Friday, March 27, 2015

The Qur'an Surah 23: The Believers

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. 

"Repel evil with good."

-- The Qur'an, Surah 23, Verse 96

The 23rd surah of the Qur'an contains many of the classic motifs which (I'm learning) are repeated throughout the Qur'an.  The surah takes its title from numerous references to believers-- before, during, and after the time of the prophet.  The surah begins with the oft-repeated idea that God's provision for humanity is revealed in creation--in human life, the natural world, and the cosmos, the "seven levels of heaven."

Then the surah gives a few cases of prophets who came before Muhammad, whose purpose was to bring people back to faith in God (this is another motif throughout the Qur'an).  These prophets include Noah, Moses, Aaron, and Jesus.  In the case of each prophet, some people believed, but many did not.  These passages also contain the motif of argument.  The unbelievers give their objections to the prophet: he is a liar, he speaks ancient fables, etc.  In each case, however, the prophet is ultimately vindicated by the retributive justice of God.

The surah ends in the present day (of the time of the prophet), as Muhammad encourages his followers to learn from prior prophets, and from creation, to have faith in God.  Verses 57-61 give a fairly concise description of what this faith entails: "Those who stand in awe of their Lord, who believe in His messages, who do not ascribe partners to Him, who always give with hearts that tremble at the thought that they must return to Him, are the ones who race toward good things, and they will be the first to get them."

In the tradition of apocalyptic literature, the surah also makes reference to the "Day of Judgment," the end of the world, and the promise of resurrection.  After the resurrection, those who have faith in God will enter paradise, and those who do not will enter hell.  As if to temper this harsh idea, the last verse is an affirmation of God's ultimate mercy: "Lord, forgive and have mercy: You are the most merciful of all."

Manuscript page from Surah 23: The Believers (Al-Mu'minoon)

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