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MUST READ: Robert Spencer's Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 2, 'The Cow,' Verses 222-286

Do you want a guardian from Allah when you go to bed? Find out how below — but if you start any anal sex, the deal is off. This segment of the Qur’an’s second chapter says that right out.

My friend Jeff once told me that he had tried to read the Qur’an many times, but he “could never get through the damn ‘Cow.'” With this segment, we have.

One reason why it’s tough to get through is because “The Cow” is packed with legal regulations. Allah, according to Islamic theology the Qur’an’s sole speaker (although he refers to himself in the third person often enough), concerns himself in the latter part of “The Cow” primarily with various laws for marriage and divorce (vv. 222-242). He forbids intercourse during menstruation (v. 222).

In the next verse, he tells Muslims, “Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish” (v. 223), which some Muslims understand as prohibiting anal sex — so says Ibn Kathir. According to a hadith recorded by the Imam Muslim, considered by Muslims to be the second most reliable collector of hadith (after Bukhari) and others, the Jews are behind the revelation of this verse. “The Jews used to say that when one comes to one’s wife through the vagina, but being on her back, and she becomes pregnant, the child has a squint” (Sahih Muslim 3363) — or, according to other sources, is cross-eyed.

To refute this, this verse was revealed: “Your wives are a place of sowing of seed [tilth] for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish” (v. 223). Sayyid Qutb says that the use of the word “tilth” (Arabic حَرْثٌ), with its “connotations of tillage and production, is most fitting, in a context of fertility and procreation” — or, as Maududi puts it, Allah’s “purpose in the creation of women is not merely to provide men with recreation.” It is also to provide them with children.

Allah’s regulations for divorce emphasize regarding women that “men have a degree over them” (v. 228). This may be why men can divorce their wives simply by saying, “Talaq” — I divorce you — but women may not do this. Such an easy procedure leads to divorces in a fit of pique, followed by reconciliation — and the Qur’an anticipates this and attempts to head it off by stipulating that a husband who divorces his wife three times cannot reconcile with her until she marries another man and is in turn divorced by him: “And if he has divorced her [for the third time], then she is not lawful to him afterward until she marries a husband other than him” (v. 230). This has given rise to the phenomenon of “temporary husbands,” who marry and divorce thrice-divorced women at the behest of Islamic clerics even in our own day, so that these poor women can then return to their original husbands. This practice has, as one may imagine, given rise to abuses, and a hadith depicts Muhammad condemning it. Muslim clerics insist that the poor woman’s new marriage and divorce must be genuine before she can return to her original husband.

Allah then goes on to detail the arrangements men make for their wives in their wills (vv. 234, 240); those interested in the doctrine of abrogation will be interested in the fact that Ibn Kathir contends of v. 240 that “the majority of the scholars said that this Ayah (2:240) was abrogated by the Ayah (2:234).”

After that, it’s time to rake the Jews over the coals again. Allah in verses 243-260 refers to several Biblical stories, none in much detail. The Jews refuse to fight after having been commanded to do so (v. 246) and they rebel at the appointment of Saul as king (v. 247). If Allah had willed, the nations would have believed the prophets he sent to earth, but this was not his will, although his reasons are left unexplained (v. 253). It would have been interesting to know why he sent prophets while willing that they not be believed, but we’re not let in on the secret.

Then comes the Throne Verse (Ayat al-Kursi), v. 255. According to Islamic scholar Mahmoud Ayoub, this verse is “regarded by Muslims as one of the most excellent verses of the Qur’an. It has therefore played a very important role in Muslim piety.” The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, is said to have agreed with a claim that this verse is so powerful that “whenever you go to your bed, recite the Verse of ‘Al-Kursi’ (2.255) for then a guardian from Allah will be guarding you, and Satan will not approach you till dawn” and with another about its being the “greatest verse in the Book of Allah.”

Qurtubi reports that “when the Throne Verse was revealed, every idol and king in the world fell prostrate and the crowns of kings fell off their heads,” and recounts a saying by Muhammad in which Allah tells Moses of the many blessings that people will receive if they recite the Throne Verse — another manifestation of the assumption that the People of the Book had at least some of the contents of the Qur’an, but perversely effaced them from their own Scriptures.

Immediately following that verse comes the Qur’an’s famous statement that “there is no compulsion in religion” (v. 256).

Muslim spokesmen in the West frequently quote that phrase to disprove the contention that Islam spread by the sword, or even to claim that Islam is a religion of peace. However, according to an early Muslim, Mujahid ibn Jabr, this verse was abrogated by Qur’an 9:29, in which the Muslims are commanded to fight against and subjugate the People of the Book. Others, however, according to the Islamic historian Tabari, say that the “no compulsion” verse was never abrogated, but was revealed precisely in reference to the People of the Book. They are not to be forced to accept Islam, but may practice their religions as long as they pay the jizya (poll-tax) and “feel themselves subdued” (9:29). No compulsion indeed.

Many see the “no compulsion” verse as contradicting the Islamic imperative to wage jihad against unbelievers, but actually there is no contradiction because the aim of jihad is not the forced conversion of non-Muslims, but their subjugation within the Islamic social order. Says Asad: “All Islamic jurists (fuqahd’), without any exception, hold that forcible conversion is under all circumstances null and void, and that any attempt at coercing a non-believer to accept the faith of Islam is a grievous sin: a verdict which disposes of the widespread fallacy that Islam places before the unbelievers the alternative of conversion or the sword.” Quite so: the choice, as laid out (according to a hadith) by Muhammad himself, is conversion, subjugation as dhimmis, or the sword: “Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war… When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them….If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them.” (Sahih Muslim 4294)

Qutb accordingly denies that the “no compulsion” verse contradicts the imperative to fight until “religion is for Allah” (v. 193), saying that “Islam has not used force to impose its beliefs.” Rather, jihad’s “main objective has been the establishment of a stable society in which all citizens, including followers of other religious creeds, may live in peace and security” — although not with equality of rights before the law, as 9:29 emphasizes. For Qutb, that “stable society” is the “Islamic social order,” the establishment of which is a chief objective of jihad.

In this light, verses 256 and 193 go together without any trouble. Muslims must fight until “religion is for Allah,” but they don’t force anyone to accept Allah’s religion. They enforce subservience upon those who refuse to convert, such that many of them subsequently convert to Islam so as to escape the humiliating and discriminatory regulations of dhimmitude — but when they convert, they do so freely. Only at the end of the world will Jesus, the Prophet of Islam, return and Islamize the world, abolishing Christianity and thus the need for the jizya that is paid by the dhimmis. Muhammad is depicted in a hadith as saying: “‘By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, son of Mary (Jesus) will shortly descend amongst you people (Muslims) as a just ruler and will break the Cross and kill the pig and abolish the Jizya (a tax taken from the non-Muslims, who are in the protection, of the Muslim government). Then there will be abundance of money and no-body will accept charitable gifts.’” (Bukhari 3.34.425) Then religion will be “for Allah,” and there will be no further need for jihad.

After all that, Allah exhorts the believers to charitable giving, and condemns usury (vv. 275-281) — which is the foundation of the Islamic abhorrence of interest-based banking. He then stipulates, veering from subject to subject, that two women are equivalent to one man in giving testimony (v. 282). Muhammad is depicted as explaining, “This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.” (Sahih Bukhari 3.48.826)

So much for “The Cow.”