LESSON ONE: THE NATURE OF THE QUR’AN
1. WHAT IS THE QUR’AN
The Qur’an is the last and final in a series of Divinely inspired messages coming at the end of an age characterized by civilizations forming on the basis of religious faith taught by Divinely inspired persons called, at least in the case of Middle Eastern peoples, a prophet (nabi) or messenger (rasul) of Allah- name of the Deity ostensibly generally used by all Semites which made and still makes up the majority of the people in the area. In the case of Persians (today’s Iranians) although the name for God has been ‘Khoda’ and a prophet is called a ‘paighambar’ (news-bringer) the same theme of God raising and sending a messenger to a people holds as true as among the Semites and the Persian prophet was Zardusht (Zoroaster, 6. Cent. BC). The holy scripture containing the teachings of his basically monotheistic religion is called Avesta and it rather looks like the Old Testament in scope and style, containing numerous booklets on legend, law, hymns etc. The Deity’s name is Ahura Mazda which means Wise Spirit which comes very close to the Semitic term Holy Spirit. Very similarly to the Semitic prophets Zoroaster lived among idolatrous polytheists but received revelation from Ahura Mazda Who ordered him to preach this God’s unity and instruct people in His Law (sharia). Just like in Semitic religions Zoroaster abolished orgiastic pagan rituals and savage practices, taught about the fight between good and evil (personified in Ahriman, quite similar to Semitic ‘Satan’) and the resurrection of the dead, personal responsibility, paradise and hell. Further east we find Buddhism and still older Hinduism and still more to the East in China we find Taoism from all of which some form of underlying monotheism leaks despite the heavy accretions of polytheistic and idolatrous material covering the whole lot. At almost all other places also we have basically the same theme of monotheism with personal responsibility as its centrepiece realized after being raised from the dead. Of all places, this holds true even in Americas before the Europeans came and colonized that great continent. Hugh Thomas in his book ‘The Conquest of Mexico’ (Hutchinson, 1993) reports on this as other scholars did before him. All of which supports the Qur’anic claim that the Creator raised from among mankind and sent messengers to invite them to Himself as the One and Only God and teach them His ways. Invariably these ways meant more humanization and civilization of the recipients who had been too superstitious and barbarous to that point in time. Hence our remark that ‘civilizations forming on the basis of religious faith’ by which we mean unifying and edifying spiritual, moral and legal teachings and impositions originating from the Creator. These civilizations differ from modern Western secular civilization which, although it retains much of the established mores of Christianity it FEELS FREE to depart from them for many reasons some good some bad. In other words, some gains from Christianity are retained for they are too good to be abandoned and have stood the test of time very well indeed (like honesty and charity) but others have been left to die out for various reasons, those especially in the sexual and social and ritualistic spheres. This is what secularism is. It is not a total rejection of old faiths and mores but their relegation to the private sphere- each person making his or her own mind about their worth and relevance- and proceed with behavior and legislation and government as if religion did not matter.
After this brief diversion and to return to the Qur’an. As already said it is the last in a series of Divinely inspired messages (and we shall see what that means shortly) intended to reform human beings as persons and human societies for the better with their very best interests in mind. As such it contains the following elements of guidance: *Spiritual information, law (commandments, prohibitions allowances and indulgences) and good manners, instructive histories, stories and anectodes, moral and spiritual advice, exhortation and warning … all in a breathtaking perspective of heavenly and earthly portrayals and viewpoints as well as an unbroken narrative of spiritual history and spirituali ontology, like the history and nature of Evil as personified in the Satan and his frequent victim and accomplice the uneducated, unreformed human ego. We must briefly see what these mean.
Topped by Allah the Qur’an informs about spiritual beings normally undetected by the human senses. After Allah ‘the Spirit’ (al Ruh) and Allah’s angels (malak, pl. malaika) and then the less spiritual jinni who are said to have bodies of essential, poisonous, penetrating fire (narun samoom- radiation?). Man for his part, although endowed with spirit, is far coarser and tangible than all above but paradoxically is also potentially closest to Allah, having been inspired with Allah’s Own Spirit. Ostensibly man’s top rank among all creatures comes from his range of realities- from the grossest bestial matter to the Spirit of God in him. The ranks and degrees of all these- spirits, angels, jinni… are represented by many levels of refinement from the gross earthly matter to seven levels of heavens each with its appropriate inhabitants and occasional visitors. The coarsest, the uneducated, unreformed man resides on earth and lives and dies there as a mere intelligent brute. To attain his heavenly potential which spans all heavens and even overflows into the Divine Presence man needs heavenly nutrition and guidance which is likened to a rope (3: 103) or staircases (70: 3) from Heaven. Allah said “This is the Book in which there is no doubt. It is a guidance for the God-mindful (al muttaqin)” (2:2). He also said “We send down from the Qur’an what is cure and loving kindness for the believers” (17: 82). Which means, provided faith is given, the Qur’an cures the ego of its illnesses and fills it with loving kindness which replaces the hating cruelty filling it until then. All these are spiritual information. Another example may be given from the angels. Allah said “The lightning glorifies Him with His praises and the angels do the same out of His fear” (13:13). Concerning the jinni He Almighty said “As for Jaan, We made him of essential, penetrating fire” (15: 27). He Almighty also said “The angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a day whose magnitude is equal to fifty thousand years” (70: 4). He Almighty also describes what happens after death and the fate of each of us on a Day called the Day of Judgment and beyond. He tells about a Garden or several Gardens and a place of burning torment called Jahannam (Hell) and what treatment their inmates face. All these are SPIRITUAL matters and descriptions thereof are in metaphor language (Mutashabihat). Allah said “It is He Who sent down the Book. In it are (many) verses which are solid judgments and commandments (muhkamat). They form the basis of the Book. Other verses are metaphors” (3: 7). Now a warning is in order here. Some believers become upset when told that matters relating to the presently invisible (or rather imperceptible and intangible) beings and states (angels, paradise etc) are ultimately material and tangible or they are not worth believing in or having. This is an infantile demand and desperation which, although to be respected and not provoked further, should not intimidate us either. The wise are right to yearn for higher experiences than material satisfactions. The materialistically stuck souls are like children who can only be entertained and placated by edible sweets and tangible toys. If you take such babes to a seminar on astrophysics where competent scientists are so absorbed in and satisfied with their arcane debates and deliberations that they are salivating with profound pleasure derived from the theoretical insights occurring to them and delighting with their playing with the MENTAL toys of theoretical models of the cosmos. Can these children either join or appreciate this BANQUET of the mind? The adults may be in so much bliss that they may forget the food and drink waiting for them for hours and when extreme hunger forces them only then they look at and resort to the table where they may quickly stuff themselves with plenty of sweets and drink so that they get a quick boost of energy to return at no time to their graphs, maps, formulas and debates. Awlia’s state is similar to these profound scientists. Only they are spiritually adult enough to witness and explore a non-material cosmos of realities and taste its delicacies which enables them to give a very low if unavoidable priority to the material. In this vein says that great sheikh Jalaladdin Rumi “How many sweets we have eaten without tongue or palate being involved”. My advice then to those who cannot yet bear to contemplate as credible threat (wa’eed) or promise (wa’d) from Allah except in material form is stick to it until they know better ( in fact thy may get only that) yet not to dismiss the higher possibility- for denial prevents attainment. The last word in this matter is the Prophet’s sws good-news “Allah has prepared for His good servants in the Garden what no eyes have seen, no ears have heard about and no imagination ever conceived”. Materials things simply are too poor and won’t do.
2. 'WAHY'- REVELATION
The noun ‘wahy’ derives from the verb ‘awha’ which means to signal, indicate, whisper etc. In religious terms it therefore mainly means the private transmission of God’s word to a man through the agency of an angelic messenger. Although people mainly believe that God only sends angels to and communicate His message to only a prophet that is not the case at all. No doubt Allah the Most High and Sublime knows more Arabic than all Arabs and as such He Almighty uses the very same word ‘wahy’ to describe His guiding communication to the honey bee (see below), to the mother of Moses (see below), to Mary mother of Jesus (see below) as well as to all His prophets- without apology or reservations. It is not whether Allah’s wahy to such diverse beings is real wahy or not- they all are- but a matter of degree and scope. In the case of animals, e.g., the bee, Allah’s wahy is non-verbal guidance built into the bee from the start which guidance we call ‘instinct’. He Almighty said “Consider when We revealed the bee ‘take ye habitation in the mountains, trees and what men built and eat of each fruit…’ … from its belly a drink comes in which there is cure for people” (16: 68-69). All instinct is ultimately located in the brain whose intellectual powers are more located to the front part, just behind the forehead bone. So Allah says through the tongue of Shuaib AS “There is no animal but Allah holds it from its forehead. Indeed my Lord is on the Straight Path” (11: 56).
As for the wahy to human beings it arrives mainly in two forms for non-prophets. First is a lucid and good dream (ruyaun salihun). Such dreams often visit us when we are in a serious dilemma and may contain Allah’s explicit guidance. On the authority of the Messenger of Allah we are also promised dream guidance in the form of ‘istikhara’. Our Master the Prophet of Allah sws taught us thus: Pray two rik’ats of salat and add the following prayer “O Allah, I seek the good in Thy knowledge and seek power in Thy power and ask of Thy great generosity. It is Thou and not we who decides and Thou and not we who know. Though art Full Knower of all secrets. O Allah if Thou knowest that what I intend to do (name the desire) is good for me for my faith and livelihood or for my near and far future then please let it happen and bless it and make it easy for me. If Thou knowest that it is bad for me then please turn it away from me and Me away from it and instead give me what is good for me and make me pleased with it”. You do this last thing before you go to bed. Then in your dream the answer shall be given to you. But such dreams of guidance are more often given us without consciously asking but only when we are in a distressing dilemma. An example is the dream the mother of Moses AS was granted “We revealed to the mother of Moses: Suckle him. When you are afraid about his safety then put him in a box and release him into the river” (28: 7). To Mary angels appeared at least twice and gave their explicit messages. In the first instance it was a group of angels who told her “O Maryam, no doubt Allah chose you and purified you and placed you above all women among mankind” (3: 42). In the second case it was the Spirit of Allah: “Then We sent her Our Spirit and it appeared to her in the form of a perfect man. She said ‘I take refuge in Allah from thee that you fear Him’. He said “I am but a messenger of thy Lord to give the a pure child’…” (19: 18-19). The child in question was Jesus who was made to begin existence as a fetus without male fertilization as Allah states further down and elsewhere in His Book. In these days of clonings and other genetic breakthroughs which show that babies can be produced without sperm such an eventuality cannot be dismissed at all. Allah said “We shall show them Our Signs both in the horizons (objective space) and IN THEMSELVES (subjective and private world) and they shall indeed recognize that He is the Real and True One” +( ). It may well mean that ALL SCIENCE SHALL EVENTUALLY VERIFY ALLAH’S REVELATIONS. Already modern physics postulates with rigorous mathematics that the universe is expanding all the while and its average density is kept constant BY THE CREATION OF ABOUT A THOUSAND PROTONS PER CUBIC METER CREATED FROM NOTHING”. In other words Allah from the back door. Another form of wahy to common man and woman are those hunches and inspirations which come at the right time and the right place but are not always appreciated let alone obeyed. Every person is offered help by their means but because modern man is so heavily conditioned to be so excessively cerebral (superficial logical thinking) and rational that he tends to dismiss any idea not worked out and produced by this conscious thinking and misses not one but many boats to the shores of safety and felicity. Again, modern science, this time depth psychology confirms that a lot of reasoning, deduction and delivery of excellent solutions to our problems ARE PRODUCED SUBCONSCIOUSLY through the combined and coordinated processings carried out by the entire nervous system- from the subconscious parts of the brain down to the masses of nerve junctions in the abdomen: Hence that famous GUT FEELING which often warns us of great dangers despite all apparent okays and go-aheads. All of which brings us to this: That every creature and more so the living creatures are thoroughly penetrated and infused by the Divine Who guides them from within all the time. In the case of man who is given freewill and leeway, following the visceral as well as cerebral guidance is not automatic. Man can work against his best interests when he becomes too proud with his intelligence and means. Continuing with dream guidance we must add to above what are called ‘prophetic dreams’. These give us information, without asking in the least, about our distant future. I can personally testify and verify that all such guidance has been granted to my humble self from earliest age and never stopped to visit and bless me. Lastly it was no other than the Messenger of Allah sws himself who taught thus: “Lucid good dream is one forty sixth of prophethood. It is the only element of prophethood which will remain with my nation (ummah) after me.
However the greatest form of Divine Guidance is Allah wahy to a prophet He chose and for that we spare the next chapter.
3. ‘WAHY’/ REVELATION TO PROPHETS OF ALLAH
You may have sensed from the above explanations about wahy to non-prophets that in every form and at every level wahy IS a natural event. We regard the honey-making instincts of the honey be a natural ability. Dreams also are natural whatever the content. We just sleep and a stage in sleep comes, called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) when dreams break on us. Is there a radical difference, if at all, between a non-prophet’s and prophet’s revelations? Wasn’t the Prophet sws falling into a deep and often laborious trance when Revelation came to him? No doubt trance is very related to sleep at the REM stage when lucid and portentous perceptions are experienced. So why do some thinkers shrink from a suggestion that prophethood is as natural an event as any other human experience albeit far loftier? The reason is the notorious dualistic view of reality. Ancient Greek philosophers and their Medieval followers thought that reality consisted of two separate and irreconcilable principles: Matter and Spirit. But valid mystics and best of all competent Sufis knew all along that the separation between matter and spirit is not only illusory and temporary but also ‘all is one’. It is like the old scientific belief that matter and energy were two separate and irreconcilable entities. One was mass measured in grams and other was a work-producing principle measured in joules or calories. But the Theory of Relativity debunked all that. The two are the very same thing in differently perceived forms and totally inter-convertible (e=m.csq =mass times the square of speed of light). We also thought until recently that Time and Space were similarly separate, independent and non-inter-convertible. Again the modern science proved us wrong. Time and Space is two illusions deriving from a single reality- the four dimensional Space-Time. But many who know even threes scientific breakthroughs unifying apparently separate principles find it difficult to reconcile themselves to the idea that the Revelations to a prophet are as natural as dreams and instincts. But this block is caused by their upside down looking at the things. Because they regard ‘natural’ as the infinitely inferior sister of the Divine (or as it is more often called ‘supernatural’) they feel that prophethood is devalued if not totally denied. And I am guilty as well by saying that both are natural. But this was a deliberate and coy tactic. I simply wanted to give a shock to my readers who assumed a dichotomy in their view of reality. Now I want to replace the shock with triumphant delight- yes, reality is monistic (single or unified) and not dualistic and that single is DIVINE! All beings and events are equally from Allah, Allah creates all, stands behind all and gathers all to Himself. In other words EVERY SINGLE BEING IN THIS UNIVERSE IS A DIVINE MASTERPIECE AND EVERY SINGLE EVENT IS A DIVINE MIRACLE! The breathtaking vista and transporting, enrapturing realization that all are one and Divine is both the culmination of sufi enlightenment and awakening of the ultimate wisdom in man. Read if you wish: “It is Allah Who created you and ALL YOU DO” (37: 96). “Is there any other creator than Allah?” (35: 3). “You cannot will anything unless Allah wills” (86: 30). “Are they looking for other than the religion of Allah to Whom submits all that are in the heavens and earth whether willingly or not and unto Whom they shall be gathered?” (3: 83). “Indeed Allah are holding up the heavens and the earth. If they were to fail who could hold them up after Him” (35: 41). Which means the scope and sweep of power and providence of Allah is so total that ALL HAVE TO BE ONE under THAT ONE! This may be said and argued or explained a thousand times without changing a person’s normal dualistic and dissipated perceptions but in some rare cases among the spiritually gifted the total, unifying vision brakes on him out of the blue with such power and conviction experienced at first-hand through the experience that the mind feels like having gone an atomic explosion and swallowed up the heavens and earth and all that are in them in one brief moment. In Western mystical parlance this is called ‘Cosmic Consciousness’ and prized above any other experience. But it is not a Western experience. It is universally reported and is very emphatic in Sufism in which it is called ‘mushahada al Haqq’ (witnessing of the Truth-Reality) as an experience and ‘fana filllah’ (dissolving in Allah) as a ‘maqam’ (station). Of course all such terms are only metaphors and allusions and the experience need be lived to be understood and appreciated. Please rest assured that the humble author is speaking from experience and not reporting from books or talks.
So all above arguments, scriptural proofs and reported experiences may be used to support the view that prophethood is created in the servant from eternity in the form of his biological makeup and spiritual potential and not earned by the would-be prophet’s efforts. Since nature means what is created originally and not made by man there can remain no doubt that Revelation coming to a prophet is as natural as a bee producing honey when it is time to produce it. This of course does not mean that revelation is as regular and automatic as a bee’s honey production. Under the law of “All is One” the prophet’s audience’s needs and provocations is part of the unified, integrated setting to bring about a piece of Revelation that fits the situation- whether it is answering questions or legislating. Even the prophet’s own wish may play a role- for after all the prophet himself is a servant of Allah and needs Allah’s answer and help as a needy, weak servant. For example the change of the qibla (direction of prayer) happened after the Prophet sws secretly desired the change in his heart. Allah then granted the wish and said “We are seeing thy turning thy gaze to heaven. We shall turn thee to the qibla which pleases thee” (2: 144). Or his marriage to Zainab b. Jahsh was forced on him despite his fears because that was the right thing to do (33: 37). Or the legalization of ‘tayammum’ (symbolic ablution by dry earth) came when Muslims on Bani Mustaliq campaign deep into the desert were short of water and they were futher delayed in reaching water by Aisha’s delay in caused by looking for her lost necklace. Unbelievers, all being either atheists or dualists often PLEASURABLY misunderstand all these and accuse the Messenger of Allah sws deliberately improvising as he was going along. That is not true. The Prophet sws WAS CREATED A PROPHET but as everything and everybody else could only be part of the whole picture which depended on Allah. Allah religion did not come like a stone falling from heaven. IT TOOK FORM, LIKE EVERY OTHER EFFECT CREATED BY ALLAH gradually in response to both psychlological and material circumstances forming the environment it was destined to be attached. Remember, all is one. And again remember, such ‘naturalization’ of prophecy is not meant to demean it. That is the attitude and view of mean minds. On the contrary the whole existence is meant to be glorified in Allah, for Allah is their creator and He creates everything THE VERY BEST in one sense or another. Only noble and elevated minds can witness this glory. As an American philosopher once remarked “An uplifted mind uplifts everything it comes in contact with. It is like a mighty projector torch. A torch like that drenches in light everything on its path”. Look how Allah Almighty makes any servant of His to say such jewels of wisdom as He Almighty pleases. Therefore do not dismiss or belittle any servant of Allah whatever that servant’s label or outward impressions- for it is no other than Allah Who talks through in everybody in one sense or another. Read if you wish “It is Allah Who gives speech to everything made us speak” (41: 21).
When your view of ‘nature’ becomes unified and totally laid at the Door of Allah you attain real certitude (yaqeen) which is true and full faith (iman) and all the troubles caused by the dichotomic (split into two) viewpoint disappears like wrenching flatulence affecting one with a bad stomach. There is no nature- there is Allah only.
Wahy is from Allah as everything else. However it is the very highest gift and benefit from Alalh to man, both to the prophet necessarily undergoing it and his audience who need it.
THE SCRIPTURAL SELF-DEFINITION OF THE QUR’AN
All above are our modern understanding of the Qur’an which directly evolves from its original/initial understanding by the companions (sahaba) of the Prophet sws. Theirs was based on the authority of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s sws supplementary explanations all of which we embrace and submit to wholeheartedly. Why we left this understanding to the last is not because it is the least important. God Forbid. It is the most important. The reason is that we thought that the modern understanding could prepare the modern student with his, for better or worse, modern education and mind habits for a profounder understanding of the original and genuine definition. As for this most authoritative definition we may consult some critical verses of the Qur’an, subject by subject.
First: On Qur’an’s Source: “No doubt thou art receiving the Qur’an from the Presence of the Knowing and Wise One” (27:6 ). “Had it (Qur’an) been from anywhere else other than Allah they would have found in it many contradictions” (4: 82). So the Qur’an is entirely from Allah. Had the Prophet sws dared to add anything from himself Allah would not have allowed it: “Had he dared to ascribe to us any false words we would have grab him by his hand cut off his life artery and none of you could prevent that (69: 45-47).
Second: Who brought it and how: “The Trustworthy Spirit brought it down so that you become one of the warners” (26: 193). Who was this Spirit? “Say: whoever is an enemy of Gabriel- and he brought it (Qur’an) down to thy heart, then Allah is the enemy of the deniers (2: 98) - when a rabbi of Fadak had been told that it was Gabriel who brought down the Qur’an he had said “Gabriel has been our enemy all along. Had any other angel done it we would have believed).
Third: How did it reach the Prophet sws: The last quoted verse answers that as well: To THE HEART of the Prophet sws i.e, subjectively, not as a tangible object like a scroll or tablet
Fourth: When did it begin coming? “the month of Ramadan in which came down the Qur’an as a Guidance and proofs for the mankind from the Ultimate Guide and as a Criterion” (2: 185) and on one particular night in Ramadan: “We have sent it down in the Night of Qadr” (97:1). ‘Qadr’ means worth, merit, measure and power.
Fifth: What is the purpose of the Qur’an?: As in Fourth above: Guidance and proofs from the Ultimate Guide (Allah) and a Criterion (for telling truth and untruth, good and bad apart).
Sixth: It has enough scope and detail to offer guidance on ANY subject under the sun that has to do with our finding the right answer to any moral, spiritual and legal question: “This is not a word invented but a confirmation of what (holy scriptures) came before it and explanation of everything and a Guidance for and Kindness towards a believing community” (12: 111) ‘Explanation of everything’ include all subjects mentioned at the beginning- spiritual secrets of both the universe and man, laws of justice happiness for both man and his community, instructive lessons from sacred history, warnings and exhortations which we need before we do anything and also things which are left to our own discretion.
Seventh: As a Criterion as mentioned in one of the above verses it separates the believers from deniers, benefits the first and harms the second as far as their false interests are concerned (for their true interests lie with the Qur’an had they but known): “We send down from the Qur’an what is cure for and mercy for the believers. As for the deniers it only increases the harm to them” (17: 82). The reason is that while faith enables the believers to help themselves to the blessings of the Qur’an the unbelievers, so bent upon satisfying their bestial whims and selfish designs on the rest get angry by the warnings coming from the Qur’an.