Date, Context and Theme
This is a late Meccan sura, maybe the last Muhammad said before he fled to Medina (the hijrah). The theme is that the believers will have success and be saved.
And when thou art on board the ship, thou and whoso is with thee, then say: Praise be to Allah Who hath saved us from the wrongdoing folk! 23:28
He who crieth unto any other god along with Allah hath no proof thereof. His reckoning is only with his Lord. Lo! disbelievers will not be successful. 23:117
vv. 1-11, Introduction - The success of those who practice genuine religion.
Vv. 12-21, The signs of Allah’s power. This shows that the believers with have success.
vv. 22-30, Noah was rejected by his people for being just a mortal (like Muhammad) but Allah saved him from unbelievers.
Vv. 31-41, An unnamed prophet, rejected by his people for only being mortal, resurrection denied, but the unbelievers were destroyed and the prophet saved.
Vv. 42-44 A general summary of how the nations of the world have rejected their prophets.
Vv. 45-49, Moses and Aaron, they were denied as prophets because they were only mortal. Their scriptures they gave led to success.
V. 50 Jesus and Mary lead to success.
Vv. 51-54, The messengers from Allah do right and have one religion therefore leave the unbelievers in their error.
Vv. 55-77, The character of the unbelievers and their punishment.
Vv. 78-90 A dialogue between Allah and the unbelievers.
*vv. 78-80, Allah has made you and spread you out on the earth.
*vv. 81-84, The unbelievers say they still reject Muhammad and that his story is a fable. They see their proof for how to live in the lives lived by their forefathers. They reject the resurrection and judgement.
*85-90 They confess to knowing Allah but are liars.
Vv. 91-92, Allah has no son and is exalted by they deny him and the resurrection.
Vv. 93-98, The believers do the opposite, the request guidance.
Vv. 99-108, Dialogue genre. The torment of the unbelievers on judgement day will be irreversible.
Vv. 109-114, Dialogue genre. At the judgement the believers will win.
Vv. 115-118, Conclusion. Allah did not create you for nothing but for a purpose and therefore judgement.
What I found interesting.
1. 23:1-11 sounded a bit like Beatitudes.
Successful indeed are the believers
Who are humble in their prayers,
And who shun vain conversation,
And who are payers of the poor-due;
And who guard their modesty -
Save from their wives or the (slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are not blameworthy,
But whoso craveth beyond that, such are transgressors -
And who are shepherds of their pledge and their covenant,
And who pay heed to their prayers.
These are the heirs
Who will inherit paradise. There they will abide. 23:1-11
2. Muhammad and Galen - Some Muslims say that the Qur’an has scientific information that was unknown at the time. The following verse is an example.
Then fashioned We the drop a clot, then fashioned We the clot a little lump, then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators! 23:14
The description is actually wrong as the bones are not made and then clothed with flesh. But the description was the commonly understood development from Galen a 2nd-3rd century physician, surgeon and philosopher.
3. There was a reoccurring theme of the prophets just being mortals. It seems that the Meccans were rejecting Muhammad because he was just a man.
4. A great verse about the fact that there is only one religion with God.
And lo! this your religion is one religion and I am your Lord, so keep your duty unto Me. But they (mankind) have broken their religion among them into sects, each group rejoicing in its tenets. So leave them in their error till a time. 23:52-54
5. The dialogue structure of much of this sura was interesting. It is almost like reading the script of a play. In this case it was used for the conversations that the unbelievers and believers would have with God on Judgement day. I guess you could say it was like Matthew 25:34-46.
6. The resurrection is rejected by the Meccans but the many references to the Biblical stories show that they were known. Therefore while the Biblical stories are know, in some form, the Meccans to not have Biblical beliefs. If the Meccans were Christian to some degree then we would expect them to accept the resurrection?
7. Here is an interesting reason for why there cannot be two gods.
Allah hath not chosen any son, nor is there any god along with Him; else would each god have assuredly championed that which he created, and some of them would assuredly have overcome others. Glorified be Allah above all that they allege. 23:91
8. What happens on Judgement Day?
Then those whose scales are heavy, they are the successful. And those whose scales are light are those who lose their souls, in hell abiding. 23:102-103
Lo! there was a party of My slaves who said: Our Lord! We believe, therefor forgive us and have mercy on us for Thou art Best of all who show mercy; 23:109