Monday, November 19, 2012

Day 19: Some of my favorite stories from Islam

Another Susanne topic!

Well, part of one. Susanne asked: "Your favorite Bible story, Quranic story, hadith, story from other religions. Least favorites. Hardest stuff to understand from each. Hardest things to give up if you converted to one or the other, etc."

And it's obviously more than one topic, but I thought I'd address a little bit of a few of them. Sort of.

So, Islam. Some of my favorite stories:

While not from either the Qur'an or the hadith (as far as I know - there are a lot of hadith, so I could be wrong here!), my absolute favorite story related to Islam is the story of Mohammed and Khadijah. Maybe it's the little girl in me who grew up with the idea that a prince was coming to rescue me someday, but there's something utterly dear and romantic to me in their relationship. I mean I understand that it's what's been related almost 2,000 years later, but it just seems so...not *perfect*, because no relationship is, but...lovely.

I don't think I really have a favorite story from the Qur'an itself. Though if I was forced to choose I think it would be the Qur'an's version of the sacrifice of Abraham. Mostly because, unlike the Biblical version, Ishmael shows awareness of what is happening and gives consent to being sacrificed. In the Bible it comes off as though Abraham dragged Isaac up to the top of a mountain and is going to kill him. Not that human sacrifice is a good thing, but at least in Ishmael's case he makes the decision himself rather than solely being a victim.

My favorite story from the hadith would be the story of Abraham and Ishmael's wives:

The Prophet (pbuh) continued: "After Ishmael's mother had died, Abraham came after Ishmael's marriage in order to see his family that he had left before but he did not find Ishmael there. When he asked Ishmael's wife about him, she replied: "He has gone in search of livelihood." Then he asked her about their way of living and their condition, and she replied, "We are living in misery; we are living in hardship and destitution,' complaining to him. He said: "When your husband returns, convey my salutations to him and tell him to change the threshold of the gate (of his house).'

"When Ishmael came, he seemed to have felt something unusual, so he asked his wife: 'Has anyone visited you?' she replied, 'Yes, an old man of such and such description came and asked me about you and I informed him and he asked about our state of living and I told him that we were living in a hardship and poverty.' On that Ishmael said: 'Did he advise you anything?' She said: 'Yes he told me to convey his salutation to you and to tell you to change the threshold of your gate.' Ishmael said: 'It was my father and he has ordered me to divorce you. Go back to your family.' so, Ishmael divorced her and married another woman from among them (Jurhum).

"Then Abraham stayed away from them for a period as long as Allah wished and called on them again but did not find Ishmael. So he came to Ishmael's wife and asked her about Ishmael. She said: 'he has gone in sof our livelihood.' Abraham asked her; 'how are you getting on?' asking her about their sustenance and living. she replied: 'we are prosperous and well off (we have everything in abundance).' then she thanked Allah. Abraham said: 'What kind of food do you eat?' she said: 'meat.' he said: 'what do you drink?' she said: 'water.' he said: 'O Allah! bless their meat and water.""

The Prophet (pbuh) added: "At that time they did not have grain, and if they had grain he would have also invoked Allah to bless it. If somebody has only these two things as his sustenance, his health and disposition will be badly affected unless he lives in Mecca."

The Prophet (pbuh) continued: "Then Abraham said to Ishmael's wife: 'When your husband comes give my regards to him and tell him that he should keep firm the threshold of his gate.' When Ishmael came back he asked his wife, 'did anyone call on you?' she replied: 'yes, a good looking old man came to me,' so she praised him and added: 'He asked about you and I informed him that we were in a good condition.' Ishmael asked her:' did he give you any piece of advice?' she said; 'yes, he told me to give his regards to you and ordered that you should keep firm the threshold of your gate.' on that Ishmael said: 'It was my father, and you are the threshold of the gate. He has ordered me to keep you with me.'

Sorry, I don't know what book of hadith this is from. :(

I actually, when I first learned of this hadith, had problems with it. Mostly because I had this impression of Abraham as a father who totally abandoned Ishmael and Hagar and then came by years later to rag on him for his choice of wives. However I understand the Islamic version of the story better now and I get that, at least from their perspective, Abraham didn't completely abandon them and then show up later. He spent time with Ishmael and there was every reason for him to respect his fathers' opinion. But that's not why I like it. Why I like it is because it touches on the concept (to me) of not gossiping, of not talking behind someone's back. And I think that that's very important.

Gossiping is just...terribly destructive. I hate it. It's so easy for people to hear wrong or to take what they hear and twist it and cause strife within any group. It serves no purpose at all except to cause harm. There is, of course, a difference between 'gossip' and warning people of danger, but I don't think that's necessary to get into right now.

I think I'll touch on other parts of the question tomorrow. It's almost time for me to go home and I don't think I'll have time to write on this any further tonight.


  1. Beautiful stories.
    My favorite Sura (chapter) in Quran is Yousef (Joseph).
    I am not sure how his story is told in the Bible.
    Believing that no one can do harm to us except by the well of Allah makes one feel stronger being protected by no one but Almighty Allah.
    There are many things one can benefit from his story.

    To think that at one point in his life he was abandoned in a well to become later the treasure of Egypt makes one always hopeful that no matter what the situation is there is always an exit.

    1. From what I recall the story of Joseph in the Bible is very similar to the way it is told in the Qur'an. I'm just going off of memory since I haven't read either of them recently, but the difference I remember is that in the Biblical version Abraham believes that Joseph has been killed while in the Qur'an he (from my recollection) doesn't quite fall for the lie.

      I agree it's a story that you can get a lot out of.

  2. I really dislike that story with the wives. :-/ Not for the reasons you did before, just the idea that if you have a bad day and let out some steam your in-laws might order your spouse to divorce you and they might do it. My mom doesn't like my husband because he's an atheist, and his mom thinks I'm lazy and that he should have married someone who would take care of him better. I can't help but identify a lot with that first wife and she was really unfairly treated. I mean, granted I'm probably taking it way too literally and the point is obviously to teach the lesson of being thankful for what you have instead of complaining about it, which is a good lesson in general. I don't think it's quite a good enough value that slipping up and breaking it one day (because from that story there's no indication he'd ever met her before and gave her a chance at all - it could be pure luck that the second wife was in a good mood on that day, and pure misfortune that the first wife was in a bad one), but it's a good message if I don't think about the specifics too much.

    I always thought Khadijah and Mohammad seemed to have a really strong and sweet relationship too. :) I don't know a lot about it, but I remember thinking when it came up in my class on Islam that their relationship was a good example of how marriage should be.

    1. Um. Yeah, I re-read that and realized I forgot words all over the place. Sorry about that, I have a headache and really should probably in bed, which I'll do after I wrap this up.

      *I can't help but identify a lot with that first wife and think that she was really unfairly treated.

      **I don't think it's quite a good enough value that slipping up and breaking it one day makes you a horrible person and means you deserve to lose your marriage and have your life uprooted

      Good night!

    2. I think maybe you being married and me being single might actually have something to do with your reaction vs. mine to this story. After all, you actually have to deal with the reality of in-laws that don't like you or don't like your husband. I don't.

      just the idea that if you have a bad day and let out some steam your in-laws might order your spouse to divorce you and they might do it.

      But I think that there are appropriate ways to let off steam after having a bad day and inappropriate ones. The first wife in this story, even if she was having a bad day, just trashed her husband ruthlessly to a complete stranger. She had no idea who the man at her door was. He could have been a potential client for her husband or someone of immense influence who could then spread about her terrible story and ruin Ishmael. Or he could have been her husband's father, like he was.

      Let me ask, if you're having trouble with Mr. Sanil (of whatever kind, everyone has their disagreements) and some random stranger asks you, 'So how're you doing?' do you then vent your spleen on them and tell them all about your private, personal problems? Or do you 'Oh, fine. You?' or maybe mention some small thing that's happened? Because that's what I do, as opposed to telling a complete stranger all about whatever tragedy is going on in my life.

      I reserve my venting to family or, if I need to vent about family, to my closest friends. People I know and know I can trust to not spread what I'm saying around.

      Honestly, no matter what angle I look at it from, the first Mrs. Ishmael did wrong. Was it worthy (if we're taking the story as a literal relation of events and not a myth or metaphor?) of being divorced? Ishmael thinks so in the story. Other (most modern at least) people might not have divorced their wives on the say so of their father. I don't know.

      I always thought Khadijah and Mohammad seemed to have a really strong and sweet relationship too. :) I don't know a lot about it, but I remember thinking when it came up in my class on Islam that their relationship was a good example of how marriage should be.

      Yep. From what I know theirs is one of those marriages where you just look at them and wish yours was that good. :)

    3. Hm. See, I don't think of it as her trashing Ishmael. She didn't say it was his fault, just that times were hard. So maybe I'm missing something cultural you understand better or something, like if they were having a hard time it must be because Ishmael was not doing a good job of supporting her. And no, I probably wouldn't complain to a stranger, but I also wouldn't open the door to speak to them in the first place. I'm not a very open person. But people I don't know well (or sometimes at all) complain to me about this sort of thing all the time, with the economy the way it is right now. I find it kind of weird but wouldn't judge them for it, and I think that's kind of where I am with the first wife here. I'm not saying she was right, just that sometimes people make mistakes when times are hard and I don't think they should be condemned for a moment of weakness.

    4. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, that's always a possibility. But, as far as I know, the responsibility of keeping the family 'above water' as it were fell entirely on the men in the time period and place we're talking about. So if she's complaining about the poor quality of food, lodging, etc. then she's saying that Ishmael is a poor provider.

  3. I didn't like the Abraham story either. I realize it is probably more of a metaphor, but reading it literally I just don't like a father having that kind of power. Or a husband. Poor women - always property at the whim of men.

    The Quran doesn't mention Ishmael OR Isaac as the son. I read that earlier Muslim scholars thought Isaac was the son Abraham was supposed to sacrifice (as per the Jewish sources). One of the most scholarly women I know on the subject of Islam has concluded it was Isaac. Still,I know that wasn't your point since you like the fact the son knew he was a sacrifice. And really if we use him as a type of Christ (which Christians do for Isaac), it makes sense that the son KNEW he was the sacrifice since we are told Jesus willingly gave up his life. It wasn't a surprise!

    I like the story of Muh and K, too. She seemed really powerful unlike how most women of that time are portrayed (e.g., Ishmael's wife who got canned because her FIL didn't like her.)

    I understand your dislike of gossip, but am not sure how the story of the two wives convey this. Because the first wife said she lived in misery, this was gossip? Maybe Ishmael was a horrible husband and her life WAS miserable! He divorced her pretty readily so he must have not treasured her. And, hey, Abraham asked! :)

    I enjoyed reading your answers. All those topics were just suggestions since you were looking for material for your November posts. :)

    1. The Quran doesn't mention Ishmael OR Isaac as the son. I read that earlier Muslim scholars thought Isaac was the son Abraham was supposed to sacrifice (as per the Jewish sources).

      True, the Qur'an doesn't name the son and it could well have been Isaac in both stories. I said Ishmael just because that's the common understanding of the story in Islam, as far as I'm aware. It doesn't change my point, as you said. :)

      I think it falls into gossip because she was complaining to a complete stranger about very personal things, things that would reflect poorly on her husband who she had no way of knowing if Abraham knew, didn't know, or would spread the stories around. But that's just my opinion, of course. :)

  4. Your post reminded me of a couple books I read last year. I believe they were by Jewish authors or referenced Jewish material. Anyway I recall Isaac being kind of an embarrassment to many Jews. They used this as proof of some sort (wish I could remember the details better). Isaac as portrayed in the Bible is *different.* If you were sharing the patriarchs of your faith would you readily include someone like him? His father Abraham has much written about him, and comes across as quite impressive to many. His son Jacob is, well, shoot! He is Israel! But Isaac?

    I'd never thought of it that way before, but it's true. What really wonderful thing is Isaac known for or portrayed doing?

    Embarrassment may be the wrong word, but it is how I remember it. Like Isaac was almost the redheaded stepson of Israelite history. Yet, you hear "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

    Not really related to your post, but just came to mind and I wanted to share... :D

    1. Heh. I guess that's true, there's not much written about Isaac. He's like a necessary step between the two men. Maybe they keep listing him because he was the promised child as opposed to Ishmael? And that's how they count their lineage. Through Isaac's offspring.

  5. That's an interesting story about Ishmael and his wives. This is really speculative, but I know the Old Testament talks a lot of marrying within the religion. Perhaps Ishmael's first wife was not of the faith and Abraham could see that, and attributed her being of another faith as the cause for their lack of prosperity. I'm not saying that excuses it, but it might explain it.

    As for gossip, I say it's social iocane powder: it's odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is one of the most deadly poisons known to man.

    1. That's a possibility I hadn't considered. Hmmm...

      I like your description of gossip! Very true!

  6. I remembered I compared the Joseph stories when I read the Quran. It was good to remember the similarities and differences. I think that was my favorite story in the Quran as it was the most complete.


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