Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Keeping Busy On the Path of Allah The Self-Organisation (Intizam) of the Tablighi Jama’at

In recent years the Islamic missionary movement of the Tablighi Jama’at has attracted increasing attention, not only in South Asia, but around the globe. This is partly to do with the huge number of followers assembling at its annual congregations in India, Bangladesh or Pakistan, often counting between one and two millions. This attention is also generated by the fact that traditional Islam did not know an organised proselytising movement until the Tablighi Jama’at was formed. The by now global network of its activities is another instance where Southasian Islam has contributed to the evolution of global Islamic activism.

While their congregations - ijtima - create much publicity and the groups of their travelling preachers are widely known and recognised among Muslims, little is known outside the movement about the way it operates on a daily basis, how it organises its activities on a mass scale. This self-organisation in daily parlance is called intizam (administration). But in writing it is rarely admitted to exist. The current paper is based on interviews with informants in Aligarh, Bhopal and Delhi in December 2001 - January 2002, unless mentioned otherwise. It seeks to highlight the practical dimensions of the Tabligh work which is rarely documented in academic publications. So far mostly the hagiographic and propagandist literature of the movement has served as the basis for analysis (Anwarul Haq 1972; Masud 2000). The movement has often successfully deflected investigative attempts by non-Muslim scholars. However, lately the number of case studies has increased. They concentrate on the movement’s transnational activities in countries such as Bangladesh, Britain, and Morocco (Yoginder Sikand 2002; Faust 2001); or on local branches such as in the Indian state of Orissa (Zainuddin 2001). The internal workings of the Tablighi Jama’at still await definitive treatment.

The philosophy of the movement has been discussed in the academic literature extensively. It is summarised in the famous six points, demanding to focus attention on (1) the confession of faith by reciting the kalima; (2) praying regularly and correctly (salat); (3) acquiring religious knowledge and remembering God (ilm, zikr); (4) respecting fellow-Muslims (ikram); (5) reforming one’s inner self through pure intentions (niyyat) and (6) going out in the way of God (nafr) (Faridi 1997: 114-116).

The movement’s self-declared objective is the so-called internal mission, to make Muslims better Muslims, as the Tablighis say. It strongly denies any political ambitions. Yet its efforts to ‘re-islamize’ large numbers of Muslims cannot but have political consequences if only by providing a fertile ground for the activities of Islamic political parties and radical or militant groupings. The movement is pre-dominantly male-oriented, although it does organise women’s activities on a limited scale in ways strictly conforming to prescriptions of dress and modesty by Islamic law. Women’s activity may partly be regarded as emancipatory, if compared with traditional gender roles in South Asia or in other Islamist movements (See Barbara Metcalf in: Jeffery, Basu et al. 1999; Masud 2000).

The travelling preachers

The Tablighi movement came into being in 1926 when Muhammad Ilyas (1885-1944) started preaching correct religious practices and observance of rituals to Muslim tribes in the region of Mewat around Delhi (Cf. Mayaram 1997). In this Ilyas joined other Muslim activists and groups who opposed the Arya Samaj preachers since the early 1920s. The area had become a battle ground for the souls of the local tribal population whose ancestors had converted from Hinduism to Islam. Since then the tribesmen had retained a number of earlier non-Islamic customs. The reformist Hindu movement of the Arya Samaj aimed at reclaiming these tribes for the Hindu faith into which they would be readmitted after ritual “purification” - Shuddhi - the name by which the campaign became known. Contacting local elders, Ilyas aimed at reorganising the religious and social life of the tribals creating new facilities for religious education and improving social communication through regular council meetings in villages. His main innovation, however, pertained to the introduction of travelling lay preachers who were being dispatched to other Muslim regions in India. Their objective was twofold: the participants should reform themselves on these tours and they should carry the faith to other fellow-Muslims who so far had remained passive or disinterested in the observance of religious practices. Those preaching tours became the hallmark of the Tablighi movement. Today Tablighi lay preachers practically cover the whole Islamic world and all western countries where Muslims live.

The groups are formed at the local Tablighi centre which is usually attached to a Deobandi mosque or madrasa. Starting with Ilyas’ personal association with the Dar al-Ulum of Deoband, the movement has been supported by religious scholars, ulama, propagating the purist teachings of this seminary located in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) (Metcalf 1982). The Tablighi movement also kept close contact with the Nadwa seminary from Lucknow, the capital of U.P. (Malik 1997). Lists of volunteers are being kept at the Tablighi centres where destinations and routes of preaching groups are decided and reports are submitted afterwards.

The groups are expected to take care of their own travel expenses. This condition puts a ceiling on the travelling ambitions of some members as groups may travel to other countries and even continents. Yet there has always been some speculation that part of the travelling expenses, as well as of the cost of running the organisation, is borne by unnamed benefactors who may be private citizens from the business community, but also from sympathetic countries such as the Gulf States.

The association of followers with the movement is mostly a temporary one, lasting for the duration of the particular preaching tour. Those counted among the regulars would spend three days or more per month on Tabligh activities. Regulars would make up between 10 and 25 % of Tablighi followers. Some give up their worldly pursuits entirely to spend their life in the service of the movement, either at its administrative and religious centre, the “Bungalow Mosque” in the Nizamuddin area of Delhi or at some local centre. They would lead a pious and ascetic life not dissimilar to the Hindu holy men, living on donations by family members or fellow Tablighis. This may occasionally create problems for the families of these lifetime Tablighis who lose their bread-winner. It is therefore officially discouraged but occasionally condoned.

The travelling groups would usually arrive at a local, mostly Deobandi mosque. There they would stay for two to three days and sleep inside the mosque - which is a practice not fully accepted by all ulama. They always are self-sufficient with their bedding and cooking utensils which they carry with them. After prayer they go out and tour the local Muslim community. They knock on doors of most houses to invite people to come for the next prayer to the mosque. While responses vary, between 2 and 10 % of those approached may turn up at the mosque out of which some might have come anyway to say their regular prayer there. After a joint prayer they are given an inspirational religious talk (bayan), reciting religious principles, instances from the Quran and the Prophetic traditions (hadith). Usually a session of religious education follows (ta’alim). This consists of reading from a book written by one of its founding fathers, Maulana Muhammad Zakariya (1898-1982), “The Virtues of Good Deeds” (Faza’il-A’mal), which the movement has adopted as standard educational reference material (Zakariya, 1994). It presents a compilation of religious texts, mainly Prophetic traditions. Then those present are called upon to volunteer for future preaching tours (tashkil). People stand up and give their name and local association which is being noted down in a special register or book kept at the mosque. Later the new volunteers will be taken up on these pledges and reminded to live up to them. When the group returns to its home base it will report to the local Tabligh centre either in oral or written form (karguzari).

Derived from the travelling practice as its main form of activity, the official arrangements for the work of the movement are kept deliberately provisional and temporary. It is part of the self-image of the movement that it is wholly based on voluntary work with little or no administrative input. The movement keeps no official publications, no formalised leadership structure, no written set of rules or objectives. Yet this self-representation carefully camouflages a different reality of a highly hierarchical leadership which exerts significant moral and social pressure for compliance, a reality that comprises a wide range of unofficial publications detailing the guidelines and the rules by which the work has to proceed, a reality that includes a differentiated and well-defined administrative structure. There is an unwritten constitution of the movement that determines in great detail what issues are confronted in what way and how the work, that is organising the preaching tours, is being conducted, how new members are being attracted and how issues of leadership and guidance are being solved.

The congregations

Next to the preaching tours, its congregations (ijtima) constitute the most well-known feature of the Tablighi movement. They are of various scope: local, regional, national or international/global. A sub-variety is constituted by student or youth ijtimas. On one side they take up the tradition of the weekly Friday prayer congregation at the local mosque, on the other they represent a kind of community ‘orientation’ meeting, which perhaps has grown out of the initial local community meetings in Mewat with religious scholars and tribal elders.

Basically their programme closely follows the itinerary of the preaching tours, consisting of joint prayers, inspirational talks, readings from the Zakariya volumes, calls for volunteers to register for future preaching tours, and in addition a concluding prayer of supplication (du’a).

Ijtimas are being held regularly on fixed days at the local Tabligh centre, usually once a week. They are held at or around prayer times to induce the faithful of the area who come to the mosque for prayers to participate in the Tabligh meeting as well. These ijtimas facilitate social communication and networking among followers.
From these, the grand national meetings stand out in a category of their own. The annual congregations of the Tablighis in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are remarkable for the huge numbers they attract and the amount of publicity they generate, among the local population, but also on a wider scale in national newspapers and international media. Tablighis use to stress that these meetings represent the second-largest congregation of Muslims after the Hajj. Reports assume that up to two million people participate in the Bangladesh meeting in Tongi, between one and one and a half million in India and Pakistan each. The latter usually takes place at Raiwind, the location of the Pakistani centre of the movement near Lahore. In India, major annual congregations were held at different places, although now they seem to have settled on the longstanding Bhopal ijtima. For about 50 years it was held at its huge mosque Taj ul-Masajid (crown of the mosques) but has shifted recently to open fields outside the city for want of space. The congregations seem to be important venues for mobilising support not only among Muslims, but also among Non-Muslims and secular elites, notably politicians. The Presidents and Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Pakistan have repeatedly used the meetings to rub shoulders with the praying millions on occasions that are bound to attract mass media attention.[1] The former head of the Afghan Taliban regime, Mulla Omar, was also reported to have attended the Pakistan congregation. In India cooperation with state authorities is smooth and traditional, although less publicity-oriented. Tablighi leaders seem divided over the merits of such huge meetings. Muhammad Yusuf (1917-1965), second Amir of the Indian Tablighi Jama’at, had already emphasised that the regular work in propagating Islam was more important than the meetings. There are attempts made in India nowadays to scale back the national congregations in favour of the regular work.

At the national congregation local Tablighi organisations are represented by formal delegations squatting on the prayer ground behind signboards indicating their place of origin. Also attendance from other countries is a regular feature now as the movement has become truly global. Contrary to assertions made by members of the preparatory committees, a huge organisational effort constitutes the backbone of these congregations. Special departments are created for logistical support (food, sound system, medical services, fire services, security, transport), usually in close cooperation with state authorities for which the organisers are often not charged. Local businesses also provide their services often for free, regarding it as a moral duty and an effective form of ‘product placement’. A huge department takes charge of coordinating the routes of all participants for preaching tours as the congregation winds up with sending off all participants on their respective tours having recharged their motivation and energy.

The increasing social function of the movement is displayed in staging mass marriages (nikkah) celebrated by prominent luminaries of the movement. Also the concluding act, the prayer of supplication (du’a) apparently holds an enormous social importance. It is this prayer which attracts huge additional crowds from among the local population seeking benediction (barakat). It is they who swell the participating numbers to the millions making clear that the actual number of participating Tablighis is significantly less than generally assumed.

The local mosque scheme

The Tablighi activists devote growing attention to a scheme that has slowly but steadily evolved over the past decades, the formation and operation of a local ‘mosque group’ (masjidwar jama’at) in contrast to the travelling preaching group, the Tablighi Jama’at. It considers the local mosque as the basic unit of operation. The details of this scheme have been fixed in a rigid grid of demands that are made on its participants on a daily basis. It rests on the understanding that every potential follower of the movement is always and first member of his local mosque group. This makes the scheme somewhat akin to ideological structures of mobilisation. In particular, one comes to think of the basic units of the Communist movement. In reality, it is only the regulars who are involved in it. It requires
  • to attend all five prayer sessions at your local mosque which are used to fulfil specific functions for the movement;
  • to form a council (shura) which meets daily, and to attend its sessions at one of the prayer times;
  • to spend 2 1/2 hours daily of dedicated Tabligh activities in meeting fellow-Muslims and inviting them on to the path of Allah in an individual capacity which is called ‘meetings’ (mulaqat);
  • to conduct two educational sessions (ta’alim) daily by reading from the Zakariya volumes for about 30 to 45 minutes, one at the mosque and one at home;
  • make two rounds of preaching walks (gasht) per week, around the immediate neighbourhood on one day — which is fixed for every local mosque
  • and around the adjacent mosque area on their fixed day.
As a faithful follower of the movement you will also want to attend the ijtima of your locality which comprises several mosque areas (as mentioned above). Once you engage in all these activities you are certainly counted among the regulars. You will then want to consider also the other obligations which are prescribed for regulars in ascending order one in addition to the other. These in particular suggest to spend a fixed amount of time on Tabligh tours, beside the daily 2 1/2 hours and the weekly two days in your own and the adjacent locality as mentioned above, that is
  • to three days per months on a full preaching tour to another locality in your home region;
  • 40 days per year, called by the Sufi term chilla, generally a longer period of withdrawal or seclusion for contemplation and prayer, which could be to other states or provinces of your country, but also to other countries;
  • the ‘grand chilla ’, consisting of 3 consecutive chillas, once during your lifetime, which equals four months (120 days);
  • for the ardent there are even longer chillas, mostly when going abroad, for a period like 7 months, or on foot across the country for a whole year (Cf. Hasan, 1982: 772).
Committing yourself to these activities puts a heavy burden on the shoulders of every regular. It is not uncommon that those doing so tend to neglect their worldly engagements. At the same time, the mobilising efforts can also have affirmative results. A survey made at Aligarh University in India was said to have shown that the academic achievements of Muslims students who were Tablighi regulars significantly surpassed those of their co-students.

Yet a regular can hardly pursuit his predilection for Tabligh work unless he makes it his lifetime occupation and doesn’t count the hours. This also entails social consequences with regard to Tablighi family life. Several informants suggested during interviews that those families where both partners were actively involved in Tabligh work tended to have fewer children. They would have more simple marriage ceremonies - because they shun ostentatious expenditure – and they have easier divorces - because they don’t ask for bride money, both under the influence of reformist teachings.[2] Young Tablighi activists even seek out the advice of their elders in questions of finding suitable partners tolerant of the demanding Tabligh work.

The leadership question

In its self-representation the movement stresses its egalitarian character. Outgoing preaching groups (jama’at) elect a leader (amir) from among themselves whose orders would be obeyed unquestioningly. Yet he could be any of them, and more important, he is expected to lead through his personal example in his devotion to preaching, praying, religious education, but also in his humble demeanour towards other members of the group, in his readiness to take over ordinary daily chores of cooking or cleaning. Beside this leader of the basic preaching group, the only other leader who is known in public is the national leader of the Tablighis in India or Pakistan (or any other country). The middle rung of leadership is hardly visible to outside observers and not even to irregular participants. Yet the movement is ruled by a clearly defined command structure at every level being both flexible and rigid in turns. It is based on the shura principle gleaned from the Qur’an and the hadith, lead by an amir or a responsible person of varying designation. It is assumed that the Prophet’s practice of consultation with his companions is the example. Council is held in open accessible by all member or interested people, at least in theory. In practice though there is a selection of those attending. And not all business of the movement is conducted in public, if only in the presence of their own followers. There definitely is a closed or secret part of business of the movement which is deliberately kept away from the public eye.

Taking India as an example, where the movement started and its global headquarters are located, the leadership structure comprises the following levels:
  • The lowest level is the travelling preaching group, the Tablighi Jama’at. Leadership here is a temporary assignment for the duration of the tour. As the size of the groups rarely exceeds ten, fifteen people, there is no shura formed here. At this level always an amir is selected, or sometimes appointed.
  • Next comes the mosque group where a shura is formed and in operation. But its composition varies. The regulars of the locality take turns in sharing responsibilities. Its leader would be the ‘decider’ – faisal. While his appointment may be confirmed by higher-standing authorities in the movement, the assignment rotates, even at short intervals like after two or three months.
  • The next higher up level would be the locality where a local shura is in operation. In a city like Aligarh there are two Tablighi centres, one in the university area at the Sir Sayyid Hall Mosque and the other at the old town mosque. The shura has four to five members. Its composition and more so the function of faisal is usually confirmed by the higher up Tablighi leaders, either at the state/provincial level or even at the national level. In the case of Aligarh’s university shura due to its eminent status in the Tablighi movement as a centre of learning and the seat of the most prominent Muslim university it was confirmed by the very leaders of the Tablighi movement in India, the Nizamuddin shura at Delhi. The shura members often keep their post until they die. Age in the Tablighi understanding only adds to authority. This shura would also meet every day, but hold council on the more important affairs of the movement in the locality on the day of the ijtima which for the university area was Sundays.
  • There are also shuras in operation at the level of the Indian states and Pakistani provinces. Some of their leaders were formally designated amir. They conduct the affairs of the movement in their state or province fairly independently. Nowadays the new heads of the shura are preferred to be called by the less formal and presumptuous title faisal.
  • Then there is the central Tablighi shura at Nizamuddin. This name is applied to the current collective leadership and also to a larger ruling council. Ilyas was succeeded as amir first by his son Muhammad Yusuf and than by his grand-nephew In’am al-Hasan (1918-1995). After the latter’s death, a collective leadership took over as the movement could not decide on a single successor. It consisted of the Maulanas Saad al-Hasan (grandson of Yusuf and great-grandson of Ilyas), Zubair al-Hasan (son of Inam) and Izhar al-Hasan (maternal nephew of Ilyas). Inam al-Hasan himself was reported to have contributed to the ‘democratisation’ of the movement as he moved to strengthen the role of the shura against the amir and the role of the daily work (within the mosque group) against ostentatious congregations. After Izhar died, this collective leadership or small shura now only consists of two persons. Among these it is Maulana Saad who has now clearly moved to the centre of the movement. He is seen as the new theoretical, spiritual, and symbolic head of the movement. He seems to be immensely popular with followers as can be judged from reactions to his appearance at the 2002 Bhopal congregation. Maulana Zubair apparently concentrates more on the internal structure and organisation of the movement.
Beside the small circle of collective leadership there is a larger shura in operation at Nizamuddin which consists of elders (buzurg or bare) from all over India and counts approximately 15 members. While it meets daily it holds open council on Thursdays on the occasion of their version of the weekly ijtima. Not all its members attend all its sessions. There is a rotation and sharing of responsibilities at work guaranteeing that issues concerning the reception of incoming or preparation of outgoing preaching groups are not left undecided.

On questioning the impression is given by the movement’s representatives that all issues are decided impromptu. While this may often be the case, a certain amount of paper work is apparently still generated and regular offices are also in operation at the centre. Paper work mainly relates to requests (taqaza) from outlying mosques or madrasas for preachers to be sent to them to strengthen the propagation (tabligh) of Islam for whatever momentary local reason. A number of activists runs regular administrative offices at the centre dealing with incoming and outgoing groups, coordination of their travelling destinations and overseeing the work in the regions and provinces. The role of Chhote Sayyid Bhai (’the younger Sayyid’) may serve as an example, a ‘nom de guerre’ by which a Maulana from Nizamuddin went who was in charge of coordinating travel routes for outgoing preaching groups. He also was a member of the preparation team for the Bhopal ijtima 2002, attended by the author. While he explicitly denied any role of regular administrative work in the running of the movement, he was reported to have his own permanent office at Nizamuddin where he kept a huge oversize chart of all possible destinations of preaching tours in the world, complete with the names and schedules of train and bus stations.

A third group of regular full-timers is indispensable for the running of the movement at the Nizamuddin centre. They occupy no formal office yet they attach themselves to certain leading elders and assist them in carrying out their functions. They are sort of religious ‘interns’. The author talked to some who had graduated from universities and now took time out from their civic life supporting themselves on contributions from family members or sharing meagre resources with other Tablighis to be able to devote their full time to the movement. The less sophisticated among them work as ushers there making sure every incoming or outgoing Tablighi or visitor finds his group or stays in touch with his programme. They also shield the centre’s core activities from stray visitors, particularly non-Tablighis and non-Muslims, foreigners, journalists.

Remarkable is the rather strict spatial separation between local/Indian or South Asian Tablighi and foreign Tablighis both at the centre and at the congregation. At the centre they are directed to different levels in the building, at the Bhopal congregation foreign Tablighis were interned in a separate tent camp on the mosque ground for ‘hygienic and security reasons’. For the foreign Tablighis there are always volunteers around who help with translations and organisation. Many foreign visitors who come on a preaching tour to South Asia not for the first time, have picked up Urdu which evolves as a global lingua franca of the Tablighi community.

The movement’s impact cannot be judged uniformly. While it apparently contributes to a strengthening of religious attitudes, and inculcates even bigotry in some followers, it links many aspiring lower middle class Muslims in South Asia with a moralistic version of modernity. In this it can contribute to the moral and cultural emancipation of selected Muslim strata both in a minority setting such as India or in a Muslim majority society such as Pakistan. It can also prepare the ground for groups professing Sunni radicalism or pursuing some form of militancy. Generally it promotes a quietist, value-laden outlook on life, which can be healing and invigorating for many but debilitating for some. Its most worrisome feature is perhaps its closed character, which can generate enormous pressure on participants, although in an open-society context such as India people find it still easy to withdraw from it if they want to. It is difficult to see that it can expand much further and may have reached its peak. Where it will go from here, whether moving into decline or towards a new quality, will be fascinating to watch for political analysts and religious studies experts alike.


[1] For the 2000 congregation, see Dawn, 5-7 November 2000; for Bangladesh, see AFP: ‘Muslims stream into Bangladesh for the 34th Biswa Ijtema’, dateline 29 January 2000.
[2] This refers to the Puritanism of the concept of islah, a movement for Quran-based reform of behaviour that emerged in Egypt at the end of the nineteenth century and spread to the whole Islamic world.
Quelle: Dieser Artikel von Dietrich Reetz erschien bereits in: Bredi, Daniela (Hg.) (2004): Islam in South Asia. Roma (= Oriente Moderno, 84:1), S. 295-305. 

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Distorted Image of Muslim Women

By Sister Naasira bint Ellison, a convert to Islam
Hudaa, Jamaica, New York

Since the height of the feminist movement in the late 70's there has been a magnifying glass placed over the status of Muslim women. Unfortunately, the magnifying glass that has been used is an unusual one. Unusual in the sense that it is very selective about which items it will magnify; other items it will distort to such a degree that they will no longer look familiar. I remember once reading in an "in depth" article about the lives of Muslim women. This article "explained" that at any time a man can divorce his wife by simply stating "I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you". This article can lead anyone ignorant of the Islamic ruling regarding divorce to believe that in less than five seconds the woman is left with no husband and is left to care for herself (and possibly children) by any means necessary. The question that immediately popped up in my mind was, "Did the author innocently write that out of sincere ignorance or was it another of the many attempts to degrade the religion of Islam and its followers (muslims)?" It may be my own paranoia, but I tend to believe it was the latter of the two.

The truth of the matter is that Islam has the most humane and most just system of divorce that exists. Firstly, many options are taken and tried before coming to the decision of the divorce. If the man and woman decide that they can no longer live together successfully as a husband and wife, the husband (in most cases, not always) pronounces the divorce by saying "I divorce you". At this point the waiting period begins. The waiting period lasts for three menstrual cycles to assure the woman is not pregnant. This period allows the couple time to think about what they are doing and if this is what they really want to do. There are no lawyers involved to antagonise an already delicate situation.

In the case that it is realised, that the woman is pregnant, the waiting period lasts the entire time she is pregnant. During the waiting period (whether the woman is pregnant or not) the man is obligated to provide food, clothing and shelter to the woman as he did before the divorce pronouncement. If the couple carries the divorce through to the birth of the child and the woman suckles the baby, the man is obligated to feed and clothe both his ex-wife for the time the woman suckles (the maximum being two years). After this weaning, the child will be provided for by the father until he/she is no longer in need of support.

It is quite ironic that in such an "advanced society" as America, there are divorce cases in which women are being forced to pay alimony to their ex-husbands. Can this and many other things we know about the American system of divorce compare to the Islamic system of divorce?

I have also read stories wherein it is stated that women are forced to marry men without their consent. This in no way resembles the marriage system in Islam. In Islaam the woman marries the man of her choice. She may even marry someone that her mother and/or father objects to. The point is that it is the woman who makes the final decision as to whom she will marry. Once the man and the woman decide that they are interested in one another for marriage, a dowry is decided upon. A dowry is not a brides price but, it is a gift from the groom to the bride. They agree upon a gift that is affordable by the groom. In the time of the Prophet (sas), often things such as livestock and money were given. This is a wise decision in the event that a woman becomes divorced or widowed, she has some financial security to fall back on even if it is for a limited amount of time. Once the man and woman are married, the man is required to clothe, feed, shelter and educate her (or allow her to be educated) in the same manner as he does himself.

The last distorted image that I will cover is that of the Muslim women's dress. The western influenced media portrays our dress to be outdated and oppressive. Needless to say however, I differ with these adjectives. Our dress code does not hinder us from doing anything productive in our lives. Muslim women maintain a variety of jobs, non of which are devalued nor hampered due to their dress code. And as for the timing of muslims women's dress during these contemporary times, it seems most appropriate due to decreasing morals in the world today.

For those who say that Islamic dress is outdated, they speak from great ignorance. The decreasing morality and trials of this time makes Hijaab even more in need. More than ever before sex crimes are rampant. Although this society tells women they can wear what they want to wear, anytime a rape occurs the woman is the one put on trial an one of the first questions is, "What were you wearing?" This concept seems as though it is a set up directed against the so called contemporary woman. Also there is a direct correlation between the respect a man has for a woman and the amount of her body her body she displays flauntingly.

In conclusion, I hope this article helped to clear up some distorted/misunderstood aspects of Islam and women. Women in Islam are respected and held in high regard. We will never find success and/or solutions to our problems until we realise that Allaah knows best and that this disbelieving society will ruin itself.

Quran: The Prophet's Miracle

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Every Prophet is given a miracle — a sign. The miracle of the Prophet of Islam is the Qur’an. The Prophethood of Muhammad, on whom be peace, was to be valid until the Last Day. It was imperative, therefore, that his miracle also be one which would last for all time. The Qur’an was, therefore, assigned to the Prophet as his everlasting miracle. 

The Prophet’s opponents demanded miracles, such as those performed by previous prophets, but the Qur’an stated clearly that such miracles would not be forthcoming. (17:59) The Qur’an even had this to say to the Prophet:

    If you find their aversion hard to bear (and would like to show
    them a miracle), seek if you can a burrow in the earth or ladder
    to the sky by which you may bring them a sign. Had God pleased,
    He would have given them guidance, one and all. Do not be
    ignorant then. (6:35)   

Instead, the revealed Book of God was made into the Prophet’s miracle:

    They ask: ‘Why has no sign been given him by his Lord?’
    Say: ‘Signs are in the hands of God. My mission is only to give
    plain warning.’ Is it not enough for them that We have revealed
    to you the Book which is recited to them? Surely in this there
    is a blessing and an admonition to true believers.
    (Qur’an, 29:50-51) 

There are many different aspects of the Qur’an’s miraculous nature. Here we are going to concentrate on just three: 

  1. The language of the Qur’an — Arabic — has, unlike other international languages, remained a living form of communication over the ages.
  2. The Qur’an is unique among divine scriptures in that its text has remained intact in the original form.
  3. The Qur’an challenged its doubters to produce a book like it. No one has been able to take up this challenge, and produce anything comparable to the Book of God.
The languages in which all the ancient scriptures were revealed have been locked in the archives of history. The only exception is Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, which is still current in the world today. Millions of people still speak and write the language in which the Qur’an was revealed nearly 1500 years ago. This provides stunning proof of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an, for there is no other book in history which has been able to make such an impact on its language; no other book has molded a whole language according to its own style, and maintained it in that form over the centuries. 

Take the Injil known as the New Testament, of which the oldest existing copy is in Greek and not Aramaic, the language which Jesus is thought to have spoken. That means that we possess only a translated account of what the Prophet Jesus said and did; and that too, in ancient Greek, which is considerably different from the modern language. By the end of the 19th century the Greek language had changed so much that the meaning of at least 550 words in the New Testament — about 12% of the entire text — was not known. At that time a German expert, Adolf Deissman, discovered some ancient scrolls in Egypt. From them it emerged that biblical Greek was in fact a colloquial version of classical Greek. This language was spoken in Palestine during the first century ad. Deissman was able to attach meanings to some of the unknown words, but there are another fifty words whose meanings are still unknown. (The Gospels and the Jesus of History, by Xavier Leon-Dufour S.J.) Ernest Renan (1823-s1894) carried out extensive research on Semitic languages. He wrote a book on their vocabularies, in which he had this to say about the Arabic language: 

“The Arabic language is the most astonishing event of human history. Unknown during the classical period, it suddenly emerged as a complete language. After this, it did not undergo any noticeable changes, so one cannot define for it an early or a late stage. It is just the same today as it was when it first appeared." 

In acknowledging this ‘astonishing event of human history’ Renan, a French orientalist, is in fact acknowledging the miraculous nature of the Qur’an. It was the Qur’an’s phenomenal literary style which preserved the Arabic language from alteration, such as other languages have undergone. The Christian Jurgi Zaydan (1861-1914) is one of the scholars to have recognized this fact. In a book on Arabic literature he writes: 

“No religious book has had such an impact on the language in which it was written as the Qur’an has had on Arabic literature."  

World languages have changed so much throughout the ages that no expert in any modern language is able to understand its ancient form without the aid of a dictionary. There have been two main causes of language alteration — upheavals in the social order of a nation and the development of a language’s literature. Over the centuries these factors have been at work in Arabic, just as in other languages. The difference is that they have not been able to change the structure of the Arabic language. The Arabic that is spoken today is the same as that which was current in Mecca when the Qur’an was revealed. Homer’s Iliad (850 BC), Tulsi Das’ Ramayan (1623 AD), and the dramas of Shakespeare (1564-1616), are considered literary masterpieces of their respective languages. They have been read and, in the case of the Ramayan and Shakespeare’s plays, performed continuously from the time of their compilation until the present day. But neither their literary worth nor their form has been able to prevent the languages in which they were written from being altered.  The Greek of Homer, the Sanskrit of Tulsi Das and even the English of Shakespeare, are now classical rather than modern languages. The Qur’an is the only book to have molded a language and maintained it in that same form over the ages. There have been various intellectual and political upheavals in Arab countries, but the Arabic language has remained as it was when the Qur’an was revealed. No change in the Arab social order has been able to alter in any way the Arabic tongue. This fact is a clear indication that the Qur’an came from a supernatural source. One does not have to look any further than the history of the last 1500 years to see the miraculous nature of the Book revealed to the Prophet Mohammad.

Social Upheavals

The example of Latin shows how social upheavals affect languages. Though in latter days Italy became the center of Latin, it was not originally a product of that country. Around the 12th century BC, during the Iron Age, many central European tribes spread out into surrounding regions. Some of them, especially the Alpine tribes, entered Italy and settled in and around Rome. Their own language mixed with the language of Rome, and that was how Latin was formed. In the third century BC Lubus Andronicus translated some Greek tales and dramas into Latin, thus making it a literary language. The Roman Empire was established in the first century BC, and Latin became the official language. The strength of Latin was even further reinforced by the spread of Christianity. With the support of religious and political institutions, and backed by social and economic forces, Latin continued to spread until eventually it came to cover almost the whole of ancient Europe. At the time of St. Augustine, Latin was at its peak, and right up to the Middle Ages it was considered the main international language. 

The 8th century ad was an age of Muslim conquest. The Romans were forced to take refuge in Constantinople, which became the capital of the eastern half of the Empire, until in 1453 the Turks took Constantinople and banished the Romans from this, their last stronghold. The decline of the Roman Empire enabled various local languages to flourish, notably French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Latin had a strong influence on all of them, being the language from which they were all derived, but itself survived only as the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. No longer a living tongue, it  was ultimately only  of historical  interest, although it did continue to provide the linguistic bases for  technical, legal and scientific terms. Without a good grasp of Latin, for instance, one cannot read Newton’s Principia in the original. 

Every classical language followed much the same pattern, changing along with social circumstances until, eventually, the original language gave way to another, completely changed one. Ethnic integration, political revolutions, and cultural clashes have always left a deep imprint on the languages of the affected peoples. These factors have been at work on the Arabic language over the last 1500 years, but amazingly it has remained intact. This extraordinary resilience of the Arabic language is entirely due to the miraculous spell the Qur’an has cast on it. 

After the coming of Islam, Arabs settled in many parts of Africa and Asia where other languages besides Arabic were spoken. Their intermingling with other races, however, did not have any effect on the Arabs’ language, which remained in its original state.  There are also instances of other peoples changing over to Arabic, such as the Jewish tribes who left Syria in 70 A.D. and settled in Medina where, having come in contact with the Arabic-speaking ‘Amaliqa tribe, they adopted Arabic as their language, although the Arabic they spoke was different from common Arabic, retaining a strong Hebrew influence. 

In the very first century after the revelation of the Qur’an, Arabic was exposed to the sort of forces which cause a language to alter radically. This was when Islam spread among various Arab tribes, who began to congregate in major Muslim cities. Intonation and accent varied from tribe to tribe.  So much so that Abu ‘Amr ibn al-ula was moved to remark that the ‘Himyar tribe do not speak our language; their vocabulary is quite different from ours.’ ‘Umar ibn Khattab once brought before the Prophet an Arab whom he had heard reciting the Qur’an. The Arab had been pronouncing the words of the Qur’an in such a strange manner that ‘Umar was unable to make out what part of the Book of God he was reading. The Prophet once spoke to a visiting delegation from some Arab tribe in their own dialect. It seemed to ‘Ali as if the Prophet was speaking in a foreign tongue. 

The main reason for this difference was variation in accent. For instance, the Banu Tameem, who lived in the eastern part of Najd, were unable to say the letter ‘j’, and used to pronounce it as ‘y’ instead. The word for mosque (masjid), they used to pronounce ‘masyid’, and instead of ‘shajarat’ (trees), they would say ‘sharat’. ‘Q’ they pronounced as ‘j’, calling a ‘tareeq’ (road) a ‘tareej’, a ‘sadiq’ (friend) a ‘sadij’, ‘qadr’ (value) ‘jadr’ and ‘qasim’ (distributor) ‘jasim’. According to normal linguistic patterns, the coming together of tribes who spoke such varying dialects should have initiated a fresh process of change in the Arabic language, but this was not to be. The supreme eloquence of the language of the Qur’an guarded Arabic from any such transformation. What happened instead has been explained by Dr Ahmad Hasan Zayyat:

“After the coming of Islam, the Arabic language did not remain the monopoly of one nation. It became the language of all those who entered the faith.” 

Then these Arab Muslims left their native land, conquering territory extending from Kashghar in the east to Gibraltar in the west. Persian, Qibti, Berber, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Suryani were among the languages spoken by the peoples they came into contact with. Some of these nations were politically and culturally more advanced than the Arabs. Iraq, bastion of an ancient civilization and the cultural center of major tribes, was one of the countries they entered. They mingled with the Iranians, masters of one of the world’s two great empires. The highly advanced Roman civilization and an expanding Christian religion were two of the forces that they clashed with. Among the countries they occupied was Syria, where Phoenician, Ghassanid, Greek, Egyptian and Cana‘anian tribes had left behind outstanding traditions in literature and ethics. Then there was Egypt, the meeting place of oriental and occidental philosophy. These factors were more than enough to transform the Arabic language, as had been the case with other tongues exposed to similar forces. But they were rendered ineffective by the Qur’an, a specimen of such unrivalled literary excellence that no power could weaken the hold of the language in which it had been written. 

With the conquests of Islam, Arabic no longer belonged to one people alone; it became the language of several nations and races. When the ‘Ajamis’ (non-Arabs) of Asia and Africa accepted Islam, they gradually adopted Arabic as their language. Naturally, these new converts were not as proficient in speaking the language as the Arabs of old. Then the Arabs in their turn were affected by the language spoken by their new co-religionists. The deterioration of Arabic was especially evident in large, cosmopolitan cities, where there was more intermingling of races. First it was the rank and file, those who did not pay much attention to the finer points of linguistics, who were affected. But the cultural elite did not remain immune either. A man once came to the court of Ziyad ibn Umayya and lamented. ‘Our fathers have died, leaving small children,‘ with both ‘fathers’ and ‘children’ in the wrong  grammatical case. Mistakes of this nature became commonplace, yet the Arabic language remained essentially the same. Shielded by the Qur’an’s supreme eloquence, written Arabic was not corrupted by the degradation of the spoken version. It remained cast in the mould of the Qur’an. 

For proof of the Qur’an’s miraculous nature, one has only to look at all the traumatic experiences that Arabic has been through over the last 1500 years. If it had not been for the protective wing of the Qur’an, the Arabic language would surely have been altered. The unsurpassable model that was established by the Qur’an remained the immutable touchstone of standard Arabic. 

The fall of the Umayyad dynasty in the second century Hijrah posed a great threat to the Arabic language. The Umayyad had been a purely Arab dynasty. Strong supporters of Arab nationalism, they took their promotion of Arabic literature and language almost to the point of partiality. Their capital was situated in Damascus, in the Arab heartland. In their time, both the military and the civil administration were controlled by Arabs. Now the Abbasids took over the reins of power. Since it was Iranian support that had brought the caliphate to the Abbasids, it was inevitable that the Iranians should maintain a strong influence on their administration. This influence led to the capital being moved to Baghdad, on the threshold of Persia. The Abbasids gave the Iranians a free hand in affairs of government, but looked down on the Arabs and their civilization, and made conscious efforts to weaken them, unlike the Umayyad who had always preferred Arabs for high posts. With the wane of pro-Arab favoritism, Iranians, Turks, Syrians, Byzantine and Berber elements were able to gain control over all affairs of society and state. Marriages between Arabs and non-Arabs became commonplace. With the mixing of Aryan and Semitic civilizations, Arabic language and culture faced a new crisis. The grandsons of the emperors and lords of Persia arose to resurrect the civilization of their forefathers. 

These events had a profound effect on the Arabic language. The state that it had reached by the time of the poet Mutanabbi (915-965 AD) is expressed in the following lines:

    “The buildings of Iran excel all others in beauty
    As the season of spring excels all other seasons.
    An Arab youth goes amongst them,
    His face, his hands, his tongue, a stranger in their midst.
    Solomon, they say, used to converse with the jinns.
    But were he to visit the Iranians, he would need a translator.”
    (Diwan al-Mutanabbi)

It was the Qur’an’s literary greatness alone which kept Arabic from being permanently scarred by these upheavals. The language always returned to its Qur’anic base, like a ship which, after weathering temporary storms on the high seas, returns to the safety of its harbor. 

During the reign of the caliph Mutawakkil (207-247 ah), large numbers of Ajamis—especially Iranians and Turks—entered Arab territory. In 656 the Mongolian warrior Hulaku Khan sacked Baghdad. Later the Islamic empire received a further setback when, in 898, Andalusia fell to the Christians. The Fatimid dynasty, which had held sway in Egypt and Syria, did not last long either: in 923 they were replaced by the Ottoman Turks in large stretches of Arab territory. Now the center of Islamic government moved from Cairo to Constantinople; the official language became Turkish instead of Arabic, which continued to assimilate a number of foreign words and phrases. 

The Arab world spent five hundred and fifty years under the banner of Ajami (non-Arab) kings. Persian, Turkish and Mughal rulers even made attempts to erase all traces of the Arabic language. Arabic libraries were burnt, schools destroyed; scholars of the language found themselves in disgrace. The Ottoman emperors launched an anti-Arabic campaign, fittingly called “Tatreek ‘ul-’Arab” (Turkisation of Arabs) by the well-known reformer Jamaluddin Afghani  (1838-97). But no effort was strong enough to inflict any permanent scar on the face of Arabic. Fierce attacks were launched on Arabic language and literature by the Tartars in Bukhara and Baghdad, by the Crusaders in Palestine and Syria, then by other Europeans in Andalusia. According to the history of other languages, these assaults on Arab culture should have been sufficient to eradicate the Arabic language completely. One would have expected Arabic to have followed the path of other languages and merged with other Semitic tongues. Indeed, it would be true to say that if Arabic had not come up against Turkish ignorance and Persian prejudice, it would still be spoken throughout the entire Muslim world today. Its very survival in the Arab world was due solely to the miraculous effect of the Qur’an whose greatness compelled people to remain attached to Arabic. It inspired some Arab scholars — Ibn Manzoor (630-711 ah) and Ibn Khaldun (732-808 ah) being two that spring to mind — to produce, in defiance of the government of the day, works of great literary and academic excellence. 

Napoleon’s entry into Cairo (1798) ushered in the age of the printing press in the Middle East. Education became the order of the day. The Arabic language was invested with new life. Yet the centuries of battering that Arabic had received was bound to leave its mark: instead of pure Arabic, a mixture of Arabic and Turkish had been taken as the official language in Egypt and Syria. 

The situation changed again with the British occupation of Egypt in 1882. They opposed Arabic with all their strength, prescribing compulsory English in schools and eliminating other languages from syllabi. The French did the same in areas over which they had gained control. With the colonial powers forcing their subjects to learn their languages, Arabic lived in the shadow of English and French for over one hundred years. Yet it still remained in its original form. 

Certainly, it assimilated new words — the word “dabbaba” meaning tank, for instance, which had previously been used for a simple battering ram. New styles of writing emerged. If anyone were to write a book about why people adopt Islam today, he might call it. “Limadha aslamna” (Why we accepted Islam), whereas in the old days rhythmical and decorative titles were preferred. Many words were adopted by the Arabic language — the English word “doctor” for example. But such changes were just on the surface. Arabic proper still remained the same as it had been centuries ago, when the Qur’an was revealed.
Literary Advancement
Once in a while, writers of outstanding status appear on a language’s literary scene. When this happens, the language in which they write undergoes some change, for their literary masterpieces influence the mode of popular expression. In this way languages are continually passing through progressive evolutionary stages, until eventually they become quite different from their original form. With Arabic this did not happen. At the very outset of Arabic history, the Qur’an set a literary standard that could not be excelled. Arabic maintained the style set for it by the Qur’an. No masterpiece comparable to the Qur’an was destined to be produced after it; so Arabic remained cast in the mould of that divine symphony. 

Take the example of English. In the 7th century AD it was just an ordinary local dialect, not geared to the expression of profound intellectual thought. For another five hundred years this situation continued. The Normans conquered England in 1066 and, when the founding father of the English language — Geoffrey Chaucer — was born around 1340, the official language of their court was still French. Chaucer himself had a command of Latin, French and Italian, besides his native English. This, along with his great gifts of scholarship, enabled him to make English into an academic language. To use Ernest Hauser’s words, he gave the English language a ‘firm boost’ with his Canterbury Tales. Chaucer transformed a dialect into a language, paving the way for fresh progress in times to come. 

For two hundred years English writers and poets followed Chaucer’s guidelines. When William Shakespeare (1558-1625) appeared on the scene, English took another step forward. His dramas and poems set a new literary standard, enabling English to march further forward. The coming of the scientific age two hundred years later had a tremendous impact on every stratum of society. Language now began to follow the dictates of science. Prose became more popular than poetry, factual expression more effective than storytelling. Dozens of poets and writers from Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) to T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) were representative of this trend. They were the makers of the modern age of English literature through which we are now passing. 

The same thing happened with other languages. Writers, or groups of writers, kept on emerging who became more popular than their predecessors. Whenever they appeared, they steered the language on a new course. Eventually every language changed so much that it became impossible for a person to understand the ancient form of his own tongue without the aid of dictionaries and commentaries. 

There is only one exception to this universal trend, and that is Arabic. The claim of the Qur’an, that no one would ever be able to write a book like it, has been borne out to the letter. For further proof of this fact, one need only look at the various attempts to produce a work equal to the Qur’an that have been made over the centuries. All attempts have failed dismally. Musailema ibn Habib, Tulaiha ibn Khuwailid, Nadhr ibn al Harith, Ibn al Rawandi, Abu al Ala al Ma’arri, Ibn al Muqaffa, Al Mutanabbi, and many others, have tried their hand at it, but their efforts, like Musailema’s extraordinary reference to ‘God’s blessing upon pregnant women, extracting from them a sprightly life, from between the stomach and the fetal membrane’ look ridiculous when compared with the literary majesty of the Qur’an. 

But the greatest substantiation of the Qur’an’s claim that no one would be able to write a work like it (17:88) comes from what Ernest Renan has called the ‘linguistic miracle’ of the Arabic language. As with every other language, masters of Arabic — great poets and writers — have appeared over the ages. But, in the 1500 years since the Qur’an was revealed, no one has been able to produce a work that excelled it. Its standard has never been improved upon and Arabic has remained on the course set for it by the Qur’an.  The impact that the Qur’an has had on Arabic is like that of a writer who produces a work of unsurpassable literary excellence at the very beginning of a language’s history. After such a figure has made his mark, no lesser writer can change the face of the language. The Qur’an, revealed in the Arabic current at the time was cast in a more elevated literary mould than had ever been seen before or afterwards. 

By making vital additions to traditional modes of expression, the Qur’an opened the way for expansion of the Arabic language. The use of the word ‘one’ (ahad) in the 112th chapter of the Qur’an, entitled ‘Oneness’, is a good example. Previously it had been used in the genitive to express ‘one of us’ for example, or for the ‘first day’ of the week, Saturday or Yaum al Ahad. It was used for general negations, as in ‘Ma Ja’ni ahadun’ — ‘no one came to see me.’ But in using ahad as an attribute of Almighty God, the Qur’an put the word to an entirely novel use. The Qur’an brought many foreign words into Arabic usage, for instance istabraq from Persian, qaswara from Abyssinian, sirat from Greek, ‘yamm’ from Syrian, ghassaq from Turkish, qistas from Latin, ‘malakut’ from Aramaic and ‘kafoor’ from Hindi. The Qur’an tells us (25:60) that the idolaters of Mecca were baffled at the word ‘rahman’. They used to say ‘What is this ‘rahman’? This was because the word was not Arabic; it had been taken from the Sabaean and Hamiri languages. The Christians of Yemen and Abyssinia used to call God ‘rahamnan’. The Meccans considered the word foreign when it appeared in the Qur’an in an Arabic zed form. They enquired what ‘rahman‘ meant, being unaware of its linguistic background. Over one hundred non-Arabic words of this nature were used in the Qur’an, taken from languages as far apart as Persian, Latin, Nabatean, Hebrew, Syrian, Coptic and many others. 

Although the Qur’an was revealed mainly in the language of the Quraysh, words used by other Arab tribes were also included. Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas, a Qurayshi Muslim, was puzzled when the word fatir appeared in the Qur’an. ‘I did not know what the expression ‘Originator of the heavens and the earth’ meant,’ he explained. ‘Then I heard an Arab saying that he had ‘originated’ a well, when he had just started digging it, and I knew what the word ‘fatir’ meant.’ Abu Huraira said that he had never heard the word ‘sikkin’ until he heard it in the chapter, ‘Joseph’, of the Qur’an. ‘We always used to call a knife ‘mudiya’, he said. 

As Jalaluddin Suyuti has pointed out in Al-Itqan, many words were pronounced differently by various Arab tribes. The Qur’an took some of these words, and used them in their most refined literary form. The Quraysh, for instance, used the word a’ata for ‘he gave’, while the Himyaris used to pronounce it ‘anta’. The Qur’an preferred a’ata to anta. Likewise it chose ‘asabi’ rather than shanatir and dhi’b instead of kata. The general trend of preferring Qurayshi forms was sometimes reversed, as in the phrase ‘layalitkum min a’amalikum’ — ‘nothing will be taken away from your actions’ — which was borrowed from the Bani ’Abbas dialect. 

In giving old Arabic words and expressions new depth and beauty, the Qur’an set a standard of literary excellence which no future writer could improve on. It revised certain metaphors, rephrasing them in a more eloquent form than had been heard before. This was how an ancient Arab poet described the impermanence of the world: 

“Even if he enjoys a long period of secure life, every mother’s son will finally be carried aloft in a coffin.” 

The Qur’an put the same idea in the poignantly succinct words: ‘Every soul shall taste death’ (3:185). Killing and plundering presented a major problem in ancient Arabia. Certain phrases had been coined to express the idea that only killing could put an end to killing, and these were considered highly eloquent in pre-Islamic days. ‘To kill some is to give life to the whole,’ one of them went. ‘Kill more, so that there should be less killing,’ and ‘Killing puts an end to killing,’ were some other examples. The Qur’an expressed the idea in these words: ‘In retaliation there is life for you, O men of understanding.’ (2:179). 

In pre-Qur’anic days, poetry held an important place in Arabic, as in other languages of the world. Poetical expression of ideas was given pride of place in the literary arena. The Qur’an, however, left this beaten track, and used prose instead of poetry. This in itself is proof that the Qur’an came from God, for in the 7th century AD who, save God — who knows the future just as He knows the past — could know that prose rather than poetry should be chosen as the medium for divine scripture that was to last for all time. The Qur’an was addressed to future generations, and soon poetry was going to become less important as a mass medium of communication. Rhetorical language was also very much in vogue before the Qur’an, but for the first time in literary history, the Qur’an introduced a factual rather than a rhetorical style. The most famous topics for literary treatment had previously been military and romantic exploits. The Qur’an, on the contrary, featured a much wider spectrum, including matters of ethical, legal, scientific, psychological, economic, political and historic significance within its scope. In ancient times, parables were a popular mode of expression. Here too, the Qur’an trod new ground, adopting a more direct method of saying things. The method of reasoning employed in the Qur’an was also considerably different from that used in pre-Qur’anic times. Whereas purely theoretical, analogical proof was all that the world had known prior to this, the Qur’an introduced empirical, scientific reasoning. And to crown all its achievements, the Qur’an expressed all this in a refined literary style, which proved imperishable in times to come. 

There was an ancient Arab saying that ‘the sweetest poem was the one with the most lies.’ The Qur’an changed this, introducing a new mode of ‘articulate speech’ (55:4) based on verifiable facts rather than on hypothetical fables. Now Arabic followed the Qur’an’s lead. Pre-Islamic Arabic literature was collected and compiled, keeping the preservation and understanding of the language of the Qur’an in mind. Great departments of learning, facilitating understanding of the Qur’an and explaining its orders and prohibitions came into existence. The learning of Arabic grammar, syntax and etymology, Islamic theology and traditions, as well as Qur’anic studies, were all aimed at helping us to understand the message of the Qur’an. Even the subjects of history and geography were originally taken up as part of the Arabs’ attempt to understand and practice the teachings of Qur’an. There is no other example in the history of the world of any single book having such an enormous impact on a people and their language. 

Through its development and improvement of the Arabic language, the Qur’an became a superb literary masterpiece. Anyone who knows Arabic can appreciate the unique quality of the Qur’an’s style as compared to that of any other work of Arabic literature. The Qur’an is written in a divine style vastly superior to anything humans can aspire to. We will close this chapter by relating a story which clearly portrays the difference between the work of God and that of man. It is taken from Sheikh Tantawi’s commentary of the Qur’an, Al-Jawahir fi Tafsir Al-Qur’an Al-Karim

‘On 13 June 1932,’ Tantawi writes, ‘I met an Egyptian writer, Kamil Gilani, who told me an amazing story. One day he was with an American orientalist by the name of Finkle, with whom he enjoyed a deep intellectual relationship. ‘Tell me, are you still among those who consider the Qur’an a miracle?’ whispered Finkle in Gilani’s ear, adding a laugh to indicate his ridicule of such belief. He thought that Muslims could only hold this belief in blind faith. It could not be based on any sound, objective reasoning. Thinking that his blow had really gone home, Finkle was visibly pleased with himself. Seeing his attitude, Gilani too started laughing. ‘Before issuing any pronouncement on the style of the Qur’an,’ he said, ‘we should first have a look and see if we can produce anything comparable to it. Only when we have tried our hand, shall we be able to say conclusively whether humans can produce anything comparable to the Qur’an or not.’

Gilani then invited Finkle to join him in putting a Qur’anic idea into Arabic words. The idea he chose was: Hell is extremely vast. Finkle agreed, and both men sat down with pen and paper. Between them, they produced about twenty Arabic sentences. ‘Hell is extremely vast,’ ‘Hell is vaster than you can imagine,’ ‘Man’s intellect cannot fathom the vastness of Hell,’ and many examples of this nature, were some of the sentences they produced. They tried until they could think of no other sentence to express this idea. Gilani looked at Finkle triumphantly. ‘Now that we have done our best, we shall be able to see how the Qur’an stands above all works of men,’ he said. ‘What, has the Qur’an expressed this idea more eloquently?’ Finkle enquired. ‘We are like little children compared to the Qur’an,’ Gilani told him. Amazed, Finkle asked what was in the Qur’an. Gilani recited this verse from Surah Qaf: ‘On that  Day  We will ask Hell: ‘Are you full?’ And Hell will answer: ‘Are there any more?’ (50:30) Finkle was startled on hearing this verse. Amazed at the supreme eloquence of the Qur’an, he openly admitted defeat. ‘You were right, quite right,’ he said, ‘I unreservedly concede defeat.’ ‘For you to acknowledge the truth,’ Gilani replied, ‘is nothing strange, for you are a man of letters, well aware of the importance of style in language.’ This particular orientalist was fluent in English, German, Hebrew and Arabic, and had spent all his life studying the literature of these languages. (Sheikh al-Tantawi al-Jauhari, Al-Jawahir fi Tafseer Al-Qur’an Al-Kareem, Vol. 23, pp. 111-12).

 source :

Quran: The Eternal Truth

 Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

The Prophet Moses, born in Egypt in the 15th century B.C., was chosen by God to be His messenger. In those days, Egypt was under the dynastic rule of the Pharaohs, who were idolaters. The Prophet Moses encountered two of the kings of this dynasty: one was appointed to be his guardian by God, while the other was one with whom he came into confrontation during his missionary struggle. 

When Moses presented the Divine Message of Truth before the latter Pharaoh, he turned against him. To prove the genuineness of his Prophethood, the Prophet Moses showed the miracle of his rod turning into a serpent. Pharaoh said that it was mere magic, and that his people too could perform such feats. So Pharaoh ordered all the magicians of Egypt together on the occasion of a national festival in order to nullify the miracle of Moses by demonstrating their superior skills in magic. At the appointed time the most renowned magicians from all over the country duly gathered in the royal court. When the Prophet Moses arrived, he not only surpassed the performance of the court magicians with further miracles, but he also made a very significant speech, a part of which is as follows: 

“What you have brought is deception. Surely God will render it vain. God does not bless the work of the evildoers. By His words He vindicates the truth, much as the guilty may dislike it’ (10:81-82).

What the Prophet Moses said at that time was in fact a proclamation of God’s eternal verdict. In the present world man has been granted freedom so that he may be put to the test. In consequence, untruth has had the opportunity to mar the human condition. But this rise of falsehood is only a temporary phase, for the system of the world is so perfect that it does not accept untruth for long. After a period of time, it rejects all falsity. It is truth and truth alone which will endure. 

This law of God was manifest in ancient times just as it is manifest today. That is why, in the time of the Prophet Moses, the sorcery of the magicians was set at naught by the miracle granted to Moses. This phenomenon of truth finally conquering untruth has been repeated many times throughout the ages in different forms. In present times God has ordained this through human knowledge itself, advances in knowledge and science having made it possible to prove with finality the unassailability of divine Truth. With the revelation of the Quran, the events that were to unfold found expression in these words: 

“We will show them Our Signs in all the regions of the earth and in their own souls, until they clearly see that this is the truth. Does it not suffice that your Lord is watching over all things?” (Qur’an, 41:53). 

The commentator, Ibn Kathir has explained this verse in these words: 

“Soon We shall make manifest the truth of the Qur’an through the external arguments of reasoning.”

This verse of the Qur’an needs to be looked at in the context of posterity. These are the words of a Being before whom are ranged not only the generations of that time, but all succeeding generations.   

Addressing itself to all the peoples of the present, past and future, this verse declares that whatever is presented in its own times on the basis of revealed knowledge, will in the future have its authenticity proven by advances in human knowledge itself. What is merely a matter of assertion today will become a confirmed reality tomorrow. 

This prediction of the Qur’an has been proved true in the fullest sense. In ancient times when the magicians countered Truth with magic, God demolished their magic. In present times when the case for atheism was projected without its having any basis in truth, God made all the arguments in its favor vanish into thin air. By the same token, whatever is raised up against Truth will in like manner be demolished, —as has happened in all ages. God’s word, its veracity intact, will be perpetuated, for all time to come. ***

source :

Quran: The Voice of God

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Recently I have been studying Marxism in considerable detail, and have formed the impression that Marx was a man of extraordinary intellect and spirit; few men of such talent have appeared in the annals of history. Yet, when he gave his mind to the improvement of the human condition, the remedies he offered were unparalleled in their foolishness. Why should this have been so? The principal reason is that he had made no study of the Qur’an. He had not gone to that great source of knowledge, without which no sound and definite opinion can be arrived at on the vicissitudes of human existence. It must be conceded that the universe is a mystery and that the only book which can unveil that mystery for us is the Qur’an. No mere mortal can solve the mysteries of life and the universe without the revelations of the Book of God.

Medicines are accompanied by leaflets explaining what illnesses they are designed to cure, how they should be used and what their basic formulae are. But man is born into the world in such a condition that he knows neither what he is nor why he has been put here. No convenient handbook accompanies him, neither are there any signboards fixed to the summits of the mountains to give him directions or to provide him with answers to his questions. Man has, in consequence, formed strange opinions about himself, the earth and the sky, being ignorant of the essential reality of life. When he examines his own being, it appears to him as an amazing accumulation of intellectual and physical powers. Yet, he did not will himself into being, nor did he play any part in the making of himself. Then he looks at the world outside himself and a universe of such extreme vastness, that he can neither encompass nor traverse it, nor can he count the innumerable treasures it contains. What is all this, and why is it there? Where did this world start from and where will it all end? What is the purpose of all this existence? He finds himself completely in the dark on these subjects. Man has, of course, been given eyes, but all his eyes can do is see the outside of things. He has intelligence, but the trouble with human intelligence is that it does not even know about itself. Up till now, man has been unable to find out how thoughts enter the human mind or how the mind functions. With such inadequate faculties, he is neither able to arrive at any sound conclusion concerning himself, nor he is able to understand the Universe. 

This riddle is solved by the Book of God. Today, the Qur’an is the only scripture beneath the heavens about which we can say with complete conviction that it gives us definite knowledge concerning all the realities of life.   

Those who have tried to understand the Universe without recourse to the Book of God are just like those blind people who try to find out what an elephant is by touching different parts of its body. One will touch its leg, and think he has found a pillar. Another will feel its ear, and think it is a winnowing basket. Its back will be proclaimed a platform, its tail a snake and its trunk a hosepipe. But where in all this is the elephant? No matter how these blind people put together their findings, they cannot arrive at the correct answer. This is the eternal predicament of all atheist philosophers and thinkers. In their attempt to fathom the nature of reality in the universe, they have failed to be guided by true knowledge. As a result, their conclusions have been like those of a man, fumbling in the dark, and just hazarding wild guesses as to the nature of his surroundings, without ever truly understanding it. 

There have been people in this world who have devoted their entire lives to the quest for Truth, but who, in their desperation at being unable to find it, have even taken the extreme step of putting an end to their lives. And then there have been others who sought the Truth but who, having failed to find it, settled for a concocted philosophy based on pure conjecture. While the latter, mistaking conjecture for reason, compiled their conclusions and presented them to the world as Truth, the former saw speculation for what it was, rejected it, then—anguished at their own ultimate helplessness—opted out of this mysterious world. 

Both groups were denied True Knowledge, for, in reality, no one can understand the secret of life without the help of the original Keeper of the Secret. True, man has been given the capacity to think and understand. But this capacity is little better than an eye which can see only so long as there is some external source of light. In pitch darkness, this self-same eye cannot see anything whatsoever. Only when a light is switched on, does everything become clearly visible. The human intellect, like the eye, needs the light—the light of God’s revelation—if it is not forever to grope in the dark. Without God’s revelation, we can never arrive at the truth of things. 

A scholarly acquaintance of mine once remarked that learning—so it is held—is not acquired by reading book after book and possessing a string of degrees from colleges and universities, but consists, in its supreme form, of faith. The Qur’an likewise states that, ‘in fact, it is those who fear God who are learned.’ But he failed to grasp the significance of this, he said. I replied, ‘Karl Marx is considered a ‘prophet’ in the field of economics, but he did not have one whit of the True Knowledge which, today, by the grace of God, you possess. Faced by a world in which a small number of feudal lords and industrial magnates had taken possession of a disproportionate share of the available wealth, while most people lived in abject poverty, Marx concluded that what lay at the root of these disparities was the present system of ownership which caused articles to be produced, not for their utility to the producer, but for the profit they would yield when sold to others. This permitted the privileged few to behave as plunderers, heaping up profits and increasing their own property to the detriment of their fellow men. The remedy proposed by Marx was to abolish ownership rights altogether, and to transfer the means of accumulating wealth to the public sector. The government was then to be entrusted with the organization of a public system of creation and distribution of wealth which should serve the interests of all. 

At that particular point in time, it was those who possessed the necessary capital who were in a position to profiteer. The question now arose as to the actual advantage of having the government take complete control of these funds in order to turn them into a public treasury. Would not this new group of people — the members of government — be tempted, as individuals, to do the same as their capitalist predecessors, considering that they would also be vested with military and legislative powers? Karl Marx’s analysis was that the system of ownership was flawed by jealousy and the opportunities it gave for outright plunder. According to him, such social defects would disappear in a communist society. ‘Now, tell me,’ I asked my friend, ‘was Karl Marx correct in thinking so?’ ‘Certainly not,’ he replied, ‘The idea of accountability in the Hereafter is the only thing in this world that can cleanse a man of cruel and selfish tendencies.’ ‘That is the real answer to the problem,’ I said. ‘For Karl Marx’s self-made theory resulted in even greater oppression and cruelty than in the days when political and economic powers were shared by the Czars and the capitalists. Now, under the communist system, the powers of Czars and capitalists have all been rolled into one, and it is the common man who suffers.’ 

All those philosophers who have attempted-without God-to solve the riddle of the Universe have fallen into the same pitfalls as Marx. As to their thinking, one is struck by how such great intellects could produce such infantile suggestions. They are like so many blind people, trying, gropingly, to identify an elephant and declaring, with finality, that it is four pillars, or four tree trunks. It is only when life and the universe are scrutinized in the light of the Book of God that everything appears clearly, in its true form; then even a person of very average ability has no trouble in understanding the truth of things; at the very first glance, he goes straight to the heart of the matter. To a person who does not possess this Knowledge, however, the universe is but a labyrinth in which he wanders, lost and distraught. 

We owe much to the human sciences. Yet the absolute maximum that we can learn from them is what the universe is. Till now, they have not given us one iota of knowledge on the subject of why the universe is as it is. Bring together a few gases, minerals and salts, and you have a moving, conscious human being. Put seeds in the ground and up spring plants and trees. Just make a change in atomic numbers and innumerable elements come into being. From just two gases, water—that most precious of commodities—is prepared. Steam, produced by molecular motion within water, gives inanimate engines the power to move. The electrons within an atom are too tiny to be seen through a microscope, but they too are a vital source of colossal, mountain-shattering power. These are all matters of fact. Scientific events do take place as described. But this description is the outer limit of our scientific ‘knowledge.’ When we ask why things are as they are, and why things happen as they do, human science gives us no guidance whatsoever. 

Studies in astronomy show that the number of stars in the sky is as numerous as all of the sand grains on all the sea-shores of our planet, many of the stars being vastly greater in size than our earth, some even being of such enormous girth that they could accommodate hundreds of thousands of earths inside them and still have room to spare. A few of them are even big enough to contain millions and millions of earths. The universe is so vast that an airplane flying at the greatest speed imaginable, i.e. at the speed of light, (186,282 miles per second) would take about ten billion years to complete just a single trip around the whole universe. Even with such a huge circumference, this universe is not static, but is expanding every moment in all directions. So rapid is this expansion that, according to an estimate by Eddington, every 1300 million years, all the distances in this universe are doubled. This means that even our imaginary airplane traveling at the speed of light would not ever be able to fly all the way around the universe, because it would never be able to catch up with this unending expansion. This estimation of the vastness of the universe is based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. But this is just a mathematician’s guess. To tell the truth, man has yet to comprehend the vastness of the universe. 
Human Studies bring us face to face with this astonishing universe. And there they leave us. They do not tell us the true meaning of the universe. They do not tell us who causes events to take place. Neither do they tell us whose hand it is that controls the great spheres revolving in the vastness of space. If we wish to have the answers to these questions, it is to the Qur’an that we must turn. If we want to know how things came into existence, how they are sustained and what their future will be, it is the Qur’an alone which will tell us. In so doing, it will acquaint us with the Lord and Master of the Universe, opening out before us the sublime nature of his works. 
The Qur’an bears verbal witness to the sovereignty of God. It describes, with great force and clarity, the great, hidden, determinative force at work throughout the entire world, and gives us definitive information on those metaphysical realities which elude the hand and the eye. Not only does it spell out the facts of existence, but it also builds up an astonishing gallery of word-pictures which bring a hitherto unseen world before our very eyes. 

The Holy Book not only tells us that God exists, but also paints an incredibly vivid picture of the Being who sustains and directs the Universe. Not only does it tell us about the Hereafter, but describes the Day of Judgment so graphically that its horrors become deeply etched on our consciousness. There is a well-known story of a Greek artist who painted such a realistic picture of a bunch of grapes that birds would come and peck at it. Just think that if a painting executed by an ordinary mortal could have such an extraordinary effect, what heights of consummate artistry could not be reached by the Lord of the Worlds in His creation of the Qur’an? Could any mere mortal truly appreciate the perfection of such art? 

The Qur’an opens with the words: ‘Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds. ‘This invocation is of great significance. It means: ‘Thanks be to God, Maker and Sustainer of all creatures in the world.’ A master and sustainer is one who is filled with profound concern for his subjects and provides for all their needs. Man’s greatest need is to know what he is, where he has come from, and where he will go. He also needs to know where he will gain and where he will lose. If he were to be taken to some region of space in which there was neither air nor water, this would not be such a great calamity for him as finding himself in the world without any accurate knowledge of his origin or ultimate fate. 

God has more compassion for His creatures than a father has for his own son. It is inconceivable, therefore, that He should have seen this need on the part of His servants and not provided for it. By means of revelation, He has sent down whatever knowledge a man must have in order to understand himself, and He has sent it in a form which could be conveyed by the human tongue. This is the greatest favor that the Lord has done His servants. 

A man who realizes to what extent he needs his Maker’s help in acquiring True Knowledge will feel his heart simply overflowing with gratitude to and praise for his Lord, when he sees what favor He has shown him in sending him the Qur’an. The words: ‘Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds!’ will spontaneously burst forth from him. These are the words of a true servant of God having been inspired in him by God Himself. Even when it is a question of how a man should serve his Lord, he needs the guidance of his Maker. The desire to serve may itself be quite instinctive, but the would-be devotee does not know in what manner to give expression to it. The Qur’an, however, is explicit on this subject, and even provides him with the exact words he should use. In this respect, the prayers of the Qur’an are the most sublime gifts. 

The Qur’an is not a book in the ordinary, accepted sense of the word. It is more an account of the final struggle to convey the message of Islam. From the most ancient times, God has been sending down knowledge of the truth through His specially chosen emissaries. In the seventh century of the Christian era, it was God’s will that the inhabitants of the Earth should quite finally be provided with Knowledge of Truth and that a society should be founded on the basis of that Knowledge which would be a source of enlightenment and an example for the whole human race until the Last Day. 

In accordance with this aim, God raised His final Prophet in Arabia, and charged him with the mission of propagating this message among the Arabs. Those who came under the influence of his preaching were then set the task of spreading the message throughout the whole world. In spreading True Knowledge, and in establishing a society based upon it, the Holy Prophet was working under divine guidance. God sent His Word down to the Prophet, revealing to him what he should preach, and providing him with the proofs he required to make his preaching effective. When his opponents raised objections, he was, therefore, able to give them answers which silenced them. And when those who accepted the message later showed some weakness, he was able immediately to bring them to book to reform them. 

Moreover, the Qur’an formulated rules for war and peace, and laid down principles for education and guidance. It gave solace to its adherents in times of adversity and, when they ultimately triumphed, it provided the legal framework on which society could be built anew. Twenty-three years elapsed between the beginning and the conclusion. At every stage during this period Almighty God, Light of the World, sent guidance in the form of commandments for mankind. These guidelines were later compiled, in accordance with His plan, in a particular sequence. It is this collection which is called the Qur’an. 

The Qur’an is the most authentic record of the True Call, raised in Arabia by the Final Prophet, who was guided right throughout his Prophethood by God Himself. It is a collection of divine instructions, issued for the guidance of this movement at different times over nearly a quarter of a century. But the Qur’an is not merely a historical record. It is a divine proclamation, valid for all time, and cast in historical mould in order to be presented meaningfully to mankind. It is also a permanent proclamation in that it will decide the fate—good or bad—of human beings in every epoch, in accordance with the will of God. 

The various parts of the Qur’an were separately conveyed over a long period of time, depending upon local exigencies. These different portions did not, therefore, come into existence as a mere matter of chance. They were parts of a well-ordered scheme—perfect in its conception—which had its origin in the supernatural world. Because they were sent down as circumstances demanded, they were not originally in any regular sequence. But when the scheme reached its conclusion, it was brought together as a complete whole, according to a definite pattern, which is unrivalled in its consistency. In that way, it is distinctly different from the type of anthology which presents selections of the speeches made by the political leaders of the day. 

We can perhaps have a clearer picture of how the Qur’an was assembled if we imagine the parallel of a factory under construction in India, for which the equipment is being manufactured in some country overseas. 

This equipment for the factory has to be manufactured in separate parts in different production units. These parts have then to be loaded on to different ships and sent off to India. Throughout the various stages of its construction, our factory will necessarily appear to the uninitiated as a mass of heterogeneous and incomplete objects. But as soon as all the parts of the equipment brought in different shipments are properly assembled, they will take on the shape of a complete factory, all ready to be put into commission. It was in very much the same way that the Qur’an was assembled in order to produce a complete and permanent moral code for all human beings. That is why, although formed of such disparate elements, it is of such astounding uniformity. It was because it bore a message urging man to turn a hostile environment into a favorable one, that it had to be revealed in a gradual manner, thus meeting the needs of differing circumstances. Historically speaking, it is a compilation of a great diversity of injunctions, but the divine scheme of an Omnipotent and Omniscient God has made it into a well-ordered and uniform whole. 

So many books have been written on all branches of learning and on every conceivable allied subject—to date, millions of books have been printed and published—that it would take more than one’s entire lifetime to read them all. But the Qur’an is a book of such a kind that, even if one could study all the books in the world, its guidance would still be a prime necessity. Indeed, one can only truly benefit from the study of other books if one has first gained from the Qur’an that depth of insight which is at the basis of genuine discernment in all matters of importance. Without the Qur’an, the human individual is like a ship adrift on a vast ocean without a compass. Just as the ocean liner is lost without its compass, so does man need divine revelation to steer him through the entanglements of human existence. Only one who has received his share of divine light will be able to navigate his way across the ocean of this life. 

Those who are denied, or who have denied themselves God’s enlightenment, will be roughly tossed on the seas of life and are likely to founder on hidden reefs without ever having been able to bring their affairs to a satisfactory conclusion. 

The Qur’an fills that vacuum in human nature which, in all periods of history, has set man at variance with himself. Rousseau said that man was born free, but that everywhere he found ‘him tied up in chains.’ I would say, on the contrary, that man has been born a slave, but seeks, in unnatural ways, to make himself a master. Outwardly, man appears to be self-sufficient, but in his innermost self, he is a complex web of needs. In order merely to survive, man needs air, water and the produce of the land. In the same way, in order to sustain the life of the spirit, he stands in need of external support. Man instinctively requires a prop on which he can lean in times of difficulty; he needs one, close to himself, to whom he can bow his head in reverence; one to whom he can address his needs when he is in trouble; one before whom he can prostrate himself in gratitude when happiness comes his way. A man drowning in the ocean needs to have a lifeline thrown to him. Similarly, a man, adrift in a vast and fathomless universe, needs a spiritual rope to which he can cling. No one, however great, is free of this necessity. It is a vacuum which must be filled. If we fill this vacuum with the Divine Being, we are following the principle of monotheism. But if we abandon God and look to some other for support, we descend into polytheism. 

In every period of history, man has been forced to have recourse to one or other of these two props. In ancient times, those who subscribed to monotheism depended on one God for support and, today, they still depend upon Him and Him alone. But the direction of those who subscribe to polytheism has kept changing. Ancient man, and many people, even in more recent times, worshipped countless objects, ranging from the bright stars that shine in the sky to trees and stones and other randomly chosen objects. Today, objects such as nation, country, material progress, political power have taken the place of earlier objects of worship. Such then are the people’s gods, fashioned by them specifically to fill the aching void in their hearts. But even with all this, people still need an ultimate destination in life’s struggle which will transcend the plane of pure materialism. They still need someone or something to love. They still yearn for one in whose remembrance they can warm their hearts and revitalize their spirits. But just as idols made of stone have never given any true support or help in the past, neither do the more resplendent idols of today, for, fragile and ephemeral as they are, they do not give a nation any real strength. 

The Germans, for example, idolized their nation, but, far from standing by them, it brought them to the point of destruction in World War II. Italy and Japan did likewise, but their respective idols could not save their countries from becoming the graveyards of the people. Britain and France also made idols of their material resources, but even then, the empires of both countries rapidly shrank, the sun finally setting on the British Empire, an empire on which it was said ‘the sun never set.’ 

The Qur’an shows us where strength in this world really lies, giving us a handhold on a rope that never breaks. Without this, we have no real support in life. Moreover, it is only through our attachment to God that human beings can retain their hold on the cord that binds each to each. 

The Qur’an explains that it is this One God alone who sustains us throughout our lives here on this earth. Through Him our hearts are set at ease, for it is He who provides true warmth in life. He rescues us in times of peril, assists us in the hour of need. All power rests in His hands: honor and glory will be the rewards of any nation who looks to Him for support, while only disgrace and humiliation will be the lot of those who abandon Him. To know this is to hold the key to all the treasures in life. He who possesses this key gains all; he who loses it, loses all. 

We attach great importance to the scientists who discovered electric and steam power, thus providing human civilization with opportunities for progress. But the greatness of the reality which this Book lays before us is immeasurable. It does not just give us knowledge of machines, but of the human beings for whom all these machines have been made. It tells us of Man, and Man in turn learns from it the secret of successful living.
The Qur’an, first and foremost, is the Proclamation of God. Just as every enlightened sovereign has a Constitution, so is the Qur’an the ‘Constitution’ of the Almighty, Master of Man, King of kings. To put it very simply, the Qur’an is a book of directions, showing man the right path to tread. It is a Light which guides his faltering steps, giving him timely reminders of God’s will, awakening his sleeping nature and conveying the Lord’s admonition. It is a book that, in giving him the moral sense to distinguish right from wrong, cures him, and his society, of all ills. In that sense, it is a book of wisdom, full of every expression of correct understanding. More, it is a book of laws, laying down for us the very foundations on which to build and organize society. In short, it provides everything that man—as an individual and as member of society—can ever need. Without this, man can never be the gainer, no matter how hard he tries. 

How can a man gauge whether he has actually developed a relationship with God or not? There is only one answer to this question: by turning his eyes inward, and judging how his inner self stands related to the Qur’an. For how one relates to the Qur’an is a true reflection of one’s relationship with God. The degree to which a man adheres to the tenets of the Qur’an will be a sure indication of his attachment to his Maker. If the Qur’an is the book he values most, it goes without saying that God is dearer to him than any other. But if some other book is held in greater esteem by him, then the most important person in his life will be its author, and not his Maker. Just as it is impossible to find the true God anywhere but in the Qur’an, so is it impossible that, after finding God, any book other than the Qur’an should be more precious to him. For the Qur’an is the book of God. It is the means through which the Almighty converses with His servants, His living representative on this earth. It is a scale on which man’s devotion to his Creator may be measured. 

When man fears to stand alone, without support, in an unfathomable universe, the Qur’an sets his mind at rest by making his destination clear to him, and directing him towards it. In the Qur’an man thus meets his Lord, beholds His promises and rejoices in His good tidings. In this way, the Qur’an fills a man with sufficient conviction to define his place in the world. Giving concrete form to the instinctive feelings which swirl in man’s subconscious about his Lord and Master, the Qur’an sets his feet well and truly on the path of submission to Him. In so doing, it brings him closer to God. 

In seeking to ascertain God’s will, just to read through the Qur’an is not enough: one has rather to become deeply engrossed in it. It is only when one has formed a strong degree of attachment to the Qur’an that one has access to all the advantages it offers. One has to be bound to the Qur’an as one is by a contract—or ta’ahud (the word used by the Prophet) in order to reap its benefits. This awareness of the greatness of the Qur’an, and consequent adherence thereto, cannot come about at second hand. That is, one may hear a commentator or man of letters discourse upon the Qur’an and may form a high opinion of the speaker and his attainments, but that is not the way to form a genuine attachment with the Qur’an itself. A real bond with the Qur’an can be forged only if one reads the Holy Scriptures oneself, thus having direct access to the contents. Only then will its wisdom be engraved upon one’s memory. Only then will it be appreciated for what it actually is. 

This is not a mere figment of the imagination. It is supported by basic psychology. For example, it may be contended that the difference between cotton wool and stone is merely relative, that, in fact, they are the same thing, both in the last analysis being accumulations of the same kind of electrons. But this contention is purely academic. In the real world, cotton cannot be thought of as anything but soft, and stone as anything but hard. It is not superficial or abstract definitions which determine the impression one shall have of the matter at hand, but the knowledge that one gains of it by direct, personal experience. ***
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