The Quran — The Book Of Allah

Sunday

The following is a chapter of Islam 101:

[Learn about a readable version of the Quran.]



According to Islamic teaching, the Quran came down as a series of revelations from Allah through the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad, who then dictated it to his followers.



Muhammad's companions memorized fragments of the Quran and wrote them down on whatever was at hand, which were later compiled into book form under the rule of the third Caliph, Uthman, some years after Muhammad's death.



The Quran is about as long as the Christian New Testament. It comprises 114 suras (not to be confused with the Sira, which refers to the life of the Prophet) of varying lengths, which may be considered chapters.



According to Islamic doctrine, it was around 610 AD in a cave near the city of Mecca (now in southwest Saudi Arabia) that Muhammad received the first revelation from Allah by way of the Archangel Gabriel. The revelation merely commanded Muhammad to "recite" or "read" (Sura 96); the words he was instructed to utter were not his own but Allah's.



Over the next twelve or so years in Mecca, other revelations came to Muhammad that constituted a message to the inhabitants of the city to forsake their pagan ways and turn in worship to the one Allah.



While in Mecca, though he condemned paganism (for the most part), Muhammad showed great respect for the monotheism of the Christian and Jewish inhabitants. Indeed, the Allah of the Quran claimed to be the same God worshipped by Jews and Christians, who now revealed himself to the Arab people through his chosen messenger, Muhammad.



It is the Quranic revelations that came later in Muhammad's career, after he and the first Muslims left Mecca for the city of Medina, that transformed Islam from a relatively benign form of monotheism into an expansionary, military-political ideology that persists to this day.



Orthodox Islam does not accept that a rendering of the Quran into another language is a "translation" in the way that, say, the King James Bible is a translation of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. A point often made by Islamic apologists to defang criticism is that only Arabic readers may understand the Quran.



But Arabic is a language like any other and fully capable of translation. Indeed, most Muslims are not Arabic readers.



In the analysis below, we use a translation of the Quran by two Muslim scholars. All parenthetical explanations in the text are those of the translators save for my interjections in braces, { }.



Those Westerners who manage to pick up a translation of the Quran are often left bewildered as to its meaning thanks to ignorance of a critically important principle of Quranic interpretation known as "abrogation."



The principle of abrogation al-naskh wa al-mansukh (the abrogating and the abrogated) directs that verses revealed later in Muhammad's career "abrogate" i.e., cancel and replace earlier ones whose instructions they may contradict.



Thus, passages revealed later in Muhammad's career, in Medina, overrule passages revealed earlier, in Mecca. The Quran itself lays out the principle of abrogation:



2:106. Whatever a Verse (revelation) do We {Allah} abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring a better one or similar to it. Know you not that Allah is able to do all things?

It seems that 2:106 was revealed in response to skepticism directed at Muhammad that Allah's revelations were not entirely consistent over time. Muhammad's rebuttal was that "Allah is able to do all things" even change his mind.



To confuse matters further, though the Quran was revealed to Muhammad sequentially over some twenty years' time, it was not compiled in chronological order. When the Quran was finally collated into book form under Caliph Uthman, the suras were ordered from longest to shortest with no connection whatever to the order in which they were revealed or to their thematic content.



In order to find out what the Quran says on a given topic, it is necessary to examine the other Islamic sources that give clues as to when in Muhammad's lifetime the revelations occurred. Upon such examination, one discovers that the Meccan suras, revealed at a time when the Muslims were vulnerable, are generally benign; the later Medinan suras, revealed after Muhammad had made himself the head of an army, are bellicose.



Let us take, for example, 50:45 and Sura 109, both revealed in Mecca:



50:45. We know of best what they say; and you (O Muhammad) are not a tyrant over them (to force them to Belief). But warn by the Qur'an, him who fears My Threat.

109:1. Say (O Muhammad to these Mushrikun and Kafirun): "O Al-Kafirun (disbelievers in Allah, in His Oneness, in His Angels, in His Books, in His Messengers, in the Day of Resurrection, and in Al-Qadar {divine foreordainment and sustaining of all things}, etc.)!

109:2. "I worship not that which you worship,



109:3. "Nor will you worship that which I worship.



109:4. "And I shall not worship that which you are worshipping.



109:5. "Nor will you worship that which I worship.



109:6. "To you be your religion, and to me my religion (Islamic Monotheism)."



Then there is this passage revealed just after the Muslims reached Medina and were still vulnerable:



2:256. There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the Right Path has become distinct from the wrong path. Whoever disbelieves in Taghut {idolatry} and believes in Allah, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.

In contrast, take 9:5, commonly referred to as the "Verse of the Sword", revealed toward the end of Muhammad's life:



9:5. Then when the Sacred Months (the 1st, 7th, 11th, and 12th months of the Islamic calendar) have passed, then kill the Mushrikun {unbelievers} wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat {the Islamic ritual prayers}), and give Zakat {alms}, then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Having been revealed later in Muhammad's life than 50:45, 109, and 2:256, the Verse of the Sword abrogates their peaceful injunctions in accordance with 2:106. Sura 8, revealed shortly before Sura 9, reveals a similar theme:



8:39. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world]. But if they cease (worshipping others besides Allah), then certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what they do.

8:67. It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war (and free them with ransom) until he had made a great slaughter (among his enemies) in the land. You desire the good of this world (i.e. the money of ransom for freeing the captives), but Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter. And Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.



9:29. Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.



9:33. It is He {Allah} Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam), to make it superior over all religions even though the Mushrikun (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) hate (it).



The Quran's commandments to Muslims to wage war in the name of Allah against non-Muslims are unmistakable. They are, furthermore, absolutely authoritative as they were revealed late in the Prophet's career and so cancel and replace earlier instructions to act peaceably.



Without knowledge of the principle of abrogation, Westerners will continue to misread the Quran and misdiagnose Islam as a "religion of peace."




See a Glossary Of Islamic Terms for definitions.

Islam 101 was written by Gregory M. Davis, author of Religion of Peace?: Islam's War Against the World, and the producer/director of Islam: What the West Needs to Know.

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