Should halal slaughter be banned?

should halal slaughter be banned

 
The prohibited foods and meat in the Quran are: Dead meat, running blood, swine meat1 and what was dedicated to other2 than God (2:173, 6:145, 5:3, 16:115).

The list, however, is then followed by the reassurance that even consuming any of these is not a sin if it is not done out of “willful disobedience or transgression” (2:173, 6:145, 16:115). And that, far more important is what is in our heart and mind (6:118-119)3. Thus, the actual stress in the Quran in issues like this is on spiritual values rather than on rituals and taboos (2:189, 5:101-103, 87:8).

Now, though the Quran lists the disapproved methods of killing animals for consumption (Forbidden to you is … the strangled, beaten to death, killed by a fall, gored and savaged by a beast. 5:3), it doesn’t support the much held notion that the so-called halal slaughter as practiced today by the traditional Muslims is a requirement to make the meat halal.

Here we sum up our understanding of the Quranic position on halal slaughter:

▪ The Quran nowhere ordains that halal slaughter, which is a misnomer, or any particular way of slaughter, is the only accepted method to kill an animal for consumption. This becomes clear when we note that the Quran approves the food of “the people of the Book” (5:5), i.e., Jews, Christians and, in a wider sense, other religious groups with scriptures, like Hindus, Buddhists and Zoroastrians.

▪ All  the traditional details of halal slaughter, including the pre-slaughter utterance of the extra-Quranic mantra “Allahu Akbar”,4 are human fabrications mainly based on imports from local Judaeo-Christian traditions during the earlier Islamic centuries.

▪ The prohibition of blood refers to “running blood” only (6:145), not blood trapped inside the flesh. Even the traditional halal slaughter doesn’t remove ALL blood from the dead animal.

▪ The Quran DOESN’T really say that a pre-slaughter utterance of God’s name is essential to make the meat halal. Even 22:36, the only verse that is sometimes quoted in this regard, is more like a reminder for the pilgrims to feel appreciative of God’s blessings for the provisions of the livestock after the prohibition of hunting is over during Hajj. And because this reminder is addressed to the pilgrims, and not the slaughterers, it is not associated with the actual slaughtering.

▪ The Quranic instruction “remember God’s attributes of mercy before eating/ consuming/ enjoying” (6:118) is often translated, inadequately4, as “utter God’s name before eating”. In fact, to follow the underlying message here – which tells us to consciously appreciate God’s every favour to us as His grace and mercy, before partaking of it – we neither need to “utter” anything, verbally or vocally, nor we need to say God’s “name”. Moreover, the instruction is general and includes all provisions and all foods (6:118-121), and not just meat (meat of the livestock during Hajj, 22:28, 36; meat and fish caught by the trained dogs and birds, 5:4, etc).

▪ Our reflection on God’s attributes of mercy before eating meat should inspire us to actualize these divine attributes in human capacity (59:24; cf. 1:1, 2:138, 6:118), thereby making our behaviour towards animals more humane and compassionate5 (16:5-7, 36:71-73, 6:38). In line with this persistent Quranic emphasis on universal compassion, our main animal welfare concern with the traditional halal slaughter is whether or not animals are rendered unconscious (stunned) before they are killed. While widespread research continues to show the animal welfare benefits of pre-slaughter stunning, halal-slaughtered animals are dying in agony because of people’s ignorance over pre-slaughter stunning. If that’s the case, then one may rightfully argue that halal slaughter without stunning should be BANNED in a society where a more humane method is available.

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Note 1

The Quran allows consuming all foods that are wholesome and harmless (2:168, 5:4). Pork was prohibited because it was considered unclean and therefore harmful (“for it is impure/ tainted/ contaminated, 6:145”) as pigs used to be reared in filthy conditions. It should not be considered haram if it is clean and harmless, i.e., when pigs are raised as domestic livestock in hygienic environment. Though the Quran explicitly urges not to declare any good thing unlawful (5:87), some Muslim clerics declare numerous foods, including some excellent seafoods like mussels, lobsters, shrimps, crabs, octopus etc., unlawful.

Note 2

There is a deep rationale behind the prohibition of “what was dedicated to other than God” (“maohilla bihi lighayri Allahi”; 2:173, 6:145, 5:3, 16:115). The Quranic instruction “remember God’s attributes of mercy before eating/ consuming/ enjoying” (6:118) tells us to consciously appreciate God’s every favour to us as His grace and mercy, before partaking of it. The instruction is general and includes all provisions and all foods, and not just meat (6:118-121). This conscious appreciation of life’s blessings must be entirely dedicated to their ultimate source, i.e., to one God alone, and must not be corrupted by sharing with ‘others’ (these may include modern day idols).

Note 3

Asad’s note on 6:118: “The purpose of this and the following verse is not, as might appear at first glance, a repetition of already-promulgated food laws but, rather, a reminder that the observance of such laws should not be made an end in itself and an object of ritual: and this is the reason why these two verses have been placed in the midst of a discourse on God’s transcendental unity and the ways of man’s faith. The “errant views” spoken of in verse 119 are such as lay stress on artificial rituals and taboos rather than on spiritual values.”

Note 4

The Quranic instruction “remember God’s attributes of mercy before eating/ consuming/ enjoying” (6:118) is often translated, inadequately, as “utter God’s name before eating”. First, often rendered as “utter”, the word here is “dhik’r”, or “remember”. To the Divine who knows our mind, it shouldn’t matter whether our remembering is hidden or expressed (59:22). Since intentions are just as essential as actions (2:158), what is important is sincerity of mind, not a lip service (35:10, 29:2-3, 59:22).

Second, often inaccurately rendered as “name”, the word “ism” in this context actually means attribute (sifaat; note: God has no name) and, in particular, the principal divine attributes of mercy attached with Bismillah. This concept is expounded and constantly repeated throughout the Quran through the formula Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim (“With the attribute of God, the Mercygiving, the Merciful. 1:1”; cf. 1:1-3, 16:4-7, 17:110, 22:36). Thus, if one acknowledges God’s messages in nature, one would expectedly commemorate with gratitude His attributes of mercy while partaking of any blessing of life (“So eat/ consume/ enjoy from that on which God’s attribute (of mercy) has been remembered, if you indeed acknowledge His messages. 6:118”). This conscious appreciation of God’s favours to us, as instructed in the Quran, is in clear contrast with the traditional pre-slaughter utterance of “Allahu Akbar”, an extra-Quranic mantra that had its first physical appearance as a military slogan during the Umayyad period of Arab expansion.

Note 5

Inspired by the Quranic spirit of universal compassion and care, some vegan Muslims argue that veganism is very much compatible with Islam. If we are to follow ourselves the most principal divine attributes (the Sustainer of the worlds, the Mercygiving, the Merciful. 1:1-3) – i.e., when it comes to taking care of the Earth (7:56, 2:60, 2:205) and caring for all of God’s creations (6:38, 6:165, 1:2) – we should, at the very least, consume animals humanely, while considering cutting down on meat and even starting a vegetarian lifestyle. As the Quran promotes ideas that side with a vegetarian worldview, it is time more Muslims turned to veganism.

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Abortion from a Quranic perspective

Abortion from a Quranic perspective

 
There is no explicit mention of abortion in the Quran. However, it contains a few sketchy references to some of the related issues, wherefrom it is possible to derive some general guidelines. Let us read these verses carefully:

And his bearing and his weaning (hamluhu wa fisaluhu) lasts thirty months. 46:15

And his weaning (fisaluhu) takes two years. 31:14

This two years, as we are informed elsewhere, is the maximum period of nursing: And mothers suckle their children two full years, if they wish to complete the suckling. 2:233.

So, while the total period of bearing and weaning lasts up to 30 months (46:15), the weaning period lasts up to 24 months (31:14, 2:233). From this we can infer that, in the Quranic account, the period a mother bears a baby in her womb is 30 months – 24 months = 6 months.

Thus the Quran describes the total child-bearing period inside mother’s womb as SIX MONTHS. This is about THREE MONTHS SHORTER than the usual nine months of pregnancy1.

In other words, the Quran doesn’t count the embryo/foetus, an evolving biological organism in the uterus, as a child or person (nafs, self) during the first three months or so. This interestingly coincides with the period from the time of conception until the beginning of the second trimester when begins the formation of the child/person (22:5; cf. ‘another creation’, 23:14. Note that, for the embryo/early foetus, the Quran uses the pronoun ‘what’, instead of ‘who’; 2:228; 3:35, 22:5; cf. 23:14).2 This also corresponds to the Iddah or waiting period3 for a woman after her spouse’s death, or after a divorce, before she can remarry (2:228, 2:234).

Thus, by excluding the first trimester from the bearing period in the womb, and by depicting the embryo/early foetus as a non-person, the Quran appears to keep itself open to a pro-abortion interpretation for the first trimester of pregnancy as an issue of individual decision, for women who wish to choose it due to social or medical reasons, especially those who are victims of traumatic circumstances like rape or incest.

On the other hand, though the Quran thus seems to specifically allow termination of pregnancy in the first trimester, it condemns the killing of a child who is already born (note: ‘awlad’ means ‘born children’; 6:151, 17:31, 5:32; cf. 81:8-9). So, during the period from the second trimester of pregnancy to the moment of birth, we get a grey area when abortion becomes a questionable but acceptable choice depending on the individual circumstances.

Since a late term abortion involves some added responsibility, a society often considers regulating it through legislation. However, the exact point when a pregnancy becomes late term is not clearly defined, as there is no agreement as to when the right to life should begin, and therefore the laws may vary from country to country4. Nevertheless, every woman should have a right to abort if the continuation of pregnancy poses any serious risk to her health or life. And this should apply to all stages of pregnancy, even when a foetus is fully grown. Despite that sometimes this is a very hard choice, a mother’s life does deserve more priority than the life of an unborn baby. And in no way this can be against the spirit of the Quran.

Final words

The Quran, though inexplicitly, sheds some light on abortion. On one hand, by excluding the first trimester of pregnancy from the bearing period in the womb (46:15, 31:14, 2:233), and by depicting the embryo/early foetus as a non-person (2:228; 3:35, 22:5; cf. 23:14), the Quran keeps itself open to a pro-abortion interpretation for the first trimester of pregnancy as an issue of individual decision.

On the other hand, since the Quran condemns the killing of a child who is already born (note: ‘awlad’ means ‘born children’; 6:151, 17:31, 5:32; cf. 81:8-9), we get a grey area during the period from the second trimester of pregnancy to the moment of birth, when abortion becomes a questionable but acceptable choice depending on the individual circumstances.

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Note 1

On average, pregnancies last about 40 weeks from the day of the women’s last menstrual period. However, when measured from the day of conception (fertilization) to the day the baby was born, the actual average length of human pregnancy is about 38 weeks, which is about nine months.

Note 2

in Arabic, the pronoun ‘ma’ (which/what) is used for non-persons, such as animals and objects, while ‘man’ (who) is used for persons. Please note that, for the foetus/early foetus, the Quran uses the pronoun ‘ma’ (which/what, 2:228; 3:35, 22:5; cf. 23:14) instead of ‘man’ (who), i.e., “what is in the womb” instead of “who is in the womb”:

The divorced women shall wait for three menstruation periods; and it is not lawful for them to conceal what God has created in their wombs … . 2:228

When a woman of (the family of) Imran said, “My Sustainer, I have vowed to You what is in my womb, dedicated, so accept from me. …”. 3:35

We settle in the wombs what We wish to an appointed time, then We bring you out a child … . 22:5

And then We create out of the drop of sperm a germ-cell, and then We create out of the germ-cell an embryonic lump, and then We create within the embryonic lump bones, and then We clothe the bones with flesh – and then We cause it to grow into another creature/ creation …! 23:14

The word ‘it’ in “We cause it to grow into …” is 3rd person masculine singular object pronoun. Here the embryo/early foetus, as an evolving biological organism, is described as a non-person. So the person or self seems to emerge when the human foetus evolves into “another creature“, probably at a point when the foetus is mature and viable enough to survive independently of the mother’s body (22:5; 23:14). Thus, having life is not the same as having self/ person (nafs, often understood as soul; cf. God takes the selfs at death; and those that die not, during their sleep:39:42). Definition of murder involves killing a self/ person, not merely killing a life form or living organism (note the prohibition “Do not murder a self. 5.32”).

Note 3

Iddah is the waiting period for a woman after the death of her spouse (4 months and 10 days) or a divorce (3 months), during which she may not remarry (2:228, 2:234). Any pregnancy discovered during this period is assumed to be the responsibility of the former husband.

Note 4

While the foetal stage of human development begins about at the 11 weeks of gestation, prenatal development is a continuum and there is no clear defining feature distinguishing an embryo from a foetus. Also, there is no agreement as to when the right to life should begin. As a matter of practicality, however, many abortion laws lay down a stage of pregnancy after which abortion is unlawful, depending on their own perception of the moment when the foetus becomes viable and acquires a right to life. Here is a good article on the current and future abortion rights in the Muslim majority countries: https://musliminstitute.org/freethinking/islam/future-abortion-rights-islam

Pursue pleasure and happiness and mind the balance

Pursue pleasure and happiness and mind the balance

 
So Eat and Drink and Be Happy. 19:26

Islam is originally meant to be simple and easy1 (2:185, 2:189, 2:286, 4:28, 5:6, 6:152, 7:42, 22:78, 23:62, 57:27, 87:8), free of any dogma or mystical proposition, of all self-mortification and exaggerated asceticism, and of all complicated ritual or system of taboos which would impose undue restrictions on man’s everyday life2 (2:67-71, 2:189, 5:101-103, 57:27, 87:8).

The Quran claims to have come to liberate minds from the bondage of religion and from the shackles of too many do’s and don’ts. As the final testament, it considers current humanity, its target audience, as grown-up and hence primarily appeals to his reasoning and conscience, instead of legislating meticulous rules and regulations. Over and over again, it asks to keep the deen simple and easy and free from burden of rituals and unnecessary prohibitions – similar to those inflicted on earlier religious communities, imposed through their clerics3 (2:286, 7:157, 64:16, 5:15, 5:87).

No wonder the Quran repeatedly condemns those clergymen, who decree fabricated laws in God’s name – and thus import false obligations and prohibitions in religion – as falsifiers, transgressors and idolaters4 (2:165-172, 5:87, 6:21, 6:118-119, 6:140, 6:145-155, 7:32, 9:37, 10:59, 11:18-21, 16:116).

Now, God is portrayed in the Quran mainly as an infinitely merciful god rather than a cruel, vengeful deity. While thus reminding man of God’s infinite compassion and benevolence, the Quran cheers him up with a jolly tune, and asks him to be ever optimistic and to never despair5 (1:1, 1:2-3, 2:143, 6:12, 6:54, 6:160, 14:34, 15:56, 38:54, 39:53, 65:3,17:20, 40:7,  71:13-14).

In line with this extremely positive worldview, the Quran encourages man to pursue happiness by freely enjoying all the pleasures of life (2:168, 2:172, 5:96, 7:31-32, 7:156, 11:3, 16:114, 23:51, 28:77), though with an Epicurean attitude of prudence and moderation (2:143, 2:168-172, 2:219, 2:238, 7:31, 17:11, 17:18-19, 17:29, 25:67, 68:28) and justice and balance (16:90, 17:35, 42:17, 55:7-9, 57:25) – rather than with a mere hedonistic pursuit of sensual pleasures or overindulgence6 (23:51, 7:31-32).

For instance, the Quran asks to enjoy all healthy foods without making any unreasonable restriction (5:3-4, 6:145-150, 16:115-116); presents conjugal love, sexuality and sexual pleasure in a positive light (2:187, 2:222, 2:223, 7:189, 13:38, 25:74, 30:21, 56:35-37); promotes all the beauty of life and encourages all harmless forms of cultural and recreational activities including painting, sculpture, literature, sports, dance and music (2:185, 4:163, 5:4, 5:87, 6:151, 7:32- 33, 10:59, 16:116, 17:9, 21:79, 30:15, 34:10, 34:13, 42:21); and even calls for such undertakings like travel and tourism for the purposes of education, trade and recreation (2:164, 17:61-70, 36:41-42, 31:31, 45:12, 47:10, 22:46, 29:19-20, 62:10, 10:22, 5:96, 30:46).

We observe, for example, how the Quran promotes cheerful worldly activities as it applauds Prophet Solomon as an art enthusiast who was decorating his kingdom with “arches, sculptures, paintings … and joyous music”.7 These activities it describes as a way of thanksgiving by “the descendants of David” through a display of their divine blessings, i.e., their material and cultural affluence topped up with art and crafts. The Quran asks us to act in the same spirit, in gratitude for what we have been given (34:12-13; note: “Work, O the spiritual family of David, in gratitude”, 34:13).

In sum, while the Quran inspires us to appreciate and enjoy this divine gift of life to the full, without being constrained by religious zealots who bring numerous prohibitions through false authorities8 (7:31-32, 2:165-172, 6:150), it asks us to live our life in such a rational way that wisely strives for the lasting (akhirat) instead of getting absorbed in the instant9(ajilat; 17:11, 17:18-19, 17:20-21, 58:11).

Finally, despite the weakness of our human nature, which is prone to evil and excess, we are reassured that God remains all-forgiving and ever-merciful as always10 (4:28, 12:53, 14:36, 39:53, 42:5).

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Note 1

Islam is originally meant to be simple and easy:

God wants to bring you ease and not to bring you hardship. 2:185

God does not burden any self beyond its capacity. 2:286

God wants to make easy for you; and humankind was created weak. 4:28

God does not want to make any hardship over you. 5:6

And He has laid on you no hardship in your religion, the creed of your father Abraham. 22:78 

Note 2

Islam is originally meant to be free of any dogma or mystical proposition, of all self-mortification and exaggerated asceticism, and of all complicated ritual or system of taboos which would impose undue restrictions on man’s everyday life (Asad’s note):

They ask you regarding the new moons, say: They are a timing mechanism for the people as well as for the Pilgrimage. Piety is not that you would enter a house (system) through the back (through formal rules and rituals), but pious is he who is aware. Hence, enter houses through their doors, and remain conscious of God that you may succeed. 2:189

But they invented monastic asceticism which We never decreed for them. 57:27

And We shall make easy for you the way. 87:8

Say: Not equal are the foul and the pure, even if the abundance of the foul may dazzle you. So be aware of God, O you who understand, that you may succeed./ O you who acknowledge, do not ask about things which, if prematurely appears to you, would burden you (with non-essential rules and rituals). But if you ask about them while the Quran is being gradually revealed (to your mind), then they will be clarified to you (with deeper layers of meanings). God pardons for them, and God is Forgiving, Compassionate./ Some people before you did ask such questions (e.g., Israelites asked about the cow, 2:68), and on that account lost their faith. 5:100-102

Note 3

The Quran claims to have come to liberate minds from the bondage of religion and from the shackles of too many do’s and don’ts. Over and over again, it asks to keep the deen simple and easy and free from burden of rituals and unnecessary prohibitions – similar to those inflicted on earlier religious communities, imposed through their clerics:

God does not burden any self beyond its capacity. In its favour is what it earns, and against it is what it earns. “Our Sustainer, do not mind us if we forget or make mistakes. Our Sustainer, lay not upon us a burden such as You did lay upon those before us.” 2:286

Those who follow the messenger, the gentile prophet, whom they find written for them in the Torah and the Gospel; … he makes lawful for them the good things, and he forbids for them the evil, and he removes their burden and the shackles that are upon them. 7:157

Therefore, be aware of God as much as you can, and listen, and obey, and give for your own good. 64:16

O people of the Book, Our messenger has come to you to clarify for you much of what you have been concealing of the Book, and to pass over much (i.e., non-essential rules and rituals). Now there has come unto you from God a light, and a clarifying Book. 5:15

O you who acknowledge, do not forbid the good things that God has made lawful to you, and do not transgress; God does not like the transgressors. 5:87

Note 4

The Quran repeatedly condemns those clergymen, who decree fabricated laws in God’s name – and thus import false obligations and prohibitions in religion – as falsifiers, transgressors and idolaters:

And among the people are some who take other than God as equals to Him …/ O humankind, enjoy of what is lawful and good on Earth, and follow not devil’s footsteps …/ He only orders you evil and vice, and that you may say about God what you do not know. 2:165, 168-169

Say: Have you considered that, out of the provision God has sent down for you,  you have made some of it unlawful, and some lawful? Say: Has God allowed you, or do you fabricate a lie about God? 10:59

O you who acknowledge, do not forbid the good things that God has made lawful to you, and do not transgress; God does not like the transgressors. 5:87

And speak not about what your tongues falsely describe, “This is lawful and that is forbidden”, so as to fabricate a lie against God. Surely those who fabricate lies against God will not prosper. 16:116

Who is more wicked than one who fabricates lies about God? … Alas, God’s rejection is the due of all evildoers./ Those who repel others from the divine path and seek to twist it; and regarding the End they are in denial. 11:18-19

Note 5

While reminding man of God’s infinite compassion and benevolence, the Quran cheers him up with a jolly tune, and asks him to be ever optimistic and to never despair:

With the attribute/s of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful. 1:1 (routinely appears at the beginning of every chapter in the Quran)

All praise is due to God alone, the Sustainer of the worlds./ The Beneficent, the Merciful. 1:2-3

Most certainly God is unto humankind Merciful and Compassionate. 2:143

Say: Unto whom is all that is in the Heavens and the Earth? Say: To God, who has ordained mercy on Himself. He will gather you to the day of Resurrection in which there is no doubt. 6:12

Your Sustainer has ordained mercy on Himself. 6:54

Whoever brings a good deed will receive a tenfold reward. And whoever brings an ill deed will be requited for only one. And no one will be wronged. 6:160

And He gave you of all that you have asked of Him. And should you try to count God’s favours, never will you be able to number them; yet the human is indeed transgressing, unappreciative. 14:34

He said: And who despairs of the mercy of his Sustainer, except the misguided? 15:56   

Such is Our provisions, it does not run out. 38:54

Say: O My servants, who have transgressed against their own selves, despair not of God’s mercy: behold, God forgives all sins – for, verily, He is the Forgiver, the Merciful. 39:53

And He provides for him when/ce he imagines not. … indeed God has appointed for everything a due measure. 65:3

On all, these as well as those, do We freely bestow some of your Sustainer’s gifts, since your Sustainer’s giving is never confined. 17:20

Our Sustainer, You encompass all things with mercy and knowledge. 40:7

What is the matter with you, that you hope not the greatness from God,/ When He has created you in successive stages? 71:13-14

Note 6

In line with this extremely positive worldview, the Quran encourages man to pursue happiness by freely enjoying all the pleasures of life, though with an Epicurean attitude of prudence and moderation and justice and balance – rather than with a mere hedonistic pursuit of sensual pleasures or overindulgence:

Eat and drink from the provisions of God, but do not roam the Earth as corrupters. 2:60

“O our Sustainer! Grant us good in the immediate, and good in the End, and spare us from the torment of fire.” 2:201

O mankind, enjoy of what is lawful and good on Earth, and follow not the footsteps of the Devil: for, verily, he is your open foe. 2:168

O you who acknowledge, enjoy of the good things We have provided for you, and render thanks unto God, if it is only Him you worship. 2:172

So enjoy all the lawful, decent things which God has provided for you, and thank God for His blessings, if it is Him you truly serve. 16:114

So eat and drink and be happy. 19:26

O messengers, enjoy of the good things and do right. 23:51

And seek the future abode by means of what God has granted you, and forget not your own share in this world, and do good to others as God has done good to you. And spread not corruption on Earth, for God loves not the corruptors. 28:77

Lawful for you is all water-game, and all the catch of the sea, as enjoyment (provision) for you and for those who travel. 5:96

“And ordain for us the good in this world and in the Hereafter; we have turned to You for guidance.” He said,“My chastisement is but through My law. But My mercy encompasses all things.” 7:156

He will make you enjoy an enjoyment until a term set. And He gives His grace to those who are of grace. 11:3

Leave Me alone with him whom I have created alone,/ And to whom I granted resources vast,/ And children as witnesses,/ And to whom I have spread out so wide a scope,/ And yet, he desires that I give yet more./ Nay, surely it is against Our messages that he has been stubborn. 74:11- 16

Surely We have placed all that is on the earth as an ornament thereof that We may test them as to which of them is best in conduct.18:7

And if they separate, then God will provide for each of them from His bounty. God is Vast, Wise. 4:130

Note 7

People have translated 34:13 variously, but its generally understood message is thanksgiving by Solomon and “the family of David” through display of their divine blessings, i.e., their material and cultural affluence topped up with art and crafts. The ancient lexicon Mufradat-Ul-Quran by Imam Raghib Isfahani, whose work is closer to Classical Arabic, defines the words in 34:13 broadly. For example, the words Jifanin Kaljawab = Any work of utility or enjoyment and entertainment; Jif = a stringed instrument with a drum attached. A relatively broad-spectrum translation of the verse is suggested by Muhammad Ahmed – Samira: They make/do for him what he wills/wants from the centers of the assemblies/sanctuaries and images/statues/pictures, and eyelids/fragments/pieces/small wells as the trough/tub, and pots anchors/firm (heavy) fixtures, David’s family do/work/make thanking/gratefulness, and little/few from My worshippers/slaves (is) the thankful/grateful (E).

Note 8

The Quran inspires us to appreciate and enjoy this divine gift of life to the full, without being constrained by religious zealots who bring numerous prohibitions through false authorities:

O children of Adam, take your adornment at every time and place of prayer; and eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for God loves not the wasters./ Say: Who has forbidden the adornment/ beauty that God has brought forth for His creatures and the good things of provision? Say: They are in this worldly life for those who acknowledge, and they will be exclusive for them on the day of Resurrection. We thus explain the messages unto the people who know. 7:31-32

And among the people are some who take other than God as equals to Him, they love them as they love God; but those who acknowledge love God more than all else; …/ When those who were followed will disown those who followed them, they will see the retribution, with all attachments cut off. …/ O humankind, enjoy of what is lawful and good on Earth, and follow not devil’s footsteps: for, verily, he is your open foe,/ He only orders you evil and vice, and that you may say about God what you do not know./ And if they are told: Follow what God has sent down, they say: Nay, we follow that wherein we found our forefathers. What! even though their forefathers had no understanding of anything, and if they were not guided?/ And the parable of those who are unappreciative is like that (of a herd of sheep) which hears the shepherd’s call, but hears in it nothing but a sound and a shout; deaf, dumb, and blind, for they do not reason./ O you who acknowledge, enjoy of the good things We have provided for you, and render thanks unto God, if it is only Him you worship. 2:165-172

Say: “Bring your witnesses who bear witness that (through His associate/s, 6:19) God has forbidden this.” If they bear witness, then do not bear witness with them, nor follow the desires of those who have given the lie to Our messages, and those who do not acknowledge the End; and they make equals with their Sustainer! 6:150

Note 9

The Quran asks us to live our life in such a rational way that wisely strives for the lasting (akhirat) instead of getting absorbed in the instant:

And man calls to evil with his call to good, for man has been too hasty. …/ Whoever seeks that which hastens away, We hasten for Him what he wishes, then We appoint inferno for him, he burns therein, despised, rejected./ And whoever seeks the End and strives for it with striving, while acknowledging (the End), then their effort is appreciated. 17:11, 18-19

On all, these as well as those, do We freely bestow some of your Sustainer’s gifts, since your Sustainer’s giving is never confined./ Observe how We prefer one of them above another, and certainly the End is higher in degree and greater in excellence. 17:20-21

When you are told, “Make room for one another in your collective life”, do make room: God will make room for you. 58:11

Note 10

Despite the weakness of our human nature, which is prone to evil and excess, we are reassured that God remains all-forgiving and ever-merciful as always:

God wants to make easy for you; and humankind was created weak. 4:28

I do not claim innocence for myself: for the self is inclined to evil, except for those upon whom my Sustainer bestows His grace. Surely, my Sustainer is Forgiving, Compassionate. 12:53

O My Sustainer, these (idols) have misled many people. So, whoever follows me, then he is of me, and whoever disobeys me, then You are Forgiving, Compassionate. 14:36

Say: O My servants, who have transgressed against their own selves, despair not of God’s mercy: behold, God forgives all sins – for, verily, He is the Forgiver, the Merciful. 39:53

The Heavens are about to rent asunder from above themselves; and the Forces hymn the praise of their Sustainer and seek for­giveness for those on Earth: Behold! Verily God is the Forgiving, the Merciful. 42:5

The Quran promotes art and aesthetics

The Quran promotes art and aesthetics

An artwork of the Umayyad Period of Muslim Spain

 

Sunni Muslim orthodoxy, with a hadith-based shallow understanding of Islamic monotheism, prohibits visual representations of any living thing. This religious rejection of depictions of humans and animals has seriously handicapped Islamic art, which largely remained constrained throughout the centuries1 within the flourishes of decorative tilework, Arabic calligraphy, intricate geometric patterns and floral designs.

Contrary to this traditional misteaching, however, the Quran not only approves but also appreciates and encourages all the beauty of life and even promotes creation of images, paintings, statues and sculptures, of both animate and inanimate, especially for beauty and artistic purposes (5:87, 6:116, 6:150, 7:31-32, 10:59, 16:114, 34:12-13).

It is important to observe that, while the Quran calls to worship God alone without deifying anything in any way besides Him (4:36, 4:48, 18:110), nowhere does it contain any prohibition of making graven images, one of the ‘ten commandments’ of the Old Testament (Exod 20:2-17, Deut 5:6-8; cf. 2:83, 6:151-152, 17:101). This Quranic wisdom to gently bypass this specific Mosaic Law appears deliberate (cf. 5:15) when we observe that the Quran seems to precisely confirm only the nine out of the ‘ten commandments’ of the Judaeo-Christian tradition (27:12, 7:108, 26:33; cf. 20:22, 28:32; even Abraham rejected only idols, not statues; note: he kept the biggest one, 21:58).

In line with the above observation, we further note how the Quran, for example, applauds Prophet Solomon as an art enthusiast who was “decorating his kingdom with beautiful arches, images, paintings, statues and sculptures …”. These activities it describes as a way of thanksgiving by “the descendants of David” through a display of their divine blessings, i.e., their material and cultural affluence topped up with art and crafts. The Quran asks us to act in the same spirit, in gratitude for what we have been given (34:12-13; note: “Work, O the spiritual family of David, in gratitude”, 34:13).

Elsewhere, for example, the Quran admiringly speaks of a Chest, alluding to The Ark of the Covenant, which contained the relics of the heritage left behind by “the descendants of Moses and the descendants of Aaron”, being conveyed by the controllers (2:248). These relics are similar to those imageful relics revered by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Fascinatingly, the Quran indeed holds a very positive approach to all the beauty of life, often with references using such terms as husn (excellence, beauty, bliss, integrity, perfection), zeenah (adornment, ornament, decoration, beauty, finery), jamal (attraction, cheer, beauty, luxury, elegance), alwan (colours, hues, shades), baheej (beautiful, delightful) and so on (3:14, 6:160, 7:26, 7:31, 7:32, 7:180, 10:24, 12:31, 13:4, 13:29, 15:16, 16:6, 16:8-9, 17:110, 20:8, 22:5, 23:17-32, 24:31, 27:59-60, 27:89, 28:84, 33:52, 35:27, 35:28, 37:6, 39:10, 40:64, 42:23, 44:54, 50:6, 50:7, 52:20, 52:24, 55:70, 55:72, 55:76, 56:17, 56:22, 59:24, 61:12, 64:3, 67:5, 76:19). For example: Say: Who has forbidden the beauty and adornment that God has brought forth for His servants? … 7:32 

Here we cite some of the nuances of the Quranic messages related to beauty. Thus, beauty is a mode of divine manifestation since, as we are repeatedly reminded, all the divine attributes are beautiful (7:180, 17:110, 20:8, 59:24); we should deeply observe the Universe to witness how it is perfectly built and beautified (50:6); we have to deeply observe the celestial systems like galaxies in order to behold their profound beauty (15:16); our solar system is beautified with the ornament of glittering planets (37:6, 41:12, 67:5); God has beautified the Earth with things multiplied with diverse hues (16:13); God has caused the Earth to bring forth growths/ plants of all beauteous kinds (22:5); praise be to God who grows gardens, full of beauty (27:59-60); God has grown in the Earth all beautiful kinds of living species/ animals (50:7); we are expected to find beauty in the livestock when we relax and when we go out (16:6); one of the purposes God has created the riding animals like equines, such as horses, mules and donkeys, is beauty (16:8-9); God has fashioned humans with a beautified design (40:64, 95:4); humans are created with beautiful potentials, for a divine purpose (64:3); men are naturally attracted by female beauty (24:31, 24:60, 33:52); women can be entranced by male beauty (12:31); life’s beauty is fleeting (10:24, 28:60, 57:20); a divine reason humans are gifted with garments is “for beauty and adornment” (7:26); we should look into the infinite diversity of colours and hues of various objects and events in nature – in inanimate, animate and human world, and should observe the beauty and depth of this diversity, celebrating it as a mode of divine manifestation (16:13, 16:69, 35:27, 35:28, 39:21); the infinite diversity of the colours of the human minds’ garden, the garden of Adam, is not only divinely intended but also profoundly beautiful (13:4, cf. 23:17-32); no one can prohibit us from enjoying the beauty and adornment of life (7:32); life’s all beauty and adornment are for a test, how we act on them, and not for materialistic overindulgence (18:7, 18:28, 18:46, 28:79, 33:28); we should strive for what is beautiful in the immediate and what is beautiful in the long-term (2:201); we should beautify ourselves at every act of worship (7:31); all our actions should be beautiful (16:30, 16:125, 28:54, 41:34); beautiful deeds will be rewarded (6:160, 27:89, 28:84, 39:10, 42:23); everything in the heavenly gardens will be excellent and beautiful (55:70); the righteous ones are destined for a beautiful abode (13:29, 3:14); they will be reclining there on cushions green and carpets beauteous (55:76); they will be coupled with pure companions with beautiful eyes (houris, 44:54, 52:20, 55:72, 56:22); they will be served by eternally youthful, handsome boys with “dazzling beauty of scattered pearls” (gelmans; 52:24, 56:17, 76:19); … and so forth.

Thus, time and again, the Quran draws our attention towards the beauty of divine attributes and its manifestation through the beauty of creation (7:180, 17:110, 20:8, 59:24), e.g., through the beauty of cosmos and its structure (50:6); beauty of celestial systems (15:16); beauty of solar system and its planets (37:6, 41:12, 67:5); beauty of Earth with things multiplied with diverse hues (16:13); beauty of plants (22:5); beauty of gardens (27:59-60); beauty of living species/ animals (50:7); beauty of the livestock (16:6); beauty of riding animals (16:8-9); beauty of human form and design (40:64, 95:4); beauty of purposeful human potentials (64:3); beauty of the female (24:31, 24:60, 33:52); beauty of the male (12:31); beauty in its fleetingness (10:24, 28:60, 57:20); beauty of apparels (7:26); beauty of colours and hues and their diversity (16:13, 16:69, 35:27, 35:28, 39:21); beauty of the colourful garden of human minds (13:4, cf. 23:17-32); beauty of life’s blessings that no one can prohibit (7:32); beauty whose true purpose is lost under materialism (18:7, 18:28, 18:46, 28:79, 33:28); beauty in the immediate and in the long-term (2:201); beauty that is to be embraced at every act of worship (7:31); beauty that is to be added to all our actions (16:30, 16:125, 28:54, 41:34); beauty that makes the deeds rewardable (6:160, 27:89, 28:84, 39:10, 42:23); beauty of heavenly gardens (55:70); beauty of the abode destined for the righteous (13:29, 3:14); beauty of heavenly carpets (55:76); beauty of heavenly companions (44:54, 52:20, 55:72, 56:22); beauty of heavenly serve boys (52:24, 56:17, 76:19); and so on.

This is how the Quran constantly reminds us of the necessity to behold the beauty in everything and everywhere, perceiving it as a manifestation of the beautiful divine attributes, which we need to trail as epitomes of perfection, and thereby also to beautify our thoughts and actions accordingly.

Final thoughts

As the early Muslim communities were over-concerned about idolatry, perhaps the operative reasoning behind their strict prohibition of imaging of any living thing was avoiding the possibility that the image or sculpture would be worshipped or idolized. This explains why many hadith hearsays so harshly prohibit imaging of any living thing, with special mention of severe punishment for artists.

On the contrary, there is absolutely nothing in the Quran against making images of living beings. Rather the Quran not only approves but also appreciates and encourages all the beauty of life and even promotes creation of images, paintings, statues and sculptures, of both animate and inanimate, especially for beauty and artistic purposes.

The Quran constantly reminds us of the necessity to behold the beauty in everything and everywhere, perceiving it as a manifestation of the beautiful divine attributes, which we need to trail as epitomes of perfection, and thereby also to beautify our thoughts and actions accordingly.

 

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Note 1

“But attitudes towards figurative art have varied somewhat throughout the course of Islamic history and across different Islamic cultures. Animals and humans appear sporadically throughout the centuries, and there are many surviving examples of beautiful figurative art from the Islamic world, most of which come from the late medieval period in Iran. These depict events in the life of Muhammad, the prophets, scenes of Paradise and Hell, battles of Iranian kings, everyday life, and other human subjects.

Today, as is well known, figurative art is widely rejected in Islam and depictions of Muhammad are considered especially offensive. The following article http://www.religionfacts.com/islam/art seeks to provide a factual background for this, chronicling the history of figurative depictions in Islamic art, pinning down exactly what is prohibited in the Qur’an and hadith, and exploring the reasoning given for the special sensitivity to depictions of Muhammad.”

 

The significance of ‘Nay, but’ in the story of Lot

The significance of ‘Nay, but_

 
“Do you really approach men with desire …? Nay, but …”

In the article The story of Lot condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love, we tried a holistic reading of all the four passages, 7:80-81, 26:165-166, 27:54-55 and 29:28-29, where Prophet Lot is giving witness, four times, against his misguided nation:

And Lot, when he said to his people: Do you commit an outrage1 such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein,/ For2 you really approach men with desire3 instead of women? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people who transgress the limits. 7:80-81

Do you approach the males of the nations?/ And you leave what your Sustainer created for you of your mates? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people hostile, aggressive. 26:165-166

And Lot, when he said to his people: Do you commit an outrage while you see clearly?/ Do you really approach men with desire instead of women? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people who act ignorantly. 27:54-55

And Lot, when he said to his people: You really commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein./ Do you really approach men (from other nations, 26:165), and you cut off the highway and commit evil in your gatherings (you commit xenophobic attacks and gang rapes in the highway, 15:76)? 29:28-29

In our study we observed that all these passages are structured in the form of QUESTIONS.

And that, apart from 29:28-29, each of them contains the conjunction ‘BAL’, translated here as ‘Nay, but’ (No, instead,).

And that, in each of these occurrences, ‘BAL’ appears as a response to the QUESTION/S (“Do you …? Nay, but …”).

And that, in each of these responses, ‘BAL’ appears as a NEGATION or rectification of the content/s of the question/s, while condemning those who “transgress the limits”.

And that, 29:28-29 is the only passage, out of the four, which doesn’t contain ‘BAL’ (‘nay, but’). In other words, this is the only instance that doesn’t negate any content of the questions posed in it. Also, it doesn’t mention those elements that are negated in the previous passages.

And that, this is the only instance which – by replacing ‘BAL’ (‘nay, but’) with ‘WA’ (‘and’; remember the defining and explaining function of ‘wa’ in classical Arabic) – expounds an affirmation that clarifies the negations, while eventually confirming the meaning of ‘the transgression of limits’4.

And that, this explains why the first three passages involve NEGATION (‘nay, but’) and the last involves AFFIRMATION (without ‘nay, but’).

So, in these four interrelated passages, all structured as questions, Prophet Lot is giving WITNESS, FOUR TIMES, against his misguided nation. While it seems in line with the Quranic injunction of witnessing four times (24:6-8), it delivers a prophetic reminder for all humanity:

“Instead of offering love and hospitality to the people from ‘other nations’ (26:165; who all share the same ‘Sustainer of the nations’, 26:164), you are targeting them with hate crimes. You are transgressing the divine limits.”

Thus these questions, where the word ‘bal’ (‘Nay, but’) appears as a NEGATION, are posed by the messenger to the transgressors as challenges:

“Are your actions driven by attraction and love? No, they are not. Instead, they are intended to bully and control. To subdue and crash all the outsiders.”

This is to differentiate the acts of attraction and love from the acts of hate and oppression. And so to deliver a timeless message for us and all generations.

Meaning of the Arabic word ‘BAL’, translated above as ‘Nay, but’

To better understand the above verses, and also the story of Lot, we need to pay due attention to the key word ‘BAL’, translated above as ‘Nay, but’ (7:81, 26:166, 27:55; cf. 29:29).

The Arabic conjunction ‘bal’ is a retraction particle, i.e., a small part of speech that retracts its previous statement by bringing a new or opposite one. It has a wide range of meanings: ‘nay’, ‘nay, but’, ‘well, but’, ‘no’, ‘rather’, ‘but’, ‘and even’, ‘in fact’, ‘no, instead’, ‘on the contrary’, ‘but the truth is’, ‘no, but the fact is’, ‘no, but the actual issue is’, and so on. It is the 34th highest frequency word in the Quran with total occurrence 122 times (first 2:88; last 89:17). ‘Bal’ usually indicates the end of a current topic (a thesis) and the abrupt change to a new, often opposing one (an antithesis). Especially when appears in the middle of a sentence, it heralds a fresh statement which is quite different or even entirely opposite to its previous statement.  E.g., قام زَيْدٌ بَلْ عَمْرٌو Zaid stood up, no, rather it was Amr.

In brief, as a flexible conjunction, ‘bal’ occurs to rectify, amend or negate a previous concept by introducing a completely new one. Here are a few examples from the Quran:

And they claim, “None shall enter paradise unless he is a Jew or a Christian.” … / Nay, but (No, rather) whoever submits himself to God, while doing good, he will have his recompense with his Sustainer. … 2:111-112

He said: “How long have you stayed here?” He said: “I have stayed here a day or part of a day.” He said: “Nay, but (No, rather) you have stayed here for a hundred years! 2:259

They say: “You are making this up!” Nay, but (No, rather) most of them know not. 16:101

They said, “This is a dense cloud that will bring to us rain!” Nay, but (No, rather) this is what you had asked to be hastened. 46:24

Then when We bestow a blessing upon him, he says: “I attained this because of knowledge I had!” Nay, but (No, rather) it is a test, though most of them do not know. 39:49

However, whenever ‘bal’ appears as a response to a POLAR QUESTION (i.e., a question that expects an answer of yes or no; e.g., “Do you …?”, such as the questions posed by Prophet Lot), it always NEGATES the content of the question and thereby connotes ‘No, instead’. For example, “Do you …? Nay, but (No, instead,) ”. Apart from the verses in the story of Lot quoted above (7:81, 26:166, 27:55; cf. 29:29), here are a few more examples from the Quran:

And is it that whenever they make a covenant, only a group of them throw it aside? Nay, but (No, instead,) most of them do not believe. 2:100; cf. 2:83

They said: “Did you do this to our gods O Abraham?”/ He said: “Nay, but (No, instead,) it was the biggest one of them here who did it!” 21:62-63

Are We hastening to give them the good things? Nay, but (No, instead,) they do not perceive. 23:56

He is the One who gives life and brings death, and to Him is the alteration of the night and the day. Do you not reason?/ Nay, but (No, instead,) they speak as the people of olden times did speak. 23:80-81

Or do they fear that God and His messenger would deal unjustly with them? Nay, but (No, instead,) it is they themselves who are unjust. 24:50

“Has he invented a lie against God, or is there madness in him?” Nay, but (No, instead,) those who do not acknowledge the End are in retribution and far straying. 34:8

“Did we turn you away from the guidance after it had come to you? Nay, but (No, instead,) it was you who were criminals.” 34:32

Or have We given them a Book wherefrom they are taking clarification? Nay, but (No, instead,) what the transgressors promise one another is nothing but delusion. 35:40

(The messengers) said: “Your misfortune is within yourselves. Is it because you are reminded? Nay, but (No, instead,) you are a people who transgress the limits.” 36:19

Were We then tired with the first creation? Nay, but (No, instead,) they are lost in doubt about the new creation! 50:15

Or have they created the Heavens and the Earth? Nay, but (No, instead,) they do not comprehend. 52:36

“Has the Reminder come down to him alone among us? Nay, but (No, instead,) he is a boastful liar!” 54:25

Or is there any that can give you provisions if He holds back His provisions? Nay, but (No, instead,) they have plunged deep into transgression and aversion. 67:21

Summary

In the article The story of Lot condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love, we tried a holistic reading of all the four passages, 7:80-81, 26:165-166, 27:54-55 and 29:28-29, where Prophet Lot is giving witness, four times, against his misguided nation.

Curiously, out of these four interrelated passages – which are all structured as questions – the first three involve NEGATION (with ‘nay, but’) and the last involves AFFIRMATION (without ‘nay, but’), which clarifies the negations.

In our reading, we have paid due attention to the recurring word ‘BAL’, translated here as ‘NAY, BUT’. The word essentially means ‘nay’, ‘nay, but’, ‘rather’, ‘no, instead’, ‘on the contrary’, ‘no, but the fact is’ and so on. As a flexible conjunction, especially when occurs in the middle of a sentence, ‘bal’ appears to rectify, amend or negate a previous concept by introducing a completely new one (e.g., 2:259, 3:149-150, 4:157-158, 7:179, 16:101, 39:49, 46:24, 52:33).

However, whenever ‘bal’ appears as a response to a POLAR QUESTION (i.e., a question that expects an answer of yes or no; e.g., “Do you …?”, such as the questions posed by Prophet Lot), it always NEGATES the content of the question and thereby connotes ‘No, instead’. For example, “Do you …? Nay, but (No, instead,) ”. Apart from the verses in the story of Lot quoted above (7:81, 26:166, 27:55; cf. 29:29), here are a few more examples: 2:100, 21:62-63, 23:56, 23:80-81, 24:50, 34:8, 34:32, 35:40, 36:19, 50:15, 52:36, 54:25, 67:21; cf. 7:81, 26:166, 27:55.

Because the word ‘bal’ (‘Nay, but’) appears in the story of Lot only in polar questions, its negation invariably connotes ‘NO, INSTEAD’. Thus, all these questions are posed by the messenger to the transgressors as challenges: “Are your actions driven by attraction and love? No, they are not. Instead, they are intended to bully and control. To subdue and crash all the outsiders.”

 

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Note 1

Translated above as outrage, the word fahishah is used mainly to mean “an action that exceeds the bounds/limits.” Thus the word may or may not have a sexual undertone.

Fa-Ha-Shin = became excessive/immoderate/enormous/exorbitant/overmuch/beyond measure, foul/bad/evil/unseemly/ indecency/abominable, lewd/gross/obscene, committing excess which is forbidden, transgress the bounds/limits, avaricious, adultery/fornication. LL, V6, p: 128, 129  ##  http://ejtaal.net/aa/#q=fHsh. The triliteral root occurs 24 times in the Quran, in two derived forms: 17 times as the noun fahishah n.f. (pl. fawahish) 3:135, 4:15, 4:19, 4:22, 4:25, 6:151, 7:28, 7:33, 7:80, 17:32, 24:19, 27:54, 29:28, 33:30, 42:37, 53:32, 65:1; and 7 times as the noun fahsha n.f. 2:169, 2:268, 7:28, 12:24, 16:90, 24:21, 29:45.

Note 2

Note how the two questions in 7:80-81 together form a single question: Do you commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein,/ For you really approach men with desire instead of women? While the first question is answered in the affirmative in 29:28, the second one is reconfirmed as a question by its recurrence in 27:55 and then its subsequent negation.

Note 3

Translated above as desire, the word shahwat is used mainly to mean passion or intense desire, which may or may not have a negative or sexual connotation. However, due to traditional preconception, many translators have understood the word in Lot’s story as lust, adding to it an undertone of unnatural sexual attraction.

Shiin-ha-Ya = to long or desire eagerly, made it to be good/sweet/pleasant or the like, loved it or wished for it, desired eagerly/intensely, yearning of the soul for a thing; appetite, lust, gratification of venereal lust, greedy, voracious, was or became like him, resembling him, jested or joked with him, associated with smiting action of the (evil) eye i.e. he vied with him in smithing with the evil eye. LL, V4, p: 338  ##  http://ejtaal.net/aa/#q=shhy. The triliteral root occurs 13 times in the Quran, in three derived forms: eight times as the verb ish’tahat – to desire (16:57, 21:102, 34:54, 41:31, 43:71, 52:22, 56:21, 77:42), three times as the noun shahawāt – passions/desires (3:14, 4:27, 19:59) and twice as the noun shahwat – with desire (7:81, 27:55, both in the story of Lot).

Note 4

A comparative reading of 7:80-81 and 29:28-29 clarifies the meaning of the transgression of limits by the people of Lot:

So, do these transgressors commit an unsurpassed outrage because they really approach men with desire instead of women? No, it is because they transgress the limits: And Lot, when he said to his people: Do you commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein, for you really approach men with desire instead of women? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people who transgress the limits. 7:80-81

In fact, their crimes are so heinous because they commit acts of aggression: And Lot, when he said to his people: You really commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein. Do you really approach men (from other nations, 26:165), and you cut off the highway and commit evil in your gatherings (you commit xenophobic attacks and gang rapes in the highway, 15:76)? 29:28-29

Lot’s people assaulted ‘men from other nations’

Lot_s people assaulted

The story of Lot condemns rape, not love

Earlier we observed how some verses in the Quranic story of Lot are clarified by some other verses. Thus, the men who were assaulted (7:81) are identified as men from other nations (foreigners, outsiders; 26:164-165; cf. 15:70, 7:80, 29:28-29). And the acts that transgress the limits (7:81) are specified as xenophobic hate attacks on foreigners and travellers, atrocities such as gang rapes in the highway (29:28-30, 29:33, 11:77-78, 11:80, 15:67-70, 15:76, 54:37).

We concluded that The story of Lot condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love. In other words, what is denounced in this story is xenophobia, inhospitality and oppression. Not homosexuality, not even sexual orientation in any form.

This conclusion is strongly supported by the recent trend in both Jewish1 and Christian2 scholarship that acknowledges that the main crime of the inhabitants of Sodom was “inhospitality including rape”, which had in fact nothing to do with homosexual behaviour.

Evidently, the entire context, both in the Bible and the Quran, contains enough indications that the conduct of the people of Lot could not be about same-sex relationships but something coercive3, such as men on men rapes and gang rapes.

Now, as suggested by some modern researchers, in many desert cultures rape used to mean inhospitality. It had more to do with humiliating the strangers. This is similar to the same-sex rape during wartime, when the victors would often rape the defeated soldiers – to insult the men by treating them like women, as witnessed in recent years, for example, in the prisons during the Bosnian war or in the Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war.

“In ‘What the Bible really says about homosexuality’, Daniel A Helminiak explains4, ‘In desert country, where Sodom lay, to stay outside exposed to the cold of the night could be fatal. So a cardinal rule of Lot’s society was to offer hospitality to travellers. The same rule is a traditional part of Semitic and Arabic cultures. This rule was so strict that no one might harm even an enemy who had been offered shelter for the night.’ Helminiak goes on to say that ‘sodomy’ used to mean inhospitality, and that while the men of Sodom may have wanted to force Lot’s guests into anal intercourse, this had more to do with humiliating the strange men. ‘During war, for example, besides raping the women and slaughtering the children, the victors would often also ‘sodomize’ the defeated soldiers. The idea was to insult the men by treating them like women.’ When viewed in this light, the story takes on a different meaning entirely. It begins to seem as though the discussion of homosexuality was more or less an afterthought, and certainly not the main issue at hand.”

The men who were assaulted were ‘men from other nations’

The Quran re-narrates the Biblical story of Lot in the following verses: 7:80-84, 11:69-70,77-83, 15:56-77, 21:71-75, 26:160-175, 27:54-58, 29:28-33, 37:133-136, 54:33-39.

It is interesting to observe that the word ʿālameen (nations, worlds) constantly appears throughout these verses as well as their contexts: 7:54, 7:61, 7:67, 7:80, 7:104, 7:121, 7:140; 15:70; 21:71, 21:91, 21:107; 26:16, 26:23, 26:47, 26:77, 26:98, 26:109, 26:127, 26:145, 26:164, 26:165, 26:180, 26:192; 27:8, 27:44; 29:6, 29:10, 29:15, 29:28; 37:79, 37:87, 37:182.

One may ask: Why does the Quran persistently repeat this word while narrating this ancient parable? And what could be the intended meaning of it in this particular setting?

Please note how frequently the word ʿālameen, translated here as ‘nations’, recurs in the story of Lot:

And Lot, when he said to his people: Do you commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein,/ For you really approach men (from the nations, 26:165) with desire instead of women? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people who transgress the limits./ The only response of his people was: Expel them from your town; they are a people who wish to be pure! 7:80-82 

So when the messengers came to the family of Lot./ He said: Indeed, you are a people unknown./ … And the people of the town came rejoicing./ He said: These are my guests, so do not embarrass me!/ … They said: Haven’t we forbidden you (to protect anyone) from the nations? 15:61-62, 67-68, 70

And We saved him (Abraham) and Lot to the land which We have blessed for the nations. 21:71

And no reward do I ask of you, for my reward is upon the Sustainer of the nations./ Do you approach the males of the nations?/ And you leave what your Sustainer created for you of your mates? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people hostile, aggressive./ They said: If you do not stop, O Lot, you will surely be one of those who are expelled! 26:164-167

And Lot, when he said to his people: You really commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein./ Do you really approach men (from the nations, 26:165), and you cut off the highway and commit evil in your gatherings (you commit xenophobic attacks and gang rapes in the highway, 15:76)? 29:28-29

Here we have a few points to contemplate:

Expel them from your town! 7:82 

When compared with related verses (e.g. O Lot, you will surely be one of those who are expelled! 26:167; cf. 15:70, 27:56), this reveals a trend: the misguided people of Lot were expelling some people from the town. And, as indicated here and elsewhere (note ‘them’ versus ‘your town’, 7:82; cf. 15:70, 21:71, 26:164-167, 29:29), they were expelling people of ‘other nations’.

They said: Haven’t we forbidden you (to protect anyone) from the nations? 15:70

This gives a clear clue that this gang of transgressors were jingoists as they were blaming Lot for protecting foreigners (cf. 15:68). And that ‘the males of the nations’ (26:164-165) who were assaulted and expelled by them were ‘men from other nations’ (foreigners, outsiders; 26:164-165; cf. 15:70, 7:80, 29:28-29).

And We saved him (Abraham) and Lot to the land which We have blessed for the nations. 21:71

So, Lot was saved to a land that was blessed as it welcomed all nations, unlike the town of Lot that was condemned as it expelled people from other nations (7:82, 15:70, 26:167, 27:56). So, couldn’t this xenophobic inhospitality be the main crime of the people of Lot?

And …my reward is upon the Sustainer of the nations./ Do you approach the males of the nations?those who are expelled! 26:164-167

These verses answer a question. Do these ‘nationalists’ approach ‘men from other nations’ with attraction and love (7:81, 27:55)? No, instead, they are “a people hostile, aggressive” (26:166, cf. 4:30) who violate the divine message of one humanity (note: ‘the Sustainer of the nations. … the males of the nations?’ 26:164-165) by committing xenophobic assaults on ‘people from other nations’.

Do you really approach men (from the nations, 26:165), and you cut off the highway and commit evil in your gatherings? 29:29

The context describes their crimes as hate attacks on foreigners and travellers, atrocities such as gang rapes in the highway (29:28-30, 29:33, 11:77-78, 11:80, 15:67-70, 15:76, 54:37).

An important observation

Above we observe how the word ʿālameen (nations, worlds), in the context of this story, actually refers to ‘nations’ and, more precisely, ‘other nations’ or ‘communities from the greater world’. And we observe how the word recurs so frequently, in line with the constant Quranic call to pluralism and multiculturalism, obviously to emphasize the importance of peaceful co-existence and co-operation between the nations.

Final thoughts

What is denounced in the story of Lot is xenophobia, inhospitality and oppression. Not homosexuality, not even sexual orientation in any form.

This awareness is strongly supported by the recent trend in scholarship both of the Bible and the Quran. It suggests that the entire context of this story, as occurs in these scriptures, contains enough indications that the conduct of the people of Lot could not be about same-sex relationships but something coercive, such as men on men rapes and gang rapes.

Further reading:

The story of Lot condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love

Does the Quran condemn homosexuality?

 

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Note 1

Most Jewish sources today argue that the punishment of Sodom was more about their wicked system of inhospitality. According to Rabbi Yuval Cherlow the “people of Sodom insisted on preserving their high quality of living to such an extent that they established a principle not to let the poor and homeless reside in their city.” Here is a good article reflecting the Jewish interpretation of this story: The Destruction of Sodom.

Note 2

As Yale historian John Boswell noted, since the 1950s Christian scholars began to acknowledge that the inhabitants of Sodom were actually destroyed for their inhospitable treatment of visitors. For example, according to Brian Gray, “If any sermon should be preached based in the significance of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, it should be for the despicable level of inhospitable, greedy and self-serving nature … This story is not about homosexuality, and it says nothing that could be used to condemn gay people.” See Sodom and Gomorrah – The Myth, The Truth. Also: What Was the Real Sin of Sodom?

Note 3

Here is a study that shows how the term “sodomy” was invented in Christian Theology following the gradual adoption of highly inaccurate cultural interpretations of specific Biblical narratives: “Sodomy” – a Biblical Word Study that Might Surprise You

Note 4

The passage quoted above including Daniel A Helminiak’s explanation about the original meaning of ‘sodomy’ can be found in: What the Qur’an says about homosexuality

The story of Lot condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love

The story of Lot condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love

 
Understanding the story of Lot

The story condemns hate, not love

To better understand the Quranic story of Lot, it is important to remember that the Quran clarifies itself through its interactive explanatory process where verses are explained through verses. So verses need to be observed within a cluster rather than detached from their correlations. A superficial, isolated reading may often give us an incorrect understanding.

Below, as a case for study, we will try a holistic reading of all the four passages, 7:80-81, 26:165-166, 27:54-55 and 29:28-29, scanned from this story, where Prophet Lot is giving witness, four times, against his misguided nation.

Please note that, out of these four interrelated passages, the first three involve NEGATION (with ‘nay, but’) and the last involves AFFIRMATION (without ‘nay, but’), which clarifies the negations:

1ST NEGATION

And Lot, when he said to his people: Do you commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein,/ For you really approach men with desire instead of women? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people who transgress the limits. 7:80-81

So, do these transgressors commit an unsurpassed outrage because they really approach men with desire instead of women (compare 27:55)? NAY, BUT … No, it is because they ‘transgress the limits’ by attacking men (from other nations, 26:164-165, 15:70, 7:80, 29:28-29) with xenophobic hate and the aggression of rape (11:77-78, 11:80, 15:67-70, 26:169, 29:28-30, 29:33, 54:37).

2nd NEGATION

Do you approach the males of the nations?/ And you leave what your Sustainer created for you of your mates? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people hostile, aggressive. 26:165-166

So, do these ‘nationalists’ approach men from other nations, with attraction and love, leaving what is meant for them out of their mates1 (7:81, 27:55)? NAY, but … No, instead, they are “a people hostile, aggressive2 (26:166, cf. 4:30) who violate the divine message of one humanity (note: ‘the Sustainer of the nations. … the males of the nations?’ 26:164-165) by committing xenophobic assaults on foreigners and strangers (‘people from other nations’; cf. 26:164-165, 15:70, 7:80, 29:28-29).

Their acts of hostility and inhospitality are solely intended to bully, crash and eject all the outsiders (15:70, 15:76, 26:167, 29:29). Thus, when these jingoists approach their subdued victims with xenophobic violence such as gang rapes, they are not really driven by homosexual attraction or consensual love. If they were, Lot wouldn’t have asked them to go back and seek love in their own women (‘My daughters’3, 11:78, 15:71) rather than disgracing him by sexually assaulting his foreign visitors (11:78, 15:70-71; cf. 26:166). This is a call to the path of love, instead of rape4 (11:78-80).

3rd NEGATION

And Lot, when he said to his people: Do you commit an outrage while you see clearly?/ Do you really approach men with desire instead of women? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people who act ignorantly. 27:54-55

So, do these transgressors really approach ‘men from other nations’ consciously, with homosexual attraction and love (cf. 7:81)? NAY, but … No, in fact, they act ignorantly as they approach them with hate and the aggression of rape.

Note how ‘see clearly’ is reciprocated here by ‘act ignorantly’ (cf. similar reciprocity in other passages).

THE AFFIRMATION

And Lot, when he said to his people: You really commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein./ Do you really approach men (from other nations, 26:165), and you cut off the highway and commit evil in your gatherings (you commit xenophobic attacks and gang rapes in the highway, 15:76)? 29:28-29

So, do these transgressors approach ‘men from other nations’ (26:164-165, 15:70, 7:80, 29:28-29) to commit xenophobic attacks and gang rapes in the highway? YEA, they do. And this is how they commit an outrage unsurpassed (cf. 7:80).

Please observe how this affirmation (‘and …’) eventually clarifies the negations (‘Nay, but …’) stated earlier.

As we can see, the actual issue in the story of Lot is NOT any sexual orientation or sexuality itself, but all the heinous crimes committed by these transgressors.

Important points to note

It is interesting to note that all these interrelated passages above (7:80-81, 26:165-166, 27:54-55, 29:28-29) are structured in the form of QUESTIONS.

And that, apart from 29:28-29, each of them contains the conjunction ‘BAL’5, translated as ‘NAY, BUT’ (‘No, instead,’, ‘on the contrary’ etc).

And that, in each of these occurrences, ‘BAL’ appears as a response to the QUESTION/S (“Do you …? Nay, but …”).

And that, in each of these responses, ‘BAL’ appears as a NEGATION or rectification of the content/s of the question/s, while condemning those who “transgress the limits”.

And that, 29:28-29 is the only passage, out of the four, which doesn’t contain ‘BAL’ (‘nay, but’). In other words, this is the only instance that doesn’t negate any content of the questions posed in it. Also, it doesn’t mention those elements that are negated in the previous passages.

And that, this is the only instance which – by replacing ‘BAL’ (‘nay, but’) with ‘WA’ (‘and’; remember the defining and explaining function of ‘wa’ in classical Arabic) – expounds an affirmation that clarifies the negations, while eventually confirming the meaning of ‘the transgression of limits’.

And that, this explains why the first three passages involve NEGATION (‘nay, but’) and the last involves AFFIRMATION (without ‘nay, but’).

Please observe how the Quran’s interactive explanatory process clarifies the verses. Thus, ‘men who are approached’ (7:81) are identified as ‘men from other nations’ (foreigners, outsiders; 26:164-165; cf. 15:70, 7:80, 29:28-29). And the acts that ‘transgress the limits’ (7:81) are specified as xenophobic hate attacks on foreigners and travellers, including gang rapes in the highway (29:28-30, 29:33, 11:77-78, 11:80, 15:67-70, 15:76, 26:169, 54:37). This is further clarified by the example where the gang of transgressors blame Lot for protecting foreigners (15:70) and attempt to collectively commit sexual assault on his visiting guests (11:77-80, 15:67-70, 29:33, 54:37). This is a clear reference to gang rape, which is about power and coercion, and which is unleashed to bully, control and punish the victim/s. This is not an account of healthy desire and tender love.

Obviously, what is being denounced here is inhospitality and oppression. Not homosexuality, not even sexual orientation in any form. Thus, when we read all these verses as a cluster, we get a bigger and clearer picture.

Why are the questions asked and then negated?

So, in the four interrelated passages above (7:80-81, 26:165-166, 27:54-55, 29:28-29), all structured as questions, Prophet Lot is giving WITNESS, FOUR TIMES, against his misguided nation. While it seems in line with the Quranic injunction of witnessing four times (24:6-8), it delivers a prophetic reminder for all humanity:

“Instead of offering love and hospitality to the people from ‘other nations’ (26:165; who all share the same ‘Sustainer of the nations’, 26:164), you are targeting them with hate crimes. You are transgressing the divine limits.”

Thus these questions, where the word ‘bal’ (‘Nay, but’) appears as a NEGATION, are posed by the messenger to the transgressors as challenges:

“Are your actions driven by attraction and love? No, they are not. Instead, they are intended to bully and control. To subdue and crash all the outsiders.”

This is to differentiate the acts of attraction and love from the acts of hate and oppression. And so to deliver a timeless message for us and all generations.

Final thoughts

Thus, in the Quranic story of Lot, as Frank Parmir rightly observes6, “the crime is rape, not love.”

Now, same sex orientation is one of the natural expressions of humans’ sexual diversity (42:49-50, 75:39, 30:21-22, 24:31). This diversity in turn is just another expression of the great diversity of nature (16:13).

This important awareness is promoted by the very spirit of the Quran itself, which insistently asks us to celebrate all sorts of diversity in creation7, wherein we should witness the diverse signs of divine manifestation (13:4).

Take the passage 30:21-22 as an example. Here, stressing on the wonder of how mates among humans are created for mutual love and care, as a part of the infinite diversity of life, the Quran calls us to appreciate the diversity of humans’ expressions and inclinations (‘languages and colours’) as evidence of God’s infinite creative power.

This is in line with our observation that the story of Lot in the Quran condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love.

 

Further reading:

Lot’s people assaulted ‘men from other nations’

Does the Quran condemn homosexuality?

Sexual diversity in Islam

 

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Note 1

In 26:165-166, unlike 7:81 and 27:55, the word ‘desire’ doesn’t occur, while ‘men’ and ‘women’ are replaced by ‘males’ and ‘MATES’ (not by ‘females’). One can sense ‘same sex MATES’ and ‘same sex pairs’ in the Quranic assertion that humans are created as ‘zawjayn’ (two mates/ two pairs, 75:39, 51:49, 53:45; cf. human and his/her mate, 2:35; cf. two pairs in every fruit, 13:3).

Note 2

Translated above (26:166) as “hostile, aggressive”, the word AAadoon is used mainly to mean aggressive, violent, transgressing, hostile, unjust, intrusive, attacking, assaulting, invading, galloping, treating as enemy etc.

Ayn-Dal-Waw = to pass by, overlook, transgress, turn aside; adwun – wickedly, unjustly, spitefully, wrongfully; adi’yat – companies of warriors, chargers, horses of the warriors, wayfarers who run fast on their journey, swift horses; aduwatun – enmity; udwan – hostility, injustice; aduwwan (pl. aduwun) – enemy. LL, V5, p: 262, 263, 264, 265, 266  ##  http://ejtaal.net/aa/#q=edw. The triliteral root occurs 106 times in the Quran, in 13 derived forms. See: http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=Edw#(26:166:11)

Note 3

As the spiritual father of his people, Lot calls the daughters of his community ‘My daughters’ (note: ‘MY people! these MY daughters …’, 11:78, 15:71; also cf. ‘brothers of Lot’, 50:13; ‘their brother Lot’, 26:161). Note here ‘daughters’ in plural (banāt), not dual (bintāni, two daughters), thus contrasting the Pentateuchal account about Lot’s two daughters (Genesis 19:8, 19:30-36).

Note 4

It seems impossible that Lot would offer his daughters to a gang of homosexual rapists. ▪First, no sane person, let alone a prophet of God, would offer his daughters to rapists. ▪Secondly, because these people were xenophobic aggressors, not inherent homosexuals, they didn’t “approach men from other nations while leaving their own women” (26:165-166) and hence there is no reason why they should be interested in Lot’s daughters. ▪Thirdly, even if their preference for men was, say, due to actual attraction, it would be totally pointless to redirect them to women. ▪Finally, Lot couldn’t be talking here about his own daughters, since their number must have been too insufficient to satiate the lust of a crowd of rapists. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that, here Lot is asking the transgressors to go back and seek love in their own women rather than disgracing him by sexually assaulting his foreign visitors (11:78, 15:70-71; cf. 26:166). This is a call to the path of love, instead of rape (11:78-80).

Note 5

In our reading, we have paid due attention to the recurring word ‘BAL’, translated here as ‘NAY, BUT’. This Arabic conjunction has a wide range of meanings: ‘nay’, ‘nay, but’, ‘rather’, ‘no, instead’, ‘on the contrary’, ‘no, but the fact is’ and so on. It appears in a statement to rectify, amend or negate a previous concept by introducing a completely new one. It is important to understand The significance of ‘Nay, but’ in the story of Lot.

Note 6

In the Quranic story of Lot, as Frank Parmir rightly observes, “the crime is rape, not love. Of course the violence of rape is wrong. And of course the gentleness of love is right. This understanding is important as it is consistent with the Quran’s profound dedication to reason and compassion. And it is very deeply troubling that people so often tell their LGBT children that God is going to burn them in Hell for loving the people that they do love. … It is both unreasonable and un-compassionate of us to continue with the claim that an otherwise commendable romantic relationship should be rendered illegitimate simply on the basis of the genders involved.”

Note 7

The Quran asks us to celebrate the diversity in nature, including the diversity in its endless beauty, as a mode of divine manifestation. In this regard, for example, let us be reminded of the intense homoerotic imagery of the Quranic paradise, full of handsome serve boys, eternally youthful with “dazzling beauty of scattered pearls” (gelmans; 52:24, 56:17, 76:19).