Challenging My Perspective

When you pick up the Qur’an to read it from cover to cover you first come across the Al-Fatihah (The Opening), which is then followed by a section of scripture titled Al-Baqara (The Cow). Many of the passages stood out to me for various reasons. Firstly, I found the language of the English translation I have to be beautiful, but it also forced me to think about each line on a deeper level. I had to pay much closer attention to make sure I understood. (For those of you interested, I chose to read The Noble Quran written by Dr. Muhammed Taqi-ud Din Al-Hilali published by King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Quran) Even so, it was easier for me to look at the Qur’an with a more open mind than it had been to do so with the Old and New Testament. I found that, despite major misrepresentations in media as an influence, I opened the Qur’an with a deep desire to search and know and understand. My heart and my mind were truly open. 

“This is the scripture wherof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off evil. Who believe in the Unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them;  And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter. These depend on guidance from their Lord. These are the successful.” (Al-Baqara 2-4

Such an impressive passage for me. There is no grand tale about the creation of man and life to begin the book, and there is no overarching message which tells us all the tales of the followers of Allah. There are simply a few sentences which tell you the purpose of the book; to guide people away from evil and into the worship and guidance of Allah, who will take them to the Hereafter (heaven).  I have such admiration for this kind of simplicity.

I was moved immensely by this kind of “call to arms” which is typically used at the end of persuasive papers written by mostly disinterested college students. I was moved by it because it is all of the things that my previous description is not. This call to action is the very first thing you read in the Al-Baqara and it’s written by people who are passionate, interested, and engaged in what, at the very least, they believe to be the best way to help people live fulfilling and successful lives. It doesn’t tell you what rules you need to follow, or try to convince you of anything. It reads as this casual invitation to join a club, that may or may not change your life.You get to choose if you want to join the club (keep reading), or decide that this isn’t for you and walk away. If you do choose to keep reading, then it gets into some of the details of joining the club. 

“And when We gave unto Moses the Scripture and the criterion (of right and wrong), that ye might be led aright. And when Moses said unto his people: O my people! Ye have wronged yourselves by your choosing of the calf (for worship) so turn in penitence to your Creator, and kill (the guilty) yourselves. That will be best for you with your Creator and He will relent toward you. Lo! He is the Relenting, the Merciful.” (Al-Baqara 53-54

I had some difficulty deciding whether or not I wanted to discuss this passage for fear of some of the more controversial discussions about Islam. I decided that fear of a conversation only increases fear of the thing itself (nerd moment, sorry). This is clearly beginning to discuss some of the expectations of those who are faithful in Allah. It mentions the scriptures provided to Moses (also called Musa in some translations) and how the scriptures (known as the commandments in the Christian world) will help you lead a life which is abundant in righteous actions. It then goes on to say that people should kill the guilty, which will be seen as the best action by the creator, Allah. 

So, it took me a little bit of parsing to come to terms with what this was actually saying. I knew that my immediate reaction, and the potential immediate reaction of many non-Muslims, was force fed to me (and to them) by the fear based media I am exposed to as a white American. I am not proud to admit that my immediate thought was, “That is possibly one of the passages by which terrorists justify their choices.” But, I was also instantly pulled into a hunt for a better understanding. I know that not even 1% of Muslim people are terrorists, so I had to search for what the Qur’an was trying to tell me. Not what the fearful misrepresentations have told me. 

I did some reading online which helped me put the pieces together. First, I needed to understand who the people were that worshipped the calf. I came across this website (http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1111&Itemid=62) which has tonnes of resources and references to the Qur’an on it. Here, I found the Qur’ans version of the story, and came to the understanding that the people who worship the calf are the Jews.

Which means, in this passage the Jews are called to repent to their Creator, and then we are told “kill (the guilty) yourselves.” This translation was confusing for me, as it either implied that the Jews were to kill the guilty, that the Jews were to kill themselves for being guilty, or that a secondary unnamed group of people was to kill the Jews, as they were seen as guilty. So, I found an alternate translation (http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=351&Itemid=) on the same website. Their translation is, “So turn in repentance to your Creator and kill yourselves, that will be better for you with your Creator.” (The Quran 2:54) By this translation it is more than clear to me that the Jews are being told to kill themselves, which is also gruesome, but is clearly not a direction by, nor permission from the Qur’an to murder.  This understanding renewed my previous optimism about the way the Qur’an is presented to its followers and believers. 

On the whole, reading the first half of the Al-Baqara has been a truly eye-opening and welcome experience. I found a kindness and an accepting nature in these passages. I am grateful to have been shown that. This last passage perfectly sums up everything that I felt while reading this part of the Qur’an. 

“Lo! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans – whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right – surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.” (Al-Baqara 62)

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