and His Messenger promised us nothing but delusion!” have diseased hearts (v. 12). Allah accused these hypocrites of demoralizing the Muslims and of treasonous plotting with the enemies of Islam (vv. 13-14). Allah also told Muhammad to tell the people that desertion would be useless (v. 16).

The Qurayzah agreed to attack the Muslims from one side while the Quraysh besieged them from the other. But then a new convert to Islam, Nu”aym bin Mas”ud, came to Muhammad offering to trick the Confederate tribes, since his own people, the Ghatafan, did not know that he had become a Muslim. Muhammad responded, according to Ibn Ishaq: “You are only one man among us, so go and awake distrust among the enemy to draw them off us if you can, for war is deceit.” Nu”aym’s deception turned the Confederates against each other and against their Jewish allies; soon afterward, they ended the siege. Nu”aym’s deception had saved Islam.

According to Aisha, “When Allah’s Apostle returned on the day (of the battle) of Al-Khandaq (i.e. Trench), he put down his arms and took a bath. Then Gabriel whose head was covered with dust, came to him saying, “˜You have put down your arms! By Allah, I have not put down my arms yet.” Allah’s Apostle said, “˜Where (to go now)?” Gabriel said, “˜This way,” pointing towards the tribe of Bani Quraiza. So Allah’s Apostle went out towards them.”

Ibn Ishaq recounts that Muhammad addressed the Qurayzah Jews contemptuously: “You brothers of monkeys, has God disgraced you and brought His vengeance upon you?” (The Qur’an three times “” 2:62-65; 5:59-60; and 7:166 “” says that Allah transformed the disobedient Jews into pigs and monkeys.) The Muslims laid siege to the Qurayzah strongholds until, said Ibn Ishaq, the Jews “were sore pressed” and Allah “cast terror into their hearts.” Muhammad entrusted the fate of the tribe to the Muslim warrior Sa”˜d bin Mu”adh, who decreed: “I give the judgment that their warriors should be killed and their children and women should be taken as captives.”

Muhammad exclaimed: “O Sa”˜d! You have judged amongst them with the judgment of the King Allah.” According to Ibn Ishaq, “The apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for [the men of the Qurayzah] and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches.” Ibn Ishaq puts the number of those massacred at “600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900.” Ibn Sa”˜d says “they were between six hundred and seven hundred in number.”

One hadith summarizes Muhammad’s dealings with the three Jewish tribes of Medina: “Bani An-Nadir and Bani Quraiza fought (against the Prophet violating their peace treaty), so the Prophet exiled Bani An-Nadir and allowed Bani Quraiza to remain at their places (in Medina) taking nothing from them till they fought against the Prophet again). He then killed their men and distributed their women, children and property among the Muslims, but some of them came to the Prophet and he granted them safety, and they embraced Islam. He exiled all the Jews from Medina.”

The Qur’an refers obliquely to the massacre, saying that Allah “cast terror” into the hearts of the People of the Book who aided the pagans, “(so that) some ye slew, and some ye made prisoners” (v. 26). Victory came from Allah alone (vv. 9-11).

Next week: Allah scolds Muhammad for his reluctance to marry the former wife of his adopted son.

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Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 32, “The Prostration”

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Sura 32, “The Prostration,” dates from the middle of the Meccan period, and repeats many familiar preoccupations we have seen in other chapters of the Qur’an. Maududi says that “the main theme of the Surah is to remove the doubts of the people concerning Tauhid [the absolute oneness of Allah], the Hereafter and the Prophethood, and to invite them to all these three realities.”

The attentive reader of this Blogging the Qur’an series, particularly over the last few weeks, may have noticed that these themes “” removing doubts of the people concerning the unity of Allah, the Day of Judgment, and Muhammad’s status as a prophet “” are concerns of many, many other passages of the Qur’an outside of this chapter, and so sura 32 essentially stands as a kind of recapitulation and review of many things we have seen thus far. Repetition, of course, is a pedagogical tool, particularly in an oral culture.
And so we hear again in it that the Qur’an is true beyond doubt and Muhammad has not forged it (vv. 1-2); and that Allah created everything in six days and no one will protect or intercede for anyone else on the Day of Judgment (v. 4); and that Allah knows everything (v. 6); and that human beings were created from clay (v. 7); and that the unbelievers deny the resurrection of the dead (v. 10); and that Allah will taunt the unbelievers on the Day of Judgment and when he casts them into hell, telling them to “taste the penalty” of their evildoing (vv. 14, 20); and that those who believe pray and give alms (vv. 15-16) and will receive a reward (v. 17). (Incidentally, when Muslims hear v. 15″s reference to prostration, and other verses of the Qur’an that refer to prostration, they themselves are supposed to make a prostration; some editions of the Qur’an come with a sign in the margins by each prostration verse, so that the reader can be prepared for what is coming.)

In connection with all this, an early Muslim, Mu”adh bin Jabal, once asked Muhammad: “O Prophet of Allah, tell me of a deed that will grant me admittance to Paradise and keep me away from Hell.”

Muhammad replied: “You have asked about something great, and it is easy for the one for whom Allah makes it easy. Worship Allah and do not associate anything with Him, establish regular prayer, pay Zakah, fast Ramadan and perform pilgrimage to the House.” Then he asked Mu”adh: “Shall I not tell you of the greatest of all things and its pillars and pinnacle?” When Mu”adh replied in the affirmative, Muhammad said: “The greatest of all things is Islam, its pillars are the prayers and its pinnacle is Jihad for the sake of Allah.” And he told Mu”adh that all that depends on restraining one’s tongue.

The unbelievers are not equal to the believers (v. 18) — for indeed, the believers are the “best of people” (3:110) while the unbelievers are “the most vile of created beings” (98:6).

We see something new in the statement that everything Allah created is good (v. 7). This appears to contradict the idea that Allah created many jinns and men for hell (7:179 and v. 13 of this sura). However, the Imam Malik says that this only means that “he created everything well and in a goodly fashion,” not that everything he created is itself good. In v. 13 is also repeated the assertion that Allah would have guided all human beings to the truth if he had so desired — indicating here again that Allah does not, unlike the God of the Bible, will “that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3).

The unbelievers will be punished in this life as well as the next (v. 21). This is an idea that has implications for the political aspect of Islam — since the dhimmis, that is, the People of the Book (primarily Jews and Christians) in the Islamic state are to offer “willing submission” to the Muslims and “feel themselves subdued” (9:29), it becomes the responsibility of the Islamic state to make sure that that happens, so that they taste the penalty for their unbelief not just in the next life but in this one also. Ibn `Abbas and many others have explained the idea of v. 21 in this way: “The near torment means diseases and problems in this world, and the things that happen to its people as a test from Allah to His servants so that they will repent to Him.” These tests are in part to be instituted by the Islamic state, imposing second-class status and institutionalized discrimination upon the dhimmis in order to move them to repentance and conversion. For there is no worse sinner than one who ignores Allah’s signs (v. 22) “” which, as we have seen, include the verses of the Qur’an.

More familiar themes follow: Allah reminds Muhammad that he gave a book to Moses (v. 23), although we are not here given yet another recapitulation of the whole story of Moses or any significant portion of it. However, as it was in earlier retellings of incidents in Moses” career (as we have seen on more than one occasion), Maududi says that the point here is about Muhammad again: “Then it is said: “˜This is not the first and novel event of its kind that a Book has been sent down upon a man from God. Before this the Book had been sent upon Moses also, which you all know. There is nothing strange in this at which you should marvel. Be assured that this Book has come down from God, and note it well that the same will happen now as has already happened in the time of Moses. Leadership now will be bestowed only on those who will accept this Divine Book. Those who reject it shall be doomed to failure.–

Pickthall translates the next clause of v. 23 as “so be not ye in doubt of his receiving it,” but the Tafsir al-Jalalayn and others have it as “do not be in doubt concerning the encounter with him,” and consider it to refer to Muhammad’s Night Journey to Paradise, during which he met Moses and other prophets. Allah appointed leaders for the Children of Israel (v. 24), and on Judgment Day will judge between their squabbling factions (v. 25). Don’t they realize the lesson in the people Allah has previously destroyed (v. 26)? Don’t they see the signs in the things of nature (v. 27)? Yet they scoff, asking when the Day will be (v. 28). Allah tells Muhammad to tell them that it won’t do any good to become a believer on that Day (v. 29).

Next week: Sura 33, “The Confederates,” about Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis — no wait, it’s actually about several key battles in the early history of Muhammad’s Medina period, and even includes Allah’s orders to Muhammad to marry his former daughter-in-law. That incident, which is touched upon only obliquely in sura 33, is one of the most notorious incidents in Muhammad’s entire tumultuous prophetic career, and a hot topic of discussion ever since among both Islamic apologists and their opponents.

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The Glazov Gang-Obama and the Koran

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Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 30, “The Byzantines,” and Sura 31, “Luqman”

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After many passages in which the unbelievers ask Muhammad for a sign that he is a genuine prophet, but are rebuffed (6:37; 10:20; 13:7; 13:27), in sura 30 he delivers an actual prophesy — although this Meccan sura likely predates most, if not all, of the recorded demands for a sign. The prophecy regards the fate of the Byzantine Empire: the title of this surah is Ar-Rum (الرُّومُ), which literally means “The Romans,” but refers to the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly known today as the Byzantine Empire. I have thus entitled it here “The Byzantines.”

Allah says that the Byzantines have been defeated (v. 2), but will be victorious within a few years (v. 4). The Persians defeated them in 615 A.D., taking Jerusalem. According to the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the pagan Arabs used this news to taunt the Muslims: “The Meccan disbelievers rejoiced in this [defeat of the Byzantines] and said to the Muslims, “˜We shall vanquish you as the Persians vanquished the Byzantines.– But Muhammad was right: in 622, the Byzantines defeated the Persians and soon drove them out of Asia Minor. In 630, they retook Jerusalem.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali points out that the word translated “a few years” — bid” (بِضْعِ) — means “a period of three to nine years,” although it’s not clear why Allah wouldn’t be more specific when he knows everything (6:59). Whether or not the Byzantine victories fulfill the prophecy depends on whether one wants to see in them confirmation or disconfirmation that Muhammad was a prophet. Maududi declares: “The prediction made in the initial verses of this Surah is one of the most outstanding evidences of the Quran’s being the Word of Allah and the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s being a true Messenger of Allah.”

The outcome was the will of Allah (v. 5). His promises are trustworthy, although most men don’t understand (v. 6); they don’t realize that those who rejected Allah’s previous messengers were destroyed (v. 9). Those evil people who reject and ridicule Allah’s signs (ayat, which can be understood as verses of the Qur’an as well as signs in nature), will suffer extreme evil themselves (v. 10).

Verses 11-16 repeat warnings of the Day of Judgment: those who associated partners with Allah will find no help from those partners (v. 13); the righteous will enjoy delights while those who reject Allah’s signs will be punished (v. 16). Then verses 17-29 sing Allah’s praises, pointing out various features of the natural world as signs of his presence and power, including the creation of women as companions of men and the harmony between the two (v. 21). Ibn Kathir explains: “If Allah had made all of Adam’s progeny male, and created the females from another kind, such as from Jinn or animals, there would never have been harmony between them and their spouses. There would have been revulsion if the spouses had been from a different kind. Out of Allah’s perfect mercy He made their wives from their own kind, and created love and kindness between them.”

Other signs are the creation of heaven and earth, the variations of languages and colors (v. 22); sleep (v. 23); and lightning and rain (v. 24). But the unbelievers just follow their own lusts, rather than paying heed — and no one can guide those who Allah leaves astray (v. 29). (Here again is yet another indication that belief and unbelief are up to Allah, who, after all, has created some men just to torture them in hell — see 7:179).

Verses 30-45 continue to excoriate the unbelievers for their lack of faith. The righteous should not split up their religion into sects (v. 32). Ibn Kathir says that this refers to “the Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, idol worshippers and all the followers of false religions, besides the followers of Islam.” Muhammad himself said: “The Jews were split up into seventy-one or seventy-two sects; and the Christians were split up into seventy one or seventy-two sects; and my community will be split up into seventy-three sects.” But one sect will have the truth. Ibn Kathir continues: “The followers of the religions before us had differences of opinions and split into false sects, each group claiming to be following the truth. This Ummah too has split into sects, all of which are misguided apart from one, which is Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jama”ah [the People of the Prophet’s Way and Community], those who adhere to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah and what was followed by the first generations, the Companions, their followers, and the Imams of the Muslims of earlier and later times.”

Men cry to Allah when they”re in trouble (v. 33), but are otherwise ungrateful (v. 34). Allah has given man everything — which of his “partners” can do these things (v. 40)? Men should embrace the true religion before it’s too late (v. 43).

Verses 46-60 return to the signs of Allah in nature — specifically, the winds (vv. 46, 48), but the unbelievers continue to be ungrateful (v. 51). The Qur’an contains every kind of parable, but the unbelievers dismiss it as “vanities” (v. 58). Allah has sealed up their hearts (v. 59).

Another Meccan sura, Sura 31 is named for Luqman the wise. Abdur-Rahman bin Harmalah told this story: “A black man came to Sa”˜id bin Al-Musayyib to ask him a question, and Sa”˜id bin Al-Musayyib said to him: “˜Do not be upset because you are black, for among the best of people were three who were black,– including “Luqman the Wise, who was a black Nubian with thick lips.”

Verses 1-5 praise the Qur’an, which is a “guide and mercy” to the righteous (v. 3). However, verses 6-11 return to the unbelievers, who ridicule Islam (v. 6) and turn away in arrogance when the Qur’an is recited (v. 7).

Luqman, by contrast, tells his son not to join partners with Allah, “for false worship is indeed the highest wrong-doing” (v. 13). The highest wrongdoing: as the Invitation to Islam newsletter explained in 1997: “Murder, rape, child molesting and genocide. These are all some of the appalling crimes which occur in our world today. Many would think that these are the worst possible offences which could be committed. But there is something which outweighs all of these crimes put together: It is the crime of shirk” — that is, associating partners with Allah. A man should be good to his parents (v. 14) unless they try to get him to worship other gods (v. 15) — as apparently some pagan Meccans were trying to do with their Muslim convert children.

In verses 20-34, Allah returns to the perversity of the unbelievers in not reckoning with the many signs of his reality. He tells Muhammad not to grieve over the unbelievers (v. 23), for they will soon be subjected to unrelenting punishment (v. 24), for they know Allah created all, but do not understand that must obey him (v. 25). His words are inexhaustible (v. 27), and men should not be deceived by this present life into ignoring them (v. 33).

Next week: Sura 32, “The Prostration”: Has Muhammad forged the Qur’an?

(Here you can find links to all the earlier “Blogging the Qur’an” segments. Here is a good Arabic Qur’an, with English translations available; here are two popular Muslim translations, those of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, along with a third by M. H. Shakir. Hereis another popular translation, that of Muhammad Asad. And here is an omnibus of ten Qur’an translations.)

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Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 29, “The Spider”, by Robert Spencer

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This sura’s name comes from v. 41, which compares those who trust in anyone or anything besides Allah to spiders, who labor to build webs that are “the flimsiest of houses.” Maududi says that sura 29 was revealed during “the period of extreme persecution of the Muslims” at Mecca, although he considers and then dismisses the possibility that the first section, since it rails against the Hypocrites who so plagued Muhammad in Medina, were revealed later, during the Medinan period. Evidently the Hypocrites were always about.

Verses 1-13 focus on them, saying that it is not enough to profess belief in Islam, but that believers must be tested (vv. 2-3). The Hypocrites in this case are actually weaklings, who mistake human oppression for the wrath of Allah (v. 10). Allah asks, “Do those who practice evil think that they will get the better of Us? Evil is their judgment!” (v. 4). Even if a believer’s own parents urge one to worship anything or anyone besides Allah, he shouldn’t obey them (v. 8). Ibn Kathir elucidates this: “If they are idolaters, and they try to make you follow them in their religion, then beware of them, and do not obey them in that.” The unbelievers tell the believers that if they forsake Islam and follow them, the unbelievers will bear the penalty for the believers” sins, but they are, of course, lying (v. 12).
Then in verses 14-39 Allah then once again invokes various prophets: Noah (vv. 14-15); Abraham (vv. 16-27); Lot (vv. 28-35); Shu”aib (vv. 36-38); and Moses (v. 39). Says Maududi: “The stories mentioned in this Surah also impress the same point mostly, as if to say, “˜Look at the Prophets of the past: they were made to suffer great hardships and were treated cruelly for long periods. Then, at last they were helped by Allah. Therefore, take heart: Allah’s succour will certainly come. But a period of trial and tribulation has to be undergone.” Besides teaching this lesson to the Muslims, the disbelievers also have been warned, as if to say, “˜If you are not being immediately seized by Allah, you should not form the wrong impression that you will never be seized. The signs of the doomed nations of the past are before you. Just see how they met their doom and how Allah succoured the Prophets.– The warning to those who have heard and rejected Muhammad is clear.

Along the way, many familiar notes are sounded: the truth of Allah is evident from creation (v. 20); Allah grants mercy to whom he pleases and punishes those whom he wishes to punish (v. 21): says Ibn Kathir, “He is the Ruler Who is in control, Who does as He wishes and judges as He wants, and there is none who can put back His judgement. None can question Him about what He does; rather it is they who will be questioned, for His is the power to create and to command, and whatever He decides is fair and just, for He is the sovereign who cannot be unjust in the slightest.” Those who reject his signs (ayat, or verses of the Qur’an) will be severely punished (v. 23).

In verses 40-57 Allah tells Muhammad to keep preaching, but only those with knowledge will understand his message (v. 43). Consequently one early Muslim, Amr bin Murrah, remarked: “I never came across an Ayah [verse] of the Book of Allah that I did not know, but it grieved me” — because his lack of understanding indicated that he didn’t have the requisite knowledge. This verse may be why it is so common today for Muslims to charge that non-Muslims who speak about the Islamic jihad ideology and Islamic supremacism do not understand Islamic texts and teachings; if they did understand them, they would become Muslims. The Qur’an’s meaning is clear in the hearts of the believers (v. 49): the Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains that it is clear “in the breasts of those who have been given knowledge, namely, the believers, who preserve it [in their hearts], and none denies Our signs except wrongdoers, namely, the Jews “” they denied them after they were manifested to them.”

Allah tells Muhammad not to get into arguments with the Jews and Christians, “except by better means,” unless it is with one of them who is a wrongdoer — and to tell them that Muslims, Jews and Christians all worship the same deity (v. 46). The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that this means Muslims should not argue with Jews and Christians except by “calling [them] to God by [reference to] His signs and pointing out His arguments; except those of them who have done wrong, by waging war and refusing to accept [to pay] the jizya-tax.” Muslims should “dispute with these using the sword, until such time as they submit or pay the jizya-tax,” and remind them that we all worship the same God.

Another early Muslim, Ibn Abbas, told the Muslims it was unnecessary to ask the Jews and Christians religious questions when the Muslims had the Qur’an: “Why do you ask the people of the scripture about anything while your Book (Quran) which has been revealed to Allah’s Apostle is newer and the latest? You read it pure, undistorted and unchanged, and Allah has told you that the people of the scripture (Jews and Christians) changed their scripture and distorted it, and wrote the scripture with their own hands and said, “˜It is from Allah,” to sell it for a little gain. Does not the knowledge which has come to you prevent you from asking them about anything?”

Allah reminds Muhammad that he never read or recited any Scripture before the Qur’an (v. 48) — meaning, says Ibn Kathir, that “you lived among your people for a long time before you brought this Qur’an. During this time you never read any book or wrote anything. Your people, as well as others all know that you are an unlettered man who does not read or write.” This, of course, is the substance of the miracle claimed of the Qur’an itself — that this sublime poetry came to an illiterate man. The unbelievers ask for miracles, but Muhammad’s job is only to warn them about Allah’s judgment (v. 50), and the Qur’an is enough for that (v. 51). The unbelievers will be punished as Allah taunts them: “Taste ye (the fruits) of your deeds!” (v. 55).

Verses 58-69 promise Paradise (v. 58) to those who persevere in patient faith (v. 59). This world is just “a pastime and a game” (v. 64) — the real life is in the next world. But most people do not understand, even though they know Allah created and sustains all things (vv. 63, 65). Allah will guide to the truth those who strive (jahadoo, a form of “jihad”) in his cause (v. 69) — suggesting that one who difficulty believing should fight for Islam, and will thereby come to understand it better. As Ibn Abbas explains: “whoever acts upon what he knows,” Allah “shall give him success to know that which he do not know.”

Next week: Sura 30, “The Byzantines”: The Byzantines have been defeated, but will soon emerge victorious.

(Here you can find links to all the earlier “Blogging the Qur’an” segments. Here is a good Arabic Qur’an, with English translations available; here are two popular Muslim translations, those of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, along with a third by M. H. Shakir. Hereis another popular translation, that of Muhammad Asad. And here is an omnibus of ten Qur’an translations.)

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Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 28, “The Story”

It has often been noted that while the Bible is (among many other things) a series of historical narratives, the Qur’an is a series of sermons. This is nowhere clearer than in the oft-repeated story of Moses. While the Bible’s first five books contain the story of Moses in what is in the main a continuous narrative, the Qur’an tells parts of this story in suras 2, 7, 10, 17, 20, 26, 27 and this one (and elsewhere also).

There is a great deal of repetition and overlap, but there are also unique features of most every retelling. Each one has its own homiletic point: details of Moses” life are used to warn unbelievers or exhort believers to greater piety. As we saw last week, Ibn Abbas and Jabir bin Zaid say that suras 26, 27, and 28 were revealed in that order. Maududi says that “the different parts of the Prophet Moses story as mentioned in these surahs together make up a complete story.” Still, if someone were to try to reconstruct the chronology of Moses” life by means of the Qur’an alone, it would be very difficult.
Meanwhile, the recurring preoccupation with Moses reinforces his status as a prophet of Islam, as well as the perversity of the Jews in not recognizing the congruence of Muhammad’s message with that of Moses, and then becoming Muslims. Maududi emphasizes that, here again, the point of these retellings of Moses” story is not to make a point about Moses, but about Muhammad: “The main theme” of this sura, he says, “is to remove the doubts and objections that were being raised against the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace and blessings) and to invalidate the excuses which were being offered for not believing in him. For this purpose, first the story of the Prophet Moses has been related”¦by analogy with the period of revelation.”

Verses 2-43 tell Moses” story, echoing many elements of the Biblical account, although Haman is imported from another time and place (his story is in the Book of Esther) to be Pharaoh’s assistant (v. 8). Allah tells Moses” mother to cast him into the river “when thou hast fears about him” (v. 7). She does, the “people of Pharaoh” rescue him (v. 8), and his mother, her identity not known to the Egyptians, becomes his nursemaid (v. 13). Moses declares he will never assist those who sin (v. 17) — a declaration that modern Salafis (rigorous, “pure” Muslims) link to Muhammad’s saying recorded in the Mishkat al-Masabih, that someone who knowingly assists a tyrant is no longer a Muslim. This is their justification for opposing authoritarian rulers in Muslim countries who do not implement the fullness of Sharia (such as Mubarak and Musharraf).

Moses kills an Egyptian and Allah forgives him (vv. 15-16), but his deed becomes known (v. 19) and Moses flees to Midian (v. 22). There he agrees to work for the unnamed Jethro in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage (v. 27). He sees the burning bush (v. 29), encounters Allah (v. 30), and is given the miracles of the rod (v. 31) and his white hand (v. 32) to show Pharaoh. Pharaoh dismisses his preaching as “sorcery” (v. 36), just as the unbelievers will say about Muhammad (11:7, 15:15). And after Allah flings Pharaoh and his hosts into the sea (v. 40), we get to the point of the story.

That point is in verses 44-55: the fact that Muhammad knows these details of Moses” life, when he wasn’t there to witness them, is proof that Muhammad is a prophet. Ibn Kathir explains: “Allah points out the proof of the prophethood of Muhammad, whereby he told others about matters of the past, and spoke about them as if he were hearing and seeing them for himself. But he was an illiterate man who could not read books, and he grew up among a people who knew nothing of such things.” So we see Allah reminding Muhammad that he wasn’t present at various events in Moses” life (vv. 44-46). Yet the pagan Arabs demand that Muhammad perform miracles as Moses did, even though they don’t believe in Moses either (v. 48); “they only follow their own lusts” (v. 50). The People of the Book know that the Qur’an is true “” “this was revealed,” says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “regarding certain Jews who became Muslims, such as “˜Abd Allāh b. Salām and others, and [certain] Christians who had come from Abyssinia and Syria [who also became Muslims].”

Verses 56-75 excoriate the perversity of the unbelievers, in ignoring and denying the clear signs of Allah. Allah guides whom he will; Muhammad will not be able to bring to the truth all those he loves (v. 56) — yet another verse indicating that belief and unbelief is solely in Allah’s hands. This verses was revealed,” Ibn Kathir explains, “concerning Abu Talib, the paternal uncle of the Messenger of Allah” “” and the father of Ali, the hero of the Shi”ites. Abu Talib “used to protect the Prophet, support him and stand by him. He loved the Prophet dearly, but this love was a natural love, i.e., born of kinship, not a love that was born of the fact that he was the Messenger of Allah. When he was on his deathbed, the Messenger of Allah called him to Faith and to enter Islam, but the decree overtook him and he remained a follower of disbelief, and Allah’s is the complete wisdom.”

Allah will taunt the unbelievers on the Day of Judgment, asking them where his “partners” are (vv. 62, 74-75). Verses 76-88 follow this with the story of Qarun (Korah of Number 16:1-40), who rebelled against Moses. Qarun trusts in his great wealth instead of worshipping Allah (v. 78). According to a hadith, Abu Hurayra, one of Muhammad’s companions, recalled Muhammad saying that only three things actually belong to the man who glories in his riches: the food he eats, the clothes he wears out, and the money he spends in the cause of Allah. “All else,” said Muhammad, ” he will leave for his heirs.” No doubt about that.

Those “whose aim is the life of this world” (v. 79) envied him, but the righteous knew better (v. 80), and sure enough, in due time Allah “caused the earth to swallow up him and his house” (v. 81). Muhammad should “never be a helper to the disbelievers” (v. 86) — “rather,” says Ibn Kathir, “separate from them, express your hostility towards them and oppose them.” For in the end, everything will perish except His Face” (v. 88) — that is, everything except Allah. This might seem to contradict the idea of the eternity of Paradise and hell, but the Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn “˜Abbâs glosses it in this way: “all works that are for other than Allah’s Countenance”¦will not be accepted”¦except that which is meant for the sake of His Countenance.”

Next week: Sura 29: “Do those who practice evil think that they will get the better of Us?”

(Here you can find links to all the earlier “Blogging the Qur’an” segments. Here is a good Arabic Qur’an, with English translations available; here are two popular Muslim translations, those of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, along with a third by M. H. Shakir. Here is another popular translation, that of Muhammad Asad. And here is an omnibus of ten Qur’an translations.)

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