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The Teachings of the Qur'an

The Universal Import of the Qur'an

The Qur'an is not directed towards any one particular nation, such as the Arabs, or to a particular sect of Muslims, but to non-Islamic societies as well as the Muslim nation as a whole. There are numerous references to non-believers and idol- worshippers, to the People of the Book (namely, the Jews, or the Tribe of Israel, and the Christians), exhorting each one to strive towards a true understanding of the Qur'an and of Islam. The Qur'an calls each group to Islam by providing proofs and never stipulates that they be of Arab stock. Referring to idol-worshippers, God says, if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due then they are your brothers in religion﴿.

"[IX:11]. Likewise, God talks about the People of the Book, (Jews, Christians and we include here the Zoroastrians), without referring to them as Arabs: Say O People of the Book come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but God and that we shall ascribe no partners to Him and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God﴿.

[III:64]. It is true that before Islam spread beyond the Arabian peninsula, Qur'anic injunctions were obviously directed to- wards the Arab nation. From the sixth year after the hijrah (the migration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina), when the din of Islam was being propagated beyond the peninsula, there are references which demonstrate that the Qur'an is addressing itself to mankind in general; nor example, in VI:19, this Qur'an has been revealed to me that I may warn you and whomever it may reach,﴿ and in LXVIII:52 God says, it is nothing else but a reminder to the worlds﴿.

"We read too in LXXIV:3936, In truth this is one of the greatest signs, being a warning unto men﴿.

"History has amply demonstrated that Islam has been embraced by a number of leading members of other religions, including the idol-worshippers of Mecca, Jews, Christians and by people from diverse communities, such as Salman of Persia, Suhayb from the Roman people, and Bilal of Ethiopia.

The Perfection of the Qur'an

The Qur'an shows man the way to a realization of his goal on earth; it describes this path in the most complete terms. It is a way of correctly viewing the reality of things; a vision - personal, social and cosmic- based on a correct manner of behaviour and a precise method of interaction between men. In XLVI:30 we read that the Qur'an guides to the truth and a right road,﴿

"meaning the road of right belief and correct action. On another occasion, mentioning the Torah and the New Testament, God says, We have revealed this Book to you with the Truth, confirming whatever Book was before it, and We keep watch over it

"[V:48]. The Qur'an thus affirms the truth of the ways of guidance taught by the earlier prophets. In chapter XLII:13, He has ordained for you that religion which He commended to Noah and that which We reveal to you (Muhammad) and that We commended to Abraham, Moses and Jesus,﴿

"and in chapter XVI:89, And We revealed the book to you as an exposition of all things﴿.

"Thus we understand from these verses that the Qur'an not only encompasses the meanings and teachings of all divine books revealed before it, but also adds to and completes them. Every thing which a man needs, both in terms of his spiritual and his social life, is contained and explained in the Qur'an.

The Eternal Quality of the Qur'an

The perfection and completeness of the Qur'an prove that its validity is not restricted to a particular time or place, since anything perfect is in need of nothing to complete it. In chapter LXXXVI:13-14 God confirms that the Qur'an is "a conclusive word "and not a mere "pleasantry

"It contains the purest of teachings concerning belief in life-after-death, together with an exposition of the realities of existence, while, at the same time, encompassing the fundamentals of correct human behaviour. Since laws governing transactions between men are directly linked to their beliefs, such a book can obviously not be annulled or changed with the passage of time. As He says in XVII:105, We have revealed the Qur'an with Truth and it has descended with the Truth,

"meaning that the revelations and their ongoing validity are inseparable from the Truth. Thus in X:32, After the Truth what is there except error,

"and in XLI:41-42, In truth it is an unpenetrable book, error may not enter in it from before it or behind it.

"In other words the Qur'an repulses, by its own perfection and completeness, any attempt to alter it; and neither now nor later can it be annulled or superseded. Many studies have been made of the permanence of the validity of the laws given in the Qur'an. The reader is advised to consult them if he requires additional knowledge of the subject; to pursue the matter here, (namely, the position of the Qur'an in the lives of Muslims and the manner in which it demonstrates this), would be outside the scope of this book.

The Qur'an as a Self-Contained Proof

The Qur'an, being composed of words and meanings like any other book, explains itself. It does not remain silent when the situation of the text demands proof. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that Qur'anic terms mean anything other than the actual words being used. This means that every man, possessing a certain knowledge of the Arabic language, may clearly understand the meaning of the Qur'an just as he understands any other words written in Arabic. There are many verses which are directed towards a specific group, such as the Tribe of Israel, or the Believers, or the non-believers and, sometimes, man in general; (they are addressed in phrases such as O you who disbelieve

"or O people of the Book

"or O tribe of Israel

"or O Mankind

"The Qur'an discourses with them, offering them proof of its validity or challenging them to produce a book similar to it if they doubt it to be the Word of God. Obviously it makes no sense to address people in terms which they do not understand or to demand that they produce something similar to that which has no meaning for them. In chapter XLVII-24 we read, Why do they not reflect upon the Qur'an,

"implying that if it was from other than God, people would have found in it many inconsistencies. It is clearly indicated in the Qur'an that verses which have a subtlety or particularity of meaning demand that the reader reflect upon them to remove any seeming differences of interpretation or incongruities that may appear at first inspection. It also follows that if the verses themselves contained no apparent meaning, there would be no point in reflecting upon them in order to clarify the apparent problem of their interpretation. There are no indications from other sources, (such as the traditions of the Prophet), that demand a rejection of the outwardly manifest meaning of the Qur'an. Some have argued that one should only refer to the commentaries of the Prophet in elucidating the meanings of the Qur'an. This argument is unacceptable, however, since the basis of the Prophet's commentary and of the Imams of his family must be sought for in the Qur'an. It is difficult to imagine that the validity of the Qur'an is dependent on the commentaries of the Prophet or the Imams of his family. Rather, affirmation of prophecy and imamate must be contained in the Qur'an, which itself is the authentic proof and document of prophecy. This does not, however, contradict the fact that the Prophet and the Imams of his family were responsible for clarifying those details of the shari'ah law (Divinely revealed law) which were not apparent from the actual text of the Qur'an. They were, likewise, entrusted with teaching the knowledge contained in the Book, as seen in the following verse: And We have revealed to you the Remembrance so that you may explain to mankind that which has been revealed for them

[XVI:44]. A similar reflection occurs in chapter LIX:7 where, in reference to the code of practice and law brought by the Prophet to mankind, it states, "And take whatever the messenger gives you. And abstain from whatever he forbids.

" In chapter IV:64 it says, We sent no messenger saw that he should be obeyed by God's leave

"and, again, in chapter LXII:2, He it is who has sent among the unlettered ones a messenger of their own, to recite to them His revelations and to make them grow and to teach them the Book and Wisdom.

"According to these verses, the Prophet is the appointed explainer of the details of the shari'ah law as well as the teacher of the Qur'an. Moreover, according to the tradition known as thaqalayn, which was authenticated by an uninterrupted chain of narrators, the Prophet has appointed the Imams of his own family as his successors. This is not to deny that others also, by correctly applying the learnings of sincere teachers, may understand the meaning of the Qur'an.

The Inner and Outer Dimensions of the Qur'an

In chapter IV:36 God says, And serve God and ascribe nothing as a partner to Him.

"The verse prohibits pre-Islamic Arabs from their worship of idols, just as chapter XXII:30 urges them to "shun the filth of idols, and shun lying speech.

"On reflection it becomes clear that an idol may exist in any form; therefore, idol-worship is forbidden because it involves submission to an entity other than God. In chapter XXXVI:60 God treats the devil as an idol when He says, "Did I did not charge you, O you sons of Adam, that you do not worship the devil.

"It also becomes clear that another form of idol-worship is submission to one's desires or to the will of others, over and above the will of God; this is indicated in XLV:23 which refers to "him who makes his desire his God.

"Thus it becomes apparent that one should turn to none other for help than God Himself and not forget Him in any circumstances, since to do otherwise would be to direct one's attention away from God. To submit to others is to belittle Him and this is the very essence of idol-worship. Thus, in chapter VII:179 God says of those who refused to worship Him, "Already We have urged into hell many of the jinn and humankind, ...These are the neglectful.

"The verse, "ascribe nothing to Him, "clearly forbids worships of idols; that is to say, man may not, without God's permission, submit himself to others including his own desires, since any such submission would render him neglectful of God. In this way, the simple, apparent text of the verse unfolds multiple meanings and exemplifies a feature to be found throughout the Qur'an. Thus the saying of the Prophet, (related in the books of hadith and commentary), become clear: In truth the Qur'an possesses an inner and outer, and the inner contains Seven dimensions.

The Wisdom Contained in the Two Facets of the Qur'an: The Inner and the Outer

Man's primary life, namely, the temporal life of this world, is as a bubble on the immense sea of the material; and since all his transactions concern the material, he is throughout his life, at the mercy of the moving waves. All his senses are occupied with the material and his thoughts influenced by sensory information. Eating, drinking, standing, speaking, listening, like all other human actions, take place in the sphere of the material and not in the sphere of thought. Moreover, in reflecting upon such concepts as love, enmity, ambition and nobility, one comes to better understand them by translating them into language derived from the senses or from actual material objects; for example, the magnetic attraction of lovers, a burning ambition, or a man's being a mine of wisdom. Capacity to comprehend the world of meaning, which is vaster than that of the material, varies from man to man. For one person it may be almost impossible to imagine the world of meanings; another may perceive it only in the most superficial terms and, yet another, may comprehend with ease the most profound of spiritual concepts. One may say that the greater a man's capacity to understand meanings, the lesser he is attached to the world of the material and its alluring, deceiving appearance. By his very nature, each person possesses a potential for understanding meanings and, provided that he does not deny this capacity, it may be cultivated and increased further. It is not a simple matter to reduce meaning from one level of understanding to another without losing its sense. This is particularly true for meanings possessing great subtlety which cannot be transmitted, especially to ordinary people, without adequate explanation. As one example, we may mention the Hindu religion: anyone reflecting deeply upon the vedic scriptures of India and studying the different aspects of its message will ultimately see that its basic aim is the worship of one God. Unfortunately this aim is explained in such a complicated manner that the concept of oneness reaches the minds of ordinary people in the form of idol-worship and the recognition of many gods. To avoid such problems, it becomes necessary to communicate meanings hidden beyond the material world in a language which is rooted in the material and readily comprehensible world. Indeed some religions deprive their adherents of rights accorded to them by the religion itself: women, for example, in Hinduism; Jews and Christians who, in general, are denied access to knowledge of their holy books. Islam does not deprive anyone of their rights in the din, and both man and woman, scholar and layman, black and white are equal in being accorded access to their religion. God affirms this in chapter III:195, Indeed I do not allow the work of any worker, male or female, to be lost,

"and, again, in chapter XLIX: 13, O mankind! Truly we have created you male and female and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of God is the best in conduct.

"In this manner the Qur'an addresses its teachings to mankind at large and affirms that every man may increase himself in knowledge and, thereby, perfect his own behaviour. In fact, the Qur'an addresses its teachings specifically to the world of man. Since, as mentioned earlier, each man has a different capacity of understanding and since the expounding of subtle knowledge is not without danger of misinterpretation, the Qur'an directs its teachings primarily at the level of the common man. In this manner, the subtlest of meanings can be explained and multiple meanings and ideas expressed, to the ordinary person, by co-relating them to concrete sensory meanings; meaning, therefore, is always inherent in the letter of the words. The Qur'an reveals itself in a way suitable {or different levels of comprehension so that each benefits according to his own capacity. In chapter XLIII:34 God emphazises this idea: Truly We have appointed it a lecture in Arabic so that you may perhaps understand and indeed in the source of the Book, which We possess, it is sublime, decisive.

God describes the different capacities of man's comprehension in the following metaphor in chapter XIII:17 He sends down water from the sky, so that valleys flow according to their measure;

and the Prophet, in a famous tradition says: "We prophets talk to the people according to the capacity of their intellects." Another result of the multiple meanings within the Qur'an is that the verses take on a significance beyond their immediate text. Certain verses contain metaphors which indicate divine gnosis far beyond the common man's understanding but which, nevertheless, become comprehensible through their metaphorical form. God says in chapter XVII:89, And indeed We have displayed for mankind in this Qur'an all kind of similitudes, but most of mankind refuse everything except disbelief.

"And again in chapter XXIX:43 God talks of metaphors as a means of expression, As for these similitudes, We coin them for mankind, but none will grasp their meanings except the wise.

"Consequently, we must conclude that all Qur'anic teachings which deal with subtle profound knowledge, are in the form of similitudes.

The Two Kinds of Qur'anic Verses: The Explicit and the Implicit

In chapter XI:I God says of the Qur'an, This is a book whose meanings are secure.

"From this we may draw the meaning to read whose meanings are perfected, expanded, firm and strong.

"In chapter XXXIX:23, it reads, God has revealed the fairest of statements (consistent with and in relation to each other) and arranged in pairs (according to meaning) which cause the flesh of those who fear their Lord to creep.

In chapter III:7 He says, He it is who has revealed to you the Book in which are clear revelations, (that is, verses whose meaning is immediately clear and which Muslims use for guidance). They are the substance of the Book and others which are allegorical. But those in whose heart is doubt indeed follow the allegorical seeking dissension by seeking to explain it. None knowest its explanation except God and those who are of sound instruction say: We believe in it, it is all from our Lord.

The first of the verses describes those sections of the Qur'an whose meaning is explicit, clear and unambiguous, and safe from misinterpretation. The second verse refers to all those verses whose meanings are implicit, and which are considered allegorical. It then proceeds to indicate that both types of verses, (the explicit, or clear and the implicit, or allegorical), share certain common qualities: beauty and sweetness of language, and a miraculous power of expression which are present in the entire Qur'an. The third verse under consideration divides the Qur'an into two parts: the explicit and the implicit, the clear and the allegorical, or, in Qur'anic terms, the muhkam and the mustashabih. The muhkam and those verses which are explicit, clear and immediate in their message and, therefore, incapable of being misinterpreted; the mutashabih verses are not of this nature. It is the duty of every firm believer to believe in and act according to the verses which are mahkam. It is also his duty to believe in the verses which are mutashabih, but he must abstain from acting upon them; this injunction is based on the premise that only those whose heart is corrupt and whose belief is false follow the implicit, mutashibih, verses, fabricating interpretations and, thereby, deceiving common people.

* The Qur'an in Islam. Its Impact and Influence on the Life of Muslims. By: Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i. Part II. Published by: Zahra Publications P.O. Box 730, Blanco, Tx. 78606, U.S.A.

954 View | 09-03-2011 | 07:51


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