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
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; for example, in VI:19:
"This Qur'an has been revealed to me that I may warn you and whomever it may
And in LXVIII:52 God says:
"It is nothing else but a reminder to the worlds. "
We read too in LXXIV:35-36:
"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
* * *
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 dearly 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
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 save 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.