Monday, September 5, 2011

Surah Yasin - the heart of the Qur'an

Sayyid Qutb

This Makkan sūrah (ie. revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Makkah) is characterized by short verses and a fast rhythm. Composed of 83 verses, it is slightly shorter in overall length than the preceding sūrah which contained only 45 verses. Such short verses together with the fast rhythm give the sūrah a special outlook.

Its rhythm sounds successive beats, the effect of which is increased by the numerous images it draws, all leaving a profound impression. It shares the same main themes of all Makkan sūrahs, aiming to lay the foundation of faith. At the very outset it dwells on the nature of revelation and the truth of the
message: “Yā Sīn. By the Qur’ān, full of wisdom, you are indeed one of God’s messengers,
pursuing a straight way. It is a revelation by the Almighty, the Ever Merciful.” (Verses 1-5)

It relates the story of the people of the township to which messengers were sent, using the story to warn against rejection of the message and denial of the revelation. It shows the end that befell the people of the township to emphasize the message the sūrah wants to deliver.

Towards the end, the sūrah picks up this point again: “We have not taught the Prophet poetry; nor is it fitting for him to be a poet. This is but a reminder and a Qur’ān making all things clear, to warn everyone who is alive, and that the word of God be proved against the unbelievers.” (Verses 69-70)

The sūrah also discusses the oneness of the Godhead, giving the voice of denunciation of polytheism to the man who came from the farthest end of town. It is he who argues with his people about their denial of God’s messengers: “Why should I not worship the One who has brought me into being? It is to Him that you will all return. Should I worship other deities beside Him? If the Lord of Grace should will that harm befall me, their intercession will avail me nothing, nor will they save me. Indeed, I should clearly be in error.” (Verses 22-24)

The same point is emphasized again towards the end of the sūrah: “Yet they have taken to worship deities other than God, hoping for /their] support. They are unable to support them; yet their worshippers stand like warriors to defend them.” (Verses 74-75)


The issue that is most strongly emphasized in the sūrah is that of resurrection. Mention of this is first made at the very outset: “It is We who will bring the dead back to life. We record whatever Needs] they send ahead, as well as the traces they leave behind. We keep an account of all things in a clear record.” (Verse 12)

Resurrection is further alluded to in the story of the township as it mentions the reward given to the man arguing the case of faith: “He was told- Enter paradise. He said Would that my people knew how my Lord has forgiven me my sins, and has placed me among the highly honoured!” (Verses 26-

In the middle of the sūrah resurrection is once again referred to: “They also ask: ‘When will this promise be fulfilled, if what you say be true?’ All they are waiting for is a single blast that will overtake them while they are still disputing. No time will they have to make bequests, nor will they return to their own people.” (Verses 48-50)

And at the end of the sūrah, it is stated in the form of dialogue: “He comes up with arguments against Us, forgetting how he himself was created. He asks: ‘Who could give life to bones that have
crumbled to dust?’ Say: He who brought them into being in the first instance will give them life again. He has full knowledge of every act of creation.” (Verses 78-79)

Scenes and images

These fundamental issues of faith are repeatedly discussed in Makkan sūrahs. Each time though they are tackled from a different angle, brought under new focus, and given effects that fit the overall ambience of the sūrah, maintaining harmony with its rhythm, images and impressions.

These effects vary in this sūrah. Some derive from the scenes of the Day of Judgement, the scenes in the story and the positions taken in it and the dialogue it includes as also the end suffered by earlier communities.

Other effects are derived from the numerous images given of the universe, each of which imparts its own message. The dead land as life begins to emerge in it; the night stripped out of the day to spread total darkness; the sun running its course up to its point of destination; the moon moving from one phase to another until it becomes like an old date stalk; the boats laden with the offspring of old human generations; the cattle made subservient to man; the gamete being transformed into a human being who argues and quarrels; and the green tree made into a fire from which they light their own fires. It is by using all these scenes and images that the sūrah emphasizes its message.

Alongside these there are other effects made to touch our hearts and alert our minds. One of these is the image of those who deny the truth when God’s judgement befalls them. No longer can they derive any benefit from the signs and the warnings given them: “Around their necks We have put chains, reaching up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up. And We have set a barrier before them and a barrier behind them, and We enshrouded them in veils so that they cannot see.” (Verses 8-9)

Another is the fact that whatever they harbour inside their hearts and whatever they leave open are known to God; nothing is hidden from Him. A third effect is the description of the mechanism of creation as involving nothing but one short word: “When He intends something to be, He only says to it, Be,’ and it is.” (Verse 82)

The sūrah can he divided into three parts. The first begins with an oath God makes by the expression of two separate letters, Yā Sīn, and by the Qur’ān, which is full of wisdom, to emphasize the truth of the Prophet’s message and that he follows a straight path. This is followed by describing the miserable end of those who pay no heed to the message and deny its truth. They will never find a way to guidance because this is God’s judgement. It explains that the warning only benefits those who follow the revelations given by God and who fear Him despite the fact that their faculties of perception cannot reach Him. Such people open their hearts to receive the evidence of divine guidance and the pointers to the path
of faith.

In this part, the Prophet is asked to cite the example of the people of the township who denied God’s messengers and the end they suffered. It also shows the nature of faith and how it affects the heart of the man arguing its case.

The second part begins with a call of sorrow for those people who continue to deny every messenger God sends them, ridiculing them and their message, paying no heed to what happened to earlier communities who denied the truth, or to the great many signs God has placed all around them. This part includes the universal images we have already mentioned as well as a long and detailed scene from the Day of Judgement.

The third and final part sums up all the themes of the sūrah, starting with a denial that what Muhammad recited was poetry, and emphasizing the fact that the Prophet never had anything to do with poetry. It portrays a number of images confirming God’s oneness. It decries the unbelievers’ practice of having deities to which they pray to give them victory over their enemies, when in fact they themselves have to protect those alleged deities.

It discusses the issue of resurrection, reminding them of their origin and how their creation starts with a gamete. This should enable them to understand that giving life to bones that have crumbled into dust is barely different from their first creation from a gamete. It reminds them of the green trees and how they become fire fuel, although the two concepts seem to be far apart.

The creation of the heavens and the earth is also mentioned as a reminder that God is able to create them in both stages of their life.

Finally, the last beat that concludes the sūrah is: “When He intends something to be, He only says to it, Be,’ and it is. Limitless, then, in His glory is He in whose hand rests the mighty dominion over all things, and to Him you all will be brought back.” (Verses 82-83)

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