Monday, September 20, 2010

Sura 20 - Ta Ha

This sura is named after the first two letters of v. 1. These are the mystery letters of the Qur’an at the beginning of some suras. No one knows for sure their purpose.

Date, Context and Theme

This is an early Meccan sura and continues the theme that the Qur’an is from Allah, Allah’s judgement is coming so you must listen to Muhammad. It puts forward the example of Moses and the miraculous work that Allah did through him. Adam is mentioned as an example of being deceived and repenting in the conclusion.

The sura is also famous as it is said to be the sura that lead to the conversion of Umar to Islam. Umar became a powerful supporter of Muhammad and the second caliph after Muhammad’s death.

I think the key verse is,
And they say: If only he would bring us a miracle from his Lord! Hath there not come unto them the proof of what is in the former scriptures? 20:133

There is a clear simply structure to this sura.

vv. 1-8, Introduces Muhammad, the Qur’an and Allah and the purpose

vv. 9-48, Moses and the burning bush.
Vv. 49-58 , Moses in Pharaoh’s court.
Vv. 59-76, Moses brings the signs and the Egyptian magician convert to Islam and preach Muhammad’s message.
Vv. 77-79 The Exodus event
vv. 80-98, The golden calf

vv. 99-114, Words addressed to Muhammad and the Muslims about the purpose of the Qur’an and the terrible judgement awaiting those who reject the Qur’an.
Vv. 115-123, Adam is the model of those who listen to Satan, reject Allah’s word but later repent. He is an example to the Meccans.

Vv. 124-132, A call for the Meccans to turn to Allah and be saved on judgement day and a call for Muhammad to continue in worship.
Vv. 133-135 Answering Meccan objections to Muhammad’s call to repentance.

What I found interesting.

1. Moses preaches Muhammad’s message to Pharaoh, then the Egyptian magicians all convert to Islam.
Then the wizards were (all) flung down prostrate, crying: We believe in the Lord of Aaron and Moses. 20:70

Then the magicians instantly preach fully developed Islam theology. This type of story again reminds me of the hagiography I have read from the Coptic church. I think it was the story of Katrina.

2. Moses and the Samaritan. In Sura 19 I showed how Muhammad called Mary of the mother of Jesus, the sister of Aaron and the daughter of Imram, and that this showed that he seems to be unaware of history. Well here we see the same situation again but this time with a Samaritan. It is a Samaritan who mislead the Israelites into worshipping the golden calf.
He said: Lo! We have tried thy folk in thine absence, and As-Samiri hath misled them. 20:85, 87, 95

There were no Samaritans at the time of Moses. The Samaritans come into about 700 years after the Assyrian conquest of the ten norther tribes of Israel.

3. The story of Adam’s sin is told in some detail. Some details are the same as the Bible, others different.
And verily We made a covenant of old with Adam, but he forgot, and We found no constancy in him. 20:115

It is (vouchsafed) unto thee that thou hungerest not therein nor art naked, 20:118

But the devil whispered to him, saying: O Adam! Shall I show thee the tree of immortality and power that wasteth not away? 20:120

The Bible stories must have been well know to the Meccans for them to be used so often as examples.

4. Again there are three times for prayer not five.
Therefor (O Muhammad), bear with what they say, and celebrate the praise of thy Lord ere the rising of the sun and ere the going down thereof. And glorify Him some hours of the night and at the two ends of the day, that thou mayst find acceptance. 20:130

5. Still not sign from Muhammad. The Meccans have been asking for some evidence from Muhammad for what he is saying. To this stage he has not given anything. In this sura it seems that he offers the miracles that Moses did (the stories he has just told) as sufficient evidence.
And they say: If only he would bring us a miracle from his Lord! Hath there not come unto them the proof of what is in the former scriptures? 20:133

This is very interesting because it means that Muhammad is not like Moses in this regard.

6. Again we see that intercession with Allah is not banned but is not through the Mecca gods.
On that day no intercession availeth save (that of) him unto whom the Beneficent hath given leave and whose word He accepteth. 20:109


  1. Hi Sam,

    I have been noticing as I have been reading through the Quran (in both this and other Surah's) that the text is often dictated in the plural sense of 'We'. It sounds as though there is a mediator between Muhammad and Allah. I always thought that the Quran was considered a direct revelation from Allah to Muhammad. Just wondering if you or anyone else would be able to explain exactly who the 'We' are.