Sūrah Group: The Last Ten Suwar (Part 1)
Part 1 of observations on the ordering and arrangement of the last ten suwar
In addition to the sūrah pairs we’ve discussed in previous posts, both modern and classical scholars have recognized that the suwar in their compiled order appear to form groups that have thematic and stylistic commonalities.
In this post, we will explore a small sūrah group consisting of the last ten suwar of the Quran.1 These suwar, which have all been explored individually in past posts, are as follows:
These suwar appear to progressively develop and establish a single theme: the restoration of Abrahamic monotheism to (and through) its capital in Mecca.2 To begin, we must turn to Abraham’s prayer from Sūrah al-Baqarah. The prayer opens with the following request:
When Abraham said, “My Master, make this a secure city (baladan ‘āminan), and provide its people with fruits—whoever among them believes in God and the Last Day.” Allah said, “As for whoever disbelieves, I will give him enjoyment for a little while, and then I will force him into the punishment of the Fire (nār). What a terrible destination!” (2:126)
Abraham and his son, Ishmael, then ask Allah ﷻ to raise a messenger from their descendants who will call them back to his monotheism legacy so that they will be “muslims,” people submitted to Allah ﷻ:
When Abraham was raising the foundation of the House, and Ishmael: “Our Master, accept from us. Truly You are the Hearing, the Knowing.
Our Master, make us submitters to you and make from our descendants a nation submitted to you. Show us our rites and accept our repentance. Truly You are the Returner, the Merciful.
Our Master, send them a messenger from among them who will recite your āyāt, teach them the Scripture and wisdom, and purify them. Truly You are the Almighty, the Wise.” (2:127-130)
Now we are in a position to see how the last ten suwar of the Quran fit together and are placed in a meaningful order.
As we have just seen, Abraham opens his prayer by asking Allah ﷻ to grant his city the two conditions essential for a functioning society—peace and prosperity: “My Master, make this a secure city (baladan ‘āminan) and provide its people with fruits." The answer to this prayer is exemplified in the first two suwar of this group, Sūrah al-Fīl (The Elephant), which highlights Allah’s miraculous protection of the city, and Sūrah Quraysh (The Tribe of Quraysh), which concerns the city’s economic success.
Sūrah al-Fīl refers to Allah’s protection of Mecca in the sixth century from the assault of Abraha, an Ethiopian Christian ruler over South Arabia. Arabic sources tell us that Abraha led an attack on Mecca with an army that included one or more war elephants, with the intention of destroying the Ka‘bah and rerouting the traffic of pilgrims to a massive church he had built in the Yemini capital of Sana’a. However the attack was thwarted when the army was pelted with a barrage of stones from the sky:
Have you seen how Your Master dealt with the Companions of the Elephant? Did He not make their plot go astray? And He sent upon them birds in flocks, pelting them with stones of baked clay,3 and then He made them like eaten up straw.
The sūrah demonstrates how Allah ﷻ made Mecca “a secure city (baladan ‘āminan),” just as Abraham requested in his prayer.
Sūrah Quraysh similarly reminds that tribe which was saved how Allah ﷻ gave them provision and protection in their caravan trade journeys in the winters and summers, which (along with the traffic of Arab pilgrims to the Ka'bah) brought them economic success:
For the convenience of the Quraysh. Their convenience in the caravan journeys of the winter and summer: Let them worship the Master of this House, Who fed them against hunger and secured them (‘āmana-hum) from fear.
The sūrah’s reference to Allah ﷻ having “secured (‘āmana)” the Quraysh from fear once again recalls Abraham’s prayer. This time, however, the sūrah draws special attention to how Allah’s protection of them led to their economic prosperity, thereby answering the second part of Abraham’s prayer: “and provide its people with fruits.”
While Sūrah Quraysh describes how Allah ﷻ provided the tribe of Quraysh with food and wealth, the next sūrah scolds its leaders for refusing to do the same for the poor and needy under their authority, to the point that they would not give even the “smallest kindnesses.” Sūrah al-Māʿūn (Small Kindnesses) says:
Have you seen the one who denies the Recompense? That is the one who pushes away the orphan, and does not urge the feeding of the poor. So woe to those who pray—those who are heedless of their prayers, are all show, and refuse small kindnesses.
Next week we’ll continue observing the logical, linear coherence of the last ten suwar of the Quran.
والله أعلم - And Allah knows best
Ali Khan, Nouman and Sharif Randhawa. Divine Speech: Exploring the Quran as Literature. Bayyinah Institute, 2016
Some view these as two sūrah groups, consisting of 105-108 and 109-112, with 113-114 forming a supplementary conclusion. For our purposes, we will treat them as a single cohesive group.
These observations mostly owe to the commentaries of Shaykh Ḥamīd ad-Dīn Farāhī and Shaykh Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāhī
If one assumes that the addressee is the individual member of the Quraysh, another translation is possible: “You were pelting them with stones of baked clay.” On this interpretation, the subject of “pelting” is not the birds, as usually assumed, but the individual member of the Quraysh, and the birds were merely birds of prey preparing to feast on the carnage. This view was argued by Shaykh Ḥamīd ad-Dīn Farāhī and his student, Shaykh Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāhī, on the basis of pre-Islamic poetry and other lines of evidence. See Mir, “Elephants, Birds of Prey, and Heaps of Pebbles: Farāhī’s Interpretation of Sūrat Al-Fīl,” Journal of Qur’anic Studies 7.1 (2005): 33-47