This is the 37th 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.
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.
my 28th post on surah 12.
my 29th post on surah 15.
my 30th post on surah 6.
my 31st post on surah 37.
my 32nd post on suras 31 & 34.
my 33rd post on surah 39.
my 34th post on surah 40.
and my 35th post on surah 41.
Sūrah 42 (Ash-Shura) Consultation
1Ha Mim 2 Ayn Sin Qaf 3This is how God, the Mighty, the Wise, sends revelation to you [Prophet] as He did to those before you.
This surah begins with five Arabic letters of unintelligible meaning, where we usually only have three or four. Interestingly, we have two in the first verse and three in the second, and no one knows why. But this is how God, the mighty, the wise, sends what he calls “revelation”, in the form of initials that no one can understand.
4All that is in the heavens and earth belongs to Him: He is the Exalted, the Almighty. 5The heavens are almost broken apart from above as the angels proclaim the praises of their Lord and ask forgiveness for those on earth. God is indeed the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful.
Except that God never forgives or shows mercy, and the angels know they’re wasting their time trying to plead with him. Because every single chapter in this whole book says that the unbelievers will be tortured mercilessly for all eternity, and that God will never forgive rational skepticism.
6As for those who take protectors other than Him, God is watching them; you are not responsible for them. 7So We have revealed an Arabic Quran to you, in order that you may warn the capital city [Mecca] and all who live nearby. And warn [especially] about the Day of Gathering, of which there is no doubt, when some shall be in the Garden and some in the blazing Flame.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you keep saying. But you know what? There *is* doubt about that.
8If God had so pleased, He could have made them a single community, but He admits to His mercy whoever He will; the evildoers will have no one to protect or help them.
So God’s judgments are arbitrary, and he never really cared about his people as a whole.
9How can they take protectors other than Him? God alone is the Protector; He gives life to the dead; He has power over all things.
Because that’s what all the gods say. Or rather, that’s what the prophets and clergy of every pantheon says.
10Whatever you may differ about is for God to judge. [Say], ‘Such is God, my Lord. In Him I trust and to Him I turn, 11the Creator of the heavens and earth.’ He made mates for you from among yourselves––and for the animals too––so that you may multiply.
He made us mates from among ourselves? So he didn’t just create Adam and Eve, he made a bunch of people, all of them men, apparently, because that’s who he’s talking to. And then God turned some of those men into women? That’s the only way I can interpret he making mates for us “from among” ourselves.
There is nothing like Him: He is the All Hearing, the All Seeing.
That’s right, there is nothing like Allah except for Ahura-Mazda, Zeus/Jupiter, Lord Krishna and the Hindu trimurti of Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva, all of them claiming omniscience. Or rather, their prophets do. So Muhammad is no different than they are.
12The keys of the heavens and the earth are His; He provides abundantly or sparingly for whoever He will; He has full knowledge of all things.
Ask him what the letters mean at the beginning of this surah.
13In matters of faith, He has laid down for you [people] the same commandment that He gave Noah, which We have revealed to you [Muhammad] and which We enjoined on Abraham and Moses and Jesus: ‘Uphold the faith and do not divide into factions within it’–
I can’t help but point out that at least two of those characters never existed as described, and it’s possible that none of them did.
what you [Prophet] call upon the idolaters to do is hard for them; God chooses whoever He pleases for Himself and guides towards Himself those who turn to Him.
If you think it’s hard to convince the pagans, imagine trying to convince a rationalist. At least the pagans already believe in things like magic and genies and animals that talk to people like people. You’d have an uphill battle having to first convince me of all that nonsense before taking it up to the ultimate absurdity.
14They divided, out of rivalry, only after knowledge had come to them, and, if it had not been for a decree already passed by your Lord to reprieve them until an appointed time, they would already have been judged. Those after them, who inherited the Scripture, are in disquieting doubt about it.
As a westerner, I couldn’t guess whether this might be referring to a specific event, since the Qur’an doesn’t give many details, expecting that whoever reads it is already familiar with all of Arabia historic folklore, even the obscure stuff. So I checked IslamicStudies.info, and that said: “That is, the divisions were created not because Allah had failed to send the Prophets and the Books, and therefore, the people could not know the right way and so invented their own separate religions, sects, schools of thought and systems of life, but divisions appeared after knowledge had come to them from Allah. Therefore, Allah is not responsible for it, but the people who abandoned the clear principles of religion and commands of the Shariah and created their own creeds and religions are themselves responsible for it.”
Well, of course they did. Every nation has their loonies pretending that they alone are the possessors of the hidden knowledge of the untold truth, bestowed upon them by the gods, or by our dead ancestors, or maybe telepathic aliens. Just because some guy told us to “believer this or else” doesn’t make him any more or less believable than all the other guys who say that about the meaning of their dreams, their past life remembrance, out of body experiences or the illuminati.
15So [Prophet] call people to that faith and follow the straight path as you have been commanded. Do not go by what they desire, but say, ‘I believe in whatever Scripture God has sent down. I am commanded to bring justice between you. God is our Lord and your Lord– to us our deeds and to you yours, so let there be no argument between us and you– God will gather us together, and to Him we shall return.’
And then, he’ll split you apart; believers in the lobby of God’s heavenly hotel, and unbelievers into the ever consuming flame of eternal agony. There is no consideration or reasoning and no moral judgments either.
16As for those who argue about God after He has been acknowledged, their argument has no weight with their Lord: anger will fall upon them and agonizing torment awaits them.
If you read this out loud, you can hear the desperation in the Prophet’s voice as he’s just got to sell the world’s biggest lie, and secure himself a power position if he can convince enough patsies.
17It is God who has sent down the Scripture with Truth and the Balance. How can you tell?
Because no one knows what it means? Nor can anyone show that there is any truth to it?
The Last Hour may well be near:
Spoiler alert: That verse was written over 14 centuries ago. So the end of the world wasn’t quite as near as the author thought it was. It never is, no matter which prophet says that.
18those who do not believe in it seek to hasten it, but the believers stand in awe of it. They know it to be the Truth;
No, no one knows that. They try real hard to convince themselves, but believing isn’t the same thing as knowing.
those who argue about the Hour are far, far astray. 19God is most subtle towards His creatures;
Just like that garden snake, remember? Hey, has anyone ever seen God and the Serpent in the same room?
He provides [bountifully] for whoever He will; He is the Powerful, the Almighty.
20If anyone desires a harvest in the life to come, We shall increase it for him; if anyone desires a harvest in this world, We shall give him a share of it, but in the Hereafter he will have no share.
This is religion’s way of saying, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”; except that “Tuesday” is “after you die”. So that you never get your payback.
21How can they believe in others who ordain for them things which God has not sanctioned in the practice of their faith?
Because they don’t believe in your god. They believe in their gods, who make the same empty promises and boasts as yours does, and for the same reason too.
If it were not for God’s decree concerning the final Decision, judgement would already have been made between them. The evildoers will have a grievous punishment– 22you will see them fearful because of what they have done: punishment is bound to fall on them– but those who believe and do good deeds will be in the flowering meadows of the Gardens. They will have whatever they wish from their Lord: this is the great bounty;
You can have whatever you wish, as long as God has already approved it for you. Alcoholics? No! Heroin addicts? OK. Pedophiles? Absolutely! Lesbians? LESBIANS?! Who even let you in here? SECURITY!
23it is of this that God gives good news to His servants who believe and do good deeds. Say [Prophet], ‘I ask no reward from you for this, only the affection due to kin.’ If anyone does good, We shall increase it for him; God is most forgiving and most appreciative. 24How can they say, ‘He has invented a lie about God’?
Because that’s what all that prophets and the clergy do.
If God so willed, He could seal your heart and blot out lies:
Elsewhere remember, the Qur’an also says that God sometimes decides to seal your ears and eyes to the truth, to force you to believe in lies.
God confirms the Truth with His words. He has full knowledge of what is in the heart– 25it is He who accepts repentance from His servants and pardons bad deeds– He knows everything you do. 26He responds to those who believe and do good deeds, and gives them more of His bounty; agonizing torment awaits the disbelievers.
Here that, kids? If you’re real good and believe in Allah, he will give you great bounty in your stocking. But if you’re bad, he’ll send Krampus to get you.
27If God were to grant His plentiful provision to [all] His creatures, they would act insolently on earth, but He sends down in due measure whatever He will, for He is well aware of His servants and watchful over them:
So he created all of us knowing that he punish most of us, because of how he made us and forced us to be.
28it is He who sends relief through rain after they have lost hope, and spreads His mercy far and wide. He is the Protector, Worthy of All Praise.
He is not worthy of praise, because he doesn’t really exist to do any of that. But if he was real, then he would be deserving of stern criticism.
29Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth and all the living creatures He has scattered throughout them:
…Which we know actually came about by a number of deterministic natural processes, not magic.
He has the power to gather them all together whenever He will.
But he doesn’t have the power to appear in person or speak for himself to any collective audience. Nor can he ever seem to tell anyone anything they didn’t already know at that time. In fact, he usually tells his prophets things that later prove to be wrong.
30Whatever misfortune befalls you [people], it is because of what your own hands have done– God forgives much– 31you cannot escape Him anywhere on earth: you have no protector or helper other than God.
So I guess the people on the International Space Station are safe as long as they remain in orbit. Anyone emigrating to Mars would be out of range.
32Among His signs are the ships, sailing like floating mountains: 33if He willed, He could bring the wind to a standstill and they would lie motionless on the surface of the sea– there truly are signs in this for anyone who is steadfast and thankful–
Again, the wind is generated by global temperature variance, not magical miracles from any deity.
34or He could cause them to be wrecked on account of what their passengers have done– God pardons much–
How can we say that he pardons anything if he kills the innocent captain and crew and destroys his property over something he didn’t even do?
35to let those who argue about Our messages know that there is no escape for them.
I find that the easiest way to escape any nightmare is simply to wake up. Thus reason is our salvation in this case.
36What you have been given is only the fleeting enjoyment of this world. Far better and more lasting is what God will give to those who believe and trust in their Lord; 37who shun great sins and gross indecencies; who forgive when they are angry; 38respond to their Lord; keep up the prayer; conduct their affairs by mutual consultation; give to others out of what We have provided for them; 39and defend themselves when they are oppressed.
So it’s not just that you believe the prophets and the priests, imams or what have you, but that the reason you must is so that the clergy can control you. This is how religion is used to manipulate the masses. It was a clever strategy once upon a time, but what resulted from that has stupefied generations of men, and this persistent error must be corrected.
40Let harm be requited by an equal harm, though anyone who forgives and puts things right will have his reward from God Himself– He does not like those who do wrong. 41There is no cause to act against anyone who defends himself after being wronged, 42but there is cause to act against those who oppress people and transgress in the land against all justice– they will have an agonizing torment– 43though if a person is patient and forgives, this is one of the greatest things.
Thus religion served as a sort of judicial system before there were adequate means of law enforcement, criminal investigation or emergency responders. Yet we still had to develop those things because religion failed to keep everyone in line. That’s why every prison is almost entirely full of believers.
44Anyone God allows to stray will have no one else to protect him: you [Prophet] will see the wrongdoers, when they face the punishment, exclaiming, ‘Is there any way of going back?’ 45You will see them exposed to the Fire, abject in humiliation, glancing furtively, while those who believed exclaim, ‘The losers are the ones who have lost themselves and their people on the Day of Resurrection.’ Truly the evildoers will remain in lasting torment; 46they will have no allies to help them against God. There is no way [forward] for those God allows to stray.
Nor would the unbelievers ever have any means of rehabilitation, making the whole eternal torture thing utterly meaningless, pointlessly cruel and without any actual justice. In fact, it is an inexcusable injustice.
47So [people] respond to your Lord before there comes a Day that cannot, against God’s will, be averted– you will have no refuge on that Day, and no possibility of denying [your sins]. If they still turn away [remember that] 48We have not sent you [Prophet] to be their guardian: your only duty is to deliver the message. When We give man a taste of Our mercy, he rejoices in it, but if some harm befalls him on account of what he has done with his own hands, then he is ungrateful.
When I had the idea to publish this series, where I read and comment on each chapter of the Qur’an separately, I had no idea that every surah just repeated the same empty threat over and over and over again. Instead, perhaps naively, I expected to find at least something therein that was worth writing down and reading later.
49God has control of the heavens and the earth; He creates whatever He will– He grants female offspring to whoever He will, 50male to whoever He will, or both male and female, and He makes whoever He will barren:
Las Vegas illusionist, Penn Jillette said that “God works in mysterious, inefficient and breathtakingly cruel ways.” Of course the reason it seems so mysterious is that it’s not the work of any intelligent agent at all. I think my favorite line of the Tao te Ching explains it best: “Nature acts without intent, and so cannot be said to be benevolent nor malevolent to any thing.” There, mystery solved.
He is all knowing and all powerful. 51It is not granted to any mortal that God should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His command what He will: He is exalted and wise.
…so pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!
52So We have revealed a spirit to you [Prophet] by Our command: you knew neither the Scripture nor the faith, but We made it a light, guiding with it whoever We will of Our servants. You give guidance to the straight path, 53the path of God, to whom belongs all that is in the heavens and earth: truly everything will return to God.
Nothing can return to God since nothing ever came from God in the first place.