Sabaan Mina Al-Math­ani : The Sev­en Which Are Often Repeated

In an arti­cle marked by a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly polem­i­cal style which is the hall­mark of almost any writ­ing to be found on Answer­ing Islam, the author has exert­ed his utmost effort to prove that the ref­er­ence in the Qur’an (15:87) to the sev­en oft-repeat­ed” is an exam­ple of the Qur’an’s incom­plete­ness and inco­her­ence.” The referred Qur’an­ic verse reads as :

We have giv­en thee of the sev­en Math­ani and the won­drous Qur’an”

Fol­low­ing is a quote from this arti­cle which is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the author’s approach, style and tone :

…what exact­ly does the phrase sev­en oft-repeat­ed refer to ? Sev­en oft-repeat­ed what ? Sev­en vers­es ? Sev­en chap­ters ? Sev­en prac­tices ? Sev­en say­ings ? Sev­en prais­es ? Sev­en curs­es ? Or per­haps the sev­en most often repeat­ed log­i­cal mis­takes com­mit­ted by Mus­lims when they seek to con­vince oth­ers of the divine ori­gin of the Qur’an ? 

Addi­tion­al­ly, the author impos­es a restric­tion on his Mus­lim read­ers” to prove, by con­sult­ing the Qur’an alone”, what is meant by these sev­en oft-repeat­ed. The author claims the appro­pri­ate­ness of this restric­tion by appeal­ing to the Qur’an­ic vers­es 6:38 and 10:37, and their online com­men­tary by Pooya/M.A. Ali”. The author admon­ish­es his Mus­lim read­ers” that :

…appeal­ing to extra-Quran­ic sources only serves to prove our con­tention that the Quran is incor­rect regard­ing its asser­tion of being a ful­ly detailed record.

It appears, how­ev­er, that in the course of stip­u­lat­ing this restric­tion, the author fails to con­tin­ue hid­ing his amuse­ment when he makes the fol­low­ing addi­tion­al comment :

How­ev­er, as a num­ber of pre­vi­ous pub­li­ca­tions have already shown, the Quran is any­thing but complete.

Now, had the author sim­ply want­ed to under­stand the mean­ing of the Qur’an­ic sev­en oft-repeat­ed” as men­tioned in Sura 15:87, he would sure­ly have real­ized that there real­ly was no need to invoke the Qur’an­ic vers­es 6:38 and 10:37. Clear­ly, his extra-Qur’an­ic sources”, which he for­bids his Mus­lim read­ers” to con­sult, include the Qur’an­ic com­men­taries as well. If no”, then the author is oblig­at­ed to qual­i­fy his restric­tion as : appeal­ing to extra-Qur’an­ic sources, oth­er than the Qur’an­ic com­men­taries, only serves to prove our con­tention that the Quran is incor­rect regard­ing its asser­tion of being a ful­ly detailed record.” If yes”, then why has the author him­self appealed to the com­men­taries of Yusuf Ali, M. Asad, Ibn Kathir and Pooya/M.A. Ali, in order to show that the Qur’an­ic sev­en oft-repeat­ed” refer to :

    (a) the sev­en vers­es of Sura al-Fati­ha, (because they are repeat­ed dai­ly in every rit­u­al prayer);
    (b) or, the sev­en longest Qur’an­ic Suras (because of their repet­i­tive treat­ment of var­i­ous sub­jects, such as legal mat­ters, etc.). 

So, in effect, what hap­pened is that our author him­self feels free to vio­late his self-cre­at­ed stip­u­la­tion, but noti­fies oth­ers to abide by it, there­by mak­ing one won­der as to what real­ly does he wish to achieve by this non-schol­ar­ly and ama­teur­ish conduct.

Now, since the issue of the Qur’an­ic vers­es like 6:38 and 10:37 has noth­ing to do with the mean­ing of the Qur’an­ic sev­en oft-repeat­ed” as men­tioned in Sura 15:87, I shall not dwell upon the for­mer two vers­es. I would, how­ev­er, like to briefly men­tion here that the author has mis­un­der­stood the Qur’an­ic vers­es like 6:38 and 10:37, and then has duly used them in his polem­i­cal write-up.

The rel­e­vant por­tion of the verse 6:38, for instance, ren­ders : We have not let slip any­thing in the Book.” The clas­si­cal Qur’an­ic com­men­ta­tors, such as az-Zamakhsharial-Kashshaf, Beirut : an-Nashir Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, u.d., vol. ii, p. 21. and al-BaidawiAnwar at-Tanzil wa-Asrar at-Ta’wil, vol. i, pp. 377 – 78., explain that by the Book” here is meant not the Qur’an that we humans know as it is meant in the world, but by its heav­en­ly pro­to­type (“the moth­er of the book”, 43:4 ; a con­cealed book”, 56:78 ; a well-guard­ed tablet”, 85:22), in which indeed a per­fect divine uni­ver­sal record is kept in which noth­ing is omit­ted (cf., Sura 10:61 ; 22:70, etc.). The Qur’an, in its earth­ly form, is mere­ly a reflec­tion of this heav­en­ly well-pre­served tablet”, which indeed con­tains every­thing. Con­se­quent­ly, there is no room for any flawed polem­i­cal attempts to call upon the Qur’an­ic vers­es like 6:38 and 10:37 to obfus­cate or hin­der the mean­ing of the Qur’an­ic sev­en oft-repeated.”

In any case, I would like to inform the read­ers that my fol­low­ing inter­pre­ta­tion of the Qur’an­ic sev­en oft-repeat­ed” is indeed strict­ly based upon the Qur’an alone. There is anoth­er verse in the Qur’an that lays down an impor­tant fea­ture of those Sev­en Math­ani”: God has sent down the fairest dis­course as a Book, sim­i­lar in its oft-repeat­ed [mutashabi­han math­aniya], where­at shiv­er the skins of those who fear their Lord!” (39:23) Keep­ing this impor­tant fea­ture of those sev­en Math­ani”, i.e., sev­en oft-repeat­ed” in mind, there are some strong rea­sons to believe that they are to be under­stood as the pun­ish­ment-sto­ries fre­quent­ly told by the Qur’an.

There are sev­en main pun­ish­ment-sto­ries (strafgericht­en) as told in the Qur’an :

(i)- Nuh. This sto­ry is repeat­ed in some ten places in the Qur’an. Nuh is sent as a mes­sen­ger to his peo­ple ; and they per­sist in their dis­be­lief and are drowned con­se­quent­ly, while he and those who believe are saved in the Ark.

(ii)- Ad. They were a pros­per­ous, mighty and a well-off peo­ple (Qur’an 7:69) to whom Hud was sent as a Mes­sen­ger. How­ev­er, they were inces­sant on their dis­be­lief, and were destroyed by a strong wind. Their his­to­ry is also repeat­ed in var­i­ous places (for instance : 41:15 ; 26:123 ff., etc.) in the Qur’an.

(iii)- Thamud. They were also mate­ri­al­ly well-off and built château and rock-hewn habi­ta­tions (Qur’an 7:74). To them a Mes­sen­ger, Sal­ih, being one of them, was sent, and as a proof of the truth of his mes­sage a she-camel and a foul were mirac­u­lous­ly pro­duced. Thamud, how­ev­er, remained defi­ant in their dis­be­lief and ham­strung the camel. Con­se­quent­ly, there were destroyed by the Almighty. Their sto­ry is also often repeat­ed in the Qur’an (for instance, in addi­tion to the above ref­er­ence : 11:61 – 68 ; 15:80 – 84 ; 54:23 – 31).

(iv)- Ibrahim and his peo­ple. The sto­ry of the monothe­ist and prophet Ibrahim, and his attack­ing the idol-wor­ship of his father and peo­ple, and, when dis­be­lieved, with­draw­ing from them while his peo­ple were made the worst losers” (21:70) and the infe­ri­or” (37:98), is relat­ed at four places in the Qur’an.

(v)- Lut and his peo­ple. Lut’s peo­ple were moral­ly-down­grad­ed and he accus­es them of inde­cen­cy and sodomy. When they oppose and threat­en to expel him, he and his house­hold are deliv­ered, while they are over­whelmed by a dev­as­tat­ing rain of grav­els (54:34). This sto­ry is also oft-repeat­ed in the Qur’an.

(vi)- Shu‘aib and the peo­ple of Mid­i­an. Shu‘aib is sent as a Mes­sen­ger to the peo­ple of Mid­i­an, who exhorts them to give full mea­sure and just weight. Like oth­er dis­be­liev­ing peo­ple, they were destroyed. Their nar­ra­tive also occurs fre­quent­ly in the Quraan (for instance 11:84 – 95 ; 29:36 ff., 7:85 – 93 etc.).

(vii)- Musa and his peo­ple. Musa and Harun go with God’s author­i­ty and signs as Mes­sen­gers to Pharaoh and his chiefs, but they behaved inso­lent­ly and arro­gant­ly refused to believe. There­fore, they are destroyed (23:45 – 48). The sto­ry of Musa, Bani Isra’il and Pharaoh is also repeat­ed many times in the Qur’an.

In addi­tion to these sev­en main pun­ish­ment-sto­ries, there also occur some minor pun­ish­ment-sto­ries in the Qur’an, such as :

  • The dis­be­liev­ers of ar-Rass and their destruc­tion, 25:38 ; 50:12.
  • The unbe­liev­ers of Tub­ba‘ and their pun­ish­ment, 50:14 ; 44:37.

The occur­rence of these addi­tion­al pun­ish­ment-sto­ries is in fact exact­ly in accor­dance with the exact ren­der­ing of the Ara­bic orig­i­nal phrase : sab‘an mina l‑mathani” (Qur’an, 15:87), i.e., sev­en of the math­ani”, clear­ly imply­ing there­by that sev­en were not all the math­ani. Fur­ther­more, these pun­ish­ment-sto­ries also fit the descrip­tion of the Qur’an­ic verse 39:23, for the pun­ish­ments usu­al­ly cause fear, while the deliv­er­ance of the Mes­sen­gers and their fol­low­ers in those sto­ries soft­ens the hearts of the read­ers and listeners.

Fur­ther, those oft-repeat­ed sev­en promi­nent pun­ish­ment-sto­ries resem­ble one anoth­er” [mutashabi­han math­aniya] in two ways : First­ly, the gen­er­al scheme is the same : a Mes­sen­ger is sent to a peo­ple ; he deliv­ers his mes­sage, but is dis­be­lieved and the mes­sage reject­ed ; the pun­ish­ment of God then falls upon the peo­ple for their unbe­lief. Sec­ond­ly, the form of words is often sim­i­lar. And the rea­son why 15:87 dis­tin­guish­es the sev­en of the math­ani” from the mighty Qur’an”, is pre­cise­ly owing to their arous­ing a heart-rend­ing effect in their lis­ten­ers, as spec­i­fied in 39:23. It to high­light this pecu­liar effect of theirs that those sev­en of the math­ani” are spo­ken of apart from the mighty Qur’an”.

And only Allah knows best ! Sabaan Mina Al-Mathani: The Seven Which Are Often Repeated 1Endmark







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