ON THE QUR`AN
The Qur`an was revealed
in an instant, issuing forth from a realm beyond time. Its unfolding
within the domain of time, however, occurred over a span of
twenty-three years, for it was necessary for the message to be fully
absorbed, integrated and applied existentially. The message was, and
continues to be, that Allah is the Reality behind all that one
witnesses. He is beyond description and beyond perception by the
senses. He has Attributes, but nothing can be associated with Him.
He can only be alluded to. We are therefore taught to talk about
Allah only in terms of His Attributes, not of His Essence.
The Qur`an came as a
complete revelation, as one unit in space, as one instant in time,
like a bolt of lightning that hits the sleeper and stuns him into
wakefulness. It descended as a stream of truth upon the heart of the
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, his family and
his righteous Companions;** for the Muhammadan application of the
truth of the Qur`an is the vital complement. To try to understand
the Qur`an without the Prophet would have been comparable to an
attempt to use a medical manual with no previous medical experience:
the manual is of little use to one who has no training. To know the
meaning of reality one must follow a particular path of application.
Thus, Islam is based on both the Qur`an and the Prophetic way (Sūnnah).
All the basic principles
of knowledge are contained in this book. It is an existential guide
for perpetual life. The message of the Qur`an is based on balance,
on living a life which inevitably leads to a better future,
materially and morally, both on an individual and a social level.
The purpose of the
Qur`an is for its message to be absorbed by the hearts of men. If
there is no impact, then the remedy is only palliative. Superficial
use of the Qur`an may be likened to a person who, hearing that
vitamins are useful for the body's health, takes some
indiscriminately. The vitamins are likely to be of some benefit, but
they would have been far more useful had he known his specific
condition and the properties of the vitamins, how they interact and
enhance each other as well as how they might occasionally counteract
one another. With this knowledge he would have been able to benefit
maximally by taking the correct type and dosage. We hope to approach
and use the Qur`an in this way.
The ability to derive
meaning and knowledge from the Qur`an depends upon having the
correct approach, and a humble, pure intention to attain knowledge.
The assumption that one already knows something can be a hindrance.
Therefore, one must be bereft, recognizing one's poverty, ignorance,
weakness and need for knowledge and transformation. To approach the
Qur`an, the seeker must possess the right courtesy (adab)
which will serve as a key to awaken the knowledge of the Qur`an
already contained within the heart.
Drawing from the Qur`an,
penetrating into it, integrating it into one's life and thus
learning from it, require both outer and inner courtesy (adab).
If we approach the Qur`an with courtesy and love, it will unfold to
us its values.
To gain the blessings
and mercy of Reality through this ultimate, complete and balanced
book of wisdom, one must appreciate its historical context and the
overall environmental and ecological situation at the time of its
descent. This includes understanding the civilization and culture of
the time and place of its revelation, and more specifically, the
nature of the people and their nomadic values. The Arab nomads of
the Prophet's time, like nomads in general, were highly sensitized
to their environment, for they had little protection from it.
Because of the extreme harshness of their environment, the Bedouin
Arabs lived continually on the verge of moral danger; they had
therefore developed extremely alert, agile and intuitive minds which
were highly attuned to everything around them. Furthermore, the
nomadic system of the Bedouin people was in constant conflict with
the civic system of the city dwellers. Whenever the nomadic and
sedentary cultures met, conflict as well as renewal occurred.
The qualities most
highly valued in nomadic cultures were nobility, courage and
generosity. The people of the desert were self-reliant and fiercely
independent. They would not bow to another human being. The leader
emerged naturally, and was recognized because of his qualities and
character. In this system it was likely that the next leader would
come from the present leader's clan or be related to him. In nomadic
culture, the home, or tent, of the tribal chief was always open, and
yet it was customary for people not to go begging, so as not to
demean themselves. Thus, generosity was naturally balanced with
integrity, self-esteem and patience.
The Qur`an arose amidst
the Arab culture and a simpler way of life than ours, but its
universal message enlivened the hearts of diverse people, even
during the Prophet's lifetime. It is helpful if we are aware of the
environment in Mecca and Medina at the time of the Qur`anic
revelation in order then to apply it to the social and cultural
situation of our time, for the Qur`an is a guide book in an actual
The Muhammadan path, as
it evolved over the course of time, is inextricably linked, step by
step, to the revelation of the Qur`an. It began with the
acknowledgement of the Oneness of God and it ended with the
establishment of a very strong community in which individuals,
having completely recognized the laws governing human relationships,
interacted in a manner that allowed each one to develop spiritually
to his or her full capacity. The righteous Companions followed their
Prophet Muhammad and thereby became established in their knowledge
The Prophet saw in
everyone the highest possible potential to be awakened to the higher
inner knowledges. He recognized in all situations, even those which
appeared to other men as afflictive, nothing other than Allah's
mercy and compassion. He had the ability to see the ignorance that
veils the hearts of men and causes them to act incorrectly, and he
acted with understanding towards them. He worked to purify men's
hearts, to help them evolve towards awakening to the inner life.
The few Muslims who were
with the Prophet in the beginning were constantly subjected to
oppression and opposition. The Prophet, wanting to save his small
group of original followers, recommended that many travel to a place
of safety, since living in Mecca had become impossible; for as their
numbers grew so did opposition to them. The atmosphere had become
increasingly polarized and hostile. The Muhammadan light, translated
into a code of conduct, had become a major threat to the tribal
habits of a people who took fierce pride in their ancestral ways.
Their factional loyalties often led them to resort to brute force,
with total disregard for logic, reason and human values. This
polarization in Mecca would lead inevitably to violence.
In contrast to the clans
in Mecca, some of the people of Medina saw light and usefulness in
the message of Islam. Whereas the people of Mecca regarded the
Prophet as no more than the son of one of their own kind, and could
not accept his prophethood, the people of Medina, an agrarian people
who were settled and more receptive, welcomed the Prophet and his
followers, who upon arrival immediately began to build a mosque and
homes: they embarked upon creating a community. But with a community
also came problems:
'Surely We have
created man in affliction' (90:4).
The Family of 'Imrān (Surat
al 'Imrān) was revealed mostly around the second or third year
after the migration to Medina, although certain passages came
somewhat later. Its dating has been deduced from the references to
events which occurred at that time, namely the Battle of Uhud.
A major part of the chapter deals with the topic of hypocrisy. If
one looks into one's own heart, one will occasionally witness how
deep and subtle hypocrisy can be. An important lesson in The Family
of 'Imrān is how to break free from the evil of hypocrisy.
The Battle of Uhud,
the second major battle between the young Muslim community and the
Quraysh of Mecca, revealed a wide range of human weaknesses amongst
the followers of the Messenger Muhammad. Curiously, the word Uhud
is linguistically connected to Ahad, which is a Divine
Attribute meaning 'the One'. Uhud thus could imply a
comprehensive exposition of divine unity which takes place on the
battlefield. In truth every moment is Uhud, but we
generally escape to relative short-term safety, unaware that
eventually we must face the enemy.
'With your Lord
alone on that day shall be the place of rest' (75:12).
There is no escape.
'Whither to fly?'
surely you must strive hard toward your Lord until you meet Him'
(84:6). By what
power and grace can one possibly escape?
It is up to us to
perceive the plot of the One (Ahad) which was
exemplified during the era of the Prophet at the Battle of Uhud.
We need to delve into its meaning and grasp its truth, for much of
what appears to be real is nothing but illusion, and the more we
pursue illusions the more we are confused. The truth is that
everything emanates from one source and returns to it. Life in this
world pushes, pulls, encourages and entices us towards that source.
This is the meaning of Allah's mercy and the perfection of His
natural laws. Multiple manifestations all emanate from One Essence.
To behave with propriety
towards the Creator, we must behave with propriety towards
ourselves. But in order to check and balance oneself until that fine
point of deep propriety is reached, we need to attain a state of
spontaneous awareness. For this it is necessary to follow the
example of others who have reached the goal, like tuning a musical
instrument to the correct pitch using a tuning fork.
To discover subtle
hypocrisy one need only look into one's own heart. There, within the
self, one will find all the contradictions of conflict and duality.
Yet out of this torment one can reach enlightenment: a person who
has not experienced internal conflict is unlikely to be awakened to
the knowledge of, and adherence to, the source of harmony within.
The commentary on The
Family of 'Imrān contained within this volume differs from the
traditional approach of Qur`anic commentators, for we intend to
share its eternal values and its constant applicability within the
deep realm of truth. Towards this end, much of the historical
background which is widely available has not been included. However,
where historical information is necessary to help illuminate the
verse, it has been referred to.
We will examine the
linguistic roots of numerous key terms so as to highlight their
different facets as well as their specific meanings in the context
in which they are used. We will allow ourselves to roam through the
incredibly rich, delightful garden of communication and
transformation, it is to be hoped within properly observed
It is customary, whenever the name of the
Prophet Muhammad is mentioned, to invoke the peace and
blessings of Allah upon him, his family and his righteous