Date, Context and Theme
This is a middle Meccan sura. Muhammad does not control Mecca yet and the Meccas are still asking for a sign that he is a prophet. Muhammad himself cannot provide one but this sura speaks of the signs that are available for the Meccans to consider.
vv. 1-6, The Meccans are rejecting Muhammad. They are asking for a sign but will not believe even if one was given to them. They will face Allah’s wrath. While Muhammad may not have a sign Allah does give signs though.
The Signs of Allah
Vv. 7-9 Creation is a sign of Allah. Look at the way fruit grows.
vv. 10-68 The sign of Moses. The story of Moses before Pharaoh to the crossing of the sea.
Vv. 69-104 The sign of Abraham. It is logical to serve one god and not idols.
vv. 105-122 The sing of Noah.
vv. 123-140, The sign of Hud.
vv. 141-159 The sign of Salih and the camel.
vv. 160- The sign of Lot and human perversion.
vv. 176, The sign of Shu'eyb and bad business dealing.
vv. 192-227, Muhammad and the Qur’an are like the earlier prophets in the earlier scriptures.
What I found interesting.
This sura has a similar structure to sura 7 and 11 with the same prophets being referred to.
The sura is highly repetitive. When each prophet is referred to the follow points are said about them.
* They were asked for a sign.
* They wanted no wage for their preaching.
* They called on the people to obey them.
* They were rejected for various reasons
* The people were judged by Allah.
* The prophet was a sign from God.
Each section ends with these verses,
Lo! herein is indeed a portent; yet most of them are not believers. And lo! thy Lord! He is indeed the Mighty, the Merciful. 26:190-191
2. Assumed Knowledge. The retelling of these stories was often brief and with few details. This seems to indicate that the story was already known to some degree. This particularly seems to be the case in view of the reference to the Jewish scripture.
And lo! it is in the Scriptures of the men of old. Is it not a token for them that the doctors of the Children of Israel know it? 26:196-197
Again this shows how knowing the Bible aids a reader of the Qur’an.
3. Additions to the Biblical Accounts. The stories of the prophets in this sura have additional features. For instance, when Moses gives a sign in Pharaoh’s court, Pharaoh’s magicians become Muslims with a fully developed Islamic theology.
And the wizards were flung prostrate, Crying: We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, The Lord of Moses and Aaron. (Pharaoh) said: Ye put your faith in him before I give you leave. Lo! he doubtless is your chief who taught you magic! But verily ye shall come to know. Verily I will cut off your hands and your feet alternately, and verily I will crucify you every one. They said: It is no hurt, for lo! unto our Lord we shall return. Lo! we ardently hope that our Lord will forgive us our sins because we are the first of the believers. 26:46-51
This addition though is not unique to the Qur’an. Similar court conversion stories can be found in early hagiography like the account of Saint Katrina.
4. Abraham and Logic. Abraham is again seen as the prophet of logic and no doubt this convinces Muslims that any religion must be logical.
When he said unto his father and his folk: What worship ye? They said: We worship idols, and are ever devoted unto them. He said: Do they hear you when ye cry? Or do they benefit or harm you? They said: Nay, but we found our fathers acting on this wise. 26:70-74
5. The Use of the Prophets. Again we see that the way the stories are told about the prophets reflects what is happening in Muhammad’s life. Issues like the demand for a sign, that his followers are from the poorer people, that people think he is mad, etc., are all current issues for Muhammad. Thus reading these stories actually tells us a lot about Muhammad and his issues even though they are talking about an earlier prophet.
In fact sometimes the details of the early prophets are unimportant compared to Muhammad. Thus when Lot flees Sodom it is not his wife who is left behind but simply and "old woman" 26:171.
The way that Jesus retells the stories of the prophets is similar and different to Muhammad. Jesus, in the gospels, does sometimes retell the stories of the prophets and apply them to himself, but he gets the facts right.
6. Life in the Grave. There were several references to people in the grave crying out for a second chance but not being giving it.
Then will they be hurled therein, they and the seducers And the hosts of Iblis, together. And they will say, when they are quarrelling therein: By Allah, of a truth we were in error manifest When we made you equal with the Lord of the Worlds. It was but the guilty who misled us. Now we have no intercessors Nor any loving friend. Oh, that we had another turn (on earth), that we might be of the believers! 26:94-102
7. Medinan Verses. Islamic scholars say that the last verse is from the Medinan period and has been added on to the sura.
Save those who believe and do good works, and remember Allah much, and vindicate themselves after they have been wronged. Those who do wrong will come to know by what a (great) reverse they will be overturned! 26:227
Certainly the verse acts like a concluding prayer and so have been added on, but it also does contain the themes of the sura and could be an original ending.