Monday, November 9, 2015

The Qur'an Surah 78: The Announcement

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 is a Meccan surah which, like many other Meccan surahs, deals with the coming Day of Resurrection, when God will separate the believers from the unbelievers and send them to either heaven or hell.  If you've been reading this book report, you may share my frustration that the Qur'an is super repetitive about the Day of Resurrection.  Dozens of surahs repeat the same basic formula--believe and you'll go to heaven, don't believe and you'll go to hell.  This message loses some of its force after the 37th time you read it.

Frustrated by this repetition of content, I've decided to focus more on form.  After all, the Qur'an is a kind of epic poem/song meant to be recited/sung.  I know I'm missing a lot of the poetry because I'm reading an English prose translation of the original Arabic, but I can still detect some poetic elements that are preserved, even in translation.

For example, in this surah, repetition is actually a poetic device.  It begins with a series of rhetorical questions posed to unbelievers, which use the form "Did we not...?"  These questions are meant to hi-light God's creative power, and to cause the unbeliever to question his/her unbelief:

"Did We not make the earth smooth, and make the mountains stable?
Did We not create you in pairs, give you sleep for rest, the night as a cover, and the day for your livelihood?
Did We not build seven strong [heavens] above you, and make a blazing lamp?
Did We not send water pouring down from the clouds to bring forth with it grain, plants, and luxuriant gardens?

Thus, it turns out that repetition is actually an intentional poetic device, at least in this surah.

Manuscript of surah 78.

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