April 22, 2024

An Infidel Reads Sūrah 54

This is the 11th part of this series. We’re 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.
and my 1oth post on surahs 50, 90 & 86.

Sūrah 54 (Al-Qamar) The Moon

(1) The Hour draws near; the moon is split in two. (2) Whenever the disbelievers see a sign, they turn away and say, ‘Same old sorcery!’ (3) They reject the truth and follow their own desires––everything is recorded–– (4) although warning tales that should have restrained them have come down to them––(5) far-reaching wisdom––but these warnings do not help: (6) so [Prophet] turn away from them. On the Day the Summoner will summon them to a horrific event, (7) eyes downcast, they will come out of their graves like swarming locusts (8) rushing towards the Summoner. The disbelievers will cry, ‘This is a stern day!’

Abdel Haleem says this original “Night of the Living Dead” story is a “Meccan sura dealing mainly with the punishment dealt out to previous generations of disbelievers”. But if that’s the case, then what previous generations ever saw the moon cleaved in twain? I saw one amusing apologetic trying to say this wasn’t previous generations at all; it’s a prophesy that was fulfilled fifty years ago, when astronauts brought back some 842 pounds of rock from the moon. Somehow taking home a couple thousand separate samples of rocks small enough to hold in your hand is what it means for the moon to be “split in two” is it?

Abdel Haleem’s footnotes are confusing because he says this passage “clearly refers to the end of the world”. But that’s not as clear as he thinks. Another translation by Hilali Khan says “the people of Makkah requested Prophet Muhammad to show them a miracle, so he showed them the splitting of the moon”. So it wasn’t previous generations and it wasn’t future ones either. Muhammad himself split the moon in two for the people around him to see. The Islamic Foundation also verifies that this is the only sensible way to interpret this sura linguistically.

Every version of this sura I have seen so far then goes on to say that Muhammad’s Arabian contemporaries saw this extraterrestrial demonstration of God’s power and scoffed that it was just a simple magic trick. Either they’re such hard-core skeptics that Muhammad could never have converted them to Islam or maybe he did the thing that David Copperfield did to make the statue of Liberty appear to disappear—only from the vantage point of a select few looking between the curtains from their assigned seats. If Mo really did split the moon in two, then I have to wonder why no one else on Earth ever noticed that. That seems the sort of thing some European or Chinese scribes should have taken note of. Even if he slapped the two halves back together again real quick, someone else somewhere else still should have seen that and would have immediately pointed it out to a whole lot of other people. But this story exists only in the Qur’an, not in reality. This is precisely why all of God’s messengers are dismissed as madmen.

(9) The people of Noah rejected the truth before them: they rejected Our servant, saying, ‘He is mad!’ Noah was rebuked, (10) and so he called upon his Lord, ‘I am defeated: help me!’ (11) So We opened the gates of the sky with torrential water, (12) burst the earth with gushing springs: the waters met for a preordained purpose. (13) We carried him along on a vessel of planks and nails (14) that floated under Our watchful eye, a reward for the one who had been rejected. (15) We have left this as a sign: will anyone take heed? (16) How [terrible] was My punishment and [the fulfilment of] My warnings! (17) We have made it easy to learn lessons from the Qur’an: will anyone take heed?

How does the author know any of this? Because this is supposed to be God talking. So it’s really just human scribes making things up and pretending to speak for Allah (the god). So once again, I find myself arguing with the authors, and thus with Muhammad, and by extension, I’m arguing with God when I point out that the Qur’an does NOT “make it easy” to “heed” any of these so-called “warnings”; especially not when previous suras reinforced the illusion that the earth is flat and covered by a solid crystal firmament, where the sun is a relatively small thing that orbits the earth and sets down in a lake every night; and that everyone that ever lived had two angels on their shoulders, who are immortal yet each pair of angels is assigned to only one mortal lifetime. So how many billions of former shoulder angels are sitting around doing nothing now? But then when they add the moon being split into two pieces and still failing to convince Muhammad’s audience in the 7th century; we know that none of that ever really happened. The story only loses even more credibility by bringing up Noah’s ark! Because we have proof from several independent fields of science that the global flood never really happened either!

Some Muslims argue that Noah (also known as Nūḥ in the Qur’an) was meant to be the tale of an isolated regional flood. In fact, the story in the Bible is based on an actual account of the flood of Shuruppak around 2900 BCE. Archaeologists and geologists determined that the depth of that flood was 15 cubits or roughly 22 feet, which is the same depth given in the Bible. The story of that flood—recognizable by several uniquely specific details—was also retold in Babylon, Akkad and Sumer; always with the main character having a different name, Atrahasis, Ubar-Tutu and originally Ziusudra. While it might be possible to interpret this as only a regional flood, we know the Bible version was based on these previous polytheist versions that are at least a thousand years older, and that the Qur’an got this story from the Bible. So we should expect the exaggerations to be intact, especially since the story lacks all its importance without the global embellishment. Also I’ve been told that later references to Noah more strongly imply that the flood story had to be global, though I don’t think I’ve gotten there yet.

(18) The people of ‘Ad also rejected the truth. How [terrible] was My punishment and [the fulfilment of] My warnings! (19) We released a howling wind against them on a day of terrible disaster; (20) it swept people away like uprooted palm trunks. (21) How [terrible] was My punishment and [the fulfilment of] My warnings! (22) We have made it easy to learn lessons from the Qur’an: will anyone take heed?

The Qur’an is the most repetitive tome I’ve ever read. Here we repeat a list of tragedies that were brought up before, as if every natural disaster was meant to be evidence for the local god, which is the way superstitious people tend to think. But it is the question-begging fallacy, the most common logical fallacy at the base of every religion being repeated over again.

(23) The people of Thamud also rejected the warnings: (24) they said, ‘What? A man? Why should we follow a lone man from amongst ourselves? That would be misguided; quite insane! (25) Would a message be given to him alone out of all of us? No, he is an insolent liar!’

That’s a fair point. God is imagined to be the ultimate power of the universe who controls absolutely everything with a thought like the djinni. If such a being of awesome power were so concerned that we believe in him that he would punish mercilessly for all eternity if we don’t, then he would not whisper his truth only into the ears of one lone madman, like all the Abrahamic and Hindu scriptures both repeatedly say he does.

(26)‘Tomorrow they will know who is the insolent liar, (27) for We shall send them a she-camel to test them: so watch them [Salih] and be patient. (28) Tell them the water is to be shared between them: each one should drink in turn.’ (29) But they called their companion, who took a sword and hamstrung the camel. (30) How [terrible] was My punishment and [the fulfilment of] My warnings! (31) We released a single mighty blast against them and they ended up like a fencemaker’s dry sticks. (32) We have made it easy to learn lessons from the Qur’an: will anyone take heed?

This refers to an earlier story in sura 26. According to Ibn Kathir, this was supposed to be a magic camel that would drink all the water in its turn, leaving none for any other animal, but she also provided enough milk for all. Though other animals were afraid to go near her.  Whatever the case, the people of Thamud were given something that is very rare in prophecy, an expiration date, a way to test the prediction. So when they were told that unspecified terrible things would happen to them if they interfered with the magic camel, they hamstrung it, and were eventually wiped out in an earthquake some time later. Again, hardly a compelling account for any reasonable person.

(33) The people of Lot rejected the warnings. (34) We released a stonebearing wind against them, all except the family of Lot.

A stone-bearing wind? The most reasonable interpretation I can make is that someone built their town too close to an active volcano. Fire and brimstone and a pyroclastic cloud made casts of human corpses such as were found after Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii. Perhaps something like that is what lead to the legend of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt? (Yes, I know the images above are plaster casts.) Regardless, there is no stone-bearing wind. God could have described a tornado or a volcano, or whatever it was. But more important than that is that, there is no reason for God to punish people for not believing the unsupported ravings of madmen.

We saved them before dawn (35) as a favour from Us: this is how We reward the thankful. (36) He warned them of Our onslaught, but they dismissed the warning– – (37) they even demanded his guests from him–– so We sealed their eyes––‘ Taste My [terrible] punishment and [the fulfilment of] My warnings!’– – (38) and early in the morning a punishment seized them that still remains– – (39) ‘Taste My [terrible] punishment and [the fulfilment of] My warnings!’ (40) We have made it easy to learn lessons from the Qur’an: will anyone take heed?

The only lesson I’m learning is that anyone who disbelieves, even if they lived thousands of years before Islam and never even heard of the god of Abraham, any tragedy that befalls them will be misrepresented by dishonest apologists pretending those people didn’t believe in our raving insanity, and because of that, they got their just desserts. So don’t question my madness either, and don’t expect me to prove what any reasonable person should, or you’ll be sorry. An empty threat for an empty assertion.

(41) The people of Pharaoh also received warnings. (42) They rejected all Our signs so We seized them with all Our might and power. (43) ‘Are your disbelievers any better than these?

Yes, I am better than the unbelievers of which you speak. Because unlike the unnamed Pharaoh in this story, I actually exist. We know that the tale of the Exodus never happened either. I have heard that some scholars think this legend might be based on the Hebrews’ escape from Babylon, and that Egypt and the unknown pharaoh were added later for whatever reason, perhaps confusion or some ancient sage trying to reconcile contradictions in interpretations or politics at that time.

Were you given an exemption in the Scripture?’ (44) Do they perhaps say, ‘We are a great army and we shall be victorious’? (45) Their forces will be routed and they will turn tail and flee.

Prophecies are not real, and scripture doesn’t “provide” anything but fanciful fairy tales. Rights are often inhibited, restricted or refused according to scripture, but can be overridden by human legislators acting with humanist goals irrespective of religion.

(46) But the Hour is their appointed time—And the Hour is more severe and bitter: (47) truly the wicked are misguided and quite insane–

Yes, and the vast majority of insane, wicked and misguided people are religious and believe in the god of Abraham.

(48) on the Day when they are dragged on their faces in Hell. ‘Feel the touch of Hell.’

There is no Hell, unless it’s a place that I’ve already been to.

(49) We have created all things in due measure;

No, you didn’t.

(50) when We ordain something it happens at once, in the blink of an eye;

No, it doesn’t—ever.

(51) We have destroyed the likes of you in the past.

No, you haven’t.

Will anyone take heed?

To what? Empty threats of impossible absurdity?

(52) Everything they do is noted in their records: (53) every action, great or small, is recorded. (54) The righteous will live securely among Gardens and rivers, (55) secure in the presence of an all-powerful Sovereign. 

He’s making a list and checking it twice. ‘Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.

Seriously, how did anyone ever believe any of this?

Here is the video discussion of this blog post.

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