From Merchant to Messenger

The Prophet Muhammad's struggle for legitimacy as revealed in the Koran


The Skimper, the Profligate, and the Pious

From Merchant to MessengerWhat is there left to say? One last surah; a surah like so many others that made me wonder if I had understood anything or actually understood everything. It is a surah that is somewhat of a microcosm of the Koran:

• A sinner is singled out— actually two, (83:1, 83:7);

• a reference to an Underworld (83:7), which may or may not be Hell, about which He will not elaborate, thereby leaving the impression that He does not know as much as He is letting on;

• the first mention of “a book of the profligate” (83:7) located somewhere in this Underworld, which seems to be in response to a question from a member of an audience;

• the familiar reference to the Day of Judgement (83:11);

• another name for sinners who would deny the Day (83:12);

• a reference that what He is saying is not new (83:13), that they have heard it before;

• another what seems to be a clarification (which includes the often-repeated phrase “they shall roast in Hell”) about something He said before about the “profligate” (83:14-17, which again appears to be in response to a question from a member of an audience;

• a reference to a “book of the pious” (83:18) located somewhere in a Higher World of which we know nothing (and which has allegedly been seen by a select few), which again appears to be in response to a question;

• another demonstration of His intimate knowledge of Paradise and some of the good things you will find there, including wine for which you may compete (83:21-28);

• Allah rarely talks about Paradise without taking a swipe at the unbelievers (83:29-36);

And so it goes…


83 Al-Mutaffifin

In the Name of Allah,

the Compassionate, the Merciful

83:1 Woe to the skimpers,

83:2 Who, when they measure for themselves from others exact full measure;

83:3 But when they measure or weigh for others actually skimp.

83:4 Do not those people think that they will be resuscitated,

83:5 On a Great Day?

83:6 A Day when mankind will stand before the Lord of the Worlds.

83:7 Not at all; the book of the profligate is locked up in the Underworld.

83:8 If only you knew what is the Underworld.

83:9 A book inscribed.

83:10 Woe betide, on that Day, those who denounce;

83:11 Those who deny the Day of Judgement.

83:12 Yet, only a sinful aggressor denies it.

83:13 When Our Signs are recited to him, he says: “Mere legends of the ancients.”

83:14 Not at all; their hearts are overwhelmed with what they were earning.

83:15 Not at all; surely on that Day they shall be screened off from their Lord.

83:16 Then, they shall roast in Hell.

83:17 Then it will be said to them: “This is what you used to deny.”

83:18 No indeed; the book of the pious is in the Higher World.

83:19 And if only you knew what is the Higher World;

83:20 A book inscribed,

83:21 Witnessed by those well-favoured.

83:22 The pious are indeed in Bliss;

83:23 Upon couches gazing around.

83:24 You will recognize in their faces the glow of bliss.

83:25 They are given to drink from a sealed wine;

83:26 Whose seal is musk. Over that, let the competitors compete;

83:27 And its mixture is from Tasnim (a spring in Paradise);

83:28 A spring from which the well-favoured drink.

83:29 The criminals used to laugh at the believers;

83:30 And if they pass by them they would wink at one another.

83:31 And if they go back to their families, they would go back jeering,

83:32 And if they see them, they would say: “These are indeed in error.”

83:33 Yet, they were not sent to watch over them.

83:34 But, today, the believers shall laugh at the unbelievers.

83:35 Upon couches, they gaze round.

83:36 Have the unbelievers been rewarded for what they used to do?

The beginning of the end for the gods of ancient Greece was probably when the first pilgrim scaled Mount Olympus only to discover there were no gods there. Allah, in the Koran, tells us that Paradise is just above the clouds, held up by invisible pillars anchored on a flat Earth which a plane has yet to crash into; that meteorites are stones thrown by the angels to stop the jinn from flying up to Paradise and eavesdropping on Allah’s conversations, and so on and so forth.

Man's first flight above the clouds, if not to the Moon, should have been a reason for reflection as to authenticity and relevance of revelations such as those found in the Skimper and much of the Koran. It should have led the believers to look at the Koran in a new light, the light of a new day that the first Muslim to circle the Earth on his way to the International Space Station, Prince ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud of Saudi Arabia, experienced 16 times in 24 hours. Instead, much of the Islamic World chose to believe the deceased leader of Boko Haram, Cleric Mohammed Yusuf, who said in a 2009 BBC interview that outer space and a spherical planet was all an illusion created by Allah to test us.

The world desperately needs an honest discussion about Islam, starting with an unfettered dialogue on the Koran, if we are to stop the violence done in the name of its alleged author and a promise of biblical-scale violence to come. Between the 8th and 10th century, when Islam was in its infancy, such a discussion actually took place and from it emerged an Islamic school of thought largely influenced by Plato and Aristotle which became known as Mu’tazilism the Philosophy of Rationalism, or simply Islamic Philosophy.

The motives of the translators [of Greek works in science and philosophy into Arabic] and their patrons, the ['Abbasid] caliphs, may have been partially practical; medical skill was in demand, and control over natural forces could bring power and success. There was also, however, a wide intellectual curiosity, such as is expressed in the words of al-Kindi (c. 801-66), the thinker with whom the history of Islamic philosophy virtually begins:

We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign people. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself.

A History of the Arab People, Albert Hourani, Harvard University Press 1991, p. 76.

Mu'tazilites argued that verses of the Koran should not be taken literally and that human reason was more reliable than scriptures. The leaders of the believers of the time, the most noteworthy being Caliphs al-Ma'mun, Mu'tasim Billah and Wathiq, actively supported this sensible open-minded interpretation, allowing it to thrive until dogma reasserted itself with a vengeance and revelation again smothered reason. It may not be a coincidence that most of Islam’s substantial contributions to the fields of astronomy and mathematics for example, were from this period when Mu’tazilism was accepted by the Caliphate as a legitimate Islamic school of thought. Islam cannot return to its former glory until it believes its eyes.