Review Ma'ariful Qur'an - 1

By Mufti Taqi Usmani

Wahy (Revelation) and its true nature

Since the Holy Qur'an was revealed to our beloved prophet Sayyidna Muhammad al-Mustafa (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) by means of Wahy (revelation), an understanding of some particulars about Wahy is. imperative at the very outset.

The need for Wahy (Revelation)

Every Muslim knows that Allah Almighty has sent man into this world as a matter of test, and in return for his being obligated with certain duties, the whole universe has been placed at his service. For this reason man, once he is in the world, must do two things:
  1. He should make the best use of this world, and of things created in it.
  2. While using this world to his advantage, he should keep the injunctions of Allah Almighty in sight and do nothing that goes against His will and pleasure.
For these two functions man needs knowledge. Therefore, unless he knows the reality of this world, the properties of different things and the manner in which they can be put to use, he cannot use anything in this world to his advantage. Likewise, unless and until he knows the will of Allah Almighty as to what pleases Him and what displeases Him, it will be impossible for him to lead a life in line with the will of Allah Almighty.

So Allah Almighty, along with the creation of man, has created three things through which he could continue receiving knowledge of the above-mentioned matters of concern. These are:
1. Man’s senses, that is, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the hands and the feet.
2. The reason.
3. The Revelation (Wahy)
Consequently, man finds out many things through his senses, many others through reason, and the knowledge of things he cannot get through these two sources are bestowed upon him through Wahy.

The arrangement between these three sources of knowledge is such that each one has its limits, and a particular sphere of activity beyond which it does not work. In natural sequence, the knowledge of things man collects through his senses cannot be deduced through bland reason. For instance, you know by seeing a wall with your eyes that its colour is white. But, should you close your eyes and try to find out the colour of that wall on the sole strength of your reason, this will then be impossible. Similarly, the knowledge of things that comes through reason cannot be discovered by senses alone. For instance, you cannot find out as to who made that wall by simply seeing it with your eyes or touching it with your hands. Not at all, you rather need reason to arrive at that conclusion.

In short, reason gives no guidance as far as the five senses work efficiently, and when the five senses become helpless, reason starts functioning. But, even the guidance given by this reason is not unlimited. This too stops at a certain limit. Then there are things the knowledge of which can neither be acquired through senses nor through reason. For instance, to find out about this very wall, as to what manner of its use will please Allah Almighty and what manner of its use will displease Him, is possible neither through senses nor through reason. In order to give man the answer to such questions, the source that Allah Almighty has prescribed is what is known as Wahy. And the method it follows is that Allah Almighty selects one of His servants, ordains him as His messenger and to him He reveals His Word. This Word is Wahy.

This makes it clear that Wahy is the highest source of knowledge for man which offers to him the answer to questions about his life which cannot be solved by means of reason and senses, but, he still has to have that knowledge. This further explains that reason and perception alone are not enough to show man the way. It is rather all the more necessary, almost inevitable, that the Divine Wahy be there for his guidance. Since Wahy is basically needed where reason does not work, it is, therefore, not necessary that everything communicated through Wahy be compulsively comprehended through reason. On the contrary, as reason is no help in finding out the colour of some object since that is the job of the senses, so is the knowledge of many religious beliefs, the gracious giving of which is the sole prerogative of Wahy and not of reason. Furthermore, trusting reason alone for their comprehension is not sound and correct.

To begin with, it is totally senseless to discuss the issue of Wahy with a person who, God forbid, does not accept the very existence of God. But, for a person who believes in the existence of Allah Almighty and has faith in His perfect power it is not at all difficult to understand that Wahy is a rational need, that it is possible and that it is there for real. If you have faith in the fact that this universe has been created by an absolutely powerful entity, He is the One who has sent man down here to accomplish some particular mission, how then is it possible to imagine that He, after once having created man, would leave him off in total darkness, without ever telling him why did he come into this world, what his duties were, where was he destined to go and how could he realize the purpose of his life? How could a person, whose sanity is still there, send one of his servants on a certain trip under a designated mission without ever telling him the purpose of the trip while he is leaving, nor explaining it to him later on through some message as to why he has been sent out there and what duties he is supposed to carry out during the trip? When a man of ordinary reason cannot do something like this, how can something like this be imagined with respect to the most Holy Lord of the Universe under Whose ultimate wisdom this whole system of the universe is functioning? After all, how is it possible that the Being, that did create such a mind-boggling system composed of the moon, the sun, the sky, the earth, the stars and the planets, would remain unable to institute some arrangement of communication with His servants, through which human beings could be given guidance about the purpose of their lives? If there is 'Iman or faith in the ultimate wisdom of Allah Almighty, then admitting that He did not forsake His servants in the dark, will become all the more necessary; rather on the contrary, He has surely instituted some regular system for their guidance And so, this very regular system of guidance is known as Wahy (Revelation) and Risalah (Prophethood).

 This makes it crystal clear that Wahy is not only a religious belief but also a rational need the rejection of which amounts to a rejection of the ultimate wisdom of Allah Almighty.

The Modes of Descent

This sacred sequence of Wahy (revelation) and Risalah (prophethood) came to an end with the last of the prophets, Muhammad al-Mustafa (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam)Nevermore, shall Wahy descend upon any man, nor there is need for it. Wahy used to come to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) in several forms and modes. In a hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari, Sayyidah 'A'ishah (Radhiallaho Anha) says that Sayyidna Harith ibn Hisham (Radhiallaho Anho) once asked the Holy Prophet as to how did Wahy come to him. The Holy Prophet  (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) said that 'there are times when I hear something like the chiming of bells and this mode of Wahy is the hardest on me. After that, when this chime-sequence ends, that which has been said by the sound seems to have been committed to my memory. And there are times when the angel appears before me in the shape of a man.' (Sahih al-Bukhari, 2/1)

As regards the likening of the sound of Wahy to the sound of bells in the hadith cited above, Shaikh Muhyy al-Din ibn al-'Arabi has explained it by saying that, in the first place, the sound of Wahy is continuous like the sound of a bell which does not break off in between; and in the second place, when the bell rings continuously, it generally becomes difficult for the listener to determine the direction of its sound because its sound seems to be coming from all directions. And the Divine Word too carries with it the distinction that it has no one single direction, in fact, the sound gives the impression of being heard from all directions. A correct realisation of this phenomenon is just not possible without auditory experience, however, in order to bring this happening closer to common comprehension, the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) by, has simply likened it to the sound of bells. (Fayd al-Bari,19,20/1)
With the descent of Wahy in this mode, the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam)  came under very heavy strain. Sayyidah 'A’ishah (Radhiallaho Anha) says towards the end of this very hadith that she had seen the coming of Wahy to him during days of extreme winter. When the progression of Wahy ceased, his blessed forehead would have already become dripping-wet inspite of the chilly weather. In yet another narration, Sayyidah 'A'ishah (Radhiallaho Anha)  relates: When Wahy came to him, his breath would seem to stop, the radiant face would change turning pale like the branch of a date palm, the front teeth would shiver from cold and he would perspire so much that its drops would roll like pearls. (Al-ltqan,1/46)

On occasions, so much intensity would be generated in this state of Wary that the animal he would be riding at that time would sit down, wilting under his weight. Once, when he was resting his blessed head on the lap of Sayyidna Zayd ibn Thabit (Radhiallaho Anho)  there started the descent of Wahy in that very posture. This released so much weight on Sayyidna Zayd's (Radhiallaho Anho) thigh that it seemed to break. (Zad al-Ma'ad, 1/18,19)

There were times when a low-volumed sound of this Wahy was sensed by others as well. Sayyidna 'Umar (Radhiallaho Anho) says: When Wahy came to him, a sound somewhat similar to the buzzing of honey-bees could be heard close to his most bright face. (Tabwib Musnad Ahmad, Kitab al-Sirah al-Nabaviyah, 20/212)

Under the second mode of Wahy, an angel would come to him in some human form and deliver Allah's message Generally, such occasions, Sayyidna Jibra'il (Alayhis-Salam)  used to come to him in the form of Sayyidna Dihyah al-Kalbi  . Certainly, at other times, he has come in other forms as well.  In any case, this mode of the coming of Wahy when it was brought by Sayyidna Jibra'il (Alayhis-Salam) ?dull w appearing in human form, was the easiest on the Holy Prophet . (Al-ltqan, 1/46)

The third mode of the coming of Wary used to be that Sayyidna Jibra'il (Alayhis-Salam)  ould appear as he was, without having taken on the shape of a man. But this has happened only thrice in his entire lifetime. First of all, it was when the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) had himself wished to see him in his real form and shape. The second time, it was in the Mi'raj (the Ascent to Heaven), and the third time it was at Ajyad-d in Makkah al-Mukarramah during the very early days of Prophethood. The first two happenings stand proved authentically, however, the last one suffers from weak chains of authority and is, therefore, doubtful. (Fath al-Bari. 1/18.19}

The fourth mode is distinguished by a direct, not intermediary two-way conversation with Allah Almighty. This honour was bestowed upon the Holy Prophet only once, that is, in Mi'raj, while awake. In addition to that, once it was in a dream as well that he was in a conversing situation with Allah Almighty.

Under the fifth mode of Wahy, it so happened that Sayyidna Jibra'il  (Alayhis-Salam)  would, without appearing physically in any form whatsoever, let some words of the message fall into his heart. This is technically known as  (nafth fi al-rau; blowing into the heart) (Ibid.).
The Chronology of the Revelation of the Qur'an

The noble Qur'an is, in fact, the Divine Word. It is, therefore, secure in the Preserved Tablet. The noble Qur'an says: (arbic text)  rather, it is the glorious Qur'an in the Preserved Tablet) (Quran 85:21-22)

Then, from the Preserved Tablet, its descention took place twice. Once, the whole of it had been sent to al-Bayt al-Izzah, the most exalted House on the firmament of the world. The most exalted House (also known as al-Bayt al-Ma'mur) is a House facing Ka'bah that exists in the firmament as the place of worship for angels. This descention took place on the Night of Qadr (rendered as the Night of Power in English). The second time it used to be revealed to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) gradually as needed, having reached its completion in twenty three years. These two modalities of the Qur'anic revelations become clear through the style of the noble Qur'an itself.  In addition to that, al-Nasa'i, al-Baihaqi and al-Hakim and others have reported from Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas (Radhiallaho Anho) , what can be summed up by saying that the first descention of the noble Qur'an to the firmament of the world took place all at one time and the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) was blessed with the second descention gradually. (al-Itqan, v. 1, p. 41)

Explaining the wisdom behind the first descention of the noble Qur'an on the firmament facing the world, Imam Abu Shamah has said that it aimed at demonstrating the exalted majesty of the noble Qur'an, and at the same time, it was to tell the angels that this was the last Book of Allah which is ready for descention for the guidance of the people of the earth.

Shaykh al-Zurqani makes yet another point when he says that this two-timed descention also aimed at stressing that this Book is beyond all doubts, and it stands preserved at two more places other than the blessed heart of the Holy Prophet , (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) that is, in the Preserved Tablet, and in the Exalted House. (Manahil al-'Irfan, v.1, p. 39).

It is almost agreed by all the scholars that the second gradual descention which was on the heart of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) began when his age was forty years. The beginning of this descention, as authentically reported, was in the Night of Qadr, and this was the date on which, some years later, the event of the Battle of Badr came to pass. However, nothing definite can be said about the exact date of Ramadan when this Night fell. There are some reports which identify that of the seventeenth Ramadan, while others place it on the nineteenth, and still others which indicate the Night of the twenty- seventh. (Tafsir Ibn Jarir v. 10, p. 7)

The verses that came first

It is authentically said that the first verses to come to the Holy Prophet were the verses from which Surah al-'Alaq begins. As in Sahih al-Bukhari, Sayyidah 'A'ishah,(Radhiallaho Anha)  while relating its background has said that the very first beginning of revelations to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) actually was through true dreams. Following that, came his zeal to worship-in seclusion. During this period, he would spend night after night in the Cave of Hira and stay in the state of I'tikaf devoted to his ibadah (worship) when one day, right there in that cave where came an angel from Allah Almighty and the very first thing he said was (Iqra: 'Read'). The Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) said: ,(arbic text)  I am unable to read.' After that, relating the event himself, he said that 'the angel, hearing this answer of mine, caught hold of me and embraced me with such force that I had to go through unbearable strain.' Then he released me and said:  (arbic text) 'Read" I said: 'I am unable to read.' Thereupon, he seized me the third time gave a hard embrace and then released me. After that he said:
( arbic text)
Recite with the Name of your Lord who created, created Man out of a blood-clot. Recite and Your Lord is Most Generous who taught by the Pen, taught Man what he did not know. (96:1-3)
These were the first verses to be revealed to him. Thereafter, the coming of Wahy stayed discontinued for three years. This period is known as the period of fatrah, that is, the period when Wahy was discontinued for a short interval of time. Then, it was after three years that the same angel who had visited him in the Cave of Hira' became visible to him between the heaven and the earth. He read to him the verses of Surah al-Muddaththir. Thereafter, the sequence of Wahy was reactivated.

The Makki and Madani Verses

While looking at the titles of the Surahs of the Holy Qur'an, you may have noticed the entry, Makka (or Meccan, Makkan, Makkiyyah) with some Surahs, and Madani (Medinan, Medinite, Madaniyyah) with some others. It is necessary to understand correctly what it means. In the terminology of the commentators, the 'Makki  'ayah' means a verse that was revealed to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) earlier than he actually reached Madinah by way of hijrah (emigration). Similarly, the 'Madanz 'ayah' or the Madani verse means that it was revealed after he migrated to Madinah. Some people take 'Makki' to mean that the verse concerned was revealed in the city of Makkah, and so the 'Madani' is supposed to have been revealed in Madinah. This view is not correct because there are several verses which were not revealed in the city of Makkah, yet are called Makki because they had already been revealed before hijrah. As such, the verses that were revealed in Mina, 'Arafat, or during the Journey of Ascent (Mi'rajj) are also called Makki. So much so, that the verses revealed during the journey of hijrah enroute Madinah are also called Makki. Similarly, there are several verses which were not revealed in the city of Madinah, but they are Madani. For example, there were several journeys that the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam)  had to undertake while going many hundred miles away from Madinah, and the verses revealed at all those places are called Madani anyway. So much so that the particular verses that were revealed on the occasion of the Conquest of Makkah or the military campaign of Hudaybiyyah  in the city of Makkah proper or its environs are also called Madani. Accordingly, the Qur'anic verse:
(arbic text)
Surely, Allah commands you to fulfil trust obligations towards those entitled to them. (4:58)
is Madani although it was revealed in Makkah al-Mukarramah. (al- Burhan, v. 1, p. 88, and Manahil al-'Irfan, v. 1, p. 88)

Then there are Surahs which are either totally Makki, or totally Madani. For instance, Surah al-Muddaththir is wholly Makki and Surah 'Al-'Imran is wholly Madani. But, on occasions, it has so happened that one or some Madani verses find a place in the Surah which is wholly Makki.  On other occasions, it has happened just the reverse. For instance, Surah al-A'raf is makki but in it the verses from (arbic text) to (arbic text) are Madani.  Similarly, Surah al-Hajj is Madani but four of its verses, that is, those from to (arbic text) to (arbic text) are Makki.
This also makes it clear that the incidence of a Surah being Makki or Madani is generally conditioned by the nature of the majority of its verses and so it happened frequently that the initial verses of a Surah which were revealed before Hijrah were regarded as Makki, although some of its verses may have been revealed latter on following Hijrah. (Manahil al-'Irfan, v. 1, p. 192)

Characteristics of Makki and Madani Verses

The scholars of Tafsir, after having made a thorough investigation into the Makki and Madani Surahs, have come up with a set of characteristics that tell right off if a Surah is Makki or Madani. Some of these characteristics are recognized as universal rules while others hold good most of the time. The universal rules are as follows:
1. Every Surah in which the word  (arbic text); never appears is Makki. This word has been used 33 times in 15 Surahs, and all these verses are in the last half of the noble Qur'an.

2. Every Surah in which (according to the Hanafiyyah) there appears a verse of Sajdah is Makki.

3. Every Surah, with the exception of Surah al-Baqarah, in which the story of Adam and Iblis finds mention is Makki.

4. Every Surah in which a permission of jihad or a description of its injunctions has been given is Madani.

5. Every verse which mentions the hypocrites is Madani. The following characteristics are general and mostly frequent, that is, sometimes the contrary may happen, but usually and mostly it follows the said pattern:
a). In makki Surahs, generally, the form of address used is ,(arbic text)  (O people), and in Madani Surahs it is (arbic text) O' believers).
b). The Makki 'Ayat (Verses) and Surahs are generally short and brief while the Madani verses and chapters are long and detailed. 
c). The Makki Surahs mostly consist of subjects such as, Oneness of Allah, Prophethood, affirmation of the Hereafter, the panorama of the Resurrection, words of comfort for the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) and events relating to the past communities, and in these, the number of injunctions and laws taken up is much less as compared with the Madani Surahs where family and social laws, injunctions of jihad and expositions of limits and duties appear frequently.
d). In Makki Surahs, most of the confrontation is against idolaters while in Madani Surahs it is against the people of the Book and the hypocrites.
e). The style of Makki Surahs is more majestic. It has profusion of metaphors, similies and allegories and the vocabulary used is extensive. Contrary to this, the style of the Madani Surahs is comparatively simple.
This difference in the style of Makki and Madani Surahs initially owes its origin to a variety of conditions, circumstances and addressees. Muslims had to deal mostly with the idolaters of Arabia during their Makkan life. No Islamic state was born yet. Therefore, during this period, more emphasis was laid on the correction of beliefs, reform of morals, logical refutation of the idolaters and the miraculous nature of the noble Qur'an. Contrary to this, an Islamic state had risen in the Holy city of Madinah. People were rushing into the fold of Islam, group after group. Idolaters stood refuted intellectually The ideological confrontation was now wholly against the people of the Book. Therefore, greater attention was paid to education in injunctions, laws, limits and duties, and on the refutation of the people of the Book. The style adopted matched these objectives.

The Gradual Revelation of the Noble Qur'an

As said earlier, the noble Qur'an was not revealed to the Holy Prophet  suddenly and simultaneously. On the contrary, it was revealed, little by little, over a span of nearly twenty three years. At times, Jibra'il (Alayhis-Salam) ; would come with a small verse, or even with some unit of a verse. Then, there were times when several verses would be revealed at one time. The smallest portion of the Qur'an which was revealed as such is (arbic text)  (al-Nisa': 4:94) which forms part of a long verse. On the other hand, the whole of Surah al-An'am was revealed at one time. (Ibn Kathir, v. 2, p. 122)
Rather than being revealed all at once, why was the Qur'an revealed little by little? The polytheists of Arabia had themselves put this question to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam)  Allah Almighty has taken it upon Himself to answer the question in the following words:
The disbelievers said, "Why has the Qur'an not been sent down upon him all at once?" "(We did) like this, so that we may strengthen your heart thereby, and we have recited it very distinctly. They bring not to thee any similitude but that We bring thee the truth, and better in exposition" (25:32-33)
It is sufficient to understand a gist of the wisdom behind the gradual revelation of the Holy Qur'an as stated by Imam al-Razi in his explanation of this verse. He says:

1. The Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) was ummiyy, that is, being unlettered, he did not read or write. So, had the entire Qur'an been revealed at one time, it would have been difficult to remember and document. Contrary to this, Sayyidna Musa (Alayhis-Salam) (Moses)  knew reading and writing, therefore, the Torah was revealed to him at one single time.

2.  If the entire Qur'an had been revealed all at once, immediate compliance of all its injunctions would have become obligatory, and this would have gone against the wise graduation which has featured as a matter of concern in the Shari'ah of our Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam)

3. The Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam)  had to go through ever-new tortures inflicted by his people. That Jibra'il (Alayhis-Salam) came, again and again, with the words of the noble Qur'an, made his stand against these tortures bearable, and gave strength to his heart

4. A large portion of the Qur'an is devoted to answers given to people who posed questions, while some other portion refers to various particular events. Therefore, the revelation of those verses was appropriate at the time when those questions were asked, or those events came to pass. This increased the insight of Muslims and when the Qur'an unfolded that which was unseen, its truth became all the more manifest. (al-Tafsir al-Kabir, v. 6, p. 336)
Sabab' al-nuzul: (Cause of revelation)

The verses of the noble Qur'an are of two kinds. In the first place, there are the verses that Allah Almighty revealed on His own. Their revelation was not caused by some particular event or a question asked by someone. In the second place, there are those verses which were revealed in answer to some question or with reference to some event. This could be termed as the background of these verses. This background is known, in the terminology of the commentators, as the 'sabab' of nuzul ('cause' of revelation) or the 'sha'n' of nuzul (the 'background' of revelation). For instance, take the verse in Surah al-Baqarah:
Do not marry female associators unless they come to believe, and a Muslim slave girl is better than a female associators, even though she is liked by you. (2:221)
This verse was revealed in the wake of a particular event. During the days of Ignorance, Sayyidna Marthad ibn Abi Marthad al-Ghanavi (Radhiallaho Anho) by , had a relationship with a woman, named 'Anaq. After embracing Islam, he migrated to Madinah while that woman stayed behind in Makkah al-Mukarramah. There was an occasion when Sayyidna Marthad (Radhiallaho Anho)  visited Makkah al-Mukarramah on a certain business. 'Anaq came to him with an invitation to sin. Sayyidna Marthad (Radhiallaho Anho) refused flatly and said: 'Now Islam has come between me and you, but should you so wish, I can marry you after clearing it with the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam)  After returning to Madinah, Sayyidna Marthad (Radhiallaho Anho) sought his permission to marry the woman he said he liked. Thereupon this verse was revealed, and it prohibited marriage with mushrik women. (Asbab al-Nuzul by al-Wahidi, p. 38)

This event is the 'sha'n' or 'sabab' of nuzul ('cause' or 'background' of revelation) behind the verse mentioned above. The background of revelation is, therefore, very important in the exegesis of the noble Qur'an. There are many verses the meaning of which cannot be correctly understood unless the circumstances underlying their revelation become known.

- Extract from Ma'ariful Qur'an, commentroy of the Holy Quran by Mufti Muhammad Shafi, (in 8 volumns) revised by Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, english translation by Prof. Muhammad Hasan Askari and Prof. Muhammad Shamim.

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