Ramadan 1 — Do You Pursue Righteousness?

So if you’re a regular around this blog, you’ll note that this post is extremely different from my typical content. You’ll notice in a few moments that my initial text is not from the Bible, but instead from the Qur’an. Why?

I want to read the whole Qur’an this year, and I thought there would be no better time to do it than during Ramadan. As such, these posts will not be exhaustive; rather, my goal is to look a little closer at a text that stood out to me. I will do this by reflecting on the words of the Qur’an, looking at a Qur’an commentary to make sure I’m not twisting the text for my own purposes, and concluding by making a connection (or contrast) with Christian theology/practice. This is to be at one-and-the-same time edifying, exhortative, and apologetical.

Let me know how I do. I would love to have some interaction in the comments section on this series. (The plan is to write a post every day for the next 30 days; we’ll see how I do; the more feedback I get, the more inclined I will be to keep going; help me get this done.)

* * *

Some people say, “We believe in God and the Last Day,” when really they do not believe. . . . When it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption in the land,” they say, “We are only putting things right,” but really they are causing corruption, though they do not realize it.”

— Al-Baqara 8, 11-121

This text hits close to home. If you take a glance at this post, you’ll see that in my life I’ve spent a lot of time “causing corruption” in the name of “fixing things.” As such, this text smacked me squarely in the face.

But what do Muslim scholars have to say about this text?

To spread or create corruption (fasād) is a major theme in the Quran, the opposite of which is often “setting things aright” or “making amends” (iṣlāḥ); see 30:41c. The identity of the speaker of Do not work corruption . . . is open and could be the Prophet himself, a group of believers, or perhaps even some victim of corruption who says this phrase to the corrupters in rebuke.2

And they go on to say:

To work righteousness (muṣliḥ) means to set things right or put them in a state of righteousness, but is not to be confused with “reform” in the modern sense. The response we are only working righteousness can mean either that they believed that they were actually doing so and their own practice of religion was correct, or that they were acting in their self-interest in trying to bridge the gap between believers and the disbelievers3

For Muslims, working righteousness is the opposite of spreading corruption. But note that it is not the same as “reform.” This is huge. More important to Muslims than cleaning up religion is taking care of the needs of the poor and disenfranchised. This can be proven by their emphasis on almsgiving (or zakat).4

Christian theology is no different when it comes to practicality. Jesus said this in John 13:34-35, John reiterated it in 1 John 3, and James spoke of it throughout his entire epistle, most notably in James 1:27.

  • “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
  • “This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need—how can God’s love reside in him? Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.” (1 John 3:16-18)
  • “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

But it’s so much easier to focus on theology5–to focus on “reform”–than it is to love people the way the Bible calls us to love people. But if Jesus says that people will know us as Christians by our love, then when we are failing to love rightly, we are proving ourselves to not be Christians (or at the very least presenting a distorted picture to the world of what Christians look like, and thus hindering Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21 from becoming a reality). Muhammad might have been right:

Some people say, “We believe in God and the Last Day,” when really they do not believe. . . . When it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption in the land,” they say, “We are only putting things right,” but really they are causing corruption, though they do not realize it.”

— Al-Baqara 8, 11-12

If your life (especially your love) evidences that you are not a true believer, there is an easy solution. And this is a huge point that sets Christianity apart from Islam.6 All you have to do is believe in Jesus Christ by faith. Believe that He died as the ultimate expression of love so that you would have a model as to how to love Him and others in return.

Believe in Him today. Don’t be caught in a state of unbelief!

In this with you.

Thanks for reading.

References

  1. All references from the Qur’an are pulled from M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, Oxford World Classics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
  2. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, ed., The Study Quran (New York: HarperOne, 2021), Kindle Edition, 16.
  3. Ibid., 17.
  4. See Peter B. Clarke, “Conversion,” in Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, edited by Richard C. Martin (New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004), I:161.
  5. This by no means means that theology is not important. As Al-Baqara 116-117 proves, theology is absolutely necessary. God did have a Son, but not in a way that makes Him anything less than transcendent, unique, absolute, and One (see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, ed., The Study Quran, 54-55). I will return to this question at a later time, whether in this study itself at an appropriate point, or as an appendix afterwards.
  6. As Al-Baqara 6-7 states, “As for those who disbelieve, it makes no difference whether you warn them or not: they will not believe. God has sealed their hearts and their ears, and their eyes are covered. They will have great torment.” A commentator explains, “This can be possibly understood in a predestinarian sense, according to which one’s faith or lack thereof is not a product of one’s human will, but of God’s prior Command. But it can also be understood as spiritual reward or punishment, making the seal a consequence rather than a cause” (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, ed., The Study Quran, 16).

    While this sort of doctrine can be found in branches of Christianity, but if it is, it fully contradicts passages such as 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” It’s true that there is a sense in which God knows who will be saved, but that’s a secret not for us to know (cf. Deuteronomy 29:29). What we do know is that God desires all to be saved, and we must extend the Gospel to all, with the hope that God will grant them faith and repentance before they perish (cf. Hebrews 9:27).

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