MAJOR THEMES OF THE QUR ĀN. Fazlur Rahman Professor of Islamic Thought University of Chicago - PDF

Introduction MAJOR THEMES OF THE QUR ĀN by Fazlur Rahman Professor of Islamic Thought University of Chicago Major Themes of the Qur'ān * i * Introduction Fazlur Rahman, Fazlur Rahman was born

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Introduction MAJOR THEMES OF THE QUR ĀN by Fazlur Rahman Professor of Islamic Thought University of Chicago Major Themes of the Qur'ān * i * Introduction Fazlur Rahman, Fazlur Rahman was born September 21, 1919, in what is today Pakistan. His early education was in Islamic schools followed by an M.A. degree from Punjab University, Lahore, in 1942, with a First Class in Arabic. He was awarded the D. Phil. degree by Oxford University in 1949 for his thesis, Avecenna's Psychology. He was lecturer in Persian Studies and Islamic Philosophy at Durham University from In 1958, he was appointed Associate Professor in the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University in Montreal, where he remained until In 1962, he was named Director of the Central Institute of Islamic Research in Pakistan and continued in that capacity until In 1969, he was appointed Professor of Islamic Thought at the University of Chicago and in 1987 the University made him Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in recognition of his contributions to scholarship. The author of ten books and hundreds of articles, he was the ninth recipient of the Levi Delia Vida award for Islamic scholarship presented by UCLA. Professor Rahman passed away on July 26, 1988, due to complications of heart surgery. He was 68 years old. Major Themes of the Qur'ān * ii * Introduction Contents BIOGRAPHY.... ii PRONUNCIATION GUIDE.. iv INTRODUCTION.. v CHAPTER ONE God... 1 CHAPTER TWO Man as Individual 12 CHAPTER THREE Man in Society. 25 CHAPTER FOUR Nature.. 45 CHAPTER FIVE Prophethood and Revelation CHAPTER SIX Eschatology CHAPTER SEVEN Satan and Evil. 85 CHAPTER EIGHT Emergence of The Muslim Community. 92 APPENDIX I The Religious Situation of The Muslim Community in Mecca APPENDIX II The People of the Book and Diversity of Religions GLOSSARY Arabic Terms English Terms Major Themes of the Qur'ān * iii * Introduction Arabic Letter or Mark Name Symbol Used in English Text ا ى (vowel) alif aa or ā ب baa b ت ة taa t ث thaa th ج jeem j ح ħaa ħ خ khaa kh د daal d ذ dhaal dh ر raa r ز zaay z س seen s ش sheen sh ص şaad ş ض dhaad dh ط ţaa ţ ظ thaa th or ż ع ayn غ ghayn gh ف faa f ق qaaf q ك kaaf k ل laam l م meem m ن noon n ه haa h و waaw w و (as vowel) waaw ū ي yaa y ي (as vowel) yaa ee or ī ء hamzah fatħah a kasrah i dhammah u shaddah doubled letter sukoon absence of vowel Major Themes of the Qur'ān * iv * Introduction Introduction Purpose of the Present Work Muslims and non-muslims have written extensively on the Qur ān. The innumerable Muslim commentaries on the Holy Book often take the text verse by verse and explain it. Quite apart from the fact that most of these project tendentious points of view, at great length, by the very nature of their procedure they cannot yield insight into the cohesive outlook on the universe and life which the Qur ān undoubtedly possesses. More recently, non-muslims as well as Muslims have produced topical arrangements of the Qur ānic verses; although these can in varying degree serve the scholar as a source or an index, they are of no help to the student seeking to acquaint himself with what the Qur ān has to say on God, man, or society. It is therefore hoped that the present work will respond to the urgent need for an introduction to major themes of the Qur ān. Except for the treatment of a few important themes like the diversity of religious communities, the possibility and actuality of miracles, and jihād, which all show evolution through the Qur ān, the procedure used for synthesizing themes is logical rather than chronological. In discussing God, for example, the idea of monotheism which is logically imperative is made the foundation-stone of the entire treatment, and all other Qur ānic ideas on God are either derived from it or subsumed under it, as seemed best to establish the synthetic concept of God. Apart from this, the Qur ān has been allowed to speak for itself; interpretation has been used only as necessary for joining together ideas. I am convinced that this synthetic exposition is the only way to give a reader a genuine taste of the Qur ān, the Command of God for man. Even if the chronological order could be feasibly reconstructed passage by passage (which I consider a real impossibility pace Richard Bell!), it would only explicate what is germinal in the original, master idea. This is radically different from the dissective study approach chronological or other whose usefulness for scholarship is obvious but which must disclaim any pretensions to treat the Qur ān as what it claims to be: God's message to man. The conventional repetition of such usual information about the Qur ān as the Five Pillars or the inheritance laws has kept understanding of the Qur ān at the most superficial level. (Note, however, that this work does include detailed references to chapters and verses so that the reader can verify and think further for himself.) Modern Western Writings on the Qur ān After translations of the Qur ān, of which A. J. Arberry's The Koran Interpreted ranks easily as the best in English (followed by two English translations by Muslims, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur ān by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall and The Holy Qur ān by Abdullah Yūsuf Ali), earlier modem Western literature on the Qur ān falls into three broad categories: (1) works that seek to trace the influence of Jewish or Christian ideas on the Qur ān; (2) works that attempt to reconstruct the chronological order of the Qur ān; and (3) works that aim at describing the content of the Qur ān, either the whole or certain aspects. Though this last might be expected to receive the most attention, it has had the least. Perhaps Western scholars consider it a Muslim responsibility to present the Qur ān as it would have itself presented, retaining for themselves the work of objective analysis, either in terms of sources or in terms of the development of ideas. Muslim scholarship, on the other hand, has Major Themes of the Qur'ān * v * Introduction two problems: (1) lack of a genuine feel for the relevance of the Qur ān today, which prevents presentation in terms adequate to the needs of contemporary man; but even more (2) a fear that such a presentation might deviate on some points from traditionally received opinions. This last risk is inevitable; I think it must be undertaken, though with both sincerity and perception. The three broad categories of Qur ānic studies are all scholarly; although only the third does true justice to the subject, the other two are very useful in achieving this third task. A grasp of the background of the Qur ānic passages and of the chronological order (to the extent possible) is crucial for correct understanding of the purposes of the Qur ān. Unfortunately, the treatment of the Judaeo-Christian antecedents of the Qur ān has often been contaminated by the far too obvious desire of its proponents to prove that the Qur ān is no more than an echo of Judaism (or Christianity) and Muħammad (PBUH) no more than a Jewish (or Christian) disciple! After two early, and excellent, pieces of scholarship (Abraham Geiger's Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume Aufgenommen [1883] and Hartwig Hirschfeld's Jüdische Elemente im Koran [1878]), there have been a disproportionate number of attempts to show that the Prophet Muħammad (PBUH) was literally a disciple of one or another Jewish scholar. Christian scholars have not been quite so immoderate: although one may question many theses in a book like Richard Bell's The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment, it is recognizably a scholarly work. The logical end of the line for Jewish apologists is John Wansbrough's Quranic Studies (1977), which labors to prove (1) that the Qur ān is truly a work a la tradition Juive because it was produced in an atmosphere of intense Judaeo-Christian sectarian debate and (2) that it is a composite work of several traditions (this theory being used to explain certain differences within the Qur ān, e.g., attitudes towards Abraham); so that (3) as it stands, the Qur ān is post-muħammad (PBUH). There are a number of problems with this. Consider first Wansbrough's second thesis, that the Qur ān is a composite of several traditions and hence post-prophetic. I feel that there is a distinct lack of historical data on the origin, character, evaluation, and personalities involved in these traditions. Moreover, on a number of key issues the Qur ān can be understood only in terms of chronological and developmental unfolding within a single document. Take the question of how the Qur ān treats miracles. As I explain below in Chapter IV, while the Qur ānic attitude toward miracles does evolve, it is always cohesive, affirming at later stages that while miracles are no longer necessary, they are always possible. The development is intelligible only in the context of a unified document gradually unfolding itself. It cannot be understood as a composite of different and contradictory elements. A similar case is the Qur ānic treatment of the problem of diversity of religious communities (treated below in Chapter VIII and more completely in Appendix II). I also had difficulty with Wansbrough's treatment of retribution, i.e., judgment in history, for he makes a definite disjunction between historical and eschatological significance in discussing the Qur ānic terminology. In the Qur ān there is no disjunction but the closest possible connection. It appears that Wansbrough wishes to equate the Qur ānic examples of destroyed nations and civilizations with the pessimism of the Wisdom literature motif of the transitoriness of the world. In his discussion, Wansbrough refers to C. H. Becker's Islamstudien, yet he seems to ignore Becker's direct statement that [The stories of] Ād and Thamūd [in the Qur ān] do not illustrate the [themes of the] transitoriness of the world and of the destiny of the Major Themes of the Qur'ān * vi * Introduction individual, but rather the fates of nations. I think that the Qur ān itself is the best argument against Wansbrough's thesis (see below, Chapter III), for it repeatedly admonishes nations to profit by the experiences and mistakes of other nations. Nor do I feel that Wansbrough has dealt well with the phenomenon of substitution of certain verses by certain others which the Qur ān itself recognizes and calls naskh, abrogation or substitution. Clearly for substitution, there must be a later verse to substitute for an earlier one, a chronological necessity which would be difficult to maintain if the Qur ān were merely an amalgamation of simultaneous traditions. In that case, there might be adjustments, but they could hardly be called naskh. My disagreements with Wansbrough are so numerous that they are probably best understood only by reading both this book and his. (I do, however, concur with at least one of his points: The kind of analysis undertaken will in no small measure determine the results! [p. 21]) I do believe that this kind of study can be enormously useful, though we have to return to Geiger and Hirschfeld to see just how useful it can be when done properly. With regard to the chronological studies of the Qur ān, the monumental work of Nöldeke-Schwally, Geschichte des Qorans, still sets the standard and cries out for an English translation. R. Blâchere's French translation of the Qur ān and his Introduction au Koran both assume Nöldeke's arrangement of the suras; his Le Probleme de Mahomet uses a more subjective chronology based on the psychological development of the Prophet, rather than on the German School's principle of development of themes. Richard Bell's translation of the Qur ān and his companion Introduction to the Qur ān show occasional valuable insights, but develop some rather eccentric themes. He suggests, for instance, that a certain amount of disconnectedness arose in the passages of the Qur ān because those who copied it could not distinguish between the front and the back of the written materials from which they copied! Montgomery Watt has issued a thoroughly reworked edition of Bell's Introduction which I found very useful despite my disagreements with it on several points. Rudi Paret's German translation of the Qur ān is sober and excellent, as is his Koran Kommentar, where under each verse he gives useful cross-references to other verses. Paret believes, rightly, I think, that Bell's type of passage-by-passage chronology is impossible. The basic work on the history of the Qur ānic text is again Nöldeke-Schwally. Blâchere and others, notably A. Jeffery in Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur ān, have made some valuable contributions (though care should be exercised in studying Jeffery). There is, at the opposite pole, along with Wansbrough, John Burton's The Collection of the Qur ān (which takes the doctrine of naskh much too far, I think, in speculating that the entire text of the Qur ān was edited, checked and promulgated by the Prophet himself!); while Hagarism by Crone and Cook takes its departure from Wansbrough's thesis as established truth. The lacunae in Qur ānic scholarship are most obvious in our third category, works concerned with the content of the Qur ān. Most deal only with certain aspects of the Qur ān, and none is rooted in the Qur ān itself. If they are not purely scientific, dealing with, say, foreign terms or commercial terms in the Qur ān, they exhibit a controlling, external point of view. None has presented the Qur ān on its own terms, as a unity, even those treatments by Muslims themselves, of which the best mirror is Ignaz Goldziher's Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung. I have attempted to elaborate how the Qur ān might be studied as a unity in the Introduction to an as-yet-unpublished monograph, Islamic Education and Modernity. Major Themes of the Qur'ān * vii * Introduction A useful though naturally outmoded work is H. Grimme's second volume of Mohammad (1895), which presents a general overview of the theology and doctrine of the duties of Muslims as set forth in the Qur ān. An extraordinarily sensitive response to Islamic scripture by a Christian is Kenneth Cragg's The Event of the Qur ān, and his book of essays The Mind of the Qur ān. Also deserving of notice are Thomas O'Shaughnessy's The Development of the Meaning of Spirit in the Koran, in Orientalia Christiana Analecta (1953) and S. H. Al-Shamma's Ph.D. dissertation, The Ethical System Underlying the Qur ān. Finally the remarkable work of the Japanese scholar, T. Izutsu, must be noted. His earlier work, The Structure of the Ethical Terms in the Koran, was revised into Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Koran in Between lies a related work, God and Man in the Koran. His approach is semantic. Although the books deal primarily with religious ethics and attitude, a good deal of the general Qur ānic worldview comes under discussion. Though I occasionally disagree with Professor Izutsu on his analysis of certain key terms like taqwā, I recommend his work as highly useful. Qur ānic bibliographies are collected by William A. Bijiefeld in Some Recent Contributions to Qur ānic Studies, Muslim World, 64: (1974): 79, n. 1. Citation of the Qur ān In referring to the Qur ān below, I have followed the verse numbering of the official Egyptian edition rather than that of Flugel's edition. For the most part, I have given my own English rendering of the Qur ānic verses, though in Chapters I and VI where the quotations are extensive, I have used Pickthall's translation, with some modifications. In general, I take responsibility for all renderings of Qur ānic passages into English. Major Themes of the Qur'ān * viii * Chapter 1 - God Chapter 1 - God The Qur ān is a document that is squarely aimed at man; indeed, it calls itself guidance for mankind (hudan lil-nās [] and numerous equivalents elsewhere). Yet, the term Allāh, the proper name for God, occurs well over 2,500 times in the Qur ān (not to count the terms al-rabb, The Lord, and al-raħmān, The Merciful, which, although they signify qualities, have nevertheless come to acquire substance). Still, the Qur ān is no treatise about God and His nature: His existence, for the Qur ān, is strictly functional He is Creator and Sustainer of the universe and of man, and particularly the giver of guidance for man and He who judges man, individually and collectively, and metes out to him merciful justice. This merciful justice has often been represented as justice tempered with mercy by modern writers, but, as we shall soon see, orderly creativity, sustenance, guidance, justice, and mercy fully interpenetrate in the Qur ānic concept of God as an organic unity. Since all these are relational ideas, we shall have to speak of God a great deal in the following pages. In the present chapter we wish to discuss briefly questions of the necessity of God and of one God, and what according to the Qur ān these immediately imply (hoping thereby to reduce overlapping to the minimum). The immediate impression from a cursory reading of the Qur ān is that of the infinite majesty of God and His equally infinite mercy, although many a Western scholar (through a combination of ignorance and prejudice) has depicted the Qur ānic God as a concentrate of pure power, even as brute power indeed, as a capricious tyrant. The Qur ān, of course, speaks of God in so many different contexts and so frequently that unless all the statements are interiorized into a total mental picture without, as far as possible, the interference of any subjective and wishful thinking it would be extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to do justice to the Qur ānic concept of God. First, why God at all? Why not let nature and her contents and processes stand on their own without bringing in a higher being, which only complicates reality and puts an unnecessary burden on both man's intellect and his soul? The Qur ān calls this belief in and awareness of the unseen (;ā idah:94;ā :49; 35.Fāţir:18; 36.Yā Seen:11; 50.Qāf:33;Ħadeed:25;; this unseen has been, to a greater or lesser extent, made seen through Revelation for some people like the Prophet (examples:;; 52.aţ-Ţūr:41;; 12.Yūsuf:102; 11.Hūd:49), although it cannot be fully known to anyone except God (examples:;ābun:18;Ħashr:22;Ħujurāt:18;; 35.Fāţir:38;;; minūn:92;;ħl:77; d:9; 12.Yūsuf:81; 11.Hūd:31; rāf:188, etc.). God's existence can, however, be brought home to those who care to reflect so that it not only ceases to be an irrational or unreasonable belief but becomes the Master-Truth. This is the task of the Qur ān: if the task is accomplished, everything has been accomplished; if not, nothing whatever has been achieved. But in order to achieve this, students also must do something; if they do not, they cannot be called students at all. It is, therefore, not an extraordinary or an unreasonable or a supererogatory demand. The student must listen to what the Qur ān has to say: Who is humble before the unseen and brings with him a heart such that it can respond [when the truth hits it] (50.Qāf:33); it is a reminder to him/her who has a heart and surrenders his/her ears in witnessing (50.Qāf:37). Such Major Themes of the Qur'ān * 1 * Chapter 1 - God verses are everywhere: These people are [as though] they are being called from a long distance (41.Fuşşilat:44). Yet God is not so far that His signals cannot be heard: We created man and We know what the negative whisperings of his mind are and We are nearer to him than his jugular v
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