Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Interesting passages in the Qur'an

I've been reading the Qur'an now for several months. Baha'u'llah says we're to read the writings every morning and evening. Over 25 years, I've managed to read an awful lot of Baha'u'llah's writings! And I began looking around to see what else I could read. I've read the Gospels and now I'm onto the Qur'an. Every evening, I read from the Qur'an. I didn't start at the beginning; I started at the Surah of Hood because Baha'u'llah mentions it in the Iqan. I've read just under half of the Qur'an - surahs 10-36, about 250 pages out of 650. I'm reading Arberry's translation, just because I have it on hand and because he's made an effort to make the English readable.

I've read enough now to start getting an impression of recurring themes. I'm starting to fall in love with the style, which is interesting because, at first, I struggled with the style and the way language is used. It certainly has a unique 'voice' and way of putting things! But after reading it for some months, I have become used to the style and the voice and started to see the beauty in passages that are repeated, which are often verses that describe attributes of God. The book also puts up some very sophisticated arguments and makes insightful comments about the positions unbelievers took in response to Muhammad. After striking a few of these, I got out my trusty pencil and began underlining them as I went along. I thought I'd share some of these with you.

One of the themes of the Qur'an is that God is One and we must not set up associates with Him. This leads to verses in which God points out distinctions between Himself and any potential associate; for example, "16:20 Those whom they invoke besides Allah create nothing and are themselves created." This same idea is also found here: "7:191 Do they indeed ascribe to Him as partners things that can create nothing, but are themselves created?" I particularly relish these passages because I think the Baha'is have set up the House of Justice as a partner to God; they see its every whim as the road to salvation and success. These quotes are God reminding them of why the House is no such thing. For starters, it can't create anything at all. But not only that, it can't remove affliction from the community: "Say: 'Call on those you asserted apart from Him; they have no power to remove affliction from you, or to transfer it.' Those they call upon are themselves seeking the means to come to their Lord..." (17:55-56) God reminds us that the House of Justice has no power to change the fortunes of the community. Like the rest of us, it must also appeal to God. And again: "36:23 Should I take to worshipping [other] deities beside Him? [But then,] if the Most Gracious should will that harm befall me, their intercession could not in the least avail me, nor could they save me."

Here's a passage that reminds me of those who have lost their faith in Baha'u'llah because of the unjust deeds of the Baha'i administration: "29:10 Then there are among men such as say, 'We believe in Allah'; but when they suffer affliction in (the cause of) Allah, they treat men's oppression as if it were the Wrath of Allah. And if help comes (to thee) from thy Lord, they are sure to say, 'We have (always) been with you!' Does not Allah know best all that is in the hearts of all creation?" This speaks to me of those who have become Baha'is saying "We believe" but then when they are treated unjustly by men (ie, the Baha'i administration) in the cause of God, they blame God and lose faith. Interestingly, this proves that the House is viewed as a partner of God, because injustice from the House is considered a shortcoming on the part of the Divine. But the Qur'an is pointing out that the deeds of men are different to that of God. It is also pointing out that some people who claim to believe only do so in favourable circumstances. You see, if the Baha'i administration hadn't lost its way as it has, those who have now left the Faith because of it would still be in the Faith saying "We believe!". In which case, what would that testimony amount to?

This is an interesting one, which pertains to generosity and charity: "36:47 Thus, when they are told, 'Spend on others out of what God has provided for you as sustenance,' those who are bent on denying the truth say unto those who believe, 'Shall we feed anyone whom, if [your] God had so willed, He could have fed [Himself]? Clearly, you are but lost in error!'" This argument uses a fascinating piece of logic; it turns the logic of God in the Qur'an against the believers: why should I spend a cent on the poor when God could provide for them if He willed? If God is all-powerful, then why should I bother? Well, I guess the unbelievers have a point here, except that the Qur'an is emphatic about our duty to help the poor, so there's no way out really. When it comes to it, we are exhorted to help the poor because it's good for us spiritually to do so. It's not as if God could not eliminate all poverty in a heartbeat. However, there is one area where I think the logic does apply and that's where people don't want to believe. If a person chooses not to believe, then the Qur'an tells us that we can do nothing about it for only God can make a person see.

I loved this: "36:66-7 And had We willed, We verily could have quenched their eyesight so that they should struggle for the way. Then how could they have seen? And had We willed, We verily could have fixed them in their place, making them powerless to go forward or turn back." The verses say to me, if God wanted to, He could remove the eyesight of the unbelievers, but if He did that, how could they see the path (should they chose to do so)? And if He stopped them in their path of error, how could they return to Him (if they chose to)? That got me thinking about the idea of seeing with one's own eyes. It's not quite the point the Qur'an is making here, but it's related. If we are to see the Baha'i revelation with the eyes of the House of Justice, and take as gospel all that it says, then effectively we obliterate our own eyes in favour of others. But this is precisely what I hear God saying that He won't do. He could have removed their eyes, but such a person cannot see at all. Not only can they not see the wrong path (for that's the purpose here, to protect people from error) but they can't see the straight path either. If one does not use one's own eyes, then one sees nothing at all.

And here, I think, is a good one for those who don't believe that God created us or that we pass on after death to the next world: "36:78-9 36:78 And he makes comparisons for Us, and forgets his own (origin and) creation: He says, 'Who can give life to (dry) bones and decomposed ones (at that)?' Say, 'He will give them life Who created them for the first time! for He is Well-versed in every kind of creation!'" I think this is a cracker. If life can appear once, why can't it appear again? If you don't know where the life you see now has come from, how do you know it can't appear again or in other ways that are outside your understanding?

I'll finish off with this pithy thought for those who have borne false testimony against me: "34:49 Falsehood originates not, nor brings again." In other words, you cannot build a flourishing Baha'i community on calumnies told about others, nor can you restore a degenerating one.