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Sura al-A'raf

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This article is an introduction to the Sura al-A'raf; to read its text see text:Sura al-A'raf.
Sura al-A'raf
al-An'am← →al-Anfal
سوره اعراف.jpg
Sura Number 7
Juz' 8 and 9
Revelation
Revelation Number 39
Makki/Madani Makki
Information
Verse Count 206
Word Count 3346
Letter Count 14437
Verse 199 of Sura al-A'raf written in thulth calligraphy

Sūra al-A'rāf (Arabic: سورة الأعراف) is the seventh sura of the Qur'an. It is a Makki sura located in eighth and ninth juz's of the Qur'an. Since it recounts the story of people of "A'raf" (Elevations) on the day of resurrection, it came to be called "Sura al-A'raf."

Like other Makki suras, Sura al-A'raf is mainly about the origin and the resurrection, monotheism, judgment of the day of resurrection, fight against polytheism, and the place of humans in the world of creation. It aims to reinforce the beliefs and principles of faith among Muslims. It also refers to covenants between God and people, particularly in the World of Dharr. It recounts stories of past nations and earlier prophets such as Noah (a), Lot (a), and Shu'aib (a), in order to show failures of people who deviated from the path of monotheism.

Well-known verses of the sura include the verse forty six of the sura concerning people of A'raf; verses 54-56, known as the Verse of Sukhra (Dominion), and verse 172, known as the Verse of Covenant (Mithaq). As to virtues of reciting this sura, there is a hadith according to which if one recites Sura al-A'raf, a barrier will be placed by God between him and Iblis, and Adam (a) will be his intercessor on the day of resurrection.

Introduction

  • Naming

The sura is called "A'raf" because it recounts the story of people of A'raf on the day of resurrection.[1] The word, "A'raf," occurs two times in the Qur'an in verses forty six and forty eight of Sura al-A'raf.[2] The sura is also called "alif-mim-sad" since it opens with these disjoined letters.[3] It is called "Miqat" (from the verse 143) and "Mithaq" (from the verse 173) as well.[4]

  • Order and Place of Revelation

Sura al-A'raf is a Makki sura. In the order of revelation, it is the thirty ninth sura revealed to the Prophet (s). In the traditional order of compilation, it is the seventh sura, located in eighth and ninth juz's of the Qur'an.[5] The sura was revealed after Qur'an 38 and before Qur'an 72.[6]

  • Number of Verses and Other Features

Sura al-A'raf has 206 verses[7], 3825 words, and 13877 letters.[8] As to its volume, the sura counts as one of "sab' tiwal" (seven long suras). It is a long sura encompassing more than one juz' of the Qur'an, and of Makki suras, it is the longest.[9]

In the order of revelation, Sura al-A'raf is the first sura with more than one letter in its disjoined letters. Suras revealed before, such as Qur'an 50, Qur'an 38, and Qur'an 68 opened with only one letter.[10] 'Allama Tabataba'i interprets the opening of the sura with the disjoined letters, "alif-mim-sad," as a sign that Sura al-A'raf includes the themes of suras opening with the disjoined letters, "alif-lam-mim," as well as those of Qur'an 38.[11]

The verse 206 of Sura al-A'raf is a prostration verse (ayat al-sajda; that is, a verse upon the recitation of which one should prostrate). According to Imamiyya and Shafi'iyya, the prostration here is recommended, whereas other sects take it to be obligatory.[12]

Contents

Just like other suras revealed in Mecca (80 to 90 suras), and because of environmental conditions of Mecca, Sura al-A'raf is mainly concerned with the origin and the resurrection, monotheism, judgment after resurrection, fight against polytheism, and the human place in the world of creation. It is said to be aimed at reinforcing Muslims' beliefs and their foundations of faith.[13]

Sura al-A'raf makes references to a covenant between God and humans on the path of human guidance, including the one in the World of Dharr. It recounts the stories of past nations and earlier prophets, including Noah (a), Lot (a), and Shu'ayb (a) in order to show the collapse of people who deviated from the path of monotheism.[14]

The opening and ending sections of the sura are said to be intertwined in meaning, since in its first verses, the Prophet (s) is told to warn others, and in final verses he is commanded to gently treat people so that his words could resonate with them.[15]

Sura al-A'raf was revealed when Muslims were in extreme hardship in Mecca during their economic siege in Shi'b Abi Talib in order to remind people of their covenant with God and the significance of staying committed to the covenant.[16]

Content of Sura al-A'raf

Consequences of defying divine verses and rulings

Obligations of the Prophet and people towards divine verses and rulings

Satan’s attempts to dissuade people from complying with God’s commands

The creation of Adam, and Iblis’s refusal to prostrate for him

Iblis’s oath to mislead people

Satan’s deception of Adam and Eve

Four instructions as to how not to be deceived by Satan

Afterlife punishment of those who disobey divine rulings

Comparison between punishments of unbelievers and rewards of believers

The suffering of the Hell as a penalty for those who disobey divine rulings

The Heaven as a reward for followers of prophets

Inhabitants of the Hell regretting their defiance towards prophets

Inhabitants of the Hell admitting that divine promises did come true

Judgments of people of A'raf about inhabitants of the Heaven and the Hell

Inhabitants of the Hell being reprimanded by those of the Heaven

Failed attempts of unbelievers at their rescue from punishments of the Hell

Only supplicate the director of the world

Be grateful to God, the all-provider

This-worldly punishments for disobeying divine verses

This-worldly punishments of unbelievers throughout the history

The drowning of people of Noah

Destruction of people of 'Ad with storms

Destruction of people of Thamud with a strong earthquake

Stone rains pouring on people of Lot

Destruction of people of Shu'ayb with a devastating earthquake

God’s laws for punishment of obstinate people

Catastrophes as tests for human beings

Divine punishment waiting for obstinate people

Divine punishment for vicious people

Punishment of enemies of Moses

Punishment of the Pharaoh and his followers

Punishment of obstinate Children of Israel

The Prophet’s obligation towards those defying divine rulings

Reminding the repercussions of those defying divine verses

Leaving the penalty of unbelievers to God

Giving respite to polytheists so that they could reflect on religious teachings

Response to skepticisms raised by unbelievers concerning the resurrection

Reminding that all creatures are powerless before God

Treating unbelievers in the best possible manner

Constant remembering of God

Historical Stories and Narratives

Stories of Adam (a) and Eve in the Heaven, Noah (a), Salih (a), Lot (a), Shu'ayb (a), and Moses (a) are narrated in Sura al-A'raf.

  • The story of the creation of Adam (a): his inhabitance in the Heaven, his enjoyment of Heavenly blessings, eating the Forbidden Fruit, and the fate of Iblis;
  • The story of Noah (a): his conversations with people, the storm;
  • The story of Salih (a): mission, conversations with people, the miracle of the camel, punishment imposed on people through an earthquake;
  • The story of Lot (a): conversations with people, their punishment with stone rains;
  • The story of Shu'ayb (a): mission, conversation with people, their punishment with an earthquake;
  • The story of Moses (a): invitation of the Pharaoh to the right path, the miracle of turning the cane into a dragon, the miracle of the Bright Hand, a competition with magicians in the city, warnings of the Pharaoh, punishment of people of the Pharaoh, their drowning in the sea, and the crossing of the Children of Israel through the sea, Moses's tryst in Mount Sinai, the tablets being sent down on Moses (a), Samiri's calf, seventy people from the Children of Israel being chosen for the tryst, twelve groups of the Children of Israel and twelve springs, distortions of revealed words, transgression on Saturday, metamorphosis, and displacement of the Children of Israel.

Occasions of Revelations of Some Verses

Occasions of revelations have been cited for some verses of Sura al-A'raf:

Putting On Adornments when Worshiping

Arabs of the Jahili Period circumambulated around the Ka'ba nakedly and without any clothes on. Thus, the verse thirty one of Sura al-A'raf was revealed: “O Children of Adam! Put on your adornment on every occasion of prayer” The verse disapproved the action, asking people to put on their clothes and adornments when worshiping.[17]

Perverseness of Balaam

Ibn Mas'ud, Ibn 'Abbas, and some other exegetes suggest that the verse 175 of Sura al-A'raf, “Relate to them an account of him to whom We gave Our signs, but he cast them off.” was about a man among the Children of Israel, known as Balaam (Bal'am Ba'ura) who lived in the city of Balqa. When Moses (a) and the Children of Israel entered the city, relatives of Balaam said that Moses (a) was irascible and had a huge army at his disposal, and if he dominated the city, he would kill everyone. Thus, they asked Balaam to curse Moses (a). Balaam said: “if I curse him, I will lose this world and the afterlife.” However, his people kept insisting until Balaam cursed Moses (a) and his army. Then God deprived Balaam of His grace and he became a loser.[18]


Knowledge of the Time of Resurrection

As to the revelation of the verse 187 of Sura al-A'raf, “They question you concerning the Hour, when will it set in? Say, ‘Its knowledge is only with my Lord: none except Him shall manifest it at its time.” it is said that a number of Jews or a number of people from the Quraysh went to the Prophet (s) and asked him about the time of the resurrection. The verse was revealed in response to their inquiry.[19]

God the Only Possessor of the Hidden Knowledge

People of Mecca asked the Prophet (s), “O Muhammad! Does your Lord let you know of cheap prices before they go high, so that you could buy them and then make profits? And does He let you know of lands and pastures before their drought so that you could move to green lands?” The verse 188 of Sura al-A'raf, “Say, ‘I have no control over any benefit for myself, nor [over] any harm except what Allah may wish. Had I known the Unseen, I would have acquired much good” was revealed in response to these people.[20]

Quiet Recitation in Congregational Prayers

As to the occasion of the revelation of the verse 204 of Sura al-A'raf, “When the Quran is recited, listen to it and be silent, maybe you will receive [Allah's] mercy.” it is said that Muslims recited Quranic verses in their congregational prayers together with the imam. This verse was revealed, which ordered them to be quiet, listening to the imam's recitation of the Qur'an.[21]

According to al-Tabrisi, Muslims used to speak to each other during their prayers; for example, when someone entered the mosque and asked which rak'a it was, people answered his question in the middle of their prayers. Then the above verse was revealed, prohibiting people from speaking during their prayers.[22]

Exegetical Points

Some verses of Sura al-A'raf, such as the Verse of “O Children of Adam” and the Verse of "Lan Tarani" or “you shall not see me,” involve doctrinal and ethical exegetical points as follows:

Verses of "O Children of Adam"

The story of Adam (a) and Eve, and their encounter with Satan, is followed by four verses involving four commands, the compliance with which is supposed to guarantee human happiness and thriving. These verses begin with the phrase, “O children of Adam,” and are obviously related to grounds of the slippage of Adam (a) and Eve, asking human beings to comply with certain commands so as to stay immune to errors and slips. The four principles are regarded as God's covenants with human beings: to observe piety, to refuse to follow Satan, to stay on the path of moderateness in life and to avoid excesses, and to follow the commands of prophets.[23]

Tasking People According to their Capacities

Main article: Unbearable Obligation

The issue of “tasking people according to their capacities” is a matter of dispute in Islamic theology. The Imamiyya and Mu'tazila believe that God never obliges people to what they are not capable of doing, and their ground for this claim is the verse forty two of Sura al-A'raf. According to this verse, God obliges every person to the extent of his or her capacity.[24]

Fear and Hope

Main article: Fear and Hope

There are a number of verses in the Qur'an that command people to simultaneously fear and hope, including the verse fifty six of Sura al-A'raf, asking people to supplicate God with fear of His punishments and hope in His forgiveness.

"You Shall not See Me"

Main article: Seeing God

This verse makes a reference to a request made by Moses (a) on behalf of the Children of Israel to see God, and God's response to the request.[25] Quranic exegetes have presented different theological and exegetical accounts of why Moses (a) asked to see God, and the phrase, “you shall not see me.” As to the reason why Moses (a) asked to see God, notwithstanding his knowledge of the impossibility of seeing God, Makarim Shirazi says in his Tafsir-i nimuna that the request was merely made on behalf of the Children of Israel who had conditioned their faith upon seeing God. By an appeal to a hadith from Imam al-Rida (a), he suggests that the request was a mission from God so that everyone could hear God's answer.[26]

In his al-Mizan, 'Allama Tabataba'i interprets the request of Moses (a) to see God not as a request to see Him with physical eyes, which is an improbable request to be made by Moses (a) as an Ulu l-'Azm prophet. Instead, he believes that Moses (a) asked to see God without physical eyes. In his view, Moses (a) asked indeed to have the most certain and the most evident type of knowledge, to which he metaphorically refers as "seeing" or "vision" so as to emphasize its clarity and certainty. 'Allama Tabataba'i uses "seeing" or "vision" to refer to a type of knowledge in which the known object is present to the subject and requires no thinking in order to be comprehended.[27]

Well-Known Verses

Well-known verses of Sura al-A'raf include the verse forty six concerning people of A'raf, the verse 142 concerning Moses's tryst with God, and the verse 172 known as the Verse of Covenant (Mithaq).

Verse 43

God quotes this from inhabitants of the Heaven who hold no grudges against each other, are peaceful to, and affectionate towards, one another, and live near Heavenly streams full of water.[28] The statement quoted in the verse is an expression of gratitude for divine blessings. This is what the verse is well-known for.[29]

The Verse of People of A'raf

Main article: Qur'an 7:46

"A'raf" is said to be a region between the Heaven and the Hell.[30] The verse talks about people standing on top of A'raf (Elevations), overseeing both the Hell and the Heaven.[31]

There is a dispute between Sunni and Shiite scholars as to who people of A'raf are. According to Sunni scholars, these are people whose good and bad actions are equal, and thus, they reside somewhere between the Heaven and the Hell. However, the majority of Shiite scholars appeal to other Quranic verses and hadiths to show that people of A'raf are prophets and pure Imams (a).[32] Some others take people of A'raf to be a group of angels who stand on top of A'raf, overseeing people and recognizing everyone based on their countenances or marks.[33]

The Verse of Sukhra (Dominion)

Main article: Qur'an 7:54

The Verse of Sukhra or Dominion points out God's dominance over everything.[34] According to some hadiths, if one recites this verse, he will have peace of heart, his temptations will go away, and he will be protected from magicians and devils.[35] It is recommended to recite the Verse of Sukhra after the Morning Prayer, upon the arrival of pilgrims in 'Arafat, and upon one’s entrance in a mosque.[36]

The Verse of Blessings

The verse ninety six of Sura al-A'raf is said to be a summary of its preceding verses concerning the fate of people such as people of Hud, Salih, Shu'ayb, and Noah.[37] The verse makes it explicit that the blessings of the sky and the earth and immunity to the divine rage are results of piety and being wary of God.[38] 'Allama Tabataba'i believes that blessings are opened as a result of a general faith and piety among all people, rather than the faith of a few people within a community. For, in his view, if the majority of people are unbelievers and vicious, then negative consequences will ensue, even if a few are faithful and pious.[39]

The Verse of Appointment with Moses

The verse 142, and verses that follow, make a reference to an episode of the history of the Children of Israel, and their confrontation with Moses (a).[40] The verse mentions the story of Moses (a) going to an appointment with God, his reception of the rulings of the Torah via revelation and talk to God, taking a number of prominent figures from among the Children of Israel to bear witness to the event and to understand that God cannot be seen with physical eyes, and then the worship of a calf and deviation from the path of monotheism.[41]

The verse 142 of Sura al-A'raf is recited in the prayer of the first ten days of Dhu l-Hajja, which is performed between Evening and 'Isha' prayers. It is recited after the recitation of Qur'an 1 and Qur'an 112 in each rak'a.[42] This is why it counts as a well-known verse of the Qur'an.

The Verse of Covenant (Mithaq)

Main article: Qur'an 7:172

The Verse of Mithaq[43] is also known as the Verse of Akhdh al-Mithaq (Taking the Covenant) and the Verse of Dharr,[44] because it refers to covenant taken by God from human beings[45] so that they testify for God's lordship[46] or oneness.[47] In this verse, the Prophet of Islam (s) is asked to remind people of their promise to recognize God as their only lord, and thus, to warn them that they cannot make any excuses on the day of resurrection. This obvious covenant might pave the ground for their return to God.[48] The covenant is also called "Alast" and the world in which the covenant was made is called the World of Dharr.[49]

The Verse of Covenant aims at giving a clear ultimatum to God's servants,[50] in an attempt to block all occasions of their deviation. Thus, with this covenant, human beings can never forget their Lord under pretexts such as negligence[51] (as an internal factor) or the influence of the community or following the lead of their predecessors[52] (as external factors). Therefore, God will interrogate them on the day of resurrection by a recourse to their original covenant.[53]

Jurisprudential Verses

Islamic jurists have drawn upon certain verses of Sura al-A'raf in order to infer jurisprudential rulings. Most of these verses are concerned with the rulings of prayers. "Ayat al-Ahkam" or jurisprudential verses are Quranic verses involving a jurisprudential ruling or those appealed to in the process of inferring such rulings.[54] Some jurisprudential verses of Sura al-A'raf are pointed out in the following table:

Verse Text Chapter Subject
26 ‘O Children of Adam! We have certainly sent down to you garments to cover your nakedness, and for adornment Clothing obligation of covering one’s private parts
29 ‘Set your heart [on Him] at every occasion of prayer, and invoke Him, putting your exclusive faith in Him... Prayer Performing prayers in the direction of the Qibla
31 O Children of Adam! Put on your adornment on every occasion of prayer, Prayer Obligation of covering one’s private parts when performing prayers and when being in a mosque
199 Adopt [a policy of] excusing [the faults of people], bid what is right, and turn away from the ignorant. Enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong obligation of enjoining the right
204 When the Quran is recited, listen to it and be silent, Prayer Quietness when performing a congregational prayer, and listening to what the imam of the congregational prayer is reciting

Merits and Benefits

Main article: Virtues of Suras

As to virtues of reciting Sura al-A'raf, the Prophet of Islam (s) is quoted as saying: "if one recites Sura al-A'raf, God will place a barrier between him and Iblis, and will make Adam (a) his intercessor on the day of resurrection."[55] According to a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a), "if one recites Sura al-A'raf every month, then after the resurrection he will be among those who have no fears, nor sadness."[56]

Notes

  1. Khurramshāhī, "Sura-yi A'raf," p. 1238.
  2. Muḥaqqiqiyān, "Sura-yi A'raf," p. 688.
  3. Muḥaqqiqiyān, "Sura-yi A'raf," p. 688.
  4. Fīrūzābadī, Basā'ir dhawī al-tamyīz, vol. 1, p. 203-204.
  5. Maʿrifat, Āmūzish-i ʿulūm Qurʾān, vol. 2, p. 166.
  6. Muḥaqqiqiyān, "Sura-yi A'raf," p. 688.
  7. according to Quranic reciters in Basra and al-Sham, it has 205 verses, because they do not recognize the first verse, “alif-mim-sad,” as an independent verse.
  8. Riḍāyī Iṣfahānī, Tafsīr-i Qur'ān-i mehr, vol. 7, p. 23.
  9. Sīyūṭī, al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, vol. 1, p. 138.
  10. Darūzat, al-Tafsīr al-ḥadīth, vol. 2, p. 361-362.
  11. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 8, p. 6.
  12. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 4, p. 793; al-Jazīrī, al-Fiqh 'alā al-madhāhib al-'arba'a, vol. 1, p. 604.
  13. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 6, p. 74.
  14. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 6, p. 75.
  15. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 8, p. 379.
  16. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 8, p. 6.
  17. Wāḥidī, Asbāb nuzūl al-Qurān, p. 228.
  18. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 4, p. 768; Wāḥidī, Asbāb nuzūl al-Qurān, p. 230.
  19. Fakhr Rāzī, Mafātīḥ al-ghayb, vol. 15, p. 423.
  20. Wāḥidī, Asbāb nuzūl al-Qurān, p. 232.
  21. Ṭūsī, al-Tibyān fī tafsīr al-Qur'ān, vol. 5, p. 67
  22. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 4, p. 791.
  23. Khāmagar, "Sura A'rāf", p. 66.
  24. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 8, p. 115.
  25. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 6, p. 355.
  26. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 6, p. 355.
  27. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 8, p. 238-239.
  28. Qira'ātī, Tafsīr nūr, vol. 3, p. 67.
  29. Mughnīya, al-Kāshif, vol. 3, p. 329.
  30. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 6, p. 184.
  31. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 15, p. 67.
  32. Fakhr Rāzī, al-Tafsīr al-kabīr, vol. 14, p. 90; Abu l-Futūḥ Rāzī, Rawḍ al-jinān wa rūḥ al-jinān, vol. 8, p. 204.
  33. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 8, p. 129.
  34. Majlisī, Mir'āt al-'uqūl, vol. 12, p. 317.
  35. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 2, p. 539; Ibn Fahd Ḥillī, Uddat al-dā'iī, p. 294; Ṣadūq, Man lā yahduruhu al-faqih, vol. 4, p. 371.
  36. Ṭūsī, Miṣbāḥ al-mutahajjid, vol.1, p. 204; Mufīd, al-Muqni'a, p. 410.
  37. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 6, p. 265.
  38. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 13, p. 3.
  39. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 8, p. 201.
  40. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 6, p. 339.
  41. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 6, p. 339.
  42. Ibn Ṭāwūs, Iqbāl al-a'māl, vol. 2, p. 35.
  43. Group of Researchers, Farhangnāma-yi 'ulūm-i Qur'ānī, p. 183.
  44. Ṭayyib Ḥusaynī, Danishnāma-yi 'ulūm-i Qur'ānī, p. 83.
  45. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 4, p. 765
  46. Ṭayyib Ḥusaynī, Danishnāma-yi 'ulūm-i Qur'ānī, p. 83.
  47. Jawādī Āmulī, Barrasī āya-yi mīthāq, no. 59.
  48. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 4, p. 765
  49. Qira'ātī, Tafsīr nūr, vol. 3, p. 216.
  50. Riḍāyī Iṣfahānī, Tafsīr-i Qur'ān-i mihr, vol. 7, p. 291; Jawādī Āmulī, Barrasī āya-yi mīthāq, no. 59.
  51. Jawādī Āmulī, Barrasī āya-yi mīthāq, no. 60.
  52. Jawādī Āmulī, Barrasī āya-yi mīthāq, no. 60
  53. Riḍāyī Iṣfahānī, Tafsīr-i Qur'ān-i mihr, vol. 7, p. 291.
  54. Mu'iynī,Āyāt al-aḥkām, p. 1.
  55. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 4, p. 608
  56. Baḥrānī, al-Burhān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān, vol. 2, p. 515.

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