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The Sūrah as a Unit
Imam Hamiduddin Farahi
(Tr. by:Tariq Haashmi)

By this discussion we aim to establish that each sūrah is a well-structured unit. It is only lack of consideration and analysis on our part that the sūrahs seem disjointed and incoherent. Every student of the Holy Qur’ān can notice that the Qur’ān contains both short and long sūrahs. Each sūrah imparts a specific message as its central theme which when completed marks the end of the sūrah. If there were no such specific conclusion intended to be dealt with in each sūrah, there would be no need to divide the Qur’ān in sūrahs. Rather the whole Qur’ān would have formed a single sūrah. We also know that the sūrahs are not equal in length. There are longer sūrahs and shorter ones. Had God not intended dealing a specific issue in each sūrah in a well-coherent fashion, He would not have threaded the verses in a single unifying thread. He would have, on the contrary, scattered everything casually whereby some of the sūrahs could have comprised of a single line.

We see that a set of verses has been placed together and named sūrah the way a city is built with a wall erected round it. A single wall must contain a single city in it. What is the use of a wall encompassing different cities? Another thing that needs to be appreicated is that each sūrah does not discuss a seperate issue. Everybody knows that the last two sūrahs are remarkably similar in their  contents yet they are not considered one sūrah. Both of these have always been considered independent and distinct units. Similary, Sūrah Takwīr (Abundance, 108), Sūrah Inshiqāq (The Rending, 84), Sūrah Mursalāt (Those that are sent forth, 77), Sūrah Nāzi‘āt (Those that snatch away, 79) and Sūrah Dhāriyāt (The Winds, 51) address similar issues. But their structure as well as style of expression is completely different.

We also see that when the Quraysh were not able to compose ten sūrahs of the quality of the Qur’ānic sūrahs, they were challenged to try composing even one. They were, however, not asked to compose something less than a sūrah. This challenge implied all the sūrahs, long or shortr, but it no way implied a given length of discourse lacking qualities of a sūrah. Some of the Muslim exegetes have missed this fact. They thought that the Quraysh were challenged to compose a number of verses of the length of a sūrah. Then they had to go a great length to see what aspect of inimitability was required of such a quanity of Qur’ānic verses. For example, the verse (٤: ٢٣) حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمْ أُمَّهَاتُكُمْ وَبَنَاتُكُمْ (Forbidden to you are your mothers, your daughters, (4:23)) is longer than Sūrah Kawthar. This made them wonder what aspect of inimitibility was involved in this lengh of discourse which was more than a sūrah but not a sūrah in its form. In fact the Holy Qur’ān did not challenge them to carve a discoure equal or above than a sūrah but a sūrah as a unit containing a meaningful well-ordered discourse. All jinn and humans can never succeed in composing a sūrah of the same grandeur or even smaller than Sūrah Kawthar. The above mentioned facts lead us to conclude that in the Qur’ānic challenge to the Quraysh, by a sūrah, God meant a well-structured and coherent discourse. The length of such a discourse was not relevent. Just as the common words like tree, plants and animals etc are applied to a class of things disregarding any kind of difference in the members of such a class, the word sūrah covers all sūrahs, short and longe. Some of the earlier scholars expressed similar views which corroborates our thesis. Suyūtī writes:

قال الجعيري حد السورة قرآن يشتمل على آي ذي فاتحة و خاتمة و أقلها ثلاث آيات

Ju‘ayrī has said: “A sūrah is defined as a set of Qur’ānic verses which contain an introduction and a conclusion. The least amount of verses in a sūrah is three.”1

I, however, define a sūrah as a set of verses which is a well-knit discourse dealing with a specific theme. This set of verses must contain an introduction, a central theme and a conclusion. Therefore the minimum number of verses in each sūrah is three.

A study of the shorter sūrahs reveals that they peer the longer ones in that they are equally well-knit coherent chapters. The shorter sūrahs contain all the elements of beautiful ordering and well-structuredness, the characterisics of the longer ones. Therefore, to hold that the shorter sūrāhs like Sūrah Kawthar (108), Sūrah Mā‘ūn (107) and Sūrah ‘Asr (103) do not contain any fine coherence would be wrong. Understanding inner-connectedness of the shorter sūrahs can greatly be helpful in deciphering the coherence in the longer sūrahs. Similarly, some of the longer sūrahs contain passages which are well-knit in obvious fashion. Only a dull-minded person can fail to notice it. For example, first twenty verses of Sūrah Baqarah (2) are manifestly well-knit. When a student ponders over such passages in smaller sūrahs, he develops the ability to discocver finer points of interconnetion in other sūrahs. I have come to understand the coherence in the Qur’ān in this very manner. I am certain that any person who intends to seriously ponder over the Holy Qur’ān in this aspect will be able to understand the coherence in the Qur’ān. For “those who adopted the right path, he increased their guidance”.2

(Translated from Farāhī’s Majmū‘ah Tafāsīr by Tariq Hashmi)

1.Suyūtī, al-Itqān, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1996), 147.

2.Reference is to the Qur’ānic verse:  وَالَّذِينَ اهْتَدَوْا زَادَهُمْ هُدًى (٤٧: ١٧)

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