This is the 29th 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 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.
my 22nd post on surah 26.
my 23rd post on surah 27.
my 24th post on surah 28.
my 25th post on surah 17.
my 26th post on surah 10.
my 27th post on surah 11.
and my 28th post on surah 12.
Sūrah 15 (Al-Hijr) “Stone City”
1Alif Lam Ra These are the verses of the Scripture, a Qur’an that makes things clear.
What is still not clear is what these initials stand for. This is the third surah in a row (chronologically) to begin with these letters. I think they’re notes that must have meant something to whoever was cobbling these scriptures together.
2The disbelievers may well come to wish they had submitted to God, 3so [Prophet] leave them to eat and enjoy themselves. Let [false] hopes distract them: they will come to know. 4Never have We destroyed a community that did not have a set time;
Never has God [allegedly] destroyed a community that HAD a set time. The author is just retrofitting prophecies made after they occurred, and erroneously fixing blame or credit then too.
5no community can bring its time forward, nor delay it. 6They say, ‘Receiver of this Qur’an! You are definitely mad.
A fair assessment given the circumstances.
7Why do you not bring us the angels, if you are telling the truth?’ 8But We send down the angels only to bring justice and then these people will not be reprieved.
Well, God, there’s your problem. You don’t send proof when proof was needed. You only send random mad-men and then you get angry when no one is foolish enough to believe your unbelievable prophets.
9We have sent down the Qur’an Ourself, and We Ourself will guard it. Even before you [Prophet],
The idea that God ever sent the Qur’an down himself seemed unlikely. So I checked other translations. IslamicStudies.info says: “As for the Admonition, indeed it is We Who have revealed it and it is indeed We Who are its guardians.” That has a very different implication. Amusingly, they added a footnote to explain this verse:
“That is, you should note it well that it is We Who have sent down this zikr. Thus it is not Our Messenger whom you are calling insane but in fact this abusive remark applies to Us. Moreover, you should know that it is Our Word and We are preserving it. Therefore, you can do no harm to it, nor can you discredit it by your ridicules, taunts and objections, nor can you hamper its progress. Whatever you may do against it, no one will ever be able to change or tamper with it.”
In other words, we have some mad Arab saying “Stop making fun of me! I’m not crazy; I’m GOD! God is talking to you through ME! Do you dare to call GOD crazy?!” That’s how it seems to me anyway.
10We sent messengers among the various communities of old, 11but they mocked every single messenger that came to them: 12in this way We make the message slip through the hearts of evildoers. 13They will not believe in it. That was what happened with the peoples of long ago,
Dear God, bless your heart. We’ve talked about this before. Yet you keep sending random crackpots claiming impossible absurdities without any proof. And you keep repeating this pattern, even though each attempt has produced another religion that is hostile to Islam. Maybe you should correct your behavior and stop recycling this same mistake.
14and even if We opened a gateway into Heaven for them and they rose through it, higher and higher, 15they would still say, ‘Our eyes are hallucinating. We are bewitched.’
Maybe, but more than likely not. You don’t know, because you’ve never tried it. And the reason “you” never did is because it was never you. It was always just some lone weirdo hearing voices in his head that he mistook for the voice of his own personal version of God. It’s either that each of the occasional prophets are liars or lunatics, (which would explain everything) or it is that God is incompetent and can’t learn from his own cycle of the same continuously recurring mistake.
16We have set constellations up in the sky and made it beautiful for all to see,
No. Constellations are merely an illusion. Humans lack the depth perception necessary to see the true position of these stars, which have little or nothing to do with each other collectively. We see images drawn in the stars because of pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon that also causes us to see faces on rock formations or animals in the clouds. No matter what random position the stars are in, people on earth would imagine one set of drawings in Greece and another completely set of erroneous images in China, and so on, with each group assigning inapplicable characteristics and making up their own myths and religions based on them; all with no idea what they’re really looking at.
17and guarded it from every stoned satan:
Again, not knowing what a “stoned Satan” is, I checked other translations. NobleQuran said, “We have guarded it (near heaven) from every outcast Shaitan (devil).” Quran.com said “every devil expelled [from the mercy of Allah]” IslamicStudies.info: “and have protected them against every accursed satan”. And again they added a footnote that did not help their case:
“That is, these spheres are so fortified that they are beyond the reach of every Satan, for all Satans including those of jinns, have been confined to that sphere in which the Earth has been placed and they enjoy no more access to visit other spheres than the other dwellers of this sphere. This has been mentioned in order to remove a common misunderstanding. The common people believed, and still believe, that Satan and his descendants have a free access to every place in the universe. On the contrary, the Quran says that Satans cannot go beyond a certain limit and they have no unlimited power of ascension.”
Spheres and planes? Clearly they’re not thinking of actual stars and planets, but something more like this:
Translator, Abdel Haleem also added a footnote, referring us to surah 72:8-9. “We tried to reach heaven,
but discovered it to be full of stern guards and shooting stars-–we used to sit in places there, listening.” Because “the heavens” are near the top of the “concavity” of the giant crystal dome which is the firmament, and the devils can only fly so high without being shot down by guardian angels.
18any eavesdropper will be pursued by a clearly visible flame.
This is another reference to devils getting close enough to the Heaven at the height of the firmament that they can eavesdrop on what is going on above, but then guards discover them and drive them away with literal “shooting” stars.
19As for the earth, We have spread it out, set firm mountains on it, and made everything grow there in due balance.
Remember that the Qur’an depicts the earth as a map “stretched out” on a disc-shaped table standing on pillars or columns. The map is held down by mountains placed on it like paperweights, and the table and map are capped by a giant crystal dome called the firmament. This is not at all consistent with the way the earth, the mountains, or the stars really are. The creator of the universe would certainly know better than this, proving that God is not the author of the Qur’an.
20We have provided sustenance in it for you and for all those creatures for whom you do not provide. 21There is not a thing whose storehouses are not with Us. We send it down only according to a well-defined measure: 22We send the winds to fertilize, and We bring down water from the sky for you to drink– you do not control its sources. 23It is We who give life and death; it is We who inherit [everything].
A god taking credit for how everything is anyway is not new. The Hindu god, Lord Krishna had already made the same claim thousands of years earlier:
“Certainly wherever and whatever is majestic, beautiful or magnificent; you must certainly know that all these manifestations arise from but a fraction of My glory.”
—Bhagavad Gita 10:41
24We know exactly those of you who come first and those who come later. 25[Prophet], it is your Lord who will gather them all together: He is all wise, all knowing.
Again, other, older gods and scriptures make the same claims:
“Understand just as the mighty wind blowing everywhere is always situated within space, similarly all created beings are situated in Me. O Arjuna, all created beings enter into My nature at the end of a four billion, 320 million year cycle; and after another four billion, 320 million year cycle, I regenerate them all again.”
—Bhagavad Gita 9:6-7
26We created man out of dried clay formed from dark mud– 27the jinn We created before, from the fire of scorching wind. 28Your Lord said to the angels, ‘I will create a mortal out of dried clay, formed from dark mud. 29When I have fashioned him and breathed My spirit into him, bow down before him,’ 30and the angels all did so. 31But not Iblis: he refused to bow down like the others. 32God said, ‘Iblis, why did you not bow down like the others?’ 33and he answered, ‘I will not bow to a mortal You created from dried clay, formed from dark mud.’
Remember there were a few ancient religions that included the idea of a god or gods creating people as clay figurines magically animated by breathing “the spirit” into them. The spirit was nothing more than air. The people who made up those old myths didn’t know that air was particulate matter, but they knew that you would die if you can’t breathe, and they knew that the wind could move things around. So that’s where our belief in invisible ghosts and spiritual souls came from.
34‘Get out of here!’ said God. ‘You are an outcast, 35rejected until the Day of Judgement.’
This story was based on the prophet Isaiah criticizing Babylonian mythology based on the planet, Venus, also known as “light-bringer” (Lucifer) “the morning star”. The story they made up about Venus trying to rise against his father, the Dawn, was obviously never meant to imply that any actual devil ever fell out of the sky. But that’s how Christian theologians interpreted it, and that’s why the Muslim’s adapted version of their misread fable does too.
36Iblis said, ‘My Lord, give me respite until the Day when they are raised from the dead.’ 37‘You have respite,’ said God, 38‘until the Day of the Appointed Time.’ 39Iblis then said to God, ‘Because You have put me in the wrong, I will lure mankind on earth and put them in the wrong, 40all except Your devoted servants.’ 41God said, ‘[Devotion] is a straight path to Me: 42you will have no power over My servants, only over the ones who go astray and follow you.
Imagine you’re God. You’ve psychically “inspired” a number of earlier prophets who all messed up your story and started different religions than the one you intended. So now you’re going to personally dictate your Qur’an, your one infallible message to the people. But instead of telling them anything useful or accurate, you waste that opportunity repeating revisions of the old mythology over and over and over again. Mythology that was already in the old books, where scholars count and memorize every verse. So you don’t need to cover the same ground again. The Qur’an should be where you tell us whatever you haven’t already said before in some Old Testament. When will we ever see divine wisdom in scripture?
43Hell is the promised place for all these, 44with seven gates, each gate having its allotted share of them. 45But the righteous will be in Gardens with springs– 46“Enter them in peace and safety!”––47and We shall remove any bitterness from their hearts: [they will be like] brothers, sitting on couches, face to face. 48No weariness will ever touch them there, nor will they ever be expelled.’
So I guess you’re gonna cast a spell on them so that they never ever get bored either? How else could they deal with the unbearable monotony of sitting in a hotel lobby for a gazillion eons. Or maybe it’s not a spell? Do they have really good drugs in Heaven?
49[Prophet], tell My servants that I am the Forgiving, the Merciful, 50but My torment is the truly painful one.
Dude, your Heaven is already painful enough! If we earn the brownie points necessary to get in, is there any way to keep out? Because I’d honestly rather just die and stay dead forever, thank you.
51Tell them too about Abraham’s guests: 52when they came to him and said, ‘Peace,’ he said, ‘We are afraid of you.’ 53‘Do not be afraid,’ they said, ‘We bring you good news of a son who will have great knowledge.’ 54He said, ‘How can you give me such news when old age has come to me? What sort of news is this?’ 55They said, ‘We have told you the truth, so do not despair.’ 56He said, ‘Who but the misguided despair of the mercy of their Lord?’ 57and then asked, ‘Messengers, what is your errand?’ 58They replied, ‘We have been sent to a people who are guilty.’ 59But We shall save the household of Lot, 60all except his wife: We have decreed that she will be one of those who stay behind.
So God decided he would kill Lot’s unnamed wife before she ever did anything, because he knew what she would do before she did it. And believers know this, yet they still pretend that their religion allows them free will?
61When the messengers came to the household of Lot, 62he said, ‘You are strangers.’
No, not in the original version that this revision is based on. In the Bible, three people came to Abraham’s door, and he recognized one of them as God himself. Then the other two left for Sodom. These were the alleged Angels that Lot tried to defend by feeding his own children to a rape mob. But God stayed at Abraham’s house. They sat by a tree together and ate supper, and Abraham leaned in close to God to talk to him. Remember that story? The Qur’an changed it so much!
63They said, ‘We have brought you what they said would never happen: 64we have brought you the Truth. We speak truly, 65so leave in the dead of the night with your household, and walk behind them. Let none of you look back. Go where you are commanded.’ 66We made this decree known to him: the last remnants of those people would be wiped out in the morning. 67The people of the town came along, revelling, 68and he told them, ‘These are my guests, do not disgrace me. 69Fear God, and do not shame me.’ 70They answered, ‘Have we not told you not to interfere [between us and] anyone else?’ 71He said, ‘My daughters are here, if you must.’
We’re told that this is supposed to be a homosexual rape mob, and Lot is tossing his daughters to them? They didn’t even ask for your kids, Lot, and you should know the reason why. They weren’t interested in your girls.
72By your life [Prophet], they wandered on in their wild intoxication 73and the blast overtook them at sunrise: 74We turned their city upside down and rained on them a shower of clay stones. 75There truly is a sign in this for those who can learn– 76it is still there on the highway– 77there truly is a sign in this for those who believe.
Notice that the order of events is reversed. The first time around, the “angels” went to Sodom after visiting Abraham. Now they’ve already been to Sodom before they ever met Abraham.
78The forest-dwellers, a too, were wrongdoers 79and We took retribution on them; both are still there on the highway, plain for all to see.
80The people of al-Hijr b also rejected Our messengers: 81We gave them Our signs, but they turned their backs. 82They carved out dwellings in the mountains, and lived in security– 83the blast overwhelmed them early in the morning. 84What they had gained was of no use to them.
I wasn’t familiar with this story at all, apparently because it is connected with a fascinating archaeological site that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never even heard of until now. Al-Hijr, the “Stone City” or “Rocky Tract” refers to Madâin Sâlih, a city-sized 2,000 year-old necropolis that was until recently buried in the sands of Saudi Arabia. There are 131 tombs impressively carved into bare rock by the Nabataeans, the people who also built the beautiful stone City of Petra in Jordan.
According to the Qur’an, the Nabataeans, (the Tribe of Thammud) were driven from this place by an earthquake, even though there was supposed to be a “blast” involved. Volcano? However, neither seems to be case from any of the images I’ve seen of this remarkably well preserved archaeological wonder.
85We did not create the heavens and the earth and everything between them without a true purpose: the Hour will certainly come, so [Prophet] bear with them graciously. 86Your Lord is the All Knowing Creator. 87We have given you the seven oft-recited verses and the whole glorious Qur’an.
Sorry, but I’m over half way through this book now, and there hasn’t been any hint of “glory” to be found in it yet. Not by any definition, certainly not Humpty Dumpty’s definition.
88Do not look longingly at the good things We have given some to enjoy. Do not grieve over the [disbelievers], but lower your wings over the believers 89and say, ‘I am here to give plain warning,’ 90like the [warning] We have sent down for those who divide themselves into bands a 91and abuse the Qur’anb ––92by your Lord, We will question them all 93about their deeds.
C’mon, God. I thought you were Mr Know It All. What questions could you possibly have?
94So proclaim openly what you have been commanded [to say], and ignore the idolaters. 95We are enough for you against all those who ridicule your message, 96who set up another god beside God– they will come to know.
You hear that, Christians? You’re idolaters going to Hell for breaking the very first commandment. If you’re not scared of Muslim Hell, then maybe you understand why it doesn’t scare me when you say I’m going to your Hell.
97We are well aware that your heart is weighed down by what they say. 98Celebrate the glory of your Lord and be among those who bow down to Him: 99worship your Lord until what is certain comes to you.
I dunno. From what I’m hearing, it doesn’t sound that promising.