Thursday, January 10, 2013

ARQ Project: Surah al-Ma'ida

Because I'm lazy, all quotes from the Qur'an will, from now on, be taken from I'm using the Pickthall translation there because it seems to be closest to the hard copy translation I'm reading.

Right. At first I thought that the name of this surah was a reference to the food laws in Islam in general, since there seems to be a lot of mention of food that is okay in this surah. I was wrong about that, but we'll get to that later.

1. O ye who believe! Fulfil your indentures. The beast of cattle is made lawful unto you (for food) except that which is announced unto you (herein), game being unlawful when ye are on the pilgrimage. Lo! Allah ordaineth that which pleaseth Him.

So cattle (beef) is okay. Mmm...steak. 

But when Muslims are on their pilgrimage (hajj and I'm assuming that umrah is included in this proscription, but I could be wrong here) they're forbidden from hunting within the 'sacred territory'. I'm not sure how far that extends, actually? The city of Mecca? Not much hunting there nowadays anyway, I would think.

3. Forbidden unto you (for food) are carrion and blood and swineflesh, and that which hath been dedicated unto any other than Allah, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which hath been killed by (the goring of) horns, and the devoured of wild beasts, saving that which ye make lawful (by the death-stroke), and that which hath been immolated unto idols. And (forbidden is it) that ye swear by the divining arrows. This is an abomination. This day are those who disbelieve in despair of (ever harming) your religion; so fear them not, fear Me! This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al-Islam. Whoso is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin: (for him) lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Some no-no's for food: carrion (which, really, unless you're *starving*, how many of you are planning on eating roadkill? Or something that's half-eaten by wild animals? this one just seems like a health related proscription), blood (meh. I'm not saying we should all be *vampires* or anything, but I don't understand the specific injunction against blood here) and swineflesh which, as I think we all know, means no pork. And that's really a very hard thing to give up in the South. I'm just throwing that out there. We like to eat our pork. Historically though, this does make sense even aside from it being something carried over from the Mosaic Law. Pork is one of those meats that has to be stored and cooked carefully in order to prevent brain worms.

No really. 

Brain. Worms.

They eat holes through your brain. Go look it up, but I warn you the images are disturbing.


And yet I still like to eat pork. Because Southern.

A few more don'ts: don't eat anything that's been sacrificed/dedicated to another god - I believe this one is also a law in Judaism, strangled or dead through beating - not sure about these - an attempt to make sure that the animals are killed humanely perhaps? The 'devoured by wild beasts' and 'immolated unto idols' seem sort of repetitious of the first injunctions to me.

There is a provision, there at the end, for Muslims who are forced through necessity to consume something that is otherwise forbidden. So that's nice. You don't have to starve if the only thing available is pork.

But you do have to worry about BRAIN WORMS.

There're more ayah about food, but it gets sort of boring to talk about food all the time. So we're moving on. Watch us. Moving on.

5. This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who received the Scripture before you (lawful for you) when ye give them their marriage portions and live with them in honour, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines. Whoso denieth the faith, his work is vain and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter.

Not talking about the food, though I assume that this means that Muslims are permitted to eat the food of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) as long as it's not something explicitly prohibited to them. Like pork (in all its wormy goodness).

But what I wanted to talk about in this surah is how the women (virtuous) of the People of the Book are lawful as spouses to Muslim men without having to convert to Islam. This passage, from what I understand, is what people use to justify mixed faith marriages but only when it is the woman who is a Jew or a Christian and not the man. Because...patriarchy? It just strikes me as strange because any study you look at will tell you that it is the faith of the mother that has the greatest impact on the children in a relationship. So if the idea is to make sure that any children are Muslim it's sort of missing the point. Admittedly these are modern studies so perhaps they don't reflect how it worked historically.

6. O ye who believe! When ye rise up for prayer, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. And if ye are unclean, purify yourselves. And if ye are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have had contact with women, and ye find not water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it. Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks.

Instructions for becoming ritually pure prior to prayer. I'm thinking that 'from the closet' is a euphemism for using the bathroom. And I'm assuming that 'contact with women' does not mean 'Ooops. I brushed up against a girl passing by. COOTIES!' and that it means sex. And you should totally always bathe after sex. Because, assuming you're doing it right, you're going to be a little stinky. And if you're not stinky, then you're doing it wrong. Which is sad.

18. The Jews and Christians say: We are sons of Allah and His loved ones. Say: Why then doth He chastise you for your sins? Nay, ye are but mortals of His creating. He forgiveth whom He will, and chastiseth whom He will. Allah's is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, and unto Him is the journeying.

I read this as a misunderstanding of the meaning of 'sons' in this case. Because let's sit back and think about this for a second. The ayah is essentially saying: 'The Jews and the Christians claim to be the sons and the beloved of God. But then why is God punishing you for your sins? You're just humans!' Which seems to say, at least to me, that the understanding of 'son' here is that Jews and Christians are claiming to be divine in some way. And that's just not the case. 'Sons' and 'daughters' are the closest approximations in human understanding that we can come to our relationship with God. Beloved, *adopted* children. Don't you discipline your children? Assuming you have any. Or your nieces or nephews or any other child you have had recourse to care for? Of course you do. Letting them run wild and do what they want is a sure path to disaster because their immature little brains don't have all the facts. They can't even process them the way an adult brain does.

20. And (remember) when Moses said unto his people: O my people! Remember Allah's favour unto you, how He placed among you prophets, and He made you kings, and gave you that (which) He gave not to any (other) of (His) creatures.

21. O my people! Go into the holy land which Allah hath ordained for you. Turn not in flight, for surely ye turn back as losers:

22. They said: O Moses! Lo! a giant people (dwell) therein and lo! we go not in till they go forth from thence. When they go forth from thence, then we will enter (not till then).

23. Then out spake two of those who feared (their Lord, men) unto whom Allah had been gracious: Enter in upon them by the gate, for if ye enter by it, lo! ye will be victorious. So put your trust (in Allah) if ye are indeed believers.

24. They said: O Moses! We will never enter (the land) while they are in it. So go thou and thy Lord and fight! We will sit here.

25. He said: My Lord! I have control of none but myself and my brother, so distinguish between us and the wrong-doing folk.

26. (Their Lord) said: For this the land will surely be forbidden them for forty years that they will wander in the earth, bewildered. So grieve not over the wrongdoing folk.

From what I recall (I'm not of the 'memorize scripture' tradition unlike some people I know...Susanne!) this is fairly consistent with the story of the same events in the Old Testament.

33. The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom;

Is there evidence for crucifixion as a punishment in the ancient Middle East? I've been under the impression that it was a strictly Roman form of execution.

89. Allah will not take you to task for that which is unintentional in your oaths, but He will take you to task for the oaths which ye swear in earnest. The expiation thereof is the feeding of ten of the needy with the average of that wherewith ye feed your own folk, or the clothing of them, or the liberation of a slave, and for him who findeth not (the wherewithal to do so) then a three days' fast. This is the expiation of your oaths when ye have sworn; and keep your oaths. Thus Allah expoundeth unto you His revelations in order that ye may give thanks.

I'm wondering exactly what the first line means. I'm reading it as God won't hold you to...I think the nearest description I can get is surprised exclamations. Like...'I swear to God if this machine doesn't work I'm going to chuck it in the pond!' You don't *really* mean it, have no intention of chucking anything in the pond, you're just frustrated. As opposed to 'I swear by God I will donate X number of baby blankets to the shelter.' and then you don't follow through with it or never had any intentions to follow through with it and just said it to look good.

Which is sort of in contrast to what we were taught in RCIA. We were taught to never, ever use God's name in an oath even if it's a ridiculous one like shoving the copier into the pond.

101. O ye who believe! Ask not of things which, if they were made (known) unto you, would trouble you; but if ye ask of them when the Qur'an is being revealed, they will be made known unto you. Allah pardoneth this, for Allah is Forgiving, Clement.

First, I totally interjected that 'known' in parenthesis up there. Because it's not in the copy on the internet but it's in other translations and it makes sense. So. 

I don't agree with this one! Just because something might trouble you doesn't mean you shouldn't ask about it. How're you supposed to know what will trouble you until you ask anyway? I just don't like it. Don't agree with it. It's counter to the purpose of gathering knowledge and I don't agree.

Here's where the actual reason behind the title of this surah comes in:

112. When the disciples said: O Jesus, son of Mary! Is thy Lord able to send down for us a table spread with food from heaven? He said: Observe your duty to Allah, if ye are true believers.

113. (They said:) We wish to eat thereof, that we may satisfy our hearts and know that thou hast spoken truth to us, and that thereof we may be witnesses.

114. Jesus, son of Mary, said: O Allah, Lord of us! Send down for us a table spread with food from heaven, that it may be a feast for us, for the first of us and for the last of us, and a sign from Thee. Give us sustenance, for Thou art the Best of Sustainers.

115. Allah said: Lo! I send it down for you. And whoso disbelieveth of you afterward, him surely will I punish with a punishment wherewith I have not punished any of (My) creatures.

Irreverent as it may be, this is what came to my mind when I read this:

Only, you know, without the ham. And Jesus was there doing a magician style Ta-Dah! reveal.
I don't know, there's just something about the disciples asking for a table full of food as a proving miracle that sits oddly with me. You've seen the man heal the blind! Cast out demons! Make the paralyzed walk! But none of that is proof. You know what *is* proof? A nicely set table. *does magician assistant pose*

116. And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy Mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower of Things Hidden?

Personal pet peeve time.

Look. NO ONE worships Mary as a god(dess). No one who calls themselves a Christian anyway. And yes, Orthodox and Catholics *are* Christian. This is just...this is just one of those things that makes me sit back and go, 'Wow. You totally misunderstood what was going on right there. Totally.' There's not even anything to say to this but, 'No, you're wrong.'


  1. "'Ooops. I brushed up against a girl passing by. COOTIES!' and that it means sex. And you should totally always bathe after sex. Because, assuming you're doing it right, you're going to be a little stinky. And if you're not stinky, then you're doing it wrong. Which is sad."

    This is my favorite thing you've ever written. I almost spit my salad out LOL Fun fact its actually super healthy to shower before and after sex due to how the female anatomy is constructed. Cuts down on icky infections >_< and itching. Ick. I always wondered if somehow the Muslims knew this. Japanese have done this practice forever as well.

    1. :D

      I actually do my best not to think too hard about the mechanics of sex. Because if I do, if I start to think about the fact that the organ people use to eliminate waste from their body is *entering* my body... >_< well. I'd just never have sex again.

  2. 18 -- interesting thoughts; do you really believe the Jews and Christians were claiming divinity somehow?

    33 -- maybe the Muslims adopted crucifixion from the Romans

    89 -- Muslims use "inshallah" (God willing) as common speech these days. I've heard people say they will say "God willing" even when they mean "no." They just don't like to flat out say "no" so they use God's willingness (or lack thereof) as a way to get out of things. I wonder if it has anything to do with that mindset.

    101 -- it sounds like we were born hundreds of years too late to question! Did I understand it correctly to say that we could question IF the Quran were still in its revelation stage? Like God was holding a Q&A back then and now we cannot question because the Quran is set in stone, and God won't answer questions any more?

    115 -- haha...great picture! And, hey, they say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. So maybe a table full of food is way more convincing than blind seeing and deaf hearing.

    116 -- that's where I'm glad I've had Catholic friends to ask about their devotion to Mary because a friend explained it to me once and I was like 'Oh, that makes more sense.'

    Great post!

    1. 18 - No, I don't. Did it sound like I did? What I meant was that the Muslims/author of the Qur'an were hearing Jews and Christians refer to themselves as the sons/daughters of God and misunderstanding what was meant. Not that I know everything, of course, but I'm not aware of any Christian sect in Mohammed's time or before that believed that they were literally the children of God.

      33 - Maybe. I'd just never heard of it in connection with another culture. But it's not like I've made a habit of studying execution methods so it could well be.

      89 - I always took 'inshallah' to be used more like people use 'Lord willing' around here. You know, there's an intent to do whatever is being discussed but things happen that are out of our control so it's really all up to God whether it happens or not.

      101 - Yeah, that's the way I read it too. 'Don't ask about things that might trouble/confuse you, but if the Qur'an is still being revealed, ask and we'll give you an answer.' So we lucked out Susanne! And...I'm still going to ask questions that probably trouble me. It's my nature.

      115 - they say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach in which case this is more proof that women should be running the world because hey, I make a table full of food appear at least once a day. So I'm freaking magical. I have yet to exorcise any demons or bring anyone back from the dead. Which is maybe why that's a little more impressive to me.

      Seriously, I have this mental image of the disciples asking for a table full of food to appear and Jesus sort of giving them the 'REALLY?' look. Like this: o.0 but then going, 'Okay, sure. Turn around.' and then when they do, running to the kitchen, having a quick laugh with the Mary's and then them all setting a table really quickly. Then Jesus tells them to turn back around and they see all this food that has 'miraculously' appeared and are like...'WOW! Truly, you're a prophet from God! For you have made food appear! On a table!' and later Jesus explains to Mary Magdalene that this is why he's leaving her in charge. Because the boys have been out in the sun too long.

      116 - :)

  3. 18 - ah, OK! I see what you mean. THEY misinterpreted the sons/daughters thing. I remember when I told my Muslim friend that being a child of God would be better, and he insisted that being God's slave was a closer relationship. My reply: in what world?!

    89 - no, I think *some* people use "inshallah" even if they have NO INTENTION of doing what they do. I read that to Samer and he didn't dispute me. I just strongly have gotten this impression, but I might have misread it. We should ask Malik!

    115 - that made me laugh!!! :D

    1. 18 - Yep. That's what I meant, sorry! I can't wrap my head around that either, to be honest. The idea of a slave being closer to their master than the child of that master just...doesn't click, you know?

      89 - So given Malik's answer, I think we can say that some people *do* use it the way you're saying, but it's a misuse of the term.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...