The Elements of Universality and Permanancy in the Teachings of the Quran
Al-Azhar Magazine – December 1974
As a matter of fact, what distinguishes a national system from an international, and a temporary system from a permanent one is the following: A national system aims either to establish its own superiority or its special claim over other nations or presents principles and theories which, cannot be applied to other nations.
On the other hand, an international system grants equal status and equal rights to all human beings and puts forward principles of universal application. Also, the principles of a temporary system become impracticable with the passage of time while the principles of a permanent system are applicable to all times. If one studies the Quran in the light of the above facts, he will come to the conclusion that its teachings are of universal application, and its principles are of a permanent system. Everyone knows that the Quran claims to provide guidance for the whole of mankind, but when he reads it, he finds that it is mainly addressed to the Arabs, who lived at the time of the revelation.
Though the Quran addresses other people and mankind in general, it mainly discusses those things which appealed to the taste of the Arabs and were linked with their history, customs and environment. This gives rise to the question: when the Quran was meant for the guidance of the whole of mankind, why does it contain so many local and national elements of the period in which it is was revealed?
We should examine this question closely and decide whether what the Quran says regarding the blasphemous people of Arabia, in that period, is or is not equally true of every period and every place, and whether we can or cannot apply the same arguments with equal force to refute the blasphemy of every time and every place, and whether we can or cannot use everywhere the same arguments that the Quran puts forward for the Oneness of God.
Moreover, there is no religion no way of life, and no philosophy in the world which expounds, from the beginning to the end, everything in the abstract without making any reference to particular cases or concrete examples. It is simple impossible to build a pattern of life merely in the abstract, and such a system will always remain merely a theory and will never take a practical shape. Thus there is no reason to dub any universal system or religion as local temporary, simply because it was addressed to a particular community and during a particular period. Moreover, it is neither necessary nor useful to start from the very outset on international lines any ideological movement that is mean to be ultimately international. The right method of beginning this will be to start the movement in the country of its origin and present with full force its theories and fundamental principles which are to form the basis of the required system of life.
Then the exponents of such a moment should impress its principles on the minds of their own people, and they should first of all put them into practice in their own country and prove their worth by evolving a happy and successful system of life. This will naturally attract other nations, and they come forward to study the movement and start it their own countries. Those who understand the wisdom of this, know ; why does the Quran contain so many local and national elements of the period in which it was revealed, although it is a guidance for the whole of mankind and for all ages.
Another thing that should be noted that the main function of the Holy Quran is to present clearly the intellectual and moral bases of the Islamic way and reinforce them with arguments and appeals to the hearts. As far as the practical side of the building of the Islamic way of life is concerned, it only defines the limits and bounds of every aspect of life without giving detailed rules and regulations.
But Allah appointed His messenger to demonstrate the teaching of the Quran by pitting them into actual practice. The actual work of building the Islamic way of life in accordance with the instructions contained in the Quran was entrusted to the Prophet, who was specially sent to set up the pattern of life for the individual, for the society and for the Islamic state to be constructed practically according to the principles of the Quran. Thus the Quran is a complete code of life in the sense that is to be taken along with the Sunna ( the tradition of the Prophet). The Almighty God not only laid down a plan of a building but also appointed an engineer to supervise and direct its construction.
If one notes the above fact he can understand how the Holy Quran presents a complete code of life to the mankind. This understanding will also remove from one’s mind a possible confusion when he reads the Quran, and does not find detailed rules and regulations regarding social, cultural, economic and political problems etc. When we study the elements of universality and permenancy in the Quran we should note that the Quran is neither a book of abstract ideas and theories which may be studied in a literary form nor is it a book of religious dogmas which may be unravelled in universities or in religious places. One cannot grasp the inspiring spirit of the Quran unless he puts its message into practice.
The Holy Quran is a Book that has been sent down to invite people to start a movement and to lead its followers and direct their activities towards the achievements of its mission. One cannot possibly grasp the truths contained in the Quran by the mere recitation of its verses; but he has to go to the field of the practical life to understand its real meaning. It was the Quran that urged the Prophet Muhammad ( peace be upon him ) to come out of his seclusion and start the movement and fight against every kind of falsehood and engage in conflict with the leaders of disbelief. Then it attracted good souls from every home and gathered them under the banner of its leader in order to fight against the upholders of the old system who organised themselves to oppose them. It is the Quran that inspired a quite and amiable person like Muhammad ( peace be upon him ) to go to the battle field of life, and fight against the rebellious world without any consideration of the consequences.
During this long and bitter struggle between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, which continued for about twenty three years, the Quran went on guiding the Movement in every phase and at every stage, until it succeeded in establishing the Islamic way of life in its perfection. The Quran also granted freedom of research to thinkers within due limits so that the doors of progress should remain open forever. The Principal basis on which the Islamic way of life is founded are mentioned in the following verses of the Holy Quran:
الٓمٓ (١) ذَٲلِكَ ٱلۡڪِتَـٰبُ لَا رَيۡبَۛ فِيهِۛ هُدً۬ى لِّلۡمُتَّقِينَ (٢) ٱلَّذِينَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِٱلۡغَيۡبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقۡنَـٰهُمۡ يُنفِقُونَ (٣) وَٱلَّذِينَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡكَ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ مِن قَبۡلِكَ وَبِٱلۡأَخِرَةِ هُمۡ يُوقِنُونَ (٤) أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ عَلَىٰ هُدً۬ى مِّن رَّبِّهِمۡۖ وَأُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ ٱلۡمُفۡلِحُونَ (٥)
(Alif. Lam. Mim. This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, guidance unto those who ward off (evil). Who believe in the Unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them; And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter. These depend on guidance from their Lord. These are the successful.) (2: 1-5)
We can clearly understand from these verses the following essential points:
There is no doubt that the Quran is revealed from the Lord of the Worlds as guidance to the mankind.
This Quran is not such as can be produced by other than God. The belief in the Oneness of God, and the belief in all revelations and the prophets of God, and in the accountability for human actions in the other life are the basic principles of the Quranic code of life.
It is the right path which leads the mankind to the channel of progress and success in this life and the Hereafter.