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By: Michael Sells

Qura'nic Translation Surah (Chapter) 107
In the Name of God the Compassionate the Caring

Do you see him who calls the reckoning a lie?
He is the one who casts the orphan away
who fails to urge the feeding of one in need
Cursed are those who perform the prayer unmindfully
who make of themselves a big show
but hold back the small kindness

The small kindness relates a series of activities in a way that grounds much of Islamic moral theology. The first act is rejecting or calling a lie the din, a word that can mean either the religion or the day of reckoning. Just as the word often translated as "believe" is more passive than the Qur'anic conception of holding fast to the belief or keeping the faith, so the concept of calling the reckoning (or religion) a lie is more active than standard English translation such as "unbelief." Those who reject the reckoning - which, in early Meccan revelations, is the foundation of religion - are those who abuse the orphan, who are indifferent to those suffering in their midst, and who are neglectful in performing the prayer. This neglectfulness has been interpreted in two ways by Qur'anic commentators: either as neglecting the proper timing and posture in performing the physical movements or as performing them mechanically while thinking about other things, without following through on the implications of the prayer for other aspects of life and behavior. The second interpretation is supported by the fact that the verse on prayer is followed by two verses on self-display and neglecting the small kindness.

Display, particularly of one's own acts of worship or piety, betrays a lack of true generosity. Self-display ends as a form of self-delusion, as a person ignores what the Qur'an announces will be ultimate in the evaluation of each life at the moment of reckoning : a genuine act of kindness, however small it might seem. There is a moral circle of causality implied in the Qur'anic on this issue. The refusal to acknowledge the moment of reckoning results in blindness to the small act of kindness. On the other hand, the true weight of that small act will be revealed on the day of reckoning to those who have carried it out and to those who have neglected it alike.

Excerpted from 'Approaching The Qura'n" by Professor Michael Sells, who is a Professor of Comparative Religions at Haverford College. 

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