Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Qur’an Surah 26: The Poets

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 26th surah of the Qur’an takes its title from a verse which says, “Only those who are lost in error follow the poets.”  When read out of context, this verse seems bizarre, considering the fact that the Qur’an itself is highly poetic.  In context, however, the verse makes more sense.  A footnote to my Oxford Qur’an explains: “The Meccans dismissed the Qur’an as (mere) poetry.  After the prophet moved to Medina, the Meccans commissioned poets to satirize the Muslims, and some Muslim poets counter-attacked.”  It seems like this surah was written in the context of a kind of “War of the Poets.”  What this surah asserts is that the Qur’an transcends mere poetry.  It is a revelation from God.

The surah may be read as an extended argument for the truth of the prophet’s message, as revealed in the Qur’an.  As in previous surahs, this one tells stories of previous prophets whose message was initially rejected, then vindicated.  These prophets include biblical figures like Moses, Aaron, Abraham, Noah, and Lot. They also include pre-Islamic Arabian prophets like Hud, Salih, and Shu’ayb.  Muhammad is merely the latest in this succession of holy prophets.

19th century Persian manuscript of the Qur'an.

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