Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Qur’an Surah 15: Al-Hijr

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each surah of the Qur'an and write about what I learn. 

Like the Bible, the Qur’an has several recurring themes: the oneness of God, the importance of faithfulness, the futility of idolatry, etc.  One recurring theme is the rejected prophet.  The 15th surah of the Qur’an, “Al-Hijr,” focuses on this theme.

During his lifetime, Muhammad encountered opposition to his message.  The surah begins by stating some common objections to the prophet and his message: “They say, ‘Receiver of this Qur’an!  You are definitely mad.  Why do you not bring us the angels if you are telling the truth?”  In other words, Muhammad’s opponents demanded a miraculous sign to confirm his message.  Here, as elsewhere in the Qur’an, the scripture’s response is three-fold:

1.) Even if God gave the people a sign, they would still not believe, because their hearts are already negatively inclined: “They will not believe it…and even if we opened a gateway into the sky, they would still say, ‘Our eyes are hallucinating.  We are bewitched.’”

2.) The real evidence of God’s message is revealed in nature, with all its miracles: “We have set constellations up in the sky and made it beautiful for all to see…As for the earth, We have spread it out, set firm mountains on it, and made everything grow there in due balance.  We have provided sustenance in it for you and for all those creatures for whom you do not provide…We send the winds to fertilize, and We bring down water from the sky for you to drink…”

3.) There is a long tradition of people rejecting the true messages of God.  Muhammad’s situation was nothing new.  People rejected Abraham and Lot’s message to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible.  Other surahs tell of other prophets who experienced rejection: Jonah, Moses, Thamud, Jesus, etc.

This surah gets its title from the pre-Islamic Arabian tribe called Al-Hijr. to whom God sent the prophet Thamud, preaching a message of monotheism.  Like the prophets before him, Thamud experienced some rejection, though ultimately he was vindicated.

The point of this surah seems to be to comfort Muhammad and his fledgling community of faith amidst rejection: “We are well aware that your heart is weighted down by what they say.”  The community is encouraged to take comfort in nature, in history, and in the continuing presence of God, who is “all wise, all knowing.”  Vindication, they are told, will one day come.

Page from 17th century illuminated manuscript of the Qur'an surah Al-Hijr (British Library).

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