Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Figs and Olives

“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, by the fig and the olive and by Mount Sinai and by this trustworthy land, truly We have created the human being of the fairest symmetry.” (al-Tin, 95:1-4)

This passage in the Quran jumped off the page at me, first and foremost because it mentions two of the seven species of the Land of Israel that are also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Figs and olives are known to be especially nutritious foods for humans, and are regarded by some as having healing properties. In these verses, the fruits seem to represent witnesses to an oath about humanity’s connection to the land and to God.  I was also struck by the juxtaposition of Mount Sinai—where God bestowed the Torah (law) upon Moses—with the land which God promised the people they would inhabit.  Since the remainder of the sura discusses morality and divine justice, it seems to me that the Prophet [Peace and Blessings be upon him] is reminding us that human beings must be attuned to the natural world in order to be attuned to the supernatural Presence.

Tziporah, several Surats in the Quran contain oaths. Since the Quran is the word of God revealed to the Prophet [Peace and Blessings be upon him], there is an emphasis on the oaths, which are considered to be of great importance. Humans—including all prophets—may not swear by any creation; only God can do that. Scholars agree that here God is swearing by the olive and fig trees due to their benefits to humans and some add that these trees are mentioned as a symbol of the Bayt al Maqdis where Jesus [Peace and Blessings be upon him] received his message from God. The first three segments of the oath are correctly translated, but the fourth should read “and by this secure city,” not “trustworthy land.”  This refers to Mecca where the Quran was first revealed. Consequently, I view the meaning of this text from a different perspective. The Surat is a humble reminder of the greatness of God’s wisdom and justice in creating humans and holding them accountable for their actions.

The poetic imagery of this beautiful quotation conjures for me an Eden, where God the Creator proclaimed all of creation good. Of course, the Creation story embraced by my faith tradition shows also that sin came into the world and that Adam, archetype of all humanity, hid his shame with a fig leaf! I think our spiritual journeys are about rediscovering Eden as we learn to view creation—including ourselves and other humans—with eyes trained to see through what we may otherwise be tempted to call deformed, grotesque, dirty or spoiled. Beauty must reside too in the “eye of the beholder” to recognize beauty in all. God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the supreme Beholder, sees human beings, even with all our flaws, as an extension of all that is good.  Our challenge is to go to the Mount, descend to the valley and, as the Psalmist recommends, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

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