Sūrah Maryam (Part 4)
Part 4 of observations on the structuring, organization and coherence of Sūrah Maryam
Last week we continued our observations on Sūrah Maryam (Mary, mother of Jesus). Remember, our work has already been published and is available for purchase, so please consider supporting our teachers and institution if you’ve benefitted from this blog.
We ended the previous post concluding the analysis of Section [A] - Divine Intervention at Birth. This week we’ll begin our study of Section [B] - Ibrāhīm (Abraham) and His Father.
Section [B] - Ibrāhīm and His Father
The following section can be further broken down into its own mirror composition:
Summarized another way, it looks like this:
[B1/B1’] - Ibrāhīm is tested with his father’s polytheism and tries his best to present logical arguments to his father before ultimately being rejected. This is paired with Allah’s reward for Ibrāhīm wherein he is given the good news of not only children, but even grandchildren. And similar to Ibrāhīm who was “truthful (ṣiddīqā)” and “a prophet (nabiyyā)”, his descendants are also described as “prophets (nabiyyā)” and as having an “honorable mention (lisāna ṣidqin ‘aliyyā)” which suggests that his lineage will carry on his legacy of monotheism. He lost a father, but gained so much more.
[B2/B2’] - The section centers on Ibrāhīm declaring himself free of his family and community, specifically with regards to their polytheistic practices. Both parts consist of a prayer from Ibrāhīm and him leaving them.
If we break the section down further, we will see that [B1] contains a ring structure with the argument of Ibrāhīm embedded in the middle as a parallel structure:
Summarized another way:
[B1.1/B1.1’] - The intro tells us who Ibrāhīm is; a man of truth and a prophet of Allah ﷻ. The corresponding conclusion shows Ibrāhīm’s commitment to prophethood and monotheism as he is outcast by his own father because he “has no desire” for their fake gods.
[B1.2] - At the center lies the beautiful argument of Ibrāhīm to his father. Each sentence begins with “My dear father,” to emphasize the care behind the words to come. Ibrāhīm begins twice with a statement about the irrationality behind worshiping (ta‘bud) other than Allah ﷻ, and twice he provides his rationale for saying what could be perceived as harsh words to his father. In both cases, he acknowledges that Allah ﷻ has given him knowledge of the unseen that his father could not be privy to without guidance.
[B2] and [B2’], the center of Section [B] which describe Ibrāhīm leaving his people, is also set up in a parallel structure:
[B2.1/B2.1’] - Both halves begin in the same manner, with Ibrāhīm praying to his Lord, and Ibrāhīm adding in both instances a point of optimism about his prayer being fulfilled.
[B2.2/B2.2’] - Both halves also end the same way with Ibrāhīm leaving his family and community with almost the same wording in Arabic, “And I will leave you and those you invoke other than Allah (waaʿtazilukum wamā tadʿūna min dūnil-lāhi)” versus “He had left them and those they worshipped other than Allah (iʿtazalahum wamā yadʿūna min dūnil-lāhi).”
[B1’], the conclusion of Section [B], is also set up as a parallel structure:
[B1.3/B1.3’] - Both parts begin with Allah ﷻ saying “We gifted (wahabnā)” something to Ibrāhīm and his family.
[B1.4/B1.4’] - Both parallels conclude with Allah ﷻ saying, “We made (jaʿalnā)...” in reference to the family of Ibrāhīm.
Integrative Coherence of Section [B]
Now that we’ve broken down Section [B] into its individual parts, we can take a step back and observe how the Section fits seamlessly within the larger sūrah.
Recall that one of the main themes of this sūrah is that of monotheism, with 'Īsā’s alleged divinity being of particular interest. As we will continuously see throughout the sūrah, Allah ﷻ draws comparisons of ʿĪsā with other prophets in order to demonstrate that the miraculous events and special status he was granted make him a prophet, but nothing grander.
For example, in Section [B], Allah ﷻ says that Ibrāhīm was a “prophet (nabiyyā)” and also says about Isḥāq and Yaʿqūb that, “We made them prophets (jaʿalnā nabiyyā).” This is almost the same wording used when ʿĪsā introduced himself declaring that Allah ﷻ had, “made me a prophet (jaʿalanī nabiyyā).”
We also find that both Sections mention the prayer of safety and security (salām). Yaḥyā and ʿĪsā were granted safety and security on the day of their births, deaths and resurrections. Ibrāhīm uses the same prayer when leaving his father.
Another interesting parallel lay in the prayers of Zakariyyā and Ibrāhīm. Both conclude their prayers to Allah ﷻ with almost the same wording. Zakariyyā says, “...and I have never been disappointed in my supplication to You, my Lord (walam akun biduʿāika rabbi shaqiyyā)” while Ibrāhīm is recorded to have said, “...I will never be disappointed in invoking my Lord (lā akūna biduʿāi rabbī shaqiyyā).” This again lends itself to the fulfillment of Allah’s gift to Ibrāhīm wherein He granted him a lineage - Zakariyyā is a descendant on the side of Isḥāq - that would hold on to monotheism.
Continuing the comparisons between Zakariyyā and Ibrāhīm, we find that both wanted their family to be an ally (waliyy) of Allah ﷻ. Zakariyyā asks that his child be a successor to him (waliyy), and by extension, an ally to Allah ﷻ. Ibrāhīm fears for his father’s future as an idol worshiper so he warns his father that he’s on course to become an ally (waliyy) of the Shaytan if he doesn’t turn back to Allah ﷻ.
We also find a similarity between Yaḥyā and Ibrāhīm. Allah ﷻ describes Yaḥyā as not being “disobedient ('aṣiyyā),” which is the same wording used when Ibrāhīm says to his father, “Do not worship Satan. Satan has always been, to the Most Merciful, disobedient ('aṣiyyā).” The description of Yaḥyā, therefore, has a possible supplement later in the sūrah. If one is not worshiping Allah ﷻ then they may be in danger of worshiping Satan.
Our final example of integrative coherence for this Section is an interesting one between Ibrāhīm and Maryam. Both use the idea of being “touched” in a negative connotation, but juxtapose it with the mention of Allah’s name, The Most Merciful (ar-Raḥmān). When the stranger walked in on Maryam she said, “I seek refuge with the Most Merciful (ar-Raḥmān) from you if you were God-conscious!” She is then informed of her miraculous pregnancy at which point she remarks, “How can I have a child when no man has touched me (yamsas-nī)?” This sense of fear and anxiety, mixed with hope in the Most Merciful is repeated when Ibrāhīm kindly tells his father, “I certainly fear that a punishment will touch you (yamassa-ka) from the Most Merciful (ar-Raḥmān).”
And thus concludes our analysis of Section [B]!
Next week we’ll begin our observations of Section [C] - Our Forefathers in Faith!
والله أعلم - And Allah knows best
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