Al-Quran – Stories of Prophets and Emotional Intelligence

In our daily lives, we regularly encounter challenges affecting our emotions: We feel sad and happy, we may express ourselves by crying or laughing, or we may hide our true feelings behind a smile. Our emotions sometimes bring us to tears, yet we find ourselves comforted and serene in their aftermath. Memories of the past that bring joy to one person may bring heartache to another. Emotions are not quantifiable: Like human nature itself, they are complicated and cannot always be resolved with logic, measurement, and calculations. In his new book Hug Your Sadness With Al-Quran (Malay: Mendakap Kesedihan Dengan Al-Quran), Imran Zaki reassures us with the knowledge that the prophets, the mothers of the believers, intellectuals and leaders mentioned in the Quran experienced the full range of these complex human emotions – like us, they were human. Muhammad faced years of sadness (عام الحزن), which could only be cured with isra’ wal mi’raj (الإسراء والمعراج) to the blessed land (الأرض المباركة) and holy land ( الأرض المقدسة ). 

إذا تتلى عليه ءايٰتنا قال أسٰطير الاولين (١٣) كلِّا بل ران علىٰ قلوبهم ما كانواْ يكذبون (١٤)

When Our verses are recited to him, he says, “Legends of the former peoples.” (13) No ! Rather, the strain has covered their hearts of that which they were earning (14)

(Mutaffifin : 13-14)

Based on the verse above, interestingly, Zaki makes several comparisons between the stories of the prophets and the concept of asateerul awwaleen (legends and myth), which implies that the prophets  portrayed in the Quran, like the saints or legends that exist in other religions, did not live without any emotional strife; rather Allah (SWT) provided His prophets with the tools to face these challenges. The strengthening of their emotions enabled the prophets to convey their messages and face challenges with noble character (مكارم الأخلاق). Though the prophets’ struggles may have been far greater than our own, these tools are nonetheless valuable resources for us, yet they remain understudied and unexplored. Indeed, the stories of the prophets are the stories of humanity. This book traverses the expanse of human emotion, how the Quran teaches us to process them with the best method and best outcomes. 

Al-Quran as an Emotional Cure

There are no words that could better develop our emotional strength than the words of Al-Quran. Allah is the One who created us, He created the circumstances that we face, and He is the One who understands us and knows the solutions. As is apparent in the following verse, He is the healer who presents his cures through the stories of humans who behave like us, eat like us, and, of course, smile and cry like us. Which doctor could accomplish this feat? Which measurement and calculation of our modern medicine could challenge His words? 

يآ أيها الناس قد جاءتكم موعظة من ربكم وشفاء لما في الصدور و هدًى و رحمة للمؤمنين. (٥٦) 

O mankind, there has to come to you instruction from your lord and healing for what is in the breasts guidance and mercy for the believers. 

(Yunus : 57)

Al-Quran: Stories of Humanity

When I used to hear the stories of the prophets, they were often presented as legends as depictions of a reality far removed from our own. We may hear our fellow Muslims say: “They are prophets, we are not.” Yet, the stories of the prophet are not asateerul awaleen (stories of legends and impossibilities). Allah (SWT) knows this well, for He created both us and the people of these circumstances. Each of the stories of Al-Quran were chosen for a specific reason. Indeed, they remain relevant to our lives even today: a father loses his child, a mother is forced to abandon her newborn baby, a child is abused by his father, a wife by her own husband, a single woman faces social rejection after having a child, a husband grieves the loss of his beloved wife. The protagonists of these stories may have physically left us, but the essence of their experience resonates over time. 

Every word and scene within is selected by the Creator of all humanity, not by a human academic, poet, novelist, or scriptwriter. Allah (SWT) speaks not as an observer but as the Creator of our emotions. We are the ones who erect barriers of human logic in the way of reading Al-Quran. We are the ones who place our logic above our emotions, while He uses both as tools to cure our hearts. The Quran reminds us of the emotional world’s perpetual nature, how it occurs in both the past and the future far beyond human calculations and logic. 

نحن نقصُّ عليك أحسن القص بمآ آوحينآ اليك كمآ زوحينآ هذاَ القرءان وان كنت من قبله لمن الغٰفلين (٣)

We relate to you (O Muhammad), the best of stories in what We have revealed to you of this Qur’an although you were, before it, among the unaware. 

(Yusuf : 3)

In the above verse, the word qasas refers to stories which are historical. While historians who deal with concrete evidence may record dialogue and events, they will never perceive the hearts of the figures they study. By focusing on large-scale events like conquests, wars, the development of human ideologies, or great feats or accomplishments, etc., they lose sight of the value of day-to-day occurrences and dialogues between individuals. However, we must always keep in mind that the Quran is not simply a history book nor an academic thesis. In just two pages, Allah (SWT) tells the story of Nuh (AS) who lived for 950 years. Thus, Al-Quran, which is first and foremost guidance (huda linnas), must be dealt with differently than academic or historical texts. Allah (SWT) interacts with history not for the sake of the historical facts themselves, but for the sake of humanity that requires cure (syifa’), guidance (huda), instructions (mauizah) and compassion (rahmah). This element is absent from studies of history, historiography, and the social sciences in general. In this sense, historical discipline and methodology must be reconstructed, especially on the topics of prophethood and prehistory. 

Muslims linguists like Ibn Faris and Al-Raghib define qasas as a narrative or storytelling form that follows step-by-step with full alertness, care, and patience. The word quissi was also used by Musa (AS)’s mother when, after placing him in the basket, she instructed her daughter to follow him down the river and ensure his safety (seen in the verse below). This usage further clarifies that the concept of qasas was not only to tell stories or narrate history but to persuade us to follow along consciously and with patience.  

وقالت لأخته قصيه فبصرت به عن جنبٍ وهم لَا يشعرون (١١)

And she said to his sister, “Follow him” ; so she watched him from a distance while they perceived not.

(Qasas : 11)

Though we may enjoy reading these stories, they ultimately exist for a higher purpose; that is, to fulfill humankind’s basic need for guidance. Unlike dry narratives of historical events, the stories in Al-Quran are about us, humans; they are each celebrations of the human soul. No storyteller better understands the condition and needs of the human soul, and thus knows how best to speak to it, than Allah (SWT). Every character, scene, verse, event, and element of Al-Quran drives us towards guidance (huda), regardless of language, generation, nation, or culture. Each story opens eyes to the truth and cures countless hearts.

Ahsanal Qasas: The Most Beautiful Stories 

The purpose of Ahsanal Qasas are manifold: they include developing the soul, reconstructing the mind, and most importantly guiding one emotionally and intellectually towards the truth. Ibn Aşur mentioned in his introduction of At-Tahrir wa Tanwir that the stories in Al-Quran have the highest objective (maqasid) and are the most noble of human history. Indeed, the Quran uses its own unique techniques.

Unlike a history book, the stories of Al-Quran are conveyed in scattered form and arranged thematically, not chronologically. The Quran is first and foremost a book of guidance (hidayah); thus it selectively uses history to best guide us. Al-Quran does not reveal to us every detail; rather, it concentrates on those messages and themes which are repeated throughout human history. Finally, Al-Quran’s word choice and language style is unparalleled. Each word chosen to describe a scene is the best-suited, the most appropriate.

When the angel Jibril instructed the Prophet Muhammad to read, he replied with “Man ana bi qari” (“I am not a reader”). Jibril then hugged the prophet repeatedly, leaving him breathless. The first revelation is revealed at the exact moment that the Prophet (SAW) needs space to breathe. In the same way, our own interactions with Al-Quran should stem from our needs and limitations as human beings.

Thus, when we interact with the Quran, we should position our hearts and minds to ask the following questions: “Why does Allah tell this specific scene in these stories? What could we learn from it? Where do these stories lead us?” This process of tadabbur, personal reflection, is imperative in emotionally connecting to the Quran – especially when paired with more formal study of the holy text.

The Human Nature of Prophets

The stories of Al-Quran must be studied more widely and comprehensively. The Prophets were like humans in nature, in their actions and behavior, in their struggles and fears, and in their emotions. In one example, the prophet Yaqub (AS) struggled with his sadness to the point that his eyes became white (wabyat annahu); that is, he went blind. This is a rare experience, and it might be instinctive to question, as Imran Zaki does: “How can a prophet feel extremely sad until his eyes become white? Is it appropriate for a prophet to be sad until his eyes become blind?”

On the other hand, the rejectors (kuffar) used the humble nature of the Prophet Muhammad  life to argue against his prophethood, as seen in the following verse:

وقالواْ مال هذا الرسول يأكل الطعام ويمشى فى الأسواق لولا أنزل إليه ملك فيكون معه نذيرًا (٧)

And they say, What is this messenger that eats food and walks in the markets? Why was there not sent down to an angel so he would be with him a warner. 

(Furqan : 7)

In response to this, Allah (SWT) advised the Prophet (SAW) as follows:

قل انما انا بشر مثلكم يوحىٓ الي انمآ الىٰهكم الٰه واحد فمن كان يرجو لقاء ربه فليعمل عملاً صِٰلحاً ولا يشرك بعبادت ربه احداَ (١١٠)  

Say, “I am only a man like you, to whom it has been revealed that your god is one God. So whoever would hope for the meeting with his Lord – let him do the righteous work and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone. 

(Kahf : 110)

From this verse we may conclude that Islam does not teach humans to deny or act against our humanity. Allah (SWT), through the stories and descriptions inside Al-Quran, shows us the best way to manage our emotions, a task which only He as the Creator of these emotions is suited to fulfill.

Works Cited

[1] A. Ewaisi, The Land of Amal (Hope): The discussion of Prophet Muhammad’s Plan for İslamicjerusalem, Al-Maktoum Institute, Scotland, 2007.  

[2] İmran Zaki, Mendakap Kesedihan Dengan Al-quran, İman Publications, Kuala Lumpur, 2021. 

[3] İbid, p. 13.

[4] İbid, p. 23.

[5] Ibid, p. 25.

[6] İbid, p. 25-26: The author took the dialogue of Luqmanul Hakim with his son as an example and argues that there were so many parents in that period but who could predict that a very specific dialogue had been selected. 

[7] İbid, p. 27; “Asatir is jamak for the word usturah which means “legends and myth.”

[8] İbid, p. 29.

[9] İbid, p. 30.

[10] İbid, p. 31

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About the Author: Imran Zaki is a Malaysian undergraduate student of Theology at Marmara University, Turkey. He got his Diploma of Sharia and Tahfiz from Darul Quran, JAKIM. He is a humanitarian activist, a director of TUMBUH a humanitarian NGO for Syrian refugees in Turkey. He is also a trainer at Performia Academy, a consultation platform based on the Quranic approach. His interests are in  ilm-i Kalam and Al-Quran.

Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.

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