Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 7, “The Heights,” verses 103-206

posted at 9:00 am on October 21, 2007 by Robert Spencer

Sura 7 continues the accounts of the prophets with the longest of all these accounts, in verses 103-171: the story of Moses and his people. It begins with a retelling of the story of Moses and Pharaoh, told in a way that suggests that the hearers have heard it before: for example, we see Moses telling Pharaoh to “send the Children of Israel with me” (v. 105), but it is assumed that the reader will know that the Israelites were at this time oppressed as slaves in Egypt. Moses performs various miracles before Pharaoh, as in the Biblical account – although when Moses’ hand becomes “white to all beholders” (v. 108), Ibn Abbas says this was “not because of leprosy,” which is contrary to Exodus 4:6. The Ruhul Ma’ani says that Moses’ hand shone brighter than the sun. But Pharaoh, as in the Biblical story, is unimpressed. But Pharaoh’s magicians are, and when they profess belief in “the Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of Moses and Aaron” (vv. 121-122), Pharaoh threatens to cut off their hands and feet on opposite sides and crucify them (v. 124) – the same punishment Allah prescribes for those who wage war against Allah and Muhammad (5:33). The magicians pray that Allah will “take our souls unto thee as Muslims” (مُسْلِمِين, v. 126) in another reminder that the Qur’an treats the Biblical prophets all as prophets of Islam, whose messages were later corrupted to create Judaism and Christianity.

As Pharaoh threatens Moses and his people, Moses tells them that “It may be that your Lord is going to destroy your adversary and make you viceroys in the earth, that He may see how ye behave” (v. 129) – and of course, the Jews fail the test. Allah does indeed destroy their adversary: he sends plagues upon the Egyptians, again enumerated as if the hearers are already familiar with the story: “wholesale death, locusts, lice, frogs, and blood” (v. 133), drowns Pharaoh’s men in the sea (v. 136), and makes the Jews, “the folk who were despised,” the inheritors of “the eastern parts of the land and the western parts thereof which We had blessed” (v. 137). But the Jews, encountering idolaters in their new land, immediately turn to idolatry themselves (v. 138). Moses goes up on Mount Tur (28:46) to converse with Allah and receive laws, which the Qur’an does not enumerate, on stone tablets (v. 145). Moses’ people, meanwhile, are worshipping the “image of calf” (v. 148).

Moses prays for Allah’s forgiveness (v. 155), and Allah promises mercy to “for those who do right, and practise regular charity, and those who believe in Our signs” (v. 156). Charity is zakat (زكاة), Islamic charity, and signs ayat (آيات), the word used for verses of the Qur’an – again indicting that Allah shows mercy to those who are Muslims. Underscoring this is the further elaboration that Allah shows mercy to “those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them” (v. 157). This is, of course, Muhammad, whom Muslims contend was prophesied and described in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures before they were corrupted. Says Ibn Kathir: “This is the description of the Prophet Muhammad in the Books of the Prophets. They delivered the good news of his advent to their nations and commanded them to follow him. His descriptions were still apparent in their Books, as the rabbis and the priests well know.” The rabbis and priests well know: here again is the Islamic belief that the Jews and Christians, or at least their leaders, know that Muhammad is a true prophet, but obstinately refuse to accept him; they aren’t rejecting him in good faith.

It is Muhammad who “commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure)” (v. 157). This is one of the foundations for the belief in the hadith, the traditions of Muhammad’s words and deeds: Muslims are told to follow what Muhammad commands, and only in the hadith can those commands be discovered.

Among the Jews “there is a section who guide and do justice in the light of truth” (v. 159), but “the transgressors among them” altered their Scriptures: they “changed the word from that which had been given them so we sent on them a plague from heaven” (v. 162). They disregarded Allah’s command to observe the Sabbath, whereupon he transformed them into “apes, despised and rejected” (v. 166) and “broke them up into sections on this earth” (v. 168).

Verses 172-206 warn against idolatry and the perils of rejecting Allah. Everyone on earth is born Muslim (v. 172), as Muhammad also says in a hadith: “No child is born but has the Islamic Faith, but its parents turn it into a Jew or a Christian.” In another hadith, Allah produces all of the multitudes of the children of Adam from his back and asks them, “Am I not your Lord?” (Alastu Bi Rabbikum). All affirm that he is. Therefore, says Bulandshahri, “none will be able to claim that he had no knowledge of the fact that Allah is his Lord.” This is another reason why some Muslims often assume that non-Muslims are dealing in bad faith: they know the Qur’an is true and Muhammad is a prophet, but refuse to acknowledge it.

Allah tells Muhammad to recite the story of a man to whom Allah gave revelations but he rejected them (v. 175). This is, according to Abdullah bin Mas’ud, a reference to the story of Bal’am, a Jew who received revelations but abandoned them. This appears to be Balaam, the reluctant prophet of Numbers 22:2-24:25.

Allah has created a large number of men and jinns for hell, for their “having hearts wherewith they understand not, and having eyes wherewith they see not, and having ears wherewith they hear not.” Indeed, they’re entirely bestial: “These are as the cattle – nay, but they are worse!” (v. 179). The believers, on the other hand, shall guide mankind with Allah’s truth and establish justice by means of it (v. 181). Muhammad is not insane (v. 184) and has no knowledge of the unseen world. He is just a messenger (v. 188). Allah alone protects people and can help them; idols can do nothing (v. 197). Allah tells Muhammad to “Hold to forgiveness; command what is right; But turn away from the ignorant” (v. 199). According to Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam, “Allah commanded [Prophet Muhammad ] to show forgiveness and turn away from the idolators for ten years. Afterwards Allah ordered him to be harsh with them.” As we shall soon see.

Next week: Sura 8, “Booty”: the spoils of war are at the disposal of Allah and his messenger.

(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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If we are all born Muslim, and the treatment for apostates is execution…. what follows?

meep on October 21, 2007 at 10:28 AM

in another reminder that the Qur’an treats the Biblical prophets all as prophets of Islam, whose messages were later corrupted to create Judaism and Christianity.

How do Muslims counter the argument that there were no Muslims prior to Muhammed? It seems like they would have to argue that every single person was failing to follow Islam correctly until the Prophet showed up, but that’s a pretty weak argument. What am I missing here?

BadgerHawk on October 21, 2007 at 11:30 AM

As I travel around the net visiting various Islamic boards, I notice that there seems to be much discussion between sects about whether Muhammad could read or write. Shi’a Muslims are more inclined to say he could, but Sunnis will not allow themselves to sound less intelligent, so they say Muhammad could read and write after Allah revealed himself to him.

Ironically, the more I learn and the more I read here, the more I am inclined to draw the same conclusions I drew during the first week or so of study. The Qur’an is filled with circular reasoning. Muhammad was highly intelligent, but he suffered from a personality disorder that caused him to feel disenfranchised, so he craved power and did and said anything to get it. (Apologies, Robert, as I have not yet read your book about Muhammad).

My personal foray into the Islamic world did not begin because of 9/11. Rather, it began with reading the debates of theosophists who trended toward Sufism.

Understanding Islam is much easier than understanding the whacked-out theosophists, but both have the same flaws in that the requirements distract one from actually living life.

Connie on October 21, 2007 at 12:12 PM

How do Muslims counter the argument that there were no Muslims prior to Muhammed? It seems like they would have to argue that every single person was failing to follow Islam correctly until the Prophet showed up, but that’s a pretty weak argument. What am I missing here?

BadgerHawk on October 21, 2007 at 11:30 AM

You’re not missing anything, really. That’s what they believe.

Connie on October 21, 2007 at 12:14 PM

Dear Mr. Spenser,

If Mohammed wasn’t a messenger of God, what was he?

We all know the answer, but we are afraid to say it, aren’t we?

Halley on October 21, 2007 at 12:15 PM

“How do Muslims counter the argument that there were no Muslims prior to Muhammed? It seems like they would have to argue that every single person was failing to follow Islam correctly until the Prophet showed up, but that’s a pretty weak argument. What am I missing here?

BadgerHawk on October 21, 2007 at 11:30 AM”

It’s actually not a weak argument. It’s pretty much the basis of Islam and the reason Islam is so intolerant of other religions.

Muslims believe that Islam is the last, literal, true, word of God. They believe that Muhammad was Allah’s last messenger. They don’t claim that everything that came before Muhammad was untrue. It’s just the opposite. They believe that Muhammad is actually the fulfillment of what is prophesized in the Old Testament, and they cover the New Testament, too. But they believe that the Old Testament and the New Testament have been deliberately corrupted to hide the truth about Muhammad.

Christians get cut more slack because Jesus fulfilled the Prophesy. But Jews are still waiting for the Messiah and don’t believe either Jesus or Muhammad was him, so Islam holds much more contempt for Jews because that makes them easy targets for Christians, too.

That’s my take on it. Christians are basically fools who fell for a false prophet in Jesus, but Jews are the worst because they won’t listen to anybody, and both Christians and Muslims can criticize them for that refusal to believe.

Islam is all about power over others, and pitting your enemies against each other is not a bad strategy.

Jaynie59 on October 21, 2007 at 1:50 PM

Actually I was born a Heathen.
Then raised as a Church of Christer
then at 11 years old became enlightened as an Infidel,
thanks to Reverend Desmond Morris and his holiness Chuck Darwin.

TheSitRep on October 21, 2007 at 2:03 PM

Yet Ann Coulter people get all a fluster …

hadsil on October 21, 2007 at 3:38 PM

“Perspicuous”. Now there’s a new word for the ol’ vocabulary. Plus, I sure do find these Meccan suras a lot easier to read and digest than the brutal Medina stuff.

Onto a comment & question for you, Robert Spencer.

“…Allah shows mercy to “those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them” (v. 157).” And later, there is a verse dedicated to assuring others that Muhammad is not insane (v. 184).

Curious. In most religious books, God does not call ignorant or illitate people to postions of leadership, and I sure can’t find anything about mohammed in either christian testament nor any reference to him in the Torah.

Question: Is mohammed’s illiteracy, ignorance & perceived insanity veiwed as a divine sign by muslims for his ‘chosen’ status as the last (and greatest) prophet?

And where might this reference to mohammed be found in either the christian or jewish books?

Thank you & keep up the good work.

locomotivebreath1901 on October 21, 2007 at 3:39 PM

meep:

If we are all born Muslim, and the treatment for apostates is execution…. what follows?

Nothing. Only males who apostatize after puberty are liable to a death sentence.

Robert Spencer on October 21, 2007 at 5:54 PM

BadgerHawk:

How do Muslims counter the argument that there were no Muslims prior to Muhammed? It seems like they would have to argue that every single person was failing to follow Islam correctly until the Prophet showed up, but that’s a pretty weak argument. What am I missing here?

They will argue, in line with the Qur’an, that there were Muslims before Muhammad: Jews and Christians who followed the authentic teachings of Moses and Jesus, and who became Muslim when Muhammad came along.

Robert Spencer on October 21, 2007 at 5:55 PM

Halley:

If Mohammed wasn’t a messenger of God, what was he?

We all know the answer, but we are afraid to say it, aren’t we?

Clearly you have something in mind, and I believe I know what it is, but it is not the sole and inescapable conclusion. In fact, Johannes Jansen, Christoph Luxenberg and other scholars suspect he never existed at all, but was created to justify Arab imperialism.

I myself suspect he did, as I don’t see why incidents that have always embarrassed Muslims — particularly Muhammad’s marriage to his daughter-in-law — would ever have been invented if they had not been based on an actual incident.

Opinions will differ.

Robert Spencer on October 21, 2007 at 5:58 PM

Jaynie59:

That’s my take on it. Christians are basically fools who fell for a false prophet in Jesus, but Jews are the worst because they won’t listen to anybody, and both Christians and Muslims can criticize them for that refusal to believe.

Muslims don’t believe Jesus was a false prophet. They believe he was an Islamic prophet whose teachings were corrupted by his followers.

Robert Spencer on October 21, 2007 at 5:59 PM

locomotivebreath1901:

Question: Is mohammed’s illiteracy, ignorance & perceived insanity veiwed as a divine sign by muslims for his ‘chosen’ status as the last (and greatest) prophet?

And where might this reference to mohammed be found in either the christian or jewish books?

1. Yes. At least as regarding his illiteracy. That is put forward as proof that he couldn’t have written this sublime poetry, the Qur’an.

2. There is no reference to Muhammad in Jewish or Christian books — which leads to the Muslim charge that Jews and Christians have corrupted those books.

Robert Spencer on October 21, 2007 at 6:01 PM

Muslims don’t believe Jesus was a false prophet. They believe he was an Islamic prophet whose teachings were corrupted by his followers.

Robert Spencer on October 21, 2007 at 5:59 PM

They don’t believe he was divine,though, right? I’ve seen Muslims refer to Christians as polytheists because they believe in the Trinity.

That’s a real sore point with Muslims. They get very offended by the notion that they “worship” Muhammad the way Christians worship Jesus.

Jaynie59 on October 21, 2007 at 6:20 PM

Jaynie59:

No, they strongly reject the idea that Jesus was divine. Read the Qur’an blogs on suras 4 and 5, and you’ll see much discussion of this.

Robert Spencer on October 21, 2007 at 6:25 PM

2. There is no reference to Muhammad in Jewish or Christian books — which leads to the Muslim charge that Jews and Christians have corrupted those books.

Robert Spencer on October 21, 2007 at 6:01 PM

How do they defend against the Dead Sea Scrolls which demonstrate that the Bible we have is the Bible that has always been.

At least, that is my understanding.

CrimsonFisted on October 21, 2007 at 6:58 PM

CrimsonFisted:

They point to the Western historical criticism of the Bible, and say, See? Even Christian scholars admit that the Bible has been corrupted.

Robert Spencer on October 21, 2007 at 7:06 PM

“everyone is born a Muslim”

That is why Muslims Call “converts” “reverts”. In actuality, they should be called “perverts”.

BL@KBIRD on October 21, 2007 at 7:55 PM

“Everyone is born a Muslim”

Interesting. It always seems to me that Islam is a clamor to reclaim the primitive world – the pagan world of yesteryear – like some kind of bizarre nostalgia. Unusual, arbitrary and draconian laws? Check. Oppressive power structure? Check. Etc.

As a Christian (and as a man) I believe that we are born into the fall. If this is so, that would make all Muslims fallen sinners. Revert indeed. Paul says, “If I rebuild what I destroyed, am I not a transgressor?” This can apply to many things – including Islam.

As for the factual inaccuracy of the Koran, in some cases scriptures are not ‘factually accurate’ in the sense that they are legends or myths. Unprovable and distant. My main problem with the Koran scripturally is that it does not do the task of myths and legends – which is to illuminate. Instead it darkens and imprisons if taken very deeply and literally.

The saints inspire us to be perfect, as Christ was perfect. Mohammad inspires us… to be pagans all over again?

I found, though, the sources coming from Zoroastrianism very interesting. Though fanciful, it is still beautiful. Do you know if the description of the heavens (1st heaven, 2nd heaven, 3rd heaven) used in the Zoroastrian poetry is the same idea used by Paul when he describes his vision of the heavenly mysteries?

Perhaps he was speaking to former Zoroastrians…

RiverCocytus on October 21, 2007 at 11:51 PM

Could Mohammad have mangled the scriptures more? Yikes. I get a real “Book of Mormon” vibe when I read the Koran.

Mojave Mark on October 23, 2007 at 12:10 AM