How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with Select Translations

By Carl W. Ernst | Go to book overview

4
Medinan Suras

It is widely acknowledged that the Medinan suras present much greater difficulties for the interpreter than the Meccan suras, in good part because a number of them are quite long, making the determination of their structure a more difficult task. In addition, they demonstrate a range of different styles in terms of their openings and the identity of the audience. This has led a number of scholars to argue that there is a lack of coherence in the Medinan suras in comparison with the much tighter structure observed in the Meccan suras.1 Indeed, it would be fair to say that many readers of the Qurʾan have despaired of finding a literary structure in these often long and complicated compositions.

Such a defeatist reaction may not be justified, however, to judge from a number of recent researches on the longer Medinan suras. While these texts do present a greater level of difficulty, literary approaches based on ring composition and intertextual relationships with other writings offer convincing insights and promising new approaches to interpreting these texts. Certainly much remains to be done, but some encouraging results of recent scholarly analysis can be summarized and taken further here, as a useful demonstration of reading techniques and as an example for further investigation.

Before considering these new approaches, however, it would be useful to take a quick look at the Medinan suras as a whole. These are twentyfour suras, which make up about 40 percent of the totality of the Qurʾan; six of these (suras 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9) are among the very longest suras of

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