Friday, 26 December 2014

Quranic treasures

“God’s working in [Non-Christians] tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying towards God. [...] The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs."
Inspired by the above words by Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium (254), I set out to read the Sahih International translation of the text, with the exception of a couple of cases, where I found it to be too terse as compared with other translations, to the point of obscuring elements that are spelled out in other variants and that in the Sahih International text would require more extensive passages for the same nuances to become clear from context. In these, exceptional cases, I used the Muhsin Khan or Yusuf Ali translations, all available at Quran.com. Finally, the chosen verses will be presented mostly in the order in which they appear in the Quran, which is also the order in which the prophet Mohamed recorded them.

While much of the Quran painstakingly distinguishes between believers and unbelievers, there are several passages where God's (Allah's) discretion in how they are treated is emphasized, as is universal access to what is good:
"Allah selects for His mercy whom He wills, and Allah is the possessor of great bounty." (2:105)

"To Allah belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path." (2:143)

"Who, when disaster strikes them, say, "Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return." Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided." (2:156-157)

"He gives wisdom to whom He wills, and whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given much good. And none will remember except those of understanding." (2:269)

"Not upon you, [O Muhammad], is [responsibility for] their guidance, but Allah guides whom He wills. And whatever good you [believers] spend is for yourselves, and you do not spend except seeking the countenance of Allah . And whatever you spend of good - it will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged." (2:272)

"Do you not know that to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth? He punishes whom He wills and forgives whom He wills, and Allah is over all things competent." (5:40))

"And Allah invites to the Home of Peace and guides whom He wills to a straight path. For them who have done good is the best [reward] and extra. No darkness will cover their faces, nor humiliation. Those are companions of Paradise; they will abide therein eternally." (10:25-26)

"Is the reward for good [anything] but good?" (55:60)
The Quran also emphasizes the importance of orthopraxy in the form of generosity with those in need (including alms giving - zakah), of acceptance of hardship in ones own case and of doing these without fanfare:
"Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous." (2:177)

"If you disclose your charitable expenditures, they are good; but if you conceal them and give them to the poor, it is better for you, and He will remove from you some of your misdeeds [thereby]. And Allah, with what you do, is [fully] Acquainted." (2:271)

"Have We not made for him two eyes?
And a tongue and two lips?
And have shown him the two ways?
But he has not broken through the difficult pass.
And what can make you know what is [breaking through] the difficult pass?
Or feeding on a day of severe hunger
An orphan of near relationship
Or a needy person in misery." (90:8-16)
There is also mention of religious freedom:
"There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong." (2:256)
And kindness and forgiveness are elevated even above the frequently praised forms of charity:
"Kind speech and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. And Allah is Free of need and Forbearing." (2:263)
The supremacy of good deeds, without qualification as to who performs them, is also presented in the Quran:
"Indeed, Allah does not do injustice, [even] as much as an atom's weight; while if there is a good deed, He multiplies it and gives from Himself a great reward." (4:40)
And generosity, independently of who it is directed at, is also called for:
"And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with one better than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner]. Indeed, Allah is ever, over all things, an Accountant." (4:86)
Such generosity, that rewards the good tenfold while punishing evil only commensurately, also extends to God's final judgment:
"Whoever comes [on the Day of Judgement] with a good deed will have ten times the like thereof [to his credit], and whoever comes with an evil deed will not be recompensed except the like thereof; and they will not be wronged." (6:160)

"Whoever comes [at Judgement] with a good deed will have better than it, and they, from the terror of that Day, will be safe." (27:89)
The Quran also calls for rational discourse, invitation instead of compulsion, and reason as leading to an understanding of God:
"Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided." (16:125)

"Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the [great] ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits people, and what Allah has sent down from the heavens of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and dispersing therein every [kind of] moving creature, and [His] directing of the winds and the clouds controlled between the heaven and the earth are signs for a people who use reason." (2:164)
Humility too is exhorted, in the face of the majesty of the universe:
"And do not walk upon the earth exultantly. Indeed, you will never tear the earth [apart], and you will never reach the mountains in height." (17:37)

"And do not turn your cheek [in contempt] toward people and do not walk through the earth exultantly. Indeed, Allah does not like everyone self-deluded and boastful." (31:18)
And diversity of race and culture is also attributed to God's greatness:
"And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge." (30:22)
The Quran also speaks vividly about gratitude towards ones parents:
"And We have enjoined upon man, to his parents, good treatment. His mother carried him with hardship and gave birth to him with hardship, and his gestation and weaning [period] is thirty months. [He grows] until, when he reaches maturity and reaches [the age of] forty years, he says, "My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to work righteousness of which You will approve and make righteous for me my offspring. Indeed, I have repented to You, and indeed, I am of the Muslims."" (46:15)
The greatness of God, at several extremes, is also presented clearly:
"He is the First (nothing is before Him) and the Last (nothing is after Him), the Most High (nothing is above Him) and the Most Near (nothing is nearer than Him). And He is the All-Knower of every thing." (57:3 Muhsin Khan)

"It is He who created the heavens and earth in six days and then established Himself above the Throne. He knows what penetrates into the earth and what emerges from it and what descends from the heaven and what ascends therein; and He is with you wherever you are. And Allah , of what you do, is Seeing" (57:4)
And God's presence among humans is made explicit:
"Seest thou not that Allah doth know (all) that is in the heavens and on earth? There is not a secret consultation between three, but He makes the fourth among them, - Nor between five but He makes the sixth,- nor between fewer nor more, but He is in their midst, wheresoever they be: In the end will He tell them the truth of their conduct, on the Day of Judgment. For Allah has full knowledge of all things." (58:7 Yusuf Ali)
The Quran also places God above all else:
"O you who have believed, let not your wealth and your children divert you from remembrance of Allah . And whoever does that - then those are the losers." (63:9)

"The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things),
Until ye visit the graves.
But nay, ye soon shall know (the reality)." (102:1-3 Yusuf Ali)

"Woe to every scorner and mocker
Who collects wealth and [continuously] counts it.
He thinks that his wealth will make him immortal.
No! He will surely be thrown into the Crusher." (104:1-4)

"And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah . Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing." (2:115)
And, finally, the Quran also has positive things to say about Jesus and the Gospel:
"And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous.

And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient." (5:46-47)
In spite of the severe caveats of the above first excursion into the Quran, I believe there is a clear shared basis both for journeying towards God and helping those in need in the here and now. This is not to deny the presence of significant challenges and concerns, but to point to a shared patch of common ground instead, on which we may seek to discover each other's shared humanity and thirst for God. Inshallah!