Saturday, December 22, 2012

ARQ Project: Surah aale-Imran

Or, The Family of Imran

Imran is the Qur'anic name for Aaron. I assume that that's how Aaron translates into Arabic. I remember reading in an article somewhere, the point of which was pointing out fallacies or errors in the Qur'an that the Qur'an lists Mary as the daughter of Aaron, brother of Moses and of course that's impossible given the span between the time of Moses and the time of Jesus. And I thought, okay, point, but I think that somewhere along the line people would have realized this and it would have been a bigger issue in the Islamic communities than it is. So there has to be an explanation for it that fits within the Islamic framework.

And I recall reading somewhere else (I read a lot, okay?) that there are two Imran's in the Qur'an. Imran the *ancestor* of Mary, referring to Moses' brother, and Imran the *father* of Mary who was a descendant of the other Imran. Which made sense to me. How many people have the same names in the Bible? A metric ton. And we know that people are named all the time after ancestors, especially famous or important ones. Got it. No problem, moving on.

Then the other day I was channel surfing and happened across the Catholic radio station during a call-in show they have. The question I happened into was about the genealogies of Jesus at the beginnings of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and how they're different. Not only different, but they skip generations too. The question was how could they do that and (of course) why the genealogies traced Jesus' line back to two different sons of David. The interesting bit for me though was that the speaker said that there is no word for 'grand-' in Hebrew. Or at least ancient Hebrew. I don't know if that's changed, I don't speak any kind of Hebrew. Moving on. So a person could be accurately referred to as the 'son/daughter of' X as long as that person was actually in their ancestry. So I could refer to myself as the daughter of Joseph and it would be accurate, as would referring to myself as the daughter of Bertha or the daughter of Gustav and on and on even though none of these people are my mother or father in the sense that we think, rather they're my ancestors. Got it? Good.

The Biblical canon that we have today doesn't say much about Mary the mother of Jesus or her parents. We only even have names for them based on tradition and non-canonical works, so the story in the Qur'an about Mary's childhood is likely very unfamiliar to a good portion of Christianity in the west. However, it actually fits well with the non-canonical text the Protoevangelium of James which was written about 150 C.E. but the stories it tells are believed to have been in circulation before that, of course. Go read that really briefly and then come back and read the Qur'anic version. I'll wait. Go on.

(Note: I'm being lazy and copying this text from Qur'an Explorer, using the Pickthal translation - it's a long section so this translation is not actually the one I've been reading.)

(34) (Remember) when the wife of 'Imran said: My Lord! I have vowed unto Thee that which is in my belly as a consecrated (offering). Accept it from me. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower! (35) And when she was delivered she said: My Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female - Allah knew best of what she was delivered - the male is not as the female; and lo! I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast. (36) And her Lord accepted her with full acceptance and vouchsafed to her a goodly growth; and made Zachariah her guardian. Whenever Zachariah went into the sanctuary where she was, he found that she had food. He said: O Mary! Whence cometh unto thee this (food)? She answered: It is from Allah. Allah giveth without stint to whom He will. (37) Then Zachariah prayed unto his Lord and said: My Lord! Bestow upon me of Thy bounty goodly offspring. Lo! Thou art the Hearer of Prayer. (38) And the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah giveth thee glad tidings of (a son whose name is) John, (who cometh) to confirm a word from Allah lordly, chaste, a prophet of the righteous. (39) He said: My Lord! How can I have a son when age hath overtaken me already and my wife is barren? (The angel) answered: So (it will be). Allah doeth what He will. (40) He said: My Lord! Appoint a token for me. (The angel) said: The token unto thee (shall be) that thou shalt not speak unto mankind three days except by signs. Remember thy Lord much, and praise (Him) in the early hours of night and morning. (41) And when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah hath chosen thee and made thee pure, and hath preferred thee above (all) the women of creation. (42) O Mary! Be obedient to thy Lord, prostrate thyself and bow with those who bow (in worship). (43) This is of the tidings of things hidden. We reveal it unto thee (Muhammad). Thou wast not present with them when they threw their pens (to know) which of them should be the guardian of Mary, nor wast thou present with them when they quarrelled (thereupon). (44) (And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto Allah). (45) He will speak unto mankind in his cradle and in his manhood, and he is of the righteous. (46) She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal hath touched me? He said: So (it will be). Allah createth what He will. If He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. (47) And He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel, (48) And will make him a messenger unto the Children of Israel, (saying): Lo! I come unto you with a sign from your Lord. Lo! I fashion for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it and it is a bird, by Allah's leave. I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead, by Allah's leave. And I announce unto you what ye eat and what ye store up in your houses. Lo! herein verily is a portent for you, if ye are to be believers. (49) And (I come) confirming that which was before me of the Torah, and to make lawful some of that which was forbidden unto you. I come unto you with a sign from your Lord, so keep your duty to Allah and obey me. (50) Lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path. (51) But when Jesus became conscious of their disbelief, he cried: Who will be my helpers in the cause of Allah? The disciples said: We will be Allah's helpers. We believe in Allah, and bear thou witness that we have surrendered (unto Him).

A couple of things I want to touch on, apart from the way this story syncs with the Protoevanglium of James which is, while not canon, accepted as true by Catholics and Orthodox (whether many of them realize it or not). First, in ayah 48 above, there is a reference to Jesus creating a bird out of clay and then breathing life into it. Another story not found in the Bible but found in a non-canonical text, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. This text, in contrast to the Protoevanglium, is not accepted as having any value in Christian circles - most likely having to do with (aside from it's Gnostic leanings) Jesus killing several people in it in angry fits. The other thing is just a bit that I find personally odd. Towards the end the selection above goes from the angel telling Mary what Jesus is going to do and transitions right into Jesus' reaction to things without there being an actual *transition*. 

Since the last post, where sanil suggested that whatever story the surah is named after might be the ultimate example of the point of the surah, I've decided to pay attention and see if this plays out. I think it might in this one. The main story is that of the family of Imran, of Mary and Jesus' birth and much of the rest of the surah is taken up with talking about people who take the Book (Torah, Injeel (Gospel) and Qur'an) and twist it or add to it and there are references to the fact that no prophet would tell his followers to worship him or angels or anything other than God which is what, from the Islamic perspective, Christians do.

9 comments:

  1. Yay, a new post in this series! I'll be back to savor it later. :)

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  2. I like reading your thoughts especially since you know all these other bits from the Church that I'm not familiar with. Good stuff, Teacher! That was really interesting!

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    1. My brain: full of random esoterica you never knew you needed to know. :)

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  3. Yes, fascinating and informative. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you! I hope my ramblings continue to amuse, if nothing else. :)

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  4. Merry Christmas Miss Amber.

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    1. A belated Merry Christmas to you! :D

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  5. I like that you gave us homework in this post. :D It makes me feel like I'm all involved, like I'm in school again. I miss school.

    This was very interesting, especially the similarities you pointed out between the extra-biblical Christian tradition and the Quran version.

    The criticism you mentioned reading, that Mary being called the daughter of Aaron invalidates the whole thing, just blows my mind. It sounds like the person was just looking for excuses to call the Quran a lie, and I wonder if they would apply the same standard to the Bible and other writings. Probably not.

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    1. :D Maybe I'll try and remember to ask questions at the end of these posts. Get people to be more interactive. *pokes you all*

      Those extra-Biblical works were definitely in circulation at the time that Mohammed lived and even though they weren't in the official canon they still enjoyed a popularity, and in the case of the Protoevangelium, a sense of authority.

      That criticism was definitely a Christian based article aimed at proving how terrible Islam was. I sincerely doubt that they would apply the same standards to any Christian or Biblical text that lined up with their beliefs.

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