The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy, travellers and beggars, and to liberate those in bondage; those who keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God.
In this episode of Made You Think, Neil and Nat discuss The Quran, the book revealed to the prophet Muhammad, and foundation of Islamism. This is a very special and interesting episode because there is so much discussion about Islam and its roots, Muslims, and the relevance in cultural and political news.
We cover a wide range of topics, including:
- The different writing styles of the Quran at the beginning and the end
- Interpretation of Arabic and context at the time of Muhammad
- Strategies to build and spread virally a set of beliefs
- Changing views on sex, alcohol and women
- The validity of 600 AD concepts on today’s world
And much more. Please enjoy, and try always to build your opinions reading books at their source!
If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to check out our episode on The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
, a book that deconstruct the need of religions, as well as our episodes on Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (book episodes part 1
& part 2
), a book that spans on the history of human existence.
Be sure to join our mailing list to find out about what books are coming up, giveaways we're running, special events, and more.
Links from the Episode
Mentioned in the show
2:33 – We think we picked a very good translation/interpretation of the Qur’an. The translator/interpreter includes lots of useful comments in the footnotes, why he prefers to interpret in a certain way, including comparisons with other interpretations. He gives good historical context of the Arabian peninsula at the times of Mohammad. Modern interpretation of ancient books affected by old translations.
6:30 – Politics in translation. Jihad: depending which scholars you listen to, it can mean a religious war limited to the context of when the book was written, or a war that has to be conducted all times. Times when Christianity was militarized. Other religions militarized: Nationalism and Communism. Is Islam a religion of peace militarized for bad use vs a religion violent at its roots?
11:35 – Ancient religious books were less about shared myths and more about legal codes prescribing how to handle human behavior. The problem with religions is when they mandate to impose them on other people. Buddhism is an exception, viewed more as a private practice.
16:15 – Intro. At Mohammad era, in Arabia there were polytheistic tribal religion. Judaism and Christianity were still not spread. People believed in Allah and many other gods. Islam expanded through the whole Arabian peninsula in just 10 years, before the Quran was even finished. Virality at top level. Qur’an is considered the direct words of God, while the Testaments are interpretations of its prophets. The Quran writing style: God speaking directly to you vs a story about God in third person.
22:12 – Mohammad was supposedly illiterate. Mohammad memorized the Quran and just spoke it. The manuscript was compiled later. There were lots of wars for power in the region at the time. Polytheist leaders saw Islam as a threat to their power. Quran is divided in 114 sections. The longest are at the beginning. The shorter ones more to the end, are more repetitive.
27:27 – First part of the Quran is very friendly with People of the Book (Hebrews and Christians). The chief conflict was against the Polytheists. Conflict shifts as the book goes on. Cracks between the three Abrahamic religions. Judaism: we are waiting for the Son of God. Christianity: SoG is Jesus. Islam: no, SoG is Mohammed, or all the prophets together are related to God, but not a direct son.
31:02 – The use of the word We. Polytheism absorbed and organized in Angels and God hierarchy. Christianity absorbed and on-boarded other religions by Sanctification of their deities. Example: Saint Brigid Celtic goddess in Ireland. Islam in India. Converting Hindus to Muslims with tax incentives.
35:50 – Acceptance of Jewish and Christians. Need to declare oneself Muslim, but no need to consider oneself Muslim in private. ‘Produce your evidence, if you are telling the truth.’ In fact, any who direct themselves wholly to God and do good will have their reward with their Lord: no fear for them, nor will they grieve.
Double standard when requiring for evidence. Challenging other believes asking for evidence. People need evidence to challenge own beliefs, but don't require it to trust them, word of God is enough. What postmodernism says vs what it is.
41:10 – Reconciling differences in the Quran from the beginning to the end. [This is] a statement of the Truth about which they are in doubt: it would not befit God to have a child. He is far above that: when He decrees something, He says only, ‘Be,’ and it is. ‘God is my Lord and your Lord, so serve Him: that is a straight path.’ But factions have differed among themselves. What suffering will come to those who obscure the truth when a dreadful Day arrives! How sharp of hearing, how sharp of sight they will be when they come to Us, although now they are clearly off course! Warn them [Muhammad] of the Day of Remorse when the matter will be decided, for they are heedless and do not believe.
Other books in Islam. Any changes today in religious books means God was wrong. Modern Christianity reconciling writings to today's context. Secular Jewish. Room for interpretation on supernatural events. Quran is much more about political actions than supernatural events.
47:16 – Idea of Paradise is pretty plain: a garden with clean water streams, free food, and attractive virgins. No mention of more complex wishes or benefit. Christian books don't mention heaven, but once we die we just have to wait until the Final Judgement day to come. Large scale conspiracies.
50:20 – Tangent. Cryonics is a religion. You have to wait until the prophet comes and unmelts you. Uploading your brain to a computer is religion for computing people. Need to believe in something. Life simulated.
54:00 – Tangent. Psychedelics revelations. Psychedelics and extension of time. Moises and use of drugs. Psychedelics being a part of spiritual life. When asked about the experience of revelation Muhammad reported, "sometimes it is revealed like the ringing of a bell. This form of inspiration is the hardest of them all and then it passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says.":43
57:15 – Definitions of being good. At the beginning of the book a good person worships God and follow dictates of good conduct. Punishment for crimes and forgiveness. Significance of the opening In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy
. Optimizing for mercy by following Quran's principles. Fully repenting because you understand what's really wrong.
1:02:04 – Jewish idea that if everything is going wrong is because God is displeased with humanity. Contrasting of polytheistic religions comparing natural context: Indus Valley vs Nile River. Deities punish humans with floods, or reward them with crops. Omnipotent being seeing what you do may prevent you from acting bad. Useful concept for making a society more cohesive.
1:06:32 – Islam starts to spread beyond boundaries and other regions push back. The book stop preaching peace and encourages fighting for the religion. Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you, but do not overstep the limits: God does not love those who overstep the limits. Kill them wherever you encounter them, and drive them out from where they drove you out, for persecution is more serious than killing. Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you there. If they do fight you, kill them—this is what such disbelievers deserve— but if they stop, then God is most forgiving and merciful. Fight them until there is no more persecution, and worship is devoted to God. If they cease hostilities, there can be no [further] hostility, except towards aggressors. Fighting is ordained for you, though you dislike it. You may dislike something although it is good for you, or like something although it is bad for you: God knows and you do not.’ They will not stop fighting you [believers] until they make you revoke your faith, if they can. If any of you revoke your faith and die as disbelievers, your deeds will come to nothing in this world and the Hereafter, and you will be inhabitants of the Fire, there to remain. But those who have believed, migrated, and striven for God’s cause, it is they who can look forward to God’s mercy: God is most forgiving and merciful.
Politicizing Islam. Violence in Quran was for attack or defense?
1:12:41 – How to bring a God's prescription from 620 AD to modern era. God's prescriptions made in a way you can't be peaceful with non believers. You have to fight for religion or you go to hell.
1:15:36 – Intoxicants and gambling. The sin is greater than the benefit. Marijuana and tobacco were not considered intoxicants at the time. Date wine and honey wine. Changing thoughts on alcohol.
1:20:43 – Women’s place. Your wives are [like] your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like, and send [something good] ahead for yourselves
. Apparently there was a belief in Arabia at the time that certain sexual positions were impure, but the Qur’an is saying you can “enter your wives however you please."
1:21:54 – Why would God care about that? Interesting comments in the footnotes about sex and Jesus.
1:22:50 – Eating. Forbidden foods to avoid illness. Best practices to kill an animal for food. Cortisol releases when strangling an animal. You are forbidden to eat carrion; blood; pig’s meat; any animal over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; any animal strangled, or victim of a violent blow or a fall, or gored or savaged by a beast of prey, unless you still slaughter it [in the correct manner]; or anything sacrificed on idolatrous altars. You are also forbidden to allot shares [of meat] by drawing marked arrows—a heinous practice!
1:25:08 – Prescriptions for lewd acts. Muslim lesbians and gays. Stoning in fundamentalist societies. Condemning and offering mercy as a converting tool. If any of your women commit a lewd act, call four witnesses from among you, then, if they testify to their guilt, keep the women at home until death comes to them or until God shows them another way. If two men commit a lewd act, punish them both; if they repent and mend their ways, leave them alone—God is always ready to accept repentance, He is full of mercy
1:28:19 – Fighting. Prepare whatever forces you [believers] can muster, including warhorses, so that you frighten off God’s enemies and yours, and warn others unknown to you but known to God. Whatever you give in God’s cause will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged. But if they incline towards peace, you [Prophet] must also incline towards it, and put your trust in God: He is the All Hearing, the All Knowing. When the [four] forbidden months are over, wherever you encounter the idolaters, kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post; but if they repent, maintain the prayer, and pay the prescribed alms, let them go on their way, for God is most forgiving and merciful.
Proselytizing. Simple choice if you were living in the area: either you are going to be hunted down and killed or you join the religion. Islam designed to spread as quickly and effective as possible. We did not wrong them; they wronged themselves. Their gods, which they called on beside God, were no use to them when what your Lord had ordained came about; they only increased their ruin.
Absolution of guilt in participating in the fight.
1:30:32 – Start of the separation from Christianity. Underlining Son of Mary vs Son of God. People of the Book, do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth: the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God, His word, directed to Mary, a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’—stop [this], that is better for you—God is only one God, He is far above having a son, everything in the heavens and earth belongs to Him and He is the best one to trust.
1:31:48 – Adultery. What is considered adultery and what not. You have to cast adulterers out even if it is your children. Integrity of the religion. Strike the adulteress and the adulterer one hundred times. Do not let compassion for them keep you from carrying out God’s law—if you believe in God and the Last Day—and ensure that a group of believers witnesses the punishment. The adulterer is only [fit] to marry an adulteress or an idolatress, and the adulteress is only [fit] to marry an adulterer or an idolater: such behaviour is forbidden to believers.
1:33:40 Prescriptions for women covering their bodies. And tell believing women that they should lower their eyes, guard their private parts, and not display their charms beyond what [it is acceptable] to reveal; they should draw their coverings over their necklines and not reveal their charms except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their womenfolk, their slaves, such men as attend them who have no desire, or children who are not yet aware of women’s nakedness; they should not stamp their feet so as to draw attention to any hidden charms.
It was not clear what it is acceptable for a woman to reveal even in Arabic language. Preventing sexual attraction. Dancing and sexual desires. Don't go beyond ordinary behaviors. Elderly women allowed to show more than younger because of lower attraction. In case of rape, it is suggested that the fault falls on the woman. Most of practices, especially about woman covering themselves, come from the edicts and not the Quran.
1:41:44 – In the Quran are mentioned 4 prayer times, not 5. So celebrate God’s glory in the evening, in the morning— praise is due to Him in the heavens and the earth—in the late afternoon, and at midday.
The burden of proof is on everyone else except for Mohammed, God or Islam. You [Prophet] are not, by [receiving] God’s grace, a madman: you will have a never-ending reward— truly you have a strong character— and soon you will see, as will they, which of you is afflicted with madness. Your Lord knows best who strays from His path and who is rightly guided. So I swear by what you can see and by what you cannot see: this [Qur’an] is the word [spoken by] an honoured messenger, not the words of a poet—how little you believe!— nor the words of a soothsayer–how little you reflect! This [Qur’an] is a message sent down from the Lord of the Worlds: if [the Prophet] had attributed some fabrication to Us, We would certainly have seized his right hand and cut off his lifeblood, and none of you could have defended him.
1:46:22 – Qur'an gets boring at times, describing paradise repeatedly and saying believers will go to heaven, non believers to hell. It was intended to be recited, not written and read. In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy Say, ‘He is God the One, God the eternal. He begot no one nor was He begotten. No one is comparable to Him.
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