July 14, 2024

An Infidel Reads the Qur’an – Chapter 18

My first post about reading the Qur’an was on Chapters 1 & 2.
My second post and first video chat was on Chapters 96, 68 & 73.
My third post and second video chat was on Chapters 74, 111 & 81.
My fourth post and third video was on Chapters 87, 92, 89, 93, 94 & 103.

Though I will now refer to each chapter as Surah, as they are traditionally called. That makes more sense when so many “chapters” are but a single paragraph.

In each of these videos, I had been joined by at least a couple people intimately familiar with Islam, either having once been part of it or who still believe in it. This is at my request, to make sure my understanding is as fair as it can be—since I have no familiarity with sirah, the biography of Muhammad or any of the associated beliefs not detailed in the scripture itself. My panel of advisers suggested that I also compare the translation I’m reading from Abdel Haleem to a tafsir. The one believer on my panel so far said that I should specifically reference tafsir ibn Kathir, which in fairness, I did.

I had been reading and commenting on these surahs a few at a time in “order of revelation” as opposed to the order they’re usually printed in, but one of my guests (a recent apostate) requested that I go out of sequence to address one of the earlier and longer surahs, one he finds to be particularly problematic. Surah 18 in normal print is #109 in the “Order of Revelations”, according to Tanzil.net, and he doesn’t want to wait long enough for that one to come around. My panel of advisers are OK with that. But because these early chapters are so much longer than the later ones, and we know that the Qur’an repeats itself continuously, I’m going to have to summarize and only comment on those numbered verses that I consider note-worthy.

Surah 18 Al-Kahf “The Cave”

1Praise be to God, who sent down the Scripture to His servant and made it unerringly straight,

That is according to Translator, Abdel Haleem. However, Ismail ibn Kathir phrased it thus:

(1. All praise is due to Allah, Who has sent down to His servant the Book, and has not placed therein any crookedness.)

We already know better than that. Allah blinds whoever he decides should not believe, so that he can punish them for what is really his fault. And that’s just the beginning of the crookedness.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that languages can be translated, or else there wouldn’t be multiple interpretations that disagree. In this context, (in American English) just because you don’t have it “straight” [accurate] doesn’t mean you’re “crooked” [dishonest].

2warning of severe punishment from Him, and [giving] glad news to the believers who do good deeds––an excellent reward 3that they will always enjoy. 4It warns those people who assert, ‘God has offspring.’ 5They have no knowledge about this, nor did their forefathers––it is a monstrous assertion that comes out of their mouths: what they say is nothing but lies.

According to Ibn Kathir, the important verses here read as follows:

(4. And to warn those who say, “Allah has begotten a child.”) (5. No knowledge have they of such a thing, nor had their fathers. 

I read both of these as Allah denying the Christian claim that Jesus is his son. I thought that was the first interesting thing I’ve read in this book so far, and I was already 14 chapters into it. However Haleem says this verse “most probably refers to Meccan claims that the angels are daughters of God”. Likewise, the tathir cites Ibn Ishaq as saying, “These are the pagan Arabs, who said, `We worship the angels who are the daughters of Allah.”’If that is the case, would that mean that the angel, Gabriel (whose supposed to be revealing all this to the prophet) is one of God’s sons? Did the “pagan” Meccans think all the angels were female?

Another tafsir, Quranx.com cites three other translators who all say this is in reference to allegations that Allah has chosen, taken, or begotten a son. So maybe it is talking about Christians? In any case, note how the author says they don’t really know whether God has any offspring? I interpret that to be the same as saying “you have no evidence of that”; which (coming from God, or an angel, or a prophet) is just dripping with irony.

Here the Qur’an continues repeating the threat of Hellfire for the unbeliever, but at least it includes stories this time, [sort-of] probably the first ones I’ve seen in the 14 chapters so far. It’s about a handful of people, (no one knows how many) sleeping in a cave. No one knows how long they’ve been there. One says most of that day, someone else says they’ve been there for years or even hundreds of years. They say “God knows” how many. It’s amusing to me that “God knows” really means that no one knows, not even the prophet who God is supposed to be telling these things to.

How ever many of them were in the cave, the story says they had a dog with them. The translator says that “Al-Raqim” might be the name of the mountain where the cave is, or it might be the name of the dog in the cave. Such ambiguity is inexcusable for the divinely-inspired “word-of-God”. Because I have to compare scholarly translations to the tafsirs, when each of those interpreters have also read the Hadiths, yet they don’t know if we’re talking about a mountain or a dog? All the story says about the dog is that it stretched its legs when it woke up just like everyone else did. If we don’t know the names of any of these companions, why should we know the name of their dog?

Even after referencing the Tafsir, the importance of this story was completely lost on me. What I got out of it when I read it on my own without any other guidance or commentary was that the Lord made these people sleep in a cave for however long and now they’re going to tell that to the townspeople in order to prove that the story of resurrection is true. Were they supposed to be dead? I don’t think so. The Tafsir says they slept with their eyes open, like wolves allegedly do. Whatever the point of this story was supposed to be, it apparently still wasn’t compelling. Because they still had to constantly reaffirm their own faith and threaten damnation to everyone who didn’t believe them; both of which count as evidence that the belief isn’t true.

14We gave strength to their hearts when they stood up and said, ‘Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and earth. We shall never call upon any god other than Him, for that would be an outrageous thing to do.

I think it’s outrageous to call on ANY god; it doesn’t matter which one it is. They all come from the same place, and are consequently equally imaginary and inert.

15These people of ours have taken gods other than Him. Why do they not produce clear evidence about them?

That’s a great question! Why don’t y’all get together and both try to produce evidence for either of your gods? Once you admit that neither of you can, you should try to figure out why that is. Then you can both become humanists, working together on pragmatic solutions to real-world problemsinstead of wishing on a star, which is about all prayer amounts to.

Who could be more unjust than someone who makes up lies about God?

The one who claims that a god exists, and further identifies who that god is, and pretends to know other details about the divine, that person is the one who is lying. It’s one thing to say you believe something is true (without any way to prove it) but it is another thing to state that it is true as if it were a matter of fact. It is dishonest to assert baseless speculation as if it were certain knowledge. If you can’t produce any evidence showing that any god exists or is even possible, then how can your know whether any god is real, much less feign knowledge of which god that is?

17 …(This is one of God’s signs: those people God guides are rightly guided, but you will find no protector to lead to the right path those He leaves to stray.)

Even if a god really existed, how could anyone know whether they’re being guided by that god, or whether they’re just wandering through the blindness of their own delusion?

20if they found you out, they would stone you or force you to return to their religion, where you would never come to any good.’

The author already sees the problem with religion, but just hasn’t made the connection to his own religion; that this is what all religions do, and that’s one more way to know they’re all wrong.  Why does he not realize the solution is to discard beliefs based on culture and faith, and turn to reason instead?

27[Prophet], follow what has been revealed to you of your Lord’s Scripture: there is no changing His words, nor can you find any refuge except with Him.

That’s wrong on both points obviously; since Islam is evidently a redaction of Christianity, itself a bastardization of Judaism, which was a plagiarized amalgamation of multiple (mostly pagan) religions. Improving understanding of what is demonstrably real is a better “refuge” than believing things that aren’t evidently true or even possible. That’s why the lack of any religious belief is not only the fastest growing demographic world-wide in the age of reason, but lacking faith is comparable to lacking disease. Though I think religion is more like addiction.

28Content yourself with those who pray to their Lord morning and evening, seeking His approval, and do not let your eyes turn away from them out of desire for the attractions of this worldly life: do not yield to those whose hearts We have made heedless of Our Qur’an, those who follow their own low desires, those whose ways are unbridled.

I think a person’s humanity matters more than whatever they do or don’t believe. I think any god worth his robes would agree that the criteria should not be whether someone is credulous enough to have been duped by the favored lies of whatever culture, and that we should correct such thinking in favor of rational skepticism.

30As for those who believe and do good deeds–– We do not let the reward of anyone who does a good deed go to waste–

As long as the obedient are also believers. Then we’ll offer an imaginary carrot to contrast the imaginary stick.

From verse 45 to at least verse 49, we get the oft-repeated message to ignore the real world, and to believe in the land of pure imagination; convince yourself by faith, without reason and against all reason….or else. Because if you don’t believe in God, not only will you go to Hell after you die, but your crops will fail while you live.

50We said to the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam,’ and they all bowed down, but not Iblis: he was one of the jinn and he disobeyed his Lord’s command.

So Lucifer’s name was changed to Iblis, and other details for the story changed too; from Isaiah criticizing Babylonian mythology, to how Christians and now Muslims both misinterpret that. This again refutes verse 27, where the poetry asserts that the words of men pretending to speak for their gods cannot be changed; despite the fact that they obviously have already been changed over and over again.

56We only send messengers to bring good news and to deliver warning, yet the disbelievers seek to refute the truth with false arguments and make fun of My messages and warnings.

No. Amusingly, I feel like I’m debating with the author directly here. My arguments are sound and logically well-supported. The truth is what the facts are. Believers don’t have that. If you don’t want your beliefs to be ridiculed, don’t have such ridiculous beliefs.

After this, we get another story, this time about Moses; though this one isn’t quite up to the standards of Cecil B. DeMille. Moses is following some alleged mystic who does strange things and then offers indefensible explanations, but that the reader is supposed to interpret as justifying these actions. For example, at one point he murdered an innocent child that he and Moses passed on the road. The mystic explains:

80The young boy had parents who were people of faith, and so, fearing he would trouble them through wickedness and disbelief, 81we wished that their Lord should give them another child–– purer and more compassionate–– in his place.

The madman speaking was referred to Moses as a man full of knowledge given him by the angels, and he was meant to tutor Moses. So we are supposed to count the murder of this child as a wise act of concern for the child’s parents. No, this is an example of most horribly evil bigoted stupidity which no Muslim can defend.

109Say [Prophet], ‘If the whole ocean were ink for writing the words of my Lord, it would run dry before those words were exhausted’–– even if We were to add another ocean to it.

Yet the Qur’an is shorter than the Bible, which is itself 1/15 as long as the Hindu Mahabarata, and nothing in the Qur’an so far has been true or worth reading.

My guest also referred me to a video explaining some problems with this chapter. I chose not to watch it until I had already read it, to see how much I could glean on my own. Not much, it turns out, even with Tafsir. That’s why I’m meeting with Muslims and ex-Muslims to help me better understand all of this.

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