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August 11, 2015

The Qur'an... What stories it can tell! (Part 2 of 3)

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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An important point driven home by the Qur'an is that you don't have to be personally or directly appointed by the Almighty to be a messenger or prophet; just strive to be good and do good work.

This is borne out by the brief mention of two ordinary devout believers; an unnamed friend of Moses and another man called Luqman. An entire chapter (or surah) of the Qur’an is named after him. Luqman is known for giving good advice and upholding the one-ness of God.

Another story, The People of the Cave, mentions a group of young men traveling with their dog. They are advised that being young should never hinder one from developing a strong faith and living a morally upright life; also that choosing the right friends is of utmost importance in maintaining spiritual strength and integrity.

Two famous love stories are also mentioned in the Qur’an.

In the first of these, the young prophet Moses meets a Midianite shepherd-girl at a Sinai desert well, where she waits a turn to water her flock after the male herders have finished.

He is so smitten with the girl that he offers to work for her aged father in order to earn her hand in marriage.

Just as dramatic, but not as sweet, is the turbulent affair between the wife of an Egyptian ruler (not named in the Qur'an), and the former Israelite slave Joseph.

At the time when the wife becomes infatuated with Joseph and tries to blame him for seducing her, he has risen in the Egyptian court to be a trusted and skilled administrator. Joseph warns the wife that he cannot transgress God Law and cannot also betray the master to whom he owes his life and status.

The dramatic and emotional story of Joseph is told in great detail throughout a single chapter of the Qur’an, one that bears his name (Yusuf), while stories of other characters are typically spread through a number of surahs.

This is because the tale of Joseph has many parts, each one highlighting a different aspect of the complex relationships that evolve between human beings.

Throughout the story, however, Joseph and his father Jacob are upheld as examples of how others should behave in similar situations. The Qur’an mentions how jealousy drove Joseph’s older brothers to try and get rid of him, even kill him, because they wrongly perceived that their father Jacob unfairly favored Joseph as his youngest son.

But God saves Joseph for a different life, in which he rises to a position that gives him the power to better his brothers’ lives and also to forgive them.

The Qur’an often highlights only certain parts of the lives of historical individuals so as to make a specific point. Thus with the notable and very important exceptions of Moses and Jesus, it omits mentioning birth-stories.

Moses’ origins are crucial because he was born into a different ethnic group, the low-status Israelites, yet raised as an Egyptian aristocrat.

Around the time that Moses was born, there was a widespread prophecy among the Israelites that God would send a new messenger destined to change the Egyptian belief that the ruling Pharaoh was also a god.

The Pharaoh realized the threat to his power and ordered all Israelite male babies to be killed. But Moses escaped because his mother was instructed by God to hide her baby in a cradle-boat amid the reeds of the Nile.

When the cradle floated by the royal palace, it was found by servants who brought the baby to Pharaoh’s wife, who adopted him as her own.

Such good fortune might seem impossible, but that wasn’t all that God planned. The Qur’an relates how the Almighty continued to calm and reassure Moses’ mother; she trusted in divine guidance to go to the palace and become a wet-nurse, where she was able to feed her own son until he was weaned.

The Qur’an emphasizes that if you believe and do good deeds, God will always help you, even in seemingly impossible circumstances.

The second birth-story in the Qur’an is that of Jesus by Mary. In contrast to prevailing Jewish beliefs, the Qur’anic account fully agrees with the Christian New Testament version, unequivocally affirming the authenticity of Jesus’ virgin birth.

Another key reason why Jesus’ birth story is mentioned in the Qur’an is to answer a question that has divided Islam and Christianity from the outset: If Jesus was born from the Virgin Mary, does that make him an equally-divine Son of God?

The Qur’an answers in the negative, stating that there is only One Creator of everyone and everything; moreover, Qur’anic logic makes it impossible for the Universe to have more than one God or creator, or none.

Thus the Qur’an affirms throughout that this Universe has but One Originator who made Adam and his wife without invoking the divine Law of Reproduction; and that same One God made Jesus through a virgin woman, also without invoking divine biological law.

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