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Qur’an 33: The Confederates

The thirty-third chapter of the Qur’an, “The Confederates,” explores the universal call to prophecy. If all men are called to be prophets, then all men must not just prophecy, but heed the prophecies of others. Yet men vary in both abilities. From the very first guide to the truth — “you” — to the very best — Truth Himself — no one is relieved from the mission to point to God. In exhortations, in biblical allusions, and in references to the world of his own life, the Qur’anic author urges us all to participate in Christ’s husbandry of the church, and in Christ’s role of the seal of the prophets.


The “Our Father” in Arabic

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:20-21

A reading, from the Book of Numbers:

Now the Reubenites and the Gadites owned a very great number of cattle. When they saw that the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead was a good place for cattle, the Gadites and the Reubenites came and spoke to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon— the land that the Lord subdued before the congregation of Israel—is a land for cattle; and your servants have cattle.” They continued, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession; do not make us cross the Jordan.”

But Moses said to the Gadites and to the Reubenites, “Shall your brothers go to war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the hearts of the Israelites from going over into the land that the LORD has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. When they went up to the Wadi Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the hearts of the Israelites from going into the land that the LORD had given them. The LORD’s anger was kindled on that day and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the people who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not unreservedly followed me— none except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they have unreservedly followed the LORD.’ And the LORD’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD had disappeared. And now you, a brood of sinners, have risen in place of your fathers, to increase the LORD’s fierce anger against Israel! If you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness; and you will destroy all this people.”
Numbers 32:1-15

A Song, from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
And rely on horses,
Who trust in chariots because they are many,
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
Nor seek the LORD!

Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster,
And will not call back His words,
But will arise against the house of evildoers,
And against the help of those who work iniquity.

Now the Egyptians are men, and not God;
And their horses are flesh, and not spirit.
When the LORD stretches out His hand,
Both he who helps will fall,
And he who is helped will fall down;
They all will perish together.
Isaiah 31:1-4

A reading, from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians:

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Alleluia, Alleluia

And then “Righteousness Eternal” was manifested, and “a most holy one was anointed”–that is, Christ–and “sealed was vision and prophet,” and “sins” were remitted, which, through faith in the name of Christ, are washed away for all who believe on Him. But what does he mean by saying that “vision and prophecy are sealed? “That all prophets ever announced of Him that He was to come and had to suffer. Therefore, since the prophecy was fulfilled through His coming, for that reason he said that “vision and prophecy were sealed; “inasmuch as He is the signet of all prophets, fulfilling all things which in days bygone they had announced of Him.
Against the Jews 8:12

Alleluia, Alleluia

A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to Matthew

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
Matthew 16:13-20

Communion Antiphon:

I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me.
1 Corinthians 4:14-16

A Qur’anic Homily

The Call to Prophethood

Two main themes of the Qur’an are God’s total power, and the universal call to prophethood — every follower’s obligation to witness God to others. These are not in contradiction. As the Catholic Church held a century before the Qur’an was written:

If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).
2nd Synod of Orange 4-6

The Qur’anic author, who considered himself Catholic but was in fact post-Arian, agrees.

O Prophet! Be wary of God and do not obey the faithless and the hypocrite. God is indeed all-knowing, all-wise. And follow that which is revealed to you from your Lord. God is indeed well aware of what you do. And put your trust in God. God suffices as a trustee.
Qur’an 33:1-3

The Qur’anic, and Catholic, views are identical: good works are God’s works, a good heart is God’s heart. The imitation of the Way, the Truth, the Light on the Cross is the goal and proper place of all men:

God had not put two hearts within any man, nor has He made your wives whom you repudiate your mothers, nor has he made your adopted sons your sons. These are mere utterances of your mouth. But God speaks the Truth and He guides to the Way.
Qur’an 33:4

All are prophets, and you cannot speak of yourself without speaking of the prophet within you. You cannot see your own soul. But you see yourself as the prophet — true or false, righteous or wicked — every time you look in the mirror:

The prophet is closer to the faithful than their own souls, and his wives are their mothers. The blood relatives are more entitled to inherit from one another in the Book of God than the faithful and Emigrants, barring any favor you may do your kinsmen. This has been written in the Book.
Qur’an 33:6

Yet that the call to prophethood is universal does not mean all serve equally serve as well as signposts pointing to Christ. Prophets further back in time naturally pointed towards Him in a more vague and roundabout way. And if you would reflect on the state of your own soul, you would rate yourself a prophet less clear than even those:

When we took a pledge from the prophets

and from you
and from Noah
and Abraham
and Moses
and Jesus, son of Mary

and We took from them a solemn pledge, so that He may question the truthful concerning their Truthfulness. And he has prepared for the faithless a painful punishment.
Qur’an 33:7-8

Fully accepting the reality of the universal call to prophethood goes beyond identifying oneself as a prophet. All others are prophets too — good or bad, true or false. A woman’s husband is a prophet — she should act like the wife of a prophet:

O wives of the prophet! You are not like other women: if you are wary, do not be complaisant in your speech, lest he in whose heart is a sickness should aspire; speak honorable words. Stay in your houses and do not flaunt your finery like the former ignorance. Maintain the prayer and give alms and obey God and His apostle.

Indeed, God desire to repel all impurity from you, O People of the Household, and purify you with a thorough purification.
Qur’an 33:32-33

By treating her husband as a prophet, a woman allows her spouse to act towards her as Paul acted towards the women of the church, and as Christ acted towards His Church: loving, protecting, and emancipating from danger and namelessness:

O prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw closely over themselves their cloaks. That makes it likely for them to be recognized and not be troubled, and God is all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Qur’an 33:59

The host of a guest is a prophet — he should act as the guest of a prophet:

O you who have faith! Do not enter the prophet’s houses for a meal until you are granted permission, without waiting for it to be readied. But enter when you are invited and disperse when you have taken your meal, without cozying up for chats. Such conduct on your part offends the prophet, and he is ashamed of you; but God is not ashamed of the truth. When you ask womenfolk for something, do ask them from behind a curtain. This is more chaste for your hearts and theirs. You should not offend the Apostle of God, nor may you ever marry his wives after him. That would indeed be a grave with God.
Qur’an 33:53

By treating his host as a prophet, a guest allows his host to share the Good News with him, as the host too is a prophet:

O prophet! We have indeed sent you as a witness, as a bearer of good news and a warner and as a summoner to God by His permission, and as a radiant lamp.
Qur’an 33:45

The Call as Battle

This chapter of the Qur’an exhorts the two-way obligation that exists because of the universal call to prophethood: the call to point to God, and the call to heed others when they point towards Him. The same double obligation — of service and allowing one to be served — is told through Biblical war stories in this chapter.

Consider Joshua’s invasion of Canaan. Joshua had an obligation to part the River Jordan and bring the people over. He pointed towards God. He also had to accept the more human challenges that God placed in his way. He accepted the direction even when it was difficult.

O you who have faith! Remember God’s blessing upon you when the hosts came at you and We sent against them a gale and host whom you did not see. And God sees best what you do. Then they came at you from above and below you, and when the eyes rolled and the hearts lept to the throats and you entertained misgivings about God, it was there that the faithful were tested and jolted with a severe agitation.
Qur’an 33:9-11

Or consider the same invasion, from the perspective of the tribes of Reuben and Gad. They initially asked permission to settle east of the Jordan — without engaging in Battle. Their circular logic — that if they do not partake in battle, their homes would be where they are now, so they should not partake in battle — was not rejected. They had an obligation to help bring all Israel to Canaan. But as this was done, what they once asserted as a false claim was a real one: they had an obligation to accept their share of the conquered lands as their new homes.

And when a group of them sought the prophet’s permission, saying “Our homes lie exposed,” although they were not exposed. They only sought to flee. Had they been invaded from its flanks and had they been asked to apostatize, they would have done so with only a mild hesitation, though they had already pledged to God before that they would not turn their backs, and pledges given to God are accountable.

Say, “Flight will not avail you, should you flee from death, or from being killed, and then you will be let to enjoy only a little while.”
Qur’an 33:13-16

The alternative to the social reality of the universal call to prophethood are the false confederates of this world — the Egytypian army mocked by Isaiah, the city of man, the vanity of vanities. These “confederates” do not have the strength of God, cannot save, and for those who trust in them, bring with them damnation. The false “confederates” of man are actually man’s persecutors.

They supposed the confederates have not left yet, and were the confederates to come, they would wish they were in the desert with the Bedouins asking about your news, and if they were with you they would fight but a little.

There is certainly a good exemplar for you in the apostle of God — for those who look forward to God and the Last Day and remember God much.
Qur’an 33:20-21

Every prophet — from you and Noah, through Moses and Christ, will be accused by the unbelievers. You will be a lamp to those in the darkness by pointing to God even of those in adversity. So join the prophets, and not their persecutors.

O you who have faith! Do not be like those who offended Moses, whereat God cleared him of what they alleged, and he was distinguished in God’s sight.
Qur’an 33:69

The Call As Familiar Stories

Both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament assume some familiarity with events that take place outside of the standard story. Ahikar, for instance, seems to be a speaking character in the Hebrew Bible, and the nephew of a protagonist, but who he is or his significance is barely explained. Like, the rhetoric of the gospels aggressively co-opts Roman Imperial Religion, but the beliefs and personalities of that dead faith are mentioned only in passing. It presumable is a similar culture-specific contact that we see a very brief and passing, single mention, in these chapters of mysterious personages, such as “Zayd”, who is used as a well-known example of someone fulfilling the marital role of the prophet, participating in Christ’s husbandship of the church:

When you said to him whom God had blessed, and whom you had blessed, “Retain your wife for yourself and be wary of God,” and you had hidden in your heart what God was to divulge, and you feared the people tough God is worthier that you should fear Him, so when Zayd had got through with her, We wedded her to you, so that there may be no blame on the faithful in respect to the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have got through with them, and God’s command is bound to be fulfilled.
Qur’an 33:37

And “Muhammad,” participates with Christ in being the Seal of Vision and Prophets:

Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the apostle of God and seal of the prophets, and God has knowledge of all things.
Qur’an 33:40

I wonder who these men were and if the Qur’anic author ever met them in person.

Conclusion

The call to be a prophet — an apostle — is given to all men by God. You are meant to be a priest, a prophet, an apostle, to be higher than the angels, to be obeyed. Accept the call, and prepare for the authority that comes with it.

Or accept a different fate.

The day when their faces are turned about in the Fire, they will say, “We wish we had obeyed God and obeyed the Apostle! They will say, “You Lord! We obeyed our leaders and elders and they led us astray from the way.’
Qur’an 33:66-67

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