July 18, 2024

An Infidel Reads Sūrah 38

This is the 12th part of this series, reading The Qur’an; A New Translation by Abdel Haleem. We’ll occasionally compare that to other translations and with tafsirs for clarification. We’re also reading each “chapter” [surah] in order of revelation rather than the order in which they are typically printed. If you missed some of this series, you can see:
my 1st post on surahs 1 & 2.
my 2nd post on surahs 96, 68 & 73.
my 3rd post on surahs 74, 111 & 81.
my 4th post on surahs 87, 92, 89, 93, 94 & 103.
my 5th post jumping to surah 18.
my 6th post on surahs 100, 108, 102, 107, 109 & 105
my 7th post was on surahs 113, 114, 112 & 53.
my 8th post on surahs 80, 97, 91, 85, 95 & 106.
my 9th post on surahs 101, 75, 104 & 77.
my 1oth post on surahs 50, 90 & 86.
and my 11th post on surah 54.

Sūrah 38 (ṣād) Sad

(1) Sad By the Qur’an with its reminding . . .! (2) Yet the disbelievers are steeped in arrogance and hostility. (3) How many generations We have destroyed before them! They all cried out, once it was too late, for escape.

Isn’t it sad that unbelievers are so hostile? Especially after we’ve already destroyed so many generations of them.

(4) The disbelievers think it strange that a prophet of their own people has come to warn them: they say, ‘He is just a lying sorcerer. (5) How can he claim that all the gods are but one God? What an astonishing thing [to claim]!’

That’s a fair point. How can anyone say there are any number of gods? You shouldn’t make empty assertions without evidence to show that what you’re saying is true. And no, threatening people to “believe or else they’ll be sorry” isn’t good enough. If you don’t have evidence, then you’re asking people to believe questionable claims only on faith.

(6) Their leaders depart, saying, ‘Walk away! Stay faithful to your gods! That is what you must do.

You had the high road until you admitted that your own belief is based on faith too, meaning we have no good reason to believe you.

(7) We did not hear any such claim in the last religion: it is all an invention.

Abdel Haleem says “the last religion” refers to Christian claims about the trinity. But really all faith-based beliefs are indistinguishable from mere fantasies that someone just made up. You need some objective verification that there is at least some truth to whatever someone is trying to convince you to believe.

(8) Was the message sent only to him out of all of us?’ In fact they doubt My warning; in fact they have not tasted My punishment yet.

Even after you’ve already destroyed so many generations of them? Have you considered maybe presenting evidence instead of imparting unbelievable messages onto seemingly insane prophets? Because when you choose some random guy to spread your message, it looks like it’s only coming from his own warped imagination, not yours.

(9) Do they possess the treasures of your Lord’s bounty, the Mighty, the All Giving? (10) Do they control the heavens and earth and everything between?

No, and neither do you.

Let them climb their ropes: (11) their armed alliance is weak and will be crushed.

Abdel Haleem says this is a reference to sura 22:15, wherein the author says that unbelievers should run a rope up to the sky and climb all the way into Heaven to see if that removes the source of their anger. That didn’t make sense to me, and I have already been told that Abdel Haleem’s translation is deliberately misleading in some places, in an attempt to promote apologetics. So I looked at a couple other translations. ClearQuran doesn’t mention a rope. It says the unbeliever should turn to Heaven then “sever”. Sever what? That didn’t make sense either. Looklex says the unbeliever should tie one end of the rope to the ceiling and the other to himself and “sever”. Does that mean to sever the rope?  Quran.com gives what I think is the most likely interpretation, that the author says unbelievers should use the rope tied to the ceiling to sever their breath. So I think the author is telling unbelievers to hang themselves to see if that calms them down.

(12) The people of Noah, ‘Ad, and firmly-supported Pharaoh rejected their prophets before them. (13) Thamud, the people of Lot, and the Forest-Dwellers each formed opposition [against theirs]. (14) They all rejected the messengers and they were deservedly struck by My punishment:

This is a repeat of the “they got theirs” warning from the last sura we read.

(15) all the disbelievers here are waiting for is a single blast that cannot be postponed. (16) They say, ‘Our Lord! Advance us our share of punishment before the Day of Reckoning!’ (17) Bear their words patiently [Prophet].

Comparing this with other translations, it seems these people are inexplicably eager for the world to come to an end.

Remember Our servant David, a man of strength who always turned to Us: (18) We made the mountains join him in glorifying Us at sunset and sunrise; (19) and the birds, too, in flocks, all echoed his praise. (20) We strengthened his kingdom; We gave him wisdom and a decisive way of speaking. 

Yes, all the translations mentioned above agree, the God forced the mountains to give him praise.

(21) Have you heard the story of the two litigants who climbed into his private quarters? (22) When they reached David, he took fright, but they said, ‘Do not be afraid. We are two litigants, one of whom has wronged the other: judge between us fairly–– do not be unjust–– and guide us to the right path. (23) This is my brother. He had ninety-nine ewes and I just the one, and he said, “Let me take charge of her,” and overpowered me with his words.’ (24) David said, ‘He has done you wrong by demanding to add your ewe to his flock. Many partners treat each other unfairly. Those who sincerely believe and do good deeds do not do this, but these are very few.’ [Then] David realized that We had been testing him, so he asked his Lord for forgiveness, fell down on his knees, and repented: (25) We forgave him [his misdeed]. His reward will be nearness to Us, a good place to return to.

Abdel Haleem suggests that the reason David felt tested was that he saw the ewe (female sheep) as a euphemism for a human female, an allusion to David’s acquisition of another man’s wife to add to his own harem. I found no indication of that in the other translations, but much of the Qur’an is so provincial, so limited in scope, that it assumes that any reader will always be familiar with the local legends of that particular culture way back then.

(26) ‘David, We have given you mastery over the land. Judge fairly between people. Do not follow your desires, lest they divert you from God’s path: those who wander from His path will have a painful torment because they ignore the Day of Reckoning.’

Why are we talking to David now? The Jewish king who died seventeen centuries earlier than the time of the alleged prophet we’re supposed to be talking to now?

(27) It was not without purpose that We created the heavens and the earth and everything in between. That may be what the disbelievers assume–– how they will suffer from the Fire!– –

Wait, this is supposed to be Allah, “the god” talking. How does he not know what the disbelievers may assume? And wouldn’t it be easy enough to change their minds? Give them good reasons to believe rather than sending some lone weirdo to threaten them if they don’t believe. Why would God care whether we believe anyway? We write our own laws and keep our own order exactly as we would if he was never even there. So why punish good people in the most evil way simply because they didn’t believe crazy claims for no reason?

(28) but would We treat those who believe and do good deeds and those who spread corruption on earth as equal? Would We treat those who are aware of God and those who recklessly break all bounds in the same way?

Good question. Would you welcome into Heaven those who do good deeds but do not believe? The same as you would turn away believers who recklessly break all bounds? Because remember that religion has spread an awful lot of corruption around the world, which empiricism doesn’t do.

(29) This is a blessed Scripture which We sent down to you [Muhammad], for people to think about its messages, and for those with understanding to take heed. (30) We gave David Solomon. He was an excellent servant who always turned to God. (31) When well-bred light-footed horses were paraded before him near the close of day, (32) he kept saying, ‘My love of fine things is part of my remembering my Lord!’ until [the horses] disappeared from sight– – (33) ‘Bring them back!’ [he said] and started to stroke their legs and necks. (34) We certainly tested Solomon, reducing him to a mere skeleton on his throne.

The legend here is that God made Solomon so sick as to be scrawny and withered. Remember that the Qur’an was allegedly conceived by God and relayed to Muhammad with the intent that this is the most important message they could impart to all mankind all over the world and for all time. Yet, God apparently assumes that several centuries into the future, Americans will still know all the Jewish and Arabic fables to which the book refers. Some of these ancient tales have already been completely forgotten. But Abdel Haleem steps in to clarify what God should have explained here. He says “Some say that the horses distracted Solomon from remembering his Lord and that he slaughtered the horses in anger at his having forgotten the afternoon prayer”.

Yes, Solomon the Jewish king got distracted and forgot to participate in the Muslim prayer ritual. So he butchered the innocent horses in punishment, because he somehow thought it was their fault he was petting them. No wonder rape victims get arrested in Shariah countries. This is the sort of madness the Qur’an actually promotes!

(35) He turned to Us and prayed: ‘Lord forgive me! Grant me such power as no one after me will have–– You are the Most Generous Provider.’ (36) So We gave him power over the wind, which at his request ran gently wherever he willed, (37) and the jinn––every kind of builder and diver (38) and others chained in fetters.

Other translations clarify that the word, ‘jinn’ here refers to devils or demons. Did you know that God placed demons under Solomon’s command?

It’s strange that the word, ‘jinn’ is implied to be plural, because it is an Arabic word, and the plural of jinn is jinni, which is the source of our word, ‘genie’. Jinni were supposed to be elemental spirits. Early Medieval Arabs saw the desert whirlwinds that we know as “dust devils” and thought they were literal devils. Such elemental jinni could also be fire elementals, called efreeti (or efreet in singular) because on some occasions, the heat of an intense fire will spiral like a tornado or a dust devil. Very large and hot fires can even cause dust devils!

Anyway, just think about the fact that, according to the Qur’an, genies are real. And God conscripted some to serve under King Solomon. Oh, and God also gave Solomon the power to make to make the wind blow—or not, according to his will. Maybe we could have believed that if we lived in the Arabian desert 1,400 years ago, but how could we possibly believe that now?

(39) ‘This is Our gift, so give or withhold as you wish without account.’

As I wish? I thought I get three wishes?

(40) His reward will be nearness to Us, and a good place to return to. (41) Bring to mind Our servant Job who cried to his Lord, ‘Satan has afflicted me with weariness and suffering.’

Actually it was God who did that. God made a deal with the devil, and then he used the excuse that “the devil made me do it”.

(42) ‘Stamp your foot! Here is cool water for you to wash in and drink,’ (43) and We restored his family to him, with many more like them: a sign of Our mercy and a lesson to all who understand. (44) ‘Take a small bunch of grass in your hand, and strike [her] with that so as not to break your oath.’d We found him patient in adversity; an excellent servant! He, too, always turned to God.

According to Abdel Haleem’s footnote, “Qur’anic commentators explain that, when his wife blasphemed, Job swore that if he recovered from his illness, he would beat her with one hundred lashes. When he recovered, however, he regretted his hasty oath, so God gave him this instruction”. That was nice of God to do that. Of course he could also have said that men shouldn’t beat their wives and that lashing anyone with a whip is barbaric. For some reason, God is always behind the times on matters like these.

(45) Remember Our servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all men of strength and vision. (46) We caused them to be devoted to Use through their sincere remembrance of the Final Home: (47) with Us they will be among the elect, the truly good.

Here God is using the royal “we”, saying that he caused these people to be devoted to him. He can do that for them, but not for us. Us he will torture mercilessly forever if we don’t believe the ravings of madmen claiming to speak for God.

(48) And remember Our servants Ishmael, Elisha, and Dhu ’l-Kifl,f each of them truly good.

Dhu l-Kifl is apparently the Muslim version of Ezekiel. Funny that this God alleged wrote the Jewish Bible and the Qur’an, yet so many of the characters in both have their names corrupted, almost as if these works had actually been composed by men adapting word-of-mouth tradition for centuries instead.

(49) This is a lesson. The devout will have a good place to return to: (50) Gardens of lasting bliss with gates wide open. (51) They will be comfortably seated; they will call for abundant fruit and drink; (52) they will have well-matched [wives] with modest gaze. (53) ‘This is what you are promised for the Day of Reckoning: (54) Our provision for you will never end.’

So Heaven is a big party at God’s house. There’s plenty of food and drink, but it’s non-alcoholic. Meh.

Note that the wives in attendance are not the men’s actual wives, the women they shared their lives with on Earth. These new Heavenly women are apparently assigned to each of the male guests, because of the promise that each man will be accompanied by wives who are well matched with them, being of modest gaze and the same age. That is significantly different than what I was told about the wives of Muslim men and the consorts promised to them in the afterlife.

Quran.com also says these women are not “modest looking” but rather “limiting [their] glances”, whatever that means. Maybe they know better than to look up and around, neither to envy other women nor admire other men?

(55) But the evildoers will have the worst place to return to: (56) Hell to burn in, an evil place to stay– – (57) all this will be theirs: let them taste it–– a scalding, dark, foul fluid, (58) and other such torments. (59) [It will be said], ‘Here is another crowd of people rushing headlong to join you.’ [The response will be], ‘They are not welcome! They will burn in the Fire.’ (60) They will say to them, ‘You are not welcome! It was you who brought this on us, an evil place to stay,’ (61) adding, ‘Our Lord, give double punishment to those who brought this upon us.’ (62) They will say, ‘Why do we not see those we thought were bad (63) and took as a laughing-stock? Have our eyes missed them?’ (64) This is how it will really be: the inhabitants of the Fire will blame one another in this way.

Pure fantasy, dreaming about conversations that would never really happen when that day and damnation never come. How could anyone even imagine doubling such a punishment, already take to such an absurd extreme? These empty threats are so obviously a ploy for the wanna-believers to impose credibility they can’t earn any other way, that this is why the notion of Hell was the very first religious concept I logically had to abandon even as a child.

(65) [Prophet] say, ‘I am only here to give warning. There is no god but God the One, the All Powerful, (66) Lord of the heavens and earth and everything between,

Though there is absolutely no empirical evidence or logical reason to believe in such a thing at all.

the Almighty, the Most Forgiving.’

No, this is the same tyrant who allegedly damns and destroys everyone who doesn’t believe in him, even if he denied them the ability to believe. So NOT the most forgiving anything.

(67) Say, ‘This message is a mighty one, (68) yet you ignore it.

What is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

(69) I have no knowledge of what those on high discuss:(70) it is only revealed to me that I am here to give clear warning.’

Here Abdel Haleem’s footnotes refer to Sūrah 2:30, that whatever the prophet doesn’t know, God replies to say, “I know things you do not”.

(71) Your Lord said to the angels, ‘I will create a man from clay. (72) When I have shaped him and breathed from My Spirit into him, bow down before him.’

At this point, I would remind the reader of two things. (1) The golem spell is an old Hebrew tradition wherein a likeness is created in some medium, (in this case, clay). They can be made of other materials, even flesh, assembled out of parts of different dead bodies. Note that the idea of a flesh golem was the inspiration for Frankenstein’s Monster.

Der Golem, (1920) film by Paul Wegener

(2) This likeness is said to be animated by having the “breath of life” breathed into it, such that it becomes alive. Because remember that these ancient people didn’t know that air is particulate matter. They thought air was supernatural, spiritual. That’s why they believed that dust devils were literally devils. They also believed that the so-called “spirit of God” is everywhere because it’s just the air. Which makes it especially interesting that God gave Solomon the power to control the wind.

(73) The angels all bowed down together, (74) but not Iblis, who was too proud. He became a rebel. (75) God said, ‘Iblis, what prevents you from bowing down to the man I have made with My own hands? Are you too high and mighty?’ (76) Iblis said, ‘I am better than him: You made me from fire, and him from clay.’

The different translations agree, Adam was made of clay, finely-grained rock, presumably mixed with water to make it malleable. This is the same guy who spoke millions of other species into existence by making a wish.

(77) ‘Get out of here! You are rejected: (78) My rejection will follow you till the Day of Judgement!’ (79) but Iblis said, ‘My Lord, grant me respite until the Day when they are raised from the dead,’ (80) so He said, ‘You have respite (81) till the Appointed Day.’ (82) Iblis said, ‘I swear by Your might! I will tempt all (83) but Your true servants.’

That’s interesting. If you’ve ever been tempted, then you know you’re not one of God’s true servants.

(84) God said, ‘This is the truth–– I speak only the truth– – (85) I will fill Hell with you and all those that follow you.’

Ever since I was a very little boy, any time someone tried to tell me about Satan, I had to wonder, what is his motivation? What does he want? What can he possibly get out of this? Because no explanation made sense; not then, not since.

(86) [Prophet], say, ‘I ask no reward from you for this, nor do I claim to be what I am not: (87) this is only a warning for all people. (88) In time you will certainly come to know its truth.’

The truth is what the facts are. If you can’t show the truth of it, you shouldn’t assert that it’s true.

Here is our video discussion of this surah.

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