No God But God – Reza Aslan

February 13, 2010 at 11:31 am (God, Islam, moral issues, society, why I didn't convert to Islam)

I read “No God But God” by Reza Aslan. My unusually fast reading of this book tells you how good it was! Thank you to the (several) people that recommended it. I actually haven’t read many books on the history of Islam, but this is one I would recommend to anyone, Muslims and non-Muslims; he does a very good balancing act between the two audiences, remaining ambiguous about his own views! I am curious now to read another book of his, “How To Win A Cosmic War”.

The first point that hit me in chapter 2 was an explanation for why an uncompromising monotheism was so important to Muhammad. The greedy materialism in Mecca was supported by the fact that the Ka’ba housed statues of all the gods, and so the Meccan Quraysh tribe were able to exploit the pilgrims who came from all over. He had to attack the polytheism in order to render the Ka’ba redundant.

“… the Hanif preachers may have attacked the polytheism and greed of their fellow Meccans, but they maintained a deep veneration for the Ka’ba and those in the community who acted as Keepers of the Keys. That would explain why the Hanifs appear to have been tolerated, for the most part, in Mecca, and why they never converted in great numbers to Muhammad’s movement. But as a businessman and a merchant himself, Muhammad understood what the Hanifs could not: the only way to bring about radical social and economic reform in Mecca was to overturn the religio-economic system on which the city was built; and the only way to do that was to attack the very source of the Quraysh’s wealth and prestige – the Ka’ba.” (Ch. 2)

It was a surprise to read because obviously at some point the Ka’ba became important to him again. But it makes a lot of sense.

Polytheism by nature is pluralistic and inheres religious freedom because there is always room for one more god. So I definitely think there was a downside to bringing an uncompromising monotheism. But attacking a greedy system, I can understand.

This leads to Muhammad’s persecution and eventual emigration to Yathrib (which became Medina). Then what? It never occurred to me before that the Meccans would just have let them be if they’d minded their own business and lived peacefully, but that’s exactly the picture that Aslan paints.

“By declaring Yathrib a sanctuary city, Muhammad was deliberately challenging Mecca’s religious and economic hegemony over the Peninsula. And just to make sure the Quraysh got the message, he sent his followers out into the desert to take part in the time-honored Arab tradition of caravan raiding.” (Ch. 4)

Makes it sounds positively harmless, doesn’t it? He goes on to say that it wasn’t considered stealing, and that through it, “Muhammad finally got the attention he was seeking.” This is different from Tariq Ramadan’s justification of it as retribution for the property that was stolen from them.

There was more disturbing stuff to come. By the time of Muhammad’s death, “In eastern Arabia, another man, Maslama (or Musaylama), had so successfully imitated Muhammad’s formula that he had already gathered thousands of followers in Yamama, which he had declared to be a sanctuary city.” (Ch. 5) Isn’t that fascinating? But of course, such movements had to be extinguished by the Muslims. “[Abu Bakr’s] principal achievement as Caliph was his miliatary campaigns against the “false prophets” and those tribes who had ceased paying the tithe tax…” (Ch. 5) Oh well.

Here is a really important point that I think all traditionalist Muslims should realise:

“There is a tendency to think of Islam as having been both completed and perfected at the end of Muhammad’s life. But … it would be a mistake to think of Islam in 632 C.E. as being in any way a unified systems of beliefs and practices; far from it.” (Ch. 5)

Any honest look – or even glance – at the hadith literature will tell you that nothing is clear-cut!

Authority within Islam was an interesting topic. He says:

“… the primary purpose of the Five Pillars is to assist the believer in articulating, through actions, his or her membership in the Muslim community. The ancient Kharijite ideal of the Ummah as a charismatic and divinely inspired community through which salvation is achieved has become the standard (orthodox) doctrine of the vast majority of Muslims in the world…” (Ch. 6)

That was interesting in itself, but he goes on to say this is because there is no central authority in the religion. I’m not sure I follow, because the same could be said of Protestantism, and yet salvation there is not through membership in a Protestant community. However. For Sunnis, the Caliph held political authority while the ulama – scholars – held religious authority. For Shi’as, the Imams are both of these and more, as far as I understood – kind of like Popes, but even closer to prophets than that. I didn’t know that.

I learnt a lot I didn’t know about Shi’ism.

“The Shi’ah… regard Husayn’s martyrdom as having completed the religion that Abraham initiated and Muhammad revealed to the Arabs.” (Ch. 7)

Almost like the way Jesus’s sacrifice completed the law of Moses. Atonement through sacrifice. Husayn died fighting and Jesus died not fighting, but both knew they faced death and didn’t run away from it. Hard acts to follow!

There were a lot more interesting things in the book but these were the standout things for me, things I wanted to record and/or see what your reactions are.

Advertisements

93 Comments

  1. hennamenna said,

    Oh man can you believe I have not finished this yet?!
    TODAY I will make it a point! I will MAKE the time-it’s a short book and can easily be read in a hours time or so.

    I will come back once I have finished but I was surprised you didn’t say much about Hanafism itself-and it’s presence BEFORE Muhammad?! Maybe it is just me….but that was the FIRST I’d heard of that and it really really got my thoughts spinning wildly out of control. I will write my own comments about the book in a blog but first need to gather my thoughts together where this one particular topic is concerned. I don’t know why, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

    Anyhow, it’s quiet right now so I will go try to finish so I can come back here and comment. I look forward to the other comments as well.

    • Wrestling said,

      Hennamenna – it’s funny how different things can stand out for different people! I look forward to hearing your response to what you learned about Hanafism. I think I knew about it before but I misunderstood what it was – I didn’t realise it was a relatively new movement at the time.

  2. hennamenna said,

    p.s. And of course I will come here with the comments about it-now looking over what I wrote it seems as though I was implying I was going to do it myself on my own blog and NOT here lol…didn’t mean it that way.
    I meant I was going to blog about the book focusing on that particular topic when I gather my thoughts together and make sense of them lol

  3. susanne430 said,

    “he sent his followers out into the desert to take part in the time-honored Arab tradition of caravan raiding.”

    So stealing was merely a “time-honored Arab tradition”? It seems Muhammad would have elevated the Arabs above this backwardness. Wasn’t the time before Islam considered the age of ignorance or something like that? And isn’t it being greedy to steal from others? Not only greedy, but just plain wrong. This man did not even follow the “thou shalt not steal” command, but seemed to find nothing wrong with continuing and encouraging such a practice in order to prove something. His power maybe?

    That’s what stood out to me from this post.

    Thanks for sharing your review.

    • Wrestling said,

      Susanne – I had trouble with it as well.

      • aynur said,

        Yeah that seems odd … was he just stealing back his own items?
        I also would think that seems *wrong*, it does go against the idea that we shouldn’t be stealing from others, it doesn’t matter what our culture tells us.
        *confused*

        • Wrestling said,

          That’s what Tariq Ramadan said. I’m not sure how Karen Armstrong dealt with this topic. Reza Aslan seems to be saying it was just a normal practice and it was done to get the Meccans’ attention.

  4. LK said,

    I finished this and forgot to write my review. Absolutely fascinating book. This actually made me feel better about Muhammad mostly because Aslan wasn’t sugarcoating anything. He told it like it is. It just makes me wish we knew more about the past prophets before Jesus. Because there is a good chance they were closer to being like Muhammad. Except for maybe Moses. 🙂

    Raids still bug me a little but at least no one was hurt. I mean it kinda made sense in Aslan’s book since it was done in a way of defense sort of. I dunno I haven’t come to a conclusion on the subject yet. Makes WAY more sense than Tariq Ramadan’s interpretation.

    • Wrestling said,

      LK – I hope you find time to write up your thoughts on the book too!

    • Achelois said,

      “Raids still bug me a little but at least no one was hurt. I mean it kinda made sense in Aslan’s book since it was done in a way of defense sort of.”

      LK, the first Pagan innocent *civilians* were killed in the first raid. The raids caused the beginning of the first battle. It was won by Muslims and gave them immense courage to attack more caravans, collect booty and indulge in further wars upon instigation. However, battles with Pagans began because of raids.

      And it was never done out of defense. That is where I disagree with Ramadan. If a thief stole my purse I won’t go to his house to steal his bag as pay back! And what did the Pagans steal from Muslims anyway? When you seek asylum in a new place and leave your belongings in an old place, you just abandon your things; no one *steals* from you. According to Ramadan then when Muslims left their belongings in India when they fled to Pakistan, they should have attacked every caravan going to India to *steal* back what was *stolen* from them. Muslims didn’t target special people who *stole* from them; they attacked caravans arbitrarily.

      How I understand is that raids were a common practice, a way to earn material gains. It was barbaric, ignorant and wrong much like slavery and concubinage but ancient Arabs didn’t find it wrong; and it was allowed to continue because it was required – much like slavery and concubinage.

      • susanne430 said,

        That’s so interesting. Thanks for sharing.

        “According to Ramadan then when Muslims left their belongings in India when they fled to Pakistan, they should have attacked every caravan going to India to *steal* back what was *stolen* from them.”

        And thus the cycle of hatred and violence continues.

  5. anon said,

    I read that book, it’s written from a very liberal perspective, the author tries to provide a rational explanation for everything for example he indirectly states that Muhammad wrote the Qur’an or that everything in Islam is based on the social and political climate of the 7th century and that people turned it into a religion years after, or that the entire hadith collection is fabricated. If you look at his sources at the end of the book you can seen its based on writings by orientalists. Although the book is well written and speaks very positively of Islam and also give a good historical overview of the religion, some of other things he mentions should be further researched and you shouldn’t just take everything he takes as factual.

    • Wrestling said,

      anon – I agree, not all of the book is necessarily incontrovertible. There is always more than one take on things.

  6. sanil said,

    It is a great book. I’ve been wanting to read How To Win A Cosmic War for awhile but haven’t picked it up yet.

    I like the things you pointed out here, and in particular I think that the comments about Islam not being completed and unified are true of all religions. It’s something I think all of us should keep in mind, and we should be open to listening to and learning from other opinions and interpretations.

    • Wrestling said,

      Sanil – absolutely, I think the origins of our religions are often not as clear-cut as we might wish them to be. It seems there is often diversity in the beginning, uniformity only comes later.

  7. anon said,

    did you delete my comment?

    • Wrestling said,

      anon – no, your comment went into “spam” for some reason and I had to approve it.

  8. Achelois said,

    You have highlighted some excellent points! This post is just as interesting as Aslan’s book.

    I loved the book although I did find myself disagreeing with Aslan later on when he changed his tune 🙂

    From my study I understand that Kaaba became important to Muhammad once again because it symbolized authority which Aslan has very well explained in the section on Keeper of the Keys (I think that is what it’s called). Anyone who then had authority over the Kaaba was the most important and authoritative person/tribe/religion. There was an obsession with the Kaaba in ancient Arabia and the fact that ALL other kaabaat were demolished explains the deliberate planning that went into making The Kaaba the only sanctuary much like the Dome of the Rock. In that way it is very political, I agree with Aslan.

    Emailing you something now.

    • Wrestling said,

      Achelois – thanks for the info. That makes sense of it!

  9. susanne430 said,

    Sarah, the part about “time-honored tradition” re: the raids coupled with what Achelois shared reminded me of something I read the other day that a Palestinian wrote. Granted this man is NOT a Muslim, but your sharing what you did prompted me to copy this. I’m interested in seeing if you agree.

    “The predominant characteristics of the ancient Arab were an almost inconceivable vain glory and self-conceit. He was never weary of contemplating and boasting of his own perfections. … The Arab gloried in his language; Muhammad declared that it was a divine language – the decrees of God had been written in it from all eternity. The Arab gloried in the traditional practices and customs of the desert – murder, predator war, slavery, polygamy and concubinage. Muhammad impressed upon all these usages the seal of a divine sanction. The Arab gloried in the holiness of Mecca. Muhammad affirmed it to be the single portal whereby men could enter into paradise. In a word, he took the Arab people just as he found them, and declared all that they did to be very good and sacred from change.”

    I don’t know enough about ancient Arabs or desert practices to know if this man is exaggerating, but I did find it somewhat interesting especially after reading what you wrote about the caravan raids. Thoughts?

    • Wrestling said,

      Interesting, Susanne. It does seem that there were a lot of “normal Arab practices” that were sanctioned by Islam, for example, temporary marriages. As for vain glory and self-deceit, I don’t know enough to know about that!

    • Achelois said,

      Hmm, it is a bit harsh but then like you said, the writer isn’t Muslim so there will be less or no sympathy at all for Islam or Muslims.

      I agree that there is a lot of ancient Arabian history to refer to when we read about old traditions and practices but I also agree that any and every prophet was sent to work with a terrible situation and reform their society. Arabian society was no less terrible if not the most terrible. They did cause a lot of grief to Muhammad who came to reform the society; we all know that and shouldn’t deny the pains Muhammad and his companions had to go through.

      The thing is there are areas where a lot more could have been done – raids could have been banned; wars could have been fought only when provoked; slavery and concubinage could have been banned – even if not outright then slowly. That didn’t happen for another fourteen centuries upon the insistence of the UN!

      As far as raids are concerned, until 1940s raids were very common in Saudi Arabia. A British lady and lord wrote in their memoirs from Arabia that they were often told not to move with caravans through the desert because they were often raided and if one resisted than they were killed. In the 1940s Muslims were robbing Muslims!

      Armstrong makes raids very normal as well and I nodded with both Armstrong and Aslan when they set raids in the backdrop of ancient Arabian “time-honoured tradition” but then I suddenly remembered we were not talking about some political figure; we were talking about the final perfected religion and the last prophet who had come to tie all loose ends and it all became terribly murky then.

      Raids do bother me. A lot. I still don’t understand them and I can’t deny it.

      • susanne430 said,

        Achelois, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Palestinian man’s words. I figured you would know more of the ancient Arab culture than most of us so I appreciate what you said.

        I just figured I’d share it to see what you all thought. I wasn’t sure if the guy was being too harsh or about right. Thanks for your reply.

        • Achelois said,

          Susanne, I think he was about right but I also think he exaggerated in places like when he says “Muhammad affirmed it to be the single portal whereby men could enter into paradise.” or like when he claims that Muhammad “took the Arab people just as he found them, and declared all that they did to be very good and sacred from change.”

          That is not true. Muhammad did not accept *all that they did to be very good and sacred from change*; he did fight against the status quo which made pagans his enemies. He blasphemed against their idols, demolished their places of worship and broke their idols. He set up new laws regarding family, slaves, orphans and women. He did not accept everything. That is an exaggeration that can be easily dismissed. He also did not make Arabic a divine language. It is not proven that hadith that claim superiority of the Arabic language are fake. Muhammad read the Quran to the people in the Qureshi dialect so it wasn’t even classical Arabic but a specific dialect he was raised in and familiar with.

          However, I will accept that he did approve of certain traditions that he could have easily banned or dismissed and for which he apparently had divine seal of approval as well like taking women as war booty or conducting raids.

          • susanne430 said,

            Thanks for further explaining – interesting! I figured you would be more fair. 🙂

  10. Sarah Elizabeth said,

    Any tribal society was involved in raids as forms of war.. American Indians, for example. I think Susanne and others may look at it a bit harshly instead of seeing the society in it’s historical context, not through the lens of our modern lives.. Of course we are still going to war, so I guess we are still barbaric in our own right.

    Anyways, I love Reza Aslan, and I read and wrote my own review of his new book “How To Win A Cosmic War.” I recommend it to anyone interested in how and why we got to where we are today with this whole “war on terror.”

    • susanne430 said,

      Of course we are still barbaric as you say! True! People haven’t evolved into compassionate, merciful souls for the most part. 🙂

      My point was that – in my opinion – a man of God should have held society to a higher standard. Raised the standards. I don’t hold American Indians or George Bush to prophet standards because as far as I know none of them claimed to be Messengers of God. Does that make sense?

      I wanted to read your review, but maybe your blog is private. Clicking your name didn’t take me to your blog.

    • Wrestling said,

      Sarah Elizabeth – I think I want to read that one now! He’s a great writer.

  11. Sarah Elizabeth said,

    I know! I really like Aslans point of view. I like comparing his opinions to Tariq Ramadan’s…

    Susanne, yes, I see your point, but I wonder to myself how far even a prophet can go in a society that chose to bury it’s little girls alive because their lives were not of value as compared to boys…

    I think of how cruel Arab society was back during that time, and I can only think of how much the prophet changed the society for the better..

    I actually think many of the tribal issues today have to do with people reverting back to the old ways that the prophet tried getting rid of…

    the prophet tried to bring together all races, accepted all races as Muslim, and now many have gone back to tribal separation and tribal mindsets… ..

    I’ve been told Saudi Arabia is one of the most racist places one can go to today. All things the prophet tried to end in his time..

    I guess for me, looking at the bigger picture, I see a man who played by the rules of society in order to change those same rules.

    I hear what your saying as far as holding prophets on a pedestal, but prophets were human, and there are even new discoveries by Christian scholars that are rethinking the relationship between jesus and mary magdalene.. Many prophets were also adulterers, I mean, the mother of Islam was the mistress of Abraham…

    As far as holding higher standards, I can only take that so far… They were excellent examples of their times, the most pious of their time.. Of our time? Not so much.

    • susanne430 said,

      “the prophet tried to bring together all races, accepted all races as Muslim, and now many have gone back to tribal separation and tribal mindsets… ..”

      Good point. I do think there is some reverting back to the old days as you said very well.

      So you think Jesus was really getting some sex from a prostitute while teaching on earth? I’ve never heard Abraham called an adulterer. David, yes, but not by Muslims. Abraham married Hagar so I wouldn’t consider him an adulterer.

      Thanks for your interesting reply.

    • Wrestling said,

      I think *all* prophets had some questionable ethics (although they might not be questioned till later). I think because of that, I don’t believe in prophethood at all. I don’t believe anyone had a hotline to God and was shown the 100% right way by God. If they did, we wouldn’t be able to pick holes in them now.

      I can cope with prophets making mistakes and admitting that, but making mistakes and seeming to be unaware that they are mistakes… to me, means they are not prophets.

      • susanne430 said,

        So the definition of prophethood to you means if they made mistakes, they knew it? So you just consider all of them — Abraham, Moses, Ishmael, Jesus, Muhammad — as men, not prophets, right?

        Just trying to understand better. 🙂

        • Wrestling said,

          The definition of prophethood I’m using is the Islamic one – a person bringing a message from God, and making no mistakes except ones that get corrected by God. If this is true of a person, then whatever they taught, or sanctioned by their own practice, must be good and would never be able to be criticised in terms of ethics.

          Admittedly Jesus is much harder to find fault with, but if I try hard enough, I can find things…

          Like the fact he compared Gentiles to dogs when the Gentile woman asked him for healing – he said he was sent to the children of Israel and it’s not right to toss the children’s food to the dogs (although I know he healed her anyway)…

          Like the fact he forbade divorce without mentioning that it might be OK to divorce an abusive partner…

          That’s about all I can think of. To me Jesus said some things that were genuinely inspiring. I don’t have to believe he was 100% beyond criticism, or that he was unique in what he believed and taught. I can take inspiration from his teachings without having to theologise the man. The problem with believing in prophets is that either you have to blindly copy their uncorrected mistakes, or you have to ignore it and feel uncomfortable about it. But if you admit that they made uncorrected mistakes, the concept of prophethood has been thrown out the window and you’re back to judging right and wrong for yourself rather than letting the prophet dictate that to you. Which in my view, is the best place to be.

          • susanne430 said,

            Thanks for explaining that. 🙂

          • Achelois said,

            Sarah, I must admit that a couple of months ago this thought would have given me sleepless nights when I was desperately trying to find faultless models to copy and idealise. It was my upbringing that caused me to find a *perfect* example to follow – someone I could copy immaculately to be able to enter Paradise!

            However, eerie that it may sound, I have come to the exact same conclusions for myself. It is unfortunate that in Islam we tend to see prophets as perfect *men* (never perfect humans alone because women can never be prophets – they have to be perfect men and as men they will be different, superior, and better than women), while in Christianity prophets can make mistakes and when one does not make mistakes he must be the son of God!

            I’m still wondering though if since Jesus was the only ‘faultless’ one ever (as is claimed in the Texts), could he have been the only real prophet/messenger/guided one/agent of God? I don’t know. It is hard to find anyone like him so you can’t dismiss him as “just another prophet like Adam” and you clearly can’t bring any other man to contest with him and make him superior to Jesus when it is so hard to pick faults with him.

            But now I generally tend not to believe in prophethood as in a minute-to-minute guided individual unable to make mistakes and becoming a perfect example for all of human kind till the end of times. Gandhi was an excellent human being, clearly a maha-aatima, wonder why no one accepts him as a prophet who sometimes made mistakes but was mostly guided closely by God?! Perhaps because he was essentially not a monotheist?!
            Someone said to me today (and you know who you are 😀 ) that believing in a person to be a prophet is a subjective thing. I agree with it. And when we have believed that a certain person (read *man*) is a prophet we will bend over backwards to explain away his every mistake. We will believe that Hagar was a wife or that God really told him to kill his son and offer him to God as burnt offering. Imagine the implication of doing something like that today! We will begin to explain why a prophet had to marry so many times to so many women or accept women as gifts. We will try to explain why Lot slept with his daughters. We will be uncomfortable about all of this but we will bend over backwards anyway to support our belief which like love is often blind.

            And I fully understand the situation because I too am blindly in love with Jesus and as I read these comments I am already fighting a case for him mentally: so what if he was married to MM? Does it make him any less perfect?! He wasn’t marrying every other woman or keeping 900 concubines! Or that he didn’t *exactly* compare the Gentiles to the dogs and didn’t *really* ban divorce – he is misquoted! 😀

            So yes even for me the best place to be in is to follow Jesus as he was “genuinely inspiring” while also accept that he was perhaps not “100% beyond criticism.”

            “I can take inspiration from his teachings without having to theologise the man” – perfectly said and perhaps that is what Jesus wanted as well!

            • susanne430 said,

              I was thinking of Sarah’s comment about Jesus and divorce. You know the passage seems to actually be addressing MEN so maybe he didn’t say “you can divorce because of abuse” because typically men aren’t physically battered by women. It was just a thought. Hehehehe…maybe I am bending over backwards trying to explain Jesus because I love and follow him. 😉

              Also, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” discusses Jesus talking to that Gentile women and referring to Gentiles as “dogs.” I wish you could read what the author said about that and make up your mind if you think what he says is plausible.

              I enjoyed what you had to say.

              • Wrestling said,

                Susanne – Mark 10:12 addresses women: And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” But that’s weird anyway because I thought in Judaism women couldn’t initiate a divorce? So you may have a point there, if you’re prepared to think Mark 10:12 is inauthentic.

                • susanne430 said,

                  I didn’t check Mark’s account…sorry. I was reading a book today that had Matthew and was thinking of it. Thanks for pointing out this Mark version.

                  • Wrestling said,

                    But it’s interesting though, right? If women can’t divorce their husbands in Judaism, then there’s no way Jesus could have said that. Mark must be extrapolating Jesus’s teaching into the Gentile setting of 2nd generation Christianity (as he does – it was also Mark that casually said of Jesus “He declared all foods clean”, which Sanders found extremely unrealistic).

                    So we don’t know what Jesus would have really said about women divorcing their husbands.

                    That’s my take on it anyway.

              • Wrestling said,

                P.S. I don’t necessarily think Jesus had to have meant what he said about divorce totally literally. Do you? There are, to my mind, a number of conditions that would make divorce necessary, and I don’t think that just because Jesus didn’t enumerate those conditions, he wouldn’t have acknowledged them. He wasn’t writing a new Torah. 🙂

                • susanne430 said,

                  True. He was showing these people you cannot divorce your wife over silly things or “because of the hardness of your hearts.” I remember reading that Jewish men could divorce their wives because they burned dinner and it was very easy for them to obtain divorces whereas for women it wasn’t that easy at all. So I think he was making a point that your wives are not people you can throw away. In other words: value them!

            • Wrestling said,

              Achelois – I can understand that. I felt the same way right after I made my mind up that Muhammad wasn’t a prophet. I was getting used to the idea of having religion – a “guide to perfection” – in my life rather than having to define that for myself, and I didn’t know if I could give up that particular wish.

              I personally don’t feel like it makes any difference to me whether Jesus was unique and perfect, or whether he had possible flaws and even his amazing teachings were things other people at the time were also coming up with. It doesn’t change the way I feel about the teachings. And it’s still something inspiring that I wouldn’t have come up with by myself.

              I believe only a few people are brilliant sparks of goodness. I want to be influenced by such people. I want to learn about them. Including Gandhi, someone I’ve never learnt much about! If all it is is human brilliance and not something more divine than that, it’s not too shabby for me. I’d rather believe God created us with the potential for brilliance than believe that God had to intervene to create brilliance among us. I feel better about being human that way.

              That’s my POV at the moment… but who knows, I might change again!

          • Safa said,

            NOOO! I just lost my previous comment ( T__T)

            Just to keep it short and sweet: Co-sign, although it disturbs me to admit it.

            And what Achelois said: “Someone said to me today (and you know who you are ) that believing in a person to be a prophet is a subjective thing. I agree with it. And when we have believed that a certain person (read *man*) is a prophet we will bend over backwards to explain away his every mistake. We will believe that Hagar was a wife or that God really told him to kill his son and offer him to God as burnt offering. Imagine the implication of doing something like that today! We will begin to explain why a prophet had to marry so many times to so many women or accept women as gifts. We will try to explain why Lot slept with his daughters. We will be uncomfortable about all of this but we will bend over backwards anyway to support our belief which like love is often blind.”

            Co-sign! (I’m just signing everything aren’t I? But I had written quite a lot in my lost comment -tear-)

            • Wrestling said,

              Safa – I’m sorry you lost your comment! WordPress can be annoying sometimes.

              Thanks for sharing your view. I think even a couple of months ago it disturbed me to think of these things as well, but I’ve rapidly become comfortable with it. I guess I think if God created us with the capacity for independent thought, he meant for us to use it, and if he wanted us to follow a code of conduct, he would have tattooed it on our foreheads as someone else said recently! He wouldn’t have tied it to history where we would then have to rely on ancient texts of dubious authenticity, interpreted by fallible scholars.

              My Dad said that the whole of religious history can be read as God wanting us to question and think and make our own judgments. For example, when he told Abraham to sacrifice his son, maybe the test was not whether Abraham would obey, but whether he would dare to disobey and make his own judgment! God thought “for sure this will force him to question!” – but to God’s dismay, Abraham nearly went through with it and he had to step in and stop him! It’s an interesting view of things, and to me quite appealing actually.

              • Safa said,

                Extremely good point there :\

                And I guess I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with it, partly (read: in LARGE part) due to this blog.

                Just reading the myriad of opinions and discussions is amazing 🙂

  12. Sarah Elizabeth said,

    No, actually (it’s from a Nat Geo show I was watching), they are now saying Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute… Just a couple interesting discoveries, or theories, depending on how you look at it… basically saying that she is now being seen as this strong woman, not a prostitute at all, who also may have been very close with Jesus. They were hinting at an actual relationship… I wish you could see the show I watched!

    They were breaking it down by saying throughout history there has been a sexist interpretation of who Mary Magdalene was, and now scholars are going back to the texts and saying they were all wrong about her.

    Hagar was kicked out by Abraham, basically because Sarah became very jealous and wanted her gone… . If that’s not a mistress, I don’t know what is. The woman wandered in the desert and almost died of thirst, with Abraham’s baby … Hagar is the first single mother of Islam… Which is again funny to me considering the way some Muslims view single parenthood….

    • susanne430 said,

      Yes, I wish I could have seen that as well. It sounds interesting! Yeah, I don’t think the Bible is clear that MM was a prostitute and you may be right about her. I just took the prevailing thought about her when I asked about her relationship with Jesus. Sorry for that.

      I agree mostly with what you wrote about Hagar, but I do believe Abraham married her – at Sarah’s request ironically – that’s why I said he wasn’t technically an adulterer. (David was however.) When I think of adulterer, I think of someone who is having sex outside of marriage, mostly sneaking around types of people (e.g. John Edwards, Mark Sanford.)

      Thanks for your reply. I hope you don’t think I’m arguing with you too much. I just like discussing things. 🙂

  13. Sarah Elizabeth said,

    Oh yea, speaking of national geographic,

    they also had an episode all about the Quran (Koran), and crazy crazy controversial stuff about how this german guy who is an expert in Quranic studies actually found these texts showing that the first historical texts were actually written with some Aramaic words, and they traced it back to this village in Syria… So the verses that don’t seem to make since, or words that don’t seem to make sense, are actually Aramaic words, not Arabic, and when translated in Aramaic make complete sense..

    Anyways, this finding was so controversial that the german guy who is making these theories refused to be shown on camera… There is another guy who is writing a book about it, but many Muslims are trying to shut it down and completely stop any more analysis or questioning. The guy is getting death threats.

    • susanne430 said,

      I went to a village in Syria where they still speak Aramaic!! Cool! I wonder if it’s the same. I went to Maaloula.

      I was reading about the Quran recently and apparently there are a number of words from other languages (Aramaic, Syriac, Persian , etc.) among the text.

      Sounds like an interesting TV program. It’s a shame that religious people want to shut down and stop people from discussing these things. I find it all interesting and think if our beliefs are strong enough, they WILL STAND against all the scrutiny. So it seems when religious people want to ban something or not discuss or study or debate things they are insecure about their faith. And if you are that insecure, should you not question your beliefs?

      Does this make sense?

    • susanne430 said,

      And why would some words being in Aramaic and only making sense in Aramaic be that controversial? Unless you were told that Quran was given in the heavenly language of Arabic so why would God have to use foreign words … right? Is that what makes it controversial?

      Interesting stuff!!

  14. Sarah Elizabeth said,

    Oh yea, and regarding jesus and mary magdalene, they were actually saying that Jesus may have quite possibly been married to her, and that the whole thing about priests not allowed to have wives could be completely wrong…

    Anyways, I don’t know enough about religion to have an intellectual conversation about it, trust me on that!! LOL… but I do think these shows talking about different ways of viewing our religions, are mesmerizing. It just goes to show that we don’t really know, and may never really know, so why fight over who’s right or wrong or the best or the worst…

    Just be good people!!

  15. Black Sheep said,

    Sarah E and Suzanne,

    I believe you’re talking about the Syriac/Syro-Aramaic origins of the Quran. The author wrote under a psudeounym, Cristoph Luxenberg. His theory is based in linguistics, not theology, and is very controversal. The idea is that the Quran was originally used as a liturgical tool (which is why it’s patterned more like psalms than a linear commentary) and was used in eastern Christian worship.

    In order to consider his theory, you have to basically ditch everything that has been understood in terms of Islamic theology. It is understood by most Islamic scholars that there are many terms that don’t make coherent sense in the Quran. In order to bypass that aspect of the language, explanations are made (see for example the explanations for A.L.M). Some say that reading the Quran in Classical Arabic leaves nearly 1/5 of the text incomprehensible. Is this a mystery, as theologists propose, or is it a result of reading/understanding the Quran in Arabic, and not Syro-Aramaic, as is suggested? I find it interesting, as this kind of scholarship (or investigation at least) has been lacking wrt to Islam, while Christianity has undergone many criticisms such as this (the MM theory being just one).

    Anyway, wiki has a good synopsis of the theory:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Syro-Aramaic_Reading_of_the_Koran

    • Wrestling said,

      Interesting! I guess it’s controversial because it suggests the purity of the language is “tainted”, it suggests parts of the Quran came from elsewhere (but there is plenty of evidence for that anyway IMHO), and it suggests there was a gap in the oral transmission somewhere that allowed people to forget the original pronounciation of the words in the script.

      It re-translates huri as grapes instead of virgins. I think we’ve discussed this before on this blog. I think it makes sense, but then, I thought I had read that carnal descriptions of paradise were not new anyway and maybe came from Zoroastrianism or something like that?

      The reinterpretation of drawing the veil over the bosom as snapping a belt around the waist… hmm. The passage is dealing with women’s dress in terms of not displaying beauty except to mahrams, so I don’t think it needs to be reinterpreted in order to make sense.

      So from the examples on the wikipedia page, I don’t think it makes way more sense interpreted that way. I don’t really understand what they mean by saying the Arabic is incomprehensible – maybe in places it is, but not 1/5 of the text, as far as I could tell.

      But yes, I think scholars should have the freedom to do this kind of research and not receive death threats for it!

      • Sarah Elizabeth said,

        I think it is controversial because it disputes the claim that the Quran is perfectly untouched… One of the findings from that German guy was text that was found ‘underneath’ the visible writings, as if it was erased and rewritten… Showing that possibly things were changed, and a different language used, which flies in the face of people who believe the Quran has been perfectly preserved and never has been changed…

        • Wrestling said,

          Yes, that’s it. A lot of Muslims love to point out how ill-defined the Bible is with all its different versions, with different bits included or not… they would hate to realise the Quran has some of the same issues!

  16. Black Sheep said,

    Hi WWR,

    Several years ago I found a site that actually quotes and details the examples Wiki describes, as well as many others. I agree, that the specific examples mentioned in the wiki page don’t really affect the religion to the degree that it would seem to suggest. I’m not sure that wiki picked out the most controversial examples, but there may be a reason for that.

    The author of the site was, as I said, very detailed in his translation and commentary of the sections of the book he posted. I have not found the same page recently, unfortunately, otherwise I’d link you to it.

    As far as the 1/5th statement, you might find that looking through Ibn Warraq’s writings; oh, I found a quote from him from “How to debate a Muslim” (he could be wrong about the one fifth, but I have seen it before from other sources as well):

    “Arabic is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Aramaic, and is no easier but also no more difficult to translate than any other language. Of course, there are all sorts of difficulties with the language of the Koran, but these difficulties have been recognized by Muslim scholars themselves. The Koran is indeed a rather opaque text but it is opaque to everyone. Even Muslim scholars do not understand a fifth of it.”

    • Wrestling said,

      Even if it wouldn’t transform the whole meaning of the text, it’s still interesting.

      I looked up a book of Ibn Warraq’s on amazon, and the first review here is quite detailed about the points the book makes re the language.

      I can recognise that a lot of these points are true, actually. It is a very difficult text to read even in translation. I read Muhammad Asad’s translation, and he explains in detail in the beginning about the difficulties of the language and the need for interpolated phrases in order for it to make sense. He remains reverential of course. There are places where the meaning is not clear and the classical interpreters went different ways, and he’s very open about that in his notes.

      To me it all stresses the fact that it was the spellbindingly poetic, artistic aspect of the revelation that got people’s attention and convinced people it was from God, rather than the content of it. I think content was important, people waited for answers to questions through his revelations. But it was not primarily the content that made it divine. It was the poetry. Which is why many of us can read a translation and be completely mystified about its appeal!

      • susanne430 said,

        “To me it all stresses the fact that it was the spellbindingly poetic, artistic aspect of the revelation that got people’s attention and convinced people it was from God, rather than the content of it.”

        Yes, that makes sense. Something about how it’s recited is beautiful to many. I find the recitations lovely although when I read the translations, I don’t always follow the train of thought. I guess this is why they say it’s only the Quran in Arabic.

        I recall a couple years ago an author I read said that it will be interesting to see how the Quran holds up the scrutiny now that people are able to review it online and post articles. The author said for years the Bible has been scrutinized and debated and torn apart and now it’s time for the Quran to undergo the same. As I said earlier, if your faith is strong and “right” then it will be fine. So I don’t always understand why some religious people damn those who dare to ask questions. Sure it can be uncomfortable, but banning people from asking questions – and threatening them – is really uncalled for behavior.

        I’m sure God is fine with us using our minds to question the status quo to see if we understand things. And I’d think Islam would be at the forefront of this since I hear “Islam is a religion of logic; Allah wants us to use our minds to think” so much on Muslim blogs. So why then do some scholars say not to question things?

        And that goes for religious scholars of Christianity and whatever other religion. I believe a true faith will stand against the scrutiny so why be scared of people seeking answers?

        • Wrestling said,

          I think maybe they see it as more western condescension towards Islam. It’s seen as being a part of the west’s tirade to take Islam apart. It’s all very political. That’s what I imagine anyway. I think they are very protective and don’t want Muslims being led astray from what (they think) is best for them. They don’t want their societies becoming like the west where we have abandoned religious values to some extent.

          They are looking after the ummah. Just like the religious laws and religious police and censorship do – keeping bad influences out of people’s way. Where is the line between protection and control? Between a healthy rational conviction and a deadly, uncompromising certainty?

          • Sarah Elizabeth said,

            Yes, unfortunately I think the whole war on terror and Western criticism has closed the doors for Westerners trying to dig deeper into controversial stuff… It is merely seen as imperialism and orientalism..

            • susanne430 said,

              That’s sad since even Christianity, the Bible and Jesus came from the Middle East. It’s NOT an invention of the West. 🙂

          • susanne430 said,

            This is funny to me because I was talking to my Syrian friend about Valentine’s Day yesterday. He said, “But, Susanne, do you want to come to Syria one day and see it’s become westernized? Don’t you want it to preserve its culture?”

            And I see his point to an extent because I DON’T want to go back to Damascus one day and see a mini-USA.

            At the same time, I countered with, “Well, you all follow our TV shows, movies, you wear western style clothes and some of you marry western women so you make your children half western so why is Valentine’s day going to suddenly make you western?”

            I mean if you want to ward off western influence DON’T marry westerners and watch western shows. They influence your culture way more than letting people choose whether or not to celebrate Valentine’s day. That’s how I see it anyway.

        • Sarah Elizabeth said,

          I agree

  17. Achelois said,

    I have been following the comments on Quran in Aramaic closely and they are very interesting.

    I read Luxenberg’s book the year it was translated in English (left my copy back home!) and I was seriously not impressed. It is true that Quran borrows a lot of foreign words that don’t exist in Arabic but it does not mean that huris were grapes, for example, and that it should be read in Aramaic. Muhammad truly believed in the huris and there are ample ahadith explaining their beauty and sexual competence, even their capability to *re-virginate* after each sexual intercourse. Grapes don’t do that!

    I think I mentioned it on this blog that the bit about the huris in the Quran actually exists in almost exact form in the Arda Viraf. That to me is more fascinating than white grapes theory. Persians were the Zoroastrian enemies about whom Arabs knew much. They had heard tales from Arda Viraf. They had heard of the Zoroastrian prophet’s flight to the Heavens where he met beautiful women in Paradise and wretched women in Hell. We have similar themes in ahadith and the miraj is almost identical to the ascension of the Zoroastrian prophet to Heaven. The explanation of huris as women with “full breasts” exists just as that in Arda Viraf:

    “(18). And there stood before him his own religion and his own deeds, in the graceful form of a damsel, as a beautiful appearance, that is, grown up in virtue; (19) with prominent breasts, that is, her breasts swelled downward, which is charming to the heart and soul; (20) whose form was as brilliant, as the sight of it was the more well-pleasing, the observation of it more desirable.”

    Compare this with 78: 33-34 and 56:22 and 40:45 and 55: 56-57.

    The poetry except in a couple of surahs never left me gasping for air and even in those surahs I am wondering about the message like in the brilliant Surah Rahman exists the verse about full breasted huris. Most of the time I am lost in the message. Like today I was in a store very early so they had Quran tapes on and at one point I stopped what I was doing because the verse was narrating how Allah will punish the kuffar with punishments that are ‘shadeed’ (terrible). But my sister who is always listening to the Quran in the background was doing her usual looking around and when I pointed out the recitation she said, “it’s beautiful, isn’t it?! What beautiful poetry!” 😀 But that is the linguist in me; I can’t ignore the message the otherwise beautiful language brings.

    Secondly, Ibn Warraq is a brilliant writer but sadly he mistranslates Quran in a few places because Arabic is not his first language. For example, he translates blessings as prayers. So while I agree that modern Arabs don’t always understand classical Arabic (I have often sat with proficient Arabic speakers who have had to call other proficient speakers to understand a Quranic term when I questioned them about it!), I would argue that even in ancient Arabia the language of the Quran was not always understood to the Arabs. For one it was written in the Qureshi dialect and for example, a Muslim in Syria would have not understood all the terms. Secondly, even the Quran itself instructs Muhammad that if there is a point he doesn’t understand he should consult Jews and Christians who were readers of the other Scriptures and knew their Texts well. It certainly points out that there was language or at least ideas that were alien to even Muhammad.

    That is IMHO what made Quran acceptable as divine rather than even the poetry because even back then not everyone was completely floored by the poetry. It was the fact that even Muhammad didn’t always understand what he spoke from his own mouth that convinced people that it was from a source other than Muhammad himself. The ideas and terms were often borrowed and didn’t exist in the Arabic language or culture which is what made the Quran divine. But at the same time there were people who suspected that Muhammad owned a Jinn who dictated foreign words and ideas to him in beautiful language thereby creating a *miracle* that was not from God.

    I don’t know what Aslan had to say about that!

    • Wrestling said,

      So that’s where I read it – from you! I am starting to realise that no religious ideas come out of a vacuum. Even the verse about Jesus not being killed, did not come out of the blue as I first thought.

      Re the poetry, Aslan’s comments about the Kahin as a precursor were interesting. I think I am like you, I need to know the message. I’m like that with songs, I can’t appreciate music if I don’t like the lyrics!

      Your last paragraph here is quite startling. I’ve never heard that before! But it makes some sense because as you say, the Quran does tell people to look up the other scriptures to verify it.

    • susanne430 said,

      So if we are supposed to look to the other texts does this mean they were NOT corrupted at the time of Muhammad?

      I guess I can appreciate the beauty of the recited Quran because I CAN’T understand the message. There is no “what are they saying?!” problems since it all is Greek — errrr, Arabic — to me! 😉

      Enjoyed your input on this, Achelois. Thanks!

      • Achelois said,

        Sarah, I’m referring to verse 10:94:

        “And if you (Muhammad) are in doubt concerning that which we reveal unto you, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before you. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto you. So be not of those who waver.”

        Sometimes he didn’t understand what was in the Quran or he was doubtful about what he had understood so it wasn’t all clear and simple even to him. Today people use this same verse to argue that since Muhammad was borrowing so much from Judaism and sometimes from Christianity without having read their Scriptures or understood the religions that he was often clueless about what he was preaching in the name of extension of Abrahamic religions. But in his time this same verse showed that he was not the source of the Quran; that it came from outside of his mind which sometimes he didn’t understand himself.

        Susanne, I don’t know when it all began that the Torah and Gospel are *corrupted* but this was certainly not the case in Muhammad’s time and I don’t believe he ever preached that. He was an intelligent man and fully understood the consequences of saying something like that especially when he hadn’t read the earlier Scriptures. In fact the Quran refers to the Torah and Gospel many times even saying that Muhammad was mentioned in the Texts. The Quran as well as the hadith refer to themes from both canonical as well as apocryphal texts. Whenever Christians or Jews corrected the new Muslims’ understanding of Judeo-Christian beliefs, Muhammad accepted the correction rather than dismiss it as *corrupted*. Certainly Muslims don’t accept Jesus as God or that he died at the Cross but perhaps Muhammad never knew that the Gospel itself (and I’m referring to John) calls Jesus God. Perhaps he thought that Christians had misconstrued the true message of the Gospel which was revealed to Jesus. And certainly there existed several Arian groups in Arabia that read the same Bible and were convinced that Jesus was a prophet and not God. And there also existed apocryphal texts that claimed that Jesus didn’t die at the Cross. In such an environment when there were no media or any elaborate form of transfer of information how could anyone know what was the canonically accepted truth and what was mere ‘myth’ (ah! Aslan 😀 ) especially if the person didn’t even belong to the faith and was starting a new religion. I am fully convinced that this rumour that the Torah and Gospel are corrupted was started much after Muhammad’s death.

        • Jay kactuz said,

          Good point, Archelois. My impression is that M knew much more about Judiasm than Christianity. He makes silly errors on both but his ignorance of the gospels is much greater. I guess as a youth he spent a lot of time with Jewish merchants but not so much with Christians. M also confuses Tamudic writings with the OT.

          10:94 does seem to contradict the “Bible as corrupt” theory, but this concept of J + C scriptures being corrupted is necessary for Islamic theology otherwise how to explain the resurrection story and other contradictions between account? Even so, the idea that a god cannot guard his word from corruption requires that one accept that god is also a source of perdition. You can’t have it both ways.

          • Achelois said,

            Jay, I too think he knew more about Judaism and agreed more with it than with Christianity.

  18. Black Sheep said,

    Thanks for your input, Achelois–it’s really valuable! I’m aware of the disagreements you’ve got w/Warraq, and coming from you they are more to me than just Muslim polemics. IMO, it’s not all about language, and as we all know there are “dead” languages too that we can’t properly translate. I can’t see the divine in the Quran, or in any of the revelations to Muhammad, but I understand that many can. I guess I’m really a skeptic at heart and there are too many loose ends in Islamic theology (beyond language difficulties) for me to personally believe in it. Warraq’s books as well as other Orientalists’ sealed the deal for me, I guess.

    I’ll leave it there, because I’m not here to start any debates. Just wanted to acknowledge your post because I do know that you’ve done a LOT of work investigating Islam for yourself and I value your knowledge!

  19. Achelois said,

    Black Sheep, thanks for your comment.

    Just wanted to mention that I wasn’t debating either, just adding to the discussion because it is such a fascinating theme. I really like Ibn Warraq. In fact it was when I read him that I questioned my belief system for the first time. I was left wondering how in all the years that I had been reading the Quran that I never once noticed verse 33:56:

    ‘Verily, Allah and His Angels send blessings on the Prophet: O you who believe! Send blessings on him, and salute him with a worthy salutation.’

    I began to ask other Muslims about this verse and every single time I was completely ignored. No Muslim was ever willing to explain this serious contradiction. In such a situation you get more doubtful.

    To me this verse poses two problems:

    1) If you read it as “Verily, Allah and His Angels *send* blessings on the Prophet” then it is plain wrong since Allah blesses as opposed to sending blessings. Who does He send blessings through? Who is He invoking if He is the God?

    This is what Ibn Warraq asks. However, I take it one step further:

    2) Reading it in Arabic the correct translation is “Allah and His angels bless the Prophet” which is far more serious rather than comforting. In it Allah and the angels are brought at the same level. This was a common Pagan belief that the main God, the God, Allah was on an equal footing with other lesser gods that were intercessors or angels (something further supported by the Satanic Verses or the Gharaniq Verses). It was Allah wa Allat or Allah wa Manat and here it is Allah wa malaikatahu. The addition of the simple word ‘wa’ (and) can be a cause of concern for shirk.

    How can any being do what God does? How can any being bless like God blesses?

    It was this idea from Ibn Warraq that made me look for other verses where the name of Allah is used in conjunction with Muhammad and although clearly no attribute of God is attached to the Prophet, they do exist together asking believers to believe in Allah and the Messenger (33:29); obey Allah and the Messenger (33:36, 8:13, 4:13); not to resist Allah and the Messenger (59:4); that the booty belongs not to those who fight the wars but to Allah and the Messenger (8:1); Muslims should only seek Allah and the Messenger (33:29); and that a Muslim should be content only with Allah and the Messenger (9:59).

    I understand and accept that you can’t be a Muslim even if you believe in one God unless you also fully believe that Muhammad was a prophet and so these verses are crucial, but they still don’t help me understand 33:56. If there was a mistake in transcribing that verse then there are other serious questions that arise.

    It was nice chatting with you, Black Sheep 😀 and I just wanted to confirm that I too owe a lot to Ibn Warraq!

    • Wrestling said,

      Is the word you’re translating as blessings “salawat”?
      Even if it’s not, I’m going to go off on a tangent and say that I have been totally confused about that word. I don’t know if there is a difference between the word “salaah” meaning the ritual prayer, and the word for blessings/salutations, as in “salAllahu alayhi”. I think both have the plural “salawat” and so might be the same word? And so in “salAllahu alayhi” you are saying something like “the salaah of God be upon him”… which confused the heck out of me. I tried asking my husband what “salAllahu alayhi wa sallam” actually means and he couldn’t tell me. It’s translated as “peace be upon him” but it doesn’t mean that, does it? – that would be “alayhi salaam”, which is only used for other lesser prophets. Sallam is not the same as salaam (peace) and I couldn’t even work out what that was.

      Anyhow… so in the usage of that word salawat, it seemed to me as if God gives salutations like people give salutations. Whether it’s prayers or blessings or whatever it is. Which possibly ties in with what you’re saying. I’m not sure if I understand the problem you’re getting at, but maybe I’d need to understand all these words to get the point.

      As a Christian I was taught that “to bless” just means “to make happy”. But there again people would talk vaguely about blessing food before eating. It seems like people just mash up religious language until you can’t understand what any of it means. Which is maybe a desired outcome for some people.

      • Achelois said,

        WWR, the word I’m referring to is yu-salloona which has the same root word (saad-laam-waw) as salawat. There are 23 words in the Quran from the same root word which means anything from prayer, dua, benediction, blessing, to bringing forth, following closely, and remaining attached.

        Perhaps that is why the word is so confusing to you. In this particular verse it simply means blessing as in magnifying or complimenting and asks Muslims to send blessings on the Prophet because even Allah and His angels bless him.

        Blessing – salawat simply put means God’s mercy. Mercy could be anything from financial blessing to being able to have children to recovering from an illness. It depends on what the person *needs* and what God blesses him/her with as His mercy.

        That is what I found odd – Allah can of course bless; He has the power to bless. All other beings merely send blessings upon others through Allah, by invoking His name. Angels should do the same. Yet in the verse 33:56, angels are blessing the Prophet with Allah; that is they have the same power as Allah to bless!

        Reformers like Khalifa actually understood the potential problems with this and hence Khalifa translates the verse as:

        “GOD and His angels help and support the prophet. O you who believe, you shall help and support him, and regard him as he should be regarded.”

        Hilali translates it as:

        “Allah sends His Blessings on the Prophet and also His angels too (ask Allah to bless and forgive him). O you who believe! Send your Salat on (ask Allah to bless) him and (you should) greet (salute) him with the Islamic way of greeting (salutation i.e. AsSalamu Alaikum).”

        But both these translations are rejected by traditional Muslims and seem too-eager-to-please to me as well.

        PS: salAllahu alayhi wa sallam means “Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him” whereas alayhi wasallam means “peace be upon him.” So lesser prophets get only peace whereas Muhammad gets Allah’s blessings *and* peace.

        • susanne430 said,

          “So lesser prophets get only peace whereas Muhammad gets Allah’s blessings *and* peace.”

          And that’s what I don’t get. Abraham, Moses and Jesus are LESSER prophets than Muhammad?

          I protest! 😉

          • aynur said,

            I thought there is a different verse in the Qur’an that says that we’re supposed to basically consider all of the prophets on the same level??

            • Wrestling said,

              Susanne and Aynur – I protest too! I don’t know if there is a basis for giving Muhammad a special salutation, a better one than other prophets get, but I’ve always disliked the practice. I only raised it for the sake of understanding the Arabic; I didn’t mean to give any impression that I thought it was Islamically correct.

              • Achelois said,

                It bothered me as well and it really bothered my child when she was not even eight years old because she didn’t understand it. But I never gave it much thought until Susanne mentioned it to me once.

                I can now safely say that I understand it. Let me explain.

                You send blessings on a living person. You send blessings on the *soul* of the dead as in you want their soul to be at peace like in RIP. The command to send blessings on Muhammad came when he was still alive. The practice to send blessings to him during salah was established in his life time. However, all other prophets were already dead then and it was Muhammad and his followers who actually first started the practice of blessing their souls with peace. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Noah, even Adam never received constant blessings of peace with their names before that time. I think it was a remarkable move and even though Muslims may not actually treat them all equally it is inspirational that they always send blessings upon the souls of all prophets.

                When Muhammad died it became a practice to continue sending Allah’s blessings upon him while also adding that his soul be at *peace* like with the other prophets. I actually find nothing wrong with it anymore because when we write that in English we write ‘peace be upon him’ against the names of ALL prophets including Muhammad.

                It is just a customary practice that was not forgotten upon his death. Islam and the Quran actually do expect Muslims to never differentiate between the prophets and the Quran and even hadith (generally) remind people that all prophets are equal and should be treated equally by Muslims.

                • Wrestling said,

                  Interesting! I bet most Muslims don’t know that.

                • susanne430 said,

                  Thanks for the explanation.

                  “However, all other prophets were already dead then”

                  Even Jesus?

                  I just noticed on another blog that someone would write “saw” after Muhammad and “aw” after all the other prophets and wondered about the difference. I appreciate your helping me understand why Muhammad gets special letters. Well, he is a special man for sure so . . .

                  • Achelois said,

                    Well, according to my understanding of the Quran, yes even Jesus 😀

                    • susanne430 said,

                      Ah, I see. I was thinking of most Muslims’ understanding of him which seems to be that God raised him up to heaven PRIOR to the crucifixion. So I didn’t quite understand what you meant about his being dead.

                      I was under the impression that most of them think Jesus never died, but was raised up to heaven and he will return one day, set things right re: the damned cross and turn everyone into Muslims before being killed and later raised up with everyone else on Judgment Day.

                      Do I have that all messed up? 🙂

        • Wrestling said,

          Thanks for the explanations.
          So when a person gives salawat to Muhammad, it really means asking God to give his salawat to Muhammad? And yet it doesn’t explicitly say “ask God” but rather tells the believers to give their own salawat? And it says God and the angels both give salawat?
          I guess it doesn’t strike me as odd because in the Bible it says things like “bless the Lord, O my soul”. So blessing can be done by anyone, to anyone. But obviously it’s a different concept from salawat – translated to the same word in English. This is where I get frustrated because words like “blessing” do not really get used except in a religious context, and they easily become mystified.

          • Achelois said,

            WWR, Ah! I understand now what you mean. No, in English when you bless you are actually magnifying the name of the Lord. That is also one meaning of sallu for example. However, it is only Allah who can actually bless a human being with good health, or money or children or fame. The rest pray to Allah to bless another person so when you send blessings upon the Prophet you are not magnifying his name but asking Allah to grant him his wishes and make him prominent. This is why I have problems understanding the verse.

            • Wrestling said,

              I think I’m starting to understand!
              Does it distinguish between the salawat of {Allah and his angels} on Muhammad and the salawat of believers on Muhammad? I looked at the Arabic but there was one or two words I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell if it was explicitly saying the believers should ask for salawat on Muhammad, or give their own salawat. Or is the difference implicit anyway?

    • Jay kactuz said,

      Archelois, once again you have scored. I thought the “Allah and Mohammed as go-gods” was my cup of tea, my pet theory. To me it is clear that while Christians have their trinity, Muslims must make do with a biety, or duety, doublety, or whatever.

      I think you are wrong in saying “clearly no attribute of God is attached to the Prophet.” Either that or the Quran is badly written. Clearly Allah and his prophet share many qualities that indicate that the relation is more that of partners than that of mere creator- creation/spokesman. After all, they are quoted as making decisions together.

      The only real question is who outranks who????? It seems that when there is a contracdiction between the teachings of Mohammed in the ahadith and any text of the Quran, well, Allah loses. Note also the fact that Muslims really only care about their prophet.

  20. Achelois said,

    Susanne at 3:09 pm,

    Unfortunately, you do have it all messed up 😀 You forgot or *deliberately* ignored that Jesus will also kill ALL the pigs in the world 😀

    • susanne430 said,

      Hahahahahahaha! Noooooooooooooooo, not my bacon! 😉

      Just kidding! I’m really not a huge pork fan, but I do think piglets are adorably cute. 🙂

      Yeah, I forgot that part. Hmmm.

      From what I wrote though I*must* be messing up the sequence of events. If Jesus makes everyone Muslim then who would kill him? So I guess I messed up more than just the kill all the pigs thing.

      By the way, I wonder why pigs got the bad deal in life. For what purpose did God create them? So we would be tempted by them? As some sort of test to see if we could resist pepperoni, bacon, sausage, ham? Or maybe it’s food for the unbelievers.

      The things I ponder some days. 🙂

      Thanks for making me laugh!

      • Black Sheep said,

        Bacon is the bomb…;-)

        But I think the story is that Jesus isn’t killed by anyone; after he does all that stuff, he lives out the rest of his life (marries, has kids, etc.) and dies a natural death. At least that’s what I’ve been told. But then again, I’ve also read that those ahadith are unreliable and a bunch of bunk. I guess it all depends on who you’re talking with. 🙂

  21. Achelois said,

    Susanne, No Jesus won’t be killed. He will die like any other human being of natural causes. He’s been killed once 😀

    But he will first follow the sunnah of Muhammad, break the cross, kill the pigs, abolish jaziya, fight jihad, offer salah and rule the world for 40 years before dying.

    Actually most Muslims don’t believe in his second coming.

    You may find this interesting or amusing – http://worldupdates.tripod.com/newupdates10/id105.htm

    I should point out that most Muslims will reject such stuff right away. It is not supported by Islamic scriptures.

    • susanne430 said,

      Hmmm, thanks for sharing the link. Since it’s not supported by Islamic scriptures, they reject these because they are perhaps from “weak” hadith as Black Sheep suggested?

      Interesting stuff! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: