Major Themes of the Qur'an

Muslims believe the Qur'an contains all the knowledge and wisdom God gave us to live good lives on earth and to worship Him in the proper way: “And We have sent down to you the Book explaining all things — a guide, a mercy, and glad tidings” (Qur'an 16:89). Muslims claim that the Qur'an is the final revelation to human beings, and as such contains a universal message.

Meccan and Madinian Chapters

During the first ten years of his mission, Muhammad and his small group of followers faced the opposition of the powerful, polytheistic Meccan tribes. The verses of revelation that came to Muhammad during this time mainly focus on matters of faith: they stress the unity of God, denounce idol worship, remind us of the messages of previous prophets, and encourage the believers to persevere in patience and constancy. These chapters of the Qur'an are called the Meccan Chapters.

After the Muslim community migrated to Madinah, the needs of the community changed. For the first time, the Muslims were able to organize a social system based in Islam. Thus, the focus of the revelation also began to shift. The chapters are longer, and they go into more detail about moral and ethical codes, criminal law, economic and state policy, and guidelines for relations with other communities. These chapters of the Qur'an are called the Madinian Chapters.

The Qur'an is composed of 114 chapters of varying lengths. The longest is 286 verses long; the shortest is merely three verses. The Qur'an is also divided into thirty equal sections, called juz (Arabic for “division” or “fraction”). These divisions make it easier for a person to read equal portions during each night of the month of Ramadan.

Overall Message

Throughout the text, the Qur'an tells stories and parables about previous prophets and peoples and the lessons that can be learned from them. It provides clear instructions about what is permitted and forbidden in our daily lives. It gives encouragement, calling upon believers to put their faith and trust in Allah and to be patient. It describes the character of righteous people as opposed to evildoers. It warns of the punishment to come for those who reject faith and wreak havoc on earth and sends messages of glad tidings for “believers, who do deeds of righteousness.” It calls upon people to ponder on the natural world and to wonder about the signs of Allah's creation. Above all, the Qur'an heralds Allah's mercy and perfect justice.

The Qur'an contains stories of past prophets, including many that have been mentioned in the Bible. Rather than focus on genealogies or long narratives, the Qur'an cites examples of righteousness and elaborates on the people's reactions to God's message. The fate of past nations is given as a warning to the believers not to make the same mistakes.

Style

There are various techniques used in the Qur'an to spark interest in the reader and drive points home. One common method is the use of parables. For example, when describing the great reward for people who spend money in charity, the Qur'an uses the corn seed as an example. Each seed of corn grows a plant with several ears, each of which has a hundred more grains (Qur'an 2:261).

More than 200 passages of the Qur'an begin with the Arabic word Qul (Say!), a direct command to the Prophet Muhammad. What follows is usually a legal ruling, a reply to a question, or an explanation of some matter of faith. The word is used to grab attention and highlight the importance of what is to follow.

Finally, the Qur'an uses repetition, one of the most powerful rhetorical techniques of the Arabic language. Repetition also allows the various themes of the Qur'an to wrap back to the common thread: that God is One and that in order for us to succeed in this life and the hereafter, we must follow His guidance. No topic is mentioned without relating it back to this central message.

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