By: Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
New Delhi, India
The Quran is the Book of God. It has been preserved in its entirety for all time to come. Although written originally in Arabic, it has been made accessible, thanks to translations, to those who have no knowledge of Arabic. While no substitute for the original, translations serve the signal purpose of spreading the word of God far beyond the Arabic-speaking peoples to a far broader spectrum of humanity.
The Quran is apparently in the Arabic language, but in reality, it is in the language of nature, that is, the language in which God directly addressed all human beings at the time of Creation. This divine invocation of humanity is ever-present in the consciousness of all human beings, that is why the Quran is universally understandable - to some on a conscious plane, and to others at the subconscious level. This reality has been described in the Quran as "clear revelations in the hearts of those who have been given knowledge." This verse goes on to say that "none deny Our revelations save the wrongdoers." (20:49)
This means that the Divine Reality, explained by the Quran on a conscious plane, pre-exists in man at the level of the subconscious. The message of the Quran is not, therefore, something which is alien to man. It is in fact a verbal expression of that same Divine Reality which is in consonance with man's own nature and with which he is already familiar. The Quran explains this by saying that those born in later times were all initially born at the time of the creation of Adam and, at that time, God had directly addressed all these human souls.
This event is thus alluded to in the Quran:
"[Prophet], when your Lord brought forth the offspring from the loins of the Children of Adam and made them bear witness about themselves, He said, "Am I not your Lord?" and they replied, "Yes, we bear witness that You are." So you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection: "We were not aware of this." (7:172)
In the following verse, the Quran makes further mention of the dialogue between God and man:
"Surely We offered Our trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it. But he has proved a tyrant and a fool." (33:72)
The Quran, for man, is in essence already known to him, rather than an entirely unknown entity. In reality, the Quran is the unfolding of the human mind.
When one whose nature is alive - having saved himself from later conditioning - reads the Quran, those brain cells will be activated wherein God's first address lies preserved. If we keep this in mind, it will not be difficult to appreciate that the translation of the Quran is a valid means of understanding it.
If God's address was the First Covenant, the Quran is the Second Covenant. Each testifies to the veracity of the other. If one has little, or even no grasp of the Arabic language, and can read the scriptures only in translation, he should not anticipate that he will be frustrated in his understanding of the Quran, for the Quranic concept of man as the natural recipient of God's word has become a reality in modern times. The science of the genetic code and the findings of anthropology both fully support this viewpoint.
The Creation Plan of God
Every book has its objective and the objective of the Quran is to make man aware of the Creation plan of God. That is, to tell man why God created this world; what the purpose is of settling man on earth; what is required from man in his pre-death life span, and what he is going to confront after death. Man is born as an eternal creature. When God created man as such, He divided his life span into two periods, the pre-death period, which is a time of trial, and the post-death period, which is the time for receiving the rewards or punishment merited by one's actions during one's lifetime. These take the form of eternal paradise or eternal hell. The purpose of the Quran is to make man aware of this reality. This is the theme of this divine Book, which serves to guide man through his entire journey through life into the after-life.
It would be correct to say that man is a seeker by birth. These questions lurk in everyone's mind: Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? What is the reality of life and death? What is the secret of man's success and failure? etc. According to the Quran, the answer to these questions is that the present world is the testing ground and whatever man has been endowed with in his pre-death period is all a part of the test. The Hereafter is the place where the result of the test will be taken into account by the Almighty and whatever man receives in the life after death, by way of reward or punishment, will be commensurate with his deeds in this world. The secret of man's success in this life is to understand God's creation plan and map out his life accordingly.
A Book of Divine Warning
The Quran is a book of divine warning. A combination of lessons and admonitions, it would be even more appropriately called a book of wisdom. The Quran does not follow the pattern of the traditional didactic book. In fact, when the average reader picks up the Quran, it appears to him to be a collection of fragmentary statements. Apparently this feeling is not unreal. But this arrangement of the Quran is not due to any shortcoming, but is rather in conformance with the Quranic plan of retaining its original form in order to fulfill its purpose of conveying the message of truth to the reader who may, in his forays into the scriptures, read only one page, one verse or one line at a time.
One vital aspect of the Quran is that it is a reminder of the blessings granted by the Supreme Benefactor. The most important of these are the exceptional qualities with which God endowed man when He created him. Another great blessing is that He settled him on the earth, a planet where all kinds of support systems existed for his benefit. The purpose of the Quran is to ensure that, while enjoying these blessings of nature, man will keep his Benefactor in mind: he must acknowledge the munificence of his Creator. It is in so doing that man will gain entry into eternal paradise; ignoring his Benefactor, on the other hand, will lead man straight to hell. The Quran is indeed a reminder of this inescapable reality.
There are some who think that the presence of a realized person is essential for an understanding of the Quran. That is, it is solely with the assistance of a spiritual person that the meaning of the Quran may be revealed. This is to underestimate both man and the Quran. The Quran addresses man's mind and the mind is man's greatest faculty. Discovering the Quran, therefore, on a purely intellectual level is sufficient to arrive at its meaning. Indeed, at the intellectual level, the Quran becomes an open book. But those who discover the Quran at any lower level cannot be said to have discovered it at all. Falling back instead on their community traditions for instruction and enlightenment cannot compare with the ideal approach to religion that the Quran so consistently offers.
The Inner Spirit and God Realization
One important quality of the Quran is that it gives us only basic, but essential principles, often resorting to reiteration to emphasize them. On the contrary, non-basics, or matters relating only to form, constitute only a negligible part of the scriptures. This is in consonance with the Quranic scheme, the importance of form being entirely secondary. To the Quran, only those precepts are important which figure as fundamental guidelines. This aspect of the Quran is so clear that its reader cannot but appreciate it.
The truth is that the inner spirit is of the utmost importance in the building of the Islamic personality. Once the inner spirit is developed, correct form will naturally ensue. But form on its own can never produce the inner spirit. That is why the aim of the Quran is to initiate and bring to fruition an intellectual revolution within man. The expression used by the Quran for this intellectual revolution is ma'arifah (realization of truth) (5:83).
The Quran stresses the importance of man's discovery of truth at the level of realization. True faith in God is what one achieves at such a level. Where there is no realization, there is no faith.
The Word of God
When you read the Quran, you will repeatedly find it stated that it is the word of God. Apparently this is a plain fact. But when seen in context, it is an extraordinary statement. There are many books in the world, which are believed to be sacred. But, except for the Quran, we do not find any religious book, which thus projects itself as the word of God. This kind of statement, appearing uniquely in the Quran, gives a point of departure to the reader. He then studies it as an exceptional book, rather than as a common book written by human beings. We find recurring in the Quran statements worded more or less as follows: "O man, it is your Lord, who is addressing you. Listen to His words and follow Him." Even this style of address is quite exceptional. This kind of direct divine invocation is not present in any other book. It leaves a lasting impression on man. He feels his Lord is directly addressing him. This feeling compels man to take the assertions of the Quran with extreme seriousness, rather than treat them like everyday statements in an ordinary book. The style of compilation of the Quran is also unique. Books written by human beings usually have their material arranged in order from A to Z, according to the topic. But the Quran does not follow a pattern of this kind, so that to the common man it appears to be lacking in order. When looked at in reality, however, it will emerge as an extremely coherent and orderly book, and quite majestic in its style of writing. While reading the Quran, we feel that its writer is on a very high pedestal from where He is looking down and addressing the whole of humanity, which is His special concern. This address focuses on different groups of human beings, while encompassing all of them.
One special aspect of the Quran is that at any moment its reader can consult its Writer, put his questions and receive answers, for the Writer of the Quran is God Himself. He is a living God. As man's Creator, He directly hears and answers man's call.
Jihad is a Peaceful Ideological Struggle
Those who are introduced to the Quran only through the media, generally have the impression that the Quran is a book of jihad, and jihad to them is an attempt to achieve one's goal by means of violence. But this idea is based on a misunderstanding. Anyone who reads the Quran for himself will easily appreciate that its message has nothing to do with violence. The Quran is, from beginning to end, a book, which promulgates peace, and in no way countenances violence. It is true that jihad is one of the teachings of the Quran. But jihad, taken in its correct sense, is the name of peaceful struggle rather than of any kind of violent action. The Quranic concept of jihad is expressed in the following verse: "Do greater jihad (i.e. strive more strenuously) with the help of this (i.e. the Quran)." (25:52).
Obviously, the Quran is not a weapon, but a book, which gives us an introduction to the divine ideology of peaceful struggle. The method of such a struggle, according to the Quran, is "to speak to them a word to reach their very soul." (4:63)
So, the desired approach, according to the Quran, is one, which moves man's heart and mind. That is, in addressing people's minds, it satisfies them, convinces them of the veracity of the Quran and, in short, brings about an intellectual revolution within them. This is the mission of the Quran. And this mission can be performed only by means of rational arguments. This target can never be achieved by means of violence or armed action.
It is true that there are certain verses in the Quran, which give permission to wage war. But these verses are only relevant when a state of war already prevails. Physical combat is meant only for defence at the time of an attack. Indeed, no war is lawful in Islam except for defence. Moreover, such defensive warfare can be engaged in only by an established state. No individual or organization may on its own wage armed jihad. Waging war is the sole prerogative of the state.
A Book of Mission
One important point in understanding the Quran is that it is not a legal book, but a Book of Mission. This means that the Quran adopts a missionary rather than a legal style. The language of the law is specific. In legal writing, everything is meant in its literal sense and words are meant to be taken at their face value. The nature of missionary writing is different. In missionary writing, the emphasis is on the meaning, and the language used is only a form of rhetoric in that it is intended to influence and persuade. Very often in missionary writing, hard-hitting words are used which appear to be harsh. Now taking such words in their literal sense would be pointless. For it often happens, in missionary writing, that something which appears to be very harsh, if taken literally is, in actual fact, designed purely to focus the attention of the reader and to lay serious emphasis on the truth. It is resorted to principally to awaken human nature and activate latent consciousness. Here are some examples to explain this point.
1. There is a verse in the Quran: "O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and hypocrites. Be harsh with them." (9:73)Many take this verse to mean that the Prophet is commanded to wage war against the unbelievers and hypocrites. But events show that the Prophet never launched such armed aggressions. Whenever the Prophet Muhammad engaged in combat, it was only in defence, rather than as an outright attack. This clearly shows that in this verse the word 'jihad' and 'harsh' are expressions of emphasis rather than a legal command. If it had been a legal command, the Prophet Muhammad would certainly have carried it out by resorting to armed warfare.
2. In the chapter 'Al-Kafirun', which was revealed at the time of the emigration, the Makkans are addressed as 'the deniers' (al-Kafirun). In this same chapter, stress is also laid on the maxim: 'For you your religion, for me mine". But when we look at these expressions in context, we find that they were in actual fact forms of emphasis. Had these words referred to confirmed cases of denial (kufr) in the eyes of God, the persons concerned would have lived and died in denial. But, in effect, we find that it was just the opposite. While some of the Makkans were killed at the battle of Badr, there were many survivors who later converted to Islam. If we keep these facts before us, we will find that the wording of this chapter is designed to emphasize the true state of affairs rather than express any legalistic concepts.
As regards the style of the Quran, this point is very important. It is necessary to keep it in mind that the Quran is a book with a mission, for without this realization; the Quran cannot be properly understood.
A Revealed Book
The Quran is a book of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It did not come to him in the form of a complete book, but in parts over a period of 23 years. The first part was revealed in 610 AD, when the Prophet Muhammad was in Makkah. Subsequently, different parts continued to be revealed regularly, the final part being revealed in 632, when the Prophet was in Madinah.
There are 114 chapters in the Quran, both long and short. The verses number about 6600. To meet the needs of recitation, the Quran was divided into 30 parts. These parts were finally set in order under the guidance of the Angel Gabriel, through whom God had revealed the Quran.
When the Quran was revealed in the first quarter of the 7th century, paper had already been invented. This paper, known as papyrus, was made by hand from the fibres of certain trees. Whenever any part of the Quran was revealed, it was written down on papyrus, or in Arabic, qirtas. (6:7). During this process, people committed the verses to memory, the Quran being the only Islamic literature which was recited in prayer, as well as being read out for the purposes of da'wah. In this way, the Quran continued to be simultaneously memorized as well as written down.
This method of preservation continued during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. When the Prophet died in 632 A.D., he was succeeded by Abu Bakr, the first caliph of Islam, who took great pains to prepare a bound copy of the Quran. This copy was made on qirtas. Being square in form, it was called raba'a - a square-shaped book. In this way, the Quran was preserved in bound form during the lifetime of the first caliph. The third caliph, 'Uthman ibn 'Affan, had several copies prepared of this bound Quran. He sent these to different cities, where they were kept in the great mosques. People not only recited from these copies, but also prepared more copies from them.
The writing of the Quran by hand continued till the printing press was invented in the 19th century and paper began to be manufactured on a large scale, thanks to the industrial revolution. Then, the Quran began to be printed. Printing methods went on improving and so the printing of the Quran also improved. Now printed copies of the Quran have become so common that they can be found in every home, mosque, library and bookstore. Today anyone can find a beautiful copy of the Quran, wherever he might be, in any part of the globe.