Friday, April 24, 2015

The Qur'an Surah 38: Saad

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.

This surah, like many before it, tells the stories of various prophets of God who experienced rejection by their communities.  A major theme of the Qur'an is that God has sent prophets throughout history to speak his messages, yet these true messengers experience some rejection, because of the radical nature of their message.  Prophets mentioned in this surah include Noah, Thamud, Lot, David, Solomon, Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Elisha, and Dhu 'l-Kifl.  Muhammad is the latest in this series of prophets, and he too experienced some rejection by his own tribe, the Quraysh.

Verse 4 states: "The disbelievers think it strange that a prophet of their own people has come to warn them: they say, 'He is just a lying sorcerer.'"  This same sentiment is expressed in the gospel of Mark, when Jesus, after experiencing rejection in his hometown of Nazareth, says, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home" (6:4). 

This insight, that a prophet would be rejected by his own community, is profound and transcends simply religious matters.  I think of Galileo, who was persecuted for teaching things that went against the status quo.  It is the same with all visionaries throughout history who see things differently: Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk, Allen Ginsberg, Sitting Bull, Ghandi, etc.  When people publicly say things that challenge the basic ideology of a community, there is going to be some backlash.

Recently, I was discussing the novel VALIS, by Philip K. Dick, with some friends.  In the novel, a man living in Orange County in the 1970s begins having divine revelations, visions that are actually similar to Muhammad and other prophets throughout history.  His visions challenge orthodox religious and political ideas, and it's easy to dismiss him as "insane," just like the prophets before him.  But I think the message of VALIS (and, as it turns out, the Qur'an) is that we should pay more attention to the eccentric, dissenting voices in our communities.  They may be speaking profound truths we need to hear.

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