Surah 2:178-193: the common law of the Qur’an begins

The next section begins Surah 2’s Islamic nation-building theme in earnest. Many religious books contain laws, such as kosher laws and general prohibitions on murder and theft and the life, but the Qur’an goes to a level of detail and “practicality” far beyond the Bible. I put “practicality” in scare-quotes because some of the legal recommendations made in this section are in fact wildly impractical and of dubious morality; I mean to say that they are procedural, that they describe actual courtroom practices instead of just laying out broad normative moral commands.

As I have said, this level of detail is necessary because of the social and political realities of the time in which Surah 2 was written. The Medinan Period, the time that Muhammed spent in Medina (Yathrib) and during which about half of the chapters of the Qur’an were written, was a time of political intrigue and turmoil in the Arabian peninsula. I’ve written already about the complex interplay of theological and even military factors in the relationship between Muhammed’s followers and the Christians, Jews, and other religious groups that lived together in Medina.

Muhammed’s work in this period is less like the life of Jesus and more like the life of Moses. Where Jesus created a millenarian religious sect that had very little original social agenda beyond preparing for what they believed was the impending apocalypse, Moses had the more difficult job of building a new permanent society out of more or less nothing. (This is not advocacy for the historical accuracy of the received biographies or even the existence of Jesus or Moses, this is summary of the stories as I understand them.) Jesus built a community; Moses built a nation. Muhammed has practical realities to deal with as an important contemporary religious leader, and that is why we see the laws we see in this section.

In fact, Muhammed’s role is so important politically in this period that he wrote an entire new constitution for Medina. It is a question of legitimate academic disagreement whether this part, or any part, of surah 2 predates or postdates the Constitution of Mecca. As you read below, compare and contrast those rules with that Constitution and decide for yourself.

Here is Yusuf Ali’s text with my commentary, with the verses I feel of sufficient moral value to preserve for ultimate inclusion in this blog’s end product, the Jefferson Qur’an:

178. O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty.
179. In the Law of Equality there is (saving of) Life to you, o ye men of understanding; that ye may restrain yourselves.

This is an interesting and easily-misinterpreted commandment. At least one intreped Qur’an-crawler has mistaken it for a command for freemen, slaves, and women to murder each other.

At least one other source provides the far more useful translation of “retribution” in place of Yusuf Ali’s more flowery “the law of equality.” The savvy reader will see a direct echo to the Code of Hammurabi’s “an eye for an eye.” (Note that this source uses an alternate numbering scheme for the verses of the Qur’an, which are not consistent in the way the different versions of the Bible are.)

While I do not much care for this “law of equality” in murder. Death for death strikes me of a very easy way to deprive one of the power to say that murder is wrong. Death for death means that killing is not wrong, it is merely the intent that matters: that there is nothing of particular consequence about the end results, since both murder and lawful execution produce a corpse out of one of your countrymen, it is merely that one who executes criminals and one who murders are of different legal permissions at the time they do so. Even if we accept the disquieting implication of the death penalty that the sole determinant of moral wrongness under such a system is whether or not a court of law (even a very competent court) has ordered it or not, the prescription of death is incompatible with the legal regimes of many of the most civilized states and nations today.

But on the other hand, the “the law of equality” actually provides and important limiting principles that would be of some use for a lot of the worst parts of Islamic society today (and everybody else’s really). If there is a murder done against your people, the proper response is execution of the murderer; equality between the victim and the crime. Disproportionate devastation of entire societies in response to the misdeeds of a small number of that society’s members has become something of a fad for some nations today – a one-for-one exchange would actually be a step in the right direction for such nations. But I digress.

Other translations also render “remission” as “mercy” in 2:178, another merciful clarification. The sentiment here is that, if the collateral victims of murder such as the family show mercy, the victim should receive some leniency. The potential legal effect of the perpetrator’s contrition is not mentioned.

180. It is prescribed, when death approaches any of you, if he leave any goods that he make a bequest to parents and next of kin, according to reasonable usage; this is due from the Allah.fearing.
181. If anyone changes the bequest after hearing it, the guilt shall be on those who make the change. For Allah hears and knows (All things).
182. But if anyone fears partiality or wrong-doing on the part of the testator, and makes peace between (The parties concerned), there is no wrong in him: For Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

Yet more practicalities: the common law of wills and trusts for Muslims. Muslims are required to make bequests to their children and parents, to be faithful to last wishes, and 2:182 more or less demands the creation of a probate and family court to resolve differences regarding wills. That’s all fine, and not entirely unlike the Anglo-Saxon common law of wills and trusts, and least where the law of intestacy (death without a good will) is concerned. Transfers of property to the next family generation below yours that has living members is a default rule in most versions of the common law of intestacy, with parents being second in line in many cases, and everyone is familiar with the monarchical rule that the eldest son is automatically the sole inheritor unless the deceased makes a contrary affirmation in a proper will.

The only difference is that the Qur’an does not act as a default rule in the way that the Anglo-Saxon common law of intestacy does, it is a moral commandment. A literal reading of 2:180 actually requires a Muslim to make a gift to their dead parents if such is the case. I much prefer the massive complexity of Anglo-Saxon common law (me from my second year of law school is having a seizure or a stiff drink just at the thought).

183. O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,-
184. (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.
185. Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.

Back to religious laws – sort of. Even though 2:184 begins with a religious commandment, it makes much more concessions to context than a lot of other religious texts generally do. The Ten Commandments do not say, “covet not thy neighbor… unless her possessions are really, really cool;” they are more or less unconditional. 2:184, however, requires fasting and charity… unless you’re sick and can’t afford it. It’s a step in the right direction, and is certainly practical enough in the context of the man Muhammed dreaming of a society where everyone should be reasonably expected to actually follow the rules, which is a lot easier when those rules brook contextual complication.

186. When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way.
187. Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and ye are their garments. Allah knoweth what ye used to do secretly among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with them, and seek what Allah Hath ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast Till the night appears; but do not associate with your wives while ye are in retreat in the mosques. Those are Limits (set by) Allah. Approach not nigh thereto. Thus doth Allah make clear His Signs to men: that they may learn self-restraint.

Regulations for the Ramadan fast: you can have sex during the night, but no afternoon delights while you fast. Clearly the intent here is to represent the Ramadan fast as part of a constellation of self-denials instead of just a literal fast. I have no particular use for Ramadan, but I do like the poetry of “they are your garments and ye are their garments.”

188. And do not eat up your property among yourselves for vanities, nor use it as bait for the judges, with intent that ye may eat up wrongfully and knowingly a little of (other) people’s property.

A moral prohibition against profligacy, and a legal prohibition on judicial graft. It is puzzling why 2:188 would only specifically prohibit bribery of judges to prevent theft, unjust enrichment, or inequitable windfalls, but that’s what the verse says on a literal reading. That is to say, it is woefully inadequate, but Muhammed is trying.

189. They ask thee concerning the New Moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for Pilgrimage. It is no virtue if ye enter your houses from the back: It is virtue if ye fear Allah. Enter houses through the proper doors: And fear Allah. That ye may prosper.

Ramadhan again. As I’ve already discussed, Muhammed’s new religion is more syncretic than its most stalwart will admit. It mixes Judaism, pre-Islamic Arabic religions, Christian liturgy, and all manner of other ideas and theologies together, and has firm historical antecedents for much of its most important themes and tropes. Muhammed wants to keep the ancient sanctity of the cycles of the moon, which is of sufficient significance in the human psyche that it occurs in religions around the world that could never have encountered each other, but to deprive it of its “pagan” importance. Yes the New Moon is important, says Muhammed, but only because it times Ramadan and the Hajj (the trip to Mecca Muslims are supposed to make at least once in their lives if they can afford it).

190. Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.
191. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.
192. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
193. And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah. but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.

This is a primer on international law and the laws of war for Muslims. I am dying to know exactly what “limits” Muhammed had in mind; there is no academic theory that I know of holding that some specific incident or contemporary practice would have inspired this line (possibly Muhammed’s treatment of enemy prisoners after the Battle of Badr but that is a guess). 2:191 is a macro-scale version of the “Law of Equality” discussed in verses 178-179 except that it does recognize the contrition of the aggressor as having some significance (instead of the family of the victim).

There is some good material in this section. The chopped-up parts of verses that I will preserve in the final Jefferson Qur’an are:

2:180 When death approaches any of you, if you leave any goods, you should make a bequest to parents and next of kin, according to reasonable usage.
2:181 If anyone changes the bequest after hearing it, the guilt shall be on those who make the change.
2:182 But if anyone fears partiality or wrong-doing on the part of the testator, and makes peace between the parties concerned, there is no wrong in him.
2:190 Fight those who fight you, but do not transgress limits.

“Should” is a sufficient word in 2:180 to maintain a worthy moral prescription without straightjacketing people into giving their money to parents they don’t like or bratty nephews and nieces. 2:181-182 is an unequivocally reasonable command not to mess with peoples’ final wills and testaments. I kept only as much of 2:190 as needed to preserve the also perfectly reasonable order that one should fight a war in self-defense, but that there are limits beyond an eye for an eye, especially when one is talking about conflict on an international scale.

Surah 2:102-121: “Those to whom We have sent the Book study it as it should be studied…”

Much of the material we have covered so far in surah 2 is essentially apologetics against Judaism and Christianity, and this next section is no different. The fact that Muhammed would dedicate so much time (surah 2 being the longest chapter of the Qur’an) to his critics speaks not only to the relative political and military strength he acquired during his time in Medina, when this surah was almost certainly written, but also to the fact that Muhammed was conscious of the fact that he was creating a new religion, as opposed to a sect or reinterpretation of an existing one.

This section also opens up an interesting historical diatribe on that most magnificent gape in the record of the Qur’an: the Satanic Verses. Here is today’s material, as always from Yusuf Ali’s translation:

102. They followed what the evil ones gave out (falsely) against the power of Solomon: the blasphemers Were, not Solomon, but the evil ones, teaching men Magic, and such things as came down at babylon to the angels Harut and Marut. But neither of these taught anyone (Such things) without saying: “We are only for trial; so do not blaspheme.” They learned from them the means to sow discord between man and wife. But they could not thus harm anyone except by Allah.s permission. And they learned what harmed them, not what profited them. And they knew that the buyers of (magic) would have no share in the happiness of the Hereafter. And vile was the price for which they did sell their souls, if they but knew!
103. If they had kept their Faith and guarded themselves from evil, far better had been the reward from their Lord, if they but knew!
104. O ye of Faith! Say not (to the Messenger. words of ambiguous import, but words of respect; and hearken (to him): To those without Faith is a grievous punishment.
105. It is never the wish of those without Faith among the People of the Book, nor of the Pagans, that anything good should come down to you from your Lord. But Allah will choose for His special Mercy whom He will – for Allah is Lord of grace abounding.
106. None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?
107. Knowest thou not that to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth? And besides Him ye have neither patron nor helper.
108. Would ye question your Messenger as Moses was questioned of old? but whoever changeth from Faith to Unbelief, Hath strayed without doubt from the even way.
109. Quite a number of the People of the Book wish they could Turn you (people) back to infidelity after ye have believed, from selfish envy, after the Truth hath become Manifest unto them: But forgive and overlook, Till Allah accomplish His purpose; for Allah Hath power over all things.
110. And be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity: And whatever good ye send forth for your souls before you, ye shall find it with Allah. for Allah sees Well all that ye do.
111. And they say: “None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.” Those are their (vain) desires. Say: “Produce your proof if ye are truthful.”
112. Nay,-whoever submits His whole self to Allah and is a doer of good,- He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
113. The Jews say: “The Christians have naught (to stand) upon; and the Christians say: “The Jews have naught (To stand) upon.” Yet they (Profess to) study the (same) Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but Allah will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment.
114. And who is more unjust than he who forbids that in places for the worship of Allah, Allah.s name should be celebrated?-whose zeal is (in fact) to ruin them? It was not fitting that such should themselves enter them except in fear. For them there is nothing but disgrace in this world, and in the world to come, an exceeding torment.
115. To Allah belong the east and the West: Whithersoever ye turn, there is the presence of Allah. For Allah is all-Pervading, all-Knowing.
116. They say: “(Allah) hath begotten a son” :Glory be to Him.-Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him.
117. To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When He decreeth a matter, He saith to it: “Be,” and it is.
118. Say those without knowledge: “Why speaketh not Allah unto us? or why cometh not unto us a Sign?” So said the people before them words of similar import. Their hearts are alike. We have indeed made clear the Signs unto any people who hold firmly to Faith (in their hearts).
119. Verily We have sent thee in truth as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner: But of thee no question shall be asked of the Companions of the Blazing Fire.
120. Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with thee unless thou follow their form of religion. Say: “The Guidance of Allah,-that is the (only) Guidance.” Wert thou to follow their desires after the knowledge which hath reached thee, then wouldst thou find neither Protector nor helper against Allah.
121. Those to whom We have sent the Book study it as it should be studied: They are the ones that believe therein: Those who reject faith therein,- the loss is their own.

Verse 106 specifically tells us that Allah does not “abrogate” or replace the verses of his revelations. This only seems necessary in a chapter that is essentially apologetical in nature (as you have seen, it obsessively criticizes Jews, Christians, and the mysterious Sabians) if there is an extant criticism of Islam at the time of its authorship necessitating such defensiveness.

The Qur’an is not arranged in chronological order of its revelation to Muhammed, it is arranged from longest chapter to shortest except for its first chapter. Surah 2: the Heifer is actually one of the last ones revealed: according to the general academic consensus (which is consistent with the commentaries by the faithful that I read in preparing the Jefferson Quran), it stands way down the list at 87th written. This puts it far behind the interesting Surah 23: the Star, itself at 53rd.I call the Star interesting more for what is excluded from it than what is included, namely, those verses that have today come to be called “the Satanic Verses.”

When we get to surah 23 in the coming weeks I will go into greater detail about what the Satanic Verses are, why they are important, and why I think that the story behind them is authentic and not an invention of later critics, but for now let me give you the quick overview. While reciting the Star, Muhammed allegedly recited verses that more or less require that Allah stands in a quasi-polytheistic relationship to three other pre-Islamic Arabian gods named al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat, called the gharaniq all together, who, according to the Satanic verses, had certain intercessory powers (ie, they could answer prayers).

The general apologetical tact is to either deny the existence of the event at all (highly unlikely in my view) or to take the more imaginative route of saying that Satan interfered with the recitation of the Star, either by distorting Muhammed’s words, confusing the listeners, or beguiling Muhammed himself into actually speaking the words. Hence, the “Satanic” verses.

Verse 106 is one piece of evidence to me suggesting that the incident of the Satanic Verses actually happened; if we begin with the premise that the general historiography of the Qur’an is correct, that the hadith preserving the story of the Satanic Verses is accurate (and as it is embedded in a longer hadith surviving through ibn Ishaq, who is otherwise generally accepted as reliable by historians of Islam, there is no reason to think otherwise), and if we agree that it makes more sense from a theological point of view to say that the incident never occurred at all as opposed to some convoluted apologetical nonsense about Satan warbling the soundwaves between Muhammed’s mouth and his secretaries’ ears, and that surah 2 comes chronologically later than surah 23, then 2:106 makes perfect sense as a defensive reaction to stories about the Satanic Verses: which stories have no proper place existing at all if they are not rooted in some, or complete, truth.

Much of the rest of this section is at least thematically consistent with what we’ve seen: 2:102 shows that Muhammed has an okay grasp of Jewish canon but not a great one, condensing several stories about Solomon and Simon the Mage into a single blurb that serves only to excoriate “the Jews” for some kind of blood libel-style mass apostasy. Verse 108 hammers home that surah 2 is apologetical in nature, dedicated to defending Muhammed from what were likely lines of theological attack for the Christian and Jewish communities of contemporary Medina, specifically comparing Muhammed to Moses and the doubts that Muhammed seem to think were leveled at him by the Jews at the foot of Mt. Sinai (per the material from the previous sections of this chapter), even though the skepticism to which he probably means to refer actually came from Pharaoh in Egypt.

But there is some text that can be sliced out. To wit:

2:109 Quite a number of the People of the Book wish they could turn you people back after you believed, but forgive them.

This is just a nice sentiment extracted from the context. Forgiving thy enemies is one of those things that I think we all wish that the rest of the People of the Book would take more seriously.

2:111 And they say: “None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.” These are their vain desires. Say: Produce your proof if you are truthful.

2:113 The Jews say: “The Christians have nothing to stand upon,” and the Christians say, “The Jews have nothing to stand upon.” Yet they profess to study the same Book.

2:114 And who is more unjust than he who forbids that in places for the worship of Allah, Allah’s name should be celebrated?

2:120 Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with you unless you follow their form of religion.

Much as the phrase “the Jews” gives me the heeby-jeebies, these verses weave together an elegant solution to all sectarian conflict, to all disagreements about theology and interpretation of this or that big book of Important Truths: “Produce your proof if you are truthful.” There is also a delicious irony in 2:113’s excoriating the Christians and the Jews for fighting amongst themselves “yet they profess to study the same Book,” while Muhammed himself is trying to stitch together a wobbly little storyline out of his own understanding of the Jewish scriptures.

2:120 is in the Jefferson Qur’an because I believe that, as nasty as the sentiment of the verse in isolation is, it is true. There really are people in this world who want nothing from you short of your immortal soul. Some of them will knock on your door a little too early in the morning on Saturday until they get it; some will stick pamphlets and tracts in library books until they get it; the best of the lot will just pray their hearts out until they get it.

The worst are the ones who will fight you for it. To them I say, leave the suicide vest, the gun, and the grenade at home, and produce your proof if you are truthful!

Surah 2:75-101: We who are perverse

Continuing onward through one of the more obliquely anti-Semitic parts of the Qur’an, we are muddling through yet more Qur’anic retconning of the Old Testament. The dilemma Muhammed faced in the religiously cosmopolitan city of Medina (where this surah was almost certainly written) is not unlike that faced by certain notable frauds and delusions of more recent memory: how to claim for your new religion the dignity of ancient antiquity, while still preserving its uniqueness from those very ancient religions with which you compete. Muhammed’s answer in surah 2, which will be repeated in occasionally more ridiculous and vulgar iterations throughout the Qur’an, is simple: the good Jews like Moses and Solomon were faithful Muslims who worshiped Allah – the rest are basically apostates, or as 2:99 puts it, “perverse.” Specifically, Muhammed places the great falling-away of the Jews from Allah (at least here) in the story of Moses’ lonely ascent of the Sinai, Muhammed’s garbled interpretation of which you’ll find here:

75. Can ye (o ye men of Faith) entertain the hope that they will believe in you?- Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of Allah, and perverted it knowingly after they understood it.
76. Behold! when they meet the men of Faith, they say: “We believe”: But when they meet each other in private, they say: “Shall you tell them what Allah hath revealed to you, that they may engage you in argument about it before your Lord?”- Do ye not understand (their aim)?
77. Know they not that Allah knoweth what they conceal and what they reveal?
78. And there are among them illiterates, who know not the Book, but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but conjecture.
79. Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say:”This is from Allah,” to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby.
80. And they say: “The Fire shall not touch us but for a few numbered days:” Say: “Have ye taken a promise from Allah, for He never breaks His promise? or is it that ye say of Allah what ye do not know?”
81. Nay, those who seek gain in evil, and are girt round by their sins,- they are companions of the Fire: Therein shall they abide (For ever).
82. But those who have faith and work righteousness, they are companions of the Garden: Therein shall they abide (For ever).
83. And remember We took a covenant from the Children of Israel (to this effect): Worship none but Allah. treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need; speak fair to the people; be steadfast in prayer; and practise regular charity. Then did ye turn back, except a few among you, and ye backslide (even now).
84. And remember We took your covenant (to this effect): Shed no blood amongst you, nor turn out your own people from your homes: and this ye solemnly ratified, and to this ye can bear witness.
85. After this it is ye, the same people, who slay among yourselves, and banish a party of you from their homes; assist (Their enemies) against them, in guilt and rancour; and if they come to you as captives, ye ransom them, though it was not lawful for you to banish them. Then is it only a part of the Book that ye believe in, and do ye reject the rest? but what is the reward for those among you who behave like this but disgrace in this life?- and on the Day of Judgment they shall be consigned to the most grievous penalty. For Allah is not unmindful of what ye do.
86. These are the people who buy the life of this world at the price of the Hereafter: their penalty shall not be lightened nor shall they be helped.
87. We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of apostles; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you an apostle with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride?- Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay!
88. They say, “Our hearts are the wrappings (which preserve Allah.s Word: we need no more).” Nay, Allah.s curse is on them for their blasphemy: Little is it they believe.
89. And when there comes to them a Book from Allah, confirming what is with them,- although from of old they had prayed for victory against those without Faith,- when there comes to them that which they (should) have recognised, they refuse to believe in it but the curse of Allah is on those without Faith.
90. Miserable is the price for which they have sold their souls, in that they deny (the revelation) which Allah has sent down, in insolent envy that Allah of His Grace should send it to any of His servants He pleases: Thus have they drawn on themselves Wrath upon Wrath. And humiliating is the punishment of those who reject Faith.
91. When it is said to them, “Believe in what Allah Hath sent down, “they say, “We believe in what was sent down to us:” yet they reject all besides, even if it be Truth confirming what is with them. Say: “Why then have ye slain the prophets of Allah in times gone by, if ye did indeed believe?”
92. There came to you Moses with clear (Signs); yet ye worshipped the calf (Even) after that, and ye did behave wrongfully.
93. And remember We took your covenant and We raised above you (the towering height) of Mount (Sinai): (Saying): “Hold firmly to what We have given you, and hearken (to the Law)”: They said:” We hear, and we disobey:” And they had to drink into their hearts (of the taint) of the calf because of their Faithlessness. Say: “Vile indeed are the behests of your Faith if ye have any faith!”
94. Say: “If the last Home, with Allah, be for you specially, and not for anyone else, then seek ye for death, if ye are sincere.”
95. But they will never seek for death, on account of the (sins) which their hands have sent on before them. and Allah is well-acquainted with the wrong-doers.
96. Thou wilt indeed find them, of all people, most greedy of life,-even more than the idolaters: Each one of them wishes He could be given a life of a thousand years: But the grant of such life will not save him from (due) punishment. For Allah sees well all that they do.
97. Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel-for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah.s will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe,-
98. Whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels and apostles, to Gabriel and Michael,- Lo! Allah is an enemy to those who reject Faith.
99. We have sent down to thee Manifest Signs (ayat); and none reject them but those who are perverse.
100. Is it not (the case) that every time they make a covenant, some party among them throw it aside?- Nay, Most of them are faithless.
101. And when there came to them an apostle from Allah, confirming what was with them, a party of the people of the Book threw away the Book of Allah behind their backs, as if (it had been something) they did not know!

Many are the names of God in Judaism, but it is beyond balderdash to claim that Moses or any other Jew would have used the word Allah to refer to God in a devotional sense, but in researching the historical context of this surah I came upon the interesting historical tidbit that it is not at all impossible that Jews would at least have known the word Allah long before the 7th century when the Qur’an was first received.

Both Jews and the word “Allah” enjoy an extensive history in the Arabian peninsula long predating Islam. Jews are known to have dispersed throughout what today is called Saudi Arabia after the destruction of the Second Temple in the 1st century, and, as certain mean-spirited Christian apologists take endless delight in pointing out, the word “Allah” has antecedents in both “pagan” and even Christian liturgy from around the same time period. Such historical fact raises a question that likely has some semiotic significance doubtlessly discoverable only deep in the navels of the great linguists. When I say God and a Jew says Adonai, it appears that we are referring to the same being. When I say God and a modern-day Muslim says Allah, it also appears that we are referring to the same being. Why is it wrong, then, to say that when Moses supposedly says Allah and I say God, we are again referring to the same being?

I think it is because when a 7th-century Arabian speaking outside of the Christian tradition says Allah, he is saying something more like Wodin or Demeter than God. A normally-acculturated 7th-century Arabian who hears the word Allah would have understood it to mean one of several members, or perhaps one concept among several theological concepts, in pre-Islamic Arabian times whom Muhammed simply intended to elevate above all others by association with the ancient gods of his co-monotheists. I commend you to works far more scholarly than mine for a more detailed look at the role of Allah in pre-Islamic Arabian polytheism, such as the magnificent Encyclopedia of Islam, though I must concede that in preparing the original Jefferson Qur’an I read a much older edition of that book than is available today and it is possible that the scholarly consensus has since shifted.

In this section I have preserved for the final version of the Jefferson Qur’an a (so far) record-setting seven verses, though some only in part. Because they do not form a nice or consistent narrative, I will explain my reasoning for their survival one at a time:

2:75 Can you, O men of Faith, entertain the hope that they will believe in you?

2:89 And when there comes to them a Book, they refuse to believe in it.

Even without the obvious original intention that this particular verse refer specifically to Muslims, I rather like the sentiment, since here God has told Muhammed something whose obviousness should be imparted likewise on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who from time to time darken my doorstep: “do you really think that everybody is going to buy what you’re selling?” Not everyone who smells what you’re stepping in wants to follow in your footsteps.

2:96 You will indeed find them, of all people, most greedy of life: each one of them wishes he could be given a life of a thousand years.

Scorn for those who crave eternal life is just a nice sentiment for reasons comporting with my own philosophical leanings, namely, that mortality is generally a good thing and that eternal life is not altogether desirable. I once had the great pleasure of hosting the inestimable Robert M. Price at the Secular Student Alliance chapter of my alma mater, whose talk’s Q&A session saw a delightful exchange between Dr. Price and a good friend of mine in the audience, a devout evangelical type, paraphrased thusly:

Dr. Price: And what exactly is it that you would do for eternity in heaven?

Friend: …worship God?

Dr. Price: Well that sounds like it’d get pretty boring after a while.

Not an exact quote from any party involved, but you get the gist. “Greedy of life,” in the Qur’an’s phrasing, is such a nicely indelicate way of heaping scorn on what is truly my least favorite aspect of so many religions, which is the idea that it’s just a gas to go on and on and on for its own sake.

2:78 And there are among them illiterates, who do not know the Book, but see therein their own desires, and they do nothing but conjecture.

2:85 Then it is only a part of the Book that you believe in, and do you reject the rest? But what is the reward for those among you who behave like this but disgrace in this life?

2:87 Is it that whenever there comes to you a Messenger with what you yourselves do not desire, you are puffed up with pride?

Here is another fine sentiment to be turned on its head against the people who claim to believe it. How is any Muslim at all to know that he or she is not one of those “illiterates” referred to by this very verse, who stares at the Qur’an and only sees whatever comports most comfortably with their own biases and assumptions?

2:84 Shed no blood amongst you, nor turn out your own people from your homes.

I will go out of my way to preserve uncontroversially decent sentiments from the Qur’an if for no other reason than because I despise the attitudes of certain of my countrymen holding that the Qur’an is an irredeemable work of violent garbage from cover to cover. It is not. A lot of it is, but then, a lot of it isn’t, either. A lot of it is perfectly decent. Not killing and evicting each other – that is a perfectly decent attitude.

We are making progress. The baneful drudgery of surah 2’s Old Testament remixing is slowly coming to an end. At the very least you may rest assured that the next section contains some more bizarrely interesting Qur’anic apologetics.