Posts Tagged Quran

The Soul According to the Quran

The Quran describes the origin of the soul in the creation of humans. “So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit (ruh), fall down making obeisance to him” (15:29). Allah describes the “ruh” as coming from His Own Spirit. He commands creation to do obeisance, i.e. show great respect, to humanity.

Allah explains that He controls every soul’s existence. “And no soul can die but with Allah’s permission” (4:144). We pray to Allah to preserve our lives because He has the power to prevent any death.

The soul is not alone but is attached to two entities. “And every soul comes, with it a driver and a witness” (50:21). This may be connected to the idea that there are two angels recording the deeds of each person. Islam also teaches that each person has a shaytan, or devil, that inspires him or her to do evil.

Allah teaches us that He will hold us accountable for our souls. “And whether you manifest what is in your souls or hide it, Allah will call you to account according to it.”
We may try to hide our sins, and this is a good thing, but we cannot hide them from Allah.

The soul often urges people to do wicked things. “Surely (man’s) self is wont to command evil, except those on whom my Lord has mercy” (12:53). If we do good, it is the product of Allah’s mercy upon us and not something we have earned ourselves.

“He has succeeded who purifies [his soul.] And he has failed who has corrupted it.” (91:9-10).

The highest stage of development of the soul brings it lasting peace. “O soul that art at rest, return to thy Lord, well- pleased, well-pleasing, So enter among My servants, And enter My Garden!” (89:27-30).


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What Is the Matter with You?

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Quran is the way it seems to speak directly to you. It’s a verbal version of the visual phenomenon of the Mona Lisa through which it seems that the eyes of the lady follow the eyes of the viewer. Today when I was reading the Quran I was struck by this passage from the Chapter of Prophet Noah, peace be upon him (Nuh, alaihis salaam). In this passage, an exhausted Noah recounts his efforts to invite his people to the truth.

“What is the matter with you that you do not regard the greatness of Allah [13] when He has created you in gradual stages? [14] Can you not see how Allah created the seven heavens one above the other, [15] placing in them the moon as a light and the sun as a glorious lamp? [16] Allah has caused you to grow as a growth from the earth. [17] He will return you to the same earth and then raise you back again. [18] Allah has made the earth for you as a wide expanse [19] so that you may walk in its spacious paths.” [20] (Excerpted from Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik’s English translation of the Quran, 71:13 – 20, italicized portion removed).

There’s so much depth to plumb here that I feel I can only scratch the surface. I love how Noah speaks to his people as if there is something defective in them. But Noah is right. There is something wrong with them if they cannot see the beauty of Allah. It is part of our true nature that we recognize our Creator.

Allah has created humanity in stages. There are many possible meanings here, but I think the Quran is referring to the physical development of Homo Sapiens. From conception, through the stages of pre-natal development, to childhood, puberty, adulthood, and finally senescence, the life of a human is marked by stages. Even 6th century Arabs had a sense of this as part of our development is obvious to the eyes. But as people of the 21st century, we can perceive development in a way the Arabs could not. We have seen images of human eggs or ova. We have seen fetuses growing in the womb. We have access to pictures of individual cells at any point in the life of a person. And yet instead of having more faith, we have less.

The passage I have excerpted here also talks of the “spacious paths” of the Earth. I was recently telling my cousins that Chicago’s Western Avenue is the longest street in the world (24 mi / 38km). Actually, according to Wikipedia, though multiple sources make that claim, Toronto’s Yonge Street is longer. The exact length of Yonge Street is disputed, but it is at least 33 miles (53 km) long and may even be an amazing 1,178 mi (1896 km) long.  Even if we discount the Canadian claim and accept Western as the longest, 24 miles is a remarkable length for a single street. The fact that humans have built roads of this length, that our species has the ability to transform nature in this way, is something impressive. Yet like so many features of our world, it is something most people take for granted. We never stop to think about the planning, the digging, the overcoming of obstacles and the sheer effort this must have taken.

So why don’t you stop to wonder about the world around you and the One who created it all? What is the matter with you?



Compilation of the Quran Versus Compilation of the Gospels

Recently I’ve been studying Christianity through an audio course offered by The Teaching Company called “Jesus and the Gospels.” ( Normally I would address him as Prophet Isa, or Jesus, alaihis salaam, [peace be upon him] but I wanted to quote the title as is.)

I just finished a lecture on the Synoptic Problem and it really makes me wonder if Christians really understand the magnitude of this problem and its bearing on the reliability of the Gospels. (Gospel in this sense means one of the four canonical accounts of the life of the Prophet Jesus.) It also, frankly, makes me happy to be a Muslim, because the Quran does not suffer from anything like the Synoptic Problem.

Before I get to the Synoptic Problem, I want to explain how the Quran was compiled. It’s quite simple and even beautiful in its simplicity. During the course of the two decades over which the Quran was revealed, several of the companions of Prophet Muhammad, salla allahu alaihi wa sallam, peace be upon him, memorized the revelations. Two of the companions who were huffaz (people who have memorized the entire Quran) were Zayd bin Thabit and Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with them. At the same time, many of the companions wrote down verses of the Quran. To compile the Quran, Zayd and Umar collected written texts of the Quran, verified it with their own memory and checked to see if there were at least two witnesses who could confirm that the texts had been written in the presence of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

Here’s a more thorough account of the process I’ve sketched out above:

“The compilation of the Qur’an started, with Sayyidna Zayd bin Thabit, Radi-Allahu anhu, in charge. Lots of companions, including himself had memorized the whole Qur’an and so the Qur’an could have easily been written down from memory. There were also complete collections of the verses of the Holy Qur’an available with many companions. But Sayyidna Zayd bin Thabit, Radi-Allahu anhu, knew he had to be careful. He used both methods by collecting verses that were written during the time of Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam and also using memory. He followed four steps.

1.      First he verified the verse with his own memory.

2.      Sayyidna Umar, Radi-Allahu anhu, who was a Hafiz, was also in charge of the project and he verified it, too.

3.      Then, before the verse could be accepted, the two reliable witnesses had to testify that it was written in the presence of Prophet Muhammad Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

4.      After that, written verses were collated with the collections of different Companions.

The purpose of this method was so that the utmost care be taken in the transcription of the Qur’an, and rather then rely on memory, it should be transcribed from verses that were written in the presence of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.”


Contrast this with the two-source hypothesis of the compilation of the Gospels. This is a widely accepted solution to the Synoptic Problem. It is common knowledge that there are four Gospels, each named for their supposed authors – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Of these four, all except the Gospel of John are considered to be “synoptic,” a word from Greek roots meaning “seen together.” The synoptic gospels have many similarities in content, word choice, and sequence. This suggests that one of the gospels was written before the others and the rest were revisions of the original. However, no one knows for certain which gospel came first, second, third, or fourth. The two-source hypothesis basically says that Mark came first, a mysterious gospel of unknown origin called “Q” came at roughly the same time, then Matthew and Luke combined parts of Mark with parts of Q.

Here’s Wikipedia’s take on the two-source hypothesis:

“The two-source hypothesis states that Matthew and Luke independently copied Mark for its narrative framework and independently added discourse material from a non-extant sayings collection called Q. Much work has gone into the extent and wording of Q, particularly since the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas which attests to the sayings gospel genre. Holtzmann’s 1863 theory posited an Ur-Marcus in the place of our Mark, with our Mark being a later revision. Some scholars occasionally propose an unattested revision of Mark, a deutero-Mark, being the base of what Matthew and Luke used. In 1924 Burnett Hillman Streeter further refined the Two-Source Hypothesis into a Four-Source Hypothesis, with an M and an L being a unique source to Matthew and Luke respectively, with Q and L combined into a Proto-Luke before Luke added Mark. While unique sources, such as M, L, or Semitic first editions, are interesting for form-critical purposes, they are quite peripheral to the Synoptic Problem as to how the canonical gospels are interrelated.”


Confused? Here’s some more food for thought. If one gospel says event A took place before event B, wouldn’t it be logical to assume that the other gospels would agree that the same event A took place before event B? Logic apparently has no place in the world of the New Testament.

Some conflicts in the New Testament

1:  In Matthew 4:5-8 the Devil took Jesus to the pinnacle and then to the mountain, while in Luke 4:5-9 he took him to the mountain and then the pinnacle.

2:  In Matt. 21:12-19 Jesus cleansed the temple and later cursed the fig tree, while in Mark 11:13-15 he cursed the fig tree and later cleansed the temple.

3:  In Matt. 8:28-32 Jesus caused devils to enter swine and later called Levi (Matt. 9:9), while in Luke 5:27-28 Jesus called Levi and later caused devils to enter swine (Luke 8:26-33).

4:  In Mark 1:12-13 Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and later John was arrested (Mark 6:17-18), while in Luke 3:19-20 John was arrested and later Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).

5:  In Mark 2:13-17 Matthew was called by Jesus and later the tempest was calmed (Mark 4:35-40), while in Matt. 8:18, 23-27 the tempest was calmed and later Matthew was called (Matt. 9:9-17).


You can verify all of these claims of conflicts by using an online version of the New Testament which you can find at

Notice that these conflicts all occur among the three synoptic gospels. Christians seem to be at a total loss at what to do with the Gospel of John. There are many ways in which the Gospel of John differs from the others but to keep things simple, let’s just look at the beginning and the end of John. The beginning of John is quite famous, it goes, ”  1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning..” Since the Gospel starts with the beginning of time, one might logically conclude that it would end with the end of time. But remember, logic has no place in the Gospels. Near the end of the Gospel of John, it talks about the supposed resurrection of Prophet Jesus. But the very end is sort of like an appendix, with a short story involving Peter, and a very odd ending, in my view, that goes like this, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Unlike John, Mark begins with the story of the baptism of Prophet Jesus.

Unlike John, Matthew begins with a genealogy of Prophet Jesus, which seems pretty sensible as it is in keeping with the Old Testament where genealogies of key people are common. What strikes me as rather funny is that the genealogy that is given is that of Joseph, the adopted father of Prophet Jesus and not the genealogy of Mary, his true mother, peace be upon her. Matthew follows with the story of the miraculous birth.

Unlike John, Luke begins with the story of the birth of John the Baptist. Also, try not to get confused. There are several distinct individuals in the story of early Christianity who were named John. There were at least four Johns – John the Baptist, John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, and John of Patmos.

I can barely imagine what Islam would be like if we had four conflicting Qurans. As it is, we seem incapable of agreeing on the most basic of questions cf. the classic two-Eid problem. How do Christians manage it?

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Quo Vadis?

It’s a great question, a fundamental question, a question that is at once both mundane and existential.

What does it mean? We don’t all speak Latin. Yes, I know. Just like English has its five w’s – who, what, where, when, and why, Latin has five q’s – quis, quid, quo, quando, and quare. Quo is equivalent to “where”. The word “vadis” is a verb that comes from the same root as the English words “invade” and “pervade.”  It’s the 2nd person singular present active indicative form, so it means “you are going.” So “Quo vadis?” means “Where are you going?”

This same question occurs in both the New Testament and in the Quran. But in context, it has two different meanings.

In the New Testament, it comes in John 13:36, the New International Version (NIV) puts it thus:

“Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Without delving too deep into Christian lore, I’ll give you the basics. Peter, one of the Twelve Disciples, saw this vision of Jesus (alaihis salaam [peace be upon him]) after Jesus had died. The vision served to guide Peter to return to Rome, where he too was crucified.

In the Quran, the question comes near the end of Surah Takwir, the 81st surah in the Quran. The surah begins with a dramatic description of the Day of Judgment. It says, “When the Sun is shrouded in darkness (1) and when the stars lose their light (2) and when the mountains are made to vanish (3) and when she-camels big with young, about to give birth, are left untended (4) and when all beasts are gathered together (5) and when the seas boil over (6).”

This epic account stretches the limits of human imagination. How could the Sun, the source of light and heat for our Solar System, be covered in darkness? How could huge, immovable mountains just vanish? Mountains don’t just disappear. Imagine going hiking with someone who was following a map, and then you get to a point and stop and then that person says, “Hmm, there should be a mountain here. I wonder where it went.” I mean, how crazy would that be?

The example of the she-camels is a bit hard to translate from 7th century Arabia to 21st century U.S. but I’ll try. Imagine you had a brand-new Mercedes McLaren ( and a guarantee from Mercedes Benz that as soon as you got tired of this one, you could have another brand-new Mercedes. That gives you some idea as to how much Arabs prized pregnant she-camels. And what a catastrophe it would take to get them to abandon them.

The end of the surah has Allah posing a question to all of humanity, “Where are you going?” (81:26). And this is a deep question. One could look at it as a simple duality – Am I going to heaven or to hell? But there is not just one heaven, in Islamic eschatology there are seven heavens or seven levels of heaven and seven levels of hell too.

And if one is sincerely asking one’s self that question, one must look at the sum total of his or her deeds in this life. One must examine every relationship, every decision, every promise, and more.

But perhaps that is more than we are capable of, at least right now.

So maybe a more appropriate question is where am I going today? Did my actions today lead me a little closer to heaven or did they bring me down lower? Who did I help today? Who did I hurt today?

Quo vadis? It’s a profound question.

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Tribute to Abdullah Yusuf Ali

Abdullah Yusuf Ali. If you are a Muslim living in America, you have no doubt seen his landmark English translation of The Holy Quran. It is probably sitting in your house right now. I hope it has not gathered too much dust since last Ramadan. As my friend Kamran is fond of repeating, “Qurans that fall apart often belong to people that don’t.”

Regardless of the frequency of your reading of the Quran, you should know about the magnificent intellectual achievement represented by the Yusuf Ali translation. There are many fine passages in the work, but one of the most remarkable is the translation of Ayat-ul-Kursi, the Verse of the Throne, 2:255. To really appreciate it, you must not only read the body of the passage but also the footnotes that accompany it. Ali comments on the verse, analyses it, and makes beautiful allusions to classic Western texts like the King James Version of the Bible and William Wordsworth’s poem, “Tintern Abbey.” He struggles to convey the beauty of the original in the most eloquent English he can muster. Many Muslims will say that the Arabic is far superior, and it is, but Ali deserves tremendous credit for striving so valiantly to bring the Quran to Western eyes.

Here is the Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation of Ayat-ul-Kursi, with his footnotes.

255. “God! There is no god but He, -the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal.[1] No slumber can seize him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them.[2] Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne[3] doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them[4], For He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).”

How did the Muslim community or Ummah reward the genius behind these words? Was he a professor at a prestigious Islamic university? No. Did he serve as chairman to some great Islamic organization? Guess again. Could he have been chosen to serve as an adviser in the cabinet of some powerful Muslim leader? Nope. At age 80, Abdullah Yusuf Ali was “bewildered and frail, dying destitute and alone in London” according to his biographer, M.A. Sherif. But though he was not properly honored in this life, I pray that Allah will give him a noble place in Heaven and reward him for his tremendous service to the Muslim Ummah.

[1] “This is the Ayat-ul-Kursi, the “Verse of the Throne”. Who can translate its glorious meaning, or reproduce the rhythm of its well-chosen and comprehensive words? Even in the original Arabic the meaning seems to be greater than can be expressed in words.

The attributes of God are so different from anything we know in our present world that we have to be content with understanding that the only fit word by which we can name Him is “He,” – the pronoun standing for His name. His name – God or Allah – is sometimes misused and applied to other beings or things; and we must emphatically repudiate any idea or suggestion that there can be any compeer of God, the one true living God. He lives, but His life is self-subsisting and eternal: it does not depend on other beings and is not limited to time and space. Perhaps the attribute of Qaiyum includes not only the idea of “Self-subsisting” but also the idea of “Keeping up and maintaining all life,” His life being the source and constant support of all derived forms of life. Perfect life is perfect activity, in contrast to the imperfect life we see around us, which is not only subject to death but to the need for rest or slowed-down activity, (something which is between activity and sleep, for which I in common with other translators have used the word “slumber”) and the need for full sleep itself. But God has no need for rest or sleep. His activity, like His life, is perfect and self-subsisting. Contrast with this the expression used in Psalms lxxviii. 65: ‘Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.”

[2] After we realize that His Life is absolute Life, His Being is absolute Being, while others are contingent and evanescent, our ideas of heaven and earth vanish like shadows. What is behind that shadow is He. Such reality as our heavens and our earth possess is a reflection of His absolute Reality. The pantheist places the wrong accent when he says that everything is He. The truth is better expressed when we say that everything is His. How then can any creatures stand before Him as of right, and claim to intercede for a fellow-creature? In the first place both are His, and He cares as much for one as for the other. In the second place, they are both dependent on His will and command. But He in His Wisdom and Plan may grade his creatures and give one superiority over another. Then by His will and permission such a one may intercede or help according to the laws and duties laid on him. God’s knowledge is absolute and not conditioned by Time or Space. To us, His creatures, these conditions always apply. His knowledge and our knowledge are therefore in different categories, and our knowledge only gets some reflection of Reality when it accords with His Will and Plan.

[3] Throne: seat, power, knowledge, symbol of authority. In our thoughts we exhaust everything when we say “the heavens and the earth”. Well, then in everything is the working of God’s power, and will, and authority. Everything of course includes spiritual things as well as things of sense Cf. Wordsworth’s fine outburst in “Tintern Abbey”: ‘Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And in the blue sky, and in the mind of man: A motion and a spirit that impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things.’

[4] A life of activity that is imperfect or relative would not only need rest for carrying on its own activities but would be in need of double rest when it has to look after and guard, or cherish, or help other activities. In contrast with this is the Absolute Life, which is free from any such need or contingency. For it is supreme above everything we can conceive.

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The Little Things

The Holy Quran says:

99:7 And so, he who shall have done an atom’s weight of good, shall behold it;

99:8 and he who shall have done an atom’s weight of evil, shall behold it.

(Muhammad Asad translation)

God takes into account even our smallest actions to the point that not even an atom of good or evil escapes His notice. The receipt you picked up off the floor, the smile you gave to your grandmother, the way you said “thank you” to the girl at the ice cream shop, and so many little deeds that we forget about actually matter. How sad, no, tragic would it be to be denied heaven because of a few little deeds? Of course God is Merciful and no one can even imagine the extent of His Mercy, but He reminds us that the little things do count.

Little bad deeds count as well. In English, we have the terrible phrase “white lie.” We think that some acts of dishonesty are minor or trivial. Perhaps they are trivial to us, but what about to the person to whom we lie? And what about God? What does He think of these lies?

In another place in the Quran, God says, “It is most hateful in the sight of Allah that ye say that which you do not.” (61:3, translation by Muhammad M. Pickthall) The type of lie where one says something but fails to deliver on it is deeply hated by God. An example might be a father telling his daughter he will take her to the zoo if she behaves and then neglecting to take her. We should remember that God chose man above all animals to empower with the gift of speech. To twist that gift into a tool for evil is a great crime.

But we should not despair. Even though we know that we will see the results of even an atom’s worth of evil, we should not give up hope for heaven. If we beg Allah for forgiveness and sincerely repent of our bad deeds, we can overcome our sins.

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How Can There Be Corn in the Quran?


I was reading something in the Quran yesterday that bothered me. It’s in Surah 12, Yusuf. I’ve read it before but I’ve never thought about it deeply before. Read this ayah carefully,


“One day the king of Egypt said: ‘I saw seven fat cows in my dream which were eaten up by seven lean cows, likewise, I saw seven green ears of corn and seven others that were dried up. O chiefs! Tell me the meaning of my dream if you can interpret the dreams.” (12:43 trans. by Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik)


So what’s wrong with this? The technical term is anachronism. The story of Prophet Yusuf, alaihis salaam (peace be upon him), takes place in Ancient Egypt, roughly 1000 B.C. But corn, as you might remember from American History, is a New World crop. Pilgrims in the 1600’s were unfamiliar with corn until the Native Americans showed them how to grow it. How could a king in Ancient Egypt been dreaming of a crop that would not be discovered for nearly three thousand years?

I was thinking if this might simply be a translation error and I believe it is a strong possibility. I was in Borders today, looking through different English translations of the Quran. Every one I saw had the word “corn.” I’m no Arabic scholar, but as near as I can figure from Malik’s translation, the Arabic word used for corn is “ijafun.” If anyone out there knows the Arabic etymology, I would love to read it.

The problem may not be in the Quran, but in the English word, “corn.” In the U.S., when we say “corn,” we mean a yellow plant with kernels. But in England, “corn” can refer to just about any cereal grain, including wheat and oats. I think what may have happened was that an early English translation of the Quran used the British term, referring to either wheat or oats (both Ancient Old World plants). Subsequent translators probably kept the word “corn” without realizing the ambiguity.

Also, you might wonder, as I did, about the word “ear.” In English, we commonly talk about “ears of corn” but are there such things as “ears of wheat?” Indeed there are ears of wheat. According to, “ear” is defined as


the part of a cereal plant, as corn, wheat, etc., that contains the flowers and hence the fruit, grains, or kernels.


            Has anyone else seen something strange in the Quran or Bible that you would like to discuss?

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