Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Qur'an Surah 37: Ranged in Rows

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.

In a previous post, I wrote about the religious life of pre-Islamic Arabia, and noted that the High God was named Allah and that he had three daughters named Al-lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat.  When Muhammad began preaching his new message of monotheism, this meant doing away with Allah's daughters, which some people (understandably) found difficult to do.  It would be like telling catholics, "You can no longer venerate Mary."

Allah's three daughters in pre-Islamic Arabia.

Throughout the Qur'an, Muhammad repeatedly insists that Allah has no daughters.  This is the case in the 37th surah.  Some people believed that angels were the daughters of God, and Muhammad harshly criticizes them for this "false" belief.  The title of this surah, Ranged in Rows, is a reference to what will happen in heaven on the Day of Judgment.  Humans and angels will be formed into rows, and the angels will rebuke the humans who called them "God's daughters."

What this surah really shows is that getting people to totally transform their worldview is a slow and difficult process.  The Hebrew Bible continually criticizes people for worshipping Baal.  This is because, in pre-Israelite Canaanite mythology, Baal was the son of El, the High God, from whom the Israelites developed the idea of Elohim, or God.  Before El was transformed into the sole God, he had a wife named Asherah.  People worshipped Baal and Asherah, not because they were evil, but because it was what generations of their ancestors had done before them.  Interestingly, the words "El" and "Allah" are linguistically linked, sharing a similar root.  One unfortunate effect of monotheism was the fact that it did away with female goddesses, which probably had negative effects on ideas of gender equality.

Asherah, wife of El.

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