By Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat
Translated by A.N. Baqirshahi
The word kitab means to collect and its root is Katb. Ahmad Ibn Faris says that the letters k, t, and b constitute the roots of the word kitab. Words like kitabat and kitab are derived from the same root. Raghib Isfahani, the renowned scholar of Isfahan of the fifth century Hijra and the author of Mufradiitu Alfaz al-Qur'an writes: "katb means to stitch two pieces of skins or bring those two pieces together." Writing is called kitabat is 'the written' for by it the letters and words are put together. Ibn Faris states that when the beads are collected in a thread, it is called Kutbah. Thus Khurzah (bead) is called Kutbah and its plural is kutab as the plural of Khurzah is Khuraz. Raghib further writes: Kitabat in principle is a kind of assembly or joining words to each other. Sometimes the term 'Kitabat' refers to discourse which may not be in written form. Accordingly, Divine word is also kitab. Consider the following verses: "That is kitab (the book), wherein is no doubt" (2.1) though it is not in written form, "He said, lo, I am God's servant; God has given me kitab (the book) " (19.30). Here Kitab refers to Divine word. Kitab in the above-mentioned verse refers to Shari 'ah (religious law). Kitab refers also to sentences when they are put together. Raghib is of the view that kitab refers to whatsoever is obligatory. For, any written material is first planned, pre-determined or demanded. In other words, a project is usually first decided upon then appears in written form. It can be said that will is the origin and the kitabat is its end. Therefore, they give the name of the end to what is willed to stress the will. Even in the Qur'an the word kataba refers to whatever is obligatory and indispensable. Take for instance the following verses of the Qur'an:
"God has written, ' I shall assuredly be the victor, I and My Messengers. Surely God is All-strong, All-mighty." (58: 21)"Say: 'Naught shall visit us but what God has written for us. "(9: 51)"Those related by blood are nearer to one another in the book of God." (8:75)"And therein We wrote for them: a life for a life" (5:45)"Prescribed for you, when any of you is visited by death, and he leaves behind some good, is to make testament in favourr of his parent.- and kinsmen honorably - an obligation on the God-fearing." (2:180)"0. Believers, prescribed for you is. the fast. " (2: 179)
Hence, prescription is also a kind of Kitabat, for it brings letters and words together. Similarly, Kitab in Arabic means book, for it unites written pages. Kitab denotes to Divine commandments when it appears in the form of Shari 'ah (religious law) and written form. Divine commandments (writing) are obligatory for the public.
"Surely the prayer is a timed prescription for the believers. " (4: 103)
The term Kitab has the following meanings in the Qur'an:
Shari 'ah (religious law): Divine commandments and man's duties, both collective and individual, are in Kitabat (written) form. Usually, people are asked to follow religious commandments. And what is asked from them is usually written and gathered in a book. This sense of Kitab is repeated 120 times in the Qur'an:When Prophet Jesus(s) was an infant, lying in his cradle said:
"He said, 'Lo, I am God's servant; God has given me the book, and made me a Prophet. Blessed He made me, wherever I may be; and He enjoined me to pray, and to give the alms, so long as I live. .” (19: 30-31).At that time the Prophet (s) had not received any book or written order thus, Kitab in this verse refers to Shari 'ah. He was a prophet with a Shari 'ah and religious commandments and it was obligatory for people to obey him.A quick look at the verse 110 of the 5th chapter of the holy Qur'an (...and when I taught thee the Book, the wisdom, the Torah, the Gospel...) indicates that in certain cases kitab neither refers to the Bible nor to the Torah, but it means Shari 'ah. This verse underlines that God taught Shari 'ah and Hikmah (wisdom) as well as the Bible and the Torah to the Jesus. Let us study the following verse of the Qur' an as well:
"Our Lord, do Thou send among them a messenger, one of them, who shall recite to them Thy Signs, and teach them the book and the wisdom, and purify them." (2: 129)Here reciting refers to bringing the divine signs to their notice. He further states that He taught them the Book, i.e., Shari'ah and Hikmah to purify them. He never means to teach them the Qur'an .In all verses containing the phrases, "Teach them the book" and "Teach thee the book,” teaching the Book refers to teaching the rules of Shari 'ah. Take for instance the following verses of the Qur'an: 2:151-282,3:104,62:2.Therefore, the phrase "0 people of book" which refers to Jews and Christians in the Qur' an, in fact refers to people of Shari 'ah and has nothing to do with written book. So if it is proved that Zoroastrians and Buddhists had heavenly Shari 'ah, then they could be considered as "people of the book" regardless of having a divine book or not. In the verse:
"True piety is this: to believe in God, and the Prophets, the angels, the book, and the Prophets..." (2:173)the book refers to Shari'ah and divine duties, to be followed accordingly. The book in this verse does not concern the book of the Prophets, for, it is not in plural form while angels and the Prophets are plural. Since Shari 'ah is one, therefore, the book in this verse is written in singular form.
"The people were one nation,. then God .sent forth the Prophets, good tidings to bear and warning, and He sent down with them the book with the truth...." (2: 13) In the above verse, the word book refers to Shari 'ah, for it was Shari 'ah that was always with the Prophets not the book, because, most of them had no books. Thus, here also book refers to Shari 'ah. As a general fact wherever in the Qur'an, 'the book' is accompanied with the word 'wisdom', it signifies Shari 'ah, as it is the case the following verse:
"...And remember God's blessing upon you, and the book and the wisdom He has sent down on you to admonish you. " (2:231)In the verse:
"And when God took compact 1vith the Prophets: 'that 1 have given you of book and wisdom,. then there shall come to you a Messenger confirming what is 1vith you shall believe in him and you shall help him." (3:81 )On the basis of the following two reasons the book refers to Shari'ah: i) book is followed by wisdom; ii) it addresses all the Prophets. In the following verse:
"Yet We gave the people of Abraham the book and the wisdom, and We gave them a mighty kingdom,” (4: 54)it was Shari 'ah which was given to the people of Abraham not the book. Indeed, the people of Abraham received special attention of the Almighty. Therefore, He gave them mighty kingdom .Same connotation is inferred from the following verses: (2:129-151), (3:48-164), (4:113), (5:110), (62:2).
Scripture: Another meaning of' Kitab is the book or scripture which has been referred to in the Qur'an eighty times. For instance, the following verses denote to the same meaning:
"Not before this didst thou recite any Book, or inscribe it with thy right hand, " (29:48)."Take this book (i.e. letter) of mine and cast it unto them, then turn back from them and see what they shall return. She said, 'O Council, see, a letter honorable has been cast unto me. It is from Solomon, and it is "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Rise not up against me, but come to me in surrender." (27:28-31)"Said he who possessed knowledge of the book, " (27:40). There are differences of opinion regarding the meaning of the book in this verse. Some exegetes are of the view that it refers to the 'Guarded Tablet' which originated from the eternal knowledge of God. Others consider it 'The Greatest Name (of God)'. Majority of scholars consider it a ray of divine knowledge.  However, it probably refers to the knowledge of the written material which implies being knowledgeable and dealing with books. For instance, in the following verse:
"Say: 'God suffices a witness between me and you, and whosoever possesses knowledge of the book." (13:40)knowledge of the book means being learned, for, the learned usually follows the truth. The following verses support this view:
"Say: Believe ill it, or believe not,. those who were give" the knowledge before when it is recited to them, fall do\v" upon their faces prostrating, " (17: 107)"And that they who have bee" given knowledge may know that it is the truth from thy Lord and believe in it, and so their hearts be humble unto Him; " (22: 54)" Those who have been given the knowledge see that what has been sent down to thee from thy Lord is the truth,... “ (34:6)"God bears witness that there is no god but Be - and the angels, and men possessed of knowledge.” (3: 18)"Was it not a sign for them, that it is known to the learned of the Children of Israel?” (26:197)In summary, the Qur'an has given a high position to the learned. According to the Qur'an those who possess the knowledge of the Book and believe in the Truth, are the same learned who deal with books.
Eternal Divine Knowledge: Another meaning of the Kitab is related to Eternal Divine Knowledge and this sense of the word is used twenty times in the Qur' an. However, different phrases are used such as Kitabun Mubin, Kitabun M'alum, Ummul Kitab, Al-Kitab, etc. All these terms signify the Eternal Divine Knowledge. Elsewhere, we across the term al-Luwh al-Mahfuz (Guarded Tablet).
"With Hin, are the keys of the Unseen; none knows them but Be. Be knows what is in land and sea; not a leaf falls, but Be knows it. Not a grain in the earth's shadows, not a thing, fresh or withered, but it is in a kitabun Mubin (Manifest Book). " (6: 59)Kitabun Mubin is an explicit scripture devoid of any error or ambiguity, that is, everything is clear for us like a clear script.
"And not so much as the weight of an ant in earth or heaven escapes from thy Lord, neither is aught smaller than that, or greater, but in a Kitabull Mubin (Manifest Book).” (10:61)"No creature is there crawling on the earth, but its provision rests on God; He knows its lodging - place and its repository. All is in a Kitabun Mubin (Manifest Book).” (11 :6)Here lodging-place and repository refer to eternal and ephemeral places.
"And not a thing is there hidden in heaven and earth but it is in a Kitabun Mubin (Manifest Book).” (27:75)This verse indicates that every thing existents in eternal knowledge of God. Likewise, Kitabun Hafiz (Recording Book) and Kitabun Maknun (Hidden Book) in the following verses refer to Guarded Tablet, i.e., Eternal Divine Knowledge.
"We know what the earth diminishes of them; with Us is a Kitabun Hafiz (Recording Book).” (50:4)"It is surely a noble Qur’an in a Kitabun Maknun (Hidden Book), None but the purified shall touch.” (56:78)Ummul Kitab (Essence of the Book), mentioned twice in the Qur’an, refers to ‘Guarded Tablet’ which is the source of all learnings.
"God blots out, and He establishes whatsoever He will; and with Him is the Ummull Kitab (Essence of the Book). " (13:39)That is, Ummul Kitab (Essence of the Book) is with God and He knows what will happen.
"Behold, We have made it all Arabic Qur'an; haply you will understand; and behold, it is in the Ummul Kitab (Essence of the Book), with Us; sublime indeed, wise. " (43:3-4)
Destiny And Measurement: One of the meanings of the Kitab in the Qur' an is destiny and measurement:
"No creature is there crawling on the earth, no bird flying with its wings, but they are nations like unto yourselves. We have neglected nothing in the Book, " (6: 38)"And everything We have numbered in a Book. " (78: 29)"And We decreed for the children of Israel in the Book: you shall do corruption in the earth twice, and you shall ascend exceeding high. " (17:4)"No city is there, but We shall destroy it before the Day of Resurrection, or We shall chastise it with a terrible chastisement,' that is in the Book inscribed."(17:58)The following verses also bear the same meaning: (20:52), (22:5), and (8:68).
The Qur'an: Another meaning of the Kitab is the Qur'an, As it is known, the Qur'an is a Divine revelation in the form of a scripture. It is called Qur'an, for it is read. It is called Kitab, for it is a script. Thus, both Qur'an and Kitab are used for this book. The following verses signify these names:
"God it is Who has sent down the Book with the Truth, and also the Balance. " (42: 17)"By the Clear Book, behold,We have made it an Arabic Qur'an; haply you will understand;"(43:12)“That is the Book, wherein is no doubt, " (2: 2)In thc Qur'an, Kitab refers to the Qur' an itself in more than forty cases.
From The Message of Thaqalayn – Vol.3, Nos.1 & 2, Spring and Summer, 1417/1996