This is the 23rd part of this series, reading The Qur’an; A New Translation by Abdel Haleem. We’ll occasionally compare that to other translations and with tafsirs for clarification. We’re also reading each “chapter” [surah] in order of revelation [mostly] rather than the order in which they are typically printed. If you missed some of this series, you can see:
my 1st post on surahs 1 & 2.
my 2nd post on surahs 96, 68 & 73.
my 3rd post on surahs 74, 111 & 81.
my 4th post on surahs 87, 92, 89, 93, 94 & 103.
my 5th post jumping to surah 18.
my 6th post on surahs 100, 108, 102, 107, 109 & 105
my 7th post was on surahs 113, 114, 112 & 53.
my 8th post on surahs 80, 97, 91, 85, 95 & 106.
my 9th post on surahs 101, 75, 104 & 77.
my 1oth post on surahs 50, 90 & 86.
my 11th post on surah 54,
my 12th post on surah 38,
my 13th post on surah 7,
my 14th post on surah 72,
my 15th post on surah 36,
my 16th post on surah 25,
my 17th post on surah 43,
my 18th post on surah 35.
my 19th post on surah 19.
my 20th post on surah 20,
my 21st post on surah 56.
and my 22nd post on surah 26.
Sūrah 27 (An-Naml) “The Ants”
1Ta Sin These are the verses of the Qur’an––a scripture that makes things clear; 2a guide and joyful news for the believers 3who keep up the prayer, pay the prescribed alms, and believe firmly in the life to come.
Yet one thing that is still not clear is what the Arabic letters mean at the beginning of this and a few other surahs. NobleQuran says “These letters are one of the miracles of the Qur’an, and none but Allah (Alone) knows their meanings”.
Remember that the previous surah was written in Mecca, except for verses 197 and 224-227, which came from Medina. Many of the surahs we’ve seen to this point have been like that, with little bits being inserted into earlier text by later contributors or interpolators. I don’t know how Muslims could be aware of that and still imagine this collective compilation to be dictation from an angel to one human author. Obviously there were either other people involved, or God is absent-minded and remembered things later that he should have said then. So he ordered Muhammad to go back and revise his copy in the next edition. I think what really happened is that whoever wrote these letters into the script knew what he wanted them to stand for, but when the next author took over, that notation was lost and forgotten.
4As for those who do not believe in the life to come, We have made their deeds seem alluring to them, so they wander blindly: 5it is they who will have the worst suffering, and will be the ones to lose most in the life to come.
Here God again admits that he is deliberately misleading believers, and that he will punish us unjustly for what he has made us do.
6You [Prophet] receive the Qur’an from One who is all wise, all knowing.
Not according to anything I’ve read in the Qur’an so far, and we’re nearly half way through it now.
7Moses said to his family, ‘I have seen a fire. I will bring you news from there, or a burning stick for you to warm yourselves.’
Remember that there are indications that Moses, (or rather the character on which Moses is based) saw a volcano and took that to be God. Some (like Professor Colin Humphreys of Cambridge University) say the burning bush should not have been interpreted as a shrubbery but as an eyewitness description of flammable gas erupting from one of the fissures at a volcanically active site. That would explain how “the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed”. (NRSV)
8When he reached the fire, a voice called: ‘Blessed is the person near this fire and those around it; may God be exalted, the Lord of the Worlds.
Translator Abdel Haleem says that this verse could mean that Moses is blessed for being near the fire, or that God is blessed for being in the fire. It doesn’t matter as long as everyone in proximity is magically enchanted.
Moses, I am God, the Mighty, the Wise. 10Throw down your staff,’ but when he saw it moving like a snake, he turned and fled. ‘Moses, do not be afraid! The messengers need have no fear in My presence, 11I am truly most forgiving and merciful to those who do wrong, and then replace their evil with good.
This is allegedly an allusion to Moses previously killing an Egyptian. Just goes to show that morality isn’t important; Gullibility is. As long as you believe, God will let you get away with murder.
12Put your hand inside your cloak and it will come out white, but unharmed. These are among the nine signs that you will show Pharaoh and his people; they have really gone too far.’
I still don’t understand what this white hand trick is supposed to mean. Clearly it is a trick (staged illusion) because you have to hide the change. The stick turning into a snake is a stage illusion too, one that was obviously popular back then, and that I’ve actually seen performed by a modern illusionist. If Moses’ hand really turned white, and it didn’t have to be cleverly pocketed in talcum power or paint first, then God could just make it glow or fade or whatever is happening to it while it was out where everyone could see it.
What is the significance of Moses’ hand being white? I’ve heard from different sources that Moses’ hand is either glowing as if illuminated, or pale as if from leprosy. I’ve even heard that his hand is suddenly white with Caucasian skin, and that Moses himself is alleged to be dark-skinned. IslamicStudies.info says that his hand was suddenly “shining”. ClearQuran says his hand came of his garment “white without blemish”. Quran.com says it was “white without disease”. All these wildly disparate interpretations come from the same few words in the book that is supposed to “make everything clear”.
13But when Our enlightening signs came to them, they said, ‘This is clearly [just] sorcery!’
Can you blame them? Oh, wait. I’m technically talking to God here, and yeah, you definitely do blame them, even though you know better, and you admit that it is actually your fault that they don’t believe your staged tricks and sorcery.
14They denied them, in their wickedness and their pride, even though their souls acknowledged them as true. See how those who spread corruption met their end!
Embracing skepticism is not spreading corruption, just because we don’t fall for your all your tall stories and cheap tricks.
15We gave knowledge to David and Solomon, and they both said, ‘Praise be to God, who has favoured us over many of His believing servants.’ 16Solomon succeeded David. He said, ‘People, we have been taught the speech of birds, and we have been given a share of everything: this is a clearly a great favour.’
This is a reference to an old Jewish folk tale that never made it into the Bible, in which King Solomon has been enchanted with many powers, including understanding animals. So it’s amusing that this surah, “The Ants” in Arabic, An-Naml sounds like “animal”.
17Solomon’s hosts of jinn, men, and birds were marshalled in ordered ranks before him, 18and when they came to the Valley of the Ants, one ant said, ‘Ants! Go into your homes, in case Solomon and his hosts unwittingly crush you.’ 19Solomon smiled broadly at her words and said, ‘Lord, inspire me to be thankful for the blessings You have granted me and my parents, and to do good deeds that please You; admit me by Your grace into the ranks of Your righteous servants.’
Thus spake King Doolittle. I wonder where “the valley of the ants” is?
20Solomon inspected the birds and said, ‘Why do I not see the hoopoe? Is he absent? 21I will punish him severely, or kill him, unless he brings me a convincing excuse for his absence.’ 22But the hoopoe did not stay away long: he came and said, ‘I have learned something you did not know: I come to you from Sheba with firm news. 23I found a woman ruling over the people, who has been given a share of everything– she has a magnificent throne– 24[but] I found that she and her people worshipped the sun instead of God. Satan has made their deeds seem alluring to them, and diverted them from the right path: they cannot find the right path. 25Should they not worship God, who brings forth what is hidden in the heavens and earth and knows both what you people conceal and what you declare? 26He is God, there is no god but Him, the Lord of the mighty throne.’ 27Solomon said, ‘We shall see whether you are telling the truth or lying. 28Take this letter of mine and deliver it to them, then withdraw and see what answer they send back.’
What’s wrong with worshiping the sun? At least the sun is real!
Importantly, let’s compare a couple verses from this surah; starting with 27:4 Where God says “We have made their deeds seem alluring to them, so they wander blindly”. Then 27:24, “Satan has made their deeds seem alluring to them, and diverted them from the right path: they cannot find the right path”. If God and Satan both mislead you the same way, then what is the difference between them?
29The Queen of Sheba said, ‘Counsellors, a gracious letter has been delivered to me. 30It is from Solomon, and it says, “In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, 31do not put yourselves above me, and come to me in submission to God.”’ 32She said, ‘Counsellors, give me your counsel in the matter I now face: I only ever decide on matters in your presence.’ 33They replied, ‘We possess great force and power in war, but you are in command, so consider what orders to give us.’ 34She said, ‘Whenever kings go into a city, they ruin it and humiliate its leaders– that is what they do– 35but I am going to send them a gift, then see what answer my envoys bring back.’
That was a very gracious response! Imagine any woman, much less a queen, gets a message from some self-righteous religious nut implying that she is beneath him, that her worship of the thing they can all see is the wrong religion, and that she should come to him in submission to his imaginary god. Could any woman really call that a gracious letter? I doubt any woman receiving that message would have even have answered it, other than muttering “whatever Dude” as she dropped his note in the waste bin.
36When her envoy came to Solomon, Solomon said, ‘What! Are you offering me wealth? What God has given me is better than what He has given you, though you rejoice in this gift of yours. 37Go back to your people: we shall certainly come upon them with irresistible forces, and drive them, disgraced and humbled, from their land.’
While it doesn’t say so here, other accounts say that Bilqis sent Solomon gold, jewels and other valuable goods, even though she didn’t owe him anything, and she had little reason to fear him. She didn’t know that he could talk to animals or that he had the power to make the wind blow, and she didn’t know that he had any djinni under his command. She didn’t have to pay any heed to him at all, and what she did do was reportedly very generous. Yet Solomon is such an ungracious jerk that he threatens war in response?
38Then he said, ‘Counsellors, which of you can bring me her throne before they come to me in submission?’ 39A powerful and crafty jinn replied, ‘I will bring it to you before you can even rise from your place. I am strong and trustworthy enough,’ 40but one of them who had some knowledge of the Scripture said, ‘I will bring it to you in the twinkling of an eye.’
Of course the jinni promised it in the blink of an eye. ;-)
When Solomon saw it set before him, he said, ‘This is a favour from my Lord, to test whether I am grateful or not: if anyone is grateful, it is for his own good, if anyone is ungrateful, then my Lord is self-sufficient and most generous.’ 41Then he said, ‘Disguise her throne, and we shall see whether or not she recognizes it.’ 42When she arrived, she was asked, ‘Is this your throne?’ She replied, ‘It looks like it.’ [Solomon said], ‘We were given knowledge before her, and we devoted ourselves to God; 43she was prevented by what she worshipped instead of God, for she came from a disbelieving people.’
So Solomon tried to deceive her into believing.
44Then it was said to her, ‘Enter the hall,’ but when she saw it, she thought it was a deep pool of water, and bared her legs. Solomon explained, ‘It is just a hall paved with glass,’ and she said, ‘My Lord, I have wronged myself: I devote myself, with Solomon, to God, the Lord of the Worlds.’
Wut? She mistook clear glass for still water, and that proves that the sun isn’t real but a magic invisible man is? How credulous do you have to be to believe any of this?
45To the people of Thamud We sent their brother, Salih, saying, ‘Worship God alone,’ but they split into two rival factions. 46Salih said, ‘My people, why do you rush to bring [forward] what is bad rather than good? Why do you not ask forgiveness of God, so that you may be given mercy?’
Because that would be assuming your conclusion, the question-begging fallacy of circular reasoning which is ubiquitous in every religion but still illogical.
47They said, ‘We see you and your followers as an evil omen.’ He replied, ‘God will decide on any omen you may see: you people are being put to the test.’ 48There were nine men in the city who spread corruption in the land without making amends.
Remember that this book says that even cautioning skepticism counts as spreading corruption.
49They said, ‘Swear by God: we shall attack this man and his household in the night, then say to his next of kin, “We did not witness the destruction of his household. We are telling the truth.”’ 50So they devised their evil plan, but We too made a plan of which they were unaware. 51See how their scheming ended: We destroyed them utterly, along with all their people. 52As a result of their evil deeds, their homes are desolate ruins– there truly is a sign in this for those who know– 53but We saved those who believed and were mindful of God.
Maybe this would mean something to me if I was familiar with this story. Though it seems to be no more than another rendition of “bad things happen to those who don’t believe”. While the Qur’an endlessly repeats that threat, this “book that makes things clear” doesn’t make clear to westerners like myself what these old Arabic fables were even about. You’d think God’s word wouldn’t be some spatially and temporally provincial.
54We also sent Lot to his people. He said to them, ‘How can you commit this outrage with your eyes wide open?
Most things are harder to do when blindfolded.
55How can you lust after men instead of women? What fools you are!’
Sexual orientation isn’t a choice, man. Nor should the harmless enjoyment of consenting adults be criminalized. But what would Lot know about consenting adults? He offered his under-aged daughters to a rape mob!
56The only answer his people gave was to say, ‘Expel Lot’s followers from your town! These men mean to stay chaste!’ 57We saved him and his family– except for his wife: We made her stay behind–
We made her stay behind because she was acting a bit salty.
58and We brought rain down on them. How dreadful that rain was for those who had been warned!
I think the common opinion is that the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is based on a volcanic eruption. In which case, the “rain” would be the first reference to fire and brimstone raining down from the sky.
59Say [Prophet], ‘Praise be to God and peace on the servants He has chosen. Who is better: God, or those they set up as partners with Him?
Which is better? The imaginary despot or the bigots who believe in him and impose that belief onto others? Why can’t I choose rational people who have nothing to do with either of these other two choices?
60Who created the heavens and earth? Who sends down water from the sky for you– with which We cause gardens of delight to grow: you have no power to make the trees grow in them– is it another god beside God? No!
This complex question fallacy erroneously presupposes that some god did this.
But they are people who take others to be equal with God.
Real people could be even superior to a god.
61Who is it that made the earth a stable place to live?
No one, and it’s not.
Who made rivers flow through it?
Not who, what.
Who set immovable mountains on it and created a barrier between the fresh and salt water? Is it another god beside God? No! But most of them do not know.
There are no gods. The mounts are not immovable. They were moved into position by the pressure of tectonic plates. Also water becomes brackish because there is no barrier between fresh water.
62Who is it that answers the distressed when they call upon Him?
Who removes their suffering?
Who makes you successors in the earth? Is it another god beside God? Little notice you take!
There are no gods, not even yours.
63Who is it that guides you through the darkness on land and sea?
Navigators following the stars or other detectable landmarks and such.
Who sends the winds as heralds of good news before His mercy? Is it another god beside God?
It isn’t any god. Nor is it Solomon. It’s not by anyone’s intention. Winds are generated by fluctuating disparate temperature dynamics in different places, literally without a thought.
God is far above the partners they put beside him!
Fictional partners for fictional characters? Imaginary friends and imaginary enemies.
64Who is it that creates life and reproduces it? Who is it that gives you provision from the heavens and earth? Is it another god beside God?’
It was not any god. We evolved in an environment on which we depend, and which we still have not yet completely destroyed.
Say, ‘Show me your evidence then, if what you say is true.’
Religious people believe on faith in lieu of evidence and refuse to change their minds regardless of evidence to the contrary. So why ask for evidence if you don’t even care about it and won’t consider it?
65Say, ‘No one in the heavens or on earth knows the unseen except God.’
God doesn’t know it either. He is unseen because he is unreal.
They do not know when they will be raised from the dead:
We know that we won’t be.
66their knowledge cannot comprehend the Hereafter; they are in doubt about it; they are blind to it.
Here we see a verse in the Qur’an that is actually correct! How rare is that? No, wait. Believers don’t actually know what they merely pretend. They’re blind to hereafter too. They just make-believe things that aren’t evidently even possibly true.
67So the disbelievers say, ‘What! When we and our forefathers have become dust, shall we be brought back to life again? 68We have heard such promises before, and so did our forefathers. These are just ancient fables.’
THERE is a Qur’anic verse that is actually true!
69[Prophet], say, ‘Travel through the earth and see how the evildoers ended up.’
Another recital of “you better believe or else”. This seems to be the only thing the Qur’an has said so far.
70[Prophet], do not grieve over them; do not be distressed by their schemes. 71They also say, ‘When will this promise be fulfilled if what you say is true?’
Yeah, give us an expiration for this prophesy, so we can know when it has failed.
72Say, ‘Maybe some of what you seek to hasten is near at hand.’ 73Your Lord is bountiful to people, though most of them are ungrateful. 74He knows everything their hearts conceal and everything they reveal:
Your god doesn’t know anything more than you do because “he” is simply a culturally-appropriated imaginary friend.
75there is nothing hidden in the heavens or on earth that is not in a clear Record.
What sort of noises did the dinosaurs make? There is no record of that.
76Truly, this Qur’an explains to the Children of Israel most of what they differ about,
Irrelevant opinions of which version of imaginary gods and monster they want to make-believe in.
77and it is guidance and grace for those who believe.
Yet each of the three so-called religions of peace dedicated to the god of forgiving love and mercy have been at war with each other perpetually since their respective inceptions.
78Truly, your Lord will judge between them in His wisdom– He is the Almighty, the All Knowing–
I have seen no hint of this so-called Wisdom in any Jewish, Christian or Muslim scriptures. But I know that whether any god exists or not, history will be our judge.
79so [Prophet], put your trust in God, you are on the path of clear truth.
That would be a contradiction, as “trust in God” has historically always led away from truth.
80You cannot make the dead hear, you cannot make the deaf listen to your call when they turn their backs and leave, 81you cannot guide the blind out of their error: you cannot make anyone hear you except those who believe in Our signs and submit [to Us].
If you admit that you can’t convince anyone who doesn’t already believe, then why don’t you shut up about it already?
82When the verdict is given against them, We shall bring a creature out of the earth, which will tell them that people had no faith in Our revelations. 83The Day will come when We gather from every community a crowd of those who disbelieved in Our signs and they will be led in separate groups 84until, when they come before Him, He will say, ‘Did you deny My messages without even taking them in? Or what were you doing?’ 85The verdict will be given against them because of their wrongdoing: they will not speak.
Blah blah. “There will be a day when you’ll be sorry you didn’t believe”. No, that day will never come.
86Did they not see that We gave them the night for rest, and the day for light? There truly are signs in this for those who believe.
They’re only “signs” if you pretend they’re signs. The fact is they’re not.
87On the Day the Trumpet sounds, everyone in heaven and on earth will be terrified– except such as God wills– and all will come to Him in utter humility. 88You will see the mountains and think they are firmly fixed, but they will float away like clouds: this is the handiwork of God who has perfected all things.
None of that will ever happen.
He is fully aware of what you do:
Because your god is you.
89whoever comes with a good deed will be rewarded with something better, and be secure from the terrors of that Day, 90but whoever comes with evil deeds will be cast face downwards into the Fire. ‘Are you rewarded for anything except what you have done?’
Because this false dichotomy of equally impossible extremes has to offer both the stick and the carrot.
91[Say Prophet], ‘What I am commanded to do is to serve the Sustainer of this town, [Mecca] which He has made inviolable. Everything belongs to Him; I am commanded to be one of those devoted to Him; 92I am commanded to recite the Qur’an.’
…which was still in the process of being written.
Whoever chooses to follow the right path does so for his own good. Say to whoever deviates from it, ‘I am only here to warn.’ 93Say, ‘Praise belongs to God: He will show you His signs so that you will recognize them.’ Your Lord is never unmindful of what you all do.
Whoever chooses to follow the right path will not be Muslim, for they will walk away from faith altogether.