Saturday, February 14, 2009

Even Angels Ask (2)

In Chapter 2, Lang starts by highlighting his approach to the Qur'an.

Use of Symbolism:
Since Muslims assert that the Qur'an is a revelation appropriate for all persons, times, and places, then we should allow for, even anticipate, that it would use allegory, parables, and other literary devices to reach a diverse audience. The language used had to be that of the prophet's milieu, and reflect the intellectual, religious, social, and material customs of the 17th century Arabs, but if the message is universal then it had to transcend the very language and culture that was the vehicle of revelation. The Qur'an achieved this through the employment of allegory, that is, the expression of truths through symbolic figures and actions. As the famous Qur'an exegete Zamakhshari put it, "a parabolic illustration, by means of something which we know from our experience, of something that is beyond the reach of our perception.

Qur'an is NOT a Scientific textbook:
Some of the descriptions in the Qur'an of the "signs" (ayat) in nature of God's wisdom and beneficence bear a fascinating resemblance to certain modern discoveries, and it is also true that none of these signs can be proved to be in conflict with science. Yet, the Qur'an is far from being a science textbook since to be inspired with awe and wonder about the Qur'anic signs does not justify attempts to deduce or impose upon them scientific theories.

Qur'an is NOT a Historic textbook:
The same applies to the relation between the Qur'an & history. The Qur'an narratives defies all attempts to present it in a historical setting unless outside sources are consulted. Moreover,the meaning behind the story is emphasized, while extraneous details are omitted, so that the reader would focus on the timeless meaning of the stories. The stories in the Qur'an are not for relating history or satisfying human curiosity, but to "draw a moral & illustrate a point", sharpen the focus of attention, & to reinforce the basic message."

Accordingly, we will be approaching the Qur'an from the standpoint of meaning, seeking to make sense of and find purpose in the existence of God, man, and life.

We enter:
Lang sees Al Fatiha as a prayer which starts with glorifying God (1:1-3), then it continues as a request for guidance (1:4-7). The Bakara verse, is the answer to this prayer since it tells us that This Book is the guidance to those who have fear. Verses 2:3-20, is a description of the Qur'an potential audience: 2:2-5 are true believers, 2:6-7 are the rejecters, and 8-20 are all those who are in between. Verses 2:20-29 outline some of the Qur'an's major themes:
  • Man's need to serve the one God
  • the prophethood of Muhammad
  • the hereafter and final judgment
  • the Qur'an use of symbolism
We now reach verse 30. Lang explains that the opening scene is heaven as God informs the angels that He is about to place man on earth as His delegate (khalifa). The angel's reply; which inspired the title of the book; is both fascinating and disturbing. In essence it asks, "Why create and place on earth one who has it within his nature to corrupt and commit terrible crimes? Why create this being, who will be the cause and recipient of great suffering?"

The question is made all the more significant when we consider who and from where it comes from. We are not even a single verse into the story of man and we have already confronted our (atheists') main complaint. And it is put in the mouths of angels!!!! If angels, those peaceful, pure, holy creatures who are in perfect and holy submission to God, and who should represent the model we should aspire ask questions, then shouldn't we??

The verse gives no explanation, but a reminder of God's ultimate knowledge. This is in no way a dismissal of the angels' question as the sequence of passages will show.

Verses 2:31-33 highlight man's ability to communicate his knowledge and experience on a high level.
2:34 tells us about Satan, and how pride and selfcenteredness (and not money) is the root of all evil.
2:35 introduces the choice that was granted to man.
2:36 Adam's "slip" and not eternal sin.
2:37 instead of the punishment, God blesses Adam with his mercy.
2:38 the command issued in verse 2:36 is repeated here but with assurance to man kind.
2:39 is the end of Adm's story; for now. Bits and pieces of the story are found later interwined in the text.

As you see, the Qur'an does not take us directly to our goals, it will provide directions, but we have to do the traveling and discovery. We must be willing not only to search the horizon, but also our own selves until we know as much as we can grasp of the truth. The Qur'an begins an explanation but it only provides enough of an answer to catch and hold the reader's attention. The reader will have to read on if he wishes to obtain more clues.

If you like what you've read so far, then please do read the whole book. You will not be disappointed.

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