Sūrat al-Qalam (Part 1)
Part 1 of observations on the organization, structure, and cohesion of Sūrat al-Qalam
Sūrat al-Qalam (The Pen) is the 68th sūrah in the Quran’s compiled order and is said to be of the earliest suwar revealed to the Messenger ﷺ. The sūrah focuses on the status of the Messenger ﷺ and the state of those who go against the message. On a macro-level, it appears the sūrah can be summarized into a ring structure.
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[A]/[A’] – The sūrah both begins and ends by defending the honor of the Messenger ﷺ. His character is greater than great and his reward is without bound. In contrast, the disbelievers could not rationally argue against the message, so they acted poorly and declared the Messenger ﷺ “majnūn” in an attempt to disparage him. Allah ﷻ emphatically declares that he is not “majnūn (crazy),” in the beginning of the sūrah, which preemptively defends him from the accusation when it comes in the conclusion.
[B]/[B’] – Allah ﷻ informs us that He alone knows who is misguided and who is guided. This is an important lesson for the Messenger ﷺ, especially early in his mission. Allah ﷻ gives him an example of another prophet, Jonah, that mistakenly thought he knew the fate of his people. He left them, believing them to be destined for punishment, but they all repented and accepted faith. As such, Jonah was reprimanded by Allah ﷻ and eaten by the whale. He as only saved when he praised Allah ﷻ and asked for forgiveness.
[C]/[C’] – Allah ﷻ commands the Messenger ﷺ (and all of us, by extension) to not follow “al-mukadhdhibīn (the deniers [of faith]).” They only want us to compromise on our faith so that we water down our religion. Allah ﷻ describes an archetype of these disbelievers – many believe these āyāt relate to al-Walīd ibn al-Mughīrah, a known enemy of the Messenger ﷺ - as worthless, transgressing, ungrateful, cruel, sinful, and a preventer of good. Remember that this is an early Makkan revelation, when the group of believers were few and relatively weak, so it makes sense that Allah ﷻ would take personal responsibility for dealing with the disbelievers. He says in the complementary section, “Leave me with whoever ukadhdhibu (denies) this message (i.e., the Quran).” Allah ﷻ then goes on to inform us of how He punishes them and of the excuses they come up with.
[D]/[D’] – The “people of the garden” are said to be a group of three brothers who inherited a large garden of fruits from their father. Their father was a generous man who would give much of his produce in charity. The sons, however, were selfish and attempted to hoard the wealth for themselves. [D] retells their story and the destruction Allah ﷻ unleashed on their garden for their ungratefulness. Thankfully, the brothers saw the error of their ways in this life and repented for their actions. In contrast, [D’] outlines the steps those in misguidance took, but they did not repent in this life. Instead, they will be invited to bow down on the Day of Judgment, but they will not be able to. Why? Because they had a chance to submit while alive, but refused to do so. As a result, “their eyes will be humbled and humiliation will cover them.”
[E] – At the center lay the reward for those who defend the honor of the Messenger ﷺ, humble themselves to Allah’s knowledge, stay away from those who deny faith, and repent in this life as opposed to feeling regretful in the next life; Gardens of Bliss.
And Allah ﷻ knows best.
Next week we’ll conclude by taking a look at a micro-structuring of this sūrah.