Monday, December 19, 2011

Surah 114: Humans

I'm having another go at Arabic. Here's an attempt (by a Christian) to translate the final chapter of the Qur'an followed by a commentary. Arabic and other translations here.

In the name of God, the compassionate and merciful one.

I seek refuge in
the lord of humans

the king of humans
the god of humans
from the evil of the whisperer who hides, who whispers in the hearts of humans,
from spirits,
from humans.

Commentary:
This is the Qur'an's final surah, a nicely turned piece notable stylistically for its three-stage chiasmus.

There are rising levels of divine description lord > king > god that psychologically encourage increasing trust in God. These levels are matched by declining stages of evil the whisperer (traditionally Satan) > spirits (jinn) > humans. The effect is to create deliberately asymetrical pairs: god trumps whisperer; king trumps spirits; lord trumps humans.

There is a superb example, too, of onomatopoia: the whisperer in Arabic is al-waswasi. There is also evidence of internal assonance/rhyme: the whisperer is one who hides (al-khannasi), this recalls the word for 'humans' (an-nasi)

Spiritually the whisperer might be recognised in the voice in the heart that brings crippling self-doubt or anxiety. As many would recognize, this voice is a far more powerful enemy than external 'spirits' or other humans. The surah envisages finding refuge from such inner anxiety in God.

The surah is commended in various in traditional interpretations (tafsir), together with the previous chapter (113: Dawn) as a strong prayer against spiritual attack.


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