Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Study notes: Brief thoughts on Quranic texts [Soorah Al Hijr 15:1-10]

Note: Below is a summary of some thoughts generated upon study of verses from the Qur'an's fifteenth chapter, known as Soorah Al Hijr. The Arabic text is given below, and we have not included translation, except where noted within the article. This encourages the English language reader-if necessary- to read the translation of their choice for themselves. This article is not intended to be an authoritative Tafseer [commentary or explanation], but rather, an example of Tafheem [attempt at understanding] and Tadabbur, pondering upon the Quranic text. This also functions as an edited version  of our 7/2/17  presentation at our weekly Quranic discussion in the Mosque.


الَرَ تِلْكَ آيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ وَقُرْآنٍ مُّبِينٍ

As in many Soowar, we find rather odd letter combinations starting out the verse. Anyone acquainted with the Qur'an and the traditional Tafseer literature will know that there has been many theories expressed as to what these letter combinations [known as Al Muqata'aat] mean, as well as explanations that have been given in unorthodox writings [such as Rashad Khalifa's view that they are actually letters with numerical value [in the Abjad system], with a code that points to the world ending in the year 2280! (ft.1)

The more authoritative Tafaseer will usually have the expression "God knows best the meaning" in connection with Al Muqata'aat. It is the view of this writer that the meaning is actually rather simple and summarized as follows: [1] With only the exception of Soorah Maryam [19:1], the letter combinations [or "initals" if you wish] always precede a mention of something regading the Qur'an itself, and here is no different. "Alif-Laam, Raa, These are the signs of the Scripture, and a reading that is perfectly clear [Qur'aanin Mubeen]" . (2) Therefore, the Muqata'aat are Attention getters, taking our attention to that which follows it, in this case, to the value of the Qur'an itself!

This is not a new speculation, Ibn Katheer in his commentary [Tafseer Al Qur'aan Al 'Adheem] mentions this was an explanation advanced by some scholars in his own time [he died in 1373 CE]. While it is true that he does not appear to endorse this view, the fact that he encountered it does tell us that this is not a novel opinion! In our own times, organiztions of importance are better known by their initials, it is the initials in their name which generate the most and quickest attention. FBI, rather than "Federal Bureau of Investigation", CIA, rather than "Central Intelligence Agency" and so forth.


رُّبَمَا يَوَدُّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ لَوْ كَانُواْ مُسْلِمِينَ
ذَرْهُمْ يَأْكُلُواْ وَيَتَمَتَّعُواْ وَيُلْهِهِمُ الأَمَلُ فَسَوْفَ يَعْلَمُونَ
وَمَا أَهْلَكْنَا مِن قَرْيَةٍ إِلاَّ وَلَهَا كِتَابٌ مَّعْلُومٌ

As in many places within this scripture, the term Kuffar [or here Alladheena Kafaroo] does not speak to each and every single Non Muslim, but rather, to what the Qur'an calls "elites" [Al Mala'a] or "The leadership of Kufr" [A-immat al Kufr] [Q 9:12].

The winds of change always, atleast eventually, change in the favor of truth and justice. "Probably, those who reject wish they had been submissive, so let them consume ( Ya'kulu) and enjoy.."

The mission of the Prophets, with almost no exception, is always filled with persecution, slander, killlings, etc, in its initial stages. The Prophets are victims of all the above terrible things, but the tides change over time, in favor of the Prophets.

The term "Known decree" [Kitaabin Ma'loom] shows that when Allah does, in fact, punish a social order, He [Jalla wa 'Alaaa] does so because their crimes are so well known and established that their guilt is beyond doubt.


مَّا تَسْبِقُ مِنْ أُمَّةٍ أَجَلَهَا وَمَا يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ

The Qur'an almost always looks at the big picture. No power can remain longer than God has permitted. This is something shown repeatedly in the Qur'an, and should be an axiomatic truth to a person familiar with the Quranic texts. It is worth noting that the term Ummah, used here, is also used in the Qur'an elsewhere as referring to a single person [as opposed to an entire group. The example of Abraham is in Q 16:120] and even to a time period ( Q 12:45).(FT,2)


وَقَالُواْ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِي نُزِّلَ عَلَيْهِ الذِّكْرُ إِنَّكَ لَمَجْنُونٌ
لَّوْ مَا تَأْتِينَا بِالْمَلائِكَةِ إِن كُنتَ مِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ
مَا نُنَزِّلُ الْمَلائِكَةَ إِلاَّ بِالحَقِّ وَمَا كَانُواْ إِذًا مُّنظَرِينَ
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

The Leaders of Rejection//Tyranny [A-Immat al Kufr] are always demanding magic tricks from the Prophets and Messengers of Allah.

The most important issue to remember in this discussion is that the mission and the message of the Prophets are not limited to "religion", but rather, they have social and political implications, Asking for magic tricks is simply a demeaning of the Divine message.

15:8 teaches us that if-in fact- angels would come down, they would not come for the whims of the rejectors, rather, they would come as God's agents of punishment.

15:9 is perhaps the most famous verse in this Soorah. "Indeed, it is We [i.e. Allah] who has sent the Reminder [Adh-Dhikr], and it is We [i.e. Allah] who guard it". It is the most famous ayah in this chapter because it speaks on the status of the Qur'an, and Muslims always quote it to show the textual preservation of the Qur'an.

The context [in particular with verse 6, which also has the word Adh-dhikr] seems to suggest an even deeper meaning, and that is that God's Message has been ever-consistent. The manifestation of God's message may have had differing emphasis depending on time, place and audience, nonethelss it has been consistent in overall point and overall philosophy.

Thus, universally, people of faith find muder to be repulsive, theft to be a criminal act, and have the same overall attitudes on issues relating to social and political order.(ft.3)

This goes along with other Quranic verses, such as "There is no change in the words of Allah" ( Q 6:34).


وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ فِي شِيَعِ الأَوَّلِينَ

The thoughts expressed in connection with verse 9 above provides a basis for which to understand this verse, as well as vv 11-15. Just as God's message has been consistent, the response of the leadership of Rejection has, likewise, been consistent. It has consisted of ridicule, slander, and eventually violence at some levels. Yet, God protects His overall message, and has especially done so with the Last of the Scriptures, given to the Last of the Prophets, the Universal Messenger, Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam.


(1) Rashad Khalifa (1935-1990), an Egyptian Biochemist, advanced an idea that the entire Quranic corpus was all based on multiples of the number 19, thus, in his view, proving the Divine origin of the Qur'an. However, the text on which he derives his notion (Q 74:30) clearly speaks of Hell, and not the Qur'an. Moreover, it uses feminine pronoun ['Alayhaa] whereas "Qur'an" and words relating to it are masculine pronoun. Khalifa eventually declared himself as a Messenger of God [even signing his letters with the Farsi  term Rasool-e Khuda]. His views on the letter combinations in the Qur'an are to be found in his translation Quran: The Final Testament [1989, Tuscon, Arizona, Islamic Productions, pp613-625].

(2) Shaikh Akram Nadwi explains that the term in Q 12:45, ad-dakara, should be tadhakkara, but here has been changed in addakara because it has the meaning "to make effort to remember". In this case, Joseph's cell-mate, released, took a long time to recall his promise to Joseph to tell the ruler of his status. For more information, see Qur'an 12:42-46.

(3) As an example to prove this assertion, see the Qur'an 17:23-39. The basic moral code of life is given in those verses, a code that-broadly speaking- can be agreed upon by followers of every religion.

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