Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Responding to the Qur'an

This might be of limited interest to most, but I done read the Qur'an and even wrote out questions and comments for the course I'm taking...Here's what I had to say/ask/wonder. I reserve the right to change my mind concerning all of it. Let's call this a field report:

Surah 2: How can it be that it can’t be doubted? (2) Only the sinners will doubt and get it wrong. (26) I begin to wonder if this is one of many instances (others unrecorded and unremembered) of a group of people trying to claim the continuity that other, more powerful and privileged communities of Jews and Christians (self-described anyway) wanted to keep to themselves. (120) Maybe the supposed outsiders are attempting their own form of reform from without and within. (25) Those who mislead and get misled are a constant theme and moving target. An anxiety of continuity persists throughout

Surah 3: Maybe the questions have to change. It isn’t who’s Jewish or Christian. It’s who’s submitting to God. Abraham, in this sense, is Muslim. (67-68) And maybe the revelation (and who’s submitting to it) is an ongoingly open question. (70-71). Given the controversies that already beset the communities (Jewish and Christian) which claim continuity with Abraham, there’s something almost comically tragic in the the hope for “An equitable word between us” (64). Is “Bear witness that we are Muslims” best translated, “Bear witness that we too are among those who are actively submitting to God?” Might submission (Islam) have been lowercase (islam)? (85) Beware those who debar “from the path.” (99) God knows what you’re doing.

Surah 4: I’d always heard that Augustine gave us this business of flesh regenerating in Hell for the purpose of being burnt off again. It’s interesting to see that tradition continuing here. (56)

Surah 5: How does one sell a revelation? (44) The notion of “increasing in arrogance and unbelief” (so don’t pity them) brings to mind the hardening of Pharoah’s heart which always struck me as horribly unfair. And yet, the idea of an oppressed minority daring to conclude that even the spirit and the personal volition of tyrants is somehow within the purposes of an all-redeeming and just God (in the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an) doesn’t leave me unmoved.

Surah 6: Every grain and every leaf and all manner of goings-on recorded “in a Clear Book.” (59) Should this be distinguished from the Qur’an? Is this the “Mother of the Book?”

Surah 7: “Remember how He made you successors after the people of Noah.” (69) This is especially worthy of note in view of the possibility that Muhammad and his community were being forcibly (or perhaps non-negotiably) deprived of a sense of succession among “the People of the Book.” “Wait then until Allah judges between us; for He is the Best of judges.” (87) Delayed judgment of this sort (let God sort out the dogma, seriously), when held to, might prevent many a violent quandary. Very pleased to see a witness to it here.

Surah 8: “Allah stands between a man and his heart” (24) is an awfully evocative principle in regard to the community’s stand-off with other traditions (a “Search your heart to discern justice between us!”). We all scheme away but “Allah is the Best of schemers.” (30) In view of Allah, may our own schemings be forever relativized. I like how the fifth of the booty reserved for Allah seems to be synonymously reserved for the orphan and (a personal favorite) the wayfarer. (41)

Surah 9: Would this be the only appearance of “Son of God” status being attributed to Ezrah? (30) Interesting to note the critical apparatus being applied retroactively to “the statement of unbelievers of yore” (false witness?) now emulated by contemporaries. Interesting too to imagine people awaiting with trepidation the “breaking news” of Muhammad’s latest surah. (64) Did Muhammad claim to occupy a “No Spin Zone?” “Go on mocking,” because the truth will out!

Surah 10: “I have dwelt in your midst a lifetime before it [the surah].” (16) Is this the speech of “the Clear Book?” A generalized revelation always available (before and after the Qur’an) to anyone with an ear to hear and an eye to see? “Thus We expound Our Revelations to people who reflect.” (24) Being on the lookout for revelation is tantamount to being a person of critical reflection. The ethical imperative of wondering why. The religious text as a feat of attentiveness. Have a go at your own. See what you can do you so-called truth-tellers. (38) There are “signs for a people who listen.” (67)

Surah 11: Come up with “ten-forged surahs like it, and call upon whomever you can, apart from Allah, if you are truthful.” (13) Why can’t (or shouldn’t) someone else call upon Allah too in their compostion? Is there a space for equal- opportunity attempted revelation? Might humility of conception (“God wants the following as far as I can tell.”) be an entrance fee to the witness box?

Surah 12: Only the “unbelieving people” despair “of “Allah’s mercy.” (87) I’d prefer that despair not be an evil in itself. I’d like to see a Qur’anic equivalent to some of the darker Psalms and the “Why hast thou forsaken me?” plea.

Surah 13: No power of signs except by “Allah’s Permission,” and “every age has its own Book.” (38) Wow. Gospel of pluralism? “With Him is the Mother of the Book.” (39) I wonder if there’s something to work with here.

Surah 14: Something haunting about the haste, the empty gazes, and the vacant hearts of the damned. (43) Zombie films come to mind.

Surah 15: This bit on Satan (39) as well as the stuff about Satan refusing to bow before the creation of Adam seems very reminiscent of Miltonic cosmology. Muhammad as “the plain warner” (89) also brings to mind the possibility that the prophet’s self-understanding might have undergone undue elevation in what comes to us of the transmission. “Plain warner” sounds like a humbler beginning perhaps than divine dictaphone.

Surah 16: Are there pre-Qur’anic accounts of “sperm drop” (4) and blood clot origins?

Surah 17: Not sure what to make of the “hidden curtain” manifested when Muhammad recites. (45) And I confess I think of Joseph Smith’s eye-glasses (Urim and Thummim?). Does this mean that only the “true believers” get to say what the recitation was? Is somebody getting cut off here? “Falsehood is ever perishing.” (81) Is anyone with an honest question or a shadow of doubt merely “ungrateful?” (89) Moses: “I think that you, Pharoah, are doomed.” (102) Nicely spoken. The old plot is thickened.

Surah 18: I’m confused as to what’s going on with the people in the cave (and their 309 years of lingering there). (25) Is this a way of looping around past Mosaic tradition (going further back). And the figure of Khidr (a Tom Bombadil-type, a phantom stranger) seems to be an outweirding of the Jews. You can’t handle the truth! (75) I sure didn’t know that Alexander the Great made an appearance. (83-85) He too is incorporated into the good pleasure of Allah.

Surah 19: Something interesting about the “the form of a well-shaped human being” (17) and the mention (which I wouldn’t have expected) of Mary’s labor pains (23). Is Jesus referring to the Mother of the Book or his own book out of which it was somehow derived? (30) What’s the book of Idris? (56)

Surah 20: Is Moses referring to the Clear Book/Mother Book? (52)

Surah 21: We didn’t create the heavens and the earth in sport (later, in jest). There’s something appealing about this. And while we’re at it what’s with all the royal We’s? (16) “They fell apart into factions; but they will all return unto Us.” (93) I wonder if this might be read in a universalist sense?

Surah 22: Leave to the particular nations their own “sacred rite” (67) which We gave them. Bring on the pluralism.

Surah 23: And yet, there’s this notion that the rites were reduced “to mere tales” because these nations weren’t sufficiently just or reverent. (44) Myths became (or were rendered) merely mythological. Interesting.

Surah 24: I wonder if verse 33 is a unique word of compassion for rape victims.

Surah 26: Maybe the talk of the perverse poets and their aimless wanderings is an attempt to make strong distinctions between those who presume to take down recitations (224-226). The borders are historically fuzzy. Poets, pilgrims, and unlettered prophets all.

Surah 27: I hadn’t heard that the Qur’an shared with the Hebrew Bible such instances of interspecies dialogue (18 and 22-25).

Surah 28: I’m receiving a sense of what seems to be the Qur’an’s preferential option for “the downtrodden in the land.” (5) I especially like the bit about Moses being warned about becoming yet another tyrant in a very long line. (19)

Surah 29: “Taste now what you used to do,” (55) strikes me as interestingly purgatorial.

Surah 30: Something very compelling in the Qur’anic economy’s delegitimizing of usury and elevation of alms as the real multiplication. (39)

Surah 32: “To warn a people to whom no warner came before.” (3) I think again of the deal-breakers between Jews, Christians, and emerging Muslims and wonder how it all might have gone down differently. Were the People of the Book to whom Muhammad was exposed too blatantly hypocritical? Could he see no continuity in their claims of continuity? Did he feel called to cobble together his own?

Surah 34: If Muhammad’s Lord “hurls down truth,” (48) could this be in keeping with the generalize revelation of Surah 10. Is revelation hurling down on the attentive everywhere?

Surah 35: The false gods aren’t even in possession of “a date’s crust.” (13) Nice.

Surah 36: “To warn a people, whose fathers were not warned and so they are heedless.” (6) Again, where to find the righteousness? “Forgiveness and a generous wage” (11) Excellent antidote to spiritualizing. “Master Register” (12) There’s that that meta-text again.

Surah 37: Things take a turn for the interplanetary (6-7). Protection from extra-terrestrial invasion? Forsake the gods for a poet possessed?!? (36) What else is there? Interesting elaboration of the Abraham/Isaac exchange (“I have seen in sleep that I am slaughtering you” 103). The costliness of being counted among the steadfast.

Surah 38: I’m puzzled by the account of Solomon getting the message when he finds a dead body on his throne. (34) Did They make an offer he couldn’t refuse? Allah as the chief of schemers takes on a new meaning when Satn says “By Your glory, I will seduce them all.” (82) Excepting, of course, the sincere servants.

Surah 39: A Book “insistent and corroboratory.” (23) Is this a summons to investigative criticism.

Surah 40: “That is how Allah places a seal on the heart of every arrogant bully.” (35) The Qur’an, it seems to me, is an anti-bully document.

Surah 41: I like this business (the imagery anyway) of people’s skins bearing witness against them. (20-22)

Surah 43: “What if I were to bring you a more certain guidance than what you found your fathers upon?” (24) I find it interesting to note that he isn’t calling the “fathers” liars. He’s suggesting that his hearers found “their fathers” on something less certain than what he (the Prophet) proclaims. The possibility of idolatry (or reification) cuts in myriad ways. I think of Jesus’ “You have heard it said…But I say to you.”

Surah 45: “This is an illumination.” (20) With all appropriate qualifications, I think I can probably affirm as much.

Surah 49: Allah knows all about your so-called religions. (16) The question: Are you submitting to Allah now?

Surah 50: Allah is closer to man than his own jugular and knows all about his inner insinuations and false religiosities (16). What the prophet brings is for anyone with a mind open to a witness (37).

Surah 51: Is there pre-Qur’anic material on ‘Ad and Thamud? (41-43) Does this refer to events in Muhammad’s life?

Surah 52: More assertions of inimitability. (34)

Surah 53: “Only a Revelation being revealed” (4). Interestingly not lofty or heavy-handed.

Surah 55: I am anxious to read a commentary on this one.

Surah 56: I’ve known the first fashioning if only I would remember? Interesting. Have I really seen what I’m tilling? Good question. Who’s doing the sowing? (62-64) Am I lying to myself as I read the discourse? (81) Dang.

Surah 57: Everything that happens is “in a Book, before We create it.” An easy matter for Allah. Color me pleasantly puzzled. (22) The People of the Book need a renewed reverence for all that is and isn’t in their (or what they take to be their) books. (29)

Surah 58: Allah is witness. (6)

Surah 59: Pity the poor immigrants. They are the truthful ones. (8)

Surah 63: Word of hypocritical speakers as “propped-up wooden logs” is a nice image. (4)

Surah 65: “You do not know, Allah may perhaps bring about something new after that.” (1) I wonder if this implies that “the bounds of Allah” might be further elaborated upon beyond what Muhammad is receiving. Maybe this is only talking about babies.

Surah 67: The challenge to fix my gaze upon creation repeatedly to see if I might discern a crack or two is rather cool. (1-2)

Surah 68: Oh God, let me not be mad.

Surah 71: In the Noah account, drowning in water followed by burning in fire is a strange image. I’m noting too Noah’s personal prayer for the destruction of unbelievers. (25-26)

Surah 73: What’s up with the wrapping? (1)

Surah 74: The problematizing of prayer bereft of charity toward the destitute is good to see. (43-44)

Surah 75: I wonder if this is spoken in response to disgruntled members of the community who’ve come to expect a more immediate manifestation of resurrection. I wonder if the deferral of the Day of Decision calls into question to their minds, Muhammad’s legitimacy.

Surah 81: This is just a reminder for those of you who want moral reform, but you can’t want it unless Allah wants you to want it. Deafening rhetoric indeed.

Surah 83: Is the Underworld a book inscribed? (8-9) The Higher World too? (19-20)

Surah 88: Muhammad remembers (or is made to remember) that he is a mere exhorter (not called to dominate). (21-22)

Surah 90: Someone sees you squandering when you’re squandering. Always.

Surah 91: I recall the business with the she-camel appearing earlier on. (13-14)

Surah 95: Do I deny the righteous judgment? Am I denying it now?

Surah 50: The “Night of Power” is, I take it, the occasion of the descent of the recitation. (1-4) Is it one evening of revelation or does it refer to a number of them?

Surah 99: An atom’s weight of good will redeem. An atom’s weight of evil will bring reckoning. Wow.

Surah 100: The information comes.

Surah 107: Sounds about right to me.

Surah 114: “The slinking whisperer.” Well-rendered