One of the ideas of the class is to show the perfect and always-consistent positioning of each word in the Qur’an. Each word means precisely what it’s supposed to in that context, there’s no mismatch. And the consistency of those words being used whenever a similar context arises is amazing and beyond human capacity. For example, one could ask why is the word “Yathrib” used at Ahzab:13 whereas in other places it’s always “Madinah” (e.g. Munafiqoon:8)? Even more intriguingly, this surah is Madinan, and the word Madinah is used later on in the same surah at verse 60! One of the wisdoms for doing so (and Allah knows best) is that Madinah is a nickname (short for Madinat-un-Nabi – The City of the Prophet) given after Hijrah, and so the use of the the term “Madinah” by people signifies allegiance to the Prophet (saws). Now if we look closely at Ahzab:13 we see that it captures a part of the saying of the munafiqoon at the time – they’re exposing their hypocrisy at Khandaq by calling on the people of Yathrib (not Madinah!) to give up and go home. These were those who had lost their claim to power in the city as a result of Hijrah, and are using old associations to rouse the people, thereby making their nifaaq clear. So the use of Yathrib is not a mistake or slip-up as people might assume, it’s actually perfectly positioned.
Another example of word choice is with the plural words for blessing at Nahl:121 and Luqman:20. In Surah Luqman, the word used is “ni`am” which is a stronger plural form of “ni`amah”, and in Surah Nahl it is “an`um”, which is still plural but a weaker form. Now if we look at the context, in Surah Luqman Allah SWT is talking about how He SWT has perfected and endowed His MANY blessings upon us. In Surah Nahl however, the context is about how we as humans are unable to account in thankfulness for even one blessing (and the fact that Ibrahim (as) did so for even a few is remarkable). So Allah blesses us with “ni`am” (many) but our gratitude is only for “an`um” (few).
Surahs Isra’ and Kahf are very closely intertwined. In fact according to one of Amin Ahsan Islahi’s theories (author of Tadabbur-e-Qur’an) all 114 surahs can be divided into consecutive pairs, with such connections between each pair. Both talk about how the angels and Iblees were told to prostrate before Adam (as), but Iblees refused. Now Surah Isra (or Bani Israeel) is about the refusal of the Jews to accept Muhammad (saws) as a Prophet because he wasn’t “one of them.” The reason given for Iblees’ refusal in that surah is that he claimed he was superior because he was made of fire and Adam (as) of clay. So Allah SWT is drawing a parallel between the two refusals (being Arab vs. being Bani Israeel and being made of fire vs. clay) and warning the Jews of Iblees’ fate. In Surah Kahf, partly directed at the Christians (toward the beginning Allah SWT destroys their argument of having taken a son (audhubillah)) the reason given in Surah Kahf is that he was of the jinn and he disobeyed the command of Allah (fa-fasaqa `an amri rabbih). And this is a warning to the Christians who made one into three and who mistakenly believe they’re already saved – they need to hear what happened to the Disobeyer who also abandoned Allah’s Command. Also it refutes their theology of Iblees being a fallen angel – this verse categorically states he was of the jinn.
Another fascinating connection in those two surahs: they begin respectively by saying that the Prophet (saws) was raised up and the Book came down. And if you look at the beginnings and ends of both surahs, they cover all four popular dhikrs: at the beginning of Surah Isra you have tasbiH and at the end you have takbir, and with Surah Kahf you start off with taHmid and end with tahlil!
There are more that Br. Nouman talks about in class, but the point is that these are intricate connections that we can only appreciate superficially – imagine a human being actually constructing them. It’s just not possible.
Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children. (It is) as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tillers; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers – evildoers), and (there is) forgiveness from Allâh and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers – good-doers). And the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.
We’ve all read this verse and moved on. At least I didn’t pay much attention to it. But if you think about it, this one verse concisely summarizes and sums up our entire lives. And it’s not a pretty picture. Consider our lives – we start as toddlers. This verse starts with play (la`ibun), which is what toddlers are engrossed in, it’s most important to them. Then when we get a little older we need entertainment to keep us busy – amusement (lahwun). A little later in our teens we are obsessed with pomp, or appearance and how things look (zeenatun). Then as we get independent and make money we deal with urges to show off (boasting – tafaakhur). Then we get married and have kids (rivalry in wealth and children – takaathur fi al-amwaal wa al-aulaad). In just a few words, Allah SWT has compressed our entire thought process throughout our lives! Then He (SWT) makes an analogy of it in the same verse. Heavy rain impresses the farmer as he is burying seeds, green shoots make him happy and make him feel like he’s close to achieving something big, and then the crop matures. But why doesn’t the farmer cut it and harvest it? Why does he watch it turn yellow? It’s because we humans run after a lot of things, but when we get them we immediately lose interest most of the time and newer shinier things take our attention. Then those crops turn into straw and crust and eventually become worthless. And so this is Allah SWT telling us that nothing in this life will make us content and that only Allah can give us true contentment (riDwaan). And the verse finishes – and what is this life except a deceptive enjoyment?
Subhanallah … one verse!
I’ll finish with the example from Surah Yusuf. That one really blew my mind. There are a number of noteworthy connections to be drawn from the story of Yusuf (as) as detailed in that surah but consider this. This is the layout of the plot:
1 – Yusuf (as) has a dream
2 – His brothers plot against him
3 – His owner’s wife attempts to seduce him
4 – Her friends attempt to seduce him
5 – He (as) is imprisoned
6 – The king has a dream
6 – The king’s dream is interpreted
5 – Yusuf (as) is released from prison
4 – The ladies confess
3 – His former owner’s wife confesses
2 – His brothers learn their lesson
1 – Yusuf (as)’s dream is interpreted and realized
This is spread out in exactly this order over 100 ayaat. Problems are introduced and solved in reverse symmetric order. Remember, these are verses of speech. Qur’an wasn’t revealed as a book. It was revealed in parts over 23 years! The thing is, humans just don’t think like this! You need a stack to process a story and say it like this.
To have this kind of consistency in speech over 23 years, forming what would later be compiled as a book and analyzed as a book is beyond human capacity. Armies of the best authors couldn’t do it, even with the luxury of being able to make mistakes the first few times and correct them.