All through the Qur'an, Mohammed refers to The Book having been revealed by Allah. There are 114 suras, and about 70% of them state that the book was revealed to Mohammed. At that stage there was no book, just individual revelations written down by Mohammed. Muslim tradition is that Mohammed occasionally went into a trance and during these times the angel Gabriel came from Allah to visit him and to recite to him segments of a book of which the original was on a table in front of Allah's throne. As in The star (1) Hordes (2) Ornaments of Gold (3) He was convinced that what he received was the direct words of his god, conveyed by a very senior angel.
Mohammed refers often to the Qur'an having been revealed in Arabic, and is very impressed with this simple fact. Ornaments of Gold (4) The eternal book somehow is confined to referring to events of Mohammed's time, with no events mentioned from before or after that period (except events related in the Jewish and Christian bibles) so the book was apparently of Mohammed's invention.
The history of the world, according to Mohammed
Mohammed entirely accepted the Jewish scripture, the books of Moses, the Torah, and recites several stories from it during the course of the Qur'an. Some of them seem to have impressed him more than others. He very often refers to the stories of the creation and Adam-and-Eve and accepted that the world was only a few thousand years old in his own time. The hordes 5, The Ranks 6, The Heights 7 He was much impressed by the story of Abraham and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as related very early in the Hebrew chronicles, in Genesis 18 and 19, in which Abraham pleaded with his god to spare the people of the cities and won agreement from an exasperated god that if even ten good men could be found, the city would be spared. This is followed by the story of Lot, who lived in one of the cities, was visited by a group of angels, who lodged at his house and warned him to get out of the city as they intended to destroy it. Next day, after Lot and his family left town, "the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground." The god of this story used angels to deliver judgment, and arranged a punishment of destruction and death. Judgment involved physical ruin on earth.
Many hundreds of years later, the concept of judgment from the god had altered very considerably and Persian ideas of the end of the world had infiltrated into Jewish thought, as shown in the book of Job ch. 19, a very late addition to the scripture: "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." The idea of the Day of Judgment, of the End of Days, had become part of the religion by this time, as shown in 1 Timothy 4: "in the latter times some shall depart from the faith". Predictions of events at the end of days, when the Day of Judgment arrives, had become quite common. In this scenario, punishment for wickedness would involve being condemned to eternity in hell, a concept that apparently did not exist in the early history of the Jews. Mohammed, seeing the Hebrew scripture as seamless, accepted both ideas, so punishment from Allah could involve eternity in hell, and it also involved the destruction of entire peoples as the just desert of sinful ways. He did not see these two ideas as stages in the development of Jewish theological views, but as ideas of which both were true simultaneously. So in his view there would be punishment by destruction of cities and civilisations on earth (and had been many times), and also punishment by selection of those to be sent to hell from those to be rewarded with eternal paradise. He relates versions of the Old testament stories of the end of the Earth that show he accepted them completely. Hordes 8, The Ranks 9, Smoke 10, That which is coming 11. The stories of what happens to souls of the dead are amazingly similar to those in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, with souls being weighed in scales to see whether the good outweighs the bad, and help decide whether the person would go to live with the gods in paradise or go to hell with the damned for punishment The Heights 12 The disaster 13
So, when is this Hour of Doom going to happen? Mohammed does not know, but suspected it would be fairly soon. In Counsel (14) and in The Star (15) Mohammed was a bit like the leaders of the current millennial sects who believe the end of the world is to occur very soon, but unlike them in that he does not claim that a careful search of any scripture can produce a date. It does seem likely he would have been surprised that it is now almost 1400 years since he made his predictions and the world shows no sign of ending. His belief that it was near explains his preoccupation throughout the Qur'an with the Day of Judgment. He came to warn because he believed there was not much time left.
So he had a view that the history of the earth would all told be a short one, with only a few thousand years between its creation and its final destruction. It is remarkably like the views of the fundament-alist Christian sects currently preoccupied with the Last Days - the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Pentecostals. And the entire journey of humans during this fairly short period is a moral journey, in which they are tested for their faith and good works, for their belief in Allah and avoidance of the ultimate sin of idolatry, all the while accumulating a score which would decide whether they end up in an eternity of paradise or an eternity of hell. Earth is seen as a brief testing-ground for the very long-term final arrangements.
The divine pantheon
The fundamental belief of Islam is that there is one god. It is the central statement in the standard prayer: "There is no god but god." But it is not so simple as that. Mohammed was at pains to distinguish his belief from the Christian belief in a man-who-is-also-a-god.
The god of Mohammed does not bear sons who live on Earth as humans The hordes (16) Mohammed could see that Christianity is a move back towards polytheism, with its son and mother of god and its saints who can intercede between the ordinary mortal and the god. Mohammed was a stricter monotheist. Again, in The hordes (17) and again in The Star rejecting the Christian idea of the scapegoat, the person who suffers vicariously for others to save them, not himself. This is part of Mohammed's view that each person is fully responsible for himself and has no-one else to take the rewards and punishments as a substitute. The idea of the god who dies for all mankind made no sense to him.
Unlike all Christians, Mohammed took Jesus to be an ordinary human, sent by Allah to be a messenger of the coming Day of Judgement, and like Mohammed, scorned and rejected by his own people. Ornaments (18) (19) Women (20). He is horrified by the idea of a god-man. Allah is a god and men are just men. There is no hybrid creature.
Not only the Christians, but also pagan Arabs had a pantheon of gods in families, with parent gods and offspring gods. Ornaments (21) Pagan Arabs had ideas about their goddesses and angels being daughters of Allah. The Ranks (22) Here he expresses the strong preference for boys, with its opposite, a preference for girls, unthinkable for Allah, who has the same values as male Muslims. There is more in The star (23) He really had no test of which gods were just human inventions and which were real, just his own faith and trance-states. And he didn't really understand what the division of the sexes was for - entirely a matter of reproduction. If the angels do not reproduce, and are all of one sex, why do they have a sex at all? Perhaps Mohammed could not imagine sexless beings that otherwise he believed looked so like humans, all of whom are either male or female.
Women (24) (I have no idea what the problem is with slitting the ears of cattle) The horror of Mohammed that one should pray to a female! Of course Allah is a male, though what that means is not clear. Allah is not corporeal, has no sex organs, does not reproduce, but perhaps is male as he has the masculine qualities of decision, action, dominance, and is in the position of a patriarch, to reward and punish. At the same time, there is much of the Old Man in the Sky in the visual imagery of Allah, as a king on a throne surrounded by courtier angels.
Mohammed accepted the existence of other spirit-beings, some of which were taken over from Biblical Judaism, including belief in angels. Gabriel is mentioned frequently, as is Satan.
Hordes (25) is very Old Testament - angels and the chief god not seen as spirit beings but as bodies with definite locations and relationships in space and time, with a god imagined as a human-like being on a human-like throne at the centre of it all. A very visual image, far from the abstract incorporeal god of later times.
In Counsel (26) This is a new role for angels, intercessors for erring humans. And a god who can perhaps be persuaded to change its mind due to angels pleading, like a human judge, listening to argument and then making up his mind - Mohammed had a hard time conceiving a god who really knows all and presenting this consistently. In this he is about as inconsistent as other religions, which present a god which is all-knowing and decisive and unchanging; but is at the same time open to pleading and influenced by the quantity of prayer, so is really indecisive, and remarkably human in being influenced by the arguments and pleadings presented before the Judge.
The star (27) This is very like an absolute human judge/ruler, whose will is law, not to be questioned. Pleadings to this god may be granted or denied at his discretion. Why would the angels bother interceding on behalf of individual humans, if they are so ineffective? Perhaps they are like human pleaders, who know how powerless they are, in the face of an inscrutable and unaccountable judge, but feel they have to try anyway. Throughout the Qur'an there is abundant evidence that man makes his gods in his own image.
Pilgrimage (28) Not the benign "guardian angels" of sentimentalists, but angels with swords who are the perimeter-guards of Hell, like the concentration camp guards in the machine gun towers, preventing escape. More like the angel with a flaming sword guarding the entrance to Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled.
The Winds (29) So the angels seem to have multiple purposes, guarding the exit from hell, giving glory to Allah while circling the throne, delivering messages to humans including the entire Qur'an to Mohammed, and spending much time recording the good and bad deeds of men. They are a very busy lot.
In The Heights 30, Satan is explained, very much in accordance with then-current Christian dogma about the fallen angel, but with a twist that is Mohammed's own. The concept of fire being nobler than clay is a very Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean one, a product of its times, and of a man who grew up in a community which set up a hierarchy of the nobility of elements, which sounds strange in the age of the periodic table of atomic elements.
The Heights 30 continued This is an Arabic variation on the legend of the fallen angel, and it is curious. Allah creates humans and demands faith and good works, but reprieves Satan until the Day of Resurrection,, changing his mind in response to a plea from Satan, with whom he is angry, yet still gives him what he asks for, and allows this nasty angel to tempt humans for the whole of human history, knowing surely how persuasive and guileful Satan is. Yet he does not seek to protect humans from this angel who is so overpowering. He is an angry god, in the true Old Testament tradition, quick to condemn someone forever for a single lapse, but strangely tolerant of corrupting forces in this universe he governs. It is an odd concept. In this story Satan is a subordinate being, a creature of Allah, but in the other suras, he seems to just exist and Allah has no power over him, in a Manichaean universe of equal gods, one good but always angry, one bad but capable of charming humans into error.
An example of Satan as a celestial being who just exists, and seems about equal with Allah: 31 There is a hint that Satan is a tool of Allah, but also a hint that Satan has an independent existence and is almost equivalent in status and power - a concession to the old Manichaean/Zoroastrian idea of the Good god and the Bad god constantly tussling for the allegiance of humans, who are ever torn and oscillating between them.
So Islam is more strictly monotheist than Christianity, but like some aspects of Christianity still has this undercurrent of the dual gods struggling for control. If Allah made everything then Allah also made Satan. Why would Allah do a thing like that? Mohammed repeatedly states that nothing happens on earth unless Allah wills it to happen, so if Satan exists, Allah has willed that; if Satan rebelled, Allah knew and willed this to happen; if Satan succeeds in beguiling some weak humans away from the path of Allah then Allah has willed that, too. So Satan as the stooge who takes all the Badness is a ploy that doesn't really work as, at one remove, it all still comes from Allah. No religion has solved this problem satisfactorily. Mohammed's compromise of the bad-but-relatively weak god and the good-and-relatively stronger god, combined with a claim that Allah was really the one-and-only god, is a bit disingenuous.
Ornaments of gold (32) It is just possible, from this, that Mohammed was a Flat-earther. Once you know the earth is roughly spherical, east is not far from west, as you can get to the east by going west.
Hell and its keepers
Mohammed took over the late Jewish and early Christian view that there is a hell, not all that different from the ancient underworld of the Greeks. Hell has a person-in-charge, named Malek, a kind of gate-keeper. ell
Ornaments (33) Malek was one of the Keepers of Hell, to whom those confined there complained and begged for mercy.
Mohammed claimed to know not only who was in charge of Hell, but also knew its physical arrangement. In hell is a tree. The Ranks (34) So hell was conceived as not just an amorphous place, but a moral ladder, with its worst part at the very bottom, where the Zaqqum tree grew. It is remarkably similar to the conception of Dante, who had hell occupy several layers, with minor sinners on the upper layers and sinners of increasing order of damnation as one descended into the depths. And what is at the deepest part of hell, but a tree - a trunk with branches and leaves and fruit, a remarkable visual image showing its similarity to conditions on earth. No concept of a tree needing sunshine and water and nutrients, or even growing from a seed requiring pollination - just a visual image of a tree bearing bitter fruit. It is a bit like the Yggdrasil tree of the ancient Norse myths
The recorders of individual lives
Mohammed believed in minor celestial beings who watched every action of humans and recorded them all in The Book, which would be used on the day of Judgement to pass sentence on each human. There is a large host of recorders, watching people's actions and taking note, as in The Cataclysm, (35) Thunder (36) It sounds like at least two per person. This must mean, now there are over 6 billion humans on planet Earth, at least 12 billion guardian angels, with their number being increased as human population increases, so Allah perhaps is ever making more of them and sending them off to watch the additional people. Of course, Mohammed lived before the age of statistics, before anyone had any concept of the human population of the whole planet, and was not interested in such matters. But even in Mohammed's time, when there were about 500 million people, there must have been a billion recorders and guardian angels, so the celestial region was a very populous zone.
The book of record is mentioned many times, and contains every deed, no matter how small, that will be used in judging whether humans deserve hell or paradise at the Day of Judgment. Pilgrimage (37) Ornaments (38) Ya Sin (39) But apparently Allah does not know everything and is not the kind of god who is everywhere, but is located in a definite place and needs these billions of angels and recorders to gather the data needed for judgements on individual lives, like a spy service.
The recorders of entire nations
True to his reading of the story of Lot at the destruction of Sodom, and Noah at an earlier destruction of all humans by a flood, Mohammed also believed that entire nations were being judged. Kneeling (40) So there are books for individuals, and also books for nations. How would the performance of a nation be summed into a collective judgement on the entire nation? When he is writing of this part of his belief he seems to have the idea that entire nations had a collective guilt, and had not enough good people in them to avoid total destruction. This is taken straight from the intense conversation between Abraham and his god in Genesis, in which Abraham pleads for the preservation of Sodom if even 10 good men can be found in it. But there were not even 10 so it is destroyed. Mohammed took all this very seriously and applied it to all previous civilisations, which if they had been good would still be flourishing, but which were long gone to dust by Mohammed's time, therefore must have been evil and been destroyed by Allah as their just punishment. He refers to these ancient ruins many times in the Qur'an
And then there are the jinn, which are mentioned often but not described.
The Winds (41) So the common ancient practice of leaving out food offerings to the gods at temples, is denounced by Mohammed as idolatry. These jinn are apparently all male and are able to have sexual relations with humans as in the description of paradise in The Merciful, (42) This is remarkably like the ancient Greek gods and tree-sprites, which could transform themselves into any shape and often lusted after attractive humans.
They also seem able to travel rapidly through the sky and visit the stars and comets????? Find this!!!
One of the central issues between atheists and believers in gods is the believers accept that some special people are singled out to be spoken to directly by the god, and become confidants of the god. These people are usually self-selected and must meet a lot of ridicule, being dismissed as deluded by people who don't accept their assumptions. Mohammed is a good example of this type of person. Mohammed accepted in total the Old Testament ideas that the god sent messages to humans sometimes via angels and sometimes by authorising specially virtuous humans to be the messengers. It raises the issue of how one can know whether the claim to have received a direct message from a god is genuine, or a sign on insanity, or a self-serving grab for power over fellow-humans. Mohammed was aware of the problem, but was sure that his own revelations were genuine.
Counsel (43) So he claimed that the only possible genuine communications were direct revelations, or messages via others who have had such direct revelations. Counsel (44) Mohammed's statement that Allah has spoken direct to him is combined with a statement that Allah being a god can do whatever it likes, including speak via a human.
Pilgrimage (45) Mohammed did not profess to understand why sometimes angels were used and sometimes humans, but just accepted that's the way it is. If humans can do the job, why are angels needed at all? If angels can do the job, why place such burdens on humans? Why order the world in such an odd way? In The Heights (46) he wrote of Noah as an example of a human who received a direct communication from his god. This is a non-Biblical story of Noah's effort to persuade his people to prepare for the coming flood, and reflects Mohammed's preoccupation with being a mortal, yet still being a prophet.
The other way in which gods communicate with humans is via a sacred text or scripture and Mohammed had great reverence for the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians, both of which he had studied intensively. Kneeling (47) Mohammed was much impressed with the prophetic writings of the Old Testament and saw himself as part of that tradition. "Wisdom and prophethood" are what he saw as the main gifts, and these gifts had now been bestowed on him.
Thunder (48) Apparently all apostles were men. Mohammed does not see this as the prejudice of a male-dominated society, but as the way Allah has designed it. Thunder (49) He wanted people to see that it is not miracles that are the sign of the man of god, but the truth of his message, given in revelation. He was faced frequently with demands for miracles as indication that he was sent by a god, who would provide him with supernatural powers with which to convince men that he was indeed a messenger from a god.
Thunder (50) He was confronted by a skeptical audience, who demanded proof that he was really a messenger from a god and so worth following. His response was to "say: Thunder (51) This is no response at all - it just repeats the claim - if Mohammed was the only one who was sent by Allah, how could anyone else know whether Allah had done it or not? He claimed that the truth of his message was the only proof, but as the message was abot things yet to come, possibly far in the future, this was no proof at all Thunder (52) and the skeptics didn't see this truth, so they mocked him. Being scoffed at seems to be elevated almost to a proof in itself - if you are mocked like other apostles before you, this shows you must be from Allah as unbelievers always resist such a message. Thunder (53) It is not a new phenomenon. The Mountain (50) Mohammed often challenges his scoffers to produce a scripture that refutes his own, as though a scripture is decisive evidence and nothing else is. He was very impressed with the concept of revelation from a god, and of a scripture which was the evidence of this revelation. He saw this as the only source of real knowledge about the fate of the world. There was no room for reason or human experience to help form judgments about these matters. It must all come from outside. Much of his wrath is aimed at rational and skeptical doubt about the resurrection and about humans who claim to be messengers of a god. The Winds (51) Mohammed dismisses contemptuously scoffers who called him insane. But he never asks the question of how to distinguish a madman from a genuine prophet. What is the test? Is it just the person's own confidence in his vision?
One of his responses was to dismiss scoffers whose main claim was that whatever he knew he had learned from fellow humans. Smoke (52) The accusation was that his message was something he learned from other humans, not something revealed by a god. Therefore he was a madman, one who believed he was a prophet but was just a misguided human and his message should not be taken seriously.
Ornaments of Gold (53) Mohammed often refers to prophets as people who are mocked and rejected by the people to whom they take their message, its truth generally denied by a wilful and stubborn people. No doubt feeling he was part of a long tradition of prophets who were mocked by their own people, whom they believed they were trying to save from hell, comforted him and helped him to keep at it, despite the ridicule he received.
Example of the scoffing in The Ranks (54) Ya Sin (55) Mohammed and the unbelievers talking at cross purposes, Mohammed saying a mortal can be a messenger, his opponents saying the only messengers they recognise can perform miracles and show somehow they are immortal, from the heavens where all are immortal.
Allah's role in this world
One of the issues for believers in gods is to find a job for the god to do and some motive for being interested in mere mortal humans who are so inferior to the god.
Why did Allah create the world? Mohammed was sure the creation of humans was central to the purpose of the entire universe - a theme common to all religions - and that the god's intention was mainly a moral one of testing the moral uprightness of its creations as preparation for a future eternal life. Sovereignty (56) So the biosphere is an experiment, and the only reason for it, is to test the humans placed in it. Allah does not interfere in the experiment to bias the results one way or the other, just waits to see how it works out. Allah doesn't mislead anybody or tempt them. The universe has a moral purpose for its existence. It isn't just there, but is a project to achieve justice and proper appreciation of Allah.
Another ongoing theme is Mohammed's preoccupation with the eternal life he foresaw for all humans, in either paradise or hell, and the resurrection that awaits all humans, even those long dead and turned to dust. He often uses the analogy of the first rains of the wet season that seem to cause barren earth to bloom with life. Sovereignty (57) Mohammed does not question at all why the earth gets to be dry and barren in the first place, or what that might mean. He conceives of his Allah as the Bringer of Life, not as the Creator. The world is already there, and is sometimes in some places dry and barren. Then Allah gets to work on it and brings life to the apparently dead world. This is a small-scale local god who tinkers with a world that already exists and over whose large-scale structure it has no real power - much is already given and Allah can only modify little bits of it. Sovereignty (58) But why are there any dead people in their graves in the first place? There is no comment on this - again, death is one of the given facts of the world, and Allah is the minor god who brings some of the dead back to life, but has no control over the large-scale structure of existence in which death has a part to play - Allah cannot abolish death, only tinker with it. In The Heights (59) he repeats his fascination with the renewing effect of spring rains. Most times when rain is mentioned, this analogy with restoring the dead to life follows. It was Mohammed's fascination with the concept of the Resurrection which made him comment so often on the similar phenomenon of rain causing spring growth, and the dead earth seeming to return to life.
Yet at other places, Mohammed states a strong belief in the creator-god, as in Thunder (60) This simple fact, of the existence of rain, much impressed Mohammed and he refers to it often, as in Ornaments of Gold (61) He does not see that the analogy fails as the "dead land" already contains dormant seeds waiting for water to germinate them, whereas the remains of deceased humans do not. He was not a botanist, but a religious teacher so his moral lessons from nature are often misconceived. The Heights (62) Why Allah should make some soil fertile and other soil barren was a mystery Mohammed did not understand. The geographical distribution of soil types and fertility levels was not of any real interest as a scientific problem until many centuries later. Meanwhile, the simple explanation was "Allah did it", though why Allah thought this arrangement was a desirable state of affairs could not be explained.
Allah and the comforts of human life
Allah also offered various artefacts to humans to aid them in living a comfortable life: Ships
The Heights (63) Mohammed seems here to believe that ships are not human inventions, but a gift from Allah. A very strange belief - he must have seen them being built, by people who passed on their skills from master to apprentice, father to son. Kneeling (64) Anyone who has experienced an ocean storm or hurricane would have difficulty with this one. Kneeling (65) Again this is an acceptance of Genesis, in which Adam is given, for all humans, dominion over the heavens and the earth and all that is therein, etc. Again, in Counsel (66) So, when a ship founders, we can safely assume it is from Allah and everyone in it is a bad person. Our Prime Minister would love that one - SIEV-X which drowned about 380 Muslims, must have been sunk by an act of Allah as they were all bad people. It is a very harsh doctrine, but comforting to the survivors, who can feel superior to those who drowned. And when a ship has calm water, all upon it are good. The good come out well and the wicked come off badly. That is the definition of fiction, said Oscar Wilde.
Thunder (67) The concept of thunderbolts was common at the time, when no-one understood the physics of thunder and lightning, the different speeds of travel of sound and light, but could see and hear that lightning and thunder were connected.
We are not an accident on the Earth, it was created for us. We are the centre of all things, the apple of Allah's eye. We are the focus. It is an attitude common to all religions, to put humans at the centre, as the reason everything exists. Even the existence of trading routes and roads is ascribed to Allah. Ornaments of gold (69) Many of them would have been ancient routes in Mohammed's time, dating back to 10,000 years earlier so their origins were lost. Nobody really knew how they came to be. Mohammed has a simple explanation for everything he cannot understand - Allah did it, with the convenience of humans in mind.
The social order
One item that used to be part of Christianity was a belief that the god had ordained the social order, with some people given high rank and power over others, while it pleased the god to assign others low rank and subjugation to those of high rank. In our new mobile society, this god-given social hierarchy has been rejected, but not for Islam, as Mohammed too believed the social order was given by Allah Ornaments of gold (70) This is much like the old Christian acceptance of "the station in life to which it has pleased god to call you", the idea that the existing social order and its hierarchy is ordained by the god, with the very important implication that a revolution against the rulers is also a sin against the god. Mohammed was very much aware of inequality and accepted it as something from Allah, though he had no real explanation of why Allah decided it was a good thing to organise the world that way.
The religion into which you are born
Mohammed was puzzled by the multiplicity of religions of whose existence he knew. How could Allah permit such a situation to develop? Ornaments of gold (71) So people who follow other religions are just wrong, and only Mohammed is right.
Will your children be girls or boys
Counsel (72) This might be just a simple observation, but it is interpreted as something from Allah - Mohammed is in effect saying he has no idea why some are barren, others fertile, some have girls, some boys and some both. It just happens, a mystery, from Allah, we have no idea why it happens. Not until Gregor Mendel was there any explanation. But for Muslims the old explanation still stands - it is something from Allah.
On domesticated animals
Various wild species of animals were domesticated in the Middle East around 15000 to 12000 years ago, as shown by archaeological sites - dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, goats, camels. Over 14,000 years after the first domestication, Mohammed saw the situation as one in which Allah had specifically created these species in an already domesticated state and given them as free gifts to humans to serve them. He had no concept of the long history of domestication, of humans taking control of animal breeding, feeding, and movement. On camels Pilgrimage (73) "We have subjected them to your service, so that you may give thanks…He has subjected them to your service, so that you may give glory to him for guiding you." Humans did not domesticate animals, they came ready-domesticated, a gift from Allah.
Ornaments of Gold (74) This contains the same underlying belief, that domesticated species were created that way, served up to humans from the creation, ready to provide services to the masters for whom they were created. The whole history of the domestication of cattle, sheep, goats, camels had occurred so long ago, that nobody in Mohammed's time knew anything of it. Counsel (75) Ya Sin (76)
Responsibility for one's actions
Mohammed seems to have been in two minds about how responsible we are for our actions. The entire Qur'an is one long diatribe chastising unbelievers and wrongdoers to change their ways, follow Allah and increase their chances of earning a place in Paradise. Hundreds of times he tells people they are responsible for what will happen to them, which is they will burn in hell. It is all their own doing. "The righteous shall surely dwell in bliss. The wicked shall burn in hell-fire upon the Judgment Day. They shall not escape." These are the consequences of people making free choices. The Winds (77) This is about as strongly as he can put it - there is no excuse, from mental illness, low IQ, educationally deprived childhood, devotion to the local cultural norms, etc. Every person makes a free choice to believe in Mohammed's message or not. There is also no honest doubt. Mohammed could not understand such a concept - all doubt is perverse.
In The hordes (78) Mohammed continues the main position of responsibility, in saying "He does not guide the untruthful disbeliever." Then he goes in, still in Hordes (78) So Allah misleads wrongdoers into their wrong ways. So are they really to blame?
Kneeling (80) Again, man has total responsibility for his own actions. But later in the same sura "Who, besides Allah, can guide the man who makes his lust his god, the man whom Allah deliberately misleads, setting a seal upon his ears and heart and drawing a veil over his eyes? Will you not take heed?" This states clearly that people with ‘wrong' beliefs who do ‘wrong' deeds are not responsible, as it is something to which they have been led by Allah. He swings all the time between these two views, which are incompatible.
Mohammed believed that nothing on earth happens except by the will of Allah, which implies that wrongdoers do wrong because Allah has willed it so, and in effect makes them do it. In The Cessation (81) and again, in Man (82) he says almost the same thing. So, if Allah has determined the beliefs and actions and will of the unbelievers, they are not to blame for what they believe or do, as it is really the action of Allah.
Not only is Allah the controller of a man's will, but Allah apparently also deliberately prevents some people from believing the truth. So those who go astray do so because that is what Allah has caused to happen Counsel (83) Women (84) Kneeling (85) Thunder (86)
All this indicates that Mohammed was in two minds - he wanted to show that nothing happens unless Allah wills it, and could see that means if people are bad Allah must have willed that, too. But he also wanted to provide a message that people are responsible for their own actions, so he sometimes placed a limitation on the power of Allah, who does not control human actions but leaves people free to follow Allah or to err, so some things on earth happen that are not willed by Allah. He wanted it both ways and ended up inevitably in a contradiction.
A religion for men
What did Mohammed promise to those who had faith and did good works? Thunder (87) This is obviously addressed only to men. The description of paradise is particularly revealing in The Merciful, (88) This is written with a male audience in mind, and apparently females are only there for the sexual pleasure of the men. Mohammed accepted the view in Genesis, that man was created in the image of god and woman was created only because man needed a "helpmate". Her only justification for having been created was to support a man. He was created just for himself. Counsel (89) The you to whom this is addressed must all be males. The Ranks (90) appeals only to lusty men who dream of having as many virgins as their lust can manage. This theme occurs often. Women (91) That which is coming (92) All this shows that sexual desire and activity continues in Paradise, in fact probably a lot of it. The delights are little different from the dreams of desert Arabs for the luxuries of oases and of the rich and high-ranking townsmen. The houris seem to have no existence in their own right, they are just playthings to reward the virtuous men allowed into Paradise. Ornaments (93)
Man's authority over women
The religion is not only full of promise for the delights men will experience in paradise, there are also clear statements about the authority of men over women on Earth, in this life. Divorce (94) This reference to adult males marrying girls before they have reached puberty indicates that marriage before puberty for girls may have been fairly common. Not only that but husbands are given authority to beat their wives if they are disobedient, and it is Allah's decision that men naturally have authority over women. Women (95) There is no room for equality between men and women in Mohammed's view of how society should be arranged.
Even sinners are male, so apparently nothing a woman does can classify her as a sinner. The Ranks (96) The sinners are all male, and their wives just follow them around. Women's behaviour is not sinning, they reflect the judgements on their husbands and share their husbands' fate. They have no existence in their own right.
On being good
All through the Qur'an, Mohammed tells people that they should be good or else they will go to hell, to be burned forever. If they are good, they will be rewarded with paradise. No reason is given for being good other than to avoid the terrible punishment of the vengeful god. The message seems to be that, unless people are terrified, they will not be motivated to be good Hordes (97) Rule by fear may well have been the normal state of affairs in 6th century Arabia, but we are moving past that, now, to developing a sense of decency in civilised people. For Mohammed, the only motive was fear Hordes (98)
The good earn paradise and the wicked unbelievers earn hell. But is it an absolute difference or one of degree? How different are those destined for paradise from those destined for hell? Much of the time Mohammed seems to leave out the middle-ground, as in The star (99) But sometimes he recognises no-one is purely good, as in Hordes, (100), How does Allah decide whose evil deeds to ignore, and whose merit punishment in hell? The star (101) Nowhere does he explain which sins are small and which are gross, except his total condemnation of idolatry. So this is no real guide to help anyone decide which sins it is safe to commit, ands which ones decisively destine one for hell.
Part of what Allah wants from men is set out in Thunder (102) about not breaking pledges and giving alms, attending prayers, and warding off evil with good - a value he shares with early Christianity. Dreading the terrors of Judgement Day figure very importantly in this list. Here and there are other virtues, but Mohammed was not a systematist and what he regarded as virtues appear unexpectedly peppered throughout the Qur'an. Counsel (103) Night (104) Counsel (105) So who are these kindred people are urged to love? Where is the boundary between who is kindred and who is not? Mohammed does not say. Counsel (106) has an odd mix of behaviour to other humans and behaviour to Allah. Behaving badly to others without provocation is evil but if one has been provoked, vengeance has the approval of Allah. Sleep is an evil to be indulged in as little as possible, and Mohammed put a very high value on the strong caring for the weak The Winds (107)
On wealth as a sign of virtue
One aspect of some Protestant belief systems has been the idea that the god rewards the virtuous in this life, so the wealthy must be particularly virtuous and the poor particularly lacking in virtue. Mohammed seems to have had the same belief, in The star (108) The signs are apparently that the favoured in this life must be so because Allah favours them. The reward system set up by Allah is made clear here and there. Wealthy, therefore blessed by Allah; destitute, therefore deservedly so. Very Puritan. Mohammed never quite made his peace with the fact that wealth and good fortune are not distributed on Earth in proportion to the goodness of individual humans. Some good people are wealthy, some are poor, some bad people are wealthy, some are poor. Mohammed could not make sense of this amoral mixture and, trying to draw moral lessons from parts of it, ended by contradicting himself as he held values that were not compatible with one another. He wanted to encourage belief by promising earthly rewards, but also wanted to chastise bad rich people, so could not present their riches as rewards for their goodness.
In Women (109) there is an amazing sentence, showing a fascinating mix of values. First, slavery was not disapproved at all - much like the early Church, which focused on eternity and neglected to right the wrongs of this life, which just accepted the institution of slavery as part of life, Mohammed says nothing against, it but urges kindness rather than harshness. An amazing mix. Allah of his bounty favours some, who must be virtuous and deserving to be selected for such favours, but apparently some of the favoured are not deserving. It is a very confused moral order!
The unfortunate, poor, or miserable are singled out for especial care by Mohammed, much of whose moral teaching was the standard theme of inducing the strong to not oppress the weak, and in fact to give alms to them. Daylight (110). One thing is very clear though, that unbelievers are necessarily bad people, with no morals and no feeling for the sufferings of their fellow humans. Alms (28)
Agani and again, Mohammed returns to this theme of the virtue of caring for the lowly and down-trodden The city (31) Apparently some of his opponents saw a problem with the twin belief that everything is as it is because Allah made it that way, and that humans owe a duty to support the weak. Ya Sin (172) This sets up an interesting problem. At many places in the Qur'an, Mohammed says that nothing is unless Allah so wills it. One phenomenon that must therefore have been willed by Allah is the spectrum of wealth distribution on Earth, from very rich to very poor. If all is ordained by Allah, then this is the way He wants it. But people are instructed to give alms to the poor, and alter the distribution, so the rich have a bit less and the poor have a bit more. This alters the arrangements made by Allah and is said to be virtuous action, whereas leaving things just the way Allah arranged them, according to His will, by refusing to give alms, is an evil thing to do. So Allah seems to be commanding humans to fix up what Allah got wrong, while accepting that Allah is all-powerful and that His will is to be accepted by humans in every way. Mohammed scoffed at the unbelievers but really had no answer to the issue they raised.
Mohammed was warning people all the time that the end of the world was about to happen, but also made many statements assuming that society would continue much as it was, and needed some rules to make people behave well in their ongoing community life. The Heights (114) This is on the sins of pride and gluttony. Women (115) All religions have rules about ritual uncleaness, purity and pollution, and special problems need special rules.
Mohammed ordained a special tax, rather like the old Christian tithe, requiring the well-off to contribute to the care of the unfortunate by a routine annual contribution, still a practice today. Women (116) The proof (117)
On being bad
Mohammed had a definite ranking of sins and the one against which he preached most often and most strongly was idolatry, the worship of lumps of stone or wood as though they were gods Women (119) Some sins are more serious than others, only one is totally unforgivable. Others apparently come pretty close to unforgiveable. In The Heights (120) Mohammed tells the story of Lot at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. So homosexuality was offensive to him, as it was to the writers of Leviticus. Some ractices which Mohammed found offensive are well known to most people: The table (121) So Mohammed classified drinking alcohol as a sin. But he understood that his Believers ignored the ban and got drunk anyway. Women (359) "Believers, do not approach your prayers when you are drunk, but wait till you can grasp the meaning of your words." Throughout Medieval times usury was seen as a particularly ugly sin and it took the whole two centuries of the Reformation to convert Europe to the modern value of charging interest on loans as just the price of waiting to get one's money back - it is just a price like other prices. Not so for Mohammed who echoed the values of his time. Women (122) As another example of the wealthy not being the favoured of Allah, some of them were seen as particularly badly behaved. The slanderer (123) So wealth is just stuff accumulated by those who seek vigorously for it. But in some suras it seems to be a reward from Allah. Mohammed was always in two minds about wealth: was it a sign of Allah's favour or was it a corrupting influence on people who have it?
The structure of the universe
Mohammed had many things to say about the way the universe is organised and its origins, which largely reflect the views of his time, long before telescopes or archaeology, physics or palaeontology. The Heights (124) Mohammed completely accepted the Bible account of creation, and how long it took. The Heights (125) In that order. The sun is the most important and impressive object in the sky, then the moon, then the apparently tiny stars. Mohammed, like all in his time, had no idea what the stars were, how far away, how large, or how many. That the sun is just a star, and a relatively small one, and the universe is as Douglas Adams so engagingly put it, "mind-bogglingly huge."
Medieval people believed the Earth was the centre of the universe, surrounded by concentric spheres holding the planets and stars, and others outside those which contained various levels of "the heavens" where the gods lived. Sovereignty (126) Medieval people had a fascination for the number seven, a hangover from the days when numbers had magical properties, and were not just practical devices for counting. Mohammed was aware of the feeble-minded, of child mortality and disease, but decided to ignore these. He also has no criterion by which faultlessness can be tested, just wants to exclaim about the glory of it all. Sovereignty (127) Even the stars, comets and meteorites have a moral purpose. They are not just bits of ice and rock flying about in empty space, but messengers from a Moral Authority.
Mohammed knew about meteors, shooting stars, and fitted them into his god-driven scheme of things. The Ranks (128) A moral purpose is ascribed to each object of space junk visible to humans in the sky. It is not just space junk but a message from Allah, sent to chastise erring humans, who are the Centre of the universe.
He accepted the Ptolemaic version of concentric spheres, the lower ones containing the stars, which were believed to be all the same distance from Earth. Pilgrimage (129) Mohammed accepted the popular theory of ancient Middle East that the sky was a solid sphere, not very far from the surface of the earth, perhaps only a few miles, supported on pillars near the horizon. He had no concept of the sky as just empty space, or the atmosphere through which we look out from earth into the vastness of space. Thunder (130) Like everyone of his time, he was sure the pillars were there, and they helped explain the miracle of the separation of earth and the heavens as set out in Genesis.
Genesis presents a picture of a universe in which the Earth and the Heavens have been separated by a decree of the god, and Mohammed accepted this separation. Smoke (131) Again, the vision is of heaven as "up there" a solid object with a solid under-surface, earth as "down here" with a solid surface and the air and birds etc. in between. A primitive view of how it is, a product of its time. Counsel (132) Again, the idea of the heavens as having a solid surface, like the earth.
Nobody in Mohammed's time had any understanding of geological processes by which the Earth's crust is uplifted and eroded over millions of years, that no surface feature lasts forever. In his view of an Earth only a few thousand years old, the surface features were permanent. Counsel 133 Mohammed saw Design at work in the world, and had no concept of geological processes, of rivers being just water moving downhill to return water to sea level, cutting channels ever deeper as they scour into their beds, of rivers as vehicles carrying silt from the mountains to the sea and steadily eroding those mountains, which therefore are very movable, in fact are constantly moving, in an endless cycle of uplift and erosion, of mountains which are slowly eroded away by rivers and wind.
Mohammed knew the theories of the botanists of his time, who were aware of male and female plants and that plant reproduction bore a strong resemblance to that of animals. Smoke 134 But he was entirely unaware of the asexual reproduction of other organisms, as no-one then knew of microorganisms, of single-celled organisms, of parthenogenetic arthropods, algae, fungi, etc.
He also had a very spatially visual concept of where his god lived in relation to the Earth on which we humans live. Smoke (135) If Allah sends messages down, he must be up high somewhere. Mohammed had the spatial concepts of his time, up means High, and god is up in the sky, a dweller in the heavens, beyond the stars.
The moral universe
One of the most interesting problems Mohammed left for his followers
was to reconcile reality to his moral certainties. Women
(136) This is a very Old Testament value system, the famous "eye for an
eye, tooth for a tooth" in a world in which it is known that some people
are very bad and ahrm others without any good cause. Pilgrimage
(137) So if evil happens to you, you can't be a true believer. It is your
fault. Mohammed seems inconsistent here - some people show by their suffering
misfortunes that they are punished by Allah, some people who are faithful
followers of Allah, to whom promises are made that they will be protected
from harm, nevertheless are killed as martyrs and their only hope of reward
is in some future life. Mohammed is aware that some good people suffer
and others don't, some bad people prosper and others get their come-uppance
and he tries to make sense of it all but gets trapped in his own absolutes.
108 - Those on the right hand - happy shall be those on the right hand! They shall recline on couches raised on high in the shade of thornless sidrahs and clusters of talh; amidst gushing waters and abundant fruits, unforbidden, never-ending."
Signs for the faithful
Mohammed often refers to the existence of signs, which he believed demonstrate the presence and design of Allah. Some of them are not convincing evidence of anything except that the universe operates in a certain way:
Kneeling (127) "Surely in the heavens and the earth there are signs for the faithful; in your own creation, and in the beasts that are scattered far and near, signs for true believers; in the alternation of night and day, in the sustenance Allah sends down from heaven with which He revives the earth after its death, and in the marshalling of the winds, signs for men of understanding. Such are the revelations of Allah. We recite them to you in all truth. But in what scriptures will they believe, if they deny Allah Himself and all His signs?" So what are these signs. Humans have been created. This is just a matter of faith, as all we really know is that humans exist. In Mohammed's time no-one really knew how we came to be here. He accepted the Old Testament explanation that humans were created by a god. The same goes for the "beasts that are scattered far and near". They exist but how to explain that? The Old Testament declares they were created and Mohammed accepted that. Day and night alternate, and again that is explained in Genesis as the design of a god. Mohammed was fascinated by the renewal of life in the rainy season, and refers to it often. He did not know (and nobody else did in his day), about the rotation of the earth on its axis, rather than the earth being still and the entire skyful of stars and planets revolving around our earth, and he just accepted the explanation of Genesis. So the signs are just ordinary phenomena interpreted in the context of the Hebrew scriptures, which Mohammed accepted as a revelation from Allah. As he states himself, his idea came from a scripture, not from anything obvious in the phenomena themselves. So they are only signs for those with a particular belief system. He was fascinated by the written word, as in Thunder (143) "Every age has its scripture." He had no concept that there was a time without writing - the invention of writing and the difference between societies before and after it, is not mentioned in the Jewish or Christian scriptures, as they too had no concept of prehistory, of organised communities without writing. The Ranks (168) "We gave [Moses and Aaron] the glorious Scriptures and guided them to the right path." (169) Will you not take heed? Have you a positive proof? Show us your scriptures, if what you say be true!" Mohammed saw scriptures, written words, as the only reliable source of truth. Human reasoning was not good enough to support decisions in the area of belief.
The proof (29) "The unbelievers among the followers of the Scriptures and the pagans did not desist from unbelief until the Proof was given them: an apostle from Allah reading sanctified pages from abiding scriptures." This is the only sort of proof Mohammed accepted - direct revelation. Learning from earthly experience, using his reason to solve problems, meant nothing to him.
Thunder 140 "Why has no sign been given him by his Lord?" ask the unbelievers. Mohammed was aware of the common view that people who claimed to be messengers from a god must have been given special powers by that god. He denied having any special powers, just a message. "Your mission is only to give warning." He saw himself as having much the same role as Jeremiah.
Adam and Eve
Mohammed accepted the biblical story of the creation of the first humans, even to the story of Eve and the rib. In The hordes (p. 271) "He created you from a single being, then from that being he created its mate." The Ranks (165) "Of coarse clay We created them."
The Heights (240) has a version of the story of the forbidden fruit. Not only does Allah allow Satan to corrupt humans, he also sets up this temptation in the form of the forbidden tree. The outcome of the fable is a statement from Allah to Adam and Eve: "go hence, and may your descendants be enemies to each other. The earth will for a while provide your sustenance and dwelling-place. There you shall live and there you shall die, and thence you shall be raised to life.' This is an odd mixture of punishment and promise of future bliss. Allah is a very curious concept.
Sacred sites and the Ka'aba 390
"The unbelievers who debar others from the Sacred Mosque which We gave to all mankind…shall be sternly punished." So the sacredness of the mosque at Mecca is revealed by Allah to somebody. "When we prepared for Abraham the site of the Sacred Mosque We said "Worship none beside Me. Keep my house clean for those who walk around it and those who stand upright or kneel in worship." So until Abraham's day it was not a sacred site, then for reasons unknown to humans, it was chosen as The most sacred site. No explanation of what it is that makes a site sacred or why the entire earth is not sacred, or why any specific places need to be made sacred. Just an acceptance of the old tradition. He did not come to make a new order but to confirm the old one. The concept of "My House" is very much derived from that of the Hebrew Temple, of the god with a dwelling place, who lives at one spot and not at other spots. "Those who walk around it…" reveal the whole point of a sacred site - it is the location for rituals, a place on which to focus the faith, to make it the centre. Nothing to do with the god at all, just with the administrative arrangements of the organised religion which needs locations for rituals, and a hierarchy of sacredness.
Smoke (144) "He is your God and the God of your forefathers…" Mohammed wanted to claim that he was not bringing a new message, just confirming an old one, so he was within an old tradition. But he had a very different attitude towards people who broke away from old traditions if they wanted to introduce a monotheist belief in a society of idolaters. In that case the justification was not to confirm the worship of the forefathers, but to reject it as wrong. He had a mixed attitude to tradition, loved his own, but hated those of other people.
Ornaments of gold (146) "Whenever before you We sent an apostle to warn a nation, those of them who lived in comfort said ‘This was the faith our fathers practised; we are merely walking in their footsteps.' Each apostle said: ‘What if I bring you a religion more enlightened than your fathers'?' But they replied: ‘We deny the message with which you have been sent.' So We took vengeance on them." This is an old problem. If a god sends a message, an unchanging god who represents eternal stability, then the message must be good for all time. So how can a better message ever improve on an older one? How can a more enlightened religion be established, fostered by an eternal god that doesn't change its mind? Mohammed was confronting a real problem, and really had no satisfactory solution except to claim that he had a revelation from Allah so the older beliefs were not really from Allah at all, but were false from the beginning. From his reading of the prophets of Israel he believed he was part of an old tradition, battling against ignorance and wilful stupidity, but he did not enquire when this all got started, as he believed, with the writers of Genesis, that the world was created quite recently with humans at the centre, and the same message of one god had been given even to the first humans. Abraham is the mythical ancestor who represents the break with the older false traditions, the man who rejected the idolatry of his father and started a breakaway sect with only one invisible god. "Tell of Abraham, who said to his father and to his people: ‘I renounce your gods except Him who created me, for He will rightly guide me.' (147)
"Exhort all men to make the pilgrimage. They will come to you on foot and on the backs of swift camels from every distant quarter." A pilgrimage is again about giving people a location on which to focus their idea of holiness and sacredness. A concept of magical places that confer benefits to pilgrims of having been close to their god. Incompatible with the idea of a god as the creator of the universe, for whom the entire universe is sacred, a thing made by the god. A very local tribal god concept, of a place in northern Arabia that is much more sacred than any other place in the universe, that somehow this place is special. The limitation of Mohammed's concept of the universe is evident in the reference to arriving by camel, as though Mecca is only of interest to those with camels. To the people of South America with their alpacas, and the Australian aborigines with their kangaroos and dingos, he had nothing to say. Did not imagine a world larger than the one trodden by camels.
What do pilgrims do?
"Those who walk around it and those who stand upright or kneel in worship." They go through rituals, circling the sacred site, worshipping on knees or feet. "Then let the pilgrims spruce themselves, make their vows, and circle the Ancient House. Such is Allah's command." Ritual purification rituals, ritual vows, ritual procession. What else do they do? "pronounce on the appointed days the name of Allah over the beasts which He had given them. Eat of their flesh yourselves, and feed the poor and the unfortunate." Ritual sacrifice - animal sacrifice is a very Middle-eastern practice. Then ritual sacrifice by distributing largesse to the poor. "Your cattle are useful to you in many ways until the time of their slaughter. Then they are offered for sacrifice at the Ancient House." Really just a description of what his hearers already knew, the common ritual practices of the time. "We have made the camels are part of Allah's rites. They are of much use to you. Pronounce over them the name of Allah as you draw them up in line and slaughter them, and when they have fallen down eat of their flesh and feed with it the poor man and the beggar." Ritual slaughter, prayers, distribution. No questioning of the structure of the world in which some are wealthy and have camels to slaughter while others are beggars.
On humans praising and thanking Allah
The idea of a creator god must involve its not needing anything from some organism it has created. But Mohammed, like all the Hebrew prophets, insisted all men should daily thank Allah for the blessings they have received, and that they will be punished if they do not. Does this mean the god needs humans - like a human leader who is nothing if nobody takes any notice of him? In The hordes (p. 271) "If you render him no thanks, know that Allah does not need you. Yet the ingratitude of his servants does not please him. If you are thankful, your thanks will please him."
On belief and unbelief
All through the Qur'an, Mohammed tells people that unbelief is a kind of obstinacy, wilful, and totally insincere. Apparently it should have been transparently obvious to all people that their idols were pseudo-gods, with no real powers to protect or advise them, to promise paradise or threaten with hell. To him, the revelations which convinced him should be obviously true to everyone, even if it is only recited, so they hear about it but do not have the experience for themselves. So resistance is just wilful disobedience, and blameworthy. He has no idea that belief requires convincing evidence and no doubt that his evidence is totally convincing, cannot see that others might genuinely not be convinced. Seems to believe that they refuse to believe in order to protect their way of life - they know that if they believe they will have to be good, and change their ways, and they don't want to do that. It is a conscious choice. Pilgrimage (394) "When Our clear revelations are recited to them, denial can be seen in the faces of the unbelievers."
Ornaments (150) "The gods to whom they pray besides Him have not the power to intercede for them. None can intercede for them save him who knows the truth and testifies to it. Yet if you ask them who crated them, they will promptly reply that it was Allah." Mohammed saw the unbelievers as people who knew that Allah was the real power, but for some cause of stubbornness refused to publicly acknowledge it and kept to the idol-worship. So he did not see it as ignorance, with the remedy being education, but as wilful obstinacy, for which the remedy is threat of horrible punishment.
He also saw it as the work of Satan. Women (361) "They seek the judgements of false gods, although thy are bidden to deny them. Satan would lead them far astray."
He also distinguished two kinds of believers, those who were thoroughly convinced and would maintain their beliefs throughout life, and those who merely wanted support when they were in distress and needed help, but would feel no need for a god in good times. As in Smoke (144) "if we slightly relieve their affliction they will return to unbelief." They are like children who come crying for their mother if they are upset and forget all about here when things are going well. Allah as a kind of insurance, that you only use when something goes wrong.
Death and sleep
It has been common for writers to use death as a metaphor of sleep, and vise versa. Mohammed does, too, in Hordes (p. 274) "Allah takes away men's souls upon their death, and the souls of the living during their sleep." But he also did believe in a soul that could survive separate from its body, as in That which is coming (109) "When, under your very eyes, a man's soul is about to leave him…."
Sin and repentance
Christianity has taught that, even a very sinful person may be forgiven
if the person truly repents before dying. So someone may lead a sinful
life for decades, repent at the last minute and be rewarded just like someone
who has been good all his life. Hordes (p. 275) "You that
have sinned against your souls, do not despair of Allah's mercy, for he
forgives all sins. He is the forgiving one, the merciful. Turn in repentance
to your lord and surrender yourselves to him before his scourge overtakes
Sin and forgiveness
Punishment for wrongdoing
"They turn their backs in scorn and lead others astray from Allah's path. Such men shall incur disgrace in this life AND taste the torment of Hell on the Day of Resurrection." Through most of the Qur'an the only punishment mentioned is being sent to Hell and missing out on Paradise. But here and there he stated there is punishment in this life as well. For whom? How soon after evil is committed? Is it immediate, or do evildoers prosper for at least a while, or even for the whole of their lives? He has no idea, but the punishment will come sometime, he is sure. So anyone who is disgraced must deserve it, and anyone who is not disgraced is probably graced. This is very close to the Puritan idea that anyone who prospers must be favoured by the god, and anyone who suffers or is poor and miserable must surely deserve such a fate. The grace of the god is shown by earthly good fortune.
"Moses himself was charged with imposture. I bore long with the unbelievers and in the end My scourge overtook them. And how terrible was My vengeance! How many sinful nations We have destroyed! Their cities lie in ruin; desolate are their lofty palaces, and abandoned their wells….I bore long with many nations; then in their sinfulness My vengeance smote them." (used the same words in Thunder (142)) So it seems that punishment may well occur in this world as well, not just with the chastisement of sinful individuals, but entire cities and nations (though nations didn't mean in Mohammed's day the political units with hundreds of millions of citizens of 2005, but were smaller units, with perhaps a few thousands or tens of thousands. Even so, the statement is that entire nations were sinful, not an upright person among them. Mohammed offers a theory of the rise and fall of nations very similar to that of the biblical prophets - it is all due to sin. If only people would keep the commandments, they would prevail over their enemies forever. When they sin, their enemies triumph over them, sent by the god to punish the wicked. So other nations are just instruments in the hands of Allah, and not ends in themselves.
In the Heights (241) he says "A space of time is fixed for every nation; when their hour is come, not for one moment shall they hold back, nor can they go before it." It seems then that the rise and fall of nations in not connected with how virtuous or sinful they are, as there is an appointed span, unrelated to their behaviour. It is just Destiny, not punishment for sin.
"As for those that have fled their homes, for the cause of Allah and afterwards died or were slain, Allah will make a generous provision for them." Apparently their reward is not in this world, where they have fared badly. Smoke (145) "Are they better than the people of Tobba, and those who thrived before them? We destroyed them all, for they too were wicked men." Again, this theory of the rise and fall of nations - when they are good they thrive, when they become wicked, Allah destroys them. All nations that have fallen in the past were very wicked, that is why they are no more. It is like the modern popular wisdom about the fall of the Roman empire - all through greed and lust for power and wickedness. Sin brings about the Fall. It has nothing to do with the relative power of newly risen and overmature societies, with any secular historical cause such as an empire having overextended, or relative superiority of weapons or other manufacturing goods. Just goodness and sin. Again in The Ranks (167) "They found their fathers erring, though they eagerly followed in their footsteps. Most of the ancients had gone astray before them, though We had sent apostles to give them warning. Consider the fate of those whom We have warned: they perished all, except Allah's true servants. Noah prayed to Us and his prayers were graciously answered. We delivered him and all his tribe from the mighty scourge, so that his descendants were the sole survivors."
The Heights (246) "And to Thammoud we sent their compatriot Saleh…" Saleh preached and was scorned. ‘Bring down the scourge with which you threaten us if you truly are an apostle.' Thereupon an earthquake felled them, and when morning came they were prostrate in their dwellings." So earthquakes are messages from Allah, sent to punish the wicked --a bit like Sodom and Gomorrah, whose story is in the following paragraph. So when earthquakes occur, all the people who are killed were sinners and being punished by Allah. We should accept this as the right course of events, and perhaps not try to save any survivors. [In some places there is an obscure reference to Allah's she-camel, which the people slew, contrary to the prophet's warning, and were destroyed - The Sun (30)
The Ranks (169) "Thus We sent [Jonah] to a nation a hundred thousand strong or more. They believed in him and We let them live in ease awhile." The rewards as well as the punishments are in this life. (169) "Long ago we promised the apostles who served Us that they would receive Our help and that Our armies would be victorious."
By contrast, in The Winds, there are several stories of messengers whose warnings were ignored, and the people were totally destroyed - Abraham at Sodom, Moses in Egypt, Aad, Thamoud, Noah: "And before them we destroyed the people of Noah. They too were impious men." So some of the fury of Allah is unleashed in this life, but more is to come. How can one know whether an ugly end is in store in this life, or one will live out this life in ease and comfort and have the punishment reserved for a future state, an unknown period in the future? It cannot be known. Why would Allah create hell, but also destroy whole nations in this life? A mystery.
The Day of Judgement
Hordes (276) "The trumpet shall be sounded and all who are in heaven and earth shall fall down fainting, except those that shall be spared by Allah. Then the trumpet will sound again and they shall rise and gaze around them." Sounds like Gabriel and his trumpet. In fact Mohammed accepted in full the concept of angels and their role in the Last Days.
The Ranks (165) "One blast will sound and they shall see the Resurrection."
Smoke (143) "the day the sky shall pour down blinding smoke."
That which is coming (108) "When the earth shakes and quivers and the mountains crumble away and scatter abroad into fine dust, you shall be divided into three multitudes: those on the right (blessed shall be those on the right!); those on the left (damned shall be those on the left!); and those to the fore (foremost shall be those!). Such are they that shall be brought near to their Lord in the gardens of delight: a whole multitude from the men of old, but only a few from the later generations." Veneration for the men of old, who were mighty and righteous, and denigration of the current generation, who are a degenerate lot, pygmies compared to the giant Ancients. Mohammed had some kind of Golden Age idea, that the best was past. He was also saying that the vast bulk of humans of his own time were destined for hell. Very Augustinian.
The Heights (239) "On that day their deeds shall be weighed with justice. Those whose scales are heavy shall triumph, but those whose scales are light shall lose their souls, because they have denied Our revelations." This is the Egyptian concept of the weighing of the souls of the dead byAnubis and Thoth as portrayed in many tomb paintings from 2000 years before Mohammed. The disaster (29) "Then he whose scales are heavy shall dwell in bliss; but he whose scales are light, the Abyss shall be his home."
The Ranks (165) "When they are shown a sign they mock at it and say: ‘ This is plain magic. What! When we are dead and turned to dust and bones, shall we be raised to life, we and our forefathers?'" Skeptics all.
Where is paradise?
Hordes (276-7) "Praise be to Allah who has made good to us his promise and given us the earth to inherit, that we may dwell in Paradise wherever we please." So those who inherit a place in Paradise can require that it be located on earth, so it is familiar?
Those in Paradise apparently can look into hell and watch the torments there, and be even happier that they did not go there. The Ranks (166) They will put questions to each other. One of them will say: ‘I had a friend who used to ask: ‘Do you really believe in the Resurrection? When we are dead and turned to dust and bones, shall we be brought to judgement?' And he will say to those around him: ‘Come, let us look down.' He will look down and see his friend in the midst of Hell. ‘By the Lord,' he will say to him, ‘you almost ruined me! But for the grace of Allah I should have surely been driven into Hell.' Just like in Dante - one of the chief delights of being in heaven is to look down below and watch the torments below, that you have been happy enough to miss out on, but which some people you know are enduring. Watching former friends in eternal torment with fire and scalding water is apparently a pleasure. Again, in The Heights (243) "And when they turn their eyes towards the damned they will say, ‘Lord, do not cast us among these wicked people!' Then they shall say to the men whom they recognise: ‘Nothing have your riches or your pride availed you. Yet you swore that Allah would not show mercy to the faithful!'" So the main reaction to seeing former friends or relations in eternal torment is triumph and scorn. No horror at all. "The damned will cry out to the blessed: ‘Give us some water, or some of that which Allah has given you.' But the blessed shall reply: ‘Allah has forbidden both to the unbelievers, who made their religion a pastime and an idle sport, and who were seduced by their earthly life.'" There is to be no sympathy, no sorrow for people one knows seen to be enduring terrible suffering, just gleeful self-righteous triumph - you were wrong and I was right, now I enjoy paradise and you roast and drink boiling water. Hah!"
Pilgrimage 394 "He has given you the name of Muslims, so that His apostle may testify against you and, that you yourselves may testify against your fellow-men."
This life and the life to come
Kneeling (129) "They say: ‘There is this life and no other. We live and die; nothing but Time destroys us.' Surely of this they have no knowledge. They are merely guessing." Almost the whole of Mohammed's message is about the end of the world, paradise and hell, torment vs the gardens with running streams. He had only scorn for those who believed this earth is all we get and once we are dead that is the end of us, dismissing this point of view as "mere guessing". In his view he knew better as he experienced revelations. He could not accept that anybody else might have any understanding of the nature of the universe based on something other than the kind of revelation he believed he had experienced. Arriving at a rational assessment of the universe made no sense to him. We know nothing unless it is revealed to us, was his view. The 21st century secular view of life and death is exactly the one for which Mohammed expressed his scorn.
Kneeling (129) "When it was said to you: "Allah's promise is true: the Hour of Doom is sure to come," you replied: "We know nothing of the Hour of Doom. It is but a vain conjecture, nor are we convinced." This sounds much like a debate between one of the millennial sects of the 19th/20th century and the secular society. "You scoffed at Allah's revelations and were seduced by your earthly life." He has a strong emphasis on the life after death, in paradise or hell, and looks with scorn on those who think this life is all, but his descriptions of paradise are very full of earthly pleasures, and his descriptions of hell are all of very earthly torments, of fire and violence.
Not once does he stop to consider whether a few years of error in an earthly life is enough really to warrant an eternity of torment.
Counsel (151) "had Allah not deferred their punishment to an appointed time, they would have surely been punished in this life." Does this really deal with the problem of the wicked prospering? All he is saying is that ‘it seems unjust that the wicked prosper now, but don't worry, Allah has his own ideas on when they will be punished.' It's about the same as saying "this is a mystery I cannot understand" but he says it as though he really understands something about it.
When will it be?
So, when is this Hour of Doom going to happen? Mohammed does not know. What if it is millions of years away? Is it still enough to motivate people to be good? Mohammed thinks it might work better if people believed it will happen soon, so in Counsel he said (152) "And who can tell? The Hour of Doom may be fast approaching."
The Star (114) "That which is coming is near at hand; none but Allah can disclose its hour." Mohammed was a bit like the leaders of the current millennial sects who believe the end of the world is to occur very soon, but unlike them in that he does not claim that a careful search of any scripture can produce a date. It does seem likely he would have been surprised that it is now almost 1400 years since he made his predictions and the world shows no sign of ending. His belief that it was near explains his preoccupation throughout the Qur'an with the Day of Judgment. He came to warn because he believed there was not much time left.
Counsel (152) "Whoever seeks the harvest of the world to come, to him We will give in great abundance; and whoever desires the harvest of this world, a share of it shall be his: but in the hereafter he shall have no share at all." This or the other, not both. Is this like Jesus saying about the meek being set to inherit the earth? The poor may seem to have it hard now, but one day all will be theirs. A few sentences later he says the opposite "He hears the prayer of those who have faith and do good works, and enriches them through His bounty." So the faithful and good get rewarded in this life?
Daybreak (23) "I seek refuge in the Lord of daybreak…from the mischief of conjuring witches…"
Kneeling (129) "It is Allah who gives you life and later causes you to die." He has no explanation of what death is for, just that it is something Allah does to people, for causes beyond our under-standing. He has no theory of the meaning of death.
Human growth and decline
The Star (114) "Allah created the sexes, the male and the female, from a drop of ejected semen…" In the long history of efforts to explain pregnancy and reproduction, Mohammed lived at a time when the connection of male semen with pregnancy was understood, but the hidden secrets of eggs and fertilisation was still unknown.
Mohammed describes in Pilgrimage the trajectory of human life: "We bring you forth as infants, that you may grow up and reach your prime. Some die young, and some live on to abject old age when all that they once knew they know no more." He does not question at all why Allah would arrange things this way, or what it means for there to be people who die young - babies, children, adolescents - and do not have a chance to live out a full life and prepare themselves properly for their testing time when it will be decided whether they enter heaven or hell. Or what it means that the brain decays in old age and people become stupid with dementia. If Allah is the designer of human lives, what sense does it make to arrange things this way? If only those who "have faith and do good works" get into Paradise, what happens to those dying in infancy who never have the chance to develop any faith or do any good works, or even come to any understanding of what this is all about? Do they end up in the fires of hell anyway? Is this the design of a Merciful and Wise lord? Mohammed does not seem to have considered such questions.
In Ya Sin (173) Mohammed says "We reverse the growth of those to whom We give long life." He noticed that very old people shrink a bit from their youthful stature. Again, this is something from Allah. But Mohammed is not interested to inquire into why this might be a good thing, or why some people get long life and others die young. Why do some people get many years to mature and come to faith and a will to do good works, while others die in childhood or infancy and have no chance to merit paradise? Mohammed has nothing to say on this matter.
Women (365) "The believers who stay at home - apart from those that suffer from a grave impediment - are not equal to those who fight for the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons." Mohammed knew of people suffering "a grave impediment", but did not question that ordering a world in which such people lived and suffered was a good arrangement. Are such people being punished? Or is it just something beyond human understanding, and one should not think ill of those with impediments, who are unfortunate rather than deserving of a miserable life?
That which is coming (109) "We created you: will you not believe then in Our powers?…It was We that ordained death among you. Nothing can hinder Us from replacing you by others like yourselves of transforming you into beings you know nothing of." A miraculous universe, in which startling things were liable to happen, and no organic forms could be relied on to persist and not change into something else. No concept of the organic processes which make the human body the shape it is and function the way it does. Instead a miraculous world in which everything is directly controlled by Allah, who can instantly alter everything. A world in which it is not the internal workings that determine what happens, but something external to it. What was the basis for this belief? Much of it came from observation of the transformations in everyday events: "Consider the seeds you sow. Is it you that give them growth or We? If We pleased We could turn your harvest into chaff, so that, filled with wonderment, you would exclaim: ‘We are laden with debts! Surely we have been robbed!' Consider the water which you drink. Was it you that poured it from the cloud or We? If We pleased We could turn it bitter. Why then do you not give thanks? Observe the fire which you light. Is it you that create its wood, or We?" These everyday miracles seem to have supported an idea that other transformations, even more miraculous, were also possible for Allah.
(C) Copyright 2005 Robert Bender
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