Qur'an

(This writing is based on the views and insights of

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi expressed in his books and lectures)

Background

The Qur'an is a unique Book. It is God's final guidance to mankind. Before it, He revealed this guidance to many of His messengers. After the Old and New Testaments, it is the Final Testament of God. It presents the same religion that was revealed to all the previous messengers of God. However, contrary to the previous divine scriptures, it has been preserved in its original language.

Its genre is different from books that we are generally used to. It is thus essential for every serious student of the Qur'an to have a basic understanding of its genre. If this understanding can be supplemented to include its theme and structure, the student may find this divine book much more engaging. He will be enthralled by reading it and enchanted by its nuances. It will captivate the mind and mesmerize the heart. It will grip both intellect and emotion and transport us to a domain of comprehension in which we are able to relish the works and dealings of our Creator. We may not see God but we may be able to experience Him by appreciating the ways He speaks to human beings.

Genre

The Qur'an is a literary masterpiece which stands unparalleled in the realm of human literature. If conventional classifications are used, it is indeed difficult to categorize the genre of this book. However, its closest similarity is to a book of dialogues between real characters of 7th century Arabia. These characters appear in a specific milieu and converse with one another. Scenes and Acts change to bring one or more of these characters on stage. These changes signify a shift in the discourse. The Almighty Himself is the author of these divine dialogues.

The word qala (to say) and its declensions which frequently appear in the Book are a testimony to this dialogue-nature of the Qur'an. Similar is the case with the frequent mention of the invocative ya ayyu (O you …). At other instances, the speaker and the spoken to, have to be ascertained through the occasion and the context. In conventional dialogue works, the name of the speaker is written by the author. In the case of the Qur'an, this has to be understood by the reader.

Dialogues of the Plato, Dante's "Divine Comedy" and Sir Muhammad Iqbal's "Javed Namah" are some works in the human sphere that can be cited as parallels yet very rudimentary examples of the genre of the Qur'an.

As far as the characters of the Qur'an are concerned, they can be specified as:

Gabriel

Prophet(s)

Satan

Believers

Hypocrites

Polytheists

People of the Book (Jews and Christians)

A structured conversation between these characters of 7th century Arabia can be observed in the words of God in the Book. It originates from one of them and is directed to one or more of them. These characters speak to each other and the conversation rapidly shifts back and forth between these characters. If these "leaps" of conversation are accounted for, much of the apparent disjointedness of the discourse can become meaningful as a well-directed dialogue between the characters.

At times, the discourse is directed towards multiple addressees. Sometimes, the words spoken take the form of a powerful oration directed to specific addressees. At other times, it is in the form of a monologue which is not specifically directed towards anyone. Similarly, at times, the nature of address is indirect. At still other times, an entity is addressed but the direction of address is towards someone else. Other instances show how what is said is actually said in the heart but not uttered. Those who have a literary taste can well appreciate these nuances and subtleties.

The nature and shift in address is a powerful tool that brings out the tone of the speaker. It expresses emotions like love, hate, rebuke and praise. At times the oration abruptly stops to express anger. At other times, what is understood to be implied is left out. Accounts of the previous prophets typically suppress many details that are obvious. Sometimes, the addressee cannot be determined from the beginning of a dialogue: it gradually unfolds as the discourse proceeds forth.

Such is the powerful nature of these utterances that they stir the mind and stimulate the soul. The reader is captivated by the profundity of arguments and is forced to form an opinion because what is said does not merely constitute a compelling intellectual argument couched in classical Arabic language; it has repercussions on the life of a person. He is motivated to adopt a certain attitude and to forsake another. He finds out that what is at stake is of immense proportion. Arguments are expressed to make a point. Many a time these arguments are explicit and at other times they are expressed in a subtle way in the form of oaths and adjurations. Linguistic tools that are employed for this purpose need great attention. The most common of these is the definite article alif lam. Many a time, it specifies a particular entity it qualifies.

In short, the dialogue-nature of the Qur'an must be appreciated to have a deeper understanding of this Book. It has a point to prove and a purpose to achieve.

The obvious consequences of this dialogue nature of the Qur'an are as follows:

1. It is essential to determine the primary addresser and addressee of each surah. In other words, who among these characters is speaking to whom. Within a surah they may shift to a secondary addressee. The addresser may change as well.

2. The changes and shifts between the speaker and the spoken to must be minutely and meticulously observed. Sometimes these shifts are very subtle and at others very apparent. These shifts also account for many apparent jumps, leaps and disjointedness the reader may experience.

3. Characters or entities that were not present in 7th century Arabia are not discussed simply because the dialogue is between existing entities except if they are referred due to some reason. Hence, Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, are never brought up in the Qur'an for this very reason.

4. Since the foremost addressees of the Qur'an are the entities living in Arabia, it will contain many localized issues that relate only to the setting and culture of 7th century Arabia. In this regard, it may be of interest to note that certain beliefs of Arab Jews are discussed that were specific to them, for example regarding Ezra (sws) to be the son of God. It is known that other Jews do not have this belief.

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Together with this dialogue-genre of the Qur'an, its theme and structure should also be understood. They are briefly described below:

Theme

In order to understand the theme of the Qur'an, some background needs to be understood.

The religious history of mankind can be divided into two distinct eras. The first era which occupies the major portion of this history can be called the prophetic era. In this era, the Almighty sent His representatives on earth to guide mankind. They were called prophets (anbiya'). It began with Adam (sws) and ended on Muhammad (sws). The second era, which began with the demise of Muhammad (sws), will end on the Day of Judgement is devoid of these representatives.

Prophetic Era Post-Prophetic Era

Adam________________Muhammad_______________Judgement Day

The first era has a feature which is wholly and solely specific to it. It is in fact a certain unalterable practice of Godcalled sunnatullah by the Qur'an. The second era does not have this feature. The Qur'an which was revealed in the first era has eternally preserved this practice of God: this practice is nothing but a divine scheme devised and executed by God either through natural disasters or through His messengers[1] and their followers and as such does not relate to the shari'ah (divine law) revealed by Him. Simply put, it is: God, through natural disasters or through His messengers, punishes and humiliates in this very world their foremost and direct addressees who deliberately deny the truth communicated to them by their respective messenger,[2] and rewards in this very world those among them who adhere to the truth. In the case when this humiliation takes place through the messengers and their followers, they act as nothing but divine weapons. It is God's retribution carried out by God Himself. The purpose of this worldly retribution is to make mankind mindful of the most important reality that it tends to forget: reward and punishment in the Hereafter on the basis of a person's deeds. This reward and punishment, which is to take place in the Hereafter, is substantiated visually by the Almighty through the agency of His messengers so that mankind may always remain heedful of this reality. The court of justice which will be set up for every person on the Day of Judgement was set up for the nations of messengers in this world so that the latter could become a visual testimony to the former. To put it another way: before the advent of the greater Day of Judgement, several lesser days of Judgement were brought about in this world in which people were rewarded and punished on the basis of their deeds so that they could become a visual evidence to the judgement that will take place in the Hereafter. The Qur'an refers to this in the following words: لِئَلَّا یَکُوۡنَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَی اللّٰہِ حُجَّۃٌۢ بَعۡدَ الرُّسُلِ (165:4) (so that mankind after the coming of these messengers is left with no excuse against the Almighty, (4:165)).

Owing to this specific feature of the prophetic era, certain directives of the Qur'an are specific to this era and cannot be extended to the post-prophetic era. This of course does not mean that they lose their relevance to the post-prophetic era. It only means that while they cannot be applied in this post-prophetic era, their application in the prophetic era has already afforded mankind with certain testimonies which have a profound bearing on its attitudes towards life in this post-prophetic era. It is imperative that the basis of the directives of the Qur'an be understood in order to appreciate which of them is confined to the prophetic era and which is applicable to both eras. It is by not differentiating between these directives that many misconceptions have arisen in understanding the Qur'an.

It is in this background that the theme of the Qur'an can now be put forth. It emerges from its subject-matter reflected in its genre described earlier. This theme is a description of the warning (indhar) delivered by Muhammad (sws) to his foremost addressees that culminated in their worldly punishment.

In other words, it was the last time that the established practice of God referred to earlier came into play. The Qur'an refers to this established practice in the following words:

وَلِکُلِّ اُمَّۃٍ رَّسُوۡلٌۚ فَاِذَا جَآءَرَسُوۡلُہُمۡ قُضِیَ بَیۡنَہُمۡ بِالۡقِسۡطِ وَہُمۡ لَا یُظۡلَمُوۡنَ (47:10)

For each community, there is a messenger. Then when their messenger comes, their fate is decided with fairness and no injustice is shown to them. (10:47)

It is an unrelenting law of God that relates solely to His messengers:

سُنَّۃَ مَنۡ قَدۡ اَرۡسَلۡنَا قَبۡلَکَ مِنۡ رُّسُلِنَا وَ لَا تَجِدُ لِسُنَّتِنَا تَحۡوِیۡلًا.(77:17)

Bear in mind the practice about the messengers We had sent before you and you will not find any change in Our practice. (17:77)

The above mentioned theme of the Qur'an is derived from it subject matter as follows.

According to the Qur'an, while a prophet (nabi) merely delivers glad tidings and warnings to his people, a messenger (rasul), which is a special cadre among the prophets, delivers glad tidings and warnings to his people in such a conclusive way that they are not left with any excuse to deny it. In the terminology of the Qur'an, this is called itmam al-hujjah:

رُسُلًا مُّبَشِّرِیۡنَ وَ مُنۡذِرِیۡنَ لِئَلَّا یَکُوۡنَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَی اللّٰہِ حُجَّۃٌۢ بَعۡدَ الرُّسُلِ ؕ وَ کَانَ اللّٰہُ عَزِیۡزًا حَکِیۡمًا.(165:4)

These messengers who were sent as bearers of glad tidings and of warnings so that after them people are left with no excuse which they can present before God. (4:165)

The Qur'an refers to the deliberate denial of the disbelievers in the following words:

فَلَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ مَا عَرَفُوا كَفَرُوا بِهِ فَلَعْنَةُ اللَّهِ عَلَى الْكَافِرِين(89:2)

So when there came to them that which they recognized, they disbelieved in it. So let the curse of Allah be on the disbelievers. (2:89)

It is after this phase of itmam al-hujjahthat the divine court of justice is set up on this earth. Punishment is meted out to the rejecters of the truth and those who have accepted it are rewarded, and, in this way, a miniature Day of Judgement is witnessed on the face of the earth.It is evident from the Qur'an that the various phases of the preaching endeavour of a rasul includeindhar (warning), indhar-i 'am,[3] itmam al-hujjah[4] and hijrah wa bara'ah.[5] Each surah of the Qur'an is revealed in either of these phases to which its content and context clearly testify.

By the itmam al-hujjah phase, the believers have become distinct and segregated from the disbelievers and organized as a separate unit. It is after this phase that the messenger decides the fate of his nation on behalf of God. It is in reality the Almighty who determines this task as pointed out before.

It is evident from the Qur'an that in the Judgement phase, the punishment of the disbelievers normally takes two forms depending upon the situation that arises.

If a messenger has very few companions and he has no place to migrate from his people and attain political power, then he and his companions are sifted out from their nation by the Almighty. Their nation is then destroyed through various natural calamities like earthquakes, typhoons and cyclones. The Qur'an says:

فَکُلًّا اَخَذۡنَا بِذَنۡۢبِہٖ ۚ فَمِنۡہُمۡ مَّنۡ اَرۡسَلۡنَا عَلَیۡہِ حَاصِبًا ۚ وَ مِنۡہُمۡ مَّنۡ اَخَذَتۡہُ الصَّیۡحَۃُ ۚ وَ مِنۡہُمۡ مَّنۡ خَسَفۡنَا بِہِ الۡاَرۡضَ ۚ وَ مِنۡہُمۡ مَّنۡ اَغۡرَقۡنَا (40:29)

So each one of them We seized for their crime: of them, against some We sent a violent tornado with showers of stones; some were caught by a mighty blast; some We sunk in the earth; and some We drowned in the waters. (29:40)

The 'Ad, nation of Hud(sws), the Thamud nation of Ṣalih (sws) as well as the nations of Noah (sws), Lot (sws) and Shu'ayb (sws) were destroyed through such natural disasters when they denied their respective messengers as is mentioned in the various surahs of the Qur'an.[6] In the case of Moses (sws), the Israelites never denied him. The Pharaoh and his followers however did. Therefore, they were destroyed.

In the second case, a messenger is able to win a fair number of companions and is also able to migrate to a place where he is able to acquire the reins of political power through divine help. In this case, the messenger and his companions subdue their nation by force. The forces of the messenger are destined to triumph and humiliate his enemies. The punishment, which in the previous case descended from the heavens, in this case emanates from the swords of the believers. It was this situation which arose in the case of Muhammad (sws). His opponents were punished by the swords of the Muslims.

Referring to this form of divine punishment, the Qur'an asserts:

قَاتِلُوۡہُمۡ یُعَذِّبۡہُمُ اللّٰہُ بِاَیۡدِیۡکُمۡ وَ یُخۡزِہِمۡ وَ یَنۡصُرۡکُمۡ عَلَیۡہِمۡ.(9:14)

Fight them and God will punish them with your hands and humiliate them and help you to victory over them. (9:14)

فَلَمۡ تَقۡتُلُوۡہُمۡ وَ لٰکِنَّ اللّٰہَ قَتَلَہُمۡ.(8:17)

[Believers!] It is not you who slew them; it was [in fact] God who slew them. (8:17)

In other words, as pointed out earlier, it is the Almighty Himself who punishes the immediate and direct addressees of messengers if they deny their respective messengers; the messengersand their companions are no more than a means of carrying out this Divine plan.

The punishment and humiliation of nations towards whom messengers were sent generally took place in two ways: nations who primarily subscribed to monotheism were spared if they accepted the supremacy of their respective messenger, while nations who persisted with polytheism were destroyed. The latter fate is in accordance with the fact that polytheism is something that the Almighty never forgives:

اِنَّ اللّٰہَ لَا یَغۡفِرُ اَنۡ یُّشۡرَکَ بِہٖ وَ یَغۡفِرُ مَا دُوۡنَ ذٰلِکَ لِمَنۡ یَّشَآءُ ۚ وَ مَنۡ یُّشۡرِکۡ بِاللّٰہِ فَقَدِ افۡتَرٰۤی اِثۡمًا عَظِیۡمًا. (4:48)

God never forgives those guilty of polytheism though He may forgive other sins to whom He pleases. Those who commit polytheism devise a heinous sin. (4:48)

Consequently, the Israelites were not wiped out as a nation because, being the People of the Book, they were basically adherents to monotheism. Their humiliation took the form of constant subjugation to the followers of Jesus (sws) till the Day of Judgement as referred to by the following verse:

اِذۡ قَالَ اللّٰہُ یٰعِیۡسٰۤی اِنِّیۡ مُتَوَفِّیۡکَ وَ رَافِعُکَ اِلَیَّ وَ مُطَہِّرُکَ مِنَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوۡا وَ جَاعِلُ الَّذِیۡنَ اتَّبَعُوۡکَ فَوۡقَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوۡۤا اِلٰی یَوۡمِ الۡقِیٰمَۃِ.(3:55)

Remember when God said: "O Jesus! I will give death to you and raise you to Myself and cleanse you from those who have denied; I will make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith till the Day of Resurrection." (3:55)

If this theme of the Qur'an is understood, there is a very important consequence of it that must be appreciated. It relates to the established practice of the Almighty that only He has the authority to punish people for the crimes of polytheism (shirk), disbelief (kufr) and apostasy (irtidad). He did so through His messengers in the prophetic era and will do it again on the Day of Judgement. However, in the post-prophetic era, neither an individual nor a state has the right to punish people for these crimes.

Structure

The Qur'an itself has alluded to its structure and format in the following words:

وَ لَقَدۡ اٰتَیۡنٰکَ سَبۡعًا مِّنَ الۡمَثَانِیۡ وَ الۡقُرۡاٰنَ الۡعَظِیۡمَ(87:15)

[O Prophet!] We have bestowed upon you seven mathani[7] which is the great Qur'an. (15:87)

If the implications of the above cited verse are unfolded, it means that the Qur'an revealed by the Almighty to Muhammad (sws) has seven distinct chapters and within each chapter surahs occur in pairs with regard to their respective themes. This pairing of surahs is very meaningful. Each member of a surah pair complements the other in some way or another. Thus even a cursory look can detect a similarity between Surah al-Ḍuha (93) and Alam Nashrah (94) and between Surah al-Falaq (113) and Surah al-Nas (114). A deeper deliberation will unfold this similarity between other surah pairs. Some surahs are an exception to this scheme as Surah al-Fatihah, which is like an introduction to the whole Qur'an. Some other surahs like Surah al-Nur (24) and Surah Ahzab (33) occur as a supplement or as a conclusion of a chapter.

Following is a brief description of the seven Qur'anic chapters indicating the place of revelation of each surah.

Chapter I {Surah al-Fatihah (1) - Surah al-Ma'idah (5)}

Makkan: (1)

Madinan: (2)-(5)

Chapter II{Surah al-An'am (6) - Surah al-Tawbah (9)}

Makkan: (6)-(7)

Madinan: (8)-(9)

Chapter 3{Surah Yunus (10) - Surah al-Nur (24)}

Makkan: (10)-(23)

Madinan: (24)

Chapter IV{Surah al-Furqan (25) - Surah al-Ahzab (33)}

Makkan: (25)-(32)

Madinan: (33)

Chapter V {Surah Saba (34) - Surah al-Hujurat (49)}

Makkan: (34)-(46)

Madinan: (47)-(49)

Chapter VI {Surah Qaf (50) - Surah al-Tahrim (66)}

Makkan: (50)-(56)

Madinan: (57)-(66)

Chapter VII{Surah al-Mulk (67) - Surah al-Nas (114)}

Makkan: (67)-(112)

Madinan: (113)-(114)

Some other features of these Qur'anic chapters are as follows:

1. Each chapter of the Qur'an begins with one or more Makkan surah and ends with one or more Madinan surah. Both the Makkan and Madinan surahs are in harmony and consonance with one another in each chapter and relate to one another in the same manner as roots and stems are related to their branches.

2. Within each chapter the sequence of the surahs is chronological.

3. Each chapter discusses some aspect of the overall theme of the Qur'an by delineating some phase(s) of the warning delivered by Muhammad (sws) to his addressees. As such, each chapter discusses some part of the phases of this warning.

4. Each chapter has its own theme around which its surahs revolve. Following are the themes of each chapter:[8]

Chapter I: (Fatihah (1) – Ma'idah (5))

The theme of the first chapter is to communicate the truth to the Jews and Christians [of prophetic times] in a conclusive manner, to institute a new ummah in their place, its spiritual purification and segregation from the disbelievers and a description of its final covenant with the Almighty.[9]

Chapter II: (An'am (6) – Tawbah (9))

The theme of the second chapter is communication of the truth to the polytheists of Arabia in a conclusive manner, spiritual purification of the believers and their segregation from the disbelievers and a description of the last miniature Day of Judgement witnessed in this world before the advent of the greater Day of Judgement.[10]

Chapter III: (Yunus (10) – Nur (24))

The theme of this chapter is to warn the Quraysh, to give glad tidings to the Prophet (sws) and his followers of the domination of the truth in Arabia and to spiritually purify them and separate them from the disbelievers. The aspect of glad tidings of dominance of the truth is prominent in this theme.[11]

Chapter IV: (Furqan (25) – Ahzab (33))

The theme of the fourth chapter is validation of the prophethood of Muhammad (sws) and with its reference meting out warnings and glad tidings to the Quraysh, the spiritual purification of the believers and their segregation from the disbelievers.In this regard, the status of Muhammad (sws) and the Qur'an are explained to his followers.[12]

Chapter V: (Saba' (34) – Hujurat (49))

The theme of this chapter is validation of the belief of monotheism and with its reference meting out warnings to the Quraysh, giving glad tidings of the dominance of truth to the Prophet (sws) his followers and the spiritual purification of the believers and their segregation from the disbelievers.[13]

Chapter VI: (Qaf (50) – Tahrim (66))

The theme of the fifth chapter is validation of the Day of Judgement and with its reference meting out warnings and glad tidings to the Quraysh, the spiritual purification of the believers and their segregation from the disbelievers. The requirements of obeying and submitting to God and His Prophet are mentioned under this purification and segregation and keeping in view the situation of that time.[14]

Chapter VII: (Mulk (67) – Nas (114))

The theme of the seventh chapter is to warn the leadership of the Quraysh of the consequences of the Hereafter, to communicate the truth to them in a conclusive manner, and, as a result, to warn them of a punishment, and to give glad tidings to Muhammad (sws) of the dominance of his religion in the Arabian peninsula.[15]

5. The sequence between the chapters can be understood from the following illustration:

Chapter 2

Chapter 3 Chapter 1

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

If we recall the theme of the Qur'an described earlier, it was: a description of the warning (indhar) delivered by Muhammad (sws) to his foremost addressees that culminated in their worldly punishment. The two primary addressees were the People of the Book of Arabia and the Polytheists of Arabia belonging to the era of Muhammad (sws).

Chapter 2 depicts the worldly judgement of the direct and foremost addressees of Muhammad (sws) and as such is the culmination of the warning delivered by him. It can thus also be regarded as the climax of the Qur'an. From chapter 7 to chapter 3 the addressees are the Polytheists of Arabia and in chapter 1 the addressees are the People of the Book. Chapter 2 portrays the fate of both these religious groups in this world. In other words, the topic of indhar after passing through various phases reaches its peak of worldly judgement in this chapter from both sides. The only difference is the addressees.

It may also be noted:

i. In chapters 6, 5, 4 and 3, besides the theme of delivering warnings, the theme of spiritual purification of the believers and their segregation from the disbelievers is also added.

ii. Chapter 1 has been placed the foremost because the recipients of the Qur'an are its addressees the foremost.

iii. Except for chapter 1, the Makkansurahs of each chapter discuss delivering of warnings and glad tidings and of communicating the truth to the addressees in a conclusive manner, while the Madinansurahs discuss the spiritual purification and segregation of the believers.

It can thus be concluded that the description of the miniature day of judgement that happened in Arabia as a consequence of Muhammad's conclusive communication of the truth has been eternally preserved in the Qur'an in this beautiful sequence. In other words, the Qur'an validates to the ultimate extent this premise of religion that one day a greater day of judgement will be set up for all the people of this world.

Conclusion

In the foregoing paragraphs, the genre of the Qur'an, its theme and structure are described to introduce this divine Book to the common reader. It is in the form of divine dialogues that are preserved in a meaningful format with a specific theme.

It has been revealed by the Lord of the heavens and the earth purely for the guidance of earthlings. Let them read it for this purpose!

Introducing Al-Bayan

As a student of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (www.javedahmadghamidi.com), I would like to introduce his annotated translation of the Qur'an published in five volumes in Urdu.[16] It is called Al-Bayan. Most readers may already be familiar with it. This annotated translation brings out the dialogue genre of the Qur'an described earlier. The theme and structure of the Qur'an referred to earlier are also encapsulated in this translation.

Readers are may find it useful for their study.

[1]. A messenger (rasul) is a special cadre among the prophets of God.

[2].The truth here means that one day each and every person will be held accountable on the basis of his deeds before the Almighty and rewarded or punished accordingly.

[3]. Augmented and pronounced warning to people about the Hereafter.

[4]. Communicating the truth to the extent that no one among the addressees is left with an excuse to deny it.

[5]. Migration and acquittal.

[6]. In particular, a graphic summary of the fate of these nations is found inSurahQamar, the fifty fourth surah of the Qur'an.

[7]. Mathani (مَثَانَيْ) is the plural of mathna (مَثْنٰي) and it means something which occurs in pairs.

[8]. The themes of each of the chapters have been translated from Ghamidi's annotated translation of the Qur'an: Al-Bayan. See: Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Al-Bayan, 1st ed., 5 vols. Lahore: Topical Printers, 2018.

[9]. Ghamidi, Al-Bayan, vol. 1, 15.

[10]. Ibid., vol. 2, 15.

[11]. Ibid., vol. 2, 410.

[12]. Ibid., 3, 460.

[13]. Ibid., vol. 4, 172.

[14]. Ibid., 5, 10.

[15]. Ibid., 5, 251.

[16]. Its complete English translation, God willing, is expected to be released in 2019.

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