al-Qur’an: The Book of Allah
By: Abul A’la Mawdudi
Before the reader begins the study of the Quran, he must bear in mind the fact that it is a unique book; the Quran does not contain information, ideas and arguments about specific themes arranged in a literary order. This is why a stranger to the Quran, on his first encounter with it, is puzzled when he does not find the enunciation of its theme, or a division into chapters and sections, or a separate treatment for different topics and separate instructions for different aspects of life, arranged in a serial order. Here, rather, is something with which he has not been familiar before and which does not conform to his conception of a book.
He finds that it deals with creeds, gives moral instructions, lays down laws, invites people to Islam, admonishes the disbelievers, draws lessons from historical events, administers warnings, offers good tidings, all blended together in a beautiful manner. The same subject is repeated in different ways and one topic follows the other without any apparent connection. Sometimes a new topic crops up in the middle of another without any apparent reason. The speaker and the addressees, the direction of the address, all these change without any notice.
Historical events are presented, yet not as they would be in traditional history books. The problems of philosophy and metaphysics are treated in a manner different from that of the textbooks on these subjects. Man and the universe are mentioned in a language different from that of the natural sciences. Likewise it follows its own method of solving cultural, political, social and economic problems and deals with the principles and injunctions of law in a manner quite distinct from that of the sociologists, lawyers and jurists. Morality is taught in a way that has no parallel in the whole literature on the subject.
The Quran is not a book on “religion” in the sense this word is generally understood. That is why when a reader approaches the Quran with the common notions of a book in mind, he is puzzled by its style and manner of presentation. He finds that in many places the background has not been mentioned and the circumstances under which a particular passage was revealed have not been stated. And the casual reader is therefore unable to benefit fully from the most precious treasures contained in the Quran, though occasionally he may succeed in discovering a few gems here and there. But only those people who are not acquainted with these distinctive features of the Quran become victims of such doubts.
The reader may be saved from all these difficulties, if he is warned beforehand of this essential point: the book he is going to study is the only book of its kind in the whole world; its literary style is quite different from that of all other books. Then, and then alone, can he understand it.
The Divine Guidance
First of all, the reader should understand the real nature of the Quran. Whether one believes it to be a revealed book or not, one will have to consider, as a starting point, the claim that it puts forward, as does its bearer, Muhammed’s (SAW), that this is the Divine Guidance.
Allah, the Lord of the universe, its Creator, Master and Sovereign, created man and bestowed upon him the faculties of learning, speaking, understanding and discerning right from wrong and good from evil. He granted him freedom of choice, freedom of will, freedom of action. He gave him authority to acquire and make use of the things around him. In short, He granted him a kind of autonomy and appointed him as His representative on earth and instructed him to live in accordance with His Guidance.
… He organized all those who accepted the Divine Guidance into one community, which in its turn was required to reestablish its collective way of life based on the Guidance and to exert itself to reform the world, which had gone astray. The Quran which was revealed to Muhammad (s) is the Book which contains that Invitation and that Divine Guidance.
The SUBJECT it deals with is MAN: it discusses those aspects of his life that lead either to his real success or to his failure. The CENTRAL THEME that runs throughout the Quran is the exposition of the Reality and the invitation to the Right Way based upon it. It declares that this Reality is the same one that was revealed by Allah (SWT) Himself to Adam at the time of his appointment as His representative, and to all the Messengers after him. The AIM and OBJECT of the revelations is to invite man to that Right Way and to present clearly the Guidance which he has lost because of his negligence, or has perverted by his wickedness. If the reader keeps these three basic things in mind, he will find that in this Book there is no incongruity in style, no gap in continuity, and no lack of interconnection between its various topics.
As a matter of fact, this Book is never irrelevant with regard to its Subject, its Central Theme and its Aim… That is why it states or discusses or cites a subject only to the extent relevant to its aims and objects and leaves out unnecessary and irrelevant details, returning over and over again to its Central Theme and to its invitation around which every other topic revolves. When the Quran is studied in this light, no doubt is left that the whole of it is a closely reasoned argument and that there is continuity of subject throughout the Book.
The revelation of the Quran continued for twenty-three years. The different portions of the Quran were revealed according to the requirements of the various phases of Islam. It is thus obvious that such a book cannot have the kind of uniformity of style which is followed in formal books on religion and the like. It should also be kept in mind that the various portions of the Quran, both long and short, 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. They could not therefore, be in the style of the written word. Moreover, these addresses were necessarily of a different nature from that of the lectures of a professor. The Prophet (s) was entrusted with a special mission and had to appeal both to the emotions and to the intellect; he had to deal with people of different mentalities, cope with different situations and various sets of experiences during the course of his mission. He also has to train and reform his followers and to imbue them with spirit and courage, to refute the arguments of opponents and to expose their moral weaknesses.
This also explains why the same issues are repeated over and over again in the Quran. A mission and a movement naturally demand that only those topics should be presented which are required at a particular stage and that nothing should be said about the requirements of the next stage. So the same instructions are covered again and again as long as Islam remains in the same stage. Of course, they have been differently worded and styled to avoid monotony, and couched in beautiful and dignified language to make them impressive as well as effective. Moreover, it repeats at suitable places the basic creed and principles in order to keep Islam strong at every stage.
All the surahs of the Quran contain references to its basic creed: the Unity of Allah (SWT), His attributes, the Hereafter, and accountability, punishment and reward, Prophethood, and belief in the Book. They all teach piety, fortitude, endurance, faith and trust in Allah (SWT) because these virtues could not be neglected at any stage of Islam. If any of these bases had been weakened at any stage in even the slightest way, the Islamic Movement could not have made any progress in its true spirit.
Allah (SWT) Who revealed the Quran Himself made arrangements for its safety and security forever. No sooner was a passage of the Quran revealed that it was recorded on leaves of date-palm, the bark of trees, bones, at the dictation of the Prophet (s) and all these pieces were put in a bag. Besides this, some of his Companions themselves wrote these pieces for their own use. At the same time, the Muslims committed these passages to memory as they had to recite them during Salat [obligatory prayers to Allah, the Lord of the universe], a prescribed practice from the very beginning of Islam. But immediately after his death, an event occurred that necessitated this work.
A furious storm of apostasy broke out and many of the Companions, who went to war to suppress it, were killed. Among these martyrs were some of the men who had committed the whole of the Quran to memory. So it occurred to ‘Umar (RA, blessings be upon him) that necessary steps should be taken to preserve the Quran intact in its original form against any and every danger and that it was not wise to depend exclusively upon those who had learnt it by heart. He tried to impress the necessity of this step on Abu Bakr (RA) [died about two years after the Prophet] who at first showed hesitation in doing what the Prophet (s) had not done. But after some discussion, he too agreed. Accordingly, he entrusted the work to Zaid bin Thabit (ra) who also hesitated at first, like Abu Bakr (RA), and for the same reason. But at last he was convinced and he undertook this historic work.
Zaid (ra) was best qualified for this work. He had frequently acted as scribe to the Prophet (s) and was one of those Companions who had learnt the Quran directly from him. He was also present on the occasion when the Prophet (s) recited the whole of the completed Quran to angel Gabriel. Arrangements were consequently made to collect and gather all the written pieces of the Quran left by the Prophet (s) along with those in possession of his Companions. Then, with the cooperation of those Companions who had memorized the whole or any part of the Quran word for word, all the written pieces were compared with each other for verification; Zaid (ra) would not take down anything in his manuscript unless all three sources tallied with one another. Thus was compiled one correct, authenticated and complete copy. This authenticated copy of the whole Quran was kept in the house at Hafsah (ra, blessings be upon her; she was ‘Umar’s daughter and one of the wives of the Prophet). It was proclaimed that anyone who so desired, might make a copy of it or compare it with the copy he already possessed…
At several places, the Quran speaks of itself as a Book. For example, in Surah Muzammil, an early Makki revelation, Allah (SWT) says to the Prophet (s), “…. recite the Quran in order …. ” (LXXIII: 4). This also shows that the Quran was meant to be a book from the beginning of the revelation and a book must follow some order.
The Quran, which is now in use all over the world, is the exact copy of the Quran which was compiled under Abu Bakr’s order and copies of which were officially sent by ‘Uthman (ra) to different locations. Even today many very old copies are found in big libraries in different parts of the world. A skeptic might entertain a doubt about its revelation from Allah (SWT), but none can have any doubt whatsoever regarding its authenticity, immunity and purity from any kind of addition, omission or alteration, for there is nothing so authentic in all of human history as this fact about the Quran, that it is the same Quran that was presented to the world by the Prophet (s).