Thursday, January 17, 2013

ARQ Project: Surah al-A'raaf

aka: The Heights

11. And We created you, then fashioned you, then told the angels: Fall ye prostrate before Adam! And they fell prostrate, all save Iblis, who was not of those who make prostration.

Every time I come across this it bothers me. Just a little niggle, mind you. Iblis (aka Satan) is in Islamic theology a jinn. Jinn are a third race of sentient beings that God created, from what I understand. You've got angels, jinn and humans. Angels, again from my understanding of Islamic theology, lack free will. They do only what God tells them and nothing else. Like winged robots. Jinn are made out of 'smokeless fire' and have free will. So there are good jinn and there are bad jinn. Humans, well. We know about humans. So I'm told that Iblis is a jinn who was so good, or so beloved by God, that he was allowed to hang out up in heaven with the angels. But he was never *actually* an angel because if he was then he wouldn't have been able to disobey God when God ordered the angels to bow to Adam. Fine. Got that. But, and this is probably a translation issue, this ayah above makes it sound like Iblis is an angel. And that annoys me since he's not supposed to be one.

19. And (unto man): O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden and eat from whence ye will, but come not nigh this tree lest ye become wrong-doers.

I can't recall if it's recounted in a later surah, but so far there's no account of Adam's wife being created. Unless it's the plural, universal 'you' being used up in ayah 11, in which case 'created you'...etc. could be taken to reference Adam and Eve/Hawa. But in that case, I have another annoyance where the angels are specifically told to bow down to *Adam* and not to both of them.

And can we all take a second to appreciate the silliness of putting a tree like that in the middle of the Garden and then telling them not to touch it? Unless, of course, you intended to have your handy dandy 'adversary' figure come along and point it out to them so they could eat it. Which is not, of course, a problem specific to Islam but to the entire creation story as it stands. It's basically God going, 'Big, shiny red button. DON'T TOUCH IT! Even though I made you with an almost irresistible impulse to push shiny red buttons.'

20. Then Satan whispered to them that he might manifest unto them that which was hidden from them of their shame, and he said: Your Lord forbade you from this tree only lest ye should become angels or become of the immortals.

Part of what I like about Islam's version of this story over the Jewish/Christian version: It's both Adam and Eve who are tempted by Satan. Not just Eve so that all the blame gets placed on her by her spineless husband later. Nope. Equal shiny red button  guilt!

22. Thus did he lead them on with guile. And when they tasted of the tree their shame was manifest to them and they began to hide (by heaping) on themselves some of the leaves of the Garden. And their Lord called them, (saying): Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you: Lo! Satan is an open enemy to you? 

When did he tell them Iblis was a bad one? I reread the surah from the beginning and there's no mention of God going, 'Oh, by the by. Iblis? Shape shifting, sometimes invisible guy made of smokeless fire? Yeah. Don't trust him. He's shifty as fuck.' I'm just...look. We get the warning about the tree recorded but we don't get the warning about Iblis? Sure, *we* know he's shifty as fuck from reading the whole Iblis-God interaction from before and maybe Adam remembers him as that guy who refused to bow down but maybe not. Things were happening, it was all sort of crazy with the just being created and the shining glory of God and his angels and let's be honest, Adam was a little distracted. 

40. Lo! they who deny Our revelations and scorn them, for them the gates of heaven will nor be opened not will they enter the Garden until the camel goeth through the needle's eye. Thus do We requite the guilty.

Hmm...camel's and needles. Reminds me of something.

Matthew 19:24 - Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Two totally different meanings, aside from it being two different issues, as it were. In the ayah above, people who deny the revelation of God (the Qur'an) will never be able to enter heaven until a camel goes through the eye of a needle. In the verse from Matthew, a camel going through the eye of a needle (an impossible thing) is easier than a rich man (with all his attachments to the world and his goods/money/etc.) getting into heaven. Maybe it's just my reading, but it seems to me that the verse from the Gospel offers hope - a rich man can humble himself, give up his excess and help his fellow man, thereby becoming someone who can enter into heaven. In the ayah from the Qur'an, until that camel fits through that needles' eye, those deniers aren't getting into heaven.

44. And the dwellers of the Garden cry unto the dwellers of the Fire: We have found that which our Lord promised us (to be) the Truth. Have ye (too) found that which your Lord promised the Truth? They say: Yea, verily. And a crier in between them crieth: The curse of Allah is on evil-doers,

I know that this is not meant to be a literal scene, but the whole almost taunting of the people in paradise to the people in the hellfire doesn't sit well with me. It's like the descriptions I've heard from some Christians about how they'll watch all the sinners burning and laugh from their fluffy clouds in heaven. That's not nice. It's not Christian and it's another instance where I have to go, 'Well if that's heaven then I'm not interested.'

46. Between them is a veil. And on the Heights are men who know them all by their marks. And they call unto the dwellers of the Garden: Peace be unto you! They enter it not although they hope (to enter).

What are these 'heights' supposed to be? And who are the men standing on them? I don't understand this part at all.

124. Surely I shall have your hands and feet cut off upon alternate sides. Then I shall crucify you every one.

The above ayah is said by Pharoah to the Egyptian magicians after they've been so impressed by Moses' magic/miracles that they begin to worship Moses' God. We remember me asking in an earlier surah if there was evidence of crucifixion as a punishment in other cultures aside from the Romans, yes? Well I've since spoken to Professor Google and according to several articles I've read it was a form of execution in many ancient cultures though the form of the 'cross' was not always the shape that we now associate it with.

But, with this, I reserve the right to be wrong if Google has lied to me. 


  1. I always like the questions you raise and points you make. I wish I had the answers. Too bad Malik is in Jordan right now with limited internet access!

    1. Yeah. I (well, someone asked for me) asked the question about who the people on the heights were and I got an answer that I don't understand so I'm waiting for clarification on what they meant.

  2. My Thoughts Exactly: 'Big, shiny red button. DON'T TOUCH IT! Even though I made you with an almost irresistible impulse to push shiny red buttons.'

    1. Everybody knows we love shiny red buttons. Everybody. Especially ones that say 'DO NOT PUSH'.

  3. I'm not sure what the Qur'an says about this, but it always bothered me, that the Bible says that before the fall, they didn't know the difference between good and evil. If you don't know the difference between good and evil, how can you know that it's wrong to eat of the tree, even if God has told you not to?

    1. I'm not sure what the Qur'an says about their awareness of the difference between good and evil either. I get the impression that it's similar to the Biblical narrative in that Adam and Eve are 'pure' and unaware of evil before they eat the fruit but I could be wrong.

      This whole scenario is why I have trouble accepting the devil as an evil figure. He makes far more sense as a guy doing a job to me. Humanity, represented in Adam and Eve, were created with free will in this scenario, right? But how can you exercise that will if you have no idea that there are choices? If all you have is the all powerful entity that created you telling you to do this or not do that then you have no thought of choosing differently because you don't know that you *can* choose. The devil had to come along and say, 'Well sure, yes, he told you not to eat. But you *could* eat it anyway. You can do that.'


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