Monday, May 18, 2015

The Qur’an Surah 47: Muhammad

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 is a little disturbing, as it contains instructions for warfare: “When you meet the disbelievers in battle, strike them in the neck, and once they are defeated, bind any captives firmly—later you can release them as a grace for ransom—until the toils of war have ended” (v. 4).  In the context of 7th century Arabia, however, it would be strange if the Qur’an didn’t mention inter-tribal conflict—it was a reality of life.  The specific context of this surah was the Battle of Badr, an important battle which helped ensure the survival of Muhammad's community of faith.  And yet, the fact remains that the Qur’an, like the Bible before it, does condone certain types of armed conflict and violence.  I suppose this was probably necessary for survival, but it's still disturbing.

This surah, like much of the Qur’an also focuses a lot on the afterlife.  Believers are urged to behave in ethical/faithful ways so as to avoid eternal damnation in Hell, and to enter the gardens of Paradise, which are described in this way: “rivers of water forever pure, rivers of milk forever fresh, rivers of wine, a delight for those who drink, rivers of honey clarified and pure, all flow in it; there they will find fruit of every kind; and they will find forgiveness from their Lord.”  This is contrasted with Hell, which is a fiery place where people are given “boiling water to drink that tears their bowels.”

In contrast to the afterlife, which believers are told to look forward to, this earthly life is described as “only a game, a pastime.”  In short, the real life is the afterlife.  I actually have a problem with this worldview.  What if it’s not true?  What if there is no afterlife?  What if the “real deal” is here, now, on this earth?  In my view, it’s important to value this life because it may, in fact, be the only one we get.  And, even if there is an afterlife, it seems to me that this life is at least equally important.  Additionally, living in fear of some future punishment is not a recipe for mental and emotional health.  Fear is an effective, but ultimately toxic, human motivator.

The context of this surah was the Battle of Badr.

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