The Qur'an: What Does it Mean?
By the Qur'an we mean the verses, phrases, sentences and chapters uttered by the Holy Prophet of Islam, not as his own words, but as the Word and the Book of God revealed to him; this he claimed as his Everlasting Miracle which bears testimony to his Prophethood; and with this he challenged not only those who doubted its origin, and not only humankind alone, but even the Jinns, saying that even if the Jinns and men joined forces to produce the like of it, they would never be able to do even a small part of it This challenge was made not to any particular age, but to all ages.
By this definition we exclude all the utterances of the Holy Prophet which he did not claim to be the words of God (although the ideas and subject matter were certainly a revelation from God). The definition also excludes the words of the Holy Prophet which he presented to the people as the Word of God, but not as a miracle or a part of it with which he challenged the world (namely the various Ahadees-e-Qudsi). These Ahadees-Qudsi are so numerous and abundant that, collected together, they would be no less than the size of the Holy Qur'an, if not more, but their value is no greater than the other genuine traditions of the Holy Prophet This definition must be kept in mind throughout the discussion of the Holy Qur'an.
1. Of the religious records of historical value, pre- Islamic or post-Islamic, in our possession, no document can ever compete with the Holy Qur'an in authenticity. Of the historical records which the Muslims claim to be most authentic and genuine - of the Sunni school the Sehha-e Sitta and of the Shia school the KotobeArba'a - none can be said to have been within the reach of every Muslim from his earliest years until his death as has the Holy Qur'an. And no tradition is considered so important that every Muslim child must learn, recite and memorise it word for word with grammatical accuracy and phonetic perfection as they must do with the Holy Qur'an.
2. This importance and care which is given to the Qur'an by every Muslim did not emerge in a later period. The Muslims were attracted to the Holy Qur'an as the Word of God from the time of its revelation to the Holy Prophet and its recitation to the people. The Holy Qur'an itself; from the time of its revelation, encouraged the people in various ways to learn, read, recite and memorise ft and to ponder over every word of it and to listen carefully when it was recited. When one recites it, one must first prepare for it by dissociating oneself from anything which would cause any diversion of thought or distraction of attention (16:98-7:204).
3. The Holy Prophet was commanded by God not to be in a hurry in the recitation, or in the arrangement, of the Holy Qur'an, but to follow the divine order in both respects. (This indicates that the arrangement is not to be according to the date of the revelation). In short, the student of the Holy Qur'an will realise the importance and care attached to the Qur'an by its Author; and therefore the Muslims who rightly believe that God is the Author of the Holy Qur'an, show the utmost devotion to the Holy Book and obey the orders required of them. They learn it, and make their children learn it and put it into writing. Thus the Muslims in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet were taught that to learn the Holy Qur'an is "Ibadat" (Devotion); to recite it is "Ibadat"; to write it down is "Ibadat"; to teach others and make them read and learn it by heart and understand it is "Ibadat"; and to use the verses of the Holy Qur'an in daily life is "Ibadat". History records people who never used any other verse or phrase or sentence in their life than the words of the Holy Qur'an
The Holy Qur'an declares that the purpose of the coming of the Holy Prophet was to bring the teachings of the Book (the Divine Book) and to show the importance of the written word. if the teacher is absent, the student can read the written word. The Holy Qur'an commands the people, in their business transactions, to write down their contracts before witnesses to avoid later doubts and disputes. Is it possible that the Author of the Holy Qur'an, who attaches so much importance to writing down our business affairs, should not care for His own important work, namely the provision of a Book containing the fundamental principles of the true, divine, universal and final message, a message which is not only for one section of humanity, or for a particular period of time, but for the human race as a whole, for all times and for all parts of the earth?
The authenticity and genuineness of the version of the Holy Qur'an now in our possession, and its being the same Qur'an uttered by the Holy Prophet, is so evident and obvious that no Muslim scholar of any standing has ever doubted that this same version of the Holy Qur'an - every letter, word, sentence, verse and chapter - was uttered by the Holy Prophet In other words, what we have in our possession is the Qur'an. The dispute is about omissions and alterations in the arrangement of some letters, and not about additions. Alterations and alternatives given by some commentators regarding the writing or pronunciation of some words in the Holy Book do not effect any substantial change either in the meaning or the significance of phrases or sentences. This will be dealt with in discussing variations in the same word, for example "Malika" and "Malika". In short, the Muslim World throughout the ages has believed unanimously that nothing has been added to the Holy Qur'an now in our possession. Religious records other than the Holy Qur'an, Islamic and non-Islamic, are suspected of containing passages and even chapters which have been added to the original work.
Having in mind this complete authenticity of the Holy Qur'an in every part, the Holy Prophet and his companions and scholars in subsequent generations are unanimous in the belief that the Holy Qur'an is to be regarded as the standard and the criterion upon which other religious records, Islamic and non-Islamic, must be judged. Any utterance or action attributed to the Holy Prophet or the Holy Imams of his House which may disagree with the Holy Qur'an is to be considered spurious and must be rejected. This was declared by the Holy Prophet and by Ali, Hasan and Husain and by the succeeding nine Imams of the Holy House, which means that the Qur'an existed as the standard and criterion for the verification of the falsehood and truth of other statements and narratives available to the public through the ages until 260 A.H.
There is no doubt that the Qur'an in our possession is the same as the version which received the official assent of the Third Caliph. All that has been said about the omission or alteration refers to the arrangement or the wording of verses or chapters in the period between the departure of the Holy Prophet and the official assent of the Third Caliph to the present version.
As has already been pointed out, the Holy Qur'an was in use in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet There was a keen desire on the part of Muslims, men, women and children, to possess the Book - in writing or, mostly, by heart. There were also the chosen scholars among the early Muslims to whom the Holy Prophet had entrusted the duty of recording the Qur'an as it was revealed and recited by him. The foremost of these was Ali ibne Abi Taleb, Jafar ibne Abi Taleb; besides Ali there were Abdullah ibne Mas'ood and Mas'ab ibne Omair among the earliest Muslims in Mecca, and Obai ibne Kaab among the earliest adherents in Medina, Ma'az ibne Jabal, Salim Maula Hazaifa and others. Jafar ibne Abi Taleb was the head of the early Muslims who had migrated to Abyssinia and he was a master of the Qur'an so far revealed. Mas'ab ibne Omair was sent to Medina to teach the Qur'an to the people before the migration of the Holy Prophet to that place. These people recorded the Qur'an in writing under the direct command and personal supervision of the Holy Prophet, in his presence, as it was revealed, placing each part of it in its relevant place as commanded by the Holy Prophet, and reading their manuscripts to him then and there for his approval and also repeatedly afterwards. These scribes were considered to be responsible for teaching the Qur'an to others. They were regarded as the masters and teachers of the Holy Qur'an during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet and thereafter.
These people, and thousands of prominent companions (Sahabas) who were interested in learning the Holy Qur'an and its meaning, and their disciples such as Abdullah ibne Abbas and others, all lived in the intermediary period between the departure of the Holy Prophet from this world and the time that the Third Caliph gave official assent to the present version. They taught Muslims throughout the length and breadth of the fast-Expanding Muslim Empire. And the people of various races and creeds learnt it by heart and wrote it down for their own use. In fact, it
is said that in the one battle of Yamama, which took place about six months alter the departure of the Holy Prophet, seven hundred Huffaz (those who know by heart) were killed in a single day's fight.
The Qur'an existed during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet in the form of an arranged Book as approved by the Holy Prophet himself. As the Holy Prophet said, "Gabriel would place before me the Qur'an for review once a year, but this year he did it twice, which indicates that the time of my departure is close at hand." It is evident that the divine Author and the Holy Prophet both guarded the Qur'an to the extent that no adulteration of any kind could be made by any profane hand, and that the Qur'an received its complete arrangement and order not later than about three months before the departure of the Holy Prophet. It is to this revealed Book in its complete form and available to all that the Holy Prophet referred when he declared to his followers: "I leave amongst you Two Great Things, the Book of God and my Ahlul-Bait."
And it was with reference to the complete Book of God, which was in the hands of the Muslims at the time of the departure of the Holy Prophet, that Omar dared to say reply to the demand of the Holy Prophet for paper and ink, "Hasbona Kitaballa", that is, "Sufficient for us is the Book of God" This clearly proves that the Qur'an in its complete and duly arranged form existed among the people, and was within the reach of the common man, as were the Ahlul-Bait who were left by the Holy Prophet together with the Qur'an If this were not so, a reference to the "Book of God" is meaningless.
The Holy Qur'an claims for itself a pre-Existence with God (in the Lauhe Mahfooz, the Secured Tablet) and the Kitabe Maknoon, ie. the Hidden Book (for believers) or at least in the mind of the Holy Prophet (for unbelievers). The arrangement of the revealed book should be in accordance with the pre-revealed arrangement, rather than in the order of the date of its revelation. For instance, a poet or writer may arrange his lyrics or articles in
his mind. Although circumstances may force him to recite portions from two lyrics of different method on the same occasion, when he comes to put the work into writing, the lines of the lyrics will be put in their correct order irrespective of the date of the recitation.
Although there is no problem, theological, theoretical or practical, which the Qur'an has not dealt with (and it surpasses all scriptural records of pre-Islamic or post-Islamic periods in the
abundant variety of its contents), yet its method of approach, presentation and solution is exclusively unique. It does not deal with a topic in the systematic way - by ordinary authors of theology or even by any apostolic writer; on the contrary, it expressly says that it has adopted a special method of its own, with changing topics, moving from one subject to another, or reverting to the previous one and deliberately repeating the same subject in order to reinforce the understanding, learning and memorising of it:
And certainly We have used various arguments for men in this Qur'an, every kind of description, but most men consent not to aught but denying. (17:89)
And certainly We have repeated (the verse) to them that they may be mindful, but the greater number of men consent not to aught but denying. (25:50) Say! Have ye considered that if God taketh away your hearing and your sight and setteth a seal on your heart, who is the god besides God that can bring it to you? See how We repeat the verses, yet they turn away. (6:46)
Say! He hath the power that He should send on you chastisement from above you or from beneath your feet, or that He should throw you into confusion (making you) of different parties, and make some of you taste the fighting of others. See how We repeat the verses that they may understand (6:65) The repetition is to show forth in various ways the signs (of the Unity of God).
From the following verse of the Holy Qur'an, it is quite 6bvious that the Holy Qur'an was already aware that there would be those who would accuse its Author of scattering its subject- matter here and there. For this reason, the verse (and other verses) explains the special and unique system of presentation:
And thus do We (variously) repeat the verses and that they may say, Thou hast learnt (them from others) and that We may make it clear to a people who know. (6:106)
However, it is a tact that the Holy Qur'an deals in each chapter of a particular rhythm with various topics in various ways, and this variety only adds to its unique beauty and matchless eloquence. Any attentive reciter or intelligent audience of the Holy Qur'an, while -sing through variations in one rhythm, will enjoy what the Holy Qur'an itself declares:
God hath the best announcement, a Book comfortable in its various parts, repeating thereof do make tremble the skins of those who fear the Lord; then their skins and hearts became pliant to the remembrance of God; This is God's guidance. He guideth with it whomsoever he willeth; and (as for) him whom God alloweth to err, there shall be no guide for him.
Is he then who has to guard himself with his own person against the evil chastisement on the Resurrection Day? And it will be said to the unjust: "Taste ye what ye earned."
Those before them rejected (the apostles) therefore there came unto them the chastisement from whence they perceived not.
So God made them taste the disgrace in this world's life, and certainly the chastisement of the hereafter is greater; if they only know (it)!
And certainly We have set forth for men in this Qur'an similitudes of every sort that they may mind.
An Arabic Qur'an without any crookedness that they may (guard) against evil.
God setteth forth a parable; there is a man in whom are (several) partners differing from one another, and there is another man (devoted) wholly to a man. Are they two alike in condition? (All) praise is God's; nay! most of them know not (39:23-29)
Even those who doubted the genuineness of the arrangement of the present version did not claim that the whole arrangement of the verses in all the chapters has been affected. There are chapters which were undoubtedly revealed in complete form, namely Chapters 54, 56, 56 and the chapters immediately preceding and succeeding them. One will find the same variation of subject is manifested in those chapters. This variety of expression in rhythmical form is found not only in the chapters, but even in the verses of the Holy Book. These are the facts an intelligent and a sincere student of the Holy Qur'an will recognise in studying the Book.