Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Qur'an Surah 43: Ornaments of Gold

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 both the Bible and the Qur'an, prophets tend not to be people of wealth and power.  On the contrary, they often come from the fringes of society to criticize the wealthy and powerful.  This was certainly the case with Jesus, who came from the poor town of Nazareth, which was inhabited mainly by subsistence farmers and day laborers.  I also think of the prophet Elijah from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), who spent much of his time in the wilderness, with practically no possessions.  Same thing with John the Baptist, who had a lot in common with Elijah.  John and Elijah both spoke against their kings and the political elite.  Jesus spoke against the religious leaders of his day--the Temple priests, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.  Often, because of the fact that these prophets defied authority, spoke truth to power, they were persecuted and killed, sort of like Martin Luther King Jr.

Muhammad continued this tradition of the not-powerful prophet who spoke against the authorities of his day.  For Muhammad, this was the powerful Quraysh tribe, who thrived on an exploitive religio-economic system in Mecca.  Muhammad preached radical social and religious reforms, a kind of egalitarian society, and the Quraysh ran him out of town.  He would eventually return, however, triumphant.

The 43rd surah of the Qur'an, "Ornaments of Gold," basically reinforces this idea that a true prophet will not be wealthy or powerful.  The surah refers to "golden ornaments" which "are mere enjoyments of this life.  The real reward is in "the next life for those who take heed of Him (God)."  In heaven, "dishes and goblets of gold will be passed around them with all that their souls desire and their eyes delight in."  These sentiments are also expressed in the New Testament gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

The surah also gives the example of Moses who, when he confronted the wealthy and powerful Pharaoh of Egypt, was merely a shepherd.  Pharaoh asked, mockingly, "Am I not better than this contemptible wretch who can scarcely express himself?  Why has he not been given any gold bracelets?"  If you've seen the movie The Ten Commandments, you know how that story turned out.  The point is that the real treasures of this life are non-material.  God doesn't care about people's bank accounts or investment portfolios.  In a country as fiercely capitalistic and materialistic as the United States, where I live, it is very difficult (and certainly counter-cultural) to value things other than wealth, but this is the path taught by both the Bible and the Qur'an.

Prophets tend to be poor, dress weird, and suffer hardship (like John the Baptist).

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