The Bee and the mystery man

From a commentary on the 16th surah of the Quran, the Bee:

Verses 97-128 defend Muhammad and the Qur’an against some of the charges of the unbelievers, and call all people again to accept Muhammad’s message, which is the message of Abraham (v. 123), and worship Allah alone. Allah laments that whenever he abrogates a verse of his revelation and replaces it with another, the unbelievers accuse Muhammad of making it all up (v. 101). But actually Muhammad’s revelations come from the Holy Spirit (v. 102) – that is, Gabriel. The unbelievers claim that Muhammad is learning the contents of the Qur’an from a man and then passing them off as divine revelation, but the one they have in mind is a foreigner, while the Qur’an is in pure Arabic (v. 103). Ibn Kathir grants that “maybe the Messenger of Allah used to sit with him sometimes and talk to him a little, but he was a foreigner who did not know much Arabic, only enough simple phrases to answer questions when he had to.” Who was this mysterious foreigner whom the Qur’an is so anxious to diminish in importance? Some suggest Muhammad’s wife’s uncle Waraqa, who first identified him as a prophet, and who used to, according to Islamic tradition, “write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as Allah wished him to write.” Or it may have been one of Muhammad’s early companions, Salman the Persian: the Arabic word translated here as “foreign” is Ajami, which also means Persian.

Then in v. 106, in a notable departure from the Christian concept of martyrdom, Allah allows Muslims to deny their faith when under “compulsion,” as long one’s heart remains “firm in Faith.” Ibn Kathir explains: “This is an exception in the case of one who utters statements of disbelief and verbally agrees with the Mushrikin [unbelievers] because he is forced to do so by the beatings and abuse to which he is subjected, but his heart refuses to accept what he is saying, and he is, in reality, at peace with his faith in Allah and His Messenger.” This is another foundation for the idea of religious deception in Islam, which we saw in discussing 3:28.

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