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TitleQuran by Prof Neal Robinson
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Page 2

Discovering the Qur'an

Page 172

16o Discovering the Qur'an

frequent. Here, the stress is on God's causing their regular alternation

(7.54; io.6; 13.3; 14.33; 16.12; 30.23; 31.29; 35.13; 36-37; 41-37; 45.9;
79.29; 9 1. 3 f.), which affords human beings opportunities for sleep and

for seeking their livelihood (25.47; 78.9-1i). There is, in addition, one

reference to God's causing the dawn to break (6.96), and several to the

sun, moon and stars bowing down before Allah their Creator (22.18; 41.7;

55.6). Not only the heavenly bodies but everything in heaven and earth

bows down before Him, either willingly or grudgingly, just as their

shadows do in the morning and evening (13.15; 16.48). The Qur'an

labours these points in order to transform the consciousness of the pagan

Arabs who worshipped the heavenly bodies (41.37), looked upon the

night as something to be feared, and thought of the interminable cycle of

day and night as detrimental."

References to the heavenly bodies and to the phases of the day and

night also abound in the Messenger sections, where they occur in con-

nection with the instructions concerning prayer and Qur'anic recitation:

Stay up all night except a little,

half or a trifle less

or add to it and intone the Qur'an distinctly

We shall cast a weighty statement on thee.

The onset of night is more serious for impressions (73.1-5).

Hymn thy Lord's praise when thou arisest

And at night glorify Him as the stars fade away ( 5 2.4 8f.).

... hymn thy Lord's praise before the sun's rising and setting and at

night glorify Him after the prostrations (50.39; 20. 130; 11. 114).

Hymn thy Lord's praise from the decline of the sun until twilight and

[observe] the recitation of the Qur'an at daybreak ... (17.78).

The transformation of the Arab consciousness thus began with the trans-

formation of Muhammad's life, as he followed these instructions, con-

formed himself to the natural cycles imposed by the Creator, and received

revelations at the onset of night. In so doing he was following the prece-

dent set by previous messengers and prophets, for we learn from the

Qur'anic narratives that Moses, David and Zechariah glorified God in the

morning and evening (40.55; 38.18; 19.11); and that Abraham would have

taken a star, the moon or the sun as his Lord, if he had not observed that

they all set (6.74-79).

In view of the instructions to Muhammad which urge him to link his

devotions to the diurnal cycle, and which declare the periods immediately

Page 173

The Structure of the Meccan Surahs 161

after sunset and just before dawn especially auspicious for revelation and
recitation, it is hardly surprising that the heavenly bodies and the phases
of the day and night often feature in the Qur'anic oaths:

By the stars when they set! (53.0.

By the sky and the night-star! (86. i).

No, I swear by the positions of the stars (56.75).

No, by the moon!
And the night as it retreats!
And morning when it shines forth! ( 7 4 -3 2ff.).

By the sun and its forenoon!
And by the moon when it follows!
And by the day when it reveals its splendour!
And by the night when it veils over it! (91.1-4).

By the night as it veils over!
And the day in full splendour! (9 2. If.).

By the morning bright!
And the night when it is still! (9 3 .if.).

3
1

There is, however, another reason for the content of these oaths: the
certainty that the regular motion of the heavenly bodies will give way to
chaos as described in some of the eschatological preludes

When the sun is extinguished
And when the stars slip out of place (81.1-2; cf. 82.1-2; 77.8-11)

and that the cycle of night and day, far from being interminable, will be
brought to an end with the dawning of the Day of Resurrection - 'that
day' so frequently mentioned in the eschatological proceedings.

Finally, night and day also feature occasionally in polemical material
and in the revelation sections. As regards the former, the Qur'anic
polemic likens sleep to death: God gathers our souls at night but resur-
rects us each morning (6.6o; cf. 39-42). The revelation sections, on the
other hand, reinforce the positive evaluation of night-time, which we have
already observed in the signs sections and Messenger sections; Surah 97
extols the merits of 'the Night of Power' on which the Qur'an was first
revealed, and 44.3 refers to it as 'a blessed night'. The Muslims are thus
set free from natural fears and called to reverent awe of the Creator.

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