EdX

I, personally, have been really struggling with some of the reading lately. I just don’t have a lot to say about the hymns that we’re reading because I don’t have the background for them. So I was trying to find a way to connect better with them and I found this course from EdX.

I love this program that allows me to audit courses and learn online completely for free. This particular program is a six course plan that I have just started. The first course is a series on religious literacy and how we study scripture in an educational manner. After that, there is a course on each of the major religions, the ones that we are trying to understand.

I am looking forward to understanding more of what I read 🙂

Al-Baqarah 263-284

Al-Baqarah 263-264

A kind word and forgiveness is better than a charitable deed followed by hurtful words: God is self-sufficient and forbearing. Believers, do not cancel out your charitable deeds with reminders and hurtful words, like one who spends his wealth only to be seen by people, and not believing in God and the Last Day. Such men are like a rock covered with earth: a shower falls upon it and leaves it hard and bare. They will gain nothing from their works. God does not guide those who deny the truth.

These are the reminders I was craving in this search through holy texts. The admonishments to treat each other with kindness, to watch the way we speak and act, and to show respect and consideration for other human beings.

According to Pew Research there were 2.2 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims in the world in 2010. That’s at least 3.8 billion people who have a holy text admonishing them to be kind, and yet, I am actively seeking reminders of human kindness in this world and the commands of our holy figures to treat each other respect in order to help counter-act the cruelty and awful treatment that dominates my news each day.

“All that the heavens and the earth contain belongs to God.” (Al-Baqarah 284a)

I’m not a believer myself, of any religion. But perhaps our world would be a better place if we believed, and if we obeyed the commands of the holy figures. Treat the world as if it belongs to one whom we respect, and treat other people as if they are the beloved of someone to whom we give honor and praise.

Hindu Gods (Rig Veda Hymns 1-99)

Agni- God of Fire, he is conceptualized on three planes:  on earth as fire, in the atmosphere as lightning, and in the sky as the sun. He is considered a messenger between all gods and humans.

Vāyu- God of Winds, he is sometimes also called Vāta (blow), Pavana (the Purifier), or Prāna (the Breath).

Asvins (Ashvins, or Aswins)- Gods of Shining Sunrise and Sunset, they are doctors of gods and devas of medicine.

Indra- King of the Gods; God of Lightning, Thunder, Rain, Storms, and River flows. He kills the great symbolic evil, Vrtra, who obstructs human happiness and prosperity.

Visvedevas- all gods as a group.

RTU- A word used in relationship to blessings of food and drink.

Varuna- God of the Sea, Ocean, Termites, Scorpions, Eels, and Water. In two of the older texts, Varuna is described as omniscient and he catches liars in his snares.

Brahmanaspati (or Brihaspati)- Teacher of the Gods, he is said to be a sage born from the first great light, driving away darkness.

Maruts- 27 to 60 aggressive, lion-toothed storm deities.

Rhbus (or Rhibus)- Initially described as a sun god, evolving into a wind god, and then evolving into three artisan elves whose skills help them become recognized as divinities.

Savitar- a solar deity distinct from the sun, but possessing the ability to awaken the sun.

Mitrá- oath, friendship, (eye of, light of) the morning sun. She has various meanings throughout Hindu texts.

Aryaman- meaning “close friend” or “companion”, he is said to be the protector of mares walking in the Milky Way.

Pūsan (or Pushan)- God of Meetings, Marriages, Journeys, Roads, and Cattle. He is said to have helped souls travel to the other world, as well as protecting travelers.

Rudra- The Roaring God; God of Hunt and Storm. The god Shiva may be the same god as Rudra; shiva was used as an epithet for the god Rudra to mean he was kind, and eventually the epithet replaced the name of the god.

Ushas (Dawn)- Goddess of the Dawn, she is portrayed as a beautiful young woman who rides a golden chariot and wards off the evil spirits of the night.

Surya- The Sun; God of Light and Day. Surya is a solar deity who represents one of the nine heavenly houses in the Hindu astrology zodiac system.

Soma- sometimes refers to a ritualistic or medicinal drink, may also refer to the moon, or the God of Plants and Vegetables.

 

 

(This a brief list of information found on Wikipedia about these Hindu gods)

Al-Baqarah 226-241

Towards the end of Al-Baqarah is a section on how women are to be treated in case of divorce or widowhood. The laws on divorce didn’t surprise me, they are exactly what I would have expected based on my understanding of the culture. Men can divorce their wives fairly simply. In theory they are meant to be allowed to take any gifts they were given during the marriage (Al-Baqarah 228). A waiting period is to be enforced between the last time the man and wife are intimate and when the divorce is finalized/the wife is allowed to remarry, to ensure she is not pregnant (Al-Baqarah 228). Even child support is mentioned, that the now ex-wife should be supported by the ex-husband for up to two years while she weans a child.

Basically, as I was taught, women are not given equal rights, by any means. But they are given more rights than in other cultures in the same area and time. As a student of history, I know that I can’t judge a culture with my own values, and by the values of the time and place these rules were recorded, this is an advancement for women.

And yet, I know that in practice these rules were probably not held up as they sound. Take, for instance, Al-Baqarah 240,

If any of you die and leave widows, make a bequest for them of a years’ maintenance without causing them to leave their homes; but if they leave of their own accord, you will not be blamed for what they may reasonably choose to do with themselves. God is almighty and wise.

I can’t help but wonder, based on what I know of how women are treated by the fundamentalists of the religion in the current times, how often a woman was mistreated or threatened until she left “of her own accord.”

I want to believe that if I remove the prejudices of my own times, that women were treated the way they were meant to be treated and that these rules that sound as if they were designed to protect women, were followed. I know, from having studied the founding of Islam that the Prophet’s first wife was a business woman, wealthy in her own right, and that women were allowed to work and move around in society. I also know that it isn’t long into reading that the Prophet will have a revelation that the wives of the prophet should be veiled and modest in front of the people. And I know that this revelation is the source of modern veiling laws. And so I am left to believe that these laws didn’t actually protect women the way they sound and I desperately want to understand.

In a culture where a woman had no standing, I can understand why she would hold on to this religion that gave her rights in case of divorce. I can understand why it wouldn’t even dawn on her to ask for more. But it’s no longer the seventh century and I want to understand the modern implications and the modern believer, and how these things impact the world I live in.

Al-Baqara

 

In coming to a close with the Qur’an, I have discovered an overall peacefulness to this religion. There are obviously points which cause me discontent, but that is so with every book we have read so far. There are traits to Allah which are welcoming and open-minded. He seems to appreciate all people, even those who do not believe in Him. This is something that I admire in what I have seen of Allah thus far. Allah does not seem to ask much of his followers and he seems to be understanding.

“And make not Allah, by your oaths, a hindrance to your being righteous and observing your duty unto Him and making peace among mankind, Allah is Hearer, Knower. Allah will not take you to task for that which is unintentional in your oaths. But He will take you to task for that which your hearts have garnered. Allah is Forgiving, Clement” (Al-Baqara 224-225)

Here we are told that Allah does not want to be a barrier between us and righteousness. Nor between us and our duties to Him. Nor between us and making peace among mankind. It is more important to Allah that we make moral decisions, follow His simple guidance, and make peace among all people. We are told that Allah will forgive the mistakes in our words. We are told that if we say something we do not mean, Allah will not hold that against us. Allah will only judge us based on the what we harbor in our hearts. Later we are told that Allah will not challenge us beyond our capabilities.

Allah tasketh not a soul beyond its scope. For it (is only) that which it hath earned, and against it (only) that which it hath deserved. (Al-Baqara 286a)

I have heard many Christians in my life say that God only gives us what we can handle. That may be true. I have yet to read any such thing so explicitly stated in The Bible, but it may be in there. Personally, I enjoy how quickly it is that the Qur’an tells us so. This is the final passage of the Al-Baqara; the reminder that we will be forgiven for falling short, we will be burdened only by our own decisions, and we will only carry hardship that we are strong enough to bear.

 

 

Divorce and Women

The second half of Al-Baqara had many things that stood out to me, which made it much harder for me to decide what I wanted to write about this week. However, when scrolling back through the Qur’an on my e-reader I found I had underlined an entire page worth of text. I read it again and I knew that it was an important matter to me. The passages I had underlined were 226-233. Everything in this passage has to do with the way men should treat women if they are divorcing one another. I read this and had to try very hard to not apply my modern moral expectations upon a culture of the past. Much easier said than done.
 
The first thing that caught my attention is the fact that there is no point in the verses which addresses any protocol if a woman desires to divorce her husband. In fact, the section is begun, “Those who forswear their wives must wait four months; then, if they change their mind, lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Al-Baqara 226) The context of all the divorce laws mentioned here surround the premise that a man wants to divorce his wife. Or what happens if a man changes his mind about divorce. Or when a man can remarry his ex-wife if he so chooses. The only mentions of women in the verse come about in expectations of how the woman must behave if she is divorced, or the way a man must take care of his ex-wife.
 
Another thing I found surprising was a list of rules given to women about how they must tend to their bodies.  
 
“Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart, three (monthly) courses. And it is not lawful for them that they should conceal that which Allah hath created in their wombs if they are believers in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back in that case if they desire a reconciliation.” (Al-Baqara 228a)
 
This is the first of a couple of the rules placed upon a woman’s body regarding marriage and divorce. If you are divorced you must wait three menstrual cycles to be married to another man, and if you find that you are pregnant you are not allowed to keep that information to yourself. While I am generally of the mind that a father has the right to know about the existence of a child, most women who choose to conceal this information have a good reason. The divorce may have been the man’s decision, but such a divorce may have benefitted the woman’s health and well-being. So, if that man was abusive and she is expecting a child, she has to disclose that to him and risk being brought back into his home where she and her child may be abused by him.
This is one of the instances in which I have difficulty not conflating my ideals and the ideals of the historic period. During the time the Qur’an was written, abuse was not an understood concept. A woman would not consider her safety in terms of abuse, nor her child’s because the options of the time were much different than they are today.
 
If this were strictly a historical document these laws would be much easier for me to accept. It would be significantly easier for me to justify the position. Honestly, I understand it. At the time that the Qur’an was written, it was very unlikely a woman would want to divorce her husband because a woman’s husband was her sole provider; without a husband she  would have no shelter, no food, etc. I also understand that at that time, globally, most women had no say and no power. So, as a historical document, I’m saddened that women were once repressed in such a way, but I understand it. I am more disappointed that modern women have the potential to be experiencing this kind of antiquated ideal.
 
However, many other parts of this passage are about treating women with kindness. The kindness it shows makes me a little sick with the tones that “women can’t care for themselves” and “we have to write this in, because otherwise women will see no kind treatment”. However, that the kindness was a consideration is nice.
 
“When ye have divorced women, and they have reached their term, then retain them in kindness  or release them in kindness. Retain them not to their hurt so that ye transgress (the limits). He who doeth that hath wronged his soul. Make not the revelations of Allah a laughing-stock (by your behaviour), but remember Allah’s grace upon you and that which He hath revealed unto you of the Scripture and of wisdom, whereby He doth exhort you. Observe your duty to Allah and know that Allah is Aware of all things.” (Al-Baqara 231)
 
This has a strange sense of chivalry in it. If you are reconsidering your divorce from your wife, please either choose to keep her and do kindly, or let her go kindly. Do not keep her if you will harm her in any way by doing so. This has that sickening kindness. The intentions are well-meaning. It still just doesn’t seem right to me that the husband has sole power over whether she stays or goes. And I still have discomfort around the fact that these write-ins for the way believers must treat women are only written in because they fear that their believers would otherwise oppress women to an even greater scale. Which is, again, shown in this passage.
 
“The duty of feeding and clothing nursing mothers in a seemly manner is upon the father of the child. No-one should be charged beyond his capacity. A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child, nor should he to whom the child is born (be made to suffer) because of his child.” (Al-Baqara 233)

Quite frankly, maybe I’m a little bit too far up the feminism scale to look at this objectively. I’m trying my best to look at this through a more culturally appropriate lense, but I don’t think I own the correct filter for this. “And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them.” (Al-Baqara 228b) I just don’t think that this kind of statement is something that should be believed or practiced in the modern world. Maybe I don’t understand it, and if you have some other interpretation I would love to hear it.

Al-Baqarah 143

Skye and I are reading slightly different translations of the Quran in an effort to have a better understanding of what we’re actually reading. Usually this results in us having interesting discussions parsing word choices, and eventually feeling like we have a pretty good idea of what the spirit of the actual text is. In this verse though, we have a tiny word difference that makes the verse mean completely different things and it lead to an interesting conversation that basically resulted in neither of being quite sure what was intended.

My copy reads

Al-Baqarah 143

Thus We have made you a middle nation, so that you may act as witnesses for mankind, and the Messenger may be a witness for you.

Skye’s version reads

Al-Baqara 143

Thus We have made you a middle nation, so that you may act as witnesses against mankind, and the Messenger may be a witness against you.

(emphasis mine in both cases)

Other translations have that disputed word as “over” which seems to be more neutral, you shall be a witness neither for nor against, but simply of what is true, and is also what I found in several internet translations of the text. This seems to be more in the spirit of what else I have seen in this chapter, that those who ignore the word of Allah will suffer (see Al-Baqarah 6-7) while those who follow His commands are rewarded (See Al-Baqarah 112). This translation puts the witness in a more neutral position to simply attest to what was to allow for proper punishment or reward, which of course is not actually required given that the text also reports that Allah knows all (Al-Baqarah 115b), it is still in the character of Allah (as I understand it) to require witnesses that men may know their wrongdoing and repent before they die (Al-Baqarah 132b “…do not let death overtake you, except when you are in a state of submission”)

The other word I found whilst searching was “to” as in “that you may act as a witness to mankind, and the Messenger may be a witness  to you.” (as seen here) In my understanding of this translation, this would be saying that Muhammad is to tell the people of God’s word and they are then to spread it to those who do not hear it directly from him.

I’m not sure which of these various translations is the correct one, but I feel that it has given me a lot to think about regarding the character of the Muslim God and what he is asking of his people, if they are to reveal the truth to others or to hold each other accountable to His words. I suspect that the most likely is that it is some combination of all of these, that here Muslims are called to witness to and over others, that all may fall in line with the word of Allah as found in the Quran. In any case, this has made me more aware of the power of tiny little prepositions, and the meaning they can carry with them, which in turn makes me more aware of paying attention to the words I am reading and to trying to make sure that we talk through all the little differences we find in our translations to make sure that we aren’t just skimming and going through the motions of this project.