Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Qur’an Surah 25: The Differentiator

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. 

“The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on the earth, and who, when aggressive people address them, reply with words of peace.”

—The Qur’an Surah 25, v. 63

The more I read the Qur’an, the more I realize its essentially poetic/musical quality.  To the uninformed reader, it seems incredibly repetitive, even boring.  Certain themes weave together and repeat themselves with endless variations throughout.  It’s not a narrative, but it contains many stories.  It’s not a prayer, but it contains many prayers.  I think the best religious/textual comparison I can make is with the Hebrew prophets and the book of Psalms.

When we read the prophets and the psalms, we do not expect a continuous narrative.  We expect poetry and song, which is what the Qur’an is—a song to be sung, not a text to be read silently.  Like music and poetry, like the prophets and the psalms, the Qur’an riffs on a handful of repeated themes.  In my book report on psalms, I focused on two oft-repeated themes: Help me out, God and Help us out, God.  In my various reports on the prophets (like Isaiah), I noted the common themes of judgment, destruction, and renewal.  Like these other religious/poetic texts, the Qur’an weaves certain motifs, like blues or jazz.

Surah 25, The Differentiator, takes its title from another name for the Qur’an, Al-Furqan, which means “that which differentiates right form wrong.”  The text riffs on a few familiar themes: warnings against polytheism, criticisms of the prophet, vindication of the prophet, the final judgment, the testimony of previous prophets, and a meditation on the afterlife (heaven vs. hell).  As poetry goes, it’s pretty heavy and intense stuff, just like the Hebrew prophets and Psalms.

A Qur’an leaf in Maghribi script of surah Al-Furqan (The Differentiator). North Africa or Andalusia, late 12th-13th century 

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