Here we are, a third of the way through the Quran’s body of text, and the presence of polemic and violent attentions against the enemies of Muhammad has been near-constant. This dismays me, I must admit. In approaching the Quran I had hoped to find more contemplative or instructive materials for its believers. A believer can still pull instruction and contemplative material for themselves through the judging of others, but that is a problematic lens to look through. It attaches cynical assumptions about unbelievers into the moral derived. With all these passages, it can be tempting for us who are outsiders to denounce that Islam is a hostile and violent religion, but I want to argue that we should not do that, for various reasons…
This is the first line of the Quran: “In the name of God, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.” It is so universal a phrase in the Muslim world that it has a name: the basmala. When slaughtering animals, recite the basmala. When addressing official documents, write the basmala. Muslims are encouraged to embark upon every endeavor with the words of the basmala. It even has its own unicode symbol: ﷽. Yes, that is all one character according to a computer. Do yourself a favor and look up “basmala calligraphy” to see just how many beautiful ways that Muslims tribute the phrase artistically. The basmala is so beloved because it invokes God’s sanctuary and benevolence. It is the preamble or first line to every surah of the Quran.
Excepting Surah at-Tawba.
This is the only surah of the Quran that does not begin with an invocation of God’s mercy. While there are several explanations as to why it does not happen here, the common answer is that Surah at-Tawba is a declaration of war and wrath, not mercy. I still hold that it is far too early to declare that the Quran is a violent book, but this is definitely a violent chapter. Last week we looked at the hostile attention and actions it targeted at the people who habitually sin through shirk. Despite there being plenty to say about those people, most of the surah is actually addressed to believers and hypocrites. Today we’re going to examine the surah’s call to repentance within the Muslim’s own ranks. Continue reading