Praying at night – the Qur’an and the Bible


 

The Qur’an, in Sura 73, encourages praying at night.  
How does this compare with what’s in the Bible?

We’ll look at the New Testament to see how the two compare and contrast.

And then look at what the differences mean.

 

The first thing I thought of when I read this was the verses in the Bible that relate darkness to evil and light to good.  Of course, that thought was quickly replaced with a stronger one that said – No, that can’t be what this is about.  After looking into it more, I think the second thought is correct.  

Let’s look at what this Sura has to say.  

[73:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
[73:1] O you cloaked one.
[73:2] Meditate during the night, except rarely.
[73:3] Half of it, or a little less.
[73:4] Or a little more. And read the Quran from cover to cover.
[73:5] We will give you a heavy message.
[73:6] The meditation at night is more effective, and more righteous.
[73:7] You have a lot of time during the day for other matters.
[73:8] You shall commemorate the name of your Lord, to come ever closer and closer to Him.
[73:9] Lord of the east and the west; there is no other god besides Him. You should choose Him as your advocate.

If you’ve read the introduction for this Sura, you’ve seen I labeled this part 1a.  That’s because there is another verse – [73:20] at the end.  As pointed out in the into, this verse was likely added later.  Keeping this in mind, let’s look at just the first part above to start this off.

Another thing to be aware of up front is that [73:5] may have been abrogated about 4 years later and 92nd in order of revelation, by this verse –

[4:32] You shall not covet the qualities bestowed upon each other by GOD; the men enjoy certain qualities, and the women enjoy certain qualities. You may implore GOD to shower you with His grace. GOD is fully aware of all things.

According to wikiislam.net, the intent of the abrogation was to replace the thought of the “heavy” or “weighty” message with a lighter one –

Allah doth wish to lighten your (difficulties): For man was created Weak (in flesh).

The thing is, Sura 4 is predominantly related to the rights of men and the rights of women.  One can see why this particular abrogation could be disputed.  However – in the interest of full disclosure – I’m including it here.

Meditating at night – Qur’an

So what we see is encouragement to spend about half the night in prayer.

[73:2] Meditate during the night, except rarely.
[73:3] Half of it, or a little less.
[73:4] Or a little more. And read the Quran from cover to cover.
[73:5] We will give you a heavy message.
[73:6] The meditation at night is more effective, and more righteous.

Obviously, sleep and rest are needed, so one cannot spend the entire night in prayer.  At least not on a regular basis.

As I said, the heavy message versus the lighter one is questioned in the Qur’an commentaries.  In these initial revelations, there were certainly some pretty heavy messages.  Things certainly were not going easily at all.  There was a lot of push-back at this point in time.  Surprisingly, bit from Jews and Christians, but from other Arabs.  See previous posts for more info.

Where this starts to get more interesting is the part about prayer at night being more effective and more righteous.

Daytime is for other matters – Qur’an

[73:7] You have a lot of time during the day for other matters.

The verse above is from a translation by Dr Rashad Khalifa, which is the one I’ve been using throughout the series.

The CAIR version of the Qur’an attempts to modify this verse somewhat, by including a parenthetical addition to verse [73:8] that says –

[whether by night or by day]

However, another translation by Dr Muhammad Muhsin Khan says for verse 7 – 

7. Verily, there is for you by day prolonged occupation with ordinary duties

Neither Khalifa nor Khan attempts any modification of this verse by adding notes or parenthetical inclusions to verse 8.

Naturally, I wonder why the CAIR version has the modification of [whether by night or by day] 

When to pray – New Testament

There are a number of times in the New Testament where references are made to praying.  Here are some of them –

Eph 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

1Th 3:10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

1Th 5:16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances,

2Th 1:11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.

So we see a difference between the Qur’an and the Bible here.  Given that the CAIR version is to be distributed in the U. S., it’s very possible that the part about day and night was added for this very reason.

In it’s original version – the Qur’an is making a differentiation between the activities of the day and those of the night.  Rather than call it day and night – it would be more appropriate to call it the time of prayer and the rest of the day.  To be sure, eventually more prayer times were allocated.  

These are – from islam.about.com – 

Fajr (pre-dawn): This prayer starts off the day with the remembrance of God; it is performed before sunrise.

Dhuhr (noon): After the day’s work has begun, one breaks shortly after noon to again remember God and seek His guidance.

‘Asr (afternoon): In the late afternoon, people are usually busy wrapping up the day’s work, getting kids home from school, etc. It is an important time to take a few minutes to remember God and the greater meaning of our lives.

Maghrib (sunset): Just after the sun goes down, Muslims remember God again as the day begins to come to a close.

‘Isha (evening): Before retiring for the night, Muslims again take time to remember God’s presence, guidance, mercy, and forgiveness.

So we see that the times have changed, but the segregation of time for God versus other activities appears to remain.

Without passing judgement on either the Christian or Muslim view of prayer, let me just note the appearances of each –

For Muslims – there are dedicated times for focusing on God.  Each of those has it’s own purpose, based on the time of day.

For Christians – the intent to to do everything for the glory of God.  To be always doing things with Him in mind.

Does either group succeed?  I guess that’s for the individual to decide.  

For me as a Christian – I cannot say that I always do everything for His glory.  Although I can say, more and more often, immediately after saying or thinking something that I shouldn’t have – I’m reminded of it and ask forgiveness.  I guess that’s progress.
I also can’t help but wonder how closely one can follow the Muslim prayer schedule.  When I was working in the IT field, if a system was down (not working) and people couldn’t do their jobs or if students couldn’t access what they needed for classes – no one was doing anything other than trying to resolve the problem.  To go off someplace and take time to follow the prayer schedule would not have been done.  For me, I pretty much always said a quick prayer, asking for guidance to finding the problem quickly and fixing it.  For a Muslim – I don’t know what they would have done.  I just can’t help but notice what appears to be a distinction between the affairs of the day (work, home life, other activities) and the time of prayer to God.  I will also say, however, that those Christians that allocate only an hour or two to God on Sundays aren’t following the words above.

Additional verse – Qur’an

[73:20] Your Lord knows that you meditate during two-thirds of the night, or half of it, or one-third of it, and so do some of those who believed with you. GOD has designed the night and the day, and He knows that you cannot always do this. He has pardoned you. Instead, you shall read what you can of the Quran. He knows that some of you may be ill, others may be traveling in pursuit of GOD’s provisions, and others may be striving in the cause of GOD. You shall read what you can of it, and observe the contact prayers (Salat), give the obligatory charity (Zakat), and lend GOD a loan of righteousness. Whatever good you send ahead on behalf of your souls, you will find it at GOD far better and generously rewarded. And implore GOD for forgiveness. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

As pointed out in an earlier post, there are some issues related to this verse.

First of all – it was almost certainly not part of the same revelation as the rest of the verses.

  • The Salat (contact prayers) did not exist at the time of this revelation
  • The Zakat (obligatory charity) also did not exist at the time of this revelation
  • The Qur’an also did not exist at the time of this revelation.  In fact, reading the Qur’an was quite impossible during the life of the Prophet.  As we saw in the previous post, the Qur’an (as a book) didn’t exist until years after his death.  Further, at the time of this particular revelation, there were only two other Suras – possibly 3, since there are questions about whether this one is the 3rd or 4th in order.

It would be most interesting to know what the verses 

[73:4] Or a little more. And read the Quran from cover to cover.
[73:20] Instead, you shall read what you can of the Qur’an.

actually referred to.

I see only two possibilities –

  1. the verses didn’t actually exist at all, and there was nothing about reading until Othman assembled the Qur’an after Muhammad’s death.  The reason I say this is because this is the first point in time at which one would have been able to read the Qur’an – cover to cover.  While there were copies of parts of it in various people’s possession – they were not all the same – they were not complete – and after Othman assembled the various bits and pieces from the different people who had them – this is when the Qur’an was first assembled as a book that could be read cover to cover.
  2. the verses did exist, but pointed to something else to be read, rather the the Qur’an.  The obvious alternative would have been the Bible.  Or at least parts of it.  There’s the Tawrat – the first five books of the Old Testament – the Hebrew Torah.  There’s also the Zabur – the Psalms of David.  And finally there’s the Injil – generally considered the Gospels of the New Testament, although some consider it the entire New Testament.  This one makes a lot of sense when considering the timing of the actual revelations – as opposed to the assembling of the Qur’an.
    Remember – early on, like at the time of the revelation of Sura 74 – there were no issues between the followers of Muhammad and the Christians & Jews.  In fact, as we saw – there was an expectation that his followers were familiar with both the Old and New Testaments.  Without an understanding of the Jewish and Christian Holy Books, one could not possibly understand the revelations that became the Qur’an.

This is a message that seems to be totally lost in today’s world

The importance for followers of Muhammad to understand the Holy Books of both Judaism and Christianity cannot be understated.  While relations between them most certainly did deteriorate, at the time of these early revelations, those problems did not exist.  And – it was not possible to understand the revelations without also having an understanding of the Jewish and Christian Holy Books.

In reality, the same is true today.  However, as more and more Hadiths – prophetic traditions – are added by the different sects of Islam, the “need” to refer to and / or understand the other Holy Books has diminished, maybe to the point of no need at all.  Rather than go back to what those books said – as we’ve done with Jonah and Moses already (see previous posts) – each sect now refers to it’s own Hadiths on the matter.  This ends up not only removing the need to refer to the Jewish and Christian Holy Books – at also allows for different interpretations of the revelations, based on the beliefs of the person writing the Hadith.

Conclusion

All these different interpretations cannot be correct.  As much as we avoid saying it these days – truth is truth.  All of these religions agree there is one God.  He cannot possibly be as different as they say.  Islam especially has a problem.  While different “flavors” of Christianity may have what I’d call minor disagreements, they do have a common base.  C. S. Lewis wrote about it in his book Mere Christianity.  There is a common core to the religion, and all denominations believe in that core.  Islam, however, has some really major differences.  We’ve already seen some of them, even in these first three Suras.  While it all started from a common view of God – the same God that Jews and Christians worship – the God of Abraham – things changed after that.  

It’s just not possible that God can tell some of them to kill Jews and Christians (as we saw previously in the sword verse) – and tell others that people of The Book (Jews and Christians) are OK.  One of these is wrong.  But with the abrogations, Hadiths, Etc. – both have become major portions of the Islamic religion.  They are so diametrically opposed – they cannot both be true.  Something happened to what appears to have been the original intent of Muhammad.

This reminds me of a verse in Jeremiah, where God says  – 

Jer 23:24 Can anyone hide in secret places
so that I cannot see him?”
declares the LORD.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the LORD.

God knows which one is accurately portraying Him and living life the way He wants.  

The question is – how do we find out – and what is to be done? 


Pray about these things –
as I’ve said – not with your mind, but with your heart.

Pray to the God of Abraham,
the God who heard Hagar –
the God who heard Ishmael –
the God who said He would make Ishmael a great nation.

Pray that He will show you the path to Himself.

I’ll be praying with you – and for you.

<To be continued…>


 This is part of a continuing series looking at The Qur’an and The Bible to see the relationship between Islam and Christianity. 

Click here to see a page listing the current posts, with a short description of each.
The plan is to at least start by going through the Qur’an, in the order in which each of the Sura’s was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

 

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