Qu’ran reading experiment 4: Surah an-Nisā’

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

Surah 4 deals among other things with how to distribute the belongings of orphans. You shouldn’t steal them or embellish them, instead there are specific instructions for how to distribute them. This arose apparently because one of Muhammad’s many battles didn’t go quite as well as he’d hope and many Muslim children lost their parents.

There’s also a bit about how to deal with inheritance. Female children receive only half of what boys get. There are other instructions e.g. for how much surviving parents would receive. I have no clue if this was progressive (“wow, women get a full half of what men get!”) or par for the course of the time. But can you guess what happens if you don’t distribute things properly or if you steal from orphans? That’s right, Allah punishes you by roasting you in eternal fire.

Allah can forgive, though. It seems he can forgive adulterers (“unlawful sexual intercourse”) if they confess and regret what they’ve done (4:16-18). So finally some niceness is shining through all the grim burning and eternal fire, alḥamdulillāh! The Qu’ran also establishes that surviving male heirs have no right to marry the widow. And that if a man chooses a new wife and sends his former wife off with gifts, he cannot later reclaim those gifts. Plus, no marrying women who your fathers have already married before. Some bits about no marrying sisters, etc., and 4:25 seems to say that if you get very horny and can’t find a wife to marry freely, you can marry a slave girl instead of giving in to sin.

Of course this is all directed at men, no one asked the women what they think about it. In fact, the Qu’ran establishes with absolutely no margin for error or misinterpretation that “men are in charge of women” (4:34) (husbands are in charge of wives, not women in general). But at least  in this surah we have some instructions for (what was perceived as) good moral conduct.

Fun nugget of history, in Switzerland, even into the years of the early feminist movement, women had to have their husband’s signature to open a bank account. So the Qu’ran is no worse here.

Forgiveness and good advice

Also, hey, Allah forgives even more things. If you get rid of your major sins, your minor ones are to be stripped off as well. Could it be that the Qu’ran gets cheerful at this chapter? Yes, it does!

4:35 – 4:44 is a treasure trove of truly good avice! You should be nice to your neighbor, your friends, do good to your relatives, parents, your slaves! Do not be stingy with the things Allah has given you, but do not be boastful if you have plenty. Allah will repay you many times over for any good things you have done. You shouldn’t pray while intoxicated (wait until you know what you’re saying again – so much for forbidding alcohol, that’s not in the Qu’ran so far at least). Don’t come back from the toilet or having sex without washing your hands and face first, especially if you’re ill.

I’m not trying to take the piss, I’m genuinely impressed, there is some really good advice here. Of course the Buddhists had this same wisdom nearly a thousand years earlier, without having to create a punishing God-figure, but hey, good job anyway.

Of course at 4:46 the book is back to criticizing Jews, but let’s give the Qu’ran its moment of glory for a second here.

Back to the gory business

The interlude of love and happiness is brief, however. Surah 4 is actually home to some of the most gruesome threats of torture that I’ve read so far in the Qu’ran, and the book is full of threats of torture on every page. Get this:

4:56: Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses – We will drive them into a fire.
Every time their skins are roasted through We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, God is ever Exalted in Might and Wise.

Wow. This is some tough shit. Hannibal Lector? A limp-wristed pussy in comparison to Allah’s magnificent torture methods. Then 4:74 says that if you fight in the cause of Allah and die, you will be rewarded richly (a previous verse in surah 2 said the same thing). It really is easy to see how someone who wants to set off a suicide bomb to kill unbelievers could take these verses as motivation. This book offers him a divine truth from Allah, and would Allah lie about this? Surely not. Surely there will be a reward. Surely western troops marching into Iraq can be seen as enemies of Allah that we need to defend against.

Allah does seem to have an interest in military campaigns:

4:84: So fight, [O Muhammad], in the cause of God; you are not held responsible
except for yourself. And encourage the believers [to join you] that perhaps God
will restrain the [military] might of those who disbelieve. And God is greater in might and stronger in [exemplary] punishment.

Fighting without accepting responsibility for your actions. Exemplary punishment. Yes, of course. Allah is just like Kim Jong-Un, then.

That’s as much as I can take. I am not making things up when I say that on almost every single page of the Qu’ran, you are threatened with eternal fire, death, damnation and punishment. I don’t want to read this anymore, it’s sickening. My next thing will be a summary of what I’ve read so far.

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