Hard Questions

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Archive for December 2007

The Signs of God

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The main advantage of literal translation of scriptures, is that, it removes one layer between you and the original text, the layer imposed by the translator interpreting the text for you. take this example:
God says:

“And you see the mountains you think they are stationary, and they are passing like the passing of clouds. The Working of God who perfected everything. Indeed He is Well Acquainted of what you do”
[27:88]

This is a beautiful verse, a great sign pointing to its divine source. One possible interpretation is that this verse describes the rotation of Earth as seen from a frame of reference beyond the gravitational field of Earth.

It is one of many verses in the Quran, which describe with great accuracy, scientific phenomena that were completely unknown to humanity in the seventh century AD, when the Quran was revealed.

How on earth did prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) have known that mountains are not stationary?

Unlike all previous prophets and messengers of God, the miracle of the last prophet, Mohamed pbuh, is an enduring one. It is a sign that stays with us today and will stay for those who will come after we depart from this world. You too can see it and appreciate it.

The Sign given to the prophet whose mission includes the era of a scientific and materialistic world, is different. It is a Sign that speaks to your mind and to your intellect. It is for those who think for themselves, those who honestly seek the truth.

The splitting of the sea, was very visible and- no doubt- an astounding miracle bestowed on Moses, Similarly, raising the dead, with the will of God, was performed by Jesus and Moses, These miracles which defied the norms of worldly laws and customs were intended for specific people, and were witnessed by a limited audience who were present at a certain place at a particular point in history.

The Quran, the miracle of prophet Muhammad, is a book. A miraculous book that can be read by people long after the prophet has died, and long after the revelation itself.

Notes on the translation of the verse:

Non Arabic speakers who translated the Quran, did a great job, but in a few instances they relied on “Tafseers” or peshers (interpretations) and in those instances, they would translate their understanding of the verse, which was derived from the interpretations they received.

The above verse was translated as:

“And you will see the mountains and think them solid, but they shall pass away as the passing away of the clouds. The Work of Allâh, Who perfected all things, verily He is Well-Acquainted with what you do.”

Early Muslim scholars who wrote interpretation of the Quran, could not imagine the mountains moving. Most of them interpreted the verse as a future occurrence on the day of judgement.

The only exception was an interpretation attributed to IBN ABBAS, who was quoted by Al-Qurtubi as saying “the mountains are standing but moving fast”.

There could be a merit in the old interpretation, which assumes the verse to be a continuation from the previous passage. That is perfectly plausible, however, there is nothing in the original words that exclude the possibility that the verse is describing a contemporary, worldly scene.

The translation I wrote above is a literal translation, the Arabic sentence is ” and it passes like the passing of clouds” is in the present tense, and not future tense,

It is true that the Quran, in many places, refers to the future in the present and even the past tense, to give the meaning of certainty to a scene. This verse however has no future context at all. It speaks of looking at the mountain, and after describing the motion of the mountains, it says: “The making of Allah, who perfected every thing, verily, He is Well Acquainted with what you do” so this is an added emphasis on the contemporary nature of what the verse is describing.

Written by Rasheed Gadir

December 27, 2007 at 8:18 pm

Thoughts on the crucifixion

with 58 comments

Can we reconcile the Christian and Muslim differences over the Crucifixion? Probably not, but we can still explore and look closely at them. We might learn something useful.

The Gospels confirm that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. Muslims insist that he was not crucified, but saved by God, so obviously, our views on the historical event can not be reconciled, however, unlike other differences between the two faiths, I believe our difference on the crucifixion can be ‘explained’.

The source of the Muslim view on the crucifixion is the Quran. Allah says in the Quran, Chapter 4:

[Quran 4:154] And We caused the Mount to tower above them at (the taking of) their covenant: and We bade them: Enter the gate, prostrate! and We bode them: Transgress not the Sabbath! and We took from them a firm covenant.

[4:155] Then because of their breaking of their covenant, and their disbelieving in the revelations of Allah, and their slaying of the prophets wrongfully, and their saying: Our hearts are hardened – Nay, but Allah set a seal upon them for their disbelief, so that they believe not save a few –

[4:156] That they rejected Faith; that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge;

[4:157] That they said, “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:

[4:158] Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Mighty in Power, Wise;

[4:159] And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgement he will be a witness against them;-

Based on the verses above, God made it appear to those present at the scene, that Jesus was being crucified. It is no wonder then, everyone thought what they were witnessing was the crucifixion of Jesus.

But the Quran also confirms that God saved Jesus. This is one further reason for Muslims to revere Jesus. He had a high standing before God, that Almighty did NOT allow his enemies to kill him.

On the other hand, there are varying accounts of the date of the resurrection of Jesus in the Gospels. Similarly, much of the story of the empty tomb in the Bible and the subsequent appearance of Jesus to the disciples described in the Gospel of Mark, turned out to be an unreliable later addition. There are several conflicting accounts of what happened after the crucifixion.

All this leads me to think that, people believed the Messiah was crucified, but they were unable to find his blessed body.

This secret was only revealed in the Quran centuries later: God has saved his prophet Jesus from his enemies. He did not allow the plotters to prevail against Jesus, who is one of five “Willful” major prophet.

This is consistent with what happened with All the the major messengers of God. Each one of them was saved from his enemies:

  1. Noah was saved from the flood.
  2. Abraham was saved when he was thrown into a raging fire.
  3. Moses was saved from the army of the Pharaoh of Egypt.
  4. Jesus was saved from those who plotted to kill him.
  5. Muhammad was saved from the Meccans who plotted to murder him. God’s peace and blessing be upon all of them

In other areas where Islam and Christianity differ, I believe that the true teachings of Jesus were altered, and I have explained this position in other posts on this blog.

The crucifixion is different. There was simply no way for Christians and Jews to know that their Messiah was saved, not until God sent his last prophet, Muhammad (pbuh) with the Quran, to tell the true story of what really happened on that day, and how God saved his prophet Jesus, in what was the last miracle bestowed on Jesus before his second coming.

Written by Rasheed Gadir

December 15, 2007 at 1:09 am

The First Miracle of Jesus in the Quran

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Just imagine, Mary, mother of Jesus, in a very conservative and religious community. She is from a well known family- a daughter of a priest , and has spent most of her life in the Temple.

This virtuous, saintly, unmarried woman arrives carrying her child, in front of people who new her and her family very well. It must have been an AWFUL experience for her.

How can she prove her innocence? Would anyone believe her? What on earth is she going to do?She needed a miracle.

You can not find the answer to these questions in the canonical Gospels. You will not find the answer even in the non-canonical Gospel of Infancy of Jesus, which has Jesus speaking in the cradle but only to his mother and Joseph, who is described as her spouse. But if she was married, there would be no cause for concern!

You will, however, find the answers in the Quran.

Only a miracle could vindicate Mary in front of the people. She needed a miracle, and that is precise;y what she got. A great miracle:

It was baby Jesus, still in the cradle, who spoke to the crowd, defending his mother, and vindicating her for ever, and dispelling any doubt about her purity.

This is how the whole scene is beautifully described in the Quran:

The Quran, Chaper 19: MARY
[19:16] And make mention of Mary in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East,
[19:17] And had chosen seclusion from them. Then We sent unto her Our Spirit and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man.
[19:18] She said: Lo! I seek refuge in the Beneficent One from thee, if thou art Allah-fearing.
[19:19] He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son.
[19:20] She said: How can I have a son when no mortal hath touched me, neither have I been unchaste?
[19:21] He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me. And (it will be) that We may make of him a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained.
[19:22] And she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place.
[19:23] And the pangs of childbirth drove her unto the trunk of the palm-tree. She said: Oh, would that I had died ere this and had become a thing of naught, forgotten!
[Pickthal 19:24] Then (one) cried unto her from below her, saying: Grieve not! Thy Lord hath placed a rivulet beneath thee,
[19:25] And shake the trunk of the palm-tree toward thee, thou wilt cause ripe dates to fall upon thee.
[19:26] So eat and drink and be consoled. And if thou meetest any mortal, say: Lo! I have vowed a fast unto the Beneficent, and may not speak this day to any mortal.
[19:27] Then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. They said: O Mary! Thou hast come with an amazing thing.
[19:28] O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot.
[19:29] Then she pointed to him. They said: How can we talk to one who is in the cradle, a young boy?
[19:30] He spake: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet,
[19:31] And hath made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and hath enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I remain alive,
[19:32] And (hath made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest.
[19:33] Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!
[19:34] Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt.
[19:35] It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is

Written by Rasheed Gadir

December 12, 2007 at 1:07 pm

On languages and scriptures

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Do you know your scriptures well enough? Are reading the words of your prophet/ Messiah as close as possible to the way he spoke them?

We all love to read our scriptures. They are a vital source of inspiration and spiritual nutrition to us all. I am trying in this post to highlight some of the differences between the Gospels and the Quran when it comes to the language in which we read our scriptures.

The original New Testament documents were written in Greek. Although Greek was used in the region at the time, it was not the language Jesus spoke to his disciples. The Sayings of Jesus that we have today are essentially a translation.

For many Christians, their knowledge of the Gospels come from “a translation of translations of the original” e.g. Aramaic to Greek to to English. I am not aware of any significant manuscript used in the translation of the New Testament that was written in Aramaic or Hebrew.

As my friend Andrew rightly noted, any translation can never be a match to the original. Some meanings are bound to be lost. The translator, in some cases, can only convey what he understood from the original and not the original itself.

The position of language in relation to the Quran is markedly different. The Quran was revealed in the 7th century A.D. in Arabic. To this day, it is still read and recited in the original language it was revealed in.

According to ‘The Cambridge History of the Arabic Language‘, The Quran more or less, froze the “literary Arabic Language” in the form spoken in the seventh century A.D.

The preservation of the language made the original text available to millions which, in turn, helped in keping the text static.

There is a very clear distinction in the Muslim mind between the Quran, and “translations of the meanings of the Quran”. The former applies only to the original Arabic Text.

From the time of the revelation of the Quran, Muslims have maintained a tradition of memorising the whole Arabic text by heart. There exists a dual learning procedure, where the student Must recite the whole text from memory to his teacher. When the teacher is satisfied that the student has pronounced every single word correctly, that student is “approved” to teach others. This listening and reciting mode goes hand in hand with learning how to read the written text.

Every Muslim would learn to recite from memory at least part of the Book and millions have committed the whole Arabic text to memory.

A substantial part of each of the five daily prayers of every Muslim involves reciting parts of the Quran in Arabic.

Many of those who recite the whole Book from memory can not speak Arabic in their daily life, yet the can recite the whole Quran perfectly in Arabic. The latest winner of the Dubai International Prize for reading and reciting the Quran was a boy from Myanmar.

(Thia article is part 2 of the series: Constituents of the Muslim Faith)

Written by Rasheed Gadir

December 11, 2007 at 10:40 pm

A Muslim listening to an early church father 2

with one comment

by Rasheed,

I am still reading the works of Clement of Rome, still listening to his beautiful words.

Another citation from his epistle, has a remarkable similarity to the description of Muslims in the Quran. Clement quotes the scripture:

And in another place [the Scripture] saith, “Behold, the Lord taketh unto Himself a nation out of the midst of the nations, as a man takes the first-fruits of his threshing-floor; and from that nation shall come forth the Most Holy.”

Now this quotation can not be found in the Bible today, but it is echoed in the Quran chapter 2:

[Quran 2:143] Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses over mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness over you.

The Arabic word for middle is [wasat], which has the following meanings:

1- Just. 2- Of high standing. 3- Middle in rank or location.

Since the scriptures quoted was addressed to the children of Israel, it is only reasonable to assume that the “nation” referred to here is different people from the Israelites themselves.

The Israelites had received many prophets and messengers from God, the passage “and from that nation shall come the “most Holy” is a strong indication that:

  1. It is from a nation other than themselves that this promised prophet will emerge.
  2. That this prophet will be the most Holy of all other prophets.

Clement’s interpretation of the passage gives the impression that he considered himself part of this chosen nation, he was a gentile and therefore, he too interpreted “that nation” to be outside Israel. He wrote, immediately after the passage:

Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness

It is clear that Clement interpreted the Most Holy to be Jesus, and the nation to be Jesus followers; but the original verse can equally apply to prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as the Most High, in which case, the ‘nation’ would be Muslims, the followers of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam.

I do not know for sure if, why or when this passage disappeared from the Bible, and I came across an attempt to interpret the passage as a combination of more than one verse from different Books from the Bible: (Numbers 18:27) plus (2 Chronicles 31:14), but the passage cited in the epistle is markedly different in construction and meaning, and the epistle gives the impression that it is quoting a single passage from the scriptures.

Written by Rasheed Gadir

December 1, 2007 at 1:36 am