Continuing from last time into the Qur’an’s longest single chapter, the massive second chapter proceeds into the Qur’an’s first, “Bible-style” story: the creation of the universe. The first chapter of the Qur’an (literally, “the Opening“) is just a prayer, and Surah 2 opens by berating some hypothetical unbelievers, apostates, and other horrible people but contains no real “story.”
But here we have a normal Bible-style story that introduces us to the befuddling cosmology of the Qur’an. It echoes Testaments Old and New, introducing us to Adam and Eve, and referring to “seven heavens.” Whether Muhammed would have known the ancient astrological tropes of seven “firmaments” or heavens from the Bible, from apocrypha like the Book of Enoch, or just by cultural diffusion is an open question, but there is a not insubstantial body of evidence that the Qur’an is sprinkled with influences from ancient Christian and Jewish non-canon liturgy and poetry. One of Ibn Warraq’s admittedly weaker works, Koranic Allusions, which contains several excellent academic essays on the topic but also some needlessly polemical ones, explores this topic more richly than I could possibly do justice to here and so I recommend it to you. The academic consensus has not rallied to some of Warraq’s conclusions, but the case is strong that parts of the Qur’an are not pure Islamic parthenogenesis but rather are hybridized from Christian, Syriac, and even Qumranian and Gnostic source material.
25. But give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is Gardens, beneath which rivers flow. Every time they are fed with fruits therefrom, they say: “Why, this is what we were fed with before,” for they are given things in similitude; and they have therein companions pure (and holy); and they abide therein (for ever).
26. Allah disdains not to use the similitude of things, lowest as well as highest. Those who believe know that it is truth from their Lord; but those who reject Faith say: “What means Allah by this similitude?” By it He causes many to stray, and many He leads into the right path; but He causes not to stray, except those who forsake (the path),-
27. Those who break Allah.s Covenant after it is ratified, and who sunder what Allah Has ordered to be joined, and do mischief on earth: These cause loss (only) to themselves.
28. How can ye reject the faith in Allah.- seeing that ye were without life, and He gave you life; then will He cause you to die, and will again bring you to life; and again to Him will ye return.
29. It is He Who hath created for you all things that are on earth; Moreover His design comprehended the heavens, for He gave order and perfection to the seven firmaments; and of all things He hath perfect knowledge.
30. Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?” He said: “I know what ye know not.”
31. And He taught Adam the nature of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: “Tell me the nature of these if ye are right.”
32. They said: “Glory to Thee, of knowledge We have none, save what Thou Hast taught us: In truth it is Thou Who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom.”
33. He said: “O Adam! Tell them their natures.” When he had told them, Allah said: “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what ye reveal and what ye conceal?”
34. And behold, We said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam” and they bowed down. Not so Iblis: he refused and was haughty: He was of those who reject Faith.
35. We said: “O Adam! dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) ye will; but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression.”
36. Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: “Get ye down, all (ye people), with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood – for a time.”
37. Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord Turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.
38. We said: “Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
39. “But those who reject Faith and belie Our Signs, they shall be companions of the Fire; they shall abide therein.”
What I find interesting about the cosmogony of Satan (Iblis) here is that it is basically a fleshed-out version of the apocryphal Christian reading of Isaiah 14 holding that Satan was originally an angel who was ejected for disobedience to God, though some such apocrypha hold that Satan’s expulsion came after a much more theatrical rebellion against God than just jealousy of humans for God’s special attention to them. Here the Qur’an explicitly takes the position that Satan’s original crime was refusal to worship humans.
It garbles the story of Adam and Eve a little bit, glossing over what Satan actually did in the garden, and turning the “enmity” between Eve and the Serpent into enmity between people as punishment for, in a word, “slipping.” The presence of a special tree is retained, but this version of the origin story doesn’t say much about it other than it was off-limits, mercifully skipping over one of the dimmest parts of the Bible in which humans are punished with death and pain for pursuing knowledge.
2:27 also provides an unfortunate theological basis for the harsh penalties that many Islamic societies impose on apostates and heretics. Those who “break Allah’s covenant after it is ratified” or who “sunder” what Allah has “ordered to be joined” are set out for special punishment, perhaps a hotter temperature in the “Fire” for those who “reject Faith.”
Needless to say, little of this material belongs in the Jefferson Qur’an. There is no need to belabor the strange astronomy of seven heavens or the moral non sequiter of humans being punished for taking Satan’s advice without a lot of heads up from God about him. I’ll spare you a page of red hashed-through text. Between 2:25:2-:39, all I have decided to keep is:
2:25 Give glad tidings to those who work righteousness.
“Those who believe” have plenty of glad tidings from the Qur’an itself, and as written it seems the clear intent is not to give glad tidings to those who don’t believe. The dare to call on other gods if one does not accept “Faith” is an interesting one but also is one I can’t really take the book up on. I have no use for the origin story whose only moral seems to be that literally all suffering that happens in the world is appropriate punishment for defying the will of God (though these days he is thankfully content to wait until you are dead to punish you).
2:28 sets up something about the Qur’an that many people don’t know: it appears to endorse a fundamentally millenarian view of the end of the world: “He cause[s] you to die, and will again bring you to life; and again to Him will ye return” sounds a lot like the resurrection of the dead at the sounding of the last trumpet in the Bible. It is a nice and poetic parallel, but it is ultimately of little consequence to the narrative and is little more than hyperbole about God’s greatness (tee’d up by the offended-sounding “How can ye reject faith in Allah…”).
Surah 2 is enormous; as the Qur’an is ordered from longest to shortest after the Opening, and so we will be in it for a good while. It will soon take us from theological storytelling and broad-brush moral abstractions and commandments to more detailed rulemaking.