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Qur’an: an on-going phenomenon

Dr Shomali’s address at the closing session of the Third International Conference on Shi’i Studies


“Everything has a spring and spring of the Qur’an is the month of Ramadan.”

 

There are many ideas about the Qur’an, one of them is the idea that the Holy Qur’an is always ‘fresh’. The Qur’an is the living speech of God and an on-going river of knowledge and wisdom. The Qur’an is not just about the events that have happened in the past. The Qur’an is present, and it is for all of us as it was for the people at the time of the Prophet and also the people in the future. No generation has more or less access to the Qur’an than another generation.

We have a hadith from Imam Sadiq(a) [The sixth Imam] saying that no matter how much the Qur’an is studied, or referred to, it never gets outdated, and in fact, it becomes fresher. Here, the Imam is saying that God Almighty has not made Qur’an for a specific time or for specific people. The Qur’an is for all nations and all ages, and it should be looked at afresh, as if we have just received it. Every nation receives the Qur’an in its own way and every generation can be guided by it. The Qur’an can answer the questions of every generation, regardless of how and what the other generations have understood of it, and for every person, the Qur’an stays fresh until the Day of Judgment.

In another hadith Imam Reda(a) says, the Qur’an would not be affected by time nor repetition via people’s tongues. Instead, the Imam says we should have this understanding that the Qur’an is the guide from which we can reach Al-Borhan. Al Borhan is the clearest and the strongest way of reasoning and the Qur’an is the path to reach that point of clarity and strength in understanding.

 

In the Qur’anic commentary of Al Ayashi, there is a beautiful hadith with a story attached to it. One day a man called Abdulrahim Alghassi, was in the company of Imam Al Sadegh(a). The Imam asked him what his understanding was of the verse in which God says to the Prophet, “you are the warner, and for every nation, there is a guide. “The Imam asked Abdulrahim who he thought was the guide of their time? The Prophet Muhammad(s) said, “I am the munzir (warner) and Ali is the guide”. Here the Imam wanted to extract a practical instruction from the verse about who the guide of the time should be. If we say the Qur’an was something for previous generations then the Qur’an would not have spoken directly about it, so perhaps we ought to make an analogy to find out what would the case be in our time, but the Imam emphasises that the Qur’an talks about the present time.

Abdulrahim, after a long pause, said, “This [guide] is someone among you [the progeny of the Prophet], one inherits it from another. Now it has reached you. That means you are the guide today”. Then Imam said: “Yes Abdulrahim, you have come to the correct conclusion.”

The living Qur’an

Unfortunately, we think of the words of God as we think about the words of humans. The words of humans are perishable, whilst the words of God never die. How can the words of God, who is Al Hay (The Living One), die?

If a verse of the Qur’an talks about certain people who have died or perished one would assume that the meaning of such a verse has also become redundant, meaning that the verse has died with the death of those people too and it is no longer directly relevant. But the Qur’an is an on-going reality and will be relevant for future generations.

Abdulrahim continued saying that Imam Sadiq(a) said that in the same way that days and nights always come along with the time, the Qur’an also comes with time. The Sun and Moon appear every day without fail and the same is true of the Qur’an. As the Qur’an talks about the early generation of Muslims or even previous generations of believers, it talks about the believers of today too. So this hadith makes it clear that the Qur’an is an ongoing phenomenon.

Someone asked Imam Sadiq(a) about the Night of Qadr. “A night better than a thousand months.”  He asked if the Night of Qadr is a particular night in a particular year, hen the Prophet received the entire Qur’an or the Night of Qadr, continues? Imam Sadiq(a)  gave a unique answer. He said: “Not only has the Night of Qadr continued, there is a strong connection between Qadr and the Qur’an. If the Night of Qadr does not repeat the Qur’an will be taken away [from people]”. It is as if every year God charges humanity with the Qur’an and sends again the blessing of the Qur’an.

As we said at the beginning “the spring of Qur’an is Ramadan”. If the Night of Qadr was to stop, the connection between us and the heavens would stop too, and the Qur’an would have been taken back.

Reality of Qur’an

The reality of Qur’an has different concepts; one is that the Qur’an is the manifestation of God. Among Muslim thinkers especially in the early centuries, there were hot debates on the Qur’an and debates are still going on. The question was whether the Qur’an is qadim (eternal) or hadith (created and temporal).

Some people went so far as to believe that the ink and paper that Qur’an was written on were qadim. That meant that there was no time that they didn’t exist. Because they thought if they say, the Qur’an is hadith (created) at a certain time, it meant that God was to be affected by time, which meant God is also subject to change.

Here the Imams of Shi‘a were very careful not to let their community get into this unhealthy debate which was not productive at all. They were very clear in saying that the Qur’an is neither khaliq (creator) nor makhlooq (creature). The Qur’an is not khaliq, because it is a manifestation of God, not God itself, in the meantime it is not the makhlooq, as it is not created.

The Qur’an is not like us, or the Prophet or the Imams. The Prophet Muhammad(s) with the high position that he has, is still a creation of God. The Imams are creatures of God, but the Qur’an is different. The relation that the Qur’an has with God is like no other.

Imam Ali(a) says: “The Messenger of God told me that: ‘isn’t this the fact that the book of my Lord is the greatest thing after God himself?’” So no creature can be compared to the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the word of God and a presentation of knowledge and wisdom of God.

Imam Ali(a) in Nahjul Balagheh has said God has manifested himself in the Qur’an.

The manifestation of God is something beyond human understanding, we cannot understand it nor can we witness it. When people told Moses(a) that they wanted to see God with their own eyes, otherwise they would not believe him,  Moses(a)  knew that whatever he said, his people would not listen. So he thought of conveying the message to God, and so He answers them Himself. He asked God: “My Lord please show yourself to me so I can look at you.” He thought that when people saw God’s reply they might realise how far away they were from the reality. Because even Moses(a)  could not see God, let alone them. God responds: “You are not going to see Me, Moses(a).” God further says: “Look at this mountain, very strong and firmly rooted. If the mountain would remain intact, [if it sees God], then you could see Me too.” When God manifested Himself to the mountain, it could not cope with the overwhelming power and crumbled to dust.

God has manifested Himself in the Qur’an, but when we read the Qur’an, we don’t feel the over whelming power and pressure that mountain faced. This is because what we see in the Qur’an is merely a text after many levels of simplification and many levels of nuzul (revelation). When we read a beautiful poem about mother, it does not make us understand what being a mother feels like or what having a mother feels like; this is not ‘mother’ herself, this is only a linguistic interpretation of mother. This is not the existential mother. The reality of the Qur’an is not these words; these words are for us to get access to the reality of the Qur’an.

God says: “We made it a text to be read, We made it a clear [Arabic] text so that you might understand.” We need something that everybody understands, and reflects, believers and non-believers, educated and non- educated. We need a meeting point with this reality and the Qur’an is this point.

“… the Qur’an is with us.”

The Qur’an is in the highest and the nearest position to God. No one can see it, except for motaharoon (the purified ones]. The Qur’an is a rope, one side is towards us, and that is the text that we have to reflect, act upon and follow. This side is still so magnificent that despite 14 centuries of scholarship, we are still at the surface. It is a deep ocean that no generation could reach the middle, let alone the bottom of.

The other side which is with God can only be reached by purification of the soul, by going to the higher level of being a virtuous person. We have a beautiful hadith which says when a believer goes to heaven he/she will be told ‘iqra was’at’ (read [the Qur’an and go higher). The number of ranks in heaven is according to the verses of the Qur’an.

So we have to reflect on this text.  This is not about just the memorisation of the Qur’an; it is about its absorption, how much we have made it as our guiding book in our life. A tradition says: “One who recites the Qur’an, it will be mixed with his/her blood and flesh”. This person would not be aggravated let alone burned by the fire of hell, as the Qur’an is absorbed in their body.  When one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad(s) was asked, to describe the Prophet, she said that the Prophet’s character is 100% the application of  Qur’an.

Quranic ‘Light’ (Noor)

One of the concepts that help us in understanding the reality of the Qur’an is the Quranic ‘light’ (Noor). When God talks about Noor, it means all the Divine Scriptures, Torah, Gospels and in particular, the Qur’an. In Chapter A‘araf verse 157, the Qur’an says: “those people who believe and follow the Prophet, and follow the light which has been sent down with him.” The Qur’an is not sent to the Prophet, it was sent with the Prophet. The Prophet was a ‘light’ and was given ‘the light’. “… this is the light and the clear book”. (5:15) So we have a clear book and clear light.

But what is the clear light? Do we have unclear light too?

The light can be unclear, sometimes there might be light, but we can’t see it. The angels have light, but we don’t see them. The Qur’an is a light which is clear, because it is meant to be understood even by those who do not know Arabic, or those who do not know the culture of early Islam, nor Islamic theology. However, by reflecting on the words of the Qur’an, one can easily see these are not words of humans.

Many people think that the Qur’an was just a flash of light about 14 centuries ago. The Qur’an is a pillar of light that God has bestowed upon humanity and which He has never stopped. The Commander of the Believers, Imam Ali(a) says: “The Qur’an is hablul mateen (strong rope)” and the Qur’an itself says: “Hold fast, all together, to Divine’s rope…”. There are many interpretation of what hablul mateen might be. Perhaps it involves the Qur’an itself, either completely or partly. God has not just sent the Qur’an to us like rain. The Qur’an is a rope that God holds in His hand and the other side is accessible to us if we climb and get closer to Him. The Qur’an says: “This is the light which never extinguishes.”

How the Qur’an is shown to us

My last point is about the way God has shown the Qur’an to us.
Sometimes you give your picture to a friend or relative. When they look at the picture, it might not reflect your present situation. At most your picture can only reflect your situation at the time the picture was taken.

The Qur’an is not a picture that God has given us from Himself; it is a manifestation of God. The Qur’an is a picture in a mirror. It instantly and continuously reflects the One whose picture we are looking at.

So the closest thing to God and the most respected thing for Him is the Holy Qur’an, as we have it in a tradition from the Prophet Muhammad(s): “The thing that God has the greatest respect for is Al Qur’an”.

Let’s hope we can bring the Qur’an into our discussions and in all aspects of our lives.

https://issuu.com/islamtoday/docs/islam_today_issue_48_june_2017._sla/6

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zERIKi6GuNI

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