Monday, September 29, 2008

The Holy Qur'an

The Qur'an (Arabic: القرآن ;al-kur'an, literally "the recitation"; also sometimes transliterated as Quran, Koran, or Alcoran) is the central religious text of Islam. We Muslims believe The Qur'an to be the book of divine guidance and direction for mankind, consider the text in its original Arabic to be the literal word of Allah (God) revealed to Muhammad (pbuh) over a period of twenty-three years, and view The Qur'an as God's final revelation to humanity.

We regard The Qur'an as the culmination of a series of divine messages that started with those revealed to Adam in Suhufi Ibrahim (Scrolls of Abraham), Moses' The Tawrat (Torah), David's Zabur (Psalms), and Jesus' Injil (Gospel) ... May peace be upon them all. All those "books" are recognized in The Qur'an, and The Qur'anic text assumes familiarity with many events from Jewish and Christian scriptures, retelling some of these events in distinctive ways, and referring obliquely to others. It also offers detailed accounts of historical events; but The Qur'an's emphasis is typically on the moral significance of an event, rather than its narrative sequence.

The original usage of the word "kur`an" is in The Qur'an itself, where it occurs about 70 times assuming various meanings. It is a verbal noun (masdar مصدر ) of the Arabic verb "kara`a" (Arabic: قرأ), meaning "he read" or "he recited," and represents the Syriac equivalent "keryana" - which refers to "scripture reading" or "lesson." While most Western scholars consider the word to be derived from the Syriac, the majority of Muslim authorities hold the origin of the word is kara`a itself. Among the earliest meanings of the word Qur'an is the "act of reciting."

The term also has closely related synonyms which are employed throughout The Qur'an. Each of the synonyms possess their own distinct meaning, but their use may converge with that of kur`an in certain contexts. Such terms include "kitab" ("book"); "ayah" ("sign"); and "surah" ("scripture"). The latter two terms also denote units of revelation, where an āyah is loosely translated as a verse, and the word sūrah is a chapter . Other related words are: "thikr", meaning "remembrance," used to refer to The Qur'an in the sense of a reminder and warning; and "hikma", meaning "wisdom," sometimes referring to The Revelation or part of it.

The Qur'an consists of 114 chapters of varying lengths, each known as a sura. Each chapter possesses a title: usually a word mentioned within the chapter itself. In general the longer chapters appear earlier in The Qur'an, while the shorter ones appear later. As such, the arrangement is not connected to the sequence of revelation. Each chapter commences with the bismillahi ar-rahmani ar-rahim, an Arabic phrase meaning ("In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful"), with the exception of the ninth chapter. Amongst some of its physical attributes, The Qur'an comes in all types of designs & sizes and with all types of book covers that are often decorated with Islamic art, although the content is exactly the same.

To perform salah (prayer), a mandatory obligation in Islam, a Muslim is required to learn at least some suras of The Qur'an (typically starting with the first sura, al-Fatiha (the Opening), and then moving on to the shorter ones at the end of The Qur'an). Until one has learned al-Fatiha, a Muslim can only say phrases like "praise be to God" during his/her salah.
A person whose recital repertoire encompasses the whole Qur'an is called a qari' (قارئ) or hafith (حافظ), which translate as "reciter" or "protector (literally or figuritively as in one's own memory)," respectively. Muhammad (pbuh) is regarded as the first qari' and hafith since he was the first to recite The Qur'an and memorize it. Recitation (tilawa تلاوة) of The Qur'an is a fine art in the Muslim world.

A Mus'haf (Arabic: مصحف, pronounced "Mus-haf" not "Mu-sh-af") The word refers to a "codex" or a collection of sheets (Sahifa, see below). The Qur'an, which we believe to be revealed at various times and in various ways during the 23 year period, was collected into a codex under the third Caliph, Uthman ibnu Affan.
The Islamic Term "al-Qur'an" means "The recitation", denoting content. When referring to the material book, some use the term Mus'haf. The Qur'an refers to itself as Kitab, not as Mus'haf. Noting this, some scholars have argued that The Qur'an does not present itself as a "book", which implies it is finished and complete, so much as a "scripture", something written or communicated, which gives it more dynamism and life.

Translations of The Qur'an are regarded as interpretations in languages other than Arabic. Eventhough translating The Qur'an has been a difficult concept, both theologically and linguistically, The Qur'an has been translated into most languages. In Islam, The Qur'an is a revelation specifically in Arabic, and so it should only be recited in the Arabic language. Translations into other languages are the work of humans and so no longer possess the uniquely sacred character of the Arabic original. Since these translations subtly change the meaning, they are often called "interpretations." For instance, Pickthall called his translation The Meaning of the Glorious Koran rather than simply The Koran.

The task of translation is not an easy one; some native Arab-speakers will confirm that some Qur'anic passages are difficult to understand even in the original Arabic. A part of this is the innate difficulty of any translation; in Arabic, as in other languages, a single word can have a variety of meanings. There is always an element of human judgment involved in understanding and translating a text. This factor is made more complex by the fact that the usage of words has changed a great deal between classical and modern Arabic. As a result, even Qur'anic verses which seem perfectly clear to native speakers accustomed to modern vocabulary and usage may not represent the original meaning of the verse.

The original meaning of a Qur'anic passage will also be dependent on the historical circumstances of the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) life and early community in which it originated. Investigating that context usually requires a detailed knowledge of Hadith and Sirah/Sunnah, which are themselves vast and complex texts. This introduces an additional element of difficulty and consideration, which can not be eliminated by any linguistic rules of translation.

Among its many functions and influence on Muslims' daily lives, The Qur'an also provides stories and parables on how to be a good person, and therefore a good Muslim. It tells stories of the previous Prophets and the predicaments of the unbelievers and their disobedience & disbelief as an example to us so that we may learn from those before us. Of the parables, it gives us examples, comparisons and hypothetical images so that we might understand the message and act upon it.

The Qur'an is the flawless final revelation of God to humanity, valid until the day of the Resurrection. We believe that God revealed his final message to humanity through Muhammad (pbuh) via the angel Gabriel. Muhammad (pbuh) is considered to have been God's final Prophet, the "Seal of the Prophets". We Muslims hold that the message of Islam - submission to the will of The One God - is the same as the message preached by all the Messengers sent by God to humanity since Adam. Basically, Islam is the oldest of the monotheistic religions because it represents both the original and the final revelation of God to Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (pbut) . Members of all sects of Islam believe that The Qur'an codifies the direct words of God.

According to the Sunnah, Muhammad (pbuh) began receiving revelations from God (Arabic: ألله Allah) from the age of 40, delivered through the angel Gabriel over the last 23 years of his life. The content of these revelations, known as The Qur'an, was memorized and recorded by his followers and compiled into a single volume shortly after his death. The Qur'an, along with the details of Muhammad’s (pbuh) life as recounted by his biographers and his contemporaries, forms the basis of Islamic theology. Within Islam, he is considered the last and most important Prophet of God. Muslims do not regard him as the founder of a new religion but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham, Solomon, David, Moses, Jesus and other Prophets whose messages had become misinterpreted and/or corrupted over time.

The Qur'ān retells stories of many of the people and events recounted in Jewish and Christian sacred books (Tanakh, Bible) and devotional literature (Apocrypha, Midrash), although it differs in many details. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Heber, Shelah, Abraham, Lot, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Jethro, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Aaron, Moses, Zechariah, Jesus, and John "the Baptist" are mentioned in The Qur'an as Prophets of God (see Prophets' Stories).

Muslims believe the common elements or resemblances between the Bible and other Jewish and Christian writings and Islamic dispensations is due to the common divine source, and that the Christian or Jewish texts were authentic divine revelations given to Prophets. According to The Qur'ān:"It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong)." [3:3]We believe that those texts were neglected and/or corrupted (tahrif) by the Jews and Christians.

Most Muslims treat paper copies of The Qur'an with veneration, ritually washing before reading The Qur'an. Worn out Qur'ans are not discarded as wastepaper, but are buried or burnt. Many Muslims memorize at least some portion of The Qur'an in the original Arabic, usually at least the verses needed to perform the prayers. Those who have memorized the entire Qur'an earn the right to the title of Hafith (see above for a brief explanation).

Based on tradition and a literal interpretation of sura 56 (al-Waqi'a):77-79: “That this is indeed a Qur'ān Most Honourable, In a Book well-guarded, Which none shall touch but those who are clean.”, many scholars opine that a Muslim perform wudu (ablution or a ritual cleansing with water) before touching a copy of The Qur'ān, or mushaf.

Qur'an desecration means insulting The Qur'ān by defiling or dismembering it. Muslims must always treat the book with reverence, and are forbidden, for instance, to pulp, recycle, or simply discard worn-out copies of the text. Respect for the written text of The Qur'ān is an important element of religious faith by many Muslims. We believe that intentionally insulting The Qur'ān is a form of blasphemy. In Islam, blasphemy is considered a sin. In The Qur'an, Allah says “He forgives all sins, except disbelieving in God (blasphemy)”. In Islam if a person dies while in blasphemy, they will not enter heaven, except if said person repented before death.

٭ The Holy Qur'an
٭ The Amazing Qur’an
٭ Nine Great Benefits of Reciting The Qur’an
٭ What They Say About The Qur’an
٭ The Miracle and Challenge of The Qur’an

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