The rich claim exemption from jihad (9:93) and present excuses to Muhammad, who is not to accept them (9:94), for these people are unclean (9:95). The worst unbelievers and Hypocrites are the Bedouins (9:97). Allah accused some of them of plotting against Muhammad, and warned that their plots would backfire (9:98). However, some truly believe (9:99). Allah may forgive those who repent of their wrongdoings, who have “mixed an act that was good with another that was evil” (9:102). Ibn Juzayy explains that “this ayat was sent down about Abu Lubaba. His virtuous action was jihad and his bad action consisted of advising the Banu Qurayza” — that is, the Jewish tribe that broke their covenant with the Muslims and that Muhammad subsequently had massacred. Those who repent can seal their repentance by giving alms (9:103-104).
Allah contrasts false belief with the genuine article (9:106-112). On the way back from Tabuk, Muhammad received news about a mosque that a group of Muslims had built in opposition to his authority. Allah gave him a revelation making clear the malign intent of the builders, despite their protestations of good intentions (v. 107). Muhammad ordered his followers to burn the mosque to the ground. Ibn Kathir says that its builders had “made it an outpost for those who warred against Allah and His Messenger.”
Allah then guarantees of Paradise to those who “kill and are killed” for him (v. 111). This verse has become in the modern age the rationale for suicide bombing. Ibn Kathir explains: “Allah states that He has compensated His believing servants for their lives and wealth — if they give them up in His cause — with Paradise.” Ibn Juzayy adds, significantly: “It is said that it was sent down about the Homage of Aqaba [an early pledge of Muslims’ willingness to wage war for Islam], but its judgment is general to every believer doing jihad in the way of Allah until the Day of Rising.”
So it has been understood. Abu Abdel Aziz, a modern-day jihadist who fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia, said in a 1994 interview: “I have found that the best sacrifice we can offer for the sake of Allah, is our souls, then our possession[s].” Then he quoted v. 111.
The Qur’an says that this promise of Paradise to those who kill and are killed for Allah is also in the Torah and Gospel, but in reality, it isn’t — which is in itself more evidence for pious Muslims that those documents have been tampered with.
Allah emphasizes that loyalty to Allah comes before everything, and that he controls all (vv. 113-129). Muhammad and the Muslims should not pray for pagans, even relatives (v. 113, cf. v. 84). Abraham even dissociated himself from his father when he realized he was an “enemy of Allah” (v. 114). Allah will not mislead a people after he has guided them to the truth (v. 115) — Ibn Juzayy explains: “This ayat was sent down about some Muslims who asked forgiveness for the idolaters without permission and then they feared for themselves on that account and so the ayat was sent down to console them, i.e. Allah would not take you to task for that before it was clear to you that it was forbidden.”
The “three who were left behind” who are forgiven in v. 118 were three Muslims who, according to Ibn Juzayy, “stayed behind the Tabuk expedition without excuse and without hypocrisy nor intention to stay behind.” The believers must “Fear Allah and be with those who are true,” which means, according to as-Suyuti, “to be truthful in everything and in every situation.” However, Muhammad is said to have allowed for lying “in battle, for bringing reconciliation amongst persons and the narration of the words of the husband to his wife, and the narration of the words of a wife to her husband (in a twisted form in order to bring reconciliation between them).”
The people of Medina and the Bedouins should not have hesitated to follow Muhammad, because anything they suffered in that adventure would have been credited to them as a deed of righteousness. Nothing that infuriates the unbelievers will go unrewarded (v. 120). However, all the Muslims need not go forth to wage jihad warfare (v. 122). Ibn Abbas says, “it is not necessary for all the Muslims to go on raids.” This is a foundation for the Islamic legal principle that jihad is fard kifaya — that is, a community obligation from which some are freed if others take it up. Jihad becomes fard ayn, or obligatory on every believer, when a Muslim land is attacked. In general, Muslims must fight against the unbelievers, and be harsh toward them (v. 123).
The suras of the Qur’an increase the Muslims’ faith (v. 124), but only add to the doubts of the disbelievers (vv. 125-127).
Chapters 1 through 9 of the Qur’an contain the book’s primary doctrinal content. The suras immediately following sura 9 begin to focus more on telling stories of prophets, with an eye toward shoring up Muhammad’s prophetic claim — and the same furious denunciations of unbelievers that fill so much of suras 1-9 continue.
Surah 10, “Jonah,” dates from late in the Meccan period, the first part of Muhammad’s prophetic career. Its name comes from 10:98, where the prophet Jonah is mentioned in passing. After another set of three mysterious letters, the chapter begins by declaring, “These are the verses of the wise Book” (10:1). “This indicates,” says Ibn Kathir, “that these are verses of the Qur’an, in which the wisdom of judgment is clear.”
Allah sums up that “wisdom of judgment” via a series of assertions: he made all things (10:5-6); the idols that the unbelievers worship are worthless (10:18); some people are ungrateful to Allah (v. 12); Allah destroyed earlier generations of unbelievers (v. 13); the unbelievers will burn in hell (vv. 8, 27); and the believers will enjoy the gardens of Paradise (vv. 9, 26).
The skins of the blessed will be white, and that of the damned black (vv. 26-27). Ibn Kathir quotes a hadith to this effect: “When the people of Paradise enter Paradise,” we’re told, “a caller will say: ‘O people of Paradise, Allah has promised you something that He wishes to fulfill.’” Then the blessed will answer: “What is it? Has He not made our Scale heavy?” — that is, has he not judged that our good deeds outweigh our bad ones? “Has He not made our faces white and delivered us from Fire?” For “no blackness or darkness will be on their faces during the different events of the Day of Judgment. But the faces of the rebellious disbelievers will be stained with dust and darkness.” Though some have tried to make this into a racial statement, there is nothing in the mainstream Muslim Qur’an commentaries to support this; it is clearly a moral judgment, not a racial one.
Allah then expatiates upon the excellence of the Qur’an, and how Muhammad should respond to those who challenge it (vv. 37-41). He tells Muhammad that the Qur’an could only have been produced by Allah, and that it is a “confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of the Scripture” — that is, the Torah and the Gospel that came before it, “about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds” (v. 37). Allah issues the famous challenge to the unbelievers, to imitate the Qur’an if they think it is not a divine book: “Or do they say, ‘He invented it?’ Say, ‘Then bring forth a surah like it and call upon whomever you can besides Allah , if you should be truthful’” (v. 38). Ibn Kathir expatiates on this:
The Qur’an has a miraculous nature that cannot be imitated. No one can produce anything similar to the Qur’an, nor ten Surahs or even one Surah like it. The eloquence, clarity, precision and grace of the Qur’an cannot be but from Allah. The great and abundant principles and meanings within the Qur’an — which are of great benefit in this world and for the Hereafter — cannot be but from Allah. There is nothing like His High Self and Attributes or like His sayings and actions. Therefore His Words are not like the words of His creatures.
It confirms earlier books, he explains, “and is a witness to them. It shows the changes, perversions and corruption that have taken place within these Books” — reflecting the mainstream Islamic belief that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures of today are merely corrupted versions of the original messages of the Muslim prophets Moses and Jesus. The Qur’an corrects these corruptions.
Why issue a challenge like “bring forth a surah like it”? Because the eloquence of its Arabic is considered to be a sign of the Qur’an’s divine provenance. Ibn Kathir explains: “eloquence was a part of the nature and character of the Arabs. Arabic poetry including Al-Mu’allaqat — the oldest complete collection of the most eloquent ancient Arabic poems — was considered to be the best in the literary arts. However Allah sent down to them something whose style none were familiar with, and no one is equal in stature to imitate. So those who believed among them, believed because of what they knew and felt in the Book, including its beauty, elegance, benefit, and fluency. They became the most knowledgeable of the Qur’an and its best in adhering to it.” This is one of the principal reasons why traditional Islamic theology says that the Qur’an cannot be translated: losing the music of the Arabic language, it loses part of its essence.
Here, in any case, are a number of attempts to take up the Qur’anic challenge.
Allah then goes on to repeat many of the same themes, continuing to criticize people for failing to heed his messengers, which have been sent to every nation (v. 47). Allah’s eternal punishments should move the sinners to repent (vv. 50-54), for he gives life and takes it, and to him all shall return (v. 56). All creatures belong to Allah, and the idolaters invent lies against Allah (v. 66).
The unbelievers even dare to claim that Allah has a son, when actually he is self-sufficient (v. 68). The Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains: “They, that is, the Jews and the Christians, and those who claim that the angels are the daughters of God, say, ‘God has taken [to Him] a son.’” But in fact, “He is Independent, [without need] of anyone, for only he who has need of a child would desire [to have] one. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth, as possessions, creatures and servants.”
Then in verses 71-93, Allah tells the stories of Noah (vv. 71-74) and Moses (vv. 75-93), without significant variation from the versions in sura 7. Both Noah and Moses are cast in roles much like Muhammad’s: prophets whose messages go unheeded by their insolent and spiteful hearers, who are duly punished. Moses actually prays here that Allah not have mercy on Pharaoh: “Deface, our Lord, the features of their wealth, and send hardness to their hearts, so they will not believe until they see the grievous penalty” (v. 88). Allah accepts their prayer (v. 89), although when Pharaoh repents (v. 90), Allah saves him (v. 92). He “settled the Children of Israel in an agreeable settlement,” but began to “differ” among themselves (v. 93). According to a hadith, “the Jews separated into seventy-one sects, and the Christians separated into seventy-two sects, and this Ummah [the Muslim community] will separate into seventy-three sects, one of which is in Paradise, seventy-two in the Fire.”
The sura concludes with reassurance for Muhammad and affirmations of Allah’s sovereignty, in verses 94-109. Allah tells Muhammad to “ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you” if he doubts the revelations he has been receiving (v. 94). The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that this means that Muhammad should “question those who read the Scripture, the Torah, before you, for it is confirmed [therein] with them and they can inform you of its truth.” This assumes, of course, that uncorrupted versions of the Jewish (and Christian) Scriptures were available in Muhammad’s day — a contention that creates immense difficulties for the Islamic claim that they were corrupted at all, since copies exist from that era, and they are not different from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as they exist today.
But ultimately, it is up to Allah who believes and who doesn’t (vv. 99-100). Why he would create human beings only to torture them in eternal fire is left unexplained.
After reading sura 11, you might need to hit the hair dye aisle down at the Wal-Mart.
Sura 11, “Hud,” dates (like sura 10) from late in the Meccan period, the first part of Muhammad’s prophetic career. Its name comes from verses 50-60, which tell the story of the prophet Hud, who was according to Islamic tradition sent to the Ad people of Arabia around 2400 BC. Sura 11 repeats in stronger terms the warnings of sura 10 concerning Allah’s judgment. That, according to a hadith, caused Muhammad anxiety. Once one of his leading followers, Abu Bakr, said to him, “O Messenger of Allah, verily your hair has turned gray.” Muhammad replied that Sura 11, along with suras 56, 77, 78, and 81, all of which deal with judgment day, “have turned my hair gray.”
Allah begins this hair-graying sura begins (verses 1-24) with a recapitulation of many themes touched on in sura 10, including the wisdom of the Qur’an itself (v. 1). Mujahid, Qatadah, and Ibn Jarir, among others, explained this verse as meaning that the Qur’an is “perfect in its wording, detailed in its meaning. Thus, it is complete in its form and its meaning.” For, says Ibn Kathir, “this Qur’an descended, perfect and detailed, with the purpose of Allah’s worship alone, without any partners.” The Qur’an is also inimitable: Allah repeats his challenge to produce a sura like it in v. 13. He stresses some familiar themes: the necessity to worship only Allah (v. 2) and the dependence of all creatures upon him (v. 6); the worthlessness of idols (v. 14); the deceptive glamour of this life (v. 15); the dreadful punishment (vv. 16, 22) that awaits those who “invent a lie against Allah” (v. 18), and the delightful gardens that await the blessed (v. 23).
Allah makes a strange statement in v. 5: “Unquestionably, when they cover themselves in their clothing, Allah knows what they conceal and what they declare.” What would covering themselves with clothing have to do with Allah knowing them? Well, it appears that some people wore clothes to conceal themselves from Allah, particularly during intimate moments: Ibn Abbas explains that “there were people who used to be shy to remove their clothes while answering the call of nature in an open space and thus be naked exposed to the sky. They were also ashamed of having sexual relations with their women due to fear of being exposed towards the sky. Thus, this was revealed concerning them.”