The Book of Job is, I think, very underrated in Christian estimation. It is written as a work of poetry, and as such it is difficult to read casually. For most of my life, I only knew of Job through the paraphrased versions taught in Sunday school, which only drew from the first and last chapters and skipped all the heavy stuff in the middle. Job, I was taught, is all about understanding suffering as a test of faith, and that those who pass such tests are rewarded. What those lessons did not teach was the middle section of Job, which is heavy poetry with questions about whether God is good and/or just. Now, Job is a whole book, and so the quickest option I can offer you for purposes of my blog is this video or these excellent SparkNotes, which paraphrase Job in a more complete fashion.
I mention the Book of Job because there were passages in Surah al-An’am that used very similar language to describe God. They cite things like astronomy, plants and terrain, the patterns of the weather, and other forces that mankind cannot control but is dependent upon as evidence with which to judge the character of God. While Job and al-An’am are written to serve different purposes and narratives, they do show similar understandings of God.
Surah al-An’am translates two ways: Chapter of the Cattle, Chapter of the Gifts. Considering the value of cattle, it is easy to see how an’am could evolve to communicate “gifts,” “assets,” or “boon.” Muslims would regard the messages in this surah as such things. However, “The Cattle” seems to be the more traditional way that the Muslim community reads it, ostensibly named after a discourse on some livestock practices of the pagans. Personally, I am reminded more of Al-Baqarah 171, in which ministering to unbelievers is likened to shouting at cattle and sheep. Much of the coming content will be about the pagan Arabs’ resistance to Muhammad’s messages, and the futility of his efforts on their behalf.
This is our first Meccan surah of any real size. Our only other Meccan surah was “The Introduction,” which was a seven-verse prayer. Al-An’am is a whopping 165 ayat, and tradition states that it was revealed all at once (whereas the previous big ones were put together from several sources or revealed gradually). A really good introduction to this surah and general Meccan revelations can be found here. I’d encourage you to read the opening section of that link, as it sets up the ways that scholars date each surah, and also Muhammad’s likely situation and state of mind as he was reciting this one in particular. Despite coming from a different time period than the Medinian suwar, the nature of today’s surah is very similar to prior material: denouncing those who do not agree with Muhammad and declaring their fate in Hell. The target people are polytheists (and general unbelievers), with only one tiny jab at the Jews. I think that the arguments leveled at the polytheists and atheists are a bit more revealing about the Muslim view of God. Some of the passages are very powerful and paint a picture of God that Christians, despite being in agreement with, are not used to contemplating.
Three months of weekly posting, eleven posts in, five suwar down and…
…109 suwar to go.