Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 3, “The Family of Imran,” verses 1-32

posted at 9:00 am on July 22, 2007 by Robert Spencer

The Qur’an’s third chapter is entitled “The Family of Imran” – that is, Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 6:20), who is mentioned in verses 33 and 35. Like most titles in the Qur’an, this title doesn’t denote the sura’s theme, but is just a word taken from within the chapter that is simply a means to distinguish it from other chapters. According to Maududi, sura 3, which is a Medinan sura, is “especially addressed” to Jews and Christians as well as to Muslims. It contains, he says, a “continuation of the invitation in Al-Baqarah [sura 2], in which they have been admonished for their erroneous beliefs and evil morals and advised to accept, as a remedy, the Truth of the Quran.” Likewise Bulandshahri says that sura 3 is a “‘talking proof’ against the Jews, Christians and idolaters since it addresses them all. It invites them towards the truth and refutes their false beliefs, which includes the blasphemous ideologies concerning Sayyidina [Masters] Isa and Ibrahim [Jesus and Abraham].”

That concern is evident from the beginning of the chapter. V. 3 proclaims that the Qur’an now revealed to Muhammad confirms what was written in the Torah and the Gospel. Ibn Kathir explains that “these Books testify to the truth of the Qur’an, and the Qur’an also testifies to the truth these Books contained, including the news and glad tidings of Muhammad’s prophethood and the revelation of the Glorious Qur’an.”

This again explains why mainstream Islamic tradition regards the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as corrupted: they don’t, after all, confirm what is in the Qur’an, and so Jews and Christians must have dared to alter them – and now “their forgeries deceive them as to their own religion” (v. 24). Asad therefore emphasizes that “it is to be borne in mind that the Gospel frequently mentioned in the Qur’an is not identical with what is known today as the Four Gospels, but refers to an original, since lost, revelation bestowed upon Jesus and known to his contemporaries under its Greek name of Evangelion (‘Good Tiding’), on which the Arabicized form Injil is based. It was probably the source from which the Synoptic Gospels derived much of their material and some of the teachings attributed to Jesus. The fact of its having been lost and forgotten is alluded to in the Qur’an in 5:14.”

V. 4 says that Allah has now revealed the “Criterion” (Arabic فُرْقَانَ — furqan), which is, as Ibn Kathir puts it, “the distinction between misguidance, falsehood and deviation on one hand, and guidance, truth and piety on the other hand.” According to Qatada and many other Islamic authorities this “criterion” is the Qur’an itself, although others say it refers to all the revealed scriptures – in their uncorrupted form, of course.

The same verse also promises a “heavy doom” to those who reject this guidance. The 20th century Indian Muslim scholar Allama Shabbir Ahmed Usmani sees this as proof that Jesus cannot be divine, for while “God is powerful to venge [sic] and punish whenever He deems fit,” Jesus “cannot be a sovereign like God because he could not overcome the miscreants who were chasing him to kill.”

V. 7 explains that some verses in the Qur’an are clear and some aren’t, “such as,” says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “the opening verses of some sūras,” including the opening verse of this one. These are not to be explored too deeply by the Muslims (although they have been): Allah warns that it is only “those in whose hearts is perversity” who “follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah.”

Verses 8-27 exhort the believers not to reject faith in Allah, and warn the unbelievers that grievous punishment awaits them in hell. V. 13 refers to the Battle of Badr, the first great victory for the Muslims, when a small force prevailed against a much larger army of pagan Arabs from Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe (they had rejected his prophetic claim). Maududi says that the first thirty-two verses of sura 3 were “probably revealed soon after the Battle of Badr,” and this verse says that it was a “sign” when the two armies met; “one was fighting in the cause of Allah, the other resisting Allah.” These armies “saw as twice their number,” which Ibn Kathir explains: “When the two camps saw each other, the Muslims thought that the idolaters were twice as many as they were, so that they would trust in Allah and seek His help. The idolaters thought that the believers were twice as many as they were, so that they would feel fear, horror, fright and despair.” Allah, he says, “gives victory to His believing servants in this life…” That is, the Muslims’ victory was due to their obedience to Allah. The reverse is also true, setting a pattern that recurs throughout history: when Muslims suffer, their suffering is ascribed to their being insufficiently Islamic, and the remedy is always more Islam.

V. 19 declares that “the Religion before Allah is Islam” (إِنَّ الدِّينَ عِندَ اللّهِ الإِسْلاَم) and that the People of the Book reject it only because of “envy of each other.” The Jews and Christians, says Bulandshahri, recognized Muhammad “to be the final Prophet but their obstinate nature prevented them from accepting.” V. 20 says that they will be saved if they submit to Allah; Bulandshahri continues: “One cannot force these people to accept, but can merely advise them. Inviting them to accept Islam is the duty of the Muslim.”

Verses 28-32 is mainly concerned with warnings of Allah’s judgment, but v. 28 warns believers not to take unbelievers as “friends or helpers” (َأَوْلِيَا — a word that means more than casual friendship, but something like alliance), “unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them.” This is a foundation of the idea that believers may legitimately deceive unbelievers when under pressure. The word used for “guard” in the Arabic is tuqātan (تُقَاةً), the verbal noun from taqiyyatan — hence the increasingly familiar term taqiyya. Ibn Kathir says that the phrase Pickthall renders as “unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them” means that “believers who in some areas or times fear for their safety from the disbelievers” may “show friendship to the disbelievers outwardly, but never inwardly. For instance, Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Ad-Darda’ said, ‘We smile in the face of some people although our hearts curse them.’ Al-Bukhari said that Al-Hasan said, ‘The Tuqyah [taqiyya] is allowed until the Day of Resurrection.” While many Muslim spokesmen today maintain that taqiyya is solely a Shi’ite doctrine, shunned by Sunnis, the great Islamic scholar Ignaz Goldziher points out that while it was formulated by Shi’ites, “it is accepted as legitimate by other Muslims as well, on the authority of Qur’an 3:28.” The Sunnis of Al-Qaeda practice it today.

Next week, verses 33-63: A group of Christians meet with Muhammad – and Allah sets the record straight about Christianity.

(Here you can find links to all the earlier “Blogging the Qur’an” segments. Here is a good Arabic/English Qur’an, here are two popular Muslim translations, those of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, along with a third by M. H. Shakir. Here is another popular translation, that of Muhammad Asad. And here is an omnibus of ten Qur’an translations.)


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The 20th century Indian Muslim scholar Allama Shabbir Ahmed Usmani sees this as proof that Jesus cannot be divine, for while “God is powerful to venge [sic] and punish whenever He deems fit,” Jesus “cannot be a sovereign like God because he could not overcome the miscreants who were chasing him to kill.”

Not much of a biblical scholar, though, was he? I guess he missed the part where Jesus wasn’t chased, but rather sacrificed himself willingly.

flipflop on July 22, 2007 at 9:25 AM

Not much of a biblical scholar, though, was he? I guess he missed the part where Jesus wasn’t chased, but rather sacrificed himself willingly.

flipflop on July 22, 2007 at 9:25 AM

Not only that but, also, every prophecy about Christ in the Old Testement all the way back to the first one in Genesis.

boomer on July 22, 2007 at 9:34 AM

That concern is evident from the beginning of the chapter. V. 3 proclaims that the Qur’an now revealed to Muhammad confirms what was written in the Torah and the Gospel.

“and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” Matthew 24:11

They got that right.

kjspeedial on July 22, 2007 at 9:48 AM

So, muslims only suffer when they go away from allah. Well then how do they explain the ass whoopin’ the taliban sufferred at the hands of the U.S. Armed Forces? Who is more pious than the taliban? There is considerably LESS suffering in Afghanistan now than there was under the “righteous” talibs.

Tony737 on July 22, 2007 at 10:39 AM

So, muslims only suffer when they go away from allah. Well then how do they explain the ass whoopin’ the taliban sufferred at the hands of the U.S. Armed Forces? Who is more pious than the taliban? There is considerably LESS suffering in Afghanistan now than there was under the “righteous” talibs.

Yeah but they haven’t given up yet. Maybe Allah will work through the Democrats to let the Taliban back into power.

aengus on July 22, 2007 at 11:37 AM

their suffering is ascribed to their being insufficiently Islamic, and the remedy is always more Islam.

This is a recurring theme in Christianity also. I have seen it in friends and relatives. Rarely does it reach to the extreme that they would ingore the obvious error in their actions as causing the problem, but it does happen.

IE: I have a relative who spends tons of time at church. His son has gotten himself into serious trouble. Instead of spending more time with his son, he feels that he hasn’t done enough for God, so he has thrown himself in the ministry. He works at the church, and then spends at least 4 nights a week away from his family serving others. Of course, his son is now sneaking out at night, skipped school and got into an accident,and is involved with a gal from school that writes him letters describing how she wants him to tie her and her friend up and do whatever sexually deviant thing he would like to them. He’s 15. His wife looks to me to help him get back on the right path.

I have another friend, who does whatever service he can for others AFTER he has taken care of his family. His kids are doing fine.

In the first case, the father gives service to others and leaves his son’s issues for others to deal with. In the latter case the father takes care of his main responsibilities to his family, then does what he can for others. This is what is taught in the scriptures and is followed by the huge majority of Christians.

So, Islam IS NOT the religion of peace. It is the religion that seeks the worst motivations in people and encourages it.

csdeven on July 22, 2007 at 11:47 AM

Good point Aengus, the Dems and the talibs are on the same side.

CSDeven, thanks for that example, it just proves that “charity starts at home”. By the way, did ya read “Lone Survivor” yet? I’m now in the middle of “Shooter” by and about the top U.S.M.C. sniper in Iraq. Pretty good, but not as good as Survivor.

Tony737 on July 22, 2007 at 11:56 AM

Trying to start a debate regarding the idea that Islam and the Islamists are actually that far apart.

Thank you for any comments either by private email or publicly.

Unwarranted Attack on Diana West a response!

PierreLegrand on July 22, 2007 at 12:05 PM

I wonder how much the rise Islam has to do with the Nicean council. The farther this little exercise goes, the more references we will see to the excised texts.

Krydor on July 22, 2007 at 12:42 PM

Tony737 on July 22, 2007 at 11:56 AM

No, not yet. It’s on my list, but toward the bottom.

csdeven on July 22, 2007 at 1:08 PM

“One cannot force these people to accept, but can merely advise them. Inviting them to accept Islam is the duty of the Muslim.”

Why is this ignored? Why now does radical Islam follow that it is their duty to kill you if you don’t believe?

hollygolightly on July 22, 2007 at 1:51 PM

It’s just amazing to me the amount of importance that the Islamic theology places on the Bible and the stories within the Bible. Yet the Islamic ideology also depends on ‘errors’ within the text that were ‘corrupted’ for some unexplained reason.

Islam says, you know that Abraham guy in the Bible sacrificing his son? Well the story is true, but somebody changed it for some reason and Islam has the ‘actual story’ some 2500 years after the fact.

Why do they maintain the same story if they insist it was corrupted. If ONE part was corrupted (ie. which son it was), why do they depend on the STORY ITSELF to be accurate?

I’ll be interested to see how Islam explains Jesus. It is amazing how Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies in the Bible. Mohommed wanted to be ‘messiah’, but in order to fulfill ONE prophecy he had to say the text was changed. Jesus just fulfilled the prophecies. Mohommed had to change the prophecies to fulfill what he did.

Isn’t Islam the only religion that specifically talks about other religions? Certainly there are mentions of other religions of other tribes in the Bible, but it doesn’t harp on them over and over again. Islam, Buddhism, Hindu, etc, etc, etc are not mentioned and not necessary to the Jewish or Christian faith. Yet Islam depends on discrediting other faiths (while opportunistically using portions of it) in order to be ‘true’.

Thank you Robert Spencer. You have helped my understanding of the ideology tremendously. I just get frustrated now when I talk to people who are ‘moral relativists’ who haven’t studied the religions. They just don’t know, and they don’t want to know.

ThackerAgency on July 22, 2007 at 2:01 PM

Robert Spencer sez:
Regarding v 3-4

According to Qatada and many other Islamic authorities this “criterion” is the Qur’an itself, although others say it refers to all the revealed scriptures – in their uncorrupted form, of course.

It reads like the later is the correct interpretation to me, but when Allama Shabbir Ahmed Usmani sees this: Surely they who disbelieve in the communications of Allah they shall have a severe chastisement; and Allah is Mighty, the Lord of retribution. – v4, as proof of the non-divinity of Jesus, then I have no hope of interpreting the Quran. Robert, do you think that much of the Islamic craziness in today’s world is truly do to passages like the seemingly innocuous Sura 3:3-4, or the ideas of the Quran’s interpreters? Which has more influence? Note, that I am not ignoring the more militant passages in the Quran, I am convinced that they are there, but do the interpreters make it more militant than it was intended to be?

Robert Spencer:

Allah warns that it is only “those in whose hearts is perversity” who “follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah.”

Consider 2Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.

Truth be told, until we get to verse 21, much of Sura 3:1-20 looks like it could easily have been borrowed from Jewish and Christian scriptures.

HeIsSailing on July 22, 2007 at 2:06 PM

Robert, one more question, regarding verse 24-25,

This because they say: “The Fire shall not touch us but for a few numbered days”: For their forgeries deceive them as to their own religion. But how (will they fare) when we gather them together against a day about which there is no doubt, and each soul will be paid out just what it has earned, without (favour or) injustice?

I noticed that ‘Fire’ is capitalized, so goes the interpretation of Yusufali. Placing these verses in context, just who these pagans defeated at the Battle of Badr, whom this passage refers to? They obviously think that ‘The Fire’ will only touch them temporarily after death in battle. Just curious.

HeIsSailing on July 22, 2007 at 2:22 PM

ThackerAgency asks:

Isn’t Islam the only religion that specifically talks about other religions?

Christianity in the New Testament spends much of its pages discussing the Judaism of the Old. Galatians specifically is addressing Christians in Peter’s camp who felt the Laws of Judaism needed to be continued. Paul’s argues in that letter that Judaism was not necessary for Gentile Christians. There is plenty more besides that. Does that count?

HeIsSailing on July 22, 2007 at 2:33 PM

Well, seeing as how Jesus was a Jew, it’s hard to argue that Judaism isn’t involved at all in Christianity. And seeing as how the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled were a part of Jewish scriptures once again makes it impossible to divorce the two.

Belief in Christianity doesn’t mean Judaism isn’t correct. My point is that Islam NEEDS to discredit other religions in order for theirs to be accurate. While Christianity or Judaism depend only on the religion and texts itself for truth.

I mentioned the wars between Israel and different tribal religions in the OT such as Ba’al for example. But it doesn’t say, the followers of Ba’al corrupted our scriptures so we are the true interpretation of this other religion.

Christianity doesn’t say that Judaism is wrong and Christianity is the actual Judaism, or Hindu, or Buddhism. Islam depends on other religions being corrupted for it to be true – and it claims to be the ‘true religion’ of the religions that it says were ‘corrupted’ anyway.

Do Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, Jews depend on the corruption of any other religion in order for them to be true? I don’t think so, and that was my point. I may not have stated it appropriately, and I still may not have explained my point appropriately, but I’m working on my communication skills.

ThackerAgency on July 22, 2007 at 3:19 PM

Do Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, Jews depend on the corruption of any other religion in order for them to be true? I don’t think so, and that was my point.

well presumably Judaism depend on christianity being corrupted doesnt it? im not sure…

zane on July 22, 2007 at 4:12 PM

Christianity is the belief that Christ is the Messiah that the Jews have been looking for.

Jews just don’t believe He is the Messiah. It’s not that they believe the religion is corrupted, it’s that they don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah they have been waiting for.

That’s fair enough. I personally believe that He is – that makes me Christian. If you don’t believe Jesus is Lord (Messiah, God the Redeemer of Mankind), you aren’t Christian.

ThackerAgency on July 22, 2007 at 4:42 PM

“….mainstream Islamic tradition regards the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as corrupted: they don’t, after all, confirm what is in the koran, and so Jews and Christians must have dared to alter them – and now “their forgeries deceive them as to their own religion”…”

Wowser. My head is spinning – almost as rapidly as that type of reasoning.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but so far this is all very convoluted stuff comprised of staggering rants by a desert nomad with a massive inferiority complex mounting spiritual & military assaults against people of other religions – namely the Jews.

Color me perverse, I guess:

Allah warns that it is only “those in whose hearts is perversity” who “follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah.”

locomotivebreath1901 on July 22, 2007 at 5:51 PM

Isn’t Islam the only religion that specifically talks about other religions?

Nope. The Mormons and the Bah’is are two just off the top of my head. But then Mormons consider themsleves Christian and Bah’is consider themselves Muslim so I suppose its a matter of interpretation.

aengus on July 22, 2007 at 7:03 PM

Next week Allah sets the record straight about Christianity.

Ooh I can’t wait.

BadgerHawk on July 22, 2007 at 9:25 PM

csdeven:

Of course, his son is now sneaking out at night, skipped school and got into an accident,and is involved with a gal from school that writes him letters describing how she wants him to tie her and her friend up and do whatever sexually deviant thing he would like to them. He’s 15.

Dammit, I went to the wrong high school as well! I can’t get anything right!

Merovign on July 23, 2007 at 12:21 AM

Tony737:

So, muslims only suffer when they go away from allah. Well then how do they explain the ass whoopin’ the taliban sufferred at the hands of the U.S. Armed Forces? Who is more pious than the taliban? There is considerably LESS suffering in Afghanistan now than there was under the “righteous” talibs.

This sort of thing is a source of continual cognitive dissonance. But so far it hasn’t led to any large-scale reevaluation of the principle; instead, it just leads to calls for even more Islamic purity.

Robert Spencer on July 23, 2007 at 8:04 AM

hollygolightly:

“One cannot force these people to accept, but can merely advise them. Inviting them to accept Islam is the duty of the Muslim.”

Why is this ignored? Why now does radical Islam follow that it is their duty to kill you if you don’t believe?

Because the prerogative of calling an offensive jihad and calling a non-Muslim state to accept Islam or become dhimmis belongs to the caliph, and there is no caliph. So the jihads waged today are viewed as defensive jihads against the non-Muslim aggressor. We are not called to accept the Islamic social order and become dhimmis because in the jihadist view the Islamic social order is not established anywhere for us to be able to accept it.

Robert Spencer on July 23, 2007 at 8:08 AM

HelsSailing:

Robert, do you think that much of the Islamic craziness in today’s world is truly do to passages like the seemingly innocuous Sura 3:3-4, or the ideas of the Quran’s interpreters? Which has more influence? Note, that I am not ignoring the more militant passages in the Quran, I am convinced that they are there, but do the interpreters make it more militant than it was intended to be?

Well, I don’t see 3:3-4 as entirely innocuous even on its face, since it is appropriating Judaism and Christianity by saying that the Qur’an confirms the Torah and the Gospel, and warning hellfire for those who disagree. This entirely strips Judaism and Christianity of legitimacy, leaving Jews and Christians as renegades who have twisted the true faith. The interpreters who take this farther certainly make matters worse, but they have plenty to work with.

Robert Spencer on July 23, 2007 at 8:12 AM

HelsSailing:

I noticed that ‘Fire’ is capitalized, so goes the interpretation of Yusufali. Placing these verses in context, just who these pagans defeated at the Battle of Badr, whom this passage refers to? They obviously think that ‘The Fire’ will only touch them temporarily after death in battle. Just curious.

The vast majority of commentators see this as the Jews, denuing that they will be in hell for very long.

Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 669:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

When Khaibar was conquered, Allah’s Apostle was presented with a poisoned (roasted) sheep. Allah’s Apostle said, “Collect for me all the Jews present in this area.” (When they were gathered) Allah’s Apostle said to them, “I am going to ask you about something; will you tell me the truth?” They replied, “Yes, O Abal-Qasim!” Allah’s Apostle said to them, “Who is your father?” They said, “Our father is so-and-so.” Allah’s Apostle said, “You have told a lie. for your father is so-and-so,” They said, “No doubt, you have said the truth and done the correct thing.” He again said to them, “If I ask you about something; will you tell me the truth?” They replied, “Yes, O Abal-Qasim! And if we should tell a lie you will know it as you have known it regarding our father,” Allah’s Apostle then asked, “Who are the people of the (Hell) Fire?” They replied, “We will remain in the (Hell) Fire for a while and then you (Muslims) will replace us in it” Allah’s Apostle said to them. ”You will abide in it with ignominy. By Allah, we shall never replace you in it at all.” Then he asked them again, “If I ask you something, will you tell me the truth?” They replied, “Yes.” He asked. “Have you put the poison in this roasted sheep?” They replied, “Yes,” He asked, “What made you do that?” They replied, “We intended to learn if you were a liar in which case we would be relieved from you, and if you were a prophet then it would not harm you.”

Robert Spencer on July 23, 2007 at 8:15 AM

Belief in Christianity doesn’t mean Judaism isn’t correct.

True. Christianity isn’t obscessed with discrediting Judaism, Judaism is the foundation of Christianity. The foundation of Islam, OTOH, is the specific discrediting of both Judaism and Christianity.

crazy_legs on July 23, 2007 at 12:47 PM

Robert’s quotation from Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 669, makes me ill – it sickens me. It reminds me of a psychopath putting words into the mouths of his victims, so as to justify the psychopath’s subsequent acts of torture/cruelty, etc. On a gut level it is offensive, vile, and disgusting.

I have listened to a great deal of “Da’wa” (from Vision TV — a cable channel I believe which should have its license revoked by the CRTC), but I have yet to hear an actual “moral” coming from those preaching Islam, or any edifying story. I am coming to the conclusion that Islam lacks a moral center. The “morality” simply isn’t there…it’s absent…there’s a void. Rather than “morality” it appears to be all about power and lording it over hapless victims. How is this a “religion”?

J.S. on July 23, 2007 at 2:15 PM

I have listened to a great deal of “Da’wa” (from Vision TV — a cable channel I believe which should have its license revoked by the CRTC), but I have yet to hear an actual “moral” coming from those preaching Islam, or any edifying story. I am coming to the conclusion that Islam lacks a moral center. The “morality” simply isn’t there…it’s absent…there’s a void. Rather than “morality” it appears to be all about power and lording it over hapless victims. How is this a “religion”?

J.S. on July 23, 2007 at 2:15 PM

All of Muhammad’s vices are enshrined as virtues in the Qur’an, Hadith, and the Siras.

PRCalDude on July 23, 2007 at 6:08 PM