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.
THE QUR'AN, HADITH AND HADITH QUDSI
The Qur'an can be defined as follows:
|The speech of Allah,
sent down upon the last Prophet Muhammad,
through the Angel Gabriel,
in its precise meaning and precise wording,
transmitted to us by numerous persons (tawatur),
both verbally and in writing.
|Inimitable and unique,
protected by God from corruption.
The Arabic word 'qur'an' is derived from the root qara'a, which has various meanings, such as to read, [Sura 17: 93.] to recite, [Sura 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 [Sura 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.).
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.
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.
There is agreement among most Muslim scholars that the contents of the sunna are also from Allah. Hence they have described it as also being the result of some form of inspiration. [For details see kitab al-risala, by Imam al-Shafi'i, Cairo, n.d., especially pp. 28-9. In English: Khadduri Majid, Islamic Jurisprudence. Shafi'i's Risala, Baltimore, 1961, chapter 5, especially pp. 121-2.] The contents of the sunna are however expressed through the Prophet's own words or actions, while in the case of the Qur'an the Angel Gabriel brought the exact wording and contents to the Prophet, who received this as revelation and then announced it, in the very same manner that he received it.
The difference between these two forms has been illustrated by Suyuti (following Juwaini) in the following manner:
'The revealed speech of Allah is of two kinds: As to the first kind, Allah says to Gabriel: Tell the Prophet to whom I sent you that Allah tells him to do this and this, and He ordered him something. So Gabriel understood what His Lord had told him. Then he descended with this to the Prophet and told him what His Lord had told him, but the expression is not this (same) expression, just as a king says to someone upon whom he relies: Tell so-and-so: The king says to you: strive in his service and gather your army for fighting ... and when the messenger (goes and) says: The king tells you: do not fail in my service, and do not let the army break up, and call for fighting, etc., then he has not lied nor shortened (the message) ...
'And as to the other kind, Allah says to Gabriel: Read to the Prophet this (piece of) writing, and Gabriel descended with it from Allah, without altering it the least, just as (if) the king writes a written (instruction) and hands it over to his trustworthy (servant) and says (to him): Read it to so-and-so. Suyuti said: The Qur'an belongs to the second kind, and the first kind is the sunna, and from this derives the reporting of the sunna according to the meaning unlike the Qur'an." [Sabuni, tibyan, p.52]
It is generally accepted that the difference between Qur'an and sunna is as follows:
The ahadith from or about the Prophet Muhammad are:
Hadith Qudsi [For an introduction to the subject and select sample texts, see e.g. Ibrahim Izzuddin and Denis Johnson-Davies: Forty Hadith Qudsi, Beirut, Damascus, 1980.]
Qudsi means holy, or pure. There are some reports from the Prophet Muhammad where he relates to the people what God has said (says) or did (does), but this information is not part of the Qur'an. Such a report is called hadith qudsi, e.g.:
Abu Huraira reported that Allah's messenger said:
'Allah, Mighty and Exalted is He, said: If My servant likes to meet me, I like to meet him, and if he dislikes to meet Me, I dislike to meet him.' [Forty Hadith Qudsi, Beirut, Damascus, 1980, No. 30.]
While the common factor between hadith qudsi and the Qur'an is that both contain words from Allah which have been revealed to Muhammad, the main points of difference between Qur'an and hadith qudsi are as follows:
Another point is that a hadith qudsi cannot be recited in prayer.
The most important distinction between the Qur'an and all other words or writings therefore is that the Qur'an is the speech from Allah, revealed in its precise meaning and wording through the Angel Gabriel, transmitted by many, inimitable, unique and protected by Allah Himself against any corruption.
REVELATION AND HOW IT CAME TO THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD
Allah the Creator has not only brought about the creation, but continues to sustain and direct it, in the way that He has created us and all that is around us. He has provided many forms of guidance, indeed, a system of guiding principles, of which the laws of 'nature' are a part.
But Allah has also granted a special form of guidance for mankind from the outset of its occupancy of the earth. He promised to Adam and his descendants: 'Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you guidance from Me, whosoever follows guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve' (2: 38).' [The word here used for guidance is hudan.] This guidance comes through the prophets, whom Allah continuously sent to mankind, until the last messenger, Muhammad received His final guidance.
We call a man to whom God in his own way communicates His guidance, a prophet or messenger (nabi, rasul). Prophets receive the word of God through revelation and then communicate it to their fellow human beings:
'We have sent thee INSPIRATION, as We sent it to Noah and the messengers after him: We sent INSPIRATION to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Harun and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. Of some apostles, We have already told the story, of others We have not and to Moses God spoke direct apostles who gave good news as well as warning, that mankind after (the coming) of the apostles should have no plea against God: for God is exalted in power and ways' (4: 163-5).
The two words italicised (capitalized) in the above translationare both derived from the Arabic root 'wahy'.
The word awha, from which 'wahy' (revelation) is derived, occurs in a number of shades of meaning in the Qur'an, each of them indicating the main underlying idea of inspiration directing or guiding someone. In each example below, the italicised words in the translation are forms of the root word wahy in the original text of the Qur'an:
Wahy in the sense of 'revelation' is guidance from God for His creation, brought by the Prophets, who received the word from God through one of the means mentioned in the following Qur'anic verse:
'It is not fitting for a man that God should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending of a messenger to reveal with God's permission what God wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise' (42: 51)
Means of revelation are:
Prophet Muhammad, the last of God's messengers, received the revelation of the Qur'an through a special messenger sent by God for this purpose: the Angel Gabriel, who recited to him God's words exactly.
According to Suyuti' [al Itqan fi ulum al quran, Beirut, 1973, Vol. I pp. 39-40] on the basis of three reports from 'Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas, in Hakim, Baihaqi and Nasa'i, the Qur'an descended in two stages:
This second descent from the heaven to the heart of the Prophet is referred to in Sura al-isra' (17) and Sura al-furqan (25).
BEGINNING OF THE REVELATION
The revelation of the Qur'an began in the laila al-qadr of Ramadan (the 27th night or one of the odd nights after the 21st) after the Prophet Muhammad had passed the fortieth year of his life (that is around the year 610), during his seclusion in the cave of Hira' on a mountain near Makka.
Bukharis Account [English translations of ahadith are, unless otherwise indicated, from Khan, Muhammad Muhsin: The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari, 9 vols., Istanbul, 1978 (abbr. as Bukhari) and Siddiqui, Abdul Hamid: Sahih Muslim, 4 vols., Lahore, 1978 (abbr. as Muslim).]
This is the account, as reported in the Sahih of Bukhari:
Narrated Aisha the mother of the faithful believers: The commencement of the divine inspiration to Allah's apostle was in the form of good dreams which came like bright daylight (i.e. true) and then the love of seclusion was bestowed upon him.
He used to go in seclusion in the Cave of Hira', where he used to worship (Allah alone) continuously for many days before his desire to see his family. He used to take with him food for the stay and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take his food likewise again, till suddenly the truth descended upon him while he was in the Cave of Hira'.
The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet replied 'I do not know how to read'. The Prophet added, 'The angel caught me (forcibly) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read and I replied, "I do not know how to read". Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read, but again I replied, "I do not know how to read" (or what shall I read?). Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said: "Read, in the name of Your Lord, who created, created man from a clot. Read! And Your Lord is the most bountiful" ... [Bukhari, I, No. 3; VI, No. 478; Muslim I, No. 301.]
The narration goes on to tell us that the Prophet went back to his wife Khadija and recounted to her his dreadful experience. She comforted him and both of them consulted Waraqa, Khadlja's relative and a learned Christian, about it. Waraqa told Muhammad that he had encountered the one 'whom Allah had sent to Moses' and that he would be driven out by his people.
Narrated Aisha, the mother of the faithful believers: Al-Harith bin Hisham asked Allah's apostle: 'O Allah's apostle. How is the divine inspiration revealed to you?' Allah's apostle replied, 'Sometimes it is "revealed" like the ringing of a bell, this form of inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says'. [Bukhari, I, No. 2.]
The first revelation that the Prophet Muhammad received is in the first verses from Sura al-'alaq (96:1-3, according to others 1-5):
'Read in the name of your Lord, who created, created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is most bountiful. (He who taught) the use of the pen taught man which he knew not.'
The remainder of Sura 96, which now has 19 ayat, was revealed on some later occasion.
After the first message thus received, revelation ceased for a certain period (called fatra) and then resumed:
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah Al-Ansari while talking about the period of pause in revelation reporting the speech of the Prophet, 'While I was walking, all of a sudden I heard a voice from the heaven. I looked up and saw the same angel who had visited me at the Cave of Hira' sitting on a chair between the sky and the earth. I got afraid of him and came back home and said "Wrap me (in blankets)" and then Allah revealed the following holy verses (of the Qur'an): O you covered in your cloak, arise and warn (the people against Allah's punishment) ... up to "and all pollution shun".'
After this revelation came strongly and regularly. [Bukhari, I, end of No. 3.]
The second portion of the Qur'an revealed to the Prophet Muhammad was the beginning of Sura al-muddaththir (74: 15). It now consists of 56 verses, the rest revealed later, and begins as follows: 'O you, covered in your cloak, arise and warn, thy Lord magnify, thy raiment purify, pollution shun ...'
Many hold that Sura al-muzzammil (73) was the next revelation.
According to others, Sura al-fatiha (1) was the third sura to be revealed. [Suyuti, Itqan, I, p.24.]
Among other early revelations, which the Prophet declared in Makka, are, according to some reports, Sura 111, Sura 81, Sura 87, Sura 92, Sura 89, etc. Then revelation continued, 'mentioning Paradise and Hell, and until mankind turned to Islam, then came revelation about halal and haram ... ' [Suyuti, Itqan, I, p.24.]
Revelation came to the Prophet throughout his lifetime, both in Makka and Madina, i.e. over a period of approximately 23 years, until shortly before his death in the year 10 after Hijra (632).
Many Muslim scholars agree that the last revelation was Sura 2, verse 281:
'And fear the day when ye shall be brought back to God. Then shall every soul be paid what it earned and none shall be dealt with unjustly.'
Some also say that it was 2:282 or 2:278. [Kamal, Ahmad 'Adil: 'ulum al-Qur'an, Cairo, 1974, p.18.]
It has also been suggested that all three verses were revealed on one occasion. The Prophet died nine nights after the last revelation.
Others hold that Sura 5:4 was the last to be revealed:
'This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.'
The opinion that this verse was the last revelation is not sound according to many scholars, since it was revealed during the last pilgrimage of the Prophet. This information is based upon a hadith from 'Umar. Suyuti explains concerning the verse in Sura 5 that after it nothing concerning ahkam and hal'al and haram was revealed, and in this sense it is the 'completion' of religion. However, revelation reminding man of the coming day of judgement continued and the last such revelation is the above verse. [Sabuni, tibyan pp. 18-9]
The Qur'an was revealed in stages over a period of 23 years, and not as a complete book in one single act of revelation. There are a number of reasons for this; most important are the following: