The Unique Character of the Holy Quran
Al-Azhar Magazine – November 1974
In order to understand the real nature of the Quran, it is essential to know the fact that it is a Unique Book, quite different from the usual books in all aspects. Its style and method of explaining things, its central idea and its aim and object are also different from those of other books one commonly reads. The Quran does not contain information, ideas and arrangements about specific themes arranged in a literary order. That is why a common reader, on his first approach to it, finds the enunciation of its theme or its division into chapters and sections or separate instructions for different aspects life, arranged in an order familiar to him before and which does not conform to his conception of a usual book.
When an unwary reader finds that the Quran deals with creeds, gives moral instructions, draws lessons from historical events, giving good tidings, lays down laws, and invited people to follow the Divine Guidance, all mixed together in a beautiful style, without any apparent connection. He begins to feel that the Quran is a Book without any order or inter-connection between its verses or continuity of its subject. As a result of this, some ignorants raise strange objections against the Quran. This happens when they do not take into consideration the fact that the Quran is a unique Book in all aspects.
One should bear in mind before – hand that the Book he is intending to study and understand is the only book of its kind in the whole world; its literary style is quite different from that of all other books, its theme is unique. He should also be well acquainted with its style, the terms it uses and the method it adopts to explain things. He should also keep in view the background and circumstances under which a certain verse, or chapter was revealed. First of all, he should know that his preconceived notions of any book cannot help him understand this Book, and then only he can understand the distinctive feature of it. If he approaches the Quran with the common notions of a book, he rather puzzled by its style and manner of presentation.
First of all we have to understand the real nature of the Quran, then it becomes easier to determine the subjects it deals with and its aim and objects. To understand the nature of the Quran as a Divine Guidance and a complete code of life we must start with the following facts: whether one believes that Quran is revealed Book or not he will have to consider the claim that is put forward by itself and its bearer, Prophet Muhammad, that this revealed from God as Guidance for mankind. The subject it deals with is ‘man’. It aims and objects are to guide him to the Right path, and to present clearly the Guidance of God. The central theme that runs throughout the Quran is the exposition of the real truth and invitation of the people to the Right way based on it. This is in conformity with real nature in which the almighty God has created the entire universe.
As the aim of Quran is to guide mankind and not to teach nature study or history of philosophy or art or any other sciences, it does not concern itself with these subjects. The only thing with which it is concerned is to expound the reality to remove misunderstanding and misconceptions about it, in order to impress the Truth upon the minds. In this way it invites people to the Right path, and warns them of the consequences of wring attitudes. The Quran keeps the same aim whether it is criticising of creeds, deeds and social systems of some communities, or discussing of the problems of metaphysics etc. The same is true when it is realting the story of the creation of the Earth and the Heavens, the man, or is referring to manifestations in the universe or stating events from human history.
From its very beginning to its end, the different topics it deals with are so intimately connected with its aims and objects, and its central theme. As a matter of fact, this Book is not irrelevant anywhere with regard to its aim and subject. That is why it states or discusses or cites a thing only to the extent relevant to its aims and objects, and leaves out unnecessary and irrelevant details and turns over to its central theme, and to its invitation round which every other topic revolves.
When the Quran is studied in the light of these basic facts, no doubt is left that the whole it is a closely reasoned arguments and there is continuity of subject throughout the Book. There is no incongruity in the style, no gap in the continuity of the subjects and no lack of inter connection between its various topics. The intimate connection of its different topics with its central theme, may be linked to the beautiful gems of the same necklace, with different sizes and colours.
We should take into consideration the fact that the Quran is a Unique Book in the style of the revelation. The revelation of the Quran began simultaneously with the beginning of the Islamic movement, and continued for twenty three years. The different portions of the Quran were revealed according to the requirements of the various phases of the movement, in different occasions and circumstances.
It is thus obvious from the above that the various portions of the Quran were not meant to be published in the form of pamphlets at the time of their revelation but were to be delivered as addresses and promulgated as such. Hence they could not be in the style of a written work. The Prophet Muhammad was entrusted with a special mission and had to both to the emotions and to the intellect. He had to deal with the people of different mentalities and cope with various kinds of experience and different situations during the course of his mission. He has also to train and reform his followers and to refute the arguments of opponents. That is why the style of the discourses that Allah sent down to His messenger had to be what the requirements of the movement. It is therefore wrong to seek in the which is followed in formal books on religion and the like.
As regards the order of the Quran we should nor the following facts: A movement and a mission naturally demand that only those things should be presented which are required at a particular stage. The same things are repeated as long as the movement remains in the same stage, but wit different words and style to make them impressive and effective. Of course, it repeats at suitable places its basic creed and principles in order to keep the movement strong at every stage.
Another important fact we should know that one can not understand fully many of the topic discussed in the Quran unless he is acquainted with the back ground of their revelation. For, the Quran was not revealed as a complete book at one time, not did Allah hand over written copy of it to the Prophet Muhammad at the very beginning of his mission. More over it is not a literary work of the common conventional type.
The Quran adopts its own style to suite the guidance of the movement that was started by the messenger under the direct Command of Allah Who revealed the Quran in portions to meet the requirements of the movement in its different stages. When the Prophet was commanded to start his mission at Mecca, Allah sent down such instructions as the messenger needed for his own training for the great work that was entrusted to him. The Quran imparted also the basic knowledge of the reality, and invited people to accept the basic principle of morality, and gave brief answers to the common misunderstandings that misled them to adopt wrong ways of life.
The messages revealed to the Prophet, in the early stage of the movement, consisted of short and concise sentences in a very fluent and effective language to suite the taste of the people to whom they were first addressed. Though universal truths were enunciated in these messages, in order to impress the early addresses effectively, they were dealt with the history, traditions, beliefs and morality of those people.
The excellent literary style of the passages was so appealing that it touched the very hearts of the people of Mecca, and attracted their attention and they began to repeat them. This early stage of the movement lasted for about four years. The Quraish began to oppose it because in their ignorance they thought that this movement hit hard at their vested interests and the old traditions of their forefathers. Then the movement entered its second stage which continued for about nine years. The message of the Quran went on spreading beyond the boundaries of Mecca and reached other clans. A fierce struggle began with old order. The opponents of the movement rouse up to suppress it employing all sorts of weapons. They spread suspicions and false propaganda in order to alienate the common people from it. They also inflicted all sorts of cruelties on those who followed the Prophet. On the other hand the world could not help feeling the moral superiority of the movement that so thoroughly transforming the characters of its followers. All through this long and bitter struggle the revelation was continued according to the requirements of the occasion, consoling and encouraging them, with promises of success in this world and of eternal happiness in the Hereafter. They were also instructed in their primary duties, and taught the ways piety and high morality. In this stage they were so imbued with the spirit of sacrifice for this noble cause.
During this second stage of the movement it started to spread wider and wider, and the opposition to it became stronger and stronger. The movement came into contact with the people of different creeds and different ways of life and this gave rise to new problems. The discourse therefore, began to deal with various new topics as well. It must have become clear from the above that the style and background of the passages of this stage had to be different from that of the earlier one.
From the migration of the Prophet to Madina, the movement entered its third stage under new conditions. Then it became possible to collect all its followers from the various parts of Arabia, were a new society had succeeded in founding a regular state. It had also to deal with different communities the Jews, Christians and others. In this stage, the movement was in a portion to extend its universal message of reform to the outer world. Several changes took place in this stage, so Allah revealed to the messenger the kind of discourses required for any particular occasion in this changed condition. Some of these were in the form of a teacher, reformer and taught the principles and the methods of organising a community. Some adopted the method of the law-giver for the conduct of different affairs of life.
In short the background and style of the revelations during the ten years at Madina had to be different from that of the Mecca stages. Now that some discourses taught the Muslims the kind of relations they should have with other nations. Others taught the moral lessons they needed in war, peace, defeat and victory. Then some discourses invited to Islam the people of the Book, and the unbelievers. Though it was to be the Book for all times, it had to be revealed in portions during twenty three years according to the needs and requirements of the different stages through which the movement was passing.
The sequence of the revelations that suited the gradual evolution of the movement could not in any way be suitable after the completion of the Quran. In the early stages of the movement the Quran addressed those people who were totally ignorant of Islam and therefore naturally it has first of all to teach them the basic articles of faith. After its completion the Quran was primarily concerned with those who had accepted Islam and formed a community for carrying on the work entrusted to it by the Prophet.
The order of the complete Book had to be different from its chronological order to suite the requirements of the Muslim community for all times. Then the Quran had first of all, to acquaint the Muslims thoroughly with their duties concerning the regulations of their lives, to prepare them for carrying its message to the others, and to warn them of the mischiefs and evils that appear among the followers of the former Prophets so that they should be on their guard against them.
In order to avoid on sickness at any stage of its study it is essential that the Surahs revealed at the earliest stages of the movement should come between those revealed in the later stages, and that the Mecca suras should intervene between the MadinaSuras and vice versa so that the entire picture of the complete Islam should always remain before the reader. Above all these facts, it should also be noted that the present order of the Quran was done by the Prophet himself under the Guidance of Allah. Whenever a Surah or verse was revealed the Prophet would dictate it word for word to his companions and direct them to place it after such and such before such and such surah and verse. Thus it is an established fact that the order of the One, the Almighty Allah, were arranged in the present order in the same day by the one who it was revealed, that is the messenger under the Guidance of the One, the Almighty Allah, who revealed it. The Quran, which is now in use all over the world is the same Quran word by word presented to the world by the Prophet Muhammad. None can have any doubt whatsoever regarding its authority, immunity and purity from any and every kind of alteration, for there is nothing so authentic in the whole human history as this fact about the Quran that it is the same Quran that was presented by the Prophet Muhammad to the world. Before the reader begins the study of the Quran, he must bear in mind the fact that it is a Unique Book, quite different from the book one usually reads. He should also keep in view the nature, the aim, the style and the terms it adopted to explain things in different circumstances and occasions to different people in which certain verse or Sura was revealed.