|Structure||3 rukus, 55 verses, 342 words, 1469 letters|
Surat Al-Qamar (Arabic: سورة القمر) (The Moon) is the 54th sura of the Quran with 55 ayat. Some verses refer to the Splitting of the moon. "Qamar" (القمر), meaning "'Moon" in Arabic, is also a common name among Muslims.
Significance of Al-Qamar
Al-Qamar, meaning moon in Arabic, is an important title for sura 54. It foreshadows the inevitable Day of Judgment that will divide those who believe from those who disbelieve—those who are destined to Paradise and those who are destined to Hell. Because this Meccan sura’s primary theme centers around the fate of those who disbelieve, the symbolic use of the moon is meant to warn the disbelievers of their impending fate in the first verse, as “the hour draws near; the moon is split”. Additionally, the crescent moon acts as a vital symbol of Islam and thus, in this instance, may denote the importance of the emerging religion, as lunar cycles determine the structure of the Islamic calendar.
Sura 54 is wholly Meccan, as its verses “demonstrate complex reference and demanding grammatical connections to surrounding verses”. Indeed, it is a mixture of exclamatory statements and rhetorical questions directed towards Muhammad, which is yet another reference to the sura’s Meccan nature. That God directly addresses Muhammad with personal pronouns, “you” and “your”  and differentiates the unbelieving audience from His personal addresses to Muhammad with “they” and “them”  strongly indicates that Islam was still in the development phase and that God did not yet have a particularized audience to address. Instead, God merely warns Muhammad of the possible responses that will result from his efforts to spread His message and the resultant punishment that He will inflict upon those who refuse to believe. Officially, this sura is believed to be the thirty-seventh sura revealed to Muhammad, as the Egyptian chronology indicates. Nöldeke, however, numbers this sura as the forty-ninth chronological sura. The difference in numerical order is, perhaps, due to the difference in Meccan and Medinan suras within each edition. For instance, the Egyptian chronology indicates that there are eighty-eight Meccan suras and twenty-six Medinan suras; whereas Noldeke’s chronology divides the Meccan period into three, with forty-eight in the first, twenty-one in the second, and twenty-one in the third in addition to twenty four Medinan suras.
This sura clearly directs its message toward the unbelievers in Mecca. Indeed, it covers themes of rejection, truth, and punishment, all of which are addressed in stories of previous peoples. The stories of the people of Noah, the people of ‘Ad, the people of Thamud, the people of Lot, and the people of Pharaoh represent times during which a people refused to believe the word of the above messengers; consequently, they suffered God’s wrath. Each unit follows a similar pattern: first, God describes the peoples’ refusal to believe and the resultant punishment for refusing to accept His warnings. As Carl Ernst writes in How to Read the Qur’an, suras from the middle to late Meccan period follow a “tripartite division,” in which one observes a “ring structure, beginning and ending with parallel sections” of divine praise, heavy threats for the unbelievers, and staunch affirmations of the revelation. These parts bookend a somewhat larger middle section, which is “typically a narrative of prophecy and struggle.”  Thus, this Meccan sura seems to connect the early Meccan period with the later, as traces of the shorter, more affirmative suras can be found in particular verses, which resemble “powerful oath formulations” and generate fear in those who may not fully accept the Islamic faith. Within the parallel sections of the ring-like structure of this sura are narratives of the critical choices that Muhammad’s audience will face—whether to act as did the previous peoples and to reject Muhammad’s message and endure unbearable consequences, or to accept God as “the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy,”  and to live eternally “among Gardens and rivers”. Such a choice acts as a testament to God’s omnipotence and utter omniscience.
First Section of the Sura: Verses 1-8
God, it claims, is all-knowing, as the sura both begins and ends with a warning that “everything is recorded”  and “everything they do is noted in their records: every action, great or small is recorded”. The first eight verses distinctly refer to events on the Day of Judgment, especially the fates of the disbelievers on that “hard day”. The first verse in particular uses “the Hour" (as-saa’a) to refer the end times and is in fact used in 46 instances throughout the Qur'an to make mention of the hour (likely a symbolic temporal period) when Allah will judge humankind and punish the unbelievers. This first section is marked by its apocryphal tone and its introduction of the themes of disbelief and failure to heed warnings, which echo through the remainder of the sura.
Second Section: Verses 9-42
The middle section of this Qur'anic sura, which Ernst marks from verse 9 to 42, relates to prior Hebrew and Arab oral traditions to remind the audience of previous instances where the word of Allah was not heeded and stern consequences resulted. The first of the five examples is the story of Noah, whose rejection by his own people is relatable to the situation Muhammad found himself in early in his prophetic career. According to the Qur'an, men referred to both Noah and Muhammad as crazy or majnoon—the same Arabic word is used in both of these references. There are four more examples of rejected prophets in the middle section of sura 54, wherein the stories of ‘Ad, Thamud, Lot, and Pharaoh are mentioned to reiterate the lesson that those who fail to heed Allah’s warnings through His messengers will be punished. (The stories of ‘Ad and Thamud come from Arab folklore and the Qur’an briefly describes the wrath that both of these peoples incurred because of their disbelief.) Take note that the five Hebrew/Arab stories are told in a manner that assumes the audience has a working knowledge of the myth prior to its telling in the Qur’an. Unlike the Old Testament, these stories are neither told in their entirety, nor are they told in a chronological narrative. Instead, key points of the story are mentioned in order to bring out an important faith-based lesson from the story, with the assumption that the audience already understands the underlying narrative. For example, the story of Pharaoh only takes up two verses in which there is only space to mention that a warning came to his people, they rejected the signs, and Allah “overcame them with the seizing of the Mighty, the Powerful.”
Something else to note about this middle section is how many times the Qur'an references itself. In fact, it does so four times in the same context, at the end of the first four “disbeliever” examples. Each of these four lines (54:17,22,32,40) reads: “We have made it easy to learn lessons from the Qur’an: will anyone take heed?”  Some versions interpret this line to say: “And certainly We have made the Qur’an easy to remember, but is there anyone who will mind?”  The difference here is important because of the connotation of the Arabic word dhikr, which can refer to lessons, the act of remembering, memorization, recalling, and many other meanings that come from the same root, which is used over 200 times in the Qur'an. This aya could be referring to the lessons of faith and morality and the ease with which they can be gleaned from the Qur'an, as a book. However, it could also be using the word qur’an here to refer to its more literal Arabic meaning—which is “recitation”—rather than referring to the book itself. There is no doubt that this is an occasion where the Qur'an is self-referential, but it is interesting that in other sections of the Qur'an (12:2, 15:1), the word qur’an, itself, seems to refer to the word of Allah as it is recited, which includes vowels (thus clarifying much of the meaning). (It is important to note that the Qur'an in its earliest written forms lacked most vowels and the written consonants served as a reminder for those reciting the Qur'an.) Thus, the verse could mean that the suras are easily remembered because of their poetic and song-like form in their spoken versions: their rhyming schemes, cadences, and robust structure. According to the scripture, Allah then asks (rhetorically) who will take on the task of remembering or internalizing these words. The purpose of the middle section of this Sura, then, is to draw attention to examples from the past of unbelievers and their punishments, challenging the people of Muhammad’s time to finally heed and recognize Allah’s Prophet.
Third Section: Verses 43-55
The final section of the sura (54:43-55) returns to an apocryphal tone, warning of the evils that will befall the unbelievers in the end time. Again, “the Hour” is used twice in these final ayat to mention the Day of Judgment. At that time, those who are guilty are said to be dragged into the fires of Hell (saqar), as Allah knows that the fate every group of disbelievers is the same—their time is limited. The last section closes the “ring” by reverting the narrative back to the introductory section, wherein we read of visual images of the Day of Judgment. Plus, consistent with Ernst’s notions, the sura ends with a “flourishing” couplet that details the rewards of the “dutiful” in the afterlife, seated with “a most powerful king.”  The constant repetition in this sura is particularly relevant, as it contributes to the overall development of God’s character. In his many rhetorical questions such as, “We have made it easy to learn lessons from the Qur’an: will anyone take heed?”  and the final question directed towards Muhammad, “Are your disbelievers any better than these?”  Firstly, the constant repetition of the Qur'anic lessons question establishes God as merciful and fair in his punishment, as He ensures that He gave the unbelievers full warning and clear direction; however, they chose not to follow His commands and are thus deserving of their respective punishments. As the sura ends, however, God asserts his ability to inflict punishment upon the disbelievers: “when We ordain something it happens at once, in the blink of an eye; We have destroyed the likes of you in the past. Will anyone take heed?”. With this final rhetorical question, God instead establishes the breadth of His power, as He highlights the utter immediacy with which He could rid the earth of the unbelievers. However, He ensures that His omnipotence will benefit the righteous, as they will live “secure in the presence of an all-powerful Sovereign”.
A Note on the Arabic
One of the interesting nuances of sura 54 is the final word of each verse. As aforementioned, 11 of the 55 verses in this sura end with the word nudhur (warning), and all 55 end with the Arabic letter “raa” (pronounced like an English “r” but sometimes rolled). The result is a flowing cadence (best recognized in a recitation of the sura) that arises from similar short vowel sounds on the final two syllables of the verse and the repeating consonant. Related to this, Ernst, in his breakdown of the middle part of the sura into five subsections, claims that 54:9 (which begins the story of Noah) should actually be split into two verses (to fit a pattern of 10,5,10,8,2), but the verse does not contain another word ending in “raa”, which would mean that dividing that particular verse would destroy the common theme of all 55 ayat. Also, it should be pointed out that the language of sura 54 is very similar to other suras in the second and third Meccan periods, as the text contains similar imagery and key words/themes that are prevalent in this period of revelation. Overlapping language among other verses of the Qur'an includes: magic/sorcery, gardens and rivers, remembering, Qur'anic self-referencing, craziness, bringing down water from above, et al.
اقْتَرَبَتِ السَّاعَةُ وَانشَقَّ الْقَمَرُ
- Iqtarabati alssaAAatu wainshaqqa alqamaru
- The Hour (of Judgment) is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder
ِِوَإِن يَرَوْا آيَةً يُعْرِضُوا وَيَقُولُوا سِحْرٌ مُّسْتَمِرٌّ
- Wa-in yaraw ayatan yuAAridoo wayaqooloo sihrun mustamirrun
- But if they see a Sign, they turn away, and say, "This is (but) transient magic."
وَكَذَّبُوا وَاتَّبَعُوا أَهْوَاءهُمْ وَكُلُّ أَمْرٍ مُّسْتَقِرٌّ
- Wakaththaboo waittabaAAoo ahwaahum wakullu amrin mustaqirrun
- They reject (the warning) and follow their (own) lusts but every matter has its appointed time.
وَلَقَدْ جَاءهُم مِّنَ الْأَنبَاء مَا فِيهِ مُزْدَجَرٌ
- Walaqad jaahum mina al-anba-i ma feehi muzdajarun
- There have already come to them Recitals wherein there is (enough) to check (them),
حِكْمَةٌ بَالِغَةٌ فَمَا تُغْنِ النُّذُرُ
- Hikmatun balighatun fama tughnee alnnuthuru.
- Mature wisdom;- but (the preaching of) Warners profits them not.
فَتَوَلَّ عَنْهُمْ يَوْمَ يَدْعُ الدَّاعِ إِلَى شَيْءٍ نُّكُرٍ
- Fatawalla AAanhum yawma yadAAu alddaAAi ila shay-in nukurin
- Therefore, (O Prophet,) turn away from them. The Day that the Caller will call (them) to a terrible affair,
خُشَّعًا أَبْصَارُهُمْ يَخْرُجُونَ مِنَ الْأَجْدَاثِ كَأَنَّهُمْ جَرَادٌ مُّنتَشِرٌ
- KhushshaAAan absaruhum yakhrujoona mina al-ajdathi kaannahum jaradun muntashirun
- They will come forth,- their eyes humbled - from (their) graves, (torpid) like locusts scattered abroad,
مُّهْطِعِينَ إِلَى الدَّاعِ يَقُولُ الْكَافِرُونَ هَذَا يَوْمٌ عَسِرٌ
- MuhtiAAeena ila alddaAAi yaqoolu alkafiroona hatha yawmun AAasirun
- Hastening, with eyes transfixed, towards the Caller!- "Hard is this Day!", the Unbelievers will say.
- Haleem, M.A.S. Abdel. The Qur'an (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005) 350.
- "Moon." In The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. , edited by John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e1545
- Ernst, Carl W., How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide with Select Translations (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011) 105
- Haleem, 351
- Haleem, 351
- Quran Chapters and their Chronological Sequence of Revelation - International Community of Submitters (ICS) http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.masjidtucson.org/quran/chapters_chronological_sequence.html&date=2011-05-13
- Ernst, 45
- Ernst, 105
- Ernst, 105
- Haleem, 350
- Haleem, 352
- Haleem, 350
- Haleem, 352
- Haleem, 54:17
- The Holy Qur'an with English Translation and Commentary. Trans. Maulana Muhammad Ali. USA: Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at Islam Lahore, Inc. 2002.
- Ali, 54:55
- Haleem, 350
- Haleem, 351
- Haleem, 352
- Haleem, 352
- Ernst, 220
- Surah Al-Qamar (Complete text in Arabic with English and French translations)
- Al-Qamar at Sacred Texts
- Surat Al-Qamar by Ahmad bin Ali Al-Ajmi
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