Chapter 2 and the Mentality of Monotheists

By Lambda Moses

All religions teach love, kindness, and charity, but most religions want followers to follow their authority as sheep. One thing special about the Quran, is that it encourages you to question and think on your own. This is why some people claim that Islam is not a religion, and this is why many Quranist scholars, like Edip Yuksel, also advocate critical thinking. In this article, I’m sharing my thought about how Chapter 2 lays down the foundation of the Monotheist’s mentality, of not self-righteous, not blind following, and actively seek the truth. You might find this article hard to follow and kind of messy, for my approach based on structure is not yet mature.

I reject the “order of revelation” believed by traditionalists and even some Near East studies scholars, firstly for it destructs the structure and coherence of the Quran, thus destructing its meanings[1], and secondly Chapter 2, unlike Chapter 96, which is traditionally believed to be the first revelation, gives the reader a sense of enlightenment, like shaking the heart of the reader to awaken it to God’s light. Chapter 2 begins with a general comparison of followers and rejecters of God, bracketed by the characteristic of the Quran itself in 2:2 and 2:21-24. In 2:6-20, the rejecters are depicted in a status of being, as “Deaf, dumb, and blind, they will not return” (2:18)[2]. So what does it mean to be deaf, dumb, and blind? Among all the characteristics of rejecters in 2:6-20, there is one trait present in all those characteristics—self-righteousness; they don’t perceive their own wrong (2:9, 12, 13).

Unity of Chapter 2, Audience, and Negative Example

Reading Chapter 2 as a unity, you will find that the characteristics of rejecters in the section before the example of Adam are examples for us to avoid[3].

Continuity is seen in the first half of Chapter 2. I consider 2:26-29 an introduction of the example of the story of Adam, since it addressed examples at first, and talked about God creating life and resources for humans, and Adam and Children of Israel which came after him did break the covenant as mentioned in 2:27. I also consider 2:37-39 an introduction to the example of Children of Israel and people of Moses, since they are examples of descendants of Adam, and they were tested, so some of them accepted God’s words, but others rejected, as mentioned in 2:38-39.

And notice that people of Moses did exemplify the characteristics of rejecters in the section before Adam. 2:55-59, in which people of Moses rejected even after the lightening and resurrection correspond to 2:6-7 and 2:19-20, and 2:59, 74-80, in which rejecters fabricate lies about God, made profits from it, and pretended to be believers, corresponds to the general example in 2:14-16, and 2:83-93, in which people broke covenant, caused corruption, and rejected the message, corresponds to the general example in 2:11-13.

Contributing to the continuity of Chapter 2 is also the gradual transition from specific example of people of Moses to general example of people of the book. In 2:74, people whose hearts hardened are referred to as “you,” but it suddenly turned into “them” in 2:75[4], and continues to be so until 2:82. In 2:83-85, it becomes “you” again, and it continues to 2:96. Also note that in 2:93-96, another “you” emerged. Now what the reader experiences is a shift in perspective; in the passages addressing sinners using “you,” the reader stands in the perspective of the sinners, thus reflecting on his own sins, and in the passages addressing sinners using “them” and the reader using “you,” the reader would step back and see what sinners are like. For the more traditional Quranists, the “you” in 2:93-96 can be understood as Muhammad, for in 2:99, a revelation is sent down to “you.” Anyway, the “you” can be understood as addressing the reader, for even if it stands for Muhammad, the reader would be placed in his perspective by the “you.” But what then is the “them”? In 2:93-94, the “you” is conversing with the “them.” Thus, the “them” can no longer be the specific people of Moses. “They” may not be specifically contemporaries of Muhammad, for though 2:102 makes it sound like that the “they” in 2:100-103 refer to contemporaries of Solomon, there is no break observed between 2:99 and 100, thus rendering the “they” in 2:100 contemporary of Muhammad. Thus, the “they” transcends time, so should be rejecters in general. As the transition ends, the perspective is shifted to those who believe, by the “O you who believe” in 2:104.

2:66 “So it was that We made it into an example for what had happened in it and also what had passed, and a reminder to the righteous.”

2:108-109 “Or do you want to ask your messenger as Moses was asked before? Whoever replaces belief with rejection, he has indeed strayed from the right path. Many of the people of the Book have wished that they could return you to being rejecters after your believing, out of envy from their souls after the truth was made clear to them. You shall forgive them and overlook until God brings His will. God is capable of all things.”

2:66 is referring to the example of the devolution of those who fabricated lies about God, disobeyed God, and broke covenant with God. Although the current popular rendering of 2:61 sounds problematic for it contradicts the general characteristics of God in later chapters, and 2:62 sounds unfit into the context partially because of the problematic rendering of 2:61, it’s clear that 2:66 is addressing how people of Moses did wrong. For 2:108-109, it should refer to example of people of Moses generalized, for otherwise it would be incompatible to the general 2:100-103 and the second half of 2:108[5]. And remember that the example of people of Moses is connected to that of Adam and then to the general example in the beginning. At this point, we see that what the Quran is telling us is that we shouldn’t be like what the rejecters are like.

What Should We Avoid?

We shouldn’t be like the rejecters, so we shouldn’t be like what? Remember that the rejecters are deaf, dumb, and blind, and are unaware of their own status of being. Also, what people of Moses did correspond to what rejecters in general did; they’re equally stubborn as the general example in the beginning of Chapter 2. And when we reach 2:108-109, we see that we shouldn’t be like that. So we shouldn’t be like what?

First of all, we should step back and reflect on our own status of being. This is already reflected by the general examples in the beginning and the shifting of perspective back and forth between people of Moses and the reader. Also remember that traditionally, Chapter 2 is called “The Cow.” This is because of the story of people of Moses slaughtering the heifer, in 2:67-73. What I see from that story is also about stepping back and reflect. Moses’s people worshiped the calf when Moses was receiving revelation from God.

2:54 “And Moses said to his people: ‘O my people, you have wronged your souls by taking the calf, so repent to your Maker, and kill yourselves. That is better for you with your Maker, so He would forgive you. He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.’”

And after entering the town, people of Moses were asked to slaughter a heifer, but they were very reluctant. But the dead heifer was used to take a dead person back to life (2:73). Why were they reluctant to slaughter the heifer? I suggest that it’s because they worshipped the calf, as it appears that the “kill yourselves” corresponds to slaughtering the heifer, for both consist of rejection and reluctance. I prefer to interpret “kill yourselves” as “kill your egos,” for 4:29 said “do not kill yourselves,” and the “kill yourselves” in 2:54 is right after “repent to your Maker” and followed by “He would forgive you,” and you need to repent your sins and amend to have sins forgiven (2:160, 278). Then it’s more likely that the “yourselves” stands for the self with idolatry of the calf. But to be able to kill that part of the ego, one should overcome self-righteousness; otherwise one wouldn’t know what to conquer. Remember 2:11-13. I’m also suggesting that 2:72-73 symbolically refers to idolatry brings death to the self (27:80), and rejecting idolatry brings new life (10:57), but I’m not sure yet.

Second, we should not be passively following religious leaders like sheep. There’s another cause of hardening of heart after entering the town, that there are people fabricating lies about God; the entire section of the heifer, including the aftermath (2:60-74) is bracketed by people fabricating lies about God (2:59, 75). Fabricating lies and breaking the covenant (2:75-86) may also contribute to why people of Moses rejected, as:

2:87 “And We gave Moses the Book, and after him We sent the messengers. And We gave Jesus, son of Mary, the clear proofs, and We supported him with the Holy Spirit. Is it that every time a messenger comes to you with what your souls do not desire, you become arrogant? A group of them you deny, and a group of them you kill!”

This verse connects the section about breaking the covenant and the section of transition from specific to general, which includes the example of self-righteousness (2:89). And when addressing fabricating lies about God, the lack of evidence is reiterated.

2:78 “And among them are Gentiles who do not know the Book except by hearsay, and they only conjecture.”

2:111 “And they said: ‘None shall enter the Paradise except those who are Jewish or Nazarenes;’ this is what they wish! Say: ‘Bring forth your proof if you are truthful.’”

2:113 “And the Jews say: ‘The Nazarenes have no basis,’ and the Nazarenes say: ‘The Jews have no basis,’ while they are both reciting the Book! Similarly, those who do not know have said the same thing. God will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection in what they dispute.”

The same is present in the section instructing us what we should do after the section about Abraham, who established the sanctuary and wished guidance and blessing to his offspring (2:166-167, 179-174), condemning the same kind of mentality. This affirms the interpretation that the first half of Chapter 2 is about what we should not do.

So here, what we shouldn’t do is to follow what’s without evidence, as what’s been condemned. As shown above, people of Moses went astray because of following lies about God. And self-righteousness is condemned. What good is there for us to follow what scholars say as truth, while that kind of mentality is condemned? How do you tell if scholars are saying lies about God unless you examine independently? And there’s no basis to claim that this is specific for Jews and Christians, for the reason behind my interpretation of 2:108-109, and the continuity of Chapter 2, which flows from general negative example to this section of verses. And why talk about “people of the book”? Because people of Moses rejected the book brought by Moses, and they characterize the status of being of Christians addressed in the section 2:105-121. This status of being is what we should not be like.

Thirdly, we should actively seek the truth, instead of passively follow. There’s one thing intriguing in the Quran, that God sealed the hearts of rejecters.

2:10 “In their hearts is a disease, so God increases their disease, and they will have a painful retribution for what they have denied.”

2:88 “And they said: ‘Our hearts are sealed!’ No, it is God who has cursed them for their rejection, for very little do they believe.”

Here in Chapter 2, a foundation is laid down for future chapters:

8:52-53 “Like the behavior of the people of Pharaoh, and those before them; they rejected the signs of God, so God took them by their sins. God is Strong, severe in punishment. That is because God was not to change any blessing He bestowed upon a people, unless they change what is in themselves. God is Hearer, Knowledgeable.”

13:11 “Present with him and behind him are retainers, they preserve him from the command of God. God does not change the condition of a people until they change the condition of their souls. And if God wanted to harm a people, then there is no turning Him back, nor will they have any protector against Him.”

Simply put: If you don’t want to be guided, then God won’t guide you. So it’s up to you if you want to be guided. Of course it would be unjust if God decides who will be guided, for if this is the case, God has decided who will go to heaven and who will go to hell, and judgment will have no merit.

This is confirmed in Chapter 16:

16:35 “And those who were polytheists said: ‘If God had wished, we would not have served a thing other than Him; neither us nor our fathers; nor would we have made unlawful anything other than from Him.’ Those before them did exactly the same thing; so are the messengers required to do anything except deliver with clarity?”

The reiterations and positions in which these verses appear suggest the importance of Monotheists’ status of being. Chapters 2-5 laid down the very basics of the system and most of the practices and actions. Chapter 6 presents a break from Chapters 2-5, discussing the characteristics of God, and reiterated the condemnation of self-righteousness. Chapter 7 flows from Chapter 6, calling people to follow the message of God, and it foreshadows the very action-based Chapter 8 by its multiple calls to people. Chapters 8 and 9 present a new stage of being—enacting what’s in previous chapters, and placing God and His system as first and foremost. Chapters 10-15 (ALR sequence) present a new stage, emphasizing the characteristics of Quran itself. In each of the stages mentioned above, the basic mentalities of Monotheists, as not self-righteous, step back and reflect, and being active is reinstated[6]. Chapter 16 is a break from Chapter 15, and thus a new stage. But what about different emphasis on that mentality in different groups of chapters? Do the emphasis and/or change of emphasis with respect to chapter group correlate to something else? What about other aspects of the Quran? I’ve only read Chapters 1-18 de novo thus far, and I should definitely read what I’ve read de novo de novo.

This article also contributes to my “prerequisite theory,” a theory also in clinical trial, which says later chapters require knowledge from earlier chapters to be properly understood[7]. Within this Chapter 2, I’ve tested my integral approach (seeing the Quran and each chapter as a unity, and weaving together different sections) and differential approach (noticing changes, and rate of changes; I haven’t tested the rate of changes yet). I’m also thinking about my “relative weight theory,” which takes the emphasis of each aspect of the Quran into account. From what I’ve read de novo thus far, I do consider the Monotheist’s mentality bearing great weight, at least great weight compared to rituals.

 

[1] See my upcoming article about my approach to the Quran

[2] For the sake of this article, I’m using the Monotheist Group translation. Please have your Quran ready when reading this article, for I’m not citing everything here, as I’m focusing on structure, not single verses.

[3] I think this section is more about my approach than about the moral lesson I’m preaching.

[4] I just arbitrarily picked a point to introduce the transition section; the shift in perspective began as the story of people of Moses began.

[5] I reject the traditional rendering of “people of the book” as Jews and Christians. I consider “people of the book” everyone who’s using a scripture from God. I’ll explain it in my upcoming article about why I reject the tri-religion myth.

[6] I didn’t quote Chapter 6 here, for the message about the mentalities is implicit rather than stated in a verse explicitly.

[7] I reject “order of revelation,” so the “earlier” here means a chapter that appears earlier in the current Quran.

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