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August 11, 2015

The Qur'an... What stories it can tell! (Part 1 of 3)

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Believed to be the last directly revealed divine testament, the Holy Qur'an uses stories and biographies to make specific teaching points, to illustrate important facts of life, and to impart foundational lessons in spiritual discernment.

In doing so, it brings together numerous fascinating accounts of prophets, messengers, good and bad people, men and women alike, even believers and non-believers.

In the Qur’an every messenger is a prophet, but not all prophets are messengers. This is an important distinction, because messenger-prophets such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad were given a special missionary role to preach God’s Word.

The revelations that comprise the canon, or collection, of Qur’anic scripture span the entire 23 years of Prophet Muhammad’s missionary period.

Muslims believe that these revelations were divine; that is, direct guidance from God. But non-Muslims with other beliefs about God’s Word will also find the Qur’an an interesting and even inspiring read.

The Qur’an is described in its own pages as being “a book of guidance for the believers” and even states that it can help anyone who wishes to explore their faith and/or nourish it. Stories told in the Qur’an are stated as being not fiction, but true accounts of past events and characters, both human and divinely inspired.

In fact, the original classical Arabic narration of these Qur’anic stories has always been revered as a masterpiece of literary genius, bearing out the direct words of the Almighty: “We [God] will reveal to you, O Muhammad, in this Qur’an some of the best stories narrated in Arabic.” To this day, the eloquent musical rhythm of words and phrases throughout the Qur’an consistently touches our minds, hearts and senses, kindling the visual thinker in all of us.

Qur’anic language weaves dialogues, debates, reports and recollections into its elegant style of storytelling. Some dialogues, for example, are between God the Revealer and Muhammad, the original recipient of the divine messages.

But in the Qur’an God also directly addresses other prophets and messengers, as well as humanity in general, for there is no hierarchy of access to the divine in Islam. God not only speaks to everyone in the Qur’an; everyone can speak to God in his or her prayers.

Throughout the Qur’an, God’s terms of self-reference are generally I or We, while humans respond to divine conversation by addressing God as You.

When speaking in the third person about God, as in the context of a story or event, the male pronouns He, Him, or His are used, even though it’s implicitly understood that God is wholly beyond gender – One, Perfect, Infinite, and Unique in all aspects.

Unlike the Bible, the Qur’an includes stories about prophets sent to both the Arabs and Israelites within the same scripture. Both groups are believed to have their common paternal ancestor in the messenger-prophet Abraham through his two sons; the Arab group descended from Ishmael, the Israelite group from Isaac.

While the Bible emphasizes (often at great length) the tribal lineage of its main characters, the Qur’an pays much less attention to the backgrounds of individuals, allowing the reader or listener to focus on their context within its specific teaching narrative.

Among the many stories of individuals mentioned in the Qur’an are those of two good women; Mary, mother of Jesus, and the unnamed wife of Egypt’s Pharaoh during the ministry of Moses. The Qur’an teaches that both should be upheld as “role models for humanity, both men and women.”

As the only woman known to have ever conceived and given birth while still a virgin, Mary – the sole woman mentioned specifically by her given name in the Qur’an – faced the challenge of enduring her first pregnancy and delivery alone, having been ostracized by her own family and tribe, who accused her of having a secret sexual relationship.

They did not understand or believe that a virgin could become pregnant without ever having been intimate with a man. Her people continued to treat her with suspicion and distaste as her son grew to adulthood and demonstrated divine power during his ministry.

The other good woman praised by the Qur’an is the wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh. The Qur’an states that Moses was brought to her after being found hidden in the reeds of the Nile to escape the slaughter of all the Israelite male infants.

She raised Moses as her own. She accepted her adopted son’s God and remained steadfast in her new faith, defying her husband, who threatened to kill her along with many other martyrs who chose to follow Moses.

The Qur’an also mentions two bad women – the wives of Noah and Lot – as examples of poor role-models for believers, as they refused to support their husbands’ missionary work.

One did not believe in Noah’s divine commandment to build an ark and thus refused to help him; and the other conspired with the sinful people of Sodom even as her prophet-husband Lot tried to save them. Needless to say, neither woman met a happy death.

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