Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Qur'an Surah 16: The Bee

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each surah of the Qur'an and write about what I learn. 

This surah takes its name from a brief meditation on the bee, and how this insect reveals God's presence in the world: "And your Lord inspired the bee, saying, 'Build yourselves houses in the mountains and trees and what people construct.  Then feed on all kinds of fruit and follow the ways made easy for you by your Lord.'  From their bellies comes a drink of different colors in which there is healing for people.  There truly is a sign in this for those who think."  The bee serves as a metaphor for God's provision for humanity, and the response of praise (aka honey) that is the natural result of this provision.

Throughout the surah are references to aspects of the natural world that are beneficial to humans: horses, mules, donkeys, water, grain, olives, palms, vines, the sun, moon, stars, the sea, fish, rivers, mountains, etc.  All of this is seen as coming from the grace of God.  It makes sense that these natural provisions are deeply connected to the life of tribal society in 7th century Arabia, where the Qur'an was written.

Like many other surahs, this one encourages monotheism and condemns idolatry, saying that those who attribute the wonders of the world to other gods are not showing proper respect to the One God.  The surah also states that those who do not believe in and follow the One God will be judged and punished in the afterlife. 

The Qur'an's idea of what happens after you die is more in line with Christianity than Judaism.  In the Hebrew scriptures, there is a very foggy and vague idea of the afterlife.  In the Hebrew Bible, God judges people in this life.  The idea of judgment after death (along with notions of heaven and hell) did not develop until after the completion of the Hebrew Bible.  This division of the spiritual realm into heaven and hell was drawn largely from Zoroastrian dualism.  From these Persian ideas, Christian and Muslim thinkers would eventually develop their own unique ideas about the afterlife.

I'll end on a more positive note.  "The Bee" contains this lovely verse: "God commands justice, doing good, and generosity towards relatives and he forbids what is shameful, blameworthy, and oppressive."


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