The thirty-first chapter of the Qur’an, Luqman, connects the ancient genre of advice-giving stories with the Qur’anic author’s own religious views. A direct connection with God, a rejection of mediation in general, and a contrast between God’s greatness and man’s ingratitude are presented. In keeping with the Qur’ans progressive theology, sayings in the Bible are slightly modified in order to highlight these points.
A reading, from the Book of Ahikar:
There was a Vizier in the days of King Sennacherib, son of Sarhadum, King of Assyria and Nineveh, a wise man named Ahikar, and he was Vizier of the king Sennacherib…
And he returned, and implored the Most High God, and believed, beseeching Him with a burning in his heart, saying, ‘0 Most High God, 0 Creator of the Heavens and of the earth, o Creator of all created things!
I beseech Thee to give me a boy, that I may be consoled by him, that he may be present at my death, that he may close my eyes, and that he may bury me.’
Then there came to him a voice saying, ‘Inasmuch as thou hast relied first of all on graven images, and hast offered sacrifices to them, for this reason thou Shalt remain childless thy life long.
But take Nadan thy sister’s son, and make him thy child and teach him thy learning and thy good breeding, and at thy death he shall bury thee.’
But Ahikar has been cut into his hiding-place, and he heard the weeping of his slaves and his neighbors, and he praised the Most High God, the Merciful One, and gave thanks, and he always prayed and besought the Most High God.
And when Nadan heard that speech from his uncle Ahikar, he swelled up immediately and became like a blown-out bladder.
And his limbs swelled and his legs and his feet and his side, and he was torn and his belly burst asunder and his entrails were scattered, and he perished, and died.
And his latter end was destruction, and he went to hell. For he who digs a pit for his brother shall fall into it; and he who sets up traps shall be caught in them.
That is what happened and (what) we found about the tale of Ahikar, and praise be to God for ever. Amen, and peace.
This chronicle is finished with the help of God, may He be exalted! Amen, amen, amen.
A song, from the Psalms:
O Lord, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your possessions—
This great and wide sea,
In which are innumerable teeming things,
Living things both small and great.
There the ships sail about;
There is that Leviathan
Which You have made to play there.
A Reading, from the First Letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians:
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
1 Thessalonians 4:15-5:10
So the captain came to him, and said to him,
A Reading, from the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark:
He used to say,
“How should we find a likeness to the Kingdom of God? How might we draw a comparison? It is like a grain of mustard. When sown on the soil — there it is! — smaller than all of the seeds on the surface of the soil. Yet also, when it is shown, it rises up and becomes something greater than all the garden plants. It puts forth large branches, so that birds of the air can make nests under its shade.”
Using many comparisons like these, we would tell his message to them, adapted to what they were able to hear. He would not express anything to them except in a comparison. But when he was alone, with his disciples, he would explain everything.
A Qur’anic Homily
Ahikar gave wise advice. The wisdom in Ahikar can be extended into theological advice. The Qur’anic author believes such wisdom includes the rejection of mediation between God and the believer.
Advice from Ahikar
The Qur’anic author uses the Story of Ahikar as a method of sharing God’s message. We start at the end of that story, with the wicked nephew brought low:
Among the people is he who buys diversionary talk that he may lead astray from God’s way without any knowledge, and he takes it in derision. When Our Signs are recited to him he turns away disdainfully, as if he had not heard them, as if there were a deafness in his ears. So inform him of a painful punishment.
The difference between the nephew and the wise uncle Ahikar (here called “Luqman”) is not because of Ahikar’s own doing tho, but the supernatural grace that gave him the wisdom to convert from idolatry:
Certainly We gave Luqman wisdom, saying,
“Give thanks to God; and whoever gives thanks, gives thanks only for his own sake. And whoever is ungrateful, God is indeed all-sufficient, all-laudable.”
The Qur’an generalizes Ahikar/Luqman’s advice to Nadan into the Qur’anic author’s specific concerns of emphasizing an Arian view of Christ, both recycling Christ’s parables…
O my son! Even if it should be the weight of a mustard seed, and it should be in a rock, or in the heavens, or in the earth, God will produce it. God is indeed all-attentive, all-aware.”
… while also sharing an Arian Christology and an anti-episcopal ecclesiology:
When Luqman said to his son, as he advised him: “O my son! Do not ascribe any partners to God. Polytheism is indeed a great injustice.”
The Qur’an references Ahikar’s funny line about a donkey’s voice. By incorporating one of the funniest of Ahikar’s wisest sayings, the reader is more apt to ascribe other sayings in the chapter to someone equally as wise.
Be modest in your bearing, and lower your voice. Indeed, the ungainliest of voices is the donkey’s voice.
Advice from the Qur’anic Author
Having established the genre of a wisdom work, the Qur’anic author now uses this foundation to critique and expand on other statements.
Listening to the advice of one’s father is behind the many “O my son” lines of Ahikar. But one’s earthly guardian’s advice should be tested to ensure it is not also Satan’s advice:
When they are told, “Follow what God has sent down,” they say, “No, we will follow what we found our fathers following. What! Even if Satan be calling them to the punishment of the blaze”
The source of true advice is the logos, which the Qur’an calls The Book. John said the works of Christ could not be contained in all the books of the world. Yes, the logos (which the author distinguishes from Christ) of God (who the author distinguishes from Christ) could not be contained in an ocean’s worth of ink:
If all the tress on the earth were pens, and the sea replenished with seven more seas, the words of God would not be spent. God is indeed all-mighty, all-wise.
Hyperbolically, the Qur’anic author implies the only thing that matches the greatness of God’s work is the ingratitude of man. This can be seen by many people receiving a revelation and ignoring it. People can literally receive an ocean’s worth of signs — like Jonah’s fellow passengers — which brings about temporary repentance, but then human rationalization returns when they return to dry land:
Have you not regarded that the ships sail at sea with God’s blessing, that He may show you some of His signs? There are indeed signs in that for every patient and grateful. When waves cover them like awnings, they invoke God, putting exclusive faith in Him. But when He delivers them toward land, some of them remain unwavering. No one will impugn Our signs except an ungrateful traitor.
A Pattern of wisdom
Wisdom books, such as Ahikar or Proverbs, are focused on an individual conforming himself to the right order of things. Thus, as much as Wisdom focuses on the Tao, it also focuses on the self. It is in this fundamental individuality of Wisdom that the Qur’anic urges the believer to turn away from the judgment or salvation of others:
Whoever surrenders his heart to God and is virtuous, has certainly held fast to the firmest handle, and with God lies the outcome of all matters. As for those who are faithless, let their unfaith not grieve you. To Us will be their return, and We will inform them about what they have done. Indeed, God knows best what is in their breasts.
In the Terrible Day of the Lord, the natural order of things will pass away and the believer will face judgment with no intercessor or redeemer between himself and God. The wisdom, or foolishness, of a soul before that time will then be clear to all.
O mankind! Be wary of your Lord and fear the day when a father will not atone for his child, nor the child will atone for its father in any wise. God’s promise is indeed true. So do not let the life of the world deceive you, nor let the Deceiver deceive you concerning God.
Luqman is a short chapter in the Qur’an that builds on the tradition of Wisdom literature. Luqman, the Qur’anic name for Ahikar, and his idiot-nephew are referenced in the opening of the chapter. This advice is generalized into Qur’anic monotheism, focusing on a direct and unmediated connection between God and each individual man.