Here are the verses from the next five surahs that stood out the most to me for various reasons.

71: Nuh (Noah)

Every time I [Noah] call them, so that You may forgive them, they thrust their fingers into their ears, cover their heads with their garments, persist in their rejection, and grow more insolent and arrogant. (71:7)

As a teacher, every now and then I have a particularly recalcitrant student who I desperately want to introduce to Jesus but resists anything I say.  It is like they have made up their mind not to believe and no argument of reason or appeal to emotion or need has much traction.  This ayah made me think of such students.

72: Al-Jinn (The Jinn)

We [jinn] used to sit in places there, listening, but anyone trying to listen now will find a shooting star lying in wait for him — [so now] we do not know whether those who live on earth are due for misfortune, or whether their Lord intends to guide them. (72:9-10)

The idea that jinn or angels (I know they are not the same) are not all-hearing is an interesting idea I have only ever heard once before.  They must be listening to hear.  Words must be spoken for them to know.  I once heard a preacher encourage the crowd not to mention their fears out loud, so as not to give a toe-hold to demons who might be listening.  It sounded a little silly to me at the time.  Sounds like he is not the only one who thought this.

73: Al-Muzzammil (Enfolded)

Night prayer makes a deeper impression and sharpens words — you are kept busy for long periods of the day (73:6-7)

That the days are filled with work and busyness is absolutely true.  There is great temptation to drop the discipline of prayer to compensate for a growing to-do list.  It is a temptation too easy to give into.  So the idea of setting aside time in the evenings is a good one.  Muhammad sometimes spent half of the night praying (73:20).  I have also found that prayer at the end of the day is in fact more thoughtful.  I like these ayahs a lot.

74: Al-Muddaththir (Wrapped in His Cloak)

You, wrapped in your cloak, arise and give warning!  Proclaim the greatness of your Lord; cleanse yourself; keep away from all filth; do not weaken, feeling overwhelmed; be steadfast in your Lord’s cause. (74:1-7)

Muslim tradition says these were some of the first words revealed by Muhammad.  Coming down from the Cave of Hira, Muhammad rushed to his house and asked his wife to wrap him in his cloak to sleep.  Maybe he thought, as many would, that he was a little out of his mind.  But the words stayed with him.  Such a fitting first revelation too!

75: Al-Qiyama (The Resurrection)

Truly you [people] love this fleeting world and neglect the life to come. (75:20-21)

This is such a sadly true thought, even amongst those who do believe in the resurrection.  We love what we can see and experience.  We hang on to what he have already.  But there is so much more to come.  Oh, to be renewed in mind!

With its recurring refrain, this new surah — The Lord of Mercy — is more poetic than any other I have seen thus far.  Throughout the chapter an aspect of creation is mentioned then humanity and the jinn are asked:

Which, then, of your Lord’s blessings do you both deny? (55:13). 

This refrain is stated thirty-one times throughout the surah.  As a Christian, today’s reading reminded me of Psalm 136 with its refrain: “His love endures forever.”

The message of the surah is simple: Be sure you know what you are denying if that is really going to be your choice, because judgment is coming.  The images, however, are picturesque.  For example:

They [who are in Paradise] will sit on couches upholstered with brocade, the fruit of both gardens within easy reach. (55:54)

This surah advances Islamic cosmology as well.  The afterlife is described here having three possible destination for humans (and three parallel destinations for the jinn, if I am reading this correctly).  The painful punishment of Hell is described first (55:43f).  Then “two gardens” are mentioned (55:62f), both luxurious and filled with reward.  More will be said about these in the next surah.  Translator Haleem gives this note here:

Paradise exists in two ranks: the higher level for the truly favored, and this lower level described for the less exalted pious.

So it seems we have Hell, a lower Paradise, and a higher Paradise. 

It is easy to see in this surah (55:56, 70-74) that the stereotype that Muslims believe in a male-centered afterlife where the follower is rewarded with “virgins” (or “maidens” as it says in my translation) is not completely untrue.

I am talking right now to a former student who says the Bible is little more than an ultimatum to follow God or be sent to Hell.  To him, the threat of punishment is a major theme all throughout the Bible.

Man, he needs to read the Qur’an!  The Bible hardly touches on Hell and punishment compared to what you find in Islam’s sacred text.  As we read through the Qur’an this year, it seems we can’t go more than a page or two without another reminder that Hell (or the Fire) is a very real place and the chances of being sent there are very real as well.  I don’t mean disrespect — I am just reading and reporting as I find it — but “turn or burn” seems like a term more appropriate for the Qur’an than for the Bible.

Iblis

Speaking of Hell, ayahs 26-50 in this surah are a sustained description of the jinn and Iblis.

Before Allah created humans from dirt, clay, or mud (depending on the passage) He created the jinn from smokeless fire (interestingly, angels were created from light).  Jinn were not inherently evil; they could obey God if they chose to.  If they did not, jinnis (plural form, from which we get the English term genie) became “satans” or “demons.” 

God’s intention from the beginning was for the jinn to “bow down” and serve the humans, and the jinn (or angels) did.  That is, all of them except Iblis who could not stomach the thought.  In response God banished Iblis from Paradise.  As a result, Iblis has promised to “lure” humans away from God and towards “the wrong.”  Only God’s “devoted servants” will be able to resist Iblis’ charms, though this passage makes it clear that Iblis does not possess the power to force humans to follow him; they choose to go astray by their own choice.  In Islamic thought Iblis only has what power he does because God allows him to have it; God is the supreme power in control of all things.  In the end Iblis and those who have chosen to follow his ways will be banished to Hell, a painful place of torment.

We will hear more about Iblis and the jinn later.