Let's try it this way, at least to the point where I received the Asad. I'll repost my original post, include the comments received, and then add my own rethoughts in a further comment. (The originals will be posted as written, except for catching an occasional typo.)
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Exploring the Qur'an I:Suras 110-114
One thing about these short posts is that I get a chance to bring up some points in isolation. Thus, in Sura 114, "The Men" we get a mention of djinn, and in Sura 113, "The Daybreak" we hear of witchcraft. Now I'll have a lot to say about djinns as this goes on, but I don't believe there is any such thing. I certainly have no doubt that witchcraft does not exist, nor do I think many of you believe it does. (I specifically doubt that you believe there are people who can make a piece of knotted string and blow on it to bring evil on people as they mention their names -- the specific type of witchcraft mentioned according to Shakir and Palmer.)
And yet the verse is explicit, Allah is telling his messenger to say that he seeks God's protection against witchcraft, as against the darkness of night -- perhaps an eclipse -- and the envy of enviers. How can you accept this is direct from God and deny witchcraft, or vice versa?
Sura 112, "The Unity" just reaffirms the idea of monotheism. Except for the implied criticism of Christianity in 'he begets not' there is nothing much to say. On the other hand, Sura 111, "The Flame," requires comment.
Abu Lahab, Mohammed's Uncle, was, apparently, a loud-mouthed, hot-tempered jerk, from the description in the Wikipedia. (Anyone who has a better reference, for example from the hadiths, I'd appreciate it.) And he was certainly not a friend of his nephew's religion -- even though his sons married -- and divorced -- two of Mohammed's daighters. It is barely conceivable that a God would use him as an example, to make the point that even the nephew of his Messenger, with all his wealth, could not escape His wrath.
Except He didn't. In a book designed for the ages, for generations to come, there is no mention of who Abu Lahab is, or why he will perish and be condemned to the fire, or why his wife will wear a halter of palm fiber. (For that matter, I don't know, and saw no reference, what his WIFE did to deserve her punishment. All we are told is that she shall carry the wood for the fire. Which is confusing in itself, if eternal punishment is what is meant, and, again according to the Wikipedia, it must have been, because he died in a completely different way.) Certainly Mohammed knew who he was. He wouldn't have needed to explain, and probably his companions knew the story as well. But, we are told, it was not Mohammed who wrote this.
Why is there no explanation? There was no need to 'rush' the Qur'an. God had all the time in the world. And certainly the book has shown no fear of repetition to this point. One line, like "Say, O Mohammed, that your own Uncle, Abu Lahab ..." and "for neither his nearness nor his power nor his wealth could save him who ..."
(I'll ask the Muslims who read this and haven't already left in horror if they knew who Abu Lahab was.)
And then there is the description of the punishment. Perhaps it is the translation, but there is almost the sound of gloating in the description. (Again, understandable from the mouth of the jerk's nephew, but not from the mouth of God.)
Sura 110, "The Help" needs no commentary that I am capable of giving. Here I do request the help of an Arabic speaker. The (transliterated) Arabic, according to Yussuf Ali is "2. Waraayta alnnasa yadkhuloona fee deeni Allahi afwajan"
Ali translates the key word of people entering the religion as 'crowds.' The other translations use more military terms, Palmer and Pickthal using 'troops' and Shakir using 'companies.' Is there a military implication to the Arabic, or just a coincidence?
I had planned on doing 10 short Surahs tonight, but I'm not feeling that great and this has gotten long, like most of my posts. I'll sum it up, and if I am still awake later maybe do the next batch.
Is there any guidance for mankind in these Surahs? I have to say no, except for instructions to pray for forgiveness -- but for what is not said. Is there any ethical or moral principle yet. Again, not that i can see.
Ugliness is there, to my ears, in the tone of "The Flame," but perhaps I am too sensitive.
But the key to this batch is the mention of witchcraft and djinn. Again, the statement is unequivical, not poetic -- though I'd hardly expect a God to be demonstrating his poetical skills in this important a message -- and we'll come back to that. If God has written that his Messenger is to tell his hearers to take refuge in Him against witchcraft, can this be explained as anything but a statement that witchcraft exists.
there seems to be an inherent problem with your interpretation of the "translated" quran u r reading.
Anybody who tried to study comparitive litreature (let alone religion) will attest that the best you can get out of a translation is a vague idea of what the author intended to say. Yet you seem to be particulary concerned about elements of style, beauty, and language in your translation...it takes so much out of the meaning...
For example u r contemplating what does Afwaj mean..and u made a diversion into whether it has military implications....for an average arabic speaker like myself Afwaj means one thing: large groups of people...simply...not platoons, or companies, or crowds, or mobs...
so, my advice if u will continue with this project, is to really try to neutralize the language of translation as much as possible...and try to focus on the meaning....and even then you'll have a problem with words which carries multiple meanings in arabic (intended), but the translator chooses to include only one meaning...but these are not frequent..so u needn't worry about that
THAT is precisely why I asked. The four translations I have used different words. Three of them used terms with a slightly militaristic tone, the other did not. I was simply curious if the original did. Since you've straightened that out, then I have no comment on the Surah except to say it is a simple prayer and a nice one.
actually the term afwaj in arabic is mostly used with tourists....
seeing how some tourists behave (esp japaness)...I'd say that it probably has a militaristic meaning!! :)
(j/k by the way...just in case!)
DRIMA joined in
I agree with tomanbay regarding the translation... Jim, bro you have to understand that Arabic is known to be the richest language humanity has ever known. Many linguists support this fact. I congratulate you with what u are doin for it is truly wonderful. Finaly someone has time to look through the Quran before simply making sweeping statements about it.. Regarding the jinn and witchcraft, let me tell you even many Muslims sometimes doubt the witchcraft part. Even I used to ... I know it sounds absurd but bro nobody has solid proof they saw God. The pope can't say he saw God but yet many people believe he exists. That is what faith is all about ie. believing in something that you don't realy know but still have faith it exits.
I can confidently say I'm well-versed in terms of knowledge in the religion. Even though I am guess what, I still have doubts about a few issues but I never give up. I try to seek answers and understand, a process many Muslims don't do because they think creative and critical thinking in Islam will lead to un-Islamic things, which is completely untrue if done with the intention of truly understanding Allah's SWT message. What I'm trying to say is that believing in something doesn't happen overnight and it takes time. The problem with many Muslims today is that, they are simply fed information, told to accept it without questioning it and strictly to follow it.
So my friend things time to sink in. There are some Qurans containing translations and also the reasons for the revelation of each verse. It will help you understand the verses if you know which reason they were revealed for
Sorry it took a while to realize you had posted here and respond. I'll write more tomorrow, but I want to discuss the question of faith. It is not as benign as you seem to propose it is. To pick the most horrible example, the Statement that Hitler made that he 'represented the spirit of the Germanic people' was a statement that was accepted on faith and his commands were followed blindly until the doom set it. A less malevolent and specificly religious example might be Mormonism. The belief in teh existence of the bronze tablets translated by an angel is accepted on faith, yet to anyone whose eyes are not so blinded, the Book of Mormon appears to be what it is, an obvious attempt by a nineteenth century man to create a work of scripture using what he thought of as 'Biblical language.' (About one verse in every five begins 'And it came to pass...' for example.)
In the absence of solid evidence, faith may serve well, but it cannot act against the evidence. That is the basis OF critical thinking. Let me recommend to you the best article I've ever read on the subject, "A Field Guide To Critical Thinking."
You might enjoy it and find it interesting and useful.
And, as I've pointed out elsewhere -- and I am accepting, for this investigation, the Qur'an at 'face value' and not discussing the historical research done on it -- this idea of the 'purpose' of a specific verse does not make sense in the context of a 'great and final message to all of mankind.' Perhaps if it had 63,000 verses instead of 6,300, I could see the occasional specific reference to the 'then and there.' But it has less than one tenth of that, and I am seeing far too much being explained away as 'written for an occasion' and little if anything that is written 'for the ages.'
FAISAL included the following:
To comment on your post about the previous Surahs and individual verses within these Surahs.
As about the witchcraft, it was known that there were people who believed in witchcraft in Mohammed's time (before and afterwards as well). Apparently, one form of "casting" or whatever you wish to call it was this blowing on knots.
I think the verse just works to allay the fears and belief that people had towards this form of mysticism at that point in time... and until now!
As an Egyptian, let me tell you there are many, many Egyptian peasants who still believe in spirits and all that (both Muslim and Christian). It's something that they've inherited from generation upon generation dating back to Pharonic Egypt.
The thing is, I am told there is anothe meaning to the phrase, but my level of arabic and knowledge of Qur'an vocabulary isn't THAT extensive. I'll get back to you if I figure that out.
The Surah "The Unity" does in fact say that god has neither been born nor has he, for lack of a better encompassing translation, been involved in the process of giving birth to anyone, in any way. This, obviously, comes into conflict with the idea of The Trinity that is center to the believe of many Christian sects.
According to the Islamic Lore, Abu Lahab was a main instrument in the fight against Muhammed when he sought to propogate Islam in Mecca. The story, if you ask most Muslims, is known to them even though it refers to something that obviously occurs in the time of the Messenger Muhammed.
I don't see any sign of gloating in the punishment, when read in arabic. It is said matter of factly. Personally, and not lots of Muslims would agree with me, I think the "punishment" is metaphorical. I am one who believes that the after-life is not as "physical" or tangible as most believe it will be.
Furthermore, when read in Arabic, the use of language is important here. The first verse says: Damn Abu Lahab's hands and (a reaffirming of the damnation for which I cannot think of an English word, because of differences in grammer). The third verse says that he will experience, or will burn in, a fire with flames. The word Flames here, in Arabic, is Lahab. It also continues the ending of the verses with the second letter in the arabic alphabet (ba') [the phonetic equivalent of the letter B].
As to Surah 110, it is as Tomanbay mentioned, large groups of people is what is meant by afwag, or afwaj. The -an suffix is basically arabic conjugation. (Afwag or afwaj is how one would pronounce it colloquially)
There is definitely no military connotations to the verse, or the whole surah that I can see. In fact, I think this is one of those Surahs that is eternal in meaning, or that can hold importance long after the Prophet's death.
First of all, the name of the Surah should have been The Victory. Unless, again, my non-scholarly knowledge of Arabic doesn't allow me to see the different meanings... though I am 99.99% sure of this one. Any other meaning would have to be either archaic or too scholar-specific.
Getting back, I would translate it as: 1. If the victory and conquering of god comes. (This is my attempt at a word for word translation - the word conquering [Al-fath]) in arabic is actually the same word that is commonly used to refer to countries where Islam has entered. Since that occured, usually, with a military invasion (until very recently), the words have become interchangeable. I can't think of a specific Arabic word which translates directly into military conquest (without any religious overtones) at this point in time, but I'm almost definite one exists.
To continue; 2. And you see the people entering in the religion of God, in large groups.
Again, the meaning im getting is not only in large groups BUT, because of the plural form of the word, that it happens again and again, not one time.
3. Then praise your God's kindness/forgiveness and ask for forgiveness [for your sins], for he (since I'm forced to use a predicate, in Arabic, he doesnt imply gender nor, in fact, tangibility... just a reference to existence) is forgiving.
And that's about it.
I wouldnt say that the stress of these Surahs (unless you mean that's what you wish to stress) are the Djinns or Witchcraft. To me, all the Surahs, except the one about Abu Lahab, talk about the glorification of God and forgiveness. The last three Surahs start with the word "Say". Believe me when I tell you that it's quite powerful when it starts that way in Arabic.
This is coming from someone who has opened the Qur'an no more than 10 times in the last 7 years and only to look for a verse that someone said existed.
And recently ALI began his following of my commentary with:
I am afraid Jinns, Witchcraft, Heaven, Hell, Angels, The Devil, The Day of Judgement are some things that in Islam you have to take on faith. These are itemised in theology as things for which no logical proof can be given to humans in this world beyond that they were claimed by the Prophet who was known to all as Al-Amin or the truthful before his prophecy. Thats the crux of that.
As for Al-Nasr, The Surah has two specialities one it is commenting on the conquest of Mecca as when the cvictory comes. This resulted in Arabs all over Arabia deciding that his victory was proof positive of his claim of prophethood, i.e the reference to hordes of beleivers flocking to the religion, and in the second part it is calling on the faithful to be humble and remember god and seek forgiveness rather that exalt in jubilation.
The other tradition associated with this particular sura is that it also signified to the prophet that it was was nearing the end of his message and his impending death by asking him to remain humble and remember god.
Now to catch some rest and try and reply to all of you -- *whew* -- and add in insights from Asad.