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|Friday, 01 July 2011 12:23|
What is the Qur'an? - The Qur'anic Teaching - The Qur'anic Legislation – Commentaries on the Qur'an
What is the Qur'an?
The Qur'an is divided into Chapters or Suras, 114 in number and very unequal in length. The early Meccan Suras are among the shortest; as time goes on, they become longer. The verses in the early Suras are charged with an extraordinarily deep and powerful 'psychological moment'; they have the character of brief but violent volcanic eruptions. A voice is crying from the very depths of life and impinging forcefully on the Prophet's mind in order to make itself explicit at the level of consciousness. This tone gradually gives way, especially in the Medina period, to a more fluent and easy style as the legal content increases for the detailed organization and direction of the nascent community-state. This is certainly not to say either that the voice. Had been stilled or even that its intensive quality had changed: a Medinese verse declares 'If We had sent down this Qur'an on a mountain, you would have seen it humbly submit (to the Command) and split asunder out of fear of God' (LIX, 2I). But the task itse1fhad changed. From the thud and impulse of purely moral and religious exhortation, the Qur'an had passed to the construction of an actual social fabric.
For the Qur'an itself, and consequently for the Muslims, the Qur'an is the Word of God (Kalam Allah). Mu1: Jammad, too, was unshakably convinced that he was the recipient of the Message from God, the totally Other (we shall presently try to discover more precisely the sense of that total otherness), so much so that he rejected, on the strength of this consciousness, some of the most fundamental historical claims of the Judaeo-Christian tradition about Abraham and other Prophets. This 'Other' through some channel 'dictated' the Qur'an with an absolute authority. The voice from the depths of life spoke
provided this latter is not supposed to exclude the verbal mode necessarily (by 'Word', of course, we do not mean sound). The Qur'an says, 'God speaks to no human (i.e. through sound-words) except through wahy (i.e. through idea-word inspiration) or from behind the veil, or He may send a messenger (an angel) who speaks through wahy. Even thus have We inspired you with a spirit of Our Command. (XLII, 51-52).
When, however, during the second and the third centuries of Islam, acute differences of opinion, controversies partly influenced by Christian doctrines, arose among the Muslims about the nature of Revelation, the emerging Muslim 'orthodoxy', which was at the time in the crucial stage of formulating its precise content, emphasized the externality of the Prophet's Revelation in order to safeguard its 'otherness', objectivity and verbal character. The Qur'an itself certainly maintained the 'otherness', the 'objectivity' and the verbal character of the Revelation, but had equally certainly rejected its externality vis-a-vis the Prophet. It declares, 'The Trusted Spirit has brought it down upon your heart that you may be a warner' (XXVI, 194), and again, 'Say: He who is an enemy of Gabriel (let him be), for it is he who has brought It down upon your heart' (II, 97). But orthodoxy (indeed, all medieval thought) lacked the necessary intellectual tools to combine in its formulation of the dogma the otherness and verbal character of the Revelation on the one hand, and its intimate connection with the work and the religious personality of the Prophet on the other, i.e. it lacked the intellectual capacity to say both that the Qur'an is entirely the Word of God and, in an ordinary sense, also entirely the word of Muhammad. The Qur'an obviously holds both, for if it insists that it has come to the 'heart' of the Prophet, how can it be external to him? This, .of course, does not necessarily imply that the Prophet did not perceive also a projected figure, as tradition has it, but it is remarkable that the Qur'an itself makes no mention of any figure in this connection: It is only in connection with certain special experiences (commonly connected with the Prophet's Ascension) that the Qur'an speaks of the Prophet having seen a figure or a spirit, or some other object 'at the farthest end' or 'on the horizon', although here also, as we pointed out. In section I of the last chapter, the experience is described as a spiritual one. But orthodoxy, through the Hadith or the 'tradition' from the Prophet, partly suitably interpreted and partly coined, and bough the science of theology based largely on the Hadith made the Revelation of the Prophet entirely through the ear and external to him and regarded the angel or the spirit 'that comes to the heart' an entirely external agent. The modem Western picture of the Prophetic Revelation rests largely on this orthodox formulation rather than on the Qur'an, as does, of course, the belief of the common Muslim.
The present work is not the place to elaborate a theory of the Qur'anic Revelation in detail. Yet, if we are to deal with facts of Islamic history, the factual statements of the Qur'an about itself call for some treatment. In the following brief outline an attempt is made to do justice both to historical and Islamic demands. We have explicitly stated in the preceding chapter that the basic elan of the Qur'an is moral, whence flows its emphasis on monotheism as well as on social justice. The moral law is immutable: it is God's 'Command', Man cannot make or unmake the Moral Law: he must submit himself to it, this submission to it being called islam and its implementation in life being called 'ibiida or 'service to God'. It is because of the Qur'an's paramount emphasis on the Moral Law that the Qur'anic God has seemed to many people to be primarily the God of justice. But the Moral Law and spiritual values, in order to be implemented, must be known. Now, in their power of cognitive perception men obviously differ to an indefinite degree. Further, moral and religious perception is also very different from a purely intellectual perception, for an intrinsic quality of the former is that along with perception it brings an extraordinary sense of 'gravity' and leaves the subject significantly transformed. Perception, also moral perception, then has degrees. The variation is not only between different individuals, but the inner life of a given individual varies at different times from this point of view. We are not here talking of an intrinsic moral and intellectual development and evolution, where variation is most obvious. But even in a good, mature person whose average intellectual and moral character and calibre, are, in a sense, fixed, these variations occur.
Now a Prophet is a person whose average, overall character, the sum total of his actual conduct, is far superior to those of humanity in general. He is a man who is ab initio impatient with men and even with most of their ideals, and wishes to re-create history. Muslim orthodoxy, therefore, drew the logically correct conclusion that Prophets must be regarded as immune from serious errors (the doctrine of ’isma). Muhammad was such a person, in fact the only such person really known to history. That is why his overall behaviour is regarded by the Muslims as Sunna or the 'perfect model'. But, with all this, there were moments when he, as it were, 'transcends himself' and his moral cognitive perception becomes so acute and so keen that his consciousness becomes identical with the moral law itself. 'Thus did we inspire you with a Spirit of Our Command: You did not know what the Book was. But We have made it a light' (XLII, 52). But the moral law and religious values are God's Command, and although they are not identical with God entirely, they are part of Him. The Qur'an is, therefore, purely divine. Further, even With regard to ordinary consciousness it is a mistaken notion that ideas and feelings float about in it and can be mechanically 'clothed' in words. There exists, indeed, an organic relationship between feelings, ideas and words. In inspiration, even in poetic inspiration, this relationship is so complete that feeling-idea-word is a total complex with a life of its own. When Muhammad's moral intuitive perception rose to the highest point and became identified with the moral law itself (indeed, in these moments his own conduct at points came under Qur'anic criticism, as is shown by our account in the second section of the preceding chapter and as is evident from the pages of the Qur’an), the Word was given with the inspiration itself. The Qur’an is thus pure Divine Word, but, of course, it is equally intimately related to the inmost personality of the Prophet Muhammad whose relationship to It cannot be mechanically conceived like that of a record. The Divine Word flowed through the Prophet's heart. But If Muhammad, in his Qur'anic moments, became one with the moral law, he may not be absolutely identified either with God or even with a part of Him. The Qur'an categorically forbids this Muhammad insistently avoided this and all Muslims worthy of the name have condemned as the gravest error associating (shirk) a creature with God.
The reason is that no man may say, 'I am the Moral Law'. Man's duty is carefully to formulate this Law and to submit to it with all his physical, mental and spiritual faculties. Besides this, Islam knows of no way of assigning any meaning to the sentence, 'So-and-so is Divine'.
The Qur'anic Teaching
In the foregoing we have repeatedly emphasized that the basic elan o the Qur’an is moral and we have pointed to the ideas of social and economic justice that immediately followed from it in the Qur'an. This absolutely true so far as man and his destiny are concerned. As the Qur’an gradually worked out its world-view more fully, the moral order for men comes to assume a central point of divine interest in a full picture of a cosmic order which is not only charged with a high religious sensitivity but exhibits an amazing degree of coherence and consistency. A concept of God, the absolute author of the universe is developed where the attributes of creativity, order, and mercy are not merely conjoined or added to on another but interpenetrate completely. To him belong creativity and ordering' or 'commanding' (VII, 54). ‘My mercy encompasses everything’ (VII, I 56). Indeed the 'Merciful' (Rahman) is the only adjectival name of God that is very frequently used in the Qur'an as a substantive name of God besides Allah. It is of course, true, as modern research has revealed, that Rahman was used as name for the Deity in South Arabia before Islam, but this fact of historical transportation from the South is obviously irrelevant from our point of view. If we leave out man, for the time being, i.e. his specific spiritual-moral constitution, and consider the rest of the entire created universe, the interpretation of these three ultimate attributes is that God creates everything, and that in the very act of this creation order or 'command' is ingrained in things whereby they cohere and fall into a pattern, and rather than 'go astray' from the ordained path, evolve into a cosmos; that, finally, all this is nothing but the sheer mercy of God for, after all, existence is not the absolute desert of anything, and the place of existence there could just as well be pure, empty nothingness.
Indeed the most intense impression that the Qur’an as a woe leaves upon a reader is not of a watchful, frowning and punishing God, as the Christians have generally made It out to be, nor of a chief Judge as the Muslim legalists have tended to think, but of a unitary and purposive will creative of order in the universe: the qualities of power or majesty, of watchfulness or justice and of wisdom attributed to God in the Qur'an with unmistakable emphasis are, in fact, immediate inferences from the creative orderliness of the cosmos. Of all the Qur’anic terms, perhaps the most basic, comprehensive and revelatory at once of divine nature of the universe IS the term amr which we have translated above as order, orderliness or command. To everything that is created is ipso facto communicated its amr which is its own law of being but which is also a law whereby it is integrated into a system. This amr, i.e. order or command of God, is ceaseless. The term used to indicate the communication of amr to all things, including man, is wahy, which we have translated in the previous section as 'inspiration'. With reference to inorganic things it should be translated as 'ingraining'. This is because with reference to man, who constitutes a special case, it is not just amr that is sent down from high, but a 'spirit-from-amr' (ruh min al-amr) , as the Qur'an repeatedly tells us. With reference to man (and possibly also to the jinn, an invisible order of creation, parallel to man but said to be created of a fiery substance, a kind of duplicate of man which is, in general, more prone to evil, and from whom the devil is also said to have sprung), both the nature and the content of amr are transformed, because amr really becomes here the moral command: it is not that which actually is an order but that which actually is a disorder wherein an order is to be brought about. The actual moral disorder is the result of a deep-seated moral fact to remedy which God and man must collaborate. This fact is that coeval with man IS the devil (shaytan) who beguiles him unceasingly.
The Qur'an portrays the moral dualism in man's character which gives rise to the moral struggle, and the potentialities man and man alone possesses, by two strikingly effective stories. According to one, when God intended to create man as his vicegerent, the angels protested to Him saying that man would be prone to evil, 'corrupt the earth and shed blood', while they were utterly obedient to the Divine Will, whereupon God replied, 'I have knowledge of that which you do not know' (II, 30). The other story tells us that when God offered 'The Trust' to the Heavens and the Earth, the entire Creation refused to accept it, until man came forward and bore it, adding with a sympathetic rebuke, 'Man is so ignorant and foolhardy!' (XXXIII, 72). There can be hardly a more penetrating and effective characterization of the human situation and man's frail and faltering nature, yet his innate boldness and the will to transcend the actual towards the ideal constitutes his uniqueness and greatness. This fact of the devil creates an entirely new dimension in the case of man. God 'has ingrained in it (i.e. the human soul) a discernment of good and evil' (XCI, 8); but so artful and powerful is the devil's seduction that men normally fail even to decipher properly this eternal inscription of God on the human heart, while some who can decipher it fail to be moved and impelled by it sufficiently strongly. At times of such crisis God finds and selects some human to whom he sends the angel 'the spirit of the Command' that is 'with Him'. The Command that is with Him is so sure, so definite in what it affirms and denies that it is, indeed, the 'Invisible Book' written on a 'Preserved Tablet', the 'Mother of (all) Books' (LVI, 78; LXXXV, 21-22; XIII, 39). Men charged with these fateful messages to humanity are the Prophets. The Qur'an 'sent' to Muhammad is the Book that reveals the Command: Muhammad is the final Prophet and the Qur'an the last Book that has been 'so revealed.
With this background, therefore, the Qur'an emerges as a document that from the first to the last seeks to emphasize all those moral tensions that are necessary for creative human action. Indeed, at bottom the centre of the Qur'an's interest is man and his betterment. For this it is essential that men operate within the framework of certain tensions Which, indeed, have been created by God in him. First and foremost, man may not jump to the suicidal conclusion that he can make and unmake moral law according to his 'heart's desire' from the obvious fact that this law is there for him. Hence the absolute supremacy and the majesty of God are most strikingly emphasized by the Qur'an. On the other hand among all creation, man has been given the most immense potentialities and is endowed with the 'Trust' which entire creation shrank back in fear from accepting. Again, the idea of justice flows directly from that of the supremacy of the moral law, an idea equally emphasized by the Qur'an. But with the same insistence the Qur'an condemns hopelessness and lack of trust in the mercy of God, which it declares to be a cardinal infidelity. The same is true of the whole range of moral tensions, including human power and weakness, knowledge and ignorance, sufferance and retaliation, etc. While the potentialities of man are immense, equally immense, therefore, are the penalties which man must face as a result of his failure.
In pursuance of this picture, belief in one God stands at the apex of the Muslim system of belief derived from the Qur'an. From this belief is held to follow belief in angels (spirits of the Command) as transmitters of the Divine message to man, in the Prophets, the human repositories of the Divine revelation (the last in the series being Muhammad), in the genuineness of the messages of the Prophets, the 'Book', and in the Day of Reckoning.
The Qur'an emphasizes prayer because 'it prevents from evil' and helps man to conquer difficulties, especially when combined with 'patience'. The five daily prayers are not all mentioned in the Qur'an, but must be taken to represent the later usage of the Prophet himself, since it would be historically impossible to support the view that the Muslims themselves added two new prayers to the three mentioned in the Qur'an. In the Qur'an itself the two morning and the evening prayers are mentioned, and later on at Medina the 'middle' prayer at noon was added. But it appears that during the later part of the Prophet's life the prayer 'from the declension of the sun unto the thick darkness of the night' (XVII, 78) was split into two and similarly the noon prayer and thus the number five was reached.
The fact, however, that the prayers were fundamentally three is evidenced by the fact that the Prophet is reported to have combined these four prayers into two, even without there being any reason. It was in the post-Prophetic period that the number of prayers was inexorably fixed without any alternative at five, and the fact of the fundamental three prayers was submerged under the rising tide of the Hadith which was put into circulation to support the idea that prayers were five.
One month's fast, a considerably strenuous total abstention from eating and drinking from dawn till sunset, is prescribed by the Qur'an (II, 83 ff.). 13 Those who may be sick (or experiencing difficulties) on a Journey may postpone the fast until a more favourable time. The Qur'an is believed to have been first revealed in the month of Ramadan.
So long as the small Muslim Community remained in Mecca, aims giving, even though very recurrently emphasized, remained a voluntary donation towards the welfare of the poorer section of the Community. In Medina, however, the zakat, or welfare tax, was duly ordained for the welfare of the community and tax-collectors were appointed. So strong is the emphasis of the Qur'an on this point that even prayer is seldom mentioned without being accompanied by zakat. The ban on usury, the moral condemnation of which also started in Mecca came in a series of pronouncements - one threatening war from God and His Prophet against those who practiced usury - on the ground that it rendered the debt 'several-fold' of the original capital and was opposed to fair commerce (hay').
Pilgrimage to Mecca (see Chapter I) was made obligatory for every Muslim once m a lifetime for 'Those who can afford it', i.e. who can not only pay their way to Mecca and back but can also provide for their families during their absence. The institution of pilgrimage has been a very potent vehicle of furthering Islamic brotherhood and a pan-Islamic sentiment among Muslims of diverse races and cultures.
The Qur'an calls upon believers to undertake jihad which is to surrender ‘your properties and yourselves in the path of Allah'; the purpose of which in turn is to establish prayer, give zakat, command good and forbid evil - i.e. to establish the Islamic socio-moral order. So long as the Muslims were a small, persecuted minority in Mecca, jihad as a positive organized thrust of the Islamic movement was unthinkable.
In Medina, however, the situation changed and henceforth there is hardly anything, with the possible exception of prayer and zakat that receives greater emphasis than jihad. Among the later Muslim legal schools, however, it is only the fanatic Kharijites who have declared Jihad to be one of the 'pillars of the Faith'. Other schools have played it down for the obvious reason that the expansion of Islam had already occurred much too swiftly in proportion to the internal consolidation of the Community the Faith. Every virile and expansive ideology has, at a stage, to ask Itself the question as to what are its terms of coexistence, if any, with other systems, and how far it may employ methods of direct expansion. In our own age, Communism, in its Russian and Chinese versions, is faced with the same problems and choices. The most unacceptable on historical grounds however is the stand of those modern Muslim apologists who have tried to explain the Jihad of the early Community in purely defensive terms.