Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 6, “Cattle,” verses 84-165
posted at 9:00 am on October 7, 2007 by Robert Spencer
Sura 6, “Cattle,” verses 84-90 expand upon the immediately preceding discussion of Abraham’s rejection of idolatry by enumerating the other prophets of Islam (remember, Abraham was a Muslim according to Qur’an 3:67): Noah before Abraham, then Abraham’s children Isaac and Jacob, and then after that David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Elijah, Ishmael, Elisha, Jonah, and Lot. These are, of course, all Biblical figures, although we shall see later on that the Qur’an does discuss some prophets who don’t appear in the Bible. Nevertheless, the Qur’an situates Muhammad as the crown and perfection of the Biblical prophetic tradition, explaining the differences between what Jews and Christians understand Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the rest to have said and what Muslims believe they said to the Christian corruption of their own scriptures.
Verses 91-103 emphasize the oneness of Allah, and the dependence of all creation upon him. Verse 91 begins this with yet another accusation that the Jews are not obeying the revelations given to Moses: they display it (“make it into separate sheets for show”) but they don’t obey it (they “conceal much of its contents”). Allah chastises those who say that he has not revealed anything to any human being. According to As-Suyuti’s Ad-Durrul Manthur, this verse was revealed after Muhammad teased a “hefty” Jewish scholar named Malik bin Sayf. Muhammad asked him, “Did you see in the Torah that Allah detests a hefty scholar?” Malik bin Sayf was enraged and shouted: “By Allah! Allah has not revealed anything to any human being!” His outburst is quoted, and rebuked, in verse 91.
The Qur’an is the “most blessed book,” confirming previous revelations. It also equips Muhammad to warn the “Mother of Villages” – that is, Mecca – of the impending judgment upon those who do not accept Islam (v. 92) and “invent a lie against Allah” (v. 93). Everyone will appear before Allah alone on the Day of Judgment, with no help from family or friends (v. 94). Verses 95-103 contain a stirring meditation on how Allah makes all things grow, sends the rain, and oversees all things: “No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things” (v. 103). (لاَّ تُدْرِكُهُ الأَبْصَارُ وَهُوَ يُدْرِكُ الأَبْصَارَ وَهُوَ اللَّطِيفُ الْخَبِ) A beautiful verse in any language. V. 101 attempts a reductio ad absurdum on the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation: “How can He have a son when He hath no consort?” Ibn Kathir asks: “How can He have a wife from His creation who is suitable for His majesty, when there is none like Him How can He have a child? Then Verily, Allah is Glorified above having a son.” The idea that fatherhood and sonship might not be conceived of in physical terms is not considered.
In verses 104-117 Allah tells Muhammad to “turn aside from those who join gods with Allah” (v. 106), for “had Allah willed, they had not been idolatrous,” and it’s not Muhammad’s problem: “We have not set thee as a keeper over them, nor art thou responsible for them” (v. 107). The Muslims should not revile the gods of the unbelievers, lest the unbelievers revile Allah (v. 108); according to As-Suyuti’s Lubabun Nuqul, Allah revealed this verse in response to an actual incident, when the pagans responded to the Muslims’ denigration of their gods by denigrating Allah. Every prophet has enemies – devils who are both humans and jinn (v. 112). The jinn (from which comes the English “genie”) are spirit beings who can see humans, but humans cannot see them. The messengers from Allah have come to them also (v. 130).
Verses 118-121 tell Muslims not to eat meat unless Allah’s name has been pronounced over it; this is the foundation for the halal preparation of meat, which dictates that the jugular vein, windpipe and foodpipe of the animal be severed after the butcher recites “In the name of Allah.” Then the blood is drained out. The Muslims would be “pagans” if they obeyed the advice of unbelievers in this matter (v. 121). According to Ibn Kathir, this means that “when you turn away from Allah’s command and Legislation to the saying of anyone else, preferring other than what Allah has said, then this constitutes Shirk.” (Shirk, of course, is the greatest sin of all, the associating of partners with Allah.) This is one reason why democracy has had such difficulty taking root in Islamic countries.
Verses 122-134 return to the perversity of the unbelievers who demand signs from Allah but wouldn’t believe even if they received them. Whether or not someone becomes a Muslim depends entirely upon whether Allah wills to lead him to Islam or to lead him astray (v. 125). By following the “straight path” (v. 126) of Islam, Muslims will make Allah their friend (v. 127). Verses 128-131 address jinns as well as humans, warning them of the same Judgment. Ibn Jarir and Dhahak say that jinn prophets were sent to the jinn; however, Mujahid and Ibn Jurayj contend that the jinn listened to the human prophets. This is the more common view.
Verses 135-145 criticize various pagan practices, notably the sacrifice of children (verses 137, 140). “Be not prodigal” (v. 141) refers, says Ibn Jurayj, to over-enthusiasm in charity: “This Ayah was revealed concerning Thabit bin Qays bin Shammas, who plucked the fruits of his date palms. Then he said to himself, ‘This day, every person who comes to me, I will feed him from it.’ So he kept feeding (them) until the evening came and he ended up with no dates.” Others, however, maintain that it simply directs Muslims not to be wasteful in general. Verses 142-144 forbid various pagan customs regarding the usage of animals.
Then verses 146 and 147 detail the specifics of Jewish food laws. Allah tells Muhammad that if the Jews accuse him of lying about this, he should respond: “Your Lord is full of mercy all-embracing; but from people in guilt never will His wrath be turned back.” Ibn Kathir observes that “Allah often joins encouragement with threats in the Qur’an.”
The sura ends with a final appeal to the unbelievers in verses 148-165. According to Ibn Mas‘ud, verses 151-153, a summary of what is prohibited in Islam, constitute “the will and testament of the Messenger of Allah on which he placed his seal.” One should not kill, since Allah has made life sacred, “except by way of justice and law” (v. 151). What does that mean? Muhammad explained that the “blood of a Muslim…cannot be shed except in three cases: in Qisas [retaliation] for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.” So adultery, apostasy and revenge are the only justifications for taking a life. Verses 153 and 161 repeat that Islam is the straight path.
Allah will “try you in the gifts He hath given you” (v.165). Muhammad explained this also: “Verily, this life is beautiful and green, and Allah made you dwell in it generation after generation so that He sees what you will do. Therefore, beware of this life and beware of women, for the first trial that the Children of Israel suffered from was with women.”
Next week: Sura 7, “The Heights.” “How many towns have We destroyed?”
(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.)