April 14, 2024

An Infidel Reads Sūrah 43

This is the 17th 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.
my 11th post on surah 54,
my 12th post on surah 38,
my 13th post on surah 7,
my 14th post on surah 72,
my 15th post on surah 36.
and my 16th post on surah 25.

Sūrah 43 (Al-Zukhruf) “Ornaments of Gold”

Translator Abdel Haleem described this chapter as “A Meccan sura named after the gold ornaments mentioned in verse 35, and alluded to again in verse 53: in both instances God is refuting the claim of the disbelievers that a true prophet would be rich. The fact that the angels are not God’s daughters but His obedient servants is emphasized again and again (cf. verses 15–20, 60). Similarly, the idea that Jesus could be the son of God is clearly denied (verses 57–9).” What I find interesting is how believers argue over details like these when there is no substance to base them on. If you can’t show that there is any sort of god at all, why argue over what sort of god isn’t evidently there?

1Ha Mim

Other translations say “H” (Hã) and “M” (Mîm) explaining that these are simply letters without any reason given as to why they are there.

2By the Scripture that makes things clear,

You mean, by the scripture that obfuscates and obscures behind a smoke-screen of mysticism.

3We have made it a Qur’an in Arabic so that you [people] may understand.

Yet, I have to compare a half-dozen English translations from Arabic-speaking Muslim writers who each understood the Qur’an differently.

4It is truly exalted in the Source of Scripture kept with Us, and full of wisdom.

I’m only half-way through, but so far, there is no wisdom in the Qur’an! Is every single sentence of this sura going to be from Opposite Land?

5Should We ignore you and turn this revelation away from you because you are insolent people? 6We have sent many a prophet to earlier people 7and they mocked every one of them, 8so We have destroyed mightier people than [the disbelievers of Mecca] and their example has gone down in history.

Thus we see here that God does not learn from his mistakes.

9If you [Prophet] ask them, ‘Who created the heavens and earth?’ they are sure to say, ‘They were created by the Almighty, the All Knowing.’

I’m sure most people of the 7th century would have said that. I however would say that the heavens and the earth were not “created” at all, not the way they’re talking about anyway. In a sense, the “heavens” [the cosmos] is eternal even in the model of big bang cosmology. The earth formed nearly ten BILLION years after cosmic inflation as a result of gravitational accretion of dust floating about in space. But we are currently reading from a book whose fallible human authors believed that the sun was smaller than the earth.

10It is He who smoothed out the earth for you and traced out routes on it for you to find your way, 11who sends water down from the sky in due measure–

No, those were geological forces combined with fresh water erosion.

–We resurrect dead land with it, and likewise you will be resurrected from the grave––

The land was never ‘dead’ and thus was never resurrected. Nor will we be resurrected when we are dead.

12who created every kind of thing, who gave you ships and animals to ride on

We did. We learned how to domesticate animals. You did nothing there, and you never built even one ship either.

13so that you may remember your Lord’s grace when you are seated on them and say, ‘Glory be to Him who has given us control over this; we could not have done it by ourselves.

Only we did do it by ourselves.  Only the latter half of that last sentence is true. Intelligence is an emergent property. It did not pre-exist space and time and consequently could not possibly have had anything to do with the origin of either one.

14Truly it is to our Lord that we are returning.’

No. That is not true at all. That is a fantasy.

15Yet they assign some of His own servants to Him as offspring!

Haleem says this passage refers to God’s angels, which were then believed by Muhammad’s contemporaries to be God’s daughters rather than his servants.

Man is clearly ungrateful! 16Has He taken daughters for Himself and favoured you with sons? 17When one of them is given news of the a birth of a daughter, such as he so readily ascribes to the Lord of Mercy, his face grows dark and he is filled with gloom–

This verse was a pleasant surprise for me, that the Qur’an would criticize parents who only value sons. This isn’t just in the Arab world either. Some Asian traditions have a grossly imbalanced preference for sons over daughters. I only had to get half-way into the Qur’an to find the first thing that wasn’t repugnant ignorance but a laudable sentiment I could actually agree with.

18‘Someone who is brought up amongst trinkets, who cannot put together a clear argument?’ a 19They consider the angels– God’s servants– to be female. Did they witness their creation?

Did you? I’m not talking to God here but to whomever wrote this pretending to speak for God.

Their claim will be put on record and they will be questioned about it.

So you say, but there is no way to verify you say now, is there?

20They say, ‘If the Lord of Mercy had willed it, we would not have worshipped them,’ but they do not know that– they are only guessing–

But you’re not guessing? We’re supposed to believe that you know what you’re talking about because the angel transmitting telepathic messages into your head told you to write this, just like other gods did for other scribes of all these other faiths. Irony, thy name is religion.

21or have We perhaps given them a book before this one, to which they hold fast? 22No indeed!

Wrong again. The Jewish Torah, the Christian gospels, the Avestas of Zarathustra, the Hellenist Theogany, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Mahabarata and a few other sacred tomes predate the Qur’an and contradict Islam. Some of these even predate Judaism! Hinduism is the oldest religion in continuous practice. The library of Vedic and other scriptures of that faith make the Qur’an look like a pamphlet by comparison.

They say, ‘We saw our fathers following this tradition; we are guided by their footsteps.’

23Whenever We sent a messenger before you to warn a township, those corrupted by wealth said, in the same way, ‘We saw our fathers following this tradition; we are only following in their footsteps.’ 24The messenger said, ‘Even though I bring you a truer religion than what you saw your fathers following?’ and they replied, ‘But we do not believe the message you bring.’ 25We punished them: think about how those who rejected the Truth met their end.

And still you did not learn, and you kept trying the same thing that didn’t work before and still wasn’t working. Religion is not truth. The truth is what the facts are. Show us something we can demonstrate to be true, that doesn’t require faith. Then we would believe, even though belief should never have been a requirement anyway. Nor would it be if a god really existed.

26Abraham said to his father and his people, ‘I renounce what you worship.

And Abraham’s son said to his father, “you crazy bastard. You heard voices in your head telling you to kill your own children?!” If only there were psychiatrists back then. They might have cured religion with a dose of thorazine.

27I worship only Him who created me, and it is He who will guide me,’ 28and he bequeathed these words to his descendants so that they might return [to God].

We were not “created”. We have no creator, and you worship a book written by people who obviously didn’t know what they were talking about.

29I have let these people and their fathers enjoy long lives, and now I have given them the Truth and a messenger to make things clear–

Lies are made of unsupported claims asserted as “truth”.

30yet when the Truth came to them, they said, ‘This is sorcery. We do not believe in it,’ 31and they said, ‘Why was this Qur’an not sent down to a distinguished man, from either of the two cities?’ [Mecca or Ta’if] 32Are they the ones who share out your Lord’s grace?

Why was it sent down to a man at all? You had already tried that a bunch of times and got several completely different religions out of it. So why not pervade the collective consciousness of all humanity at once and maintain that telepathic connection always? Supposedly you can do anything you want to, right? Or show us anything compelling and indicative that doesn’t require blind faith in raving religious nuts.

We are the ones who give them their share of livelihood in this world and We have raised some of them above others in rank, so that some may take others into service: your Lord’s grace is better than anything they accumulate.

Is this is how Islam justifies classism and slavery, the same way Judaism and Christianity did, the same way Hinduism did too, by claiming it was divine providence that some people were a higher or lower class and that others were “taken into service”?

33If it were not that all mankind might have become a single nation [of disbelievers], We could have given all those who disbelieve in the Lord of Mercy houses with roofs of silver, sweeping staircases to ascend, 34massive gates, couches to sit on, 35and golden ornaments. All of these are mere enjoyments of this life; your Lord reserves the next life for those who take heed of Him.

What’s wrong will all of mankind being a single nation of rationally thinking people? That looked pretty good on Star Trek. What y’all have instead at the hands of faith is a dystopian nightmare.

There is no “next life” fortunately, for an undying and inescapable eternity would be hellish in any condition. A wise king once said, “there comes a time when the jewels cease to sparkle, when gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father’s love for his child”. What good are silver roofs? What people need is not valuable things but value in our existence. Give us some way to learn and advance to better ourselves through our own interests and endeavors, and we’ll find our own happiness. Remember also that humanity places a higher value on that which is rare. Thus living forever and ever no matter what cheapens existence. Even in Heaven, we would eventually be willing to pay anything for let our continuous being come to an end.

36We assign an evil one as a comrade for whoever turns away from the revelations of the Lord of Mercy:

Note that once again Allah has just described himself as evil!

37evil ones bar people from the right path, even though they may think they are well guided.

So that’s why your prophets have all failed! That’s why the lands ruled by God’s law are guilty of so many human rights violations. You’re all misguided.

38When such a person comes to Us, he will say [to his comrade], ‘If only you had been as far away from me as east is from west. What an evil comrade!’ 39[It will be said to them], ‘You have done wrong. Having partners in punishment will not console you today.’ 40Can you [Prophet] make the deaf hear? Or guide either the blind or those who are in gross error? 41Either We shall take you away and punish them– indeed We will– 42 or We shall let you witness the punishment We threatened them with; We have full power over them. 43Hold fast to what has been revealed to you– you truly are on the right path– 44for it is a reminder a for you and your people: you will all be questioned.

I read four different translations of the paragraph above, none of which were intelligible. I think there are some provincial colloquialisms I’ve never heard of getting in the way, exactly the sort of thing a pan-galactic deity wouldn’t have included in a book claiming clarity.

45Ask the prophets We sent before you: ‘Did We ever appoint any gods to be worshipped besides the Lord of Mercy?’

Well, as there were a whole lotta other guys before Muhammad, waves of them, all with allegedly “god-breathed holy books claiming completely different theologies, but all saying they were sent by you (or some alternate version of you) to be your messengers, then yeah, either they were sent by different gods who came before you, or you hired the wrong guys, or you didn’t train them properly, or—and this is by the most parsimonious explanation—there are no gods, not even you, and all these self-professed prophets were out of their minds or fraudulent or both.

46We sent Moses to Pharaoh and his courtiers and he said, ‘I am truly a messenger from the Lord of the Worlds,’ 47but when he presented Our signs to them, they laughed, 48even though each sign We showed them was greater than the previous one.

Why does this always surprise you, God? Aren’t you supposed to be omniscient? Aren’t you supposed to know the future? Aren’t you supposed to have wisdom enough to know how to make a compelling case? I can! Why can’t you? Why do you fail at this over and again, despite all your threats of merciless violence, and yet you keep using that same failed methodology? You know, they say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. I’m not suggest that you’re insane of course. You only exist in the mind, but some of the minds you exist in need the sort of professional help that wasn’t available in your time.

We inflicted torment on them so that they might return to the right path.

Being unable to make your case, you immediately resort to extortion and abuse, proving that yours was never the right path.

49They said, ‘Sorcerer, call on your Lord for us, by virtue of His pledge to you: we shall certainly accept guidance,’ 50but as soon as We relieved their torment they broke their word.

The deal described was that you were supposed to provide guidance, which you failed to do.

51Pharaoh proclaimed to his people, ‘My people, is the Kingdom of Egypt not mine? And these rivers that flow at my feet, are they not mine? Do you not see? 52Am I not better than this contemptible wretch who can scarcely express himself? 53Why has he not been given any gold bracelets? Why have no angels come to accompany him?’ 54In this way he moved his people to accept and they obeyed him– they were perverse people.

Cool story, Bro, but that’s all it was. According to the overwhelming majority of archaeologists, none of that really happened.

55When they provoked Us, We punished and drowned them all: 56We made them a lesson and an example for later people.

That lesson was in the form of a story with a moral, like many fables of that time. Only this story did not appear on any records until about a thousand years later! That’s when it seems that your Jewish followers started telling the tale of what they wanted to believe happened—at an uncertain time, with an anonymous pharaoh, and leaving no evidence to corroborate what we already know could not have really happened because none of the numbers add up.

57When the son of Mary is cited as an example, your people [Prophet] laugh and jeer, 58saying, ‘Are our gods better or him?’– they cite him only to challenge you: they are a contentious people–

There’s the second time in a single sura where I have to agree. Christians can be contentious people, but for the Qur’an to say so is just the pot calling the kettle black.

59but he is only a servant We favoured and made an example for the Children of Israel:

How’d that work out? Judaism is now the 6th largest religion in the world and Christianity is number one. That means there are more people worshiping the servant than the master. Good job, Allah. Way to shoot yourself in the foot with your example for Israel.

60if it had been Our will, We could have made you angels, a succeeding one another on earth.

Translator Abdel Haleem put a footnote here adding “Just as God was able to create Jesus without a father”. That’s another surprise for me, as I was told Muslims do not believe in the virgin birth, because that literally would make God Jesus’ father. But what I find amusing about this is human authors, editors and translators telling us what God meant to say between the lines, because God always needs men to interpret his words and thus keep the wars going. That’s why God never writes anything himself.

Additionally, we do not have eternal souls lying around in a bin like so much play-dough waiting for someone to figure out what to make each soul into. All of this is written on assumptions based on ignorance.

61This [Qur’an] gives knowledge of the Hour: do not doubt it.

That reminds me of a tee shirt I had in high school.

Follow Me for this is the right path; 62do not let Satan hinder you, for he is your sworn enemy.

No, Satan is just as fictional as you are. He’s a cooler character than you, but then that’s how fictional stories always portray the bad guy, isn’t it.

63When Jesus came with clear signs he said, ‘I have brought you wisdom;

No, he didn’t. Jesus said a lot of crazy stuff, and he said some stupid stuff too, and he never had clear signs of anything except the same sort of cultish faith-healing scam that modern huxters are still using today, but we’re not bashing Christianity right now. It’s Islam’s turn.

I have come to clear up some of your differences for you. Be mindful of God and obey me: 64God is my Lord and your Lord. Serve Him: this is the straight path.’ 65Yet still the different factions among them disagreed–

That’s not a difference between Islam and Christianity; that’s how they’re the same.

woe to the evildoers: they will suffer the torment of a grievous day!– 66what are they waiting for but the Hour, which will come upon them suddenly and take them unawares?

Won’t happen. Threaten away, but your threat has no teeth because it has no truth.

67On that Day, friends will become each other’s enemies. Not so the righteous–

…who are already each others’ enemies now. Gather any collection of priests, rabbis and imams together in one place to quickly see how right I am. If there are no atheists around, believers in different faiths will immediately turn on each other.

68‘My servants, there is no fear for you today, nor shall you grieve’––69those who believed in Our revelations and devoted themselves to Us. 70‘Enter Paradise, you and your spouses: you will be filled with joy.’ 71Dishes and goblets of gold will be passed around them with all that their souls desire and their eyes delight in. ‘There you will remain: 72this is the Garden you are given as your own, because of what you used to do, 73and there is abundant fruit in it for you to eat.’

So we still have to eat even in the afterlife? That means something dead still has got to die, because that’s what eating is, ingesting and digesting the cells of other organisms in order to survive. So if we kill and eat a chicken in heaven, does it go to the after-after life? Notice also that we have to farm that garden to sustain ourselves for all eternity. You’d think that God would have figured out a better system, one that it wouldn’t just be an inescapable continuation of your labors and hunger in regular life, real life.

74But the evildoers will remain in Hell’s punishment, 75from which there is no relief:

Get that? There are no toilets in Hell.

they will remain in utter despair. 76We never wronged them; they were the ones who did wrong.

Again, I have to point out that the only “wrong” here is not anything we do that is immoral. Religious books say it is wrong to be rational; the wrong is the thought-crime of not believing the unbelievable.

77They will cry, ‘Malik, if only your Lord would finish us off,’ but he will answer, ‘No! You are here to stay.’

This is another interesting point. Islam took a lot of liberties with the Biblical fables, adding all sorts of details. For example, here we see that they’ve added the character, Malik, King of Hell, who works for God managing the Hell District, the same way a lot of unstudied Christians imagine Satan ruling their version of Hell.

78We have brought you the Truth but most of you despise it.

Because it is not the truth. What you just said was a lie.

79Have these disbelievers thought up some scheme? We too have been scheming.

You can’t stop everyone from thinking, and some of those people figure things out.

80Do they think We cannot hear their secret talk and their private counsel? Yes we can: Our messengers are at their sides, recording everything.

No, that’s what you want everyone to think, but really God is a parasitic belief, limited to the consciousness of the human host. He only knows, hears or sees what his believers do. That’s also why he needs humans to do his work for him.

81Say [Prophet], ‘If the Lord of Mercy [truly] had offspring I would be the first to worship [them], but– 82exalted be the Lord of the heavens and earth, the Lord of the Throne– He is far above their false descriptions.’

But he’s obviously not above YOUR false descriptions, Muhammad, if that is your real name.

83Leave them to wade in deeper and play about, until they face the Day they have been promised.

…which will never come.

84It is He who is God in heaven and God on earth; He is the All Wise, the All Knowing;

Obviously not, as this series has already abundantly shown.

85Exalted is He who has control of the heavens and earth and everything between them; He has knowledge of the Hour; you will all be returned to Him. 86Those gods they invoke besides Him have no power of intercession, unlike those who bore witness to the truth and recognized it.

Yes, once again, the truth is only whatever we can show to be true, NOT what we merely assert to be true and have to believe on faith.

87If you [Prophet] ask them who created them they are sure to say, ‘God,’ so why are they so deluded?

Good question! Ask that one while looking into a mirror. Of course I wouldn’t give the same answer, because I know better.

88The Prophet has said, ‘My Lord, truly these are people who do not believe,’ 89but turn away from them and say, ‘Peace’: they will come to know.

Once again, this sura said something I agree with! Leave the unbelievers alone to inquire, investigate and explore, so that they will come to know what believers don’t even want to learn.

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