Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Qur’an Surah 20: Ta Ha

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. 

Some surahs of the Qur’an begin with a few seemingly random Arabic letters whose meaning is unknown.  So it is with “Ta Ha.”  Some scholars have suggested that it means “O man!” in an ancient Yemeni dialect, but no one knows for sure.

The content of the surah, however, is familiar.  It tells the story of Moses, from the biblical book of Exodus.  The telling of the story is interesting, stylistically.  Unlike the Bible, which tells the story in a linear, chronological way, the Qur’an opts for a non-linear, Quentin Tarantino style.  It begins with the burning bush, in which God called Moses to deliver the Israelites from the tyrant Pharaoh.  Then, the narrative goes into a flashback sequence, almost like a quick-cut montage, hi-lighting various episodes from Moses’ life—how his mother saved him when he was a baby by putting him in a basket in the Nile, how he killed an Egyptian and fled to Midian, where God called him.

This non-linear narrative style fits the Qur’an as a whole, which is also non-linear.  It is characterized by bursts of ecstatic revelation, as opposed to a continual, chronological story.  It is more poetry than novel.

Then the surah narrates Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, the wilderness wanderings, and the Israelites’ idolatry at Mt. Sinai.  This episode, involving the golden calf, seems to sum up the main “lesson” of the story of Moses and the Israelites—listen to God and his prophets, and avoid idolatry.  The surah ends with an exhortation to do good deeds, in expectation of the final Day of Judgment.

Yesterday, my brother asked me how people go to heaven, according to the Qur’an.  It seems to me that three things are required: belief in the one God, belief in the revelations of his prophets, and good deeds.  These three things, to me, embody the foundation of Islam, according to the Qur’an (or, at least what I’ve read so far).

Calligraphy of the letters "Ta" and "Ha"

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