Date and Context
A late Meccan sura most likely just before sura 6. It is Muhammad calling on the Meccans to accept him as a prophet.
vv. 1-10 Revelation has come warning of judgement.
vv. 11-58 Adam - Satan the deceiver of all mankind.
vv. 59-102 Noah, Hud, Salih, Lot and Shu’eyb - A prophet from among there own people.
vv. 103-171 The miraculous signs of a prophet.
vv. 172-206 Adam and the culpability of mankind
What I found interesting.
1. This sura is comparing the town of Mecca, which rejects Muhammad, to the towns that God has destroyed in the past.
How many a township have We destroyed! As a raid by night, or while they slept at noon, Our terror came unto them. 7:4
2. Adam (vv. 11-58) - It begins with the story of Adam and Satan. This seems to explain the universal human situation.
And We created you, then fashioned you, then told the angels: Fall ye prostrate before Adam! And they fell prostrate, all save Iblis (Satan), who was not of those who make prostration. He said: What hindered thee that thou didst not fall prostrate when I bade thee? (Iblis) said: I am better than him. Thou createdst me of fire while him Thou didst create of mud. 7:11-12
It is interesting how Satan is called to bow down before Adam. I thought you were only to bow to Allah? But bowing to Adam is a very Christological understanding of Adam.
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." In speaking of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire." (Hebrews 1:6-7, NIV)
Satan is now the great deceiver turning humanity away from Allah.
He said: Now, because Thou hast sent me astray, verily I shall lurk in ambush for them on Thy Right Path. 7:16
O Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you as he caused your (first) parents to go forth from the Garden 7:27
Adam and his wife eat the fruit and are cast out of paradise (v. 24) which seems to be in heaven (a literal fall?). The main lesson here is that you are to wear clothes and be modest. Maybe the Meccans were immodest and this was a rebuke to them.
2. Six Days
Lo! your Lord is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, then mounted He the Throne. 7:54
The Bible never speaks about the six days of creation without mentioning the seventh day of rest. But in the Qur’an the six days have been detached from the goal of rest.
3. There is a big section (vv. 59-102) with Noah, Hud, Salih, Lot and Shu’eyb. They are all prophets from their own people. Muhammad is using their example to justify himself speaking to his fellow Meccans. It seems that “a prophet is not welcome in his hometown” is also true of Islam. In using these examples Muhammad is again promising judgement on the Meccans.
4. Moses - There is a big section with Moses vv. 103-171.
a. Moses is different to the prophets of vv. 59-102 because he is not an Egyptian but he speaks to Egyptians.
b. Moses give miraculous signs. The emphasis on miracles here seems to have caused a problem for Muhammad because he did not do miracles, therefore to use Moses as an example did not work. Therefore the next sura chronologically (sura 6) is an explanation why Muhammad did not do miracles. If this is the case then it is interesting to think that Muhammad recites something that doesn’t completely work and then needs to address the problem that it causes.
c. The magicians of Pharaoh’s court convert to Allah. This really reminded me of the stories of the Saints (2-6th century) that I have read from the Coptic church. The Qur’an seems to be part of this genre.
d. Many of the event of Moses’ life are briefly referred to but in the wrong order or incorrectly.
e. The Torah foretells the coming of Muhammad.
Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them. ... 7:157
5. Adam is also the theme for how the sura concludes.
Adam is the representative of all so all know not to associate partners with Allah.
And (remember) when thy Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their reins, their seed, and made them testify of themselves, (saying): Am I not your Lord? They said: Yea, verily. We testify. (That was) lest ye should say at the Day of Resurrection: Lo! of this we were unaware; Or lest ye should say: (It is) only (that) our fathers ascribed partners to Allah of old and we were (their) seed after them. Wilt Thou destroy us on account of that which those who follow falsehood did? 7:172-173
Adam is the first to associate partners with Allah.
He it is Who did create you from a single soul, and therefrom did make his mate that he might take rest in her. And when he covered her she bore a light burden, and she passed (unnoticed) with it, but when it became heavy they cried unto Allah, their Lord, saying: If thou givest unto us aright we shall be of the thankful. But when He gave unto them aright, they ascribed unto Him partners in respect of that which He had given them. High is He Exalted above all that they associate (with Him). 7:189-190
How can Muslims say prophets never sin with Adam did this?
6. I really felt that knowing the Bible helped to understand this part of the Qur’an. Many of stories in these sura were too brief to understand what they actually were. There seems to be an assumed level of Bible knowledge therefore Muslims would do well to read the Bible to better understand the Qur’an.
7. 7:171 says that God held Mt Sinai above the Israelites as a threat.
And when We shook the Mount above them as it were a covering, and they supposed that it was going to fall upon them (and We said): Hold fast that which We have given you, and remember that which is therein, that ye may ward off (evil). 7:171
The original source of this detail is from Jewish commentaries, in this case rabbi Abdimi bar Hama bar Hasa.
This (Exodus 19:17) teaches that the Holy One, blessed He, held the mountain over (the people of) Israel like a cask and said to them, `If you accept the Torah, well and good, and if not, then there is where your grave will be. (Jacob Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation, Vol. II.C: Shabbat, Ch. 7-10, Scholars Press: Atlanta, Georgia, 1993, ch. 9, I.25, p. 82)
This gives us some insight as to what literature/oral traditions Muhammad was exposed to.