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Being the verbal noun of the root word qara'a (to read), 'Qur’an' literally means 'reading' or 'recitation'. It may be defined as 'the book containing the speech of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabic and transmitted to us by continuous testimony. It is a proof of the prophecy of Muhammad, the most authoritative guide for Muslims, and the first source of the Shari’ah.

 

There are 114 suras (chapters) and 6235 ayat (verses)of unequal length in the Qur’an. The shortest of the chapter consist of four and the longest of 286 verses. Each chapter has a separate title. As a general, the longest chapters appear first and the chapters become shorter as the text proceeds. Both the order of the verses within each chapter , and the sequence of the chapters, were re-arranged and finally determined by the Prophet in the year of his demise.[1]

 

The contents of the Qur’an are not classified subject-wise. The verses on various topics appear in different places, and no particular order can be ascertained in the sequence of its text. To give just one examples, the command concerning salah appears in the second chapter, in the midst of other verses which relate to the subject of divorce (Qur’an, 2:228-248). In the same chapter, we find rules whichrelate to wine-drinking and war, followed by passages concerning the treatment of orphans and the marriage of unbelieving women (Qur’an, 216-211).

 

From this a conclusion has been drawn that the Qur’an is an indivisible whole and a guide for belief and action which must be accepted and followed in its entirety. Hence any attempt to follow some parts or the Qur'an and abandon others will be totally invalid.

 

The Qur’an explicitly states that it is all communicated in pure and clear Arabic (Qur’an, 16:3o). Although the scholars are in general agreement that words of non-Arabic origin occur in the Qur'an, they are, nevertheless, words which were admitted and integrated into the language of the Arabs before the revelation of the Qur’an. Since the Qur’an consists of manifest revelation in Arabic, a translation of the Qur’an into another language, or its commentary whether in Arabic or other languages, are not a part of the Qur’an.

 

The Prophet (peace be upon him) himself memorised the Qur’an, and so did his Companions. This was, to a large extent, facilitated by the fact that the Qur’an was revealed piecemeal over a period of twenty-three years in relation to particular events. The Qur’an itself explains the rationale of graduality (tanjim) in its revelation as follows: 'The unbelievers say, why has not the Qur’an been sent down to him [Muhammad] all at once. Thus [it is revealed] that your hearts may be strengthened, and We rehearse it to you gradually, and well-arranged' [Qur’an, 23:32].

 

Elsewhere we read in the text: 'It is a Qur’an We have divided into parts in order that you may recite it to people at intervals: We have revealed it by stages' (Qur’an, 17:106).

 

Graduality in the revelation of Qur’an afforded the believers the opportunity to reflect over it and to retain it in their memories. Revelation over a period of time also facilitated continuous contact and renewal of spiritual strength so that the hostility of the unbelievers toward the new faith did not weaken the hearts of the Muslims. Furthermore, in view of the widespread illiteracy of the Arabs at the time, had the Qur’an been revealed all at once, they would have found it difficult to understand. The Qur’anic legislation concerning matters which touched the lives of the people was therefore not imposed all at once. It was revealed piecemeal so as to avoid hardship to the believers. [2]

 

The ban on the consumption of alcohol affords an interesting example of the

Qur’anic method of graduality in legislation, and throws light on the attitude of the Qur’an to the nature and function of legislation itself. Consumption of alcohol was apparently, subject to no restriction in the early years. Later, the following Qur’anic passage was revealed in the form of a moral advice: 'They ask you about alcohol and gambling, say: in these there is great harm and also benefit for the people, but their harm far outweighs their benefit' (Qur’an; 2:219). Then offering prayers while under the influence of alcohol was prohibited (Qur’an, 4:43). Finally a total ban on wine drinking was imposed (Qur’an, 5:93). This shows the gradual tackling of problems as and when they arose.

 

The scholars are in agreement to the effect that the entire text of the Qur’an is Mutawatir, that is, its authenticity is proven by universally accepted testimony. It has been retained both in memory and in written record throughout the generations.

 

During the lifetime of the Prophet, the text of the Qur’an was preserved not only in memories, but also in inscriptions on such available materials as flat stones, wood and bones.

 

The Qur’an was revealed in two distinct periods of the Prophet's mission in Makkah and Madinah respectively. The larger part of the Qur’an, that is nineteen out of the total of thirty parts, was received during the first twelve and a half years of the Prophet's residence in Makkah. The remainder of the Qur'an was received after the Prophet's migration to Madinah over a period of just over nine and a half years.

 

The Makkan part or the Qur'an is mainly devoted to matters of belief, the Oneness of God (Tawhid), the necessity of the prophethood of Muhammad, the hereafter, disputation with the unbelievers and their invitation to Islam. But the Madinan part of the Qur’an also comprised legal rules and regulated the various aspects of life in the new environment of Madinah. Since the Madinan period signified the formation of the ummah and of the nascent Islamic state, the Qur’anic emphasis was shifted to principles regulating the political, legal, social and economic life of the new community. During this period Islam expanded to other parts of Arabia, and the Qur’anic response to the need for rules to regulate matters of war and peace, the status and rights of the conquered people as well as the organisation of the family and principles of government feature prominently in the Madinan part of the Qur’an.[3]

 

The knowledge of the Makkan and the Madinan contents of the Qur’an gives one an insight into the context and circumstances in which the verses were revealed.

 

The differences of content and style that are observed in each are reflective of the prevailing circumstances of each period. Since Muslims were in the minority in Makkah the Makkan verses may thus be especially meaningful to Muslims living in a dominantly un-Islamic environment, whereas the Madinan verses may take for granted the presence of the sovereign authority of the Islamic state. The Makkan chapters are generally short but rhythmical and intense in their emotional appeal to the pagan Arabs, whereas the Madinan suras are detailed and convey a sense of serenity that marks a difference of style in the revelation of the Qur’an. [4]

 

In the sense that legal material occupies only a small portion of the bulk of its text, the Qur’an is not a legal or a constitutional document. The Qur’an calls itself huda, or guidance, not a code of law. Out of over 6,200 verses, less than one-tenth relate to law and Jurisprudence, while the remainder are largely concerned with matters of belief and morality, the five pillars of the faith and a variety of other themes.

 

Its ideas of economic and social justice, including its legal Contents, are on the whole Subsidiary to its religious call. The legal or practical contents of the Qur’an (al-ahkam al-‘amaliyyah) constitute the basis of what is known as fiqh al-Qur’an, or the Juris corpus of the Qur’an. There are close to 350 legal verses in the Qur’an, most of which were revealed in response to problems that were encountered. Some were revealed with the aim of repealing objectionable customs such as infanticide, usury, gambling and unlimited polygamy. Others laid down penalties with which to enforce the reforms that the Qur’an had introduced. But on the whole, the Qur’an confirmed and upheld the existing customs and institutions of Arab society and only introduced changes that were deemed necessary. [5]

 

There are an estimated 140 verses in the Qur’an on devotional matters such as salah, legal alms (zakah), siyam (fasting), the Pilgrimage of hajj, jihad, charities, the taking of oaths and penances (kaffarat).

 

Another seventy verses are devoted to marriage, divorce, the waiting period of 'iddah, revocation (rij'ah), dower, maintenance, custody of children, fosterage, paternity, inheritance and bequest. Rules concerning commercial transactions (mu'amalat) such as sale, lease, loan and mortgage, constitute the subject of another seventy verses. There are about thirty verses on crimes and penalties such as murder, highway robbery (hirabah), adultery and false accusation (qadhf). Another thirty verses speak of justice, equality, evidence, consultation, and the rights and obligations of citizens. There are about ten verses relating to economic matters regulating relations between the poor and the rich, workers' rights and so on.[6]

 

It will be noted, however, that the scholars are not in agreement over these figures, as calculations of this nature tend to differ according to one's understanding of, and approach to, the contents of the Qur’an.

 


 

 

End Notes

 

[1] von Denffer, ‘Ulum, p. 68ff

 

[2]Sabuni, Madkhal, PP. 41-42.; Abu Zahrah, Usul,

p. 61; Qattan, Tashri’, P. 57ff.

[3] Cf. Sabuni, Madkhal, PP. 41-44; Khallaf, ‘Ilm, P. 24.

 

[4] Cf. von Denffer, ‘Ulum, p. 90.

[5] Cf. Abdur Rahim, Jurisprudence, P. 71.

 

[6] Shaltut, Al-Islam, P. 494; Khallaf ‘Ilm, P32-33.

 

 

 

The main source for this article was Mohammad Hashim Kamali book Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence”.

 


 

 

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