A good occasion to read the Holy Quran

Ramadan and Eid present an excellent opportunity for Muslims to brush up on reading and reciting of the Holy Quran.

This scripture is the Holy book of Islam.

An oral and aural experience, the sacred verses were revealed to Prophet Mohammed little by little over 23 years from 610 to 632 CE and written down.

The Book, in its current form, was organised by scholars within a decade of the Prophet’s death. The longest Chapter is ‘Al Bakarah’ (the Cattle), whilst the shortest is ‘Al Kawthar’ (The Abundance) expressed in three verses.

Chapter on Mankind

A quick review of the last Chapter of the Holy Quran, ‘Surah Al Nas’ (the Chapter of Mankind) will provide a unique insight into the hermeneutical complexities that are found within and the complex exegesis of the scholars.

‘Surah Al Nas’ is the 114th Chapter that stands as a verbal formula of protection against evil, particularly demonic suggestions.

The Arabic transliterates as follows:

Bismillah-irahman-iraheem

Qul a’uudhu bi rabbi-naas

Maliki-naas

Ilaahi-naas

Min sharril was-wasi-l khan-nas

Alladhee yuwas-wisu fi suduurin-naas

Minal Jinnati wa naas.

Apart from ‘Bismillah,’ these lines translate into approximate English as:

Say, I seek refuge with the Lord of mankind

The King of mankind

The God of mankind

From the evil of the sneaking whisperer

The one who whispers in the hearts of people

Whether from among the Jinn or mankind

Christians and students of the Bible will instantly observe in the expression, ‘Rabbi-naas,’ a similarity between the Arabic word ‘Rabb (for Lord), and the Hebrew word ‘Rabbi’ (for Master) or teacher.

Varying meanings

The two words have a common Semitic etymology but have developed into almost totally different meanings.

Perhaps the most interesting, if alarming, line is, ‘Min sharril was-wasi-l khan-nas.’ The word ‘sharr’ turns up ten times in the Holy Quran and means ‘evil.’

In the 1930s, the Indian scholar Abdullah Yusuf Ali translated this line as “The Whisperer (of Evil), who withdraws”, but my favourite rendition is that of the 19th century convert to Islam, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, who translated it as “The evil of the sneaking whisperer”.

Interestingly, the notion of ‘l-waswisi’ for ‘Whisperer’ is repeated in the next line, ‘yu-waswisu.’

‘Surah Al Nas’ is one of the “Four Quls” alongside ‘Surah Al Kafiroon,’ ‘Surah Al Ikhlas’ and ‘Surah Al Falaq.’

Each of these surahs starts with the word ‘qul,’ which translates as ‘Say.’

The preceding ‘Surah Al Falaq’ (the Chapter of Dawn) is a brief appeal to Allah, seeking protection from Satan and stands as the 113th chapter of the Holy Quran.

It is often recited together with ‘Surah Al Nas’ as ‘Al-Mu’awwidhatayn’ (meaning “the two verses of refuge”) over sick or sleeping persons.

According to the 9th century Hadith scholar Muhammad Al Bukhari, Prophet Mohammed’s favourite wife Aisha said, “Whenever Allah’s Apostle became sick, he would recite ‘Mu’awwidhatayn’ and then blow his breath over his body. When he became seriously ill, I used to recite these two surahs.”

The late Hajji Mohammed Asad, a Polish-born scholar and translator of the Holy Quran, explained that Chapter ‘Al Nas’ concerns the doctrine of spiritual riches and the ‘mysterious forces of nature to which man’s psyche is exposed, and which sometimes makes it difficult for us to discern between right and wrong.’

In any event, the last word should be left with the footnote commentary of the translation of Dr Muhsin Khan: “What leads to Hell is easy to do while what leads to Paradise is difficult to do.”

This is indeed an interesting point upon which the compilers of the Holy Quran left the scripture, ‘A warning about the sneaking whisperer.’

Abdullah Drury is a former social secretary of the Muslim Association of Canterbury. He now lives in Hamilton. Email: abdullah@xtra.co.nz

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