Friday, April 10, 2015

The Qur'an Surah 28: The Story

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 28th surah of the Qur'an takes it title from the story of Moses, which is re-told as a kind of precursor to Muhammad.  For those unfamiliar with the story of Moses (from the Book of Exodus, various Hollywood films, and, as it turns out, the Qur'an), it is as follows: Moses was an Israelite born in Egypt at a time when Israelites were slaves.  Fearing a rebellion, Pharaoh ordered all the male Israelite babies killed.  Moses' mother, wishing to spare her son's life, put him in a basket in the Nile river, and prayed for mercy from God.  The basket was found by Pharaoh's wife, who decided to adopt the baby and raise him as a prince of Egypt.

When Moses reached manhood, he learned of his peoples' plight and killed an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite slave.  Moses fled into the desert of Midian, where he met his wife and became a shepherd.  Many years later, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and told him to liberate his people.  Moses was afraid at the enormity of the task, but God gave him signs and wonders to perform, and his brother Aaron to help him.  Moses came before Pharaoh and said, "Let my people go!"  To which Pharaoh replied, "No."  After many signs and wonders from God, Moses finally liberated his people from their bondage in Egypt, and God gave him the Torah, or holy scripture, as guidance for this newly-liberated community, which became the nation of Israel.

After re-telling this story, which is basically the founding narrative of the Jewish people, the Qur'an states that Muhammad is like Moses--leading a new community on a kind of Exodus (or hijra) out of Mecca, and giving them a holy book, the Qur'an, which is a sign of grace and mercy from God.  I find it fascinating how much respect the Qur'an has for the Jewish prophets and scriptures, and how it sees Muhammad as an extension of this tradition.  At a time when Jewish-Muslim relations are quite strained in the Middle East (and elsewhere), perhaps it would be good for Jews, Muslims (and Christians) to reflect on their shared heritage.  This is, I think, an essential part of true inter-faith dialogue--realizing the deep connections between our different faith traditions.

Moses (or Musa) with a cane in his hand (15th century Persian miniature).

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