The first chapter of the Qur’an was a prayer. The next seven chapters explored a churchless Arian Christianity. The writer of the Qur’an struggled with the loss of the sacraments, a church he felt to be fundamentally corrupt and hostile, all while showing his devotion of Mary, and belief in heaven, hell, and purgatory.
But now something breaks. Every chapter so far has begun with “In the Name of God.” Not this one.
A repudiation by God and His Apostle to the polytheists with whom you made a treaty:
Travel in the land for four months, but know that you cannot frustrated God, and that God will disgrace the faithless.
Like the author of Ezekiel the Qur’anic author is using the alienation effect to force the reader to stop think. You are reading a book. You are reading a teaching written by a teacher.
Remember this. Think about what polytheism, worship of many Gods, means. Recognize those false gods who are not the One. Follow the One, not the other gods. Worship the One Alone. And have hope, for the One demonstrates His greatness through your weakness, and not only your strength.
Kill and Protect the Worshipers of Other Gods
The Qur’an appears contradicts itself. This chapter does so immediately, and obviously. Believers are told to kill “polytheists” in one verse:
Then, when the sacred months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, maintain the prayer, and give the zakat, then let them alone. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
And be merciful in the next:
If any of the polytheists seeks asylum from you, grant him asylum until he hears the Word of God. Then convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.
We can resolve this contradiction by treating the Qur’an as Wisdom writing. In this genre, the pattern of instructions reveals a broader theme.
Consider where Christ both demands constant forgiveness, and warns of a lack of forgiveness:
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
The Qur’anic author references this contradiction, and the seventy granted repentances, and the lack of any:
Whether you plead forgiveness for them or do not plead forgiveness for them, even if you plead forgiveness for them seventy times, God will never forgive them because they defied God and His Apostle, and God does not guide the transgressing lot.
The point of course is not to literally count the number of times we forgive. The point is not that God can’t forgive, or that God is not all-forgiving, all merciful.
The point is that forgiveness is divine. And that a lack of forgiveness separates one from the Divine.
Likewise, the Qur’an’s rival teaching of polytheists — they must be killed but granted asylum — likewise has a clear meaning: Do not worship other gods, worship the forgiving God..
Yet Arabia was largely Christian and Jewish during the writing of the Qur’an. So who were the “Other Gods” a poly-theist would have worshiped?
One Teacher, One God
Christ’s rhetorical attacks were often aimed at the “scribes and pharisees.” The target were folks who explicitly believed in God, and backed that with action, but with a priority greater than god. The Qur’anic author adapts and updates this attack, against “scribes and monks” in an attack against believers who loved gold more than God:
O you who have faith! Indeed, many of the scribes and monks wrongfully eat up the people’s wealth, and bar from the way of God. Those who treasure up gold and silver, and do not spend it in the way of God, inform them of a painful punishment on the way when these shall be heated in hellfire and therewith branded on their foreheads, their sides and their backs: ‘This is what you treasured up for yourselves! So taste what you have treasured!‘
Here the author is rephrasing the apostle James, who said the same:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
James and the Qur’anic author are emphasizing the same phenomenon — corrupted faithful who mislead others. False teachers. When only the One is a Teacher, and other “teachers” place heavy burdens on people by barring them from the way of God:
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
The One Teacher does not mean that no one can physically provide information to another. But the source of any Teaching is the one Teacher: God. The Lectionary or qur’an — which seems to be the Qur’anic author’s way of referring to his work — the Torah of the Jews and the Gospel of Christ are all seen as teachings from God, but not a substitute for God.
Indeed, God has bought from the faithful their souls and their possessions for paradise to be theirs: they fight in the way of God, kill, and are killed. A promise binding upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Lectionary. And who is truer to his promise than God? So rejoice in the brain who have made with him, and that is the great success.
The Qur’anic author seems to be aware he’s at risk of pride here, putting his composition at the same as the Law and the Gospel. But from his perspective, both are re-establishments of a forgotten law:
The Gemara notes: And Reish Lakish follows his line of reasoning stated elsewhere, as Reish Lakish said: I am the atonement for Rabbi ?iyya and his sons, as initially, when some of the Torah laws were forgotten from the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, Ezra ascended from Babylonia and reestablished the forgotten laws. Parts of the Torah were again forgotten in Eretz Yisrael, and Hillel the Babylonian ascended and reestablished the forgotten sections. When parts of the Torah were again forgotten in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi ?iyya and his sons ascended and reestablished the forgotten sections. This expression of deference toward Rabbi ?iyya introduces the halakha that Reish Lakish is citing in his name. And so said Rabbi ?iyya and his sons: Rabbi Dosa and the Rabbis did not disagree concerning the soft mats of Usha
The theme of forgetting, and replacing what should be remembered with Teachers, is also in the Gospels:
Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; 3 and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.
Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”
The Qur’anic author’s comparison of his Lectionary to the Torah and the Gospel seems not intended to place it as a divine object, but to emphasize the created nature of all earthly texts, and all earthly teachers. One may be a saint, or in biblical terminology a Son of God, without being the One:
The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of God,‘ and the Christians say, ‘Christ is the son of God.’ That is an opinion that they mouth, imitating the opinions of the faithless of former times. May God assail them, where do they stray?!
The Qur’anic author is using Biblical rhetoric, problematizing the Hebrew Bible’s description of an inner class of angel-like beings called the Sons of God. The Apostle, Paul, made the same point, twice emphasizing the equivalence of all believers with the Sons of God:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. or the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.
The implication is here, for the Qur’anic author himself, and every subsequent transmitter of wisdom. The right action is grief for the distress of sinners, concern for sinners, and mercy to sinners.
There has certainly come to you an apostle from among yourselves. Grievous to him is your distress; he has deep concern for you and is most kind and merciful to the faithful.
But when he is rejected, that’s ok. Because while we are commanded to be righteous to each other, the true object of our love is the One
But if they turn their backs, say, ‘God is sufficient for me. There is no god except Him. In Him alone I have put my trust and he is the Lord of the Great Throne.
One Father, One God
Yet faith in God, to the Qur’anic teacher, means splitting from these teachers, and keeping one’s eyes on God as the Teacher. These aren’t the only Case where faith forces painful splits:
Works are to be split from Faith, in opposition to to the view of religion as managing a powerful relationship. Maintaining a house of prayer, like serving as a teacher, is no substitute for God:
Do you regard the providing of water to hajj pilgrims and the maintenance of the Holy House of Prayer as similar to someone who has faith in God and the Last Day and wages jihad in the way of God? They are not equal with God, and God does not guide the wrongdoing lot.
Likewise, as the earthly teacher is nothing compared to God as teacher, the earthly family is nothing compared to God:
O you have who have faith! Do not befriend your fathers and brothers if they prefer unfaith to faith. Those of you who befriend them — it is they who are the wrongdoers.
Christ, of course, made the same point:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
The Qur’anic author also uses the Lord’s prayer as an example of how even prayer needs to be separated from faith:
Among them are some who say, ‘Give me leave, and do not put me to temptation.’ Behold, they have already fallen into temptation and indeed hell besieges the faithless.
The choice is meaningful. For Just as Christ separated son from father, but united him with the One Father, the Qur’anic author tries to separate student from teacher, but unite every godwary student with the One Teacher.
And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven Hallowed by Your Name…
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
One Foundation, One God
Jews and Catholics are blamed for their respect for their religious authorities:
They have taken their scribes and their monks as lords besides God and Christ, Mary’s son; though they were commanded to worship only the One God, there is no god except Him; he is far too immaculate to have any partners as they ascribe!
These merely human teachers give a foundation only as strong as sand. A house built on these teachers, on the worship of these other gods, will fall into chaos:
Is he who founds his building on Godwarines and pleasure better-off or someone who founds his building on the brink of a collapsing bank which collapses with him into the fire of hell? God does not guide the wrongdoing lot.
The Qur’anic author here is restating Christ:
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
There’s one solid foundation, for basing one’s faith, whether in reception or in promulgation: God.
“Hear, O Israel: he Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
We cannot see God on earth, but we can see His Image: Christ. This means that the visible foundation is Christ alone, while the foundation as such is God alone:
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him….
But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
But note how these ends. The words that are taught are actually commands from God. The “teaching” is not from the man who teaches it — it’s a commandment from the Lord:
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
And it is God’s role, and not man’s, to share these facts. Consider how the first Pope was himself silenced by God:
While [Peter] was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” …
Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
One Friend, One God
The Qur’anic author emphasizes the unique and direct relationship between the believer and God. So while there are apostles, helpers, and fighters, these are all fighters for God, those who “Help” through submission, and so on.
Certainly God has turned clemently to the Prophet and the Emigrants and the Helpers, who followed him in the hour of difficulty, after the hearts of a part of them were about to swerve. Then he turned clemently to them — indeed he is most kind and merciful to them.
Even the Kingdom of Heaven’s only Helper is God Himself, and not its subjects:
Indeed, to God belongs the Kingdom of the Heavens and the Earth. He gives life and brings death. And besides God you do not have any friend or helper.
The same wisdom in contradiction. We may help each other. But the only real Helper is God. This does not mean individual creatures can’t work together. Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was made possibly with the Commander of the Lord’s Army, for example. But the Work that mattered was God’s will, not a creature’s response to it.
Then God sent down His Presence upon His Apostle and upon the faithful, and He sent down hosts you did not see, and He punished the faithless, and that is the requital of the faithless.
We now see who the polytheists are — hypocrites: those who have the Heavenly Tablets as conscious knowledge but not in their hearts:
Fight those from among those who were given the Book who do not have faith in God nor in the Last Day, nor forbid what God and His Apostles have forbidden, nor practice the true religion, until they pay the tribute out of hand, degraded.
They are the enemy:
“O you who have faith! Fight the faithless who are in your vicinity, and let them find severity in you, and know that God is with the Godwary.
One Comfort, One God
How can we bare this message?
From a Catholic perspective, the answer may be: we can’t. The Qur’anic author’s vision is of a fundamentally atomized creation, with every created thing utterly dependent and contextualized by God alone. This is largely compatible with Calvinism as described by Dumbrell and van’t Veer, but contradicts the Catholic vision of creation as an inter-connected body in which all members co-participate in the work of salvation in this world.
But the Qur’anic author would respond that he re-presents a hope that can overcome any sin. Christ tells us not to put a light under a wicker basket:
“No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”
But even a light we desire to extinguish would be magnified if God wishes:
They desire to put out the light of God with their mouths, but God is intent on perfecting His light though the faithless should be averse.
The believer is promised a paradise even better than Eden:
God has promised the faithful, men and women, gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them, and good dwellings in the Gardens of Eden. Yet God’s pleasure is greater; that is the great success.
And even that famously backward people, the Arabs:
The Arabs are more obdurate in unfaith and hypocrisy, and more apt to be ignorant of the precepts that God has sent down to His Apostle, and God is all-knowing, all-wise…
Can be adopted into the love of God:
Yet among the Arabs are those who believe in God and the Last Day, and regard what they spend as nearness to God and the blessings of the Apostle. Now it shall indeed bring them nearness, and god will admit them into His mercy. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Kill the worshiper of other gods. Forgive the worshiper of other gods. If you believe that I am your teacher, you are the worshiper of other gods.
The Ninth Chapter, Repentance, is unlike any other. It starts in a shocking manner that makes one question the teacher. The lesson is going to be on poly-theism, the worship of other Gods in addition to God. Faith, according to the Qur’anic author, requires splitting all false foundations away from God and the believer. Only the One is a Teacher, as Christ said. God transcends the limitations of all limited teachers, and promises a reward greater than paradise to those who repent of other teachers.
In this chapter the reader is immediately taken out of just reading into realizing he is worshiping the writer as a God. This is an unforgivable sin. But the words that are missing from the very beginning of the Book are the most important words of all
In the Name of God, the All-Forgiving, the All-Merciful