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August 11, 2015

The Qur'an... What stories it can tell! (Part 3 of 3)

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Except for that of Jesus, the Qur'an doesn't mention the death of any other individual.

Jesus’ death was controversial at the time of Muhammad, not only among Christians but also among their enemies and non-believers; in fact, it still is today.

The Qur’an states first that every component of the universe, from the tiniest living microbe to billions of expanding galaxies, will eventually die and be recreated by God, the Sole Originator.

In the Qur’anic account, Jesus’ enemies tried to kill him by crucifixion and the Almighty intervened to save him.

But this divine action does not make Jesus a god, or the son of God. Many times in the past, God has saved prophets and messengers from certain death because their work was not yet complete; it is a Divine Law that benefited prophets from Noah to Muhammad. Eventually, each of them met a natural death and was admitted to the rewards of Paradise.

Two stories in the Qur’an are related to early humanity; the first involves Adam, his wife, Satan and God, in which Satan persuades the two first humans to eat from a tree that God has set out of bounds; it coincides in most respects with the Hebrew Bible account in Genesis.

The other is about Adam two sons, Qabil and Habil (Cain and Abel) – names not mentioned in the Qur’an, whose contrasting account of the poor and appropriate sacrifices, made respectively by each of them, also closely follows the Hebrew Bible narrative.

Both stories show that good and evil co-exist in humanity, due to the fact that we are all given free will; that is, the ability to make choices, along with the responsibility to be accountable for them, both in this life and in the Hereafter.

The Qur’anic account of Abraham and his son Ishmael tells how father and son collaborated in building the famous Ka’bah, the first house in which believers could worship the One Almighty God.

But before that, Abraham was severely tested when God instructed him to sacrifice his son as a ritual offering. By trusting completely in this divine commandment, Abraham was granted the mercy of a substitute sacrifice, a ram in place of his beloved son.

The famous story of Prophet Jonah is told in the Qur’an as an example of several important virtues: do not give up easily on the task God has assigned to you; always do your best, even if you feel insufficient, because God will do the rest, and; if you make a mistake, own up to it and ask God’s forgiveness.

Jonah learned the hard way in each case. He became quickly exasperated with the intransigent sinners of his tribe, tried to run away from the job by going to sea, got shipwrecked and swallowed by a whale, was spat out again by the whale, humbly begged forgiveness, was healed of his injuries, and finally got back on track as a messenger of God’s will. This time, experience made him more patient and successful.

There are also in the Qur’an fascinating stories of creation, cosmos, earth, heavens, humans, plants, animals and insects; and it is truly amazing how closely many of them correspond to what we know today, both scientifically and psychologically.

Even the prediction stories about the end of life on planet Earth, the Day of Accountability and Divine Justice, the Hereafter, Hell-fire and Paradise use elements of the fantastic and imaginative as constructive ways to inspire us to do good and shun evil.

The Qur’an also contains the unique structural unity that resulted from its original oral revelation, along with the tradition of memorizing its contents (sometimes in entirety) and using them in daily prayer. Although the Bible is used in much the same way, its contents are a collection of many books recorded across centuries of time, and in multiple languages.

The stories of the Qur’an are a great story in themselves; their universal beauty, energy and excitement have drawn numerous readers from all cultures and faiths over the centuries and will continue to do so.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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