Sūrat Maryam (Part 7)
Part 7 of observations on the organization, structure, and coherence of Sūrat Maryam
Section [C] - Our Forefathers in Faith
Section [C] mentions many prophets of the past in what may appear to be a haphazard list. When we examine this section more closely, we will find that not only does the list form a ring structure, but that every prophet mentioned ties into the overarching themes of this sūrah.
Below is the proposed ring structure of Section [C]1:
[C1/C1’] - The descendants of Isrā’īl (Israel, also known as Yaʿqūb) are paired with Mūsā (Moses) and Hārūn (Aaron). This is appropriate as the story of Yaʿqūb moving to Egypt to be with his son, Yūsūf (Joseph), is a precursor to the story of Mūsā and Hārūn being slaves in Egypt and facing the Pharaoh. Additionally, Mūsā was “especially chosen (mukhlaṣ)” to be a prophet, which is similar to those whom Allah ﷻ “chose (ijtabay-nā)” to be guided. The different Arabic word for “choosing” utilized for Mūsā may be Allah ﷻ indicating Mūsā’s elevated rank.
The next part of the beginning āyāt then mentions Mūsā’s interaction with Allah ﷻ. The details are given in other parts of the Quran, but if we look to the corresponding āyah in [C1’], we find the most relevant information; Mūsā had āyāt of the Most Merciful told to him by Allah ﷻ Himself.
The final parallel appears to be between Mūsā being “gifted out of [Allah’s] mercy, his brother Hārūn,” and the believers bowing their heads to the ground in humility. Mūsā’s reaction to having received his brother as a partner in prophecy is not given in the Quran. Though, if we pair the two aforementioned parts together, then maybe we have a hint to Mūsā’s humbling and tear-filled reply.
[C2/C2’] - Here, the descendants of Ibrāhīm are paired with Ismā'īl (Ismael). For the original Arab audience, this was an important reminder that they, as distant children of Ismā'īl, are actually from the lineage of Ibrāhīm and should therefore possess the most zeal for reestablishing his legacy of pure monotheism.
[C3/C3’] - As we move towards the center of this section, we find the first mention of prophets who pre-date Ibrāhīm, as Idrīs (Edris) and Nūh (Noah) come paired together. Both prophets here share some connection to Adam. As explained by scholars of tafsīr, Idrīs is considered the first prophet sent after Adam, while Nūh is nicknamed the “second father of mankind,” with Ādam being the obvious first.
[C4] - At the center and focal point of this section and sūrah, we have the first human, Adam. Similar to ʿĪsā, he was created without a father (or even a mother), but also like ʿĪsā, his miraculous creation doesn’t raise his ranks higher than a prophet (nabiyy) just as ʿĪsā was called earlier.
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Integrative Coherence of Section [C]
As mentioned earlier, the prophets in this section may appear random, but besides being placed in the list in a structured manner, there is also an integrative relevance to each of their examples.
Mūsā - He went into seclusion to speak to Allah ﷻ, just as Zakariyyā and Maryam did, and was “gifted (wahabnā)” his brother to aid him. Again, this is similar to how Zakariyyā and Maryam were “gifted” families after their seclusions.
Mūsā was also called out to by Allah ﷻ (nādaynā-hu) in the same way Zakariyyā called out (nādā) softly to Allah ﷻ and how Maryam was called (nādā-hā) from below her. Like in the case of Maryam where the details of how this call sounded was omitted, this might be another subtle hint that Allah ﷻ called out to Mūsā in a quiet and calm fashion as to not startle him.
Ismāʿīl - We learned about Ibrāhīm’s test with his father in the previous section. Here we find mention of his test with his son when Ibrāhīm was commanded to sacrifice Ismāʿīl. Ismāʿīl is also described with the qualities of commanding his people to pray and give their purifying dues (aṣ-ṣalāh waz-zakāt) same as ʿĪsā was related to do (aṣ-ṣalāh waz-zakāt). Allah ﷻ also informs us that Ismā'īl was “pleasing (marḍiyyā),” which echoes the prayer of Zakariyyā when he asked that his son, Yaḥyā, be “pleasing (raḍiyyā).”
Idrīs - There is scarce known about Idrīs, but what little Allah ﷻ tells us here connects to the sūrah’s context. Idrīs was “a man of truth and a prophet (ṣiddīqan nabiyyā)” same as Ibrāhīm (ṣiddīqan nabiyyā). He was also “raised to a high rank (rafaʿnā-hu makānan ʿaliyyā)”, which echoes what Allah ﷻ said about ʿĪsā in Sūrat Āl ʿImrān, “I will take you back and raise you up (rāfiʿu-ka) to Me”2
Ādam - He is the prophet with the most explicit connection to ʿĪsā, as Allah ﷻ says in Sūrat Āl ʿImrān, “Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, ‘Be,’ and he was.”3 It is thus very appropriate that Adam sits at the center of this sūrah since he is the progenitor of monotheism on this earth and of all children.
Nūh - His example provides a complimentary image of the family of Zakariyyā as Nūh’s wife and child ended up rebelling against Allah ﷻ.4
Ibrāhīm - The entire section before this current one was concerning him and the monotheism he was trying to spread. Interestingly, elsewhere in the Quran, Ibrāhīm was also given good news of offspring in his old age. And mimicking the prayer of Zakariyyā, Ibrāhīm's wife shockingly asked, "How am I to bear a child when I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man?"5
Isrā’īl - The original twelve children of Isrā’īl provide a comprehensive view of how believing children may turn out. Some will be obedient from the beginning, such as Yūsuf and Binyāmīn, and others might disobey and act out, but so long as their faith is intact, they will return to Allah’s obedience eventually.
As we have just observed, each prophet mentioned has some tie-in to the running motifs of family, the alleged divinity of Christ, and pure monotheism.
We will continue our study next week :)
The following observations are built off the work done by: Khan, Nouman. S. Maryam Structure Party Part 4. Facebook, 23 August, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/noumanbayyinah/videos/441726859765230/. Accessed 1 February, 2020.
3:55 - إِنِّي مُتَوَفِّيكَ وَرَافِعُكَ إِلَيَّ
3:59 - إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّـهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ
Interestingly, Allah ﷻ worded this āyah saying, “Those were the ones upon whom Allah bestowed favor from among the prophets of the descendants of Ādam and of those We carried [in the ship] with Nūh, and of the descendants of Ibrāhīm and Isrāīl...”
Notice that Allah ﷻ broke up the list of those favored from the “descendants” when it came to Nūh. This is appropriate since we learn in other places in the Quran that his wife disbelieved in him and his son disobeyed him at the crucial moment. In other words, his descendants were not the ones who carried Islam to the next generation. It was the believers who Allah ﷻ “carried [in the ship] with Nūh.”
This is a simple example of Allah’s precision and accuracy in word choice.
11:71 - قَالَتْ يَا وَيْلَتَىٰ أَأَلِدُ وَأَنَا عَجُوزٌ وَهَٰذَا بَعْلِي شَيْخًا