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Qur'an/Stories of the Prophets

Meditation and Reading taken from The Quran, a new translation, by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
All other text is by Cynthia Stewart

Today's Themes

Islamic tradition holds that Allah has sent 124,000 prophets into the world, with only 25 of them being named in the Qur’an. Unto each people, we are told, a prophet has been sent, and many Muslims take great pride in the fact that their sacred scripture officially recognizes the validity of prophets of other religions. This is intimately linked with the understanding of Islam as a universal religion, the basis of all true religion the world over (see the third session, Gather Us Together, for more on this). Many figures from the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels are specifically named in today’s meditation, but the Qur’an also names many others, including Adam, Enoch, Noah, Lot, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and John the Baptist. Prophets not known from the Judeo-Christian scriptures appear as well. One of them, Dhul Kifl, is thought by some scholars to be a reference to the Buddha (see 21:85 and 38:48; “Kifl” is thought to be an Arabic rendering of the name of the Buddha’s home state of Kapilavastu).

The Qur’anic list of prophets includes many figures not commonly given that designation in Judaism or Christianity. Today we read, for instance, about the prophet Moses and his interactions with another servant of Allah named al-Khidr, whose name means “the green one”. Al-Khidr is a beloved figure in Islam, a being who has drunk from the waters of immortality and spends eternity serving Allah and initiating people into the secrets of mysticism. He is not identified as a prophet in the Qur’an, although he is given that title in the hadith.

Today’s reading omits a section in which al-Khidr kills a young man, who we later learn is rebellious and a potential source of great trouble to his believing parents. Most congregants are likely to be unfamiliar with the story of al-Khidr, and it would be unfortunate if shock or dismay over the violence of this section distracted listeners from the delightful message about trust that the story conveys.

In all the sections on the Qur’an, I have substituted “Allah” for Khan’s translation, “God”.

Words used in this session:
hadith – stories of the life and sayings of the prophet, held in reverence in Islam
surah – chapter of the Qur’an

Call To Worship

A prophet stands within this world and brings a message from beyond it –
      not necessarily from above with a god looking down from on high,
            not necessarily from below with a goddess stretching up from primordial dark.

What the prophet imparts comes from
      beyond mundane speech,
            beyond blindered vision,
                  beyond the limits of what we know. 

So let us hear the prophet’s call from beyond our limitations.
Let us hear all the prophets everywhere,
     those whispering from an ancient time and those exhorting our modern world;
     those articulating religious duties and those conveying worldly realities.
Let us hear the the prophets,
     those men and women who bring us messages from beyond what we know.
And let us receive them with joy.


     [Allah commanded Mohammed to say], ‘We believe in [Allah] and in what has been sent down to us and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes. We believe in what has been given to Moses, Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them…
     [Allah said], Before your time We sent other messengers: of them there are some whose story We have related to you, and some whose story We have not related to you. It was not [possible] for any messenger to bring a sign except by the leave of Allah…

          Surah 3:84, 40:78
          (Wahiduddin Khan translation)


     [Moses] found one of Our servants to whom We had granted Our mercy and had given a knowledge from Ourself.  Moses said to him, ‘May I follow you, so that you may guide me by what you have been taught?’ He replied, ‘You will not be able to bear with me patiently. How could you be patient in matters beyond your knowledge?’ Moses said, ‘God willing, you will find me patient, and I will not disobey you in any thing.’ He said, ‘Well then, if you would follow me, do not ask me about anything till I speak of it to you.’
     So they set out, but, when they got into a boat, the man made a hole in it. Moses exclaimed, ‘Have you made a hole in the boat to drown the people in it? You have indeed done a dreadful thing!’ He replied, ‘Did I not tell you that you would never be able to bear with me patiently?’…
     So they went on until they came to a town. They asked its people for food, but were refused hospitality. They found a wall in the town which was about to fall down. His companion buttressed it and Moses said, ‘Had you wished, you could have demanded payment for your labours.’ He answered, ‘This is where you and I must part company. But first I will tell you the meaning of the things you could not bear with patiently.
     ‘The boat belonged to some poor people who made their living from the sea. I wanted to damage it because there was a king coming behind them who was seizing every boat by force…The wall belonged to two young orphans in the town whose father had been a righteous man, and a treasure of theirs lay underneath it. So your Lord wanted them to come of age and then to dig up their treasure as a mercy from Him. I did not do [it] of my own accord. That is the explanation of the things about which you were not able to restrain yourself.’

          Surah 18:64-72, 77-79, 82
          (Wahiduddin Khan translation)


     Go and punch a hole in the boatload of your possessions today, so that you may keep what is truly of value. Build up walls for someone who does not deserve it, so that the treasure of truth may spring forth in the fullness of time. Be guided by reason, but do not be blindered by it, for no person’s reason encompasses the whole of what is and what can be.
     These are the prophetic words that are spoken to us this day; may our ears and hearts be open to them.