Understanding the Quran — by Diana Steigerwald on Ismaili web Amaana

Understanding the Quran — Diana Steigerwald, California State University (Long Beach)

Surat al-Fatihah Quran 1.1-7 The Opening - Amaana.org

‘I  believe  in  one  God,  and  Muhammad,  an Apostle  of  God’  is  the  simple  and  invariable profession of Islām. The intellectual image of the Deity has never been degraded by any visible idol; the honor of  the Prophet has never  transgressed the  measure  of  human  virtues;  and  his  living precepts  have  restrained  the  gratitude  of  his disciples within the bounds of reason and religion. (Gibbon  and al., 54)


There will come a time when nothing will remain of the Qur’ān but a set of rituals. And nothing will be more common than attributing falsities to God and the Prophet. — ‛Alī Ibn Abī Tālib

The Qur’ān contains a powerful message which generates a material and spiritual response. From its original source, the Mother of the Book (Umm al-Kitāb) came down to convey all humans to its universal message. It was revealed in fragments of varying lengths over twenty-three years, and every sūra was not only related to the overall Divine plan but also to emerging situations. Madinian sūras are generally the longer ones; the difficulty of rearranging them in chronological order was increased by the fact that most Madinian and many Makkan  sūras were composite, containing  discourses  of  different  periods  bound  up  together. Apart  from  the  relatively  few allusions  to  exactly  date  historical  events,  the  principal  evidences were  supplied  by  general criteria of style and content. (Gibb, 36)

The collation of the Qur’ān began at the death of the Prophet in 632, but even during his life  some verses were written down. Partial compilations were made on  rather unsatisfactory materials (bones, leather sheets, stones etc.). The dying off of the companions of the Prophet, and the  sharpening  of  a  debate  among  surviving Muslims  pushed  the  third  caliph,  ‛Uthmān  (d. 35/656), to gather the Qur’ānic revelation into a single compilation called mushaf. The collection was  declared  complete  and  closed;  the  text was  established  by  the Caliph  ‛Uthmān  and  his entourage;  and  the  other  compilations  were  destroyed  to  avoid  feeding  dissent  about  the authenticity of the official Qur’ān.

For Muslims, Allāh speaks directly  to humankind in  the  first person  in  the Qur’ān.  Its literary  style  and  diction  are  altogether  different  from  the  sayings  (ahādīth)  of  the  Prophet Muhammad. To those who doubt its Divine origin, the Qur’ān throws a challenge asking them to imitate  its  full  text, or even  to produce one  sūra similar  to  it. Most Muslims believe  that  the ‛Uthmānic Codex contain integrally the truly Word of God.



The nature and the content of the Qur’ān

It is equally important to understand how Muslim believers view the Bible through the lens of the Qur’ān, and in their estimation their Holy Book is the only Scripture preserved in its authenticity. Muslims  believe  in  previous  revelations  at  least  those  mentioned  in  the  Qur’ān.  The  oral traditions  (ahādīth)  played  an  important  role  in  preserving  the  proper  interpretation  of  the Qur’ānic text. It is generally believed that Muhammad acquired his biblical knowledge mainly through  oral  tradition  in  his mother  tongue.  This  oral wisdom  came  from  Syriac, Aramaic, Ethiopian, and Hebrew materials, since there are many foreign words in the Arabic Qur’ān.  In Christianity,  the  role of  the Bible  is secondary  to  that of Christ;  it witnesses  to Him and His actions.  The  Christians  develop  a  personal  relationship  with  Jesus  living  a  Christocentric experience. Islam, by contrast, centres on the Qur’ān which is its “raison d’être.” The Qur’ān is the  Divine  revelation  which  instructs men  how  to  live  according  to  the  will  of  God.  The understanding of the Qur’ān as a perfect and inimitable in message, language, style, and form — referring to the preserved Tablet (Lawh-i mahfūz) or celestial Qur’ān — is strikingly similar to the Christian notion of the Bible’s “inerrancy” and “verbal inspiration” that is still common in many places today.


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