Date, Context and Theme
This is a middle Meccan sura that continues to deal with the Meccan rejection of Muhammad, the Qur’an and the teaching that there is only one God with no associates.
So let not their speech grieve thee (O Muhammad). Lo! We know what they conceal and what proclaim. 36:76
vv. 1-12, Introduction - The Qur’an is guidance and it is Allah’s sovereign choice who will believe.
Vv. 13-44 Parables and Stories to prove the message of Muhammad.
* Vv. 13-32, The story of the three messengers from Allah who went to a city and were rejected and mocked but one person from the city accepted. Then the city was destroyed.
* Vv. 33-36, The dry ground giving life when rain comes
* Vv. 37-40, The movement of the sun and moon.
* Vv. 41-44, The danger of travelling by ships. Your life is in the hands of God and at his mercy.
Vv. 45-53 Dealing with the arguments of the Meccans who rejects the Qur’an:
* vv. 45-53 They reject the signs/parables that are given in the Qur’an and ask when will the judgement come? They are told that the judgement will come and each will get what he deserve and go to paradise or hell.
* Vv. 54-68, The dialogue of and a description of judgement day
* vv. 69-70 Muhammad is not a poet but a warner.
* Vv. 71-75, the Sign of domesticated animals. Allah has given us these animals yet we do not give thanks and worship others.
Vv. 76-83, Conclusion - Do not be grieved by their rejection Muhammad. Consider the evidence. Allah brings you forth from seed, give you fire, created the heavens and earth and only has to say for something to be. Worship Allah alone.
What I found interesting.
1. God’s Sovereignty
There is a strong theme of God’s sovereign choice.
Lo! We have put on their necks carcans reaching unto the chins, so that they are made stiff-necked. And We have set a bar before them and a bar behind them, and (thus) have covered them so that they see not. 36:8-9
This is similar to the Bible.
2. Examining the arguments.
In this sura, and many others, there are arguments put forward for why Muhammad’s message is true. These seem to fit into three categories.
A. The stories of the earlier prophets.
B. Referring to the cycles of creation.
C. The logic of the fact that if those you associate with Allah are powerless what use are they.
I think it is good to consider these arguments. They show us the thought world of Muhammad, maybe the thought world of his hearers, and also raise the question of how do these arguments engage with the modern world? This same question can be asked of the Bible too.
It does seems that the arguments of the Qur’an were not convincing to the Meccans.
Never came a token of the tokens of their Lord to them, but they did turn away from it! 36:46
3. Which City?
The first story/parable in the sura is to the coming of three prophets to a city.
Coin for them a similitude: The people of the city when those sent (from Allah) came unto them; When We sent unto them twain, and they denied them both, so We reinforced them with a third, and they said: Lo! we have been sent unto you. 36:13-14
The point of the story is straight forward, this city rejected their messengers in the same way the Meccans are rejecting Muhammad, but who are the messengers and what was the city? This is not an unreasonable question to ask if the story is meant to be taken as true history. Where are the basic details like names of people and places? Islamic scholars identify them in various ways, some even suggesting that they were disciples of Jesus, one being Paul (Bulus).
4. Women in paradise.
We often think of Islamic paradise as being a place for men and their pleasure. Certainly this is true in other parts of the Qur’an, but this verse shows that wives will be happy too.
Lo! those who merit paradise this day are happily employed, They and their wives, in pleasant shade, on thrones reclining; 36:55-56
5. The dialogue of judgement day.
I found this an interesting method of teaching. It is like a play were the lines for each actor are written out. In this case it is the discussion between God and the believers and unbelievers on judgement day.
The word from a Merciful Lord (for them the believers) is: Peace! But to you, O you guilty, this day! Did I not charge you, O you sons of Adam, that you worship not the devil - Lo! he is your open foe! - But that you worship Me? That was the right path. 36:58-61
6. Muhammad the Poet?
It seems that the Meccans were saying the Muhammad was just like their poets. That is to say that Muhammad is not unique in what he was reciting.
And We have not taught him (Muhammad) poetry, nor is it meet for him. This is naught else than a Reminder and a Lecture making plain, To warn whosoever liveth, and that the word may be fulfilled against the disbelievers. 36:69-70