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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Muqaddimah (11): The Holy Qur’ān and the Previous Scriptures on the Divine Commands and Historical Narratives

A traveler does not need to turn to stars for direction in broad daylight. Similarly after the revelation of the Holy Qur’ān Muslims abandoned seeking guidance from the earlier Scriptures for these mix truth with falsehood. However, the Scriptures equal the Holy Qur’ān, in that the latter is one of God’s revelations. The individual who brought it is a member of the community of the Prophets and Messengers of God. All Muslims, from Adam to us, inspite of the great number of the Prophets sent in different times and regions form a single ummah following the same religion. This makes it imperative for us to know the teachings of the earlier books. A study of these books can yield great benefits. It will help us appreciate the excellence of the Qur’ān over the previous Scriptures which, in turn, will lead us to thank God for blessing us with the unparalleled Book. It will also help us discern the points lost upon the commentators of the later generations of Muslims which made it impossible for them to get to the true purport of certain Qur’ānic passages. This will also avail us with sound arguments against the People of the Book. This last point independently yields great benefits.
With the earlier Scriptures already there, the Holy Qur’ān was revelaed to serve two basic purposes.
First, parts of the divine religion which were not yet revealed were divulged.
Second, it clarified the religious issues which the followers of the earlier Scriptures had forgotten. Many matters were disputed among them and the Holy Qur’ān dicided such differences. Some of the matters were no longer clear to them and they lost the right course. The Qur’ān revealed the true nature of such matters. Most importantly, they had manipulated and altered many parts of the divine revelation. The Holy Qur’ān corrected such manipulations. The Almighty says:

فَوَيْلٌ لِّلَّذِينَ يَكْتُبُونَ الْكِتَابَ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ ثُمَّ يَقُولُونَ هَـذَا مِنْ عِندِ اللّهِ لِيَشْتَرُواْ بِهِ ثَمَناً قَلِيلاً
Woe be to those who write the book with their own hands and then claim that it is from God seeking to earn trivial benefits! (2:79)

These are the basic things which called for a fresh divine revelation. Besides fulfilling these purposes the Holy Qur’ān helps us remember God, propagate His teachings and disseminate His message; a basic characteristic of all the divine Books.
Since the Holy Qur’ān was revealed to fulfill a specific purpose, it does not discuss but teachings of the highest value, leaving out the details of narratives, dispensable explanations of the divine commandments and events of micro-history. The general addressees of the Qur’ān were fully aware of these things. Repeating such things would have been futile and wearisome for such an audience. Therefore, the historical narratives the Holy Qur’ān discusses have been put very cogently either in order to provide precedence or a historical allusion (talmīḥ) or to unveil any hideous cheating by the People of the Book. Similarly it has also not dealt with the well-known religious practices the humans were obligated to carry out except for explicating those aspects which still needed to be completed and perfected.
Believers in the call of the Holy Prophet (sws), previously, were either the People of the Book or those who had intermingled with them. The latter kind too was, owing to their acquaintance with the former, aware of the teachings of the earlier books. They did not find it difficult to understand the Qur’ānic passages which alluded to the things mentioned in the earlier books leaving certain details. They noticed the gulf of difference between the Qur’ānic style of expression and that employed in the earlier books in spite of the unity of purport. It raised the status of the Holy Qur’ān in their eyes.  Regarding such audience of the Holy Qur’ān the Almighty says:

وَإِذَا سَمِعُواْ مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَى الرَّسُولِ تَرَى أَعْيُنَهُمْ تَفِيضُ مِنَ الدَّمْعِ مِمَّا عَرَفُواْ مِنَ الْحَقِّ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا آمَنَّا فَاكْتُبْنَا مَعَ الشَّاهِدِينَ
When they listen to what has been revealed to the Apostle, you see their eyes fill with tears as they recognize its truth. They spontaneously say, “Lord, we believe. Count us among the witnesses.” (5:83)

The above discussion leads to the following conclusions:
a) Errors in the earlier Scriptures should be determined in the light of the Holy Qur’ān. Difficulties in deciphering the meaning of the complex passages of the previous scriptures should also be explained in the light of the last revelation. The only way for the People of the Book to learn the truth is to follow the final revelation of God.
b) Since the Holy Qur’ān is a completely authentic and secure word of God it will serve as final decisive word where the earlier books differ with it on certain historical facts.
c) Those having full exposure to the history of the divine revelations, starting from the first Prophet to the last, and thus having a clear understanding of the gradual divulgence of the Sharī‘ah of God to mankind, will certainly be able to see clearly excellence of the Muslim ummah.
d) The contradictory isra’īliyyāt, intermixing truth with falsehood, will be explained away. Those of us who have been on error because of such narratives will see light.
e)  The People of the Book will be able to learn that the Holy Qur’ān does not draw upon these books rather it removes errors they are replete with and guides their adherents out of the labyrinths of assumptions and conjectures to the highway leading to the truth.
f) Many of the Qur’ānic verses which refer to the Torah but the Muslim scholars take them to be referring to the Qur’ān will be correctly understood. The following two verses are examples:

مَا نَنسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِّنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا
Any verse which We annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or a similar one. (2:106)

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ مِن رَّسُولٍ وَلَا نَبِيٍّ إِلَّا إِذَا تَمَنَّى أَلْقَى الشَّيْطَانُ فِي أُمْنِيَّتِهِ فَيَنسَخُ اللَّهُ مَا يُلْقِي الشَّيْطَانُ ثُمَّ يُحْكِمُ اللَّهُ آيَاتِهِ
Every Prophet or Messenger that We sent before you, whenever desired something Satan interpolated with his desires. But God cancels the whispers of Satan and establishes His commands firm. (22:52)

Before concluding this discussion, I want to discuss a point which the Christians usually put before Muslims in order to deceive them, dubbing it as the most manifest argument against Muslims’ stance. They maintain that the Holy Qur’ān at one place clearly requires from the Muslims that they believe in the Gospels. Granted this, they say, the Qur’ān contradicts itself when, on any other occasion, it negates any of the evangelical statements, something it often commits. This, they assume, provides them with an opportunity to invite the Muslims to have faith in whatever falsehood they have inserted in their book. In this effort they usually present proofs from the Qur’ānic verses some of which are produced below……[1]



[1]. The author has left this discussion unattended. Perhaps he intended to discuss the verses which state that one of the characteristics of the Qur’ān is that it has come down confirming the Torah and the Gospels (musaddiqallimā bayna yadayhī). If the expression muṣaddiqallimā bayna yadayhī(confirming the earlier revelations), is interpreted the way most of the exegetes do, it validates the point raised by the Christians. We believe that the phrase whenever it refers to a characteristic of the Qur’ān does not mean that the Qur’ān confirms the earlier revelations including the changes and innovations introduced into them by their adherents. It, on the contrary, means that it has been sent down as a confirmation of the prophecies regarding the advent of the last messenger of God contained in the earlier scriptures. Some of these prophecies have survived the interpolation of the Jews and the Christians. (Iṣlāḥī)