Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Qur’an Surah 51: Scattering [Winds]

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 takes its title from two references to powerful wind, which are symbolic of the two natures of God: He is a benevolent provider, and he is a stern judge.  This imagery would have resonated particularly with desert-dwelling Arabs of the 7th century, for whom powerful wind could be both a blessing (bringing rain) or a curse (bringing destructive sandstorms). The surah begins with a description of benevolent wind: “By those [winds] that scatter far and wide, and those that are heavily laden [with rain], that speed freely, that distribute [rain] as ordained!”  Nature is often seen in the Qur’an as a sign of divine provision and goodness.  Indeed, in a desert climate like 7th century Arabia, winds brought much-needed rain.  

Just as winds could bring life-giving water, winds could also bring devastating sandstorms.  For those who reject the prophet, God has other, less benevolent, winds in store: “We sent the life-destroying wind against them and it reduced everything it came up against to shreds.”  A main component of Muhammad’s teaching is the coming Day of Resurrection, when God will judge humanity.  The powerful wind is seen as an embodiment of this judgment.  The two types of wind in surah 51 are symbols of the two natures of God: benevolent provider and stern judge.  It's a powerful, evocative, poetic image with different meanings.

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