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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Course on The Qu'ran and Christian Texts: Assignment 1 and Commentary

Assignment #1: Surah 27. “The Ant”
Here is my first assignment. It appeared that I got a few things wrong, but still posting it for future reference.
1.      Why is the Surah called "The Ant"?
When Solomon with his army of men, birds, and jinn, approached the Ant Valley he saw the ant who asked her fellow ants to hide in their dwellings not to be unwillingly destroyed by the magnificent army of Solomon. Seeing and hearing the ant made Solomon smile and pray to Lord for greater appreciation of what He has given him: “My Lord, Arouse me to be thankful for Thy favours …” The small ant wanting to hide from a massive army also demonstrates complete surrender to the will of Allah, which is the nature of the Qu’ran’s teaching. Another interpretation may include the representation of the potential danger of material possessions. I don’t think the latter is the main point here.
****Although I found the meaning in this encounter, Prof. Stewart explained that Surah's often got their names as a mnemonic device, so that it would be easier to remeber what the Surah is about. It doesn't have to have a meaning. This is because many people memorize Qu'ran, and names like "The Ant" or "The Cow" are easy to remember, although they don't bear much significance. 
2.      How does the Surah begin?
The Surah starts with the words “In the name of Allah, the Benevolent, the Merciful”. Verses 1-5 declare that these revelations of the Qu’ran are supposed to provide guidance for believers in “the Hereafter”, and warning that the non-believers “will be the greatest losers”. It is also attested in verse 6 that Muhammad “verily receivest the Qu’ran from the Presence of One Wise, Aware.”

3.      How does the Surah end?
The Surah ends with Muhammad saying: “I (Muhammad) am commanded only to serve the Lord of this land, which he hath hallowed, and unto Whom all things belong, And I am commanded to be of those who surrender (unto Him); And to recite the Qu’ran…”
***This is a conventional outline in the Qu'ran. If you are familiar with the logic and the format of the text, you know what to expect and it becomes easier to read. Most Surah's have an introduction and conclusion that are written in the present time and addressing the prophet. There is also the narrative part, which refers to stories which happened in the past. The stories don't have to be consecutive. In the Bible, there is only the narrative or stories. The genre of the Qu'ran is different from the Bible. It has fewer numbers, dates, locations, and personal names. Surah take a form of a sermon.Because the sermon is usuallu short, it doesn't let you talk about too many details.
4.      Does the Surah proceed chronologically?
No, the Surah does not procced in chronological order. The first character mentioned in the Surah is Moses, who was lived in the 13th century BC. Pharaoh who mentioned then, has probably reigned at the same time. Solomon, the son of David, is mentioned after Moses lived around 10th century BC, and reined around 960s BC. The Queen of Sheba most likely lived in Northwest Arabia in 10th century BC as well. The chronological order is destroyed starting in verse 45, when the story of Thamud and Salih is told. It is not clearly established when and where Thamud and Salih existed, allegedly they were located somewhere in eastern and central Arabia much earlier than Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, and Moses. It might be that Thamud and Salih dated even earlier than Lot, whose story is revealed further. Lot was a nephew of Abraham and lived much earlier than both Solomon and Moses, presumably around 1900 BC.

5.      Do we know anything about the date when it was revealed?
We know that the story was revealed to Muhammad in Mecca Muhammad was born Muhammad was born in Mecca in Saudi Arabia in 570, and started receiving revelations that later formed the Qu’ran in 610 BC.  So the Surah was revealed sometime in the 7th century BC.

6.      Who is speaking?
The first observation we can make is that, as it seems to be a collective entity. For example, verse 4 says “We have made their works fair seeming unto them so that they are all astray” referring to non-believers. Verse 15 says: “We verily gave knowledge to David and Solomon, and they said: Praise be to Allah, Who hath preferred us above many of His believing slaves!” Are “They” who taught David and Solomon and who now speak to Muhammad the Angels, messengers of the Allah? Further, verses 57-58 describe the destruction of the town where Lot prophesized the word of Allah. “We saved him (Lot) and his household save his wife; We destined her to be of those who stayed behind. And We rained a rain upon them, Dreadful is the rain of those who have been warned.” Also, “They” reveal in verse 60 “Is no He (best) Who created the heavens and the earth, and sendeth down for you water from the sky wherewidth We cause to spring forth joyous orchards, whose trees it never hath been yours to cause to grow.” I think it is either the Angels who are speaking to Mohammad or Allah himself is referring to himself in plural. 
***We talked about this in class and agreed that "We" usually refers to God.

7.      What characters or figures does the Surah mention?
In verses 7-14, the Surah mentions Moses, who received a vision from Allah. The people of Pharaoh are mentioned as “evil-living” and those who are in need of special “tokens” from Allah. Solomon, the son of David, is mentioned after Moses. In verses 17-19, the Surah describes his encounter with a female ant that made him realize that he needs to be more grateful to Allah for what he has. Solomon also finds out about the Queen of Sheba, who worships the sun instead of Allah. In verses 23-44, the Surah describes how he tried to convince her that she should “surrender to Allah” and finally succeeds by impressing her with glass flooring in his hall, which she confused with water.
Then, verses 45-58 tell the story of people of Thamud and Soddom and Gomorrah, who didn’t listen to the warnings of Salih and Lot and were destroyed.   

8.      How does the language of the translation strike you?
It strikes me the most that the Surah is written in the form of a direct dialogue between Muhammad and the entities, who deliver messages from “One Wise, Aware”. The address him by name and ensure him that he receives the true message from Allah in verse 6: “Lo! As for thee (Muhammad), though verily receivest the Qu’ran from the Presence of One Wise, Aware.” Allah’s messengers give him an advice in verse 79: “Therefore (O Muhammad) put thy trust in Allah, for thou (standest) on the plain Truth.”
 ***In class we discussed that most translation don't translate the word "Allah" as God, although this is the correct translation from Arabic. This makes people think that Muslims believe in a different God, which is not the original message of the Qu'ran, because the God of Muhammad is the same as the God of Moses and Abraham, and other Biblical prophets. Some translations also go further and use Arabic names for Moses (Musa), Abraham (Ibrahim), etc.

9.      What are the topics treated in the Surah?
One topic the related to prophets who try to warn “evil-liking” people about their wrong-doing. Another topic is illustrated using an story of the encounter of king Solomon and the ant. The topic is the importance of being grateful of what you have and the danger of destruction from wealth. Solomon also converted a pagan Queen of Sheba into monotheism. 

10. Can you divide the Surah into sections by content or theme? Outline the Surah.
Verses 1-6 declare that these revelations of the Qu’ran are supposed to provide guidance for believers in “the Hereafter”, and warning that the non-believers “will be the greatest losers”
Verses 7-14 describe Moses’s revelation
Verses 16-19 describe the encounter between Solomon and the ant
Verses 20-44 describes how Solomon convinced the Queen of Sheba to “surrender to Allah”
Verses 45-58 tell the story of people of Thamud and Soddom and Gomorrah, who didn’t listen to the warnings of Salih and Lot and were destroyed.  
Verses 59-93 praise the Allah and warn the wrong-doers

11. Does the Surah have a central theme?
The central theme is the theme of places and people that were destroyed when they didn’t hear the warning.

12. From your reading of this Surah, identify five important questions for further investigation in the course of reading the rest of the Qur'an.
1. The greatness of God and how His believers should behave
2. Warning the non-believers through prophets and “tockens” and punishing them if they don’t change their ways
3.  How non-believers become convinced of God’s power
4. The importance of being grateful for everything that God gives us, whether it’s material wealth or other abilities
5. The importance of complete surrender to the will of God

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