Date, Context and Theme
This is a Meccan sura that again deals with the Meccan rejection of Muhammad. Muhammad is compared to the earlier prophets.
vv. 1-6 Introduces what the Qur’an is and how there are two types of people, those who believe in the hereafter and those who do not.
Vv. 7-14 Moses spoke with God, presence of God, signs, rejection, victory.
vv. 15-44 Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
vv. 45-53 Salih and the people of Thamud
vv. 54-58 Lot
Conclusion and Application
vv. 59-93 Directed at Muhammad, the Muslims, the Meccans, the Jews, believers. Deals with shirk, the resurrection, and that the time will come for judgement though we will have to wait.
What I found interesting.
1. This sura was similar to the previous one in that it had many examples from the stories of the prophets. The difference here though was that each story had a different point whereas in Sura 26 each story had the same point.
I found the stories memorable and am sure that they are well known in Islamic culture. Each story of the prophets again seems to reflect the situation of Muhammad’s life.
Muhammad is like Moses in that Moses experienced the presence of God (v. 9) and the Qur’an that Muhammad speaks is from the presence of God (v. 6). Moses gave signs, was rejected but had victory.
Muhammad is like Solomon in that Solomon called the rich polytheist (the Queen of Sheba) to worship one God and Muhammad is calling the Meccans. Solomon had the army of God which had humans, geniis and animals so too Muhammad heads the army of God.
Muhammad is like Salih who called his people to repent but they plotted (compare v. 50 to v. 70) against him. In the end Salih’s opponents were destroyed.
Muhammad is like Lot who tried to call his people to their senses and away from such obvious corruption. In the end Lot’s opponents were destroyed.
There are more connections than what I have listed here but this seems to be how the stories function. Again, Muhammad is the key to understanding the Qur’an.
2. Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The story in the Quran is very different to what is found in the Bible but it is very similar to what is found in the 2 Targum of Esther.
* Solomon is the heir of David
* He is given knowledge to talk to animals.
* He has an army of birds, genies and men.
* A bird tells him about the Queen of Sheba.
* Solomon sends her a letter. She sends him a gift. Solomon threatens to send his army against her.
* While the queen is on her way a genii brings her throne to Solomon.
* The queen arrives, sees the throne and becomes a Muslim.
This story of Solomon is not just different to what is found in the Bible but it is an example of how the historical Solomon has moved into myth and fable. In 1 Kings 4 we read about Solomon’s wisdom.
God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite--wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29-34, NIV)
Notice how Solomon teaches about plants and animals in what seems to be a type of botany and zoology. However in the Qur’an, it is not science that Solomon does, instead he talks to animals and genies. This is a traceable movement from history to myth.
It is true that the Bible has talking animals too (Genesis 3, Numbers 22). I am not denying that God can miraculously make an animal speak. However, while the Bible contains such accounts it also warns us to be careful of myths that develop.
... pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. (Titus 1:14, NIV)
I believe in a miraculous working God and I also believe that there are false myths. How do we discern the difference? It seems to me that the only option is that when we have evidence to consider we must consider it. The example of Solomon seems to provide clear evidence of the type of myth that Paul said to avoid.
Finally, in the Bible, Solomon’s wisdom is offered for all to learn through his book of Proverbs. This is not the case in the Qur’an though I have heard of Islamic leaders trying to control genies.
3. Lot’s Wife. In the previous sura we read,
So We saved him (Lot) and his household, every one, save an old woman among those who stayed behind. 26:170-170
While in this sura we read,
Then We saved him and his household save his wife; We destined her to be of those who stayed behind. 27:57
Is it fair to suggest that Muhammad has learned more details about the story of Lot?
4. Justice and Salvation. Again we see that God the judge will give a favourable even biased judgement to Muslims.
Whoso bringeth a good deed will have better than its worth; and such are safe from fear that Day. And whoso bringeth an ill-deed, such will be flung down on their faces in the Fire. Are ye rewarded aught save what ye did? 27:89-90
Whoso bringeth a good deed will receive tenfold the like thereof, while whoso bringeth an ill-deed will be awarded but the like thereof; and they will not be wronged. 6:160