Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mistaken for Muslim

She said she watches it regularly
to remind herself
that there are people in the world
who don't see Muslims
as people.
We forget sometimes,
because we never forget
we're people.
If we forget anything,
it's that approximately half of Americans
they don't know any Muslims.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Surah Ar-Rum (Surah 30)

This is the start of a new series of blog entries, inshAllah. This isn't going to be an analysis of Arabic grammar, vocabulary, or translation comparison, as I am no speaker or scholar of the Qur'anic Arabic language. Instead, I intend to point out chapters or verses that make an impression on me, for whatever reason, and share my perspective and understanding of them. Please keep in mind that these are strictly summaries of what I personally take away from each chapter, and that I am not wanting or requiring anyone to agree with me.

I am including a link to an online Qur'an so that you can read this chapter for yourself. It's not a long chapter.

Starting with Surah al-Fatiha would be obvious, and it has been done many times over, so I thought I'd start with a chapter I randomly came across while reading Qur'an at the masjid:

Surah Ar-Rum (Surah 30: The Romans)

This surah begins with talking about the Romans. I've compared 30:2 in multiple translations, and they translate “Ar-Rum” as follows:

Abdallah Yusuf Ali: The Roman Empire
S.V. Mir Ahmed Ali: The (east) Romans
Ali Unal: The Byzantine Romans
Maulana Muhammad Ali: The Romans
Dr. Syed Vickar Ahamed: The Romans
Tarif Khalidi: The Byzantines
Muhsin Khan: The Romans
Ahmed Ali: The Romans

N.A. Dawood and A.J. Arberry depart from the Roman theme and instead translate Ar-Rum as “The Greeks” and “The Greek empire”. I wonder how they came to that conclusion? “Greek” and “Roman” aren't exactly interchangeable.

Most interestingly of all, Abdul Hye translates it as “The Romans (Christians)”. I'm intrigued by his whole translation of those verses, which read:

“30:2 The Romans (Christians) have been defeated (by the Persians – idol worshipers)
30:3 In the nearest land (of Syria), but after their defeat, they (Allah revealed to Muhammad that Romans) will be victorious
30:4 within a few years. Allah is in command with the matter before (the defeat of the Romans by the Persians in 615 CE) and after (the defeat of the Persians by the Romans in 625 CE). On that day the believers will rejoice (for victory).”

That, however, is a study for another time. The surah continues by stating that larger, stronger empires have fallen before because they denied the messengers/warners sent to them by Allah and were consumed by their own evil ways. This verse implies that it wasn't an act by Allah which deliberately destroyed them (the first example of deliberate acts that comes to my mind is of Sodom and Gammorah, destroyed by Allah for their corruption, idol worship, and unprecedented oppression), but that they basically self-destructed. I was left with the distinct impression that Allah simply did not get involved, but allowed them to destroy themselves through their actions.

Those who reject Allah after signs have come to them through the messengers/warners and continue to worship pagan gods are warned that what they worship will be revealed as false, that on the last day they will deny their gods and it won't avail them or change their fates.

The next verse moves into describing the reward for those who believe and do good, and transitions to a command to give glory to Allah in the morning and the evening and noon, and instructs those who believe to praise only Him. (Side note: It is from these verses (30:17-18) that many Quranists I know draw their belief that we are ordered to pray/worship 3 times per day, rather than the traditionalist Sunni/Shi'a 5 times.)

Verses 20 through 25 detail some of the signs in which we can recognize the existence of Allah:

20: Creation of humanity from dust and the scattering of people throughout the world.
21: Our spouses, with whom we are supposed to dwell in love and compassion.
22: Creation of the earth and all that is in it, and in the diversity of our languages and skin colors. (I read this verse as a refutation of the (unfortunately) prevalent attitude among Muslims that Arabic is a “special holy language” and “better than/superior to” other languages. It also refutes the notion that the Qur'an's message isn't communicable in other languages, as I've often heard claimed. Does it make sense that Allah would create so many languages and make it impossible for all but one to communicate His Revelation to mankind? Nope.)
23: Sleep coming to us at night, and our natural urge to seek Allah's grace/proof of a divine creator.
24: The weather (lightning, rain).
25: That the heavens and earth follow His commands, and that we will come out of our graves at His summons.

The above verses also stress reflection, seeking knowledge, listening, and understanding as conditions to us recognizing the signs. In other words, we have to actively put in the effort. Passivity or expecting to just “magically” have faith eventually won't work.

Verse 30 is a beautiful reminder: “So set your face uprightly for religion, in natural devotion to the truth, the nature caused by Allah in which He has made people; there can be no change in Allah's creation; this is the established religion, but most people do not know.”

Wow! People have a natural inclination towards truth, which is the nature of Allah.

We are reminded to fear and worship Allah alone and establish prayer (31), and also warned not to be polytheists, who divide up their religion into sects and think their specific way is the truth. Verses 33-36 speak of those who turn to Allah only in hardship, then go back to associating partners with Him (and these can be other gods, money, people, or other things of this world) when ease has come after the hardship. Basic message: Remember Allah and be grateful to Him, in ease or hardship. Don't forget where your blessings come from.

Verse 38 again urges us to charity, both to kin and strangers. The number of times charity is stressed in the Qur'an should clue us in as to how important it is to share what we've been blessed with, and reinforces the Qur'an as a book of action, meant to be implemented in our lives, not just read.

We are shown another sign of Allah's power, namely that He brings us to life, provides for us, causes us to die at our appointed term, then will raise us up again on the last day. Verse 44 reminds us that whatever we do in this life, be it good or bad, is for ourselves alone – there is no doing good deeds for others, even if they are family members, that will affect what they will get on the last day. (See also 6:164, 39:7)

The next verses detail examples of Allah's mercy (the wind, sailing of ships, rain, sunshine, giving life to the Earth after it has withered and died). An example of those who are “fair weather faithful” is given as those who see the silt blown from their crops by the wind, and turn from faith because of their misfortune. It is also stressed that we are tested with a portion of what we've done wrong in order to give us an opportunity to return to the straight path, particularly in the case of those with wealth. (41)

Verses 52 and 53: “For you cannot make the dead hear, nor can you make the deaf hear the call when they withdraw, turning upon their heels. Nor can you lead the blind away from straying; you cannot make anyone hear except those who believe in Our Signs, for they have submitted.”

Another amazing verse, alhamdilullah. This is something important to keep in mind: We can't change the hearts and minds of others, especially in cases where people are determined that They Are Right when it comes to religion and you are “wrong”.

Verse 58: “Indeed, We have set forth for people every kind of example in this Qur'an; yet if you bring a sign to them, those who disbelieve will certainly say: “You are bringing falsehood!”

We are assured, yet again, that the Qur'an is detailed and complete for our guidance, and also that those who refuse to believe would do so even if they had been shown a sign as proof, because their hearts are sealed.

Finally, (whew, almost done here, folks!), in verse 60:

“Be patient, therefore; verily the promise of Allah is true, and let not those who have no belief in Allah make you despair of His promise.”

What a beautiful reassurance. The promise of Allah is true, so keep the faith and don't let others cause you to doubt.

Until next time, inshAllah.