Chapter 1: The Qur'an and Revelation
God 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 God's communication with man.
God'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 God or attributed it to something other than its true source and origin. More recently some have begun to deny God altogether, or to explain away man's preoccupation with God 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 God'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 God'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 God and the concept of God's communication with man. Empiricism and Realism.
Their general approach to emphasise 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.
Many now accept empiricism as their guiding principles and God 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 God. 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 God 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 civilisation. At the root of all evil in this world is disobedience to God, 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 God, for seen against God, the 'wholly other', all creation is indeed on the other side and equal. In Sura al-a'raf (7) it is related that God asked all angels to bow before Adam, the first man. The angels obeyed, and observed God's will, except Iblis. When asked why he opposed God's will, he replied: 'ana khairun minhu' I (Iblis) am better than him (Adam), you created me from fire and created him from clay' (Al-Qur'an 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 God's will.]
Muslims, referring to the Holy Qur'an, also conclude that from the beginning of his life on earth, man has received communication from God, to guide him and protect him from such self-perception and deceit:
'We said: Get ye 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' (Al-Qur'an 2:38) [ I shall use the following two English translations of the Holy Qur'an: A. Yusuf Ali, (Ali, Abdullah Yusuf: The Glorious Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary. Leicester, 1978) and M. Pickthall (Pickthall, Mohammad Marmaduke: The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, New York, 1963).]
This message and promise has been communicated by God to all mankind, all children of Adam, as the Qur'an explains:
'O ye 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' (Al-Qur'an 7:35).
The guidance from God comes through the apostles or messengers, and they bringwith them the scripture from God:
'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 ...' (Al-Qur'an 57:25).
The basic message of all prophets from God, and hence of all scriptures they brought, is one and the same message from God to man:'
'And verily We have raised in every nation a messenger, (proclaiming): Serve Allah and shun false gods ...' (Al-Qur'an 16:36).
The Qur'an mentions the following prophets by name: Adam, Nuh, Ibrahim, 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, Luqman, Dhul Qarnain, 'Uzair, Muhammad.
This does not mean, however, that only these have been God'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 God 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 ...' (Al-Qur'an 40:78).
'To every people (was sent) an apostle ...' (Al-Qur'an 10: 47).
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 Ibrahim and Musa. The Torah (taurat) of Musa. The Psalms (zabur) of Dawud. The Gospel (injil) of 'Isa. The Qur'an of Muhammad.
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 Ibrahim 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, ye prefer the life of this world; but the Hereafter is better and more enduring' (Al-Qur'an 87: 14-17). [ Some say that the whole of Sura 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 tafsir Ibn Kathir, Beirut, 1402/1981, Vol. 3, p. 631. Another reference to the suhuf of Musa and Ibrahim is in Sura 53:36 ff.]
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 eye, 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 God has revealed they are (no better than) wrongdoers' (Al-Qur'an 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' (Al-Qur'an 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. Thou (O Muhammad) seest 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 sendeth forth its shoot and strengtheneth it and riseth 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' (Al-Qur'an 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.
Muhammad was the last messenger from Allah to mankind, and he brought the final revelation from God 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.