Sūrat al-Insān, Meccan or Medinan? A Thematic and Rhetorical Reading of Sūrat al-Insān (Q 76) in Parallel with Sūrat al-Qiyāmah (Q 75)

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Nadeen Alsulaimi

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Abstract

There is disagreement as to whether Sūrat al-Insān (Q 76) is partly or entirely Meccan or Medinan. There is also disagreement about the identity of the “human being” (insān) mentioned at the beginning: is this a reference to Adam or to the human species? The contention that the sūrah is Medinan is supported by traditions rather than by the text of the sūrah itself or its chief topics. Conversely, Ibn ʿĀshūr and Amīn Iṣlāḥī have presented thematic readings of the sūrah and maintained that it is Meccan, on topical and stylistic grounds. This article commences by surveying what the Islamic tradition has to say about the revelation of the sūrah and about the identity of the “human being” concerned. This is followed by the readings of Ibn ʿĀshūr and Amīn Iṣlāḥī. The article undertakes an analysis of the sūrah’s composition according to the theory of ring structure and also the theory of sūrah pairing. The article arrives at the following conclusions: (1) The sūrah is Meccan and constitutes a coherent unity composed of three sections. It displays concentric symmetry in the inverted form ABA’, and its principal topics are summoning unbelieving humans to be thankful to God prior to the day of judgement and the fate awaiting them should they be ungrateful for God’s favors. The sūrah also calls attention to the this-worldly actions of those who are righteous and grateful and sets out their rewards in the world to come. (2) From a rhetorical and thematic perspective, the sūrah is linked to the Meccan Sūrat al-Qiyāmah (Q 75), insofar as the latter references the same “human being,” the Qurʾān, and the reality of creation and the resurrection. This pairing confirms that Sūrat al-Insān is Meccan in its entirety. (3) The sūrah under discussion has an intimate rhetorical and topical link with Sūrat al-Muzzammil (Q 73) and Sūrat al-Muddaththir (Q 74) and is connected to the topics treated in those sūrahs that precede it diachronically. The sūrah provides a glimpse at the stance the Messenger vis-à-vis revelation and the opposition he faced from his addressees. (4) Topics such as prayer and feeding the needy point to the fact that the Qurʾān is preoccupied with the issue of virtuous action and righteousness from an early point in time. In this early period, the qurʾānic message was called a “reminder” (tadhkirah).

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