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The Qur'an contains the revelations of Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, to mankind. It is the message from God to man and therefore of utmost importance to us. To properly grasp a message, one needs first of all to understand its contents exactly, and for this purpose one must study the Qur'an deeply and in detail. In fact, some people do spend their whole lives studying the Qur'an, reading and reflecting upon it and, as they grow and develop, both physically and spiritually, they discover for themselves new meanings and implications. Secondly, some special knowledge of the circumstances that surround the message is also necessary for fuller understanding of its meaning and implications. Although some part of this special knowledge can be derived from the Qur'an itself, there remain other areas of knowledge that can only be discovered by wider study and research. The aim of this book is to help towards a better understanding of the Qur'anic message by providing information on its setting, framework and circumstances. To a great extent it is a descriptive account of the traditional subject of 'ulum al-qur'an. Some branches of 'ulum al-qur'an, such as the divisions of the text, style, literary form etc., have only been touched upon briefly, while others that seemed more important have been dealt with in more detail. In particular such topics related to the understanding of the text (asbab al-nuzul, al-nasikh wa al-mansukh, etc.) have been treated more extensively while others, such as the 'seven ahruf' or the 'Uthmanic writing, which are of benefit only to readers with a good knowledge of classical Arabic, have been introduced, but not elaborated upon. We have restricted to present the generally-accepted views on the issues and, where no consensus exists, have referred to the most important of the divergent opinions. The basic aim in this 'Introduction' is generally to inform the reader about the subject, and not to guide him overtly or covertly towards our own conclusions. Numerous books have since been written on this subject, in most Muslim languages. However, until just recently there was no book in the English language on this subject. An average English reader who has no access to an Arabic text like 'al-itqaan' had nothing to help him/her in understanding the Qur'an. This book is precise, brief, yet comprehensive. It deals with the traditional subjects such as meaning of revelation, history and transmission of the text, asbaab un-nuzool, exegesis, etc. as well as issues of more recent origin, like recording of the Qur'an, orientalists' views, translation and others. The concluding chapter has valuable practical advice for reading and studying of the Noble Book of Islam.
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Understanding the Qur'an
- Its History and Compilation -
BY: IDP Research Division
PUBLISHER: Islamic Digital Publishing
Copyright © - 2018 All rights reserved.
No part of this e-book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without prior consent from the Publisher.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: The Qur'an And Revelation
- Revelation And Scripture Before The Qur'an
- The Qur'an, Hadeeth And Hadeeth Qudsi
- Revelation And How It Came To The Prophet (S)
- Beginning Of The Revelation
CHAPTER 2: Transmission Of The Qur'anic Revelation
- Memorisation And Oral Transmission
- Transmission Of The Written Text
- The Masahif Of The Companions
- The Mushaf Of 'Uthman
CHAPTER 3: The Qur'an In Manuscript And Print
- The Qur'anic Script
- Early Manuscripts
- Old Manuscripts
- The Qur'an In Print
CHAPTER 4: Form, Language And Style
- Divisions Of The Text
- Language And Vocabulary
- Literary Forms And Style
- Muhkamat And Mutashabihat
CHAPTER 5: Understanding The Text
- Makkan And Madinan Revelations
- Asbab Al-Nuzul
- An-Nasikh Wa Al-Mansukh
- Variety Of Modes
- The Various Readings
CHAPTER 6: Interpreting The Text
- Tafseer, Its Kind And Principles
An Introduction To The Sciences Of The Qur'an: The development of the disciplines and branches of knowledge which were related to the understanding of the Qur'an and are considered necessary for this purpose - what is known as 'Ulum al-Qur'an - began in the lifetime of the Prophet (S) himself. Numerous books have since been written on this subject, in most Muslim languages. However, until just recently there was no book in the English language on this subject. An average English reader who has no access to an Arabic text like 'al-itqaan' had nothing to help him/her in understanding the Qur'an. This book is precise, brief, yet comprehensive. It deals with the traditional subjects such as meaning of revelation, history and transmission of the text, asbaab un-nuzool, exegesis, etc. as well as issues of more recent origin, like recording of the Qur'an, orientalists' views, translation and others. The concluding chapter has valuable practical advice for reading and studying of the Noble Book of Islam.
The Qur'an contains the revelations of Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, to mankind. It is the message from Allah to man and therefore of utmost importance to us. To properly grasp a message, one needs first of all to understand its contents exactly, and for this purpose one must study the Qur'an deeply and in detail. In fact, some people do spend their whole lives studying the Qur'an, reading and reflecting upon it and, as they grow and develop, both physically and spiritually, they discover for themselves new meanings and implications.
Secondly, some special knowledge of the circumstances that surround the message is also necessary for fuller understanding of its meaning and implications. Although some part of this special knowledge can be derived from the Qur'an itself, there remain other areas of knowledge that can only be discovered by wider study and research.
Muslims have from earliest times, applied themselves not only to the message of the Qur'an, but also to its setting and framework, and the preoccupation with these ultimately developed into the 'sciences' of or 'knowledge' about the Qur'an, known as "ulum al-qur'an".
The proper approach to the Qur'an can be described in three stages. You must:
1. Receive the message of the Qur'an, by hearing or reading it.
2. Understand the message of the Qur'an by reflecting upon it and studying its meanings.
3. Apply the message of the Qur'an by ordering your personal life as well as the life of society according to its message.
The branch of knowledge, called 'ulum al-Qur'an may be used as a means for the accomplishment of the second stage, understanding the message of the Qur'an, by understanding its setting and circumstances.
According to a general definition, 'ulum al-qur'an[Sabuni, Muhammad 'Ali: al-tibyan fi 'ulum al-qur-an, Beirut, 1970, p.10.] denotes studies concerned with the book of revelations sent down upon the last Prophet Muhammad, [The customary blessings on the Prophet (Allah's blessings and peace be upon him) each time his name is mentioned will not be repeated in the text, but the reader is kindly requested to observe this Muslim tradition.] namely:
- Its revelation.
- Its collection.
- Its order and arrangement.
- Its writing down.
- Information about the reasons and occasions of revelation.
- About what was revealed in Makka and what in Madina.
- About the abrogating and abrogated verses.
- About the 'clear' and the 'unclear' verses.
The term also covers Qur'an-related studies, such as:
- The explanation of verses and passages by the Prophet himself, his Companions, their followers and the later exegetes of the Qur'an.
- The methods of explanation.
- The scholars of exegesis and their books.
The aim of this book is to help towards a better understanding of the Qur'anic message by providing information on its setting, framework and circumstances. To a great extent it is a descriptive account of the traditional subject of 'ulum al-qur'an. Some branches of 'ulum al-qur'an, such as the divisions of the text, style, literary form etc., have only been touched upon briefly, while others that seemed more important have been dealt with in more detail. In particular such topics related to the understanding of the text (asbab al-nuzul, al-nasikh wa al-mansukh, etc.) have been treated more extensively while others, such as the 'seven ahruf' or the 'Uthmanic writing, which are of benefit only to readers with a good knowledge of classical Arabic, have been introduced, but not elaborated upon.
We have restricted to present the generally-accepted views on the issues and, where no consensus exists, have referred to the most important of the divergent opinions. The basic aim in this 'Introduction' is generally to inform the reader about the subject, and not to guide him overtly or covertly towards our own conclusions.
There are a number of matters related to the study of the Qur'an to which we have drawn special attention since this 'Introduction' to the 'ulum al-qur'an is aimed at a special readership, namely, young educated Muslims with little or no access to the original sources on the subject. We have therefore included several topics, of special relevance for that readership, such as:
- Orientalists and the Qur'an.
- Translations of the Qur'an.
- Modern interpretation of the Qur'an.
- Language of the Qur'an.
- Reading and recitation of the Qur'an.
Again, particularly for the benefit of these readers, we have often quoted typical examples to illustrate the various points discussed and make them more easily comprehensible.
The Qur'an And Revelation
Revelation And Scripture Before The Qur'an
Allah's communication with man
Allah communicated with man. This is the key concept of revelation upon which all religious belief, if more than a mere philosophical attempt to explain man's relationship with the great 'unknown', the 'wholly other', is founded. There is no religious belief, however remote it may be in time or concept from the clear teachings of Islam, which can do without or has attempted to do without Allah's communication with man.
Man denies Allah
Allah's communication with man has always accompanied him, from the earliest period of his appearance on this planet, and throughout the ages until today. Men have often denied the communication from Allah or attributed it to something other than its true source and origin. More recently some have begun to deny Allah altogether, or to explain away man's preoccupation with Allah and the communication from Him as a preoccupation with delusion and fantasy. yet even such people do not doubt that the preoccupation of man with Allah's communication is as old as man himself. Their reasoning is, they claim, based on material evidence. Following this line of thought they feel that they should deny Allah's existence, but are at the same time compelled to concede the point for material evidence is abundant that man has ever been preoccupied with thinking about Allah and the concept of Allah's communication with man. Empiricism and Realism.
Their general approach to emphasize material evidence in the search for reality and truth, is surely commendable. Not only empiricist philosophy but also commonsense tell us that one should accept as real and existent what can be grasped empirically, that is, by direct experience, by seeing, hearing, touching and so on. While there may be in other systems of thought, other criteria for the evaluation of reality, at present it is a materialistic philosophy that rules the day, and though many people (especially the 'religious' type) are saddened by this and wish back the 'old days of idealism and rule of the creed', I personally think that we have to accept the present state of affairs not as ideal and unchangeable, but as our point of departure and moreover that doing so is of some advantage to us.
Creation is Material Evidence for Allah
Many now accept empiricism as their guiding principles and Allah gives ample evidence, material evidence, capable of verification by all empiricists, for His being and existence. The wide earth, the whole universe of creation, are evidence, material evidence, for Allah. No empiricist would deny that the earth and the universe do exist. It is only that he does not always perceive them as 'creation', for then he would have to argue from the material evidence that he has to a mighty and puissant cause, to reason and purpose behind it. Such an argument would by no means be in contradiction with his empiricist, rational and scientific line of thought, rather in perfect agreement with it.
I do not wish to discuss here in any detail why then, despite this, man denies Allah and disregards His communication with man. Suffice to say that the cause must be seen in man's self-perception, his arrogance and false pride. Having discovered that he and his kind constitute the peak of 'creation', he thinks himself autonomous, self-dependent, absolutely free and fully equipped to be master of the universe. Somehow, this self-perception too has been with man from his early days. He has always thought himself better than anything else. [The question of how evil came into the world has preoccupied many sincere seekers after the truth. The answer which the Qur'an gives is simple yet convincing if seen against all the evidence of historical and contemporary human civilization. At the root of all evil in this world is disobedience to Allah, resulting from the belief that one is superior to another. From this belief stems oppression of man by man discrimination, crime and all other evils that rule the day. The test lies in obedience to Allah, for seen against Allah, the 'wholly other', all creation is indeed on the other side and equal. In Surah al-A'raf (7) it is related that Allah asked all angels to bow before Adam, the first man. The angels obeyed, and observed Allah's will, except Iblis. When asked why he opposed Allah's will, he replied: 'ana khairun minhu' I (Iblis) am better than him (Adam), you created me from fire and created him from clay' (7:12).This then is the beginning of all evil, for it is Iblis who after this makes it his mission to incite men also to act against Allah's will.]
Guidance for Man
Muslims, referring to the Holy Qur'an, also conclude that from the beginning of his life on earth, man has received communication from Allah, to guide him and protect him from such self-perception and deceit:
"We said: 'Get you down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you guidance from Me, whosoever follows My guidance on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.'" (2: 38)
This message and promise has been communicated by Allah to all mankind, all children of Adam, as the Qur'an explains:
"O you children of Adam! Whenever there come to you apostles from amongst you, rehearsing My signs unto you those who are righteous and mend (their lives) on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve." (7: 35)
The guidance from Allah comes through the apostles or Messengers, and they bring with them the scripture from Allah:
"We sent before time Our apostles with clear signs and sent down with them the book and the balance (of right and wrong) that men may stand forth in justice ..." (57: 25)
The basic message of all Prophets from Allah, and hence of all scriptures they brought, is one and the same message from Allah to man:'
"And verily We have raised in every nation a Messenger, (proclaiming): Serve Allah and shun false Allah's ..." (16: 36)
The Names of the Prophets and their Number
The Qur'an mentions the following prophets by name: Adam, Nuh, Ibraheem, Isma'il, Ishaq, Lut, Ya'qub, Yusuf, Musa, Harun, Dawud, Sulaiman, Ilyas, Al-Yasa', Yunus, Ayyub, Zakariya, Yahya, 'Isa, Idris, Hud, Dhul Kifl, Shu'aib, Salih, Luqmaan, Dhul Qarnain, 'Uzair, Muhammad.
This does not mean, however, that only these have been Allah's prophets. Indeed the Qur'an is very clear that the number of prophets is much larger and that to each community from among mankind Allah has sent His Messenger:
"We did aforetime send apostles before thee: of them there are some whose story We have related to thee and some whose story We have not related to thee ..." (40: 78).
"To every people (was sent) an apostle ..." (10: 47).
The Names of the Scriptures and their Number
Just as there have been numerous prophets so there were numerous written records of their messages. The Qur'an mentions the following revelations in particular, which are sometimes called sheets or leaves (Suhuf) and sometimes book or scripture (Kitab):
The 'sheets' of Ibraheem and Musa. The Torah (Taurat) of Musa. The Psalms (Zabur) of Dawud. The Gospel (Injil) of 'Isa. The Qur'an of Muhammad.
The Content of the Former Scriptures
All the teachings contained in the former Scriptures that were meant to be of lasting value and importance are included in the Qur'an. The Qur'an also gives some specific accounts, although selective, of what the pre-Qur'anic scriptures contained and it is worthwhile to look briefly at this material:
A reference to the 'sheets' (Suhuf) of Ibraheem and Musa:
"But those will prosper who purify themselves, and glorify the name of their guardian Lord, and (lift their hearts) in prayer. Nay, behold, you prefer the life of this world; but the Hereafter is better and more enduring." (87: 14-17)
[Some say that the whole of Surah 87 is a reference to this first book of revelation, but others hold that only the few verses quoted here are actually meant. See mukhtasar Tafseer Ibn Kathir, Beirut, 1402/1981, Vol. 3, p. 631. Another reference to the Suhuf of Musa and Ibraheem is in Surah 53:36.]
A reference to the Torah (Taurat) of Musa:
"It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light ... We ordained therein for them: life for life, eye for you, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth and wounds equal for equal, but if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity it is an act of atonement for himself and if any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah has revealed they are (no better than) wrongdoers." (5: 47-8)
A reference to the Psalms (Zabur) of Dawud:
"And verily We have written in the Psalms, after the Reminder: My righteous slaves will inherit the earth." (21: 105)
A reference to the Gospel (Injil) of 'Isa:
"Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves. you (O Muhammad) sees them bowing and falling prostrate (in worship) seeking bounty from Allah and (His) acceptance. The mark of them is on their foreheads from the traces of prostration. Such is their likeness in the Torah and their likeness in the Gospel like as sown corn that sends forth its shoot and strengthen it and rises firm upon its stalk, delighting the sowers that He may enrage the disbelievers with (the sight of) them. Allah has promised, unto such of them as believe and do good works, forgiveness and immense reward." (48: 29)
The pre-Qur'anic scriptures, besides carrying the same basic message about Allah, the Master of the worlds, and man, His creation, also brought specific instructions addressed directly to particular communities of people at given points of time in history and in particular circumstances, such as the Jewish or Christian communities. Revelation before the Qur'an, and hence scriptures before it, were in many of their details situation-oriented in nature and therefore confined to their particular frameworks. This also explains the continuity of revelation. With changing circumstances and in different situations new guidance from Allah was required. As long as the revelation and scripture were not completely universal in nature, revelation would not reach its finality.
The Final Revelation
Muhammad was the last Messenger from Allah to mankind, and he brought the final revelation from Allah to man.
Therefore the scripture containing this revelation is the last of the Holy Scriptures.
The basic message of the Holy Qur'an is the same as the basic message of the previous revelations and books, and the directives and instructions, by which it provides guidance for man are of a universal nature. They apply for all times to come and in all situations. This revelation corresponds to man's position on earth and in history. Man has reached, in his development, the stage when universal principles need to be applied to safeguard his purposeful existence.
The Qur'an, Hadeeth And Hadeeth Qudsi
The Qur'an can be defined as follows:
The speech of Allah, sent down upon the last Prophet Muhammad, through the Angel Jibreel, in its precise meaning and precise wording, transmitted to us by numerous persons (tawatur), both verbally and in writing.
The word Qur'an
The Arabic word 'qur'an' is derived from the root qara'a, which has various meanings, such as to read, [Surah 17: 93.] to recite, [Surah 75: 18: 17: 46.] etc. Qur'an is a verbal noun and hence means the 'reading' or 'recitation'. As used in the Qur'an itself, the word refers to the revelation from Allah in the broad sense [Surah 17: 82.] and is not always restricted to the written form in the shape of a book, as we have it before us today.
However, it means revelation to Muhammad only, while revelation to other prophets has been referred to by different names (e.g. taurat, Injil, kitab, etc.).
Other Names of the Qur'an
The revelation from Allah to the Prophet Muhammad is referred to in the Qur'an itself by the name qur'an (recitation) as well as by other names, such as e.g.
- Furqaan (criterion, see 25: 1)
- Tanzil (sent down, see 26: 192)
- Dhikr (reminder, see 15: 9)
- Kitab (scripture, see 21:10)
Other references to the Qur'an are by such words as Nur (light), Huda (guidance), Rahma (mercy), Majid (glorious), Mubarak (blessed), Bashir (announcer), Nadhir (warner), etc.
All these names reflect one of the various aspects of the revealed word of Allah.
The Meaning of Hadeeth
[For details on Hadeeth see: A'zami, Muhammad Mustafa: Studies in Hadeeth Methodology and Literature, Indianapolis, 1977.]
The word Hadeeth means news, report or narration. It is in this general sense that the word is used in the Qur'an. [e.g. Surah 12: 101.] Technically, the word Hadeeth, (pl. Ahadeeth) means in particular the reports (verbal and written) about the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. Hadeeth reports about the Prophet Muhammad are of the following kinds:
- What he said (qaul)
- What he did (fi'l)
- What he (silently) approved (taqrir) in others' actions
There are also reports about him, i.e. about what he was like (sifa).
The difference between the Qur'an and Hadeeth
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