Date, Context and Theme
It is a middle Meccan sura and deals not this time with “Biblical” stories but with folk stories that were known at the time. These stories are used as signs as to why the Meccans should accept Muhammad and Allah.
vv. 1-8 Opening statement that the Qur’an is from God and the challenge to the Meccans to accept it because of the signs that Allah gives.
vv. 9-27 The sign of the sleepers in the cave.
vv. 28-32 Warning the Meccans again.
vv. 33-45 The parable of the two gardeners, one who thanks Allah and the other who doesn’t.
v. 46 Parable of life, comes from water, dies and is scattered by the wind.
vv. 47-50, The coming of judgement on all.
vv. 51-60 Therefore turn to God now and don’t be deceived.
Vv. 61-83 Moses and his servant sail a boat, lose their food, meet a man, travel with the man and then have all of the events in the days explained as to why they happened. The reason for each thing was not apparent at the time.
Vv. 84-102 Muhammad is asked about Dhu'l-Qarneyn.
Vv. 103-111 Final address to the Meccans to accept Muhammad and Allah.
What I found interesting.
1. The use of stories as signs. In this sura there are many non-biblical stories. It seems that Muhammad was asked about these stories (possibly as a test). But on this occasion Muhammad assumed that he would receive a revelation to answer their question and he was rebuked.
And say not of anything: Lo! I shall do that tomorrow, except if Allah will. And remember thy Lord when thou forgettest, and say: It may be that my Lord guideth me unto a nearer way of truth than this. 18:24-25
But even when the answer comes I found it vague. In the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (a Christian hagiography about Christian martyrs sealed in a cave) Muhammad is asked how many sleepers there were and how long they were in the cave. To both these he basically says,
Say: Allah is Best Aware how long they tarried. 18:27
It just seems that Muhammad cannot really answer their questions.
2. The story about Moses traveling and having different events happen and then having the events explained was quite interesting and showed how revelation makes sense of random events. I thought this was a useful message.
3. The story of Dhu'l-Qarneyn is about a man who travels to the furthest part of the world. It seems that he actually finds the place where the sun sets!
Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring 18:87
The people he meets ask for help from Gog and Magog and so he build them and iron wall (v. 97). It would be good to examine these stories historically.
4. Again, Muhammad is the context of this sura because it is his interactions with the Meccans that are shaping the use of these stories.
5. "And to warn those who say: Allah hath chosen a son" 18:4
6. There does seem to be a sense of assurance in this verse.
Lo! as for those who believe and do good works - Lo! We suffer not the reward of one whose work is goodly to be lost. 18:31
7. Here is a short description of paradise.
As for such, theirs will be Gardens of Eden, wherein rivers flow beneath them; therein they will be given armlets of gold and will wear green robes of finest silk and gold embroidery, reclining upon throne therein. Blest the reward, and fair the resting-place! 18:32
8. The doctrine of human free will and God’s sovereignty are taught side by side.
And naught hindereth mankind from believing when the guidance cometh unto them, and from asking forgiveness of their Lord unless ...18:56
... Lo! on their hearts We have placed coverings so that they understand not, and in their ears a deafness. And though thou call them to the guidance, in that case they can never be led aright. 18:58
9. God’s words are unchangeable.
And recite that which hath been revealed unto thee of the Scripture of thy Lord. There is none who can change His words, and thou wilt find no refuge beside Him. 18:28