Friday, 20 May 2016

Reading The Koran - Sura 2 Verse 243 - 248

The one thing that struck me the first time that I read the Koran when I was still a Christian was the fact that Jesus, Abraham and other biblical characters arrive in the story. This fascinated me as I could not grasp why Muslims would want to believe the stories from the Bible, after all the Gods were different so why would the stories not be different. Now as an atheist with a sounder understanding of mythology and how the Abrahamic religions arose I think back and chuckle that I did not see it all earlier. This is why I believe education about religions is an important, as what a great way to show that it is all made up stories when you can see the similarities between them. In fact I would endorse a religious studies course in schools, but only if all the various religions got taught in an unbiased way.

Now back to the Koran, and straight away we dive into things that make no sense.
"Have you not regarded those who left their homes in thousands, apprehensive of death, whereupon Allah said to them, ‘Die,’ then He revived them? Indeed Allah is gracious to mankind, but most people do not give thanks."
Apparently, these thousand leaving home refers to the Israelites exodus from Egypt. But it seems rather random that it is here, so the only important message that I can take from here is that if we die then Allah can bring us back to life. Additionally as this section of the Koran has a subheading titled "Fighting in the Cause of Truth" I can only assume that we should be willing to die for Allah as he is the only one that can bring us back from death. As such the only reason to die in war would be when one fights for Allah. I also believe that this reasoning makes sense as the next verses says the following.
"Fight in the way of Allah, and know that Allah is all-hearing, all-knowing."

Verse 245 lends from the Biblical and Jewish texts by telling us that Allah will give back a whole lot more to those that give to him
"Who is it that will lend Allah a good loan that He may multiply it for him severalfold? And Allah tightens and expands [the means of life], and to Him you shall be brought back."
As this part of the Koran is doing with violence in the name of Allah I am really not sure what one is meant to give and how it will get rewarded. Then again it is the disjointed Koran, so it may have nothing to do with violence, but just be a friendly reminder that you should be generous, although only if you want as we have learned about before.

(King Saul gets soothed. Source)

From thus point onwards, there is a lot of historical references to the Bible and the story of the Israelites. However, to truly understand these versus there is a need to reference the Bible verses. As such Red text will be Koran, and Green text will be Bible.

Verse 246 reads as follows
"Have you not regarded the elite of the Israelites after Moses, when they said to their prophet, ‘Appoint for us a king, that we may fight in the way of Allah.’ He said, ‘May it not be that you will not fight if fighting were prescribed for you?’ They said, ‘Why should we not fight in the way of Allah, when we have been expelled from our homes and [separated from] our children?’ So when fighting was prescribed for them, they turned back except a few of them, and Allah knows best the wrongdoers."
This basically refers to the Israelties wanting a king to listen to in terms of war, rather than listening to the words of Allah.
"1 Samuel 8:19-20 However, the people refused to listen to what Samuel told them, and they said: “No, we are determined to have a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, and our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”"
A king or a politician ruling as such is considered no good if we follow the Biblical narrative, as a ruler can demand taxes from the people they rule as it becomes their right with respect to the job they do. So in essence if we are not giving to the church then we should give to our rulers, guess that phrase by Benjamin Franklin is perfectly correct "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes". However, in the end a king was appointed by Samuel to rule over the people thereby replacing the traditional role of the patriarchs in the Biblical narrative Moses, Abraham, Isaac etc. Interestingly, life from this point on goes from bad to worse (relatively speaking of course) for the Israelites under there kings. So in this manner we are reminded that Allah is the best.

But, moving on. Allah then appoints Saul as king of the Israelties. However, when Samuel delivers this message, the Israelites are not happy.
"Their prophet said to them, ‘Allah has appointed Saul as king for you.’ They said, ‘How can he have kingship over us, when we have a greater right to kingship than him, as he has not been given ample wealth?’"
This is important, as it shows the fragility of peoples minds as they always believe they can do better than others. In a way it shows that we should only have God as our ruler, but this leaves us with a conundrum as there is no proof for God. So then we have to trust the self appointed prophets who speak with God, and essentially we are in a dictatorship. Eventually we then arrive at the democratic system which is still shunned by many religious fundamentalists and that makes perfect sense as rationality and religion do not go well together.

So, how does Samuel convince the Israelites that Saul is the appointed King?
"Their prophet said to them, ‘Indeed the sign of his kingship shall be that the Ark will come to you, bearing tranquillity from your Lord and the relics left behind by the House of Moses and the House of Aaron, borne by the angels. There is indeed a sign in that for you, should you be faithful.’"
So the ark (of the covenant) will be the sign that Saul is the king of the Israelites. Now the Ark had been claimed by the Philistines when they beat the Israelites, so we can gather that if Saul gets the Ark back that he would be king.
"1 Samuel 4:11 Moreover, the Ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eʹli, Hophʹni and Phinʹe·has, died."
However, the Ark was given back to the Israelites before Saul became king, so we have to use apologetics to explain what this Koranic verse means.
"1 Samuel 6:15 The Levites took down the Ark of Jehovah and the box that was with it, which contained the golden articles, and they put them on the large stone. The men of Beth-sheʹmesh offered up burnt offerings and made sacrifices on that day to Jehovah."
The one explanation I have heard is that Ark should actually be read as bringing of tranquility to the heart of those people who are upset with the choice of Saul as King. However, I do think it is probably just the writer of the Koran not reading the original Jewish texts well enough and screwing up. Or to put it more plainly to make the Koran work, you need to do mental gymnastics.

So what do you think about the Saul and Samuel story in the Koran?

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The version of the Koran I am reading is the John Meadows Rodwell translation. An online version can be found at the al-quran.info website
Additionally, for commentary I am utilizing the commentary of Maulana Muhammad Ali which is available at muslim.org/english-quran/quran.htm