Observations on the structure and organization of Sūrah al-Ḥujurāt
Sūrah al-Ḥujurāt (The Private Chambers) is the 49th sūrah in the Quran’s compilation, and is said to have been revealed relatively late in the Messenger’s lifetime. The sūrah highlights many etiquettes Muslims should maintain with the Messenger ﷺ, as well as teaches us how to cultivate īmān (faith) in our lives.
Holistically, it seems that the sūrah (translation) forms a ring structure.
The outer Sections focus on the etiquettes a believer should have with Allah ﷻ and His Messenger ﷺ. The beginning Section warns against acting before Allah ﷻ or His Messenger ﷺ have decreed a matter and the final Section rhetorically asking if people intend to teach Allah ﷻ about His religion. The implication seems to be that the one who acts without guidance from Allah ﷻ and the Messenger ﷺ are acting like someone trying to teach Allah ﷻ His own religion because they are demonstrating with their actions that they think they know better.
The first āyah ends, “No doubt, Allah is Hearing and Knowing (ʿalīm),” which nicely complements the end wherein Allah ﷻ says that, “Allah is, of all things, Knowing (ʿalīm).” This is further supplemented by the final āyah which informs us that, “Allah knows the unseen of the heavens and the Earth, and Allah is Seeing of what you do.” So across these two Sections, we have a comprehensive understanding - insofar as humans can comprehend - of Allah’s knowledge.
Finally, these Sections give more advice on respecting Allah ﷻ and His Messenger ﷺ by also censuring raising one’s voice over that of the Messenger ﷺ, calling out to him as they casually do to one another, and acting like them accepting faith is a favor to the Messenger ﷺ, as opposed to a favor bestowed on them from Allah ﷻ.
Section [B] emphasizes issues that arise from internal strife, and how best to reconcile and avoid these problems to cultivate faith. We are enjoined to verify reports lest we spread false news and become regretful. We are also informed that had the Messenger ﷺ obeyed us (yuṭīʿu-kum), as opposed to the other way around, we would have been in much difficulty. Next we are taught how to mediate between two fighting parties, and to remember the brotherhood forged by our faith bonds. As Allah ﷻ reminds us, “Believers (al-mu’minūna) are but one brotherhood, so make peace between your brothers. And be mindful of Allah (ittaqū Allāha) so you may be shown mercy.”
In the corresponding section, Section [B’], the lessons are more directed to external factors, and how we can best come to faith under these circumstances. Here, Muslims are encouraged to get to know one another despite our different cultural and tribal backgrounds. The most noble of us are those who are most God-conscious (‘atqā-kum). We are also taught a key difference between simply submitting (islām) and accepting faith into our hearts (īmān). For those of us struggling to internalize our faith, so long as we “obey (tuṭīʿū) Allah and His Messenger,” our deeds won’t be wasted.
Finally, Allah ﷻ gives us a summary of what it means to be a believer when He says, “The believers (al-mu’minūna) are only the ones who have believed in Allah and His Messenger and then doubt not, but strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah. It is those who are the truthful.”
At the center of this sūrah are a list of traits we need to avoid in order to protect and grow our faith. Do not ridicule others, nor call them mean nicknames, nor assume things of them, nor spy on them, nor speak behind their backs. If we slip up and do not repent (yatub), then we will be amongst the wrongdoers. But, if we see the error of our ways, then Allah is Accepting of Repentance (tawwāb) and Merciful.
Personal notes and research