Synthesis of Quran class notes

I’ve been attending a great Quran class. Here’s synthesis of the main concepts we discussed in the first session.

In the first class, our teacher talked about unique qualities of the Quran, which we need to consider in understanding/interpreting the meaning. He talked about the value of detail in Western/English language writing. Arabic literary style–at least around 7th century Arabia–valued it’s exact opposite. Things were best said as briefly as possible. That is the reason Arabs used to think of the Quran as being beyond poetry–they had never seen people reach it’s level. The Quran leaves a lot of blanks for the mind to fill. It’s a quality that makes it everlasting. But also confusing to the new reader.

Related to the style is an important principle. The Quran only discusses what is essential for guidance. So everything, even the repetition of verses, is there because it is essential. No story is irrelevant. On the other hand, the Quran’s concept of relevance is not necessarily what agrees with people’s ideas. For generations before the Quran was revealed, for instance, People of the Book debated the number of people in the cave, in the story of the People of the Cave (see below). And Muslims, even after the Quran clearly says that it does not matter, continue to debate this (my sister’s Islamic Studies class for instance). The Quran says it’s not a controversy we should approach, and doesn’t end the controversy for us. Because really, we have to make the choice to do that:

22. (Some) say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth,-doubtfully guessing at the unknown; (yet others) say they were seven, the dog being the eighth. Say thou: “My Lord knoweth best their number; It is but few that know their (real case).” Enter not, therefore, into controversies concerning them, except on a matter that is clear, nor consult any of them about (the affair of) the Sleepers.

Discussion of choice also leads to another theme in the Quran. On many occasions, the disbelievers asked for miracles. They asked for a clear sign. Allah responded to their demands by saying that they already had clear signs. That if they weren’t ready to see them, they really wouldn’t be ready to believe even after miracles. (Didn’t they call Musa/Moses a magician?) In order to move from belief to disbelief, our minds and our souls have to take a journey, which prepares us to submit (there’s got to be a better word for this in English) to Allah’s will. Taken to the logical extreme, those asking for miracles were almost asking that the element of choice be taken away. And Allah says, in many instances, that if he wanted he could have made everyone a believer. But he didn’t. He (and there’s got to be a better pronoun for this) left it to us. And that actually makes it a struggle and a rewarding experience. And it’s also what raises us above the angles (as we are, according to the Quran).

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