Recently I came to notice that the Quran’s disjointed style, grammatical quirks, and POV changes have ceased to phase me as much as they used to. There are some idioms and uses of language that I have seen enough of to assume their meaning without pause. How much I have become inured only became clear to me since my husband started reading along at Surah Yusuf. Whereas I’d praised that surah as the most consistent, linear, readable one yet, my husband was bowled over at the frequent changes of attention, the fuzzy pronouns, and the preachy interjections. I had seen those things with a sort of “meh, it’s the Quran” shrug. So it’s fair to say that I am now getting used to the Quran. I’m not at all claiming mastery (far from it!), but I have a forming sense of its themes, idioms, and core ideas and how they fit into Muhammad’s ministry and environment.
When I read Surah an-Nahl I came into a little fresh confusion. Part of having a sense of the Quran includes being a little aware of what themes were relevant to his initial ministry in Mecca and what was relevant to his ministry in Medina. An-Nahl is categorized officially as a Meccan surah, but by the end of reading I felt that I was in a Medinian one. While writing last week’s post, I occasionally found myself confused about the location of some of the ayat, conflating a few of them with other suwar. So today I’m going to take the opportunity to better spell out the distinctions between ayat revealed in Mecca and Medina, something that I couldn’t do when I first started out on this project and hadn’t enough knowledge to choose good search terms and discern good resources. Then I will look at the material in an-Nahl that seems, even if only superficially, to come from a later point in Muhammad’s ministry.
surah an-naHl, “The Bees,” struck a different chord with me at first. If I had to pin down the source of this, I would say that’s becausea sizable portion of it targets the good believers. The majority of our past suwar have been densely saturated with rebukes and condemnations for Muhammad to pass along to unbelievers, hypocrites, or even believers who have failed to show good character. This surah talks at length to a body of believers who are not in a bad way spiritually but are still undergoing persecution and rejection. Large chunks of ayat smart with resentment of the unbelievers, but others focus on the good things provided by God without any mention of avenging justice. The ultimate message of this surah to believers is to be grateful to God for the good things of the creation, the good things they are called to practice in lieu of idolatry, and (yes) the justice that awaits the unbelievers. Many of the 128 ayat are sweet enough to be worthy of cross-stitching onto pillows and crafting into children’s projects.
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Surah al-Hijr, 99 ayat long, presents us with a review of other materials. It emphasizes the stubbornness and doom of the unbelievers, like a less lingering version of the material I covered in The Cattle, Part 1. It follows with the fall of Iblees, as in The Cow, Part 1, and The Traditions, Part 1. We read again of the early prophets and the messengers to Abraham and Lot, like I covered in Prophet Hud. And it cites the ingenuity of God’s creation to prove His existence, like in The Thunder. This is not too surprising by now, for we have already seen that the Quran references the same materials multiple times throughout its text. The stories as told here do not raise any new questions, and neither do they answer any of the questions raised in their last seen iterations. As such, I don’t have much to say about this surah.