Accelerate! Structure and function of ALR Sequence (Chapters 10-15)

Note: The author has found the idea in this post problematic. This post is not deleted and kept as an archive.

The ALR sequence presents a process of exodus away from the status of being of rejecters. One question has troubled me for quite a while when I was reading the ALR sequence—the first verse of all chapters in the ALR sequence talks about the signs in the Book, but where’s the sign? Where can the sign go, as these chapters are repeating how people reject God’s message? I found one of the answers to the question, that the sign, or guidance, lies in the characteristics of God. Now I’m talking about another answer to this question—the sign lies in a trend within the ALR sequence.

I’m discussing each chapter in the ALR sequence in the following paragraphs:

Chapter 10: This chapter focuses on the characteristics of the Scripture and God, and the mentality of rejecters. How people reject the Scripture is emphasized, as verses about rejection immediately follow each mention of the characteristics of the Scripture and signs of God. The overall sense is that, here is the sign, yet they reject. On the other hand, we should notice the signs and characteristics of the Scripture and God which got rejected. The story of Moses is also emphasized, which in turn highlights the importance and function of this Scripture. Moses represents God’s law, as he is the first prophet whose story was mentioned in the Quran, in the first half of Chapter 2, which lies down the fundamental mentality of Monotheists, in Chapter 5, whose theme is upholding God’s law impartially, and in Chapter 7, whose numerous calls to Children of Adam and the transition from story of Moses to the present audience in 7:155-172 motivate the present audience to follow the Scripture. These passages link Moses to God’s law, by drawing parallels between Pharaoh or those who turned to the calf and the present rejecters, and parallel between Moses and Muhammad, and between Moses’s Book and this Scripture. Moses’s story is significant here, also because he represents the physical Exodus along with the spiritual one. Chapter 10 only addresses the first part of Moses’s story, which is the Exodus. Note that this also parallels Muhammad, as contemporaries of Muhammad were asked to emigrate.

Chapter 11: This chapter focuses on the judgment of God, especially the punishment of the rejecters. This chapter is mainly composed of a continuous sequence of stories of rejection, similar to Chapters 7 and 26, but with a special focus on the story of Noah. A repetition of God’s Omniscience (11:5-6, 123), what the audience should do when facing rejection (11:109, 113, 121-122), and 11:1 itself point to God’s judgment. How does Noah’s story contribute to judgment? The scene unique to this chapter is how impartial God is in His judgment, punishing Noah’s son for his sin despite the fact that he is Noah’s son. This echoes the Day of Judgment, when nobody can help anyone. Also special to this chapter is that each story in the sequence of stories is more detailed than those in Chapters 7 and 26, with the exception of story of Moses. This detail clarifies different kinds of vices of the rejecters, and composes part of the trend of exodus from the world of sin (see summary of Chapter 12). In contrast, each story (except story of Moses) in Chapters 7 and 26 have much less detail, as they play different functions in the large context.

Chapter 12: This is the only chapter in the Quran almost exclusively devoted to narration, and the only chapter that talks about Joseph in detail. Chapter 12 is radically different from Chapters 10 and 11, also in that it’s mostly talking about the positive example of Joseph. Why is this chapter so special? This question also has troubled me. I found one of the answers to this question. The function of the story of Joseph, which is one of the stories of the messengers, is stated in 12:3, “We tell to you the best stories through what We have inspired to you in this Qur’an; and before it you were of those who were unaware” (emphasis added) and 12:111, “In their stories is a lesson for those who possess intelligence. It is not a narration that has been invented, but an authentication of what is between his hands and a detailing of all things, and a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe” (emphasis added).  Now this guidance is more direct. The virtues of Joseph are exactly the opposites to the vices of rejecters in Chapter 11. The virtues of Joseph can be viewed as negating the vices of rejecters in Chapter 11. The vices in Chapter 11 are: arrogance to God’s message (people of Noah), idolatry and blind following (Aad and Thamud), sexual immorality (people of Lot), financial dishonesty (Midian), surrendering to authority instead of God (people of Pharaoh). Virtues of Joseph in Chapter 12 are: accepting God’s teaching and message (12:6, 21-22), resistance to sexual immorality, or possession of integrity and fear of God (12:23-24), surrendering to God instead of authority (12:33), financial honesty (12:66)[1], and humbleness to God in spite of the worldly authority (12:101). There’re other aspects of Chapter 12 exactly opposing Chapter 11, such as the king followed Joseph while people of all messengers in Chapter 11 rejected the messengers, and Chapter 11 features families of Noah and Lot broken up, while Chapter 12 features family of Joseph uniting after broken up.  12:3 also shows some hint that the story of Joseph—and of course the Quran itself—is used to enlighten (“before it you were of those who were unaware”). Thus, Chapter 12 can be seen as opposing Chapter 11, making a step from vice to virtues.

Chapter 13: This chapter is unusually short compared to previous and following chapters. It has an emphasis on God’s overwhelming might above the rejecters, virtues of believers, and differentiation between believers and rejecters. Many chapters mention God’s signs, but unlike the more common list of signs such as that in Chapters 16, 25, and 30, the list in Chapter 13 shows more shocking signs like thunder (13:13), moving mountains (13:31), and land reducing from edges (13:41) instead of the blessings like plants, livestock, and ships as in Chapter 16, and the signs in Chapter 13 are more detached to human welfare and more relevant to God’s judgments. I said differentiation between believers and rejecters, because in contrast to Chapter 11 which is mostly negative examples, this chapter contrasts truth and falsehood, and the outcome of followers of truth and followers of falsehood (13:14-43). Chapter 10 also has some of such contrasts, but Chapter 13, unlike Chapter 10, is much more explicit on these contrasts (e.g. 13:17).

Chapter 14: This chapter is also short, like Chapter 13. Also like Chapter 13, it addresses differentiation between believers and rejecters (14:24-26). Chapter 14 is mainly concerned with the propagation of God’s message via messengers in general and via Abraham, warning against blind following, and God’s judgments. The central theme of this chapter is summarized in 14:1, “ALR, a Book which We have sent down to you so that you may bring the people out of the darkness and into the light with the permission of their Lord, to the path of the Noble, the Praiseworthy.” To walk out of the darkness into the light, we need God’s message and to stop blindly following Satan and religious leaders, and they will abandon us on Day of Judgment. Regarding walking out of darkness and into light, I have to mention the function of Abraham’s story. Abraham is representing the concept of Monotheism, while Moses represents God’s law in Scripture. Monotheism is said to be the “creed of Abraham” (e.g. 2:135; 3:95; 4:125; 6:161; etc.), and the story of Abraham establishing the Sanctuary in Chapter 2 is pivotal, connecting passages about what we shouldn’t do to what we should do, so is the story of Abraham rejecting stars, moon, and sun and only accepted God in Chapter 6, pivotal, even in such a chapter with very complicated structure. Now the scene of Abraham establishing the Sanctuary reappears, echoing the change from darkness to light in the structure of Chapter 2. Chapter 14 does not stand alone; its theme continues in Chapter 15.

Chapter 15: Though long, this chapter has a simple structure. It begins with how people are ignorant of God’s marvelous signs, followed by the story of Adam with Satan vowing to mislead humans except the followers of God, and then comes the story of Abraham’s son and Lot, and finally what the present audience should do. The story of Abraham and Lot in this chapter, unlike that in Chapter 11, has more emphasis on the process of flight from Sodom. Along with the story of fall of humans, the story of Abraham and Lot can be understood as a flight away from darkness into light, with darkness represented by Sodom and Satan, and light represented by the flight, the good news of a son who represents further propagation of Monotheism (see 2:128-129; 14:37-40), and the character of Abraham himself, as mentioned in Chapters 2 and 14. Note that this is similar to Chapter 7, but here, what brings humans out from darkness into light is more the concept of Monotheism than the Scripture. But the concept and the Scripture are integrated.

In sum, from Chapter 10 to 15, there’s a trend, from rejection to differentiation to exodus from darkness, and from vice to virtue. Also, there’s a gradual shift from the importance of the scripture via the virtues to the concept of truth and Monotheism. This trend has been established by many elements as already discussed in this post, and this trend will contribute to my understandings of functions of other elements in later chapters, such as the function of example of water (and perhaps the ship) and the function of repeated scenes of rejection. This trend plays an important role to prepare for Chapters 19-32, which exhibit a cycle of rejection, extricating from this cycle, and more about application of the Quranic principles in real life. The function of this trend and other elements of the ALR sequence in the entire Quran still awaits my discovery.

Now I’m facing another question: Why does this change move in such a slow pace? Will this observation still be valuable because of this pace? I’m suggesting an answer, that the Quranic text is not a dead text, for it interacts with the reader. Here’s an imperfect analogy: The basics of the System has been laid down in the first 5 chapters of the Quran, just as in a math textbook, a concept is introduced and a formula is proven, and then, in the later chapters, the basic principles are further developed and clarified, just like the examples and exercises following the introduction to reinforce the knowledge. This is not a perfect analogy, since in the entire Quranic experience, we learn, experience (e.g. through the trend I observed) and practice at the same time. Unfortunately, many Quranists are considering the Quran a specimen in lab instead of a guidance as is defined (2:2), thus losing track of the phase of practice. There should be a balance between these two, which should not be separated.

PS: This article forms part of a series that will collectively be the Part II of Second Wave of Islamic Reform. The Second Wave of Islamic reform is not the purpose of this series, and the content of this series is applicable whether there is the Second Wave or not. But this series is relevant to the Second Wave, in that it talks about the transformation of the status of being and the application of Quranic principles. My original plan was to post the Part II all at once, but I chose to break it into parts for the following reasons: 1. There’s way too much to be covered, 2. I found my previous findings about Chapters 19-21 problematic, so I’m now reading them de novo, so the part about Chapters 19-25 will be delayed. I acknowledge the integral nature of the Quran, so eventually, I’ll write another article integrating the different parts of this series, God willing.

Acknowledgement: Sincere thanks to James Ada’s idea that helped me to make some of these findings. The original post of James Ada can be seen in this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/676324589098208/permalink/682750921788908/

[1] I doubt the traditional rendering of this story according to the Bible, since this creates an inconsistency, as God did not criticize Joseph as He did to Abraham when he did wrong, and nowhere showed Joseph repenting after doing wrong as Moses and David did. God will only show the best examples in the Quran. Dr. Shabbir Ahmed also rejects the Biblical version of this story, though he didn’t explain why he did so in his translation of the Quran.

 

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