[ Note: The following is an edited version of some reflections on ten verses from the Qur'an. Originally, these notes were prepared for a weekly Quranic discussion I participate in, however I have decided to share them here, with the hopes of generating discussion and thinking. Also please note that unless otherwise seen in the text, the English translation has not been included. This will influence the reader to check the translation of their choice. The Arabic text is included.]
This particular section deals with the story of Prophet Lot, known as Luutعليه السلام in Arabic. The immediate context preceding the verses in question tell us that Lot's own household contained contrasting elements therein, as do all families. While Lot is connected to Allah, his wife is counted as being among the 'criminal class' [15:58-60]. Eventually, God's angelic messengers conveys notice to Abrahamعليه السلام , Lot's uncle, that Sodom and Gommorah will be destroyed. The Qur'an says elsewhere ( Q 7:80-81 among other places) that the society engaged in intimate activity that cannot be deemed natural .
This particular issue is a deeply sensitive and potentially divisive one in today's world. I think it is important to see all of this in connection to what is repeatedly stated in these verses, and that is the title "The Family of Lot " [Aal Luut]. Lot is the family patriarch, the caring, wise and loving father and perhaps grandfather that we all have in our family units, seeking to preserve the morals of those under his care. Lot recognizes that wild behavior is something which leads to disastorous consequences ( Q 15: 61-64).
Lot advocates that the thinking of his family and followers be upon correct or healthy boundaries. He tells them to neither long for the social ties with those engaged in destructive behavior, nor even be in their company. In our age, the wise parent may instruct his child to stay away from certain other children because of their behavior, and the same parent may put restrictions [or even remove] the television or the cell phone when such devices of entertainment are found to be detrimental to the oveall development of his child [15: 65-66].
The society, probably more in particular the elites in power [called Al Mala' throughout the Quranic narrations], had places restrictions on Lot. In a sense, he seemed to have been a character that they wanted to silence, to be under house arrest. Lot has some "guests" [who are actually these angelic messengers mentioned earlier] . These guests were threatened with attack, and the text implies that they were even threatened with rape! Lot makes a final appeal to any Taqwaaa [reverence for God Almighty] as well as any sense of social propriety, but alas, his pleas fall upon deaf ears. [Q 15: 67-69]
In his comments, the translator Yusuf Ali righly points out that this language is the language of a family patriarch, an older man trying to push atleast a little bit in a different direction.
Thus, "My daughters" are not literal, nor is he seeking to sacrifice the women in his society to be raped, as sometimes thought by some critical readers. Perhaps marriage between men and women was a dying institute, as it is in our society today, and sought, out of desperation, to revive it.
The social order of Sodom and Gomorrah was blinding and intoxicating. The verse uses the term لفي to denote the intensity of this condition.
It is very difficult for those affected by such conditions to see the reality of their existence.
Prophets and Scripture comes forth in order to open up the eyes and to have foundations for proper thinking. I see the Prophet Muhammad's صلى الله عليه وسلم supplication as particularly relevant here in the sense that one not only invokes Allah but it also provides a philosophical foundation for acting in the real world.
[ 15: 73-74]
Sayhah is also translated as "scream", and seems to denote a general overturning of the social order.
This is a deeply important verse here. When connected to 15:72, we can see that the argument is that a society of blinded, drunken (in their thinking and actions) human beings brings forth their own destruction. God says here that such societies should be studied, and this is precisely what social scientists, archaeologists, and related fields do. This also occurs with intelligent figures interested in the betterment of their own societies. One need only look at the libraries of such figures as Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X. The latter, in his autobiography, mentions the many books he studied, they include histories, political theory, philiosophy, and more.
The Qur'an is not a book that encourages blind faith. In fact, it points to the sciences, to certain fields and disciplines that would be deemed by many today as non religious! The guidance of God tells us that we should take lessons from the mistakes of past societies. It has been my observation that those who are deeply influenced by the Qur'an, personalities whom I know personally and others whom I have not interacted with, are people who are not limited to the Qur'an. Their interests are expansive, usually to include history, the physical world, science, and the fate of civilizations. This does not mean that they all reach the same conclusions on all subjects, or that their conclusions are always correct. However, it does indicate that they are pondering deeply upon the words of Allah, which makes them look at the other important subjects.
I would dare take this further to say that those who claim to study the Qur'an and yet have no interest in these [and other related] subjects, have in fact not studied the Qur'an properly! Perhaps a better way of saying that is that their "studies" are actually superficial at best. The need to study these other important fields is particularly acute in our Imams, scholars and speakers, especially the famous ones or those up and coming!
There is no need for us to become like many who are referred to as Biblical fundamentalists, people who read and study only the [translations of] Bible. Such reading may be a nice pious exercise, however the results can be very problematic, and we don't want to follow in the same mistakes.
The location of Sodom and Gommorah is well known, as was known at the time of the revelation. God lets such remmants exist in order to be a lesson for future generations. Yet. today, at the site, it is not taken seriously. Indeed, it is now a swimming attraction today.
Believers do take the warnings and signs of past civilizational failures seriously.
Madyan is in NorthWest Arabia, to whom a Prophet named Shu'ayb عليه السلام was sent.
Hijr is said to be between the Hijaz [Western Arabia, where Makkah and Madinah are located] and Syria. To them, a Prophet named Saaleh عليه السلام was sent forth.
Zamakhshari [as quoted by Muhammad Asad] suggests that the term "Messengers" here means Saaleh and his followers. This would suggest that the followers of Prophets likewise have a Prophetic mission.
These observations are not meant to be dogmatic, but rather to point out that the Quranic treatment of subjects are very nuanced. Indeed, even with the Sodom and Gomorrah story, we should be able to see that the prevalence of sexual relations outside of the norm is only a sympton of a deeper illness. We should also be able to see that the Qur'an advocates a serious study and search for solutions to the issues we face in today's world.
Wa Billaahit Tawfeeq