Introduction to Islam
Contents of the Qur’an
As stated previously, Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the Word of God, revealed to His messenger Muhammad. This messenger is only an intermediary for the reception and communication of the revelations. His role is neither that of an author nor of a compiler. If the Prophet Muhammad sometimes ordered the suppression of certain verses, that was done merely on the basis of a new revelation coming to him from the Almighty.
God is transcendent and beyond all physical perception of man. It is through the medium of a celestial messenger, an angel, that God causes His will and His command to be revealed to His human messenger, for the sake of mankind. God is above all bounds of language. We may in explanation employ the metaphor that the prophets are lightbulbs, and revelation the electric current — when the current contacts the lightbulb, the lightbulb provides light according to its voltage and colour. The mother-tongue of a prophet is the colour of the lightbulb, whereas the power of the lightbulb, (i.e., the current and other things) are determined by God Himself. The human factor then, is just an instrument of transmission and only an intermediary.
The Qur’an is, according to Islam, the Word of God, and the Qur’an repeats again and again that the believer must recite it day and night, whenever he can. The mystics have explained quite well that man travels towards God by means and through the Word of God (the word of God being the main road) just like an electric current is the ‘road for light’ when the lamp is connected to a power supply. This is not empty verboseness. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad had strongly recommended that one should read the whole Qur’an once a week. This has led to its division into seven parts called manzils. Further, the Qur’an has 114 chapters, called surats, each of which has a number of verses, called aayats. In Arabic, manzil means a station after the day’s journey; surat means a walled enclosure, a room; and the root awa, from which the word aayat is derived, means to go to bed. ‘Station,’ ‘room,’ ‘bed’ – these are the three elements of the journey of the traveller, spiritual or temporal. The traveller undertaking a long spiritual journey has to halt at a station after the day’s journey, and requires a room and bed to take rest before a further journeying the next day in his continuous sojourn towards the Eternal and Limitless!
The Qur’an is addressed to all humanity, without distinction of race, region or time. Furthermore, it seeks to guide man in all walks of life – spiritual, temporal, individual and collective. It contains directions for the conduct of the head of a State, as well as a simple commoner, of the rich as well as of the poor, for peace as well as for war, for spiritual culture as for commerce and material well-being. The Qur’an seeks primarily to develop the personality of the individual – every being will be personally responsible to his Creator. With this purpose, the Qur’an not only gives commands, but also tries to convince. It appeals to man’s reason as it relates stories, parables and metaphors. It describes the attributes of God, Who is one, Creator of all, Knower, Powerful, capable of resuscitating us after death and taking account of our worldly behaviour, Just, Merciful, etc. It contains also the mode of praising God, of pointing out which are the best prayers, what the duties of man are with regard to God, to his fellow-beings and to his own self. This last because we do not belong to ourselves but to God, who has deposited our self with us. The Qur’an speaks of the best rules relating to social life, commerce, marriage, inheritance, penal law, international law, and so on. But the Qur’an is not a book in the ordinary sense – it is a collection of the Words of God, were revealed, during the course of twenty-three years, to His messenger sent among human beings. The Qur’an employs graphically the word “king” for God, and “slave” for man. When a king desires to communicate a message to His slave, He sends a messenger, and gives His instructions to his envoy. Therefore, there are certain things understood and implied; there are repetitions, and even changes of the forms of expression. Thus God speaks sometimes in the first person and sometimes in the third. He says “I” as well as “We” and “He”, but never “They”. It is a collection of revelations sent occasion by occasion (and this fact must be recalled to the beginner) and one should therefore read it again and again in order to be able to grasp the meaning better. It has directions for every person, every place and for all time.
The diction and style of the Qur’an are magnificent and appropriate to its Divine quality. Its recitation moves the spirit even for those who only listen to it without understanding it. In passing, the Qur’an (cf. 17/88, 11/13, 2/23, 10/38) has, by virtue of its claim of a Divine origin, challenged men and jinn to produce collectively even a few verses equal to those of the Qur’an. The challenge has remained unanswered to this day.
[From the book – ‘Introduction to Islam’ by ‘Dr Muhammad Hamidullah]