Qu’ran reading experiment 2: Surah Al-Baqarah

Please read the disclaimer on the first article in this series.

The experiment slowed down because I didn’t check the length of the surahs before making my bold claims. If the others are as long as Surah Al-Baqarah, there’s no way I can do one per day. With the New Testament I also consulted a lot of secondary literature, historical information, theological analysis and the like, to slot the information into context.

I am not a theologian, but I can claim that while I was looking at the New Testament, I at least had a reasonable grasp of the geopolitical/theological problems of the years 30 – 600, the position of the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the Roman Empire and how a young Christianity fit into this. I also had some light background in early Greek philosophy and the theology that went with it.

With all this, you can’t afford to forget the medical issues of the self-appointed prophets, like the epileptic visions that converted St. Paul and the temporal lobe epilepsy and other mental complications Muhammad suffered from.

So I’d like to be more thorough in looking at the Qu’ran, but that can’t be done at a rate of one surah a day. I’ll just do one surah at however much time it takes to get a fleeting grasp on the theological, historical and political aspects, but I will always focus on the ethical and moral take-aways, decoupled from historical machinations that are meaningless for us today.

I think that a proper spiritual guidebook should manage to stand on its own and provide some food for thought and true spiritual growth without being dogmatic, and certainly without trying to enforce some belief in the supernatural. I find that quality in the Tipitaka (minus the devas and asura), it’s probably also present in Eihei Dogen’s works, I definitely see it in all of Ajahn Chah’s words  and even Brad Warner’s books on Zen.

I find it in only very, very few corners of the New Testament, a book that while not totally morally bankrupt rests almost entirely on the glorification of Christ and his supposed miracles. Let’s see what the Qu’ran does in that regard.

Opinion on Surah 2: Al-Baqarah (The Cow)

So here we have surah 2. It appears to establish that this is the book for believers in Allah. That’s fine. I can’t tell if I’m one of them. If I am an “enemy” of Allah, I will roast in fire, it says, so it threatens me in its very first longer surah. It establishes a logical failure by claiming that I cannot disbelieve in Allah because Allah has created me. But if I disbelieve the latter already, of course I can disbelieve both. Studying some Aristotle might’ve helped here.

Next there’s something about a creation myth, involving Adam approaching a forbidden tree. As punishment, the humans were sent to the earth “for a time”. I suppose like any end-time sect Muslims establish here that the current life on planet Earth is not the main objective, and that something else awaits after death depending on how we act and what we believe. I’m sure some stern dogmatic instructions for making everyone think and act alike will follow some pages down the book, but maybe they’ll surprise me.

This is already silly for me, I strive to lead a good life in the here and now, I don’t care about gifts of Allah in the afterlife because it can’t be know if there is any.

Then there’s something about how Allah aided Moses, not too relevant right now and hard to prove, but surely relevant for the Jews this surah was aimed at. Then there’s something about a special yellow cow, I’ll have to revisit that sometime to get more context, no time right now. I think there’s also a warning to the Jews (I guess?) against distorting their religious instructions.

There’s one nice bit around 80-90 about not taking each other’s blood. That’s cool, I’m a pacifist. It also says that Allah punishes those who kill most severely. That they have forfeited a nice afterlife for indulgements in this life. I just think murderers are stupid pissants, but maybe they couldn’t use language like that in religious books of the time.

Then there is something about battling ones who disbelieve. I really hate that, no one should go to battle to convince someone else of their own beliefs. Isn’t this also in direct opposition to what the Qu’ran just said in 80-90, about not killing anyone? Interesting, inconsistency in the second chapter of a book that is claimed to be perfect.

Then it says that some claim only Jews and Christians go to paradise, and challenges them to prove it. I suppose they mean it would ordinarily include Muslims. To me all three are delusional with their afterlife theories, so seeing any one of them claiming to be right is just as much theater.

It also says only those who submit to Allah and Islam will gain rewards in the afterlife. I can live with that because I don’t want to be told what to believe, and there is no proof of any afterlife. So this section becomes moot and is morally empty.

It is said that the month of Ramadan was when the Qu’ran was revealed. Then it says to kill anyone who fights you, because that’s what happens to disbelievers. It seems to me that this is about fighting and killing non-Muslims and other disbelievers. So now this book is telling me that adherents to this book’s religion would do better to kill me? (To be fair, I know that later, somewhere in surah 5 or 6, it is said that Muslims should only kill in defense — but I don’t know that yet as a reader, I didn’t get any glimpse of surah 5 so far.)

Also around 2:200 it says that if I am Muslim, I must fight even if I don’t want to, because it’s good for me. This is all morally totally bankrupt. It advocates spreading your personal belief using weapons and murder.

The Qu’ran then claims we were all of one religion (which is demonstrably false, if Muhammad had been able to travel up north or further east he would have known).

More things about being very devout and reaping benefits in an afterlife. There’s also a lot of dialog with the Jews, who apparently at the time this was written were considered to be following empty rituals and having lost the path to their god. This is not so dissimilar to what the New Testament says Jesus is claimed to have done at the temples, accusing high priests of hypocrisy, comparing them to whitewashed crypts, beautiful on the outside but full of death and bones on the inside, etc.

But the surah addresses not only the Jews but also the young religion at Mekkah (or were they at Medinah at the time? I have to check, but it makes no difference, the point is that the religion was young). There’s a lot about spreading your faith. I find this offensive. There is a sort of dictatorship of thought, the surah paves the way for declaring some things islamic and some others unislamic. I wonder if the Qu’ran also establishes a framework for people to establish their own thoughts about ethics and morals, or whether it just delivers an absolute doctrine.

If this surah only said “look, this is what Muslims should believe, if you don’t, you go to hell”, this would be fine, because those choosing to be Muslims can believe whatever they want. But it also says “let’s convert people to follow Allah”, which is not fine. I don’t want to be converted into a system I don’t agree with.

I am really disappointed thus far. This seems to me morally bankrupt, so far it only commands me to believe in a certain deity under punishment of either death in this life, by being killed by Islam-believers, or pain in the afterlife, for not believing in this life. There is no ethical or moral discourse so far. Just statements of things that are not proved or impossible to prove.


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