Synopsis of Some Qur’anic Themes

The following themes (shown in bold and underlined) were gleaned from Muhammad Asad’sThe Message of The Qur’an”. The verses (in italics) and associated commentary speak for themselves, and are meant to highlight / clarify some misconceptions among Muslims and non-Muslims alike, or emphasize some key points. The webmaster also included some additional commentary (shown as [Webmaster’s Note:]) to augment some themes where appropriate.

One Cannot Grasp What is Beyond Human Perception

THIS DIVINE WRIT – let there be no doubt about it – is [meant to be] a guidance for all the God-conscious who believe in [the existence of] that which is beyond the reach of human perception,[3] and are constant in prayer, and spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance;...(Q2:2-3)

Note 3 (Qur'an Ref: 2:3) Al-ghayb (commonly, and erroneously, translated as "the Unseen") is used in the Qur'an to denote all those sectors or phases of reality which lie beyond the range of human perception and cannot, therefore, be proved or disproved by scientific observation or even adequately comprised within the accepted categories of speculative thought: as, for instance, the existence of God and of a definite purpose underlying the universe, life after death, the real nature of time, the existence of spiritual forces and their interaction, and so forth. Only a person who is convinced that the ultimate reality comprises far more than our observable environment can attain to belief in God and, thus, to a belief that life has meaning and purpose. By pointing out that it is "a guidance for those who believe in the existence of that which is beyond human perception", the Qur'an says, in effect, that it will – of necessity – remain a closed book to all whose minds cannot accept this fundamental premise.

THE PARABLE of the paradise promised to those who are conscious of God [is that of a garden] through which running waters flow:[65] [but, unlike an earthly garden,] its fruits will be everlasting, and [so will be] its shade. Such will be the destiny of those who remain conscious of God – just as the destiny of those who deny the truth will be the fire. (Q13:35)

Note 65 (Qur'an Ref: 13:35) This rendering (and the interpolation of the words "is that of a garden") reproduces literally the interpretation given to the above passage by Az-Zajjaj, as quoted by Zamakhshari and – in an abbreviated form – by Razi; according to Zamakhshari, this passage serves "as a parabolic illustration, by means of something which we know from our experience, of something that is beyond the reach of our perception" (tamthilan li-ma ghabaanna bi-ma nushahid). As in the similar (but wider) reference to "the parable of paradise" in 47:15, we are here reminded that the Qur'anic descriptions of what awaits man after resurrection are, of necessity, metaphorical, since the human mind cannot conceive of anything that is – both in its elements and its totality – entirely different from anything that can be experienced in this world. (See in this connection Appendix I).

Say: “None in the heavens or on earth knows the hidden reality [of anything that exists: none knows it] save God.”[63] And neither can they [who are living] perceive when they shall be raised from the dead: nay, their knowledge of the life to come stops short of the truth: [64] nay, they are [often] in doubt as to its reality: nay, they are blind to it.[65] (Q27:65-66)

Note 63 (Qur'an Ref: 27:65) In this context, the term al-ghayb – rendered by me here as "the hidden reality" – apparently relates to the "how" of God’s Being, the ultimate reality underlying the observable aspects of the universe and the meaning and purpose inherent in its creation. My repetition, within brackets, of the words "none knows it", i.e., save God, is necessitated by the fact that He is infinite, unlimited as to space, and cannot, therefore, be included among the beings "in the heavens or on earth", who have all been created by Him.

Note 64 (Qur'an Ref: 27:66) I.e., they cannot truly visualize the hereafter because its reality is beyond anything that man may experience in this world: and this, it cannot be stressed often enough, is an indirect explanation of the reason why all Qur’anic references to the conditions, good or bad, of man’s life after death are of necessity expressed in purely allegorical terms.

Note 65 (Qur'an Ref: 27:66) I.e., blind to its logical necessity within God’s plan of creation. For, it is only on the premise of a life after death that the concept of man’s moral responsibility and hence, of God’s ultimate judgment can have any meaning; and if there is no moral responsibility, there can be no question of a preceding moral choice; and if the absence of choice is taken for granted, all differentiation between right and wrong becomes utterly meaningless as well.

And [as for all such believers,] no human being can imagine what blissful delights, as yet hidden, await them [in the life to come] as a reward for all that they did.[15] (Q32:17)

Note 15 (Qur'an Ref: 32:17) Lit., "what is kept hidden for them [by way] of a joy of the eyes", i.e., of blissful delights, irrespective of whether seen, heard or felt. The expression "what is kept hidden for them" clearly alludes to the unknowable – and, therefore, only allegorically describable – quality of life in the hereafter. The impossibility of man’s really "imagining" paradise has been summed up by the Prophet in the well-authenticated hadith: "God says: ‘I have readied for My righteous servants what no eye has ever seen, and no ear has ever heard, and no heart of man has ever conceived’" (Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah; also Tirmidhi). This hadith has always been regarded by the Companions as the Prophet’s own comment on the above verse (cf. Fath al-Bari VIII, 418 f.).

Verily, We have caused it to be a trial for evildoers:[23] for, behold, it is a tree that grows in the very heart of the blazing fire [of hell], its fruit [as repulsive] as satans’ heads; and they [who are lost in evil] are indeed bound to eat thereof, and to fill their bellies therewith. (Q37:63-66)

Note 23 (Qur'an Ref: 37:63) It cannot be often enough repeated that all Qur’anic references to hell and paradise – and, for that matter, all descriptions of men’s conditions in the hereafter – are, of necessity, highly allegorical (see Appendix I) and therefore liable to be grossly misunderstood if one takes them in their literal sense or, conversely, interprets them in an arbitrary manner (cf. 3:7 and the corresponding notes 5,7 and 8): and this, to my mind, explains why the symbol of the "tree of deadly fruit" – one of the metonyms for the suffering of the sinners in the hereafter – has become "a trial (fitnah) for evildoers" (or "for men" in 17:60). See in this connection 74:31, which is the earliest Qur’anic instance of this concept of "trial".

THUS, INDEED, have We propounded unto men all kinds of parables in this Qur’an, so that they might bethink themselves;[33] [and We have revealed it]. (Q39:27)

Note 33 (Qur'an Ref: 39:27) As in many other passages of the Qur’an, the use of the term "parable" (mathal) immediately or shortly after a description of men’s condition – whether good or bad – in the hereafter is meant to remind us that all such descriptions relate to something that is "beyond the reach of a created being’s perception" (al-ghayb), and cannot, therefore, be conveyed to man otherwise than by means of allegories or parables expressed in terms of human experience and therefore accessible, in a general sense, to human imagination.

The Doctrine of Some Qur’anic Verses Abrogating Others is a Fallacy

Any message which We annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or a similar one.[87] Do you not know that God has the power to will anything? (Q2:106)

Note 87 (Qur’an Ref:2:106 ) The principle laid down in this passage – relating to the supersession of the Biblical dispensation by that of the Qur'an – has given rise to an erroneous interpretation by many Muslim theologians. The word ayah ("message") occurring in this context is also used to denote a "verse" of the Qur'an (because every one of these verses contains a message). Taking this restricted meaning of the term ayah, some scholars conclude from the above passage that certain verses of the Qur'an have been "abrogated" by God's command before the revelation of the Qur'an was completed. Apart from the fancifulness of this assertion – which calls to mind the image of a human author correcting, on second thought, the proofs of his manuscript, deleting one passage and replacing it with another – there does not exist a single reliable Tradition to the effect that the Prophet ever declared a verse of the Qur'an to have been "abrogated". At the root of the so-called "doctrine of abrogation" may lie the inability of some of the early commentators to reconcile one Qur'anic passage with another: a difficulty which was overcome by declaring that one of the verses in question had been "abrogated". This arbitrary procedure explains also why there is no unanimity whatsoever among the upholders of the "doctrine of abrogation" as to which, and how many, Qur'an-verses have been affected by it; and, furthermore, as to whether this alleged abrogation implies a total elimination of the verse in question from the context of the Qur'an, or only a cancellation of the specific ordinance or statement contained in it. In short, the "doctrine of abrogation" has no basis whatever in historical fact, and must be rejected. On the other hand, the apparent difficulty in interpreting the above Qur'anic passage disappears immediately if the term ayah is understood, correctly, as "message", and if we read this verse in conjunction with the preceding one, which states that the Jews and the Christians refuse to accept any revelation which might supersede that of the Bible: for, if read in this way, the abrogation relates to the earlier divine messages and not to any part of the Qur'an itself.

Heaven is Not Reserved Exclusively for Any Particular Denomination, Many Paths Lead to an Awareness of God

Yea, indeed: everyone who surrenders his whole being unto God, and is a doer of good withal, shall have his reward with his Sustainer; and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.[92] (Q2:112)

Note 92 (Qur’an Ref: 2:112) Thus, according to the Qur'an, salvation is not reserved for any particular "denomination", but is open to everyone who consciously realizes the oneness of God, surrenders himself to His will and, by living righteously, gives practical effect to this spiritual attitude.

Verily, as for those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], and those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Sabians, and the Christians, and the Magians,[19] [on the one hand,] and those who are bent on ascribing divinity to aught but God, [on the other,][20] verily, God will decide between them on Resurrection Day: for, behold, God is witness unto everything. (Q22:17)

Note 19 (Qur'an Ref: 22:17) Al-majus: the followers of Zoroaster or Zarathustra (Zardusht), the Iranian prophet who lived about the middle of the last millennium B.C, and whose teachings are laid down in the Zend-Avesta. They are represented today by the Gabrs of Iran and, more prominently, by the Parsis of India and Pakistan. Their religion, though dualistic in philosophy, is based on belief in God as the Creator of the universe.

Note 20 (Qur'an Ref: 22:17) The Christians and the Magians (Zoroastrians) are included in the first category, for although they do ascribe divine qualities to other beings beside God, they regard those beings, fundamentally, as no more than manifestations – or incarnations – of the One God, thus persuading themselves that they are worshipping Him alone; whereas "those who are bent on ascribing divinity to beings other than God" (alladhina ashraku) by obvious implication reject the principle of His oneness and uniqueness.

But as for those who strive hard in Our cause – We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us:[61] for, behold, God is indeed with the doers of good. (Q29:69)

Note 61 (Qur'an Ref: 29:69) Lit., "Our paths". The plural used here is obviously meant to stress the fact – alluded to often in the Qur’an – that there are many paths which lead to a cognizance (ma’rifah) of God.

Good Things that are Not Expressly Forbidden are Lawful

O MANKIND! Partake of what is lawful and good on earth, and follow not Satan's footsteps: for, verily, he is your open foe, and bids you only to do evil, and to commit deeds of abomination, and to attribute unto God something of which you have no knowledge.[137] (Q2:168-169)

Note 137 (Qur'an Ref: 2:169) This refers to an arbitrary attribution to God of commandments or prohibitions in excess of what has been clearly ordained by Him (Zamakhshari). Some of the commentators (e.g., Muhammad 'Abduh in Manar 11, 89 f.) include within this expression the innumerable supposedly "legal" injunctions which, without being clearly warranted by the wording of the Qur'an or an authentic Tradition, have been obtained by individual Muslim scholars through subjective methods of deduction and then put forward as "God's ordinances". The connection between this passage and the preceding ones is obvious. In verses 165-167 the Qur'an speaks of those "who choose to believe in beings that supposedly rival God": and this implies also a false attribution, to those beings, of a right to issue quasi-religious ordinances of their own, as well as an attribution of religious validity to customs sanctioned by nothing but ancient usage (see next verse).

They will ask you as to what is lawful to them. Say: "Lawful to you are all the good things of life."[12] And as for those hunting animals which you train by imparting to them something of the knowledge that God has imparted to yourselves – eat of what they seize for you, but mention God's name over it, and remain conscious of God: verily, God is swift in reckoning. (Q5:4)

Note 12 (Qur'an Ref: 5:4) The implication is, firstly, that what has been forbidden does not belong to the category of "the good things of life" (at-tayyibat), and, secondly, that all that has not been expressly forbidden is allowed. It is to be noted that the Qur'an forbids only those things or actions which are injurious to man physically, morally or socially.

Wars Should Be Fought For Defensive Purposes Only

AND FIGHT in God's cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for, verily, God does not love aggressors.[167] (Q2:190)

Note 167 (Qur'an Ref: 2:190) This and the following verses lay down unequivocally that only self-defence (in the widest sense of the word) makes war permissible for Muslims. Most of the commentators agree in that the expression la ta'tadu signifies, in this context, "do not commit aggression"; while by al mu'tadin "those who commit aggression" are meant. The defensive character of a fight "in God's cause" – that is, in the cause of the ethical principles ordained by God – is, moreover, self-evident in the reference to "those who wage war against you", and has been still further clarified in 22:39 – "permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged" – which, according to all available Traditions, constitutes the earliest (and therefore fundamental) Qur'anic reference to the question of jihad, or holy war (see Tabari and Ibn Kathir in their commentaries on 22:39). That this early, fundamental principle of self-defence as the only possible justification of war has been maintained throughout the Qur'an is evident from 60:8, as well as from the concluding sentence of 4:91, both of which belong to a later period than the above verse.

NOW WHEN you meet [in war] those who are bent on denying the truth,[4] smite their necks until you overcome them fully, and then tighten their bonds;[5] but thereafter [set them free,] either by an act of grace or against ransom, so that the burden of war may be lifted:[6] thus [shall it be]. And [know that] had God so willed, He could indeed punish them [Himself]; but [He wills you to struggle] so as to test you [all] by means of one another.[7] And as for those who are slain in God’s cause, never will He let their deeds go to waste: (Q47:4)

Note 4 (Qur'an Ref: 47:4) Sc., "and on barring [others] from the path of God" – thus connecting with verse 1 and laying down the fundamental condition which alone justifies physical warfare: namely, a defense of the Faith and of freedom (cf. in this connection see note 167 on 2:190). In other words, when "those who are bent on denying the truth" try to deprive the Muslims of their social and political liberty and thus to make it impossible for them to live in accordance with the principles of their faith, a just war (jihad) becomes allowable and, more than that, a duty. The whole of the above verse relates to war actually in progress (cf. note 168 on the first part of 2:191); and there is no doubt that it was revealed after 22:39-40, the earliest Qur’anic reference to physical warfare.

Note 5 (Qur'an Ref: 47:4) Lit., "tighten the bond". According to almost all the commentators, this expression denotes the taking of prisoners of war. In addition, it may also refer to any sanctions or safeguards which would make it unlikely that the aggression could be resumed in the foreseeable future.

Note 6 (Qur'an Ref: 47:4) Lit., "so that (hatta) the war may lay down its burdens". The term "ransom" comprises also, in this context, a mutual exchange of prisoners of war (Zamakhshari, quoting an opinion of Imam Ash-Shafi’i).

Note 7 (Qur'an Ref: 47:4) I.e., so as to enable the believers to prove by actual deeds the depth of their faith and their readiness for self-sacrifice, and to enable the aggressors to realize how wrong they have been, and thus to bring them closer to the truth.

Some Qur’anic Verses are Clear and Some are Allegorical

He it is who has bestowed upon you from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves – and these are the essence of the divine writ – as well as others that are allegorical.[5] Now those whose hearts are given to swerving from the truth go after that part of the divine writ which has been expressed in allegory, seeking out [what is bound to create] confusion,[7] and seeking [to arrive at] its final meaning [in an arbitrary manner]; but none save God knows its final meaning.[8] Hence, those who are deeply rooted in knowledge say: "We believe in it; the whole [of the divine writ] is from our Sustainer – albeit none takes this to heart save those who are endowed with insight. (Q3:7)

Note 5 (Qur’an Ref: 3:7) The above passage may be regarded as a key to the understanding of the Qur'an. Tabari identifies the ayat muhkamat ("messages that are clear in and by themselves") with what the philologists and jurists describe as nass – namely, ordinances or statements which are self-evident (zahir) by virtue of their wording (cf. Lisan at-'Arab, art. nass). Consequently, Tabari regards as ayat muhkamat only those statements or ordinances of the Qur'an which do not admit of more than one interpretation (which does not, of course, preclude differences of opinion regarding the implications of a particular ayah muhkamah). In my opinion, however, it would be too dogmatic to regard any passage of the Qur'an which does not conform to the above definition as mutashabih ("allegorical"): for there are many statements in the Qur'an which are liable to more than one interpretation but are, nevertheless, not allegorical – just as there are many expressions and passages which, despite their allegorical formulation, reveal to the searching intellect only one possible meaning. For this reason, the ayat mutashabihat may be defined as those passages of the Qur'an which are expressed in a figurative manner, with a meaning that is metaphorically implied but not directly, in so many words, stated. The ayat muhkamat are described as the "essence of the divine writ" (umm al-kitab) because they comprise the fundamental principles underlying its message and, in particular, its ethical and social teachings: and it is only on the basis of these clearly enunciated principles that the allegorical passages can be correctly interpreted (for a more detailed discussion of symbolism and allegory in the Qur'an, see Appendix I).

Note 7 (Qur’an Ref: 3:7) The "confusion" referred to here is a consequence of interpreting allegorical passages in an "arbitrary manner" (Zamakhshari).

Note 8 (Qur’an Ref: 3:7) According to most of the early commentators, this refers to the interpretation of allegorical passages which deal with metaphysical subjects – for instance, God's attributes, the ultimate meaning of time and eternity, the resurrection of the dead, the Day of Judgment, paradise and hell, the nature of the beings or forces described as angels, and so forth – all of which fall within the category of al-ghayb, i.e., that sector of reality which is beyond the reach of human perception and imagination and cannot, therefore, be conveyed to man in other than allegorical terms. This view of the classical commentators, however, does not seem to take into account the many Qur'anic passages which do not deal with metaphysical subjects and yet are, undoubtedly, allegorical in intent and expression. To my mind, one cannot arrive at a correct understanding of the above passage without paying due attention to the nature and function of allegory as such. A true allegory – in contrast with a mere pictorial paraphrase of something that could equally well be stated in direct terms – is always meant to express in a figurative manner something which, because of its complexity, cannot be adequately expressed in direct terms or propositions and, because of this very complexity, can be grasped only intuitively, as a general mental image, and not as a series of detailed "statements": and this seems to be the meaning of the phrase, "none save God knows its final meaning".

[Say, O Muhammad:] “No knowledge would I have had of [what passed among] the host on high when they argued [against the creation of man],[52] had it not been revealed unto me [by God] – to no other end than that I might convey [unto you] a plain warning. (Q38:69-70)

Note 52 (Qur'an Ref: 38:69) For the allegorical contention of the angels ("the host on high") against the creation of man, see 2:30 ff. and the corresponding notes 22-24. The allegory of man’s creation, of God’s command to the angels to "prostrate themselves" before the new creature, and of Iblis’ refusal to do so appears in the Qur’an six times (2:30-34, 7:11 ff., 15:28-44, 17:61-65, 18:50, and -85), each time with an accent on a different aspect of this allegory. In the present instance (which is undoubtedly the earliest in the chronology of revelation) it is connected with the statement, in 2:31, that God "imparted unto Adam the names of all things", i.e., endowed man with the faculty of conceptual thinking (see note 23 on 2:31) and, thus, with the ability to discern between what is true and what false. Since he possesses this faculty, man has no excuse for not realizing God’s existence and oneness – the "message tremendous" referred to in the preceding passage.

[But,] verily for the God-conscious there is supreme fulfillment in store: luxuriant gardens and vineyards, and splendid companions well-matched,[16] and a cup [of happiness] overflowing. (Q78:31-34)

Note 16 (Qur'an Ref: 78:33) For the above rendering of atrab, see surah 56, note 15. As regards my rendering of kawa’ib as "splendid companions", it is to be remembered that the term ka'b – from which the participle ka’ib is derived – has many meanings, and that one of these meanings is "prominence", "eminence" or "glory" (Lisan al-Arab); thus, the verb ka'ba, when applied to a person, signifies "he made [another person] prominent", "glorious" or "splendid" (ibid.). Based on this tropical meaning of both the verb ka'ba and the noun ka'b, the participle ka'ib has often been used, in popular parlance, to denote "a girl whose breasts are becoming prominent" or "are budding" hence, many commentators see in it an allusion to some sort of youthful "female companions' who would entertain the (presumably male) inmates of paradise. But quite apart from the fact that all Qur'anic allegories of the joys of paradise invariably apply to men and women alike, this interpretation of kawa’ib overlooks the purely derivative origin of the above popular usage – which is based on the tropical connotation of "prominence" inherent in the noun ka'b – and substitutes for this obvious tropism the literal meaning of something that is physically prominent: and this, in my opinion, is utterly unjustified. If we bear in mind that the Qur'anic descriptions of the blessings of paradise are always allegorical, we realize that in the above context the term kawa’ib can have no other meaning than "glorious [or "splendid"] beings", without any definition of sex; and that, in combination with the term atrab, it denotes, "splendid companions well matched" – thus alluding to the relations of the blest with one another, and stressing the absolute mutual compatibility and equal dignity of all of them. See also note 13 on 56:34.

Unity takes Precedence over Differences

And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with God, and do not draw apart from one another. And remember the blessings which God has bestowed upon you: how, when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brethren; and [how, when] you were on the brink of a fiery abyss.[79] He saved you from it. In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance, and that there might grow out of you a community [of people] who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state! (Q3:103-104)

Note 79 (Qur'an Ref: 3:103) Lit., "a pit of fire" – a metaphor of the sufferings which are the inescapable consequence of spiritual ignorance. The reminder of their one-time mutual enmity is an allusion to man's lot on earth (cf. 2:36 and 7:24), from which only God's guidance can save him (see 2:37-38).

And when Moses returned to his people, full of wrath and sorrow, he exclaimed: "Vile is the course which you have followed in my absence! Have you forsaken your Sustainer's commandment?" And he threw down the tablets [of the Law], and seized his brother's head, dragging him towards himself. Cried Aaron: "O my mother's son! Behold, the people brought me low[117] and almost slew me: so let not my enemies rejoice at my affliction, and count me not among the evildoing folk!" (Q7:150)

Note 117 (Qur'an Ref: 7:150) Lit., "made me [or "deemed me"] utterly weak". Contrary to the Biblical account (Exodus xxxii, 1-5), the Qur’an does not accuse Aaron of having actually participated in making or worshipping the golden calf; his guilt consisted in having remained passive in the face of his people's idolatry for fear of causing a split among them (cf. 20:92-94).

All Prophets (Including Jesus) Have Died

AND MUHAMMAD is only an apostle; all the [other] apostles have passed away before him: if, then, he dies or is slain, will you turn about on your heels?[104] But he that turns about on his heels can in no wise harm God – whereas God will requite all who are grateful [to Him]. (Q3:144)

Note 104 (Qur'an Ref: 3:144) This stress on the mortality of the Prophet – and that of all the other prophets who preceded him in time – connects, in the first instance, with the battle of Uhud and the rumour of his death, which caused many Muslims to abandon the fight and even brought some of them close to apostasy (Tabari; see also note 90 above). In its wider implication, however, the above verse restates the fundamental Islamic doctrine that adoration is due to God alone, and that no human being – not even a prophet – may have any share in it. It was this very passage of the Qur'an which Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, recited immediately after the Prophet's death, when many faint-hearted Muslims thought that Islam itself had come to an end; but as soon as Abu Bakr added, "Behold, whoever has worshipped Muhammad may know that Muhammad has died; but whoever worships God may know that God is ever-living, and never dies" (Bukhari), all confusion was stilled. The expression "turning about on one's heels" denotes – according to circumstances – either actual apostasy or a deliberate withdrawal from efforts in the cause of God.

...and their boast, "Behold, we have slain the Christ Jesus, son of Mary, [who claimed to be] an apostle of God!" However, they did not slay him, and neither did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been] so;[171] and, verily, those who hold conflicting views thereon are indeed confused, having no [real] knowledge thereof, and following mere conjecture. For, of a certainty, they did not slay him: nay, God exalted him unto Himself [172] – and God is indeed almighty, wise. (Q4:157-158)

Note 171 (Qur'an Ref: 4:157) Thus, the Qur’an categorically denies the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. There exist, among Muslims, many fanciful legends telling us that at the last moment God substituted for Jesus a person closely resembling him (according to some accounts, that person was Judas), who was subsequently crucified in his place. However, none of these legends finds the slightest support in the Qur’an or in authentic Traditions, and the stories produced in this connection by the classical commentators must be summarily rejected. They represent no more than confused attempts at "harmonizing" the Qur’anic statement that Jesus was not crucified with the graphic description, in the Gospels, of his crucifixion. The story of the crucifixion as such has been succinctly explained in the Qur’anic phrase wa-lakin shubbiha lahum, which I render as "but it only appeared to them as if it had been so" – implying that in the course of time, long after the time of Jesus, a legend had somehow grown up (possibly under the then powerful influence of Mithraistic beliefs) to the effect that he had died on the cross in order to atone for the "original sin" with which mankind is allegedly burdened; and this legend became so firmly established among the latter-day followers of Jesus that even his enemies, the Jews, began to believe it – albeit in a derogatory sense (for crucifixion was, in those times, a heinous form of death penalty reserved for the lowest of criminals). This, to my mind, is the only satisfactory explanation of the phrase wa-lakin shubbiha lahum, the more so as the expression shubbiha li is idiomatically synonymous with khuyyila li, "[a thing] became a fancied image to me", i.e., "in my mind" – in other words, "[it] seemed to me" (see Qamus, art. khayala, as well as Lane II, 833, and IV, 1500).

Note 172 (Quran Ref: 4:158) Cf. 3:55, where God says to Jesus, "Verily, I shall cause you to die, and shall exalt you unto Me." The verb rafa ahu (lit., "he raised him" or "elevated him") has always, whenever the act of raf ("elevating") of a human being is attributed to God, the meaning of "honouring" or "exalting". Nowhere in the Qur’an is there any warrant for the popular belief that God has "taken up" Jesus bodily, in his lifetime, into heaven. The expression "God exalted him unto Himself" in the above verse denotes the elevation of Jesus to the realm of God's special grace – a blessing in which all prophets partake, as is evident from 19:57, where the verb rafa nahu ("We exalted him") is used with regard to the Prophet Idris. (See also Muhammad ‘Abduh in Manar III, 316 f., and VI, 20f). The "nay" (bal) at the beginning of the sentence is meant to stress the contrast between the belief of the Jews that they had put Jesus to a shameful death on the cross and the fact of God's having "exalted him unto Himself".

The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) Relied on Decisions by Consensus

And it was by God's grace that you [O Prophet] did deal gently with your followers: for if you had been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from you. Pardon them, then, and pray that they be forgiven. And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when you have decided upon a course of action, place your trust in God: for, verily, God loves those who place their trust in Him.[122] (Q3:159)

Note 122 (Qur'an Ref: 3:159) This injunction, implying government by consent and council, must be regarded as one of the fundamental clauses of all Qur'anic legislation relating to statecraft. The pronoun "them" relates to the believers, that is, to the whole community; while the word al-amr occurring in this context – as well as in the much earlier-revealed phrase amruhum shura baynahum in 42:38 – denotes all affairs of public concern, including state administration. All authorities agree in that the above ordinance, although addressed in the first instance to the Prophet, is binding on all Muslims and for all times (for its wider implications see State and Government in Islam, pp. 44 ff.). Some Muslim scholars conclude from the wording of this ordinance that the leader of the community, although obliged to take counsel, is nevertheless free to accept or to reject it; but the arbitrariness of this conclusion becomes obvious as soon as we recall that even the Prophet considered himself bound by the decisions of his council (see note 90 above). Moreover, when he was asked – according to a Tradition on the authority of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib – to explain the implications of the word 'azm ("deciding upon a course of action") which occurs in the above verse, the Prophet replied, "[It means] taking counsel with knowledgeable people (ahl ar-ra'y) and thereupon following them [therein]" (see Ibn Kathir's commentary on this verse).

Premarital Sex is Sinful, and Stoning to Death is un-Islamic

And as for those of you who, owing to circumstances, are not in a position to marry free believing women, [let them marry] believing maidens from among those whom you rightfully possess. And God knows all about your faith; each one of you is an issue of the other. Marry them, then, with their people's leave, and give them their dowers in an equitable manner – they being women who give themselves in honest wedlock, not in fornication, nor as secret love-companions.[32] And when they are married, and thereafter become guilty of immoral conduct, they shall be liable to half the penalty to which free married women are liable. This [permission to marry slave-girls applies] to those of you who fear lest they stumble into evil. But it is for your own good to persevere in patience [and to abstain from such marriages]: and God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. (Q4:25)

Note 32 (Qur'an Ref: 4:25) Lit., "and not taking unto themselves secret love-companions". This passage lays down in an unequivocal manner that sexual relations with female slaves are permitted only on the basis of marriage, and that in this respect there is no difference between them and free women; consequently, concubinage is ruled out.

[Webmaster’s note]: It should also be noted in the above verse that a “slave woman” gets half the penalty of a “free married woman”. If the penalty for adultery is stoning to death (as many Muslims erroneously believe based on some ahadith), then how does one halve death?

Laws are Not Immutable but are Based on Circumstances and People’s Intellect

And unto you [O Prophet] have We vouchsafed this divine writ, setting forth the truth, confirming the truth of whatever there still remains of earlier revelations and determining what is true therein. Judge, then, between the followers of earlier revelation in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high, and do not follow their errant views, forsaking the truth that has come unto you. Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life.[66] And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. (Q5:48)

Note 66 (Qur'an Ref: 5:48) The expression "every one of you" denotes the various communities of which mankind is composed. The term shir’ah (or shari’ah) signifies, literally, "the way to a watering-place" (from which men and animals derive the element indispensable to their life), and is used in the Qur'an to denote a system of law necessary for a community's social and spiritual welfare. The term minhaj, on the other hand, denotes an "open road", usually in an abstract sense: that is, "a way of life". The terms shir'ah and minhaj are more restricted in their meaning than the term din, which comprises not merely the laws relating to a particular religion but also the basic, unchanging spiritual truths which, according to the Qur'an, have been preached by every one of God's apostles, while the particular body of laws (shir'ah or shari'ah) promulgated through them, and the way of life (minhaj) recommended by them, varied in accordance with the exigencies of the time and of each community's cultural development. This "unity in diversity" is frequently stressed in the Qur'an (e.g., in the first sentence of 2:148, in 21:92-93, or in 23:52 ff.). Because of the universal applicability and textual incorruptibility of its teachings – as well as of the fact that the Prophet Muhammad is "the seal of all prophets", i.e., the last of them (see 33:40) – the Qur'an represents the culminating point of all revelation and offers the final, perfect way to spiritual fulfillment. This uniqueness of the Qur'anic message does not, however, preclude all adherents of earlier faiths from attaining to God's grace: for – as the Qur'an so often points out – those among them who believe uncompromisingly in the One God and the Day of Judgment (i.e., in individual moral responsibility) and live righteously "need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve".

And yet, now that the truth has come unto them from Us, they say, “Why has he not been vouchsafed the like of what Moses was vouchsafed?”[47] But did they not also, before this, deny the truth of what Moses was vouchsafed? [For] they do say, “Two examples of delusion, [seemingly] supporting each other!” And they add, “Behold, we refuse to accept either of them as true!” (Q28:48)

Note 47 (Qur'an Ref: 28:48) As the Qur’an frequently points out, the basic ethical truths enunciated in it are the same as those of earlier revelations. It is this very statement which induced the opponents of Muhammad – in his own time as well as in later times – to question the authenticity of the Qur’an: "If it had really been revealed by God," they argue, "would so many of its propositions, especially its social laws, differ so radically from the laws promulgated in that earlier divine writ, the Torah?" By advancing this argument (and quite apart from the question of whether the text of the Bible as we know it today has or has not been corrupted in the course of time), the opponents of Muhammad’s message deliberately overlook the fact, repeatedly stressed in the Qur’an, that the earlier systems of law were conditioned by the spiritual level of a particular people and the exigencies of a particular chapter of human history, and therefore had to be superseded by new laws at a higher stage of human development (see in this connection the second paragraph of 5:48 and the corresponding note 66). However, as is evident from the immediate sequence – and especially from the last sentence of this verse – the above specious argument is not meant to uphold the authenticity of the Bible as against that of the Qur’an, but, rather, aims at discrediting both – and, through them, the basic religious principle against which the irreligious mind always revolts: namely, the idea of divine revelation and of man’s absolute dependence on and responsibility to God, the Ultimate Cause of all that exists.

Worship of Saints as Intercessors for God is a Form of Shirk (Associating Partners with God)

...for one Day We shall gather them all together, and then We shall say unto those who ascribed divinity to aught beside God: "Where, now, are those beings whom you imagined to have a share in God's divinity?"[15] (Q6:22)

Note 15 (Qur'an Ref: 6:22) Lit., "those [God-]partners of yours whom you supposed [to exist]". Whenever the term shuraka' (pl. of sharik) is used in the Qur’an with reference to beliefs, it invariably denotes real or imaginary beings or forces to whom one ascribes a share in God's divinity: consequently, this concept – and its utter condemnation in Islam – relates not merely to the worship of false deities but also to the attribution of semi-divine qualities and powers to saints (in the liturgical sense of this word), as well as to abstract notions like wealth, social status, power, nationality, etc., to which men so often ascribe an objective influence on human destinies.

VERILY, your Sustainer is God, who has created the heavens and the earth in six aeons, and is established on the throne of His almightiness, governing all that exists. There is none that could intercede with Him unless He grants leave thereof.[7] Thus is God, your Sustainer: worship, therefore, Him [alone]: will you not, then, keep this in mind? (Q10:3)

Note 7 (Qur'an Ref:10:3) Lit., "there is no intercessor whatever, save after His leave [has been granted]". Cf. 2:255 – "Who is there that could intercede with Him, unless it be by His leave?" Thus, the Qur'an rejects the popular belief in unqualified "intercession" by living or dead saints or prophets. As is shown elsewhere in the Qur'an (e.g., in 20:109, 21:28 or 34:23), God will grant to His prophets on Judgment Day the permission to "intercede", symbolically, for such of the sinners as will have already achieved His redemptive acceptance (rida') by virtue of their repentance or basic goodness (see 19:87 and the corresponding note 74): in other words, the right of "intercession" thus granted to the prophets will be but an expression of God's approval of the latter. Furthermore, the above denial of the possibility of unqualified intercession stresses, indirectly, not only God's omniscience – which requires no "mediator" – but also the immutability of His will: and thus it connects with the preceding mention of His almightiness (see also note 27 below).

[Webmaster’s note]: Regarding intercession and saint worship, also see Q10:18, Q17:56-57, Q18:102, Q19:87, Q20:109 and the associated commentary.

God Cannot Be Compared to Humans

And yet, some [people] have come to attribute to all manner of invisible beings[86] a place side by side with God – although it is He who has created them [all]; and in their ignorance they have invented for Him sons and daughters![87] Limitless is He in His glory, and sublimely exalted above anything that men may devise by way of definition:[88] (Q6:100)

Note 86 (Qur'an Ref: 6:100) The plural noun jinn (popularly, but incorrectly, taken to denote "genii" or "demons") is derived from the verb janna, "he was (or "became"] concealed" or "veiled from sight"; thus, the veiling darkness of night is called jinn (Jawhari). According to Arab philologists, the term jinn signifies, primarily, "beings that are concealed from [man's] senses" (Qamus, Lisan al-'Arab, Raghib), and is thus applicable to all kinds of invisible beings or forces. For a further discussion of this term and of its wider implications, see Appendix III.

Note 87 (Qur'an Ref: 6:100) Lit., "they have invented for Him [or "falsely attributed to Him'"] sons and daughters without [having any] knowledge": a reference to the beliefs of the pre-Islamic Arabs who regarded the angels as "God's daughters" (a designation which they also applied to certain of their goddesses), as well as to the Christian view of Jesus as "the son of God". See also 19:92 and the corresponding note 77.

Note 88 (Qur'an Ref: 6:100) I.e., utterly remote is He from all imperfection and from the incompleteness which is implied in the concept of having progeny. The very concept of "definition" implies the possibility of a comparison or correlation of an object with other objects; God, however, is unique, there being "nothing like unto Him" (42:11) and, therefore, "nothing that could be compared with Him" (112:4) – with the result that any attempt at defining Him or His "attributes" is a logical impossibility and, from the ethical point of view, a sin. The fact that He is undefinable makes it clear that the "attributes" (sifat) of God mentioned in the Qur’an do not circumscribe His reality but, rather, the perceptible effect of His activity on and within the universe created by Him.

And as for those who would [still] argue about God after He has been acknowledged [by them] – all their arguments are null and void in their Sustainer’s sight, and upon them will fall [His] condemnation, and for them is suffering severe in store:  [for] it is God [Himself] who has bestowed revelation from on high, setting forth the truth, and [thus given man] a balance [wherewith to weigh right and wrong].[22] And for all you know, the Last Hour may well be near! (Q42:16-17)

Note 22 (Qur'an Ref: 42:17) The above two interpolations are based on 57:25, where the idea underlying this verse has been stated clearly. The implication is that since God Himself has given man, through successive revelations, a standard whereby to discern between right and wrong, it is presumptuous and futile to argue about the nature of His Being and His ultimate judgment: hence the reference, in the second half of this and the next verse, to the Last Hour and, thus, the Day of Judgment.

BUT IF they turn away [from you, O Prophet, know that] We have not sent you to be their keeper: you are not bound to do more than deliver the message [entrusted to you]. And, behold, [such as turn away from Our messages are but impelled by the weakness and inconstancy of human nature: thus,] when We give man a taste of Our grace, he is prone to exult in it; but if misfortune befalls [any of] them as a result of what their own hands have sent forth, then, behold, man shows how bereft he is of all gratitude![50] (Q42:48)

Note 50 (Qur'an Ref: 42:48) I.e., instead of remembering his past happiness with gratitude, he calls the very existence of God in question, arguing that if God did really exist, He "could not possibly have permitted" so much misfortune and unhappiness to prevail in the world: a fallacious argument inasmuch as it does not take the reality of the hereafter into account and is, moreover, based on a concept of God in terms of purely human feelings and expectations.

The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) Did Not Perform Any Miracles

Now they swear by God with their most solemn oaths that if a miracle were shown to them, they would indeed believe in this [divine writ]. Say: "Miracles are in the power of God alone."[94] And for all you know, even if one should be shown to them, they would not believe... (Q6:109)

Note 94 (Qur'an Ref: 6:109) Lit., "Miracles are only with God." It is to be noted that the Qur'anic term ayah denotes not only a "miracle" (in the sense of a happening that goes beyond the usual – that is, commonly observable – course of nature), but also a "sign" or "message": and the last-mentioned significance is the one which is by far the most frequently met with in the Qur’an. Thus, what is commonly described as a "miracle" constitutes, in fact, an unusual message from God, indicating sometimes in a symbolic manner – a spiritual truth which would otherwise have remained hidden from man's intellect. But even such extraordinary, "miraculous" messages cannot be regarded as "supernatural": for the so-called "laws of nature" are only a perceptible manifestation of "God's way" (sunnat Allah) in respect of His creation – and, consequently, everything that exists and happens, or could conceivably exist or happen, is "natural" in the innermost sense of this word, irrespective of whether it conforms to the ordinary course of events or goes beyond it. Now since the extraordinary messages referred to manifest themselves, as a rule, through the instrumentality of those specially gifted and divinely elected personalities known as "prophets", these are sometimes spoken of as "performing miracles" – a misconception which the Qur’an removes by the words, "Miracles are in the power of God alone" (see also 17:59 and the corresponding note).

And yet, when thou [O Prophet] dost not produce any miracle for them, some [people] say, "Why dost thou not seek to obtain it [from God]?[167] Say: "I only follow whatever is being revealed to me by my Sustainer: this [revelation] is a means of insight from your Sustainer, and a guidance and grace unto people who will believe. (Q7:203)

Note 167 (Quran Ref: 7:203) Sc., "if thou art really His apostle" (cf. 6:37 and 109, and the corresponding notes). Some of the commentators assume that the term ayah – translated by me as "miracle" – denotes here a verbal "message" which would answer the objections of those who did not believe in the Prophet. Since, however, the continuous revelation of the Qur'an was full of such messages, the demand of the unbelievers must have related to some particular manifestation or "proof" of his divinely-inspired mission: namely, to a concrete miracle which would establish the truth of his claim in a supposedly "objective" manner. In its wider implication, the above verse relates to the primitive mentality of all who regard miracles, and not the message itself, as the only valid "proof" of prophethood.

NOW THEY [who are blind to the truth] are wont to say, "If [Muhammad] would but produce for us a miracle from his Sustainer![119] [But] has there not come unto them a clear evidence [of the truth of this divine writ] in what is [to be found] in the earlier scriptures?[120] (Q20:133)

Note 119 (Quran Ref: 20:133) i.e., in proof of his prophetic mission: cf. 6:109 and, many other instances in which the deniers of the truth are spoken of as making their belief in the Qur'anic message dependent on tangible "miracles".

Note 120 (Quran Ref: 20:133) i.e., "Does not the Qur'an express the same fundamental truths as were expressed in the revelations granted to the earlier prophets?" Beyond this, the above rhetorical question contains an allusion to the predictions of the advent of Muhammad to be found in the earlier scriptures, e.g., in Deuteronomy xviii, 15 and 18 (discussed in my note 33 on 2:42) or in John xiv, 16, xv, 26 and xvi, 7, where Jesus speaks of the "Comforter" who is to come after him. (Regarding this latter prediction, see my note on 61:6.)

“Nay,” they say, “[Muhammad propounds] the most involved and confusing of dreams!”[6] “Nay, but he has invented [all] this!” – “Nay, but he is [only] a poet!” – [and,] “Let him, then, come unto us with a miracle, just as those [prophets] of old were sent [with miracles]?” (Q21:5)

Note 6 (Quran Ref: 21:5) Lit., "confusing medleys (adghath) of dreams".

And yet they say, “Why have no miraculous signs ever been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer?” Say: “miracles are in the power of God alone;[49] and as for me – I am but a plain warner.” (Q29:50)

Note 49 (Quran Ref: 29:50) See note 94 on 6:109.

[Webmaster’s note]: There are books by various authors alleging that the Prophet performed numerous miracles (based on several ahadith) but in all likelihood the reported ahadith are fabrications as they are not in harmony with the above Qur’anic verses.

Fortunetelling is Futile, Even the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) Did Not Know The Future

...And [you are forbidden] to seek to learn through divination what the future may hold in store for you:[9] this is sinful conduct... (Q5:3)

Note 9 (Qur'an Ref: 5:3) Lit., "to aim at divining [the future] by means of arrows". This is a reference to the divining-arrows without a point and without feathers used by the pre-Islamic Arabs to find out what the future might hold in store for them. (A comprehensive description of this practice may be found in Lane III, 1247). As is usual with such historical allusions in the Qur'an, this one, too, is used metonymically: it implies a prohibition of all manner of attempts at divining or foretelling the future.

THEY WILL ASK you [O Prophet] about the Last Hour: "When will it come to pass?" Say: "Verily, knowledge thereof rests with my Sustainer alone. None but He will reveal it in its time. Heavily will it weigh on the heavens and the earth; [and] it will not fall upon you otherwise than of a sudden." They will ask you – as if you could gain insight into this [mystery] by dint of persistent inquiry![153] Say: "Knowledge thereof rests with my Sustainer alone; but [of this] most people are unaware." (Q7:187)

Say [O Prophet]: "It is not within my power to bring benefit to, or avert harm from, myself, except as God may please. And if I knew that which is beyond the reach of human perception, abundant good fortune would surely have fallen to my lot, and no evil would ever have touched me. I am nothing but a warner, and a herald of glad tidings unto people who will believe."[154] (Q7:188)

Note 153 (Qur'an Ref: 7:187) The verb ahfa means "he did [a thing] in an excessive measure" or "he exceeded the usual bounds in doing [something]". In connection with an inquiry, and especially when followed by anhu or anha ("about it"), it signifies "he tried hard to gain insight [into something] by persistently inquiring about it". Thus, used as a participle, it means "one who has gained insight [into something] through persistent inquiry". In the above context, the implication is that no amount of inquiry or speculation can reveal to man – the prophets included – the coming of the Last Hour before its actual manifestation.

Note 154 (Qur'an Ref: 7:188) See 6:50, as well as the corresponding note. The repeated insistence in the Qur’an on the humanness of the Prophet is in tune with the doctrine that no created being has or could have any share, however small, in any of the Creator's qualities or powers. In logical continuation of this argument, the next passage (verses 189-198) stresses the uniqueness and exclusiveness of God's creative powers.

Say: “I am not the first of [God’s] apostles; and [like all of them,] I do not know what will be done with me or with you: for I am nothing but a plain warner.”[11] (Q46:9)

Note 11 (Qur'an Ref: 46:9) I.e., "What will happen to all of us in this world" (Tabari, quoting with approval this interpretation of Al-Hasan al-Basri), or "both in this world and in the hereafter" (Baydawi). Either of these two interpretations implies a denial on the Prophet’s part of any foreknowledge of the future and, in a wider sense, any knowledge of "that which is beyond the reach of human perception" (al-ghayb): cf. 6:50 or 7:188.

[Webmaster’s note]: There are several ahadith that speak of the circumstances / conditions that will be signs of the “coming of the hour” but their authenticity must be questioned as they are clearly in contradiction with the above Qur’anic verses.

Everything in Life has Meaning and Purpose

He it is who has made the sun a [source of] radiant light and the moon a light [reflected], and has determined for it phases so that you might know how to compute the years and to measure [time]. None of this has God created without [an inner] truth.[11] Clearly does He spell out these messages unto people of [innate] knowledge: (Q10:5)

Note 11 (Qur'an Ref: 10:5) Lit., "God has not created this otherwise than in accordance with truth" – i.e., to fulfill a definite purpose in consonance with His planning wisdom (Zamakhshari, Baghawi, Razi): implying that everything in the universe – whether existent or potential, concrete or abstract – is meaningful, and nothing is "accidental". Cf. 3:191 – "O our Sustainer! You have not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose (batilan)"; and 38:27– "We have not created heaven and earth and all that is between them without meaning and purpose, as is the surmise (zann) of those who are bent on denying the truth".

But if they [who reject all thought of the Last Hour] were to see a sign [of its approach], they would turn aside and say, “An ever-recurring delusion!” – for they are bent on giving it the lie, being always wont to follow their own desires. Yet everything reveals its truth in the end.[3] (Q54:2-3)

Note 3 (Qur'an Ref: 54:3) Lit., "everything is settled in its [own] being": i.e., everything has an intrinsic reality (haqiqah) of its own, and is bound to reveal that reality either in this world or in the next (Baghawi, on the authority of Al-Kalbi); hence, everything must have a purpose or "goal" of its own (Zamakhshari). These two – mutually complementary – interpretations reflect the repeated Qur’anic statement that everything that exists or happens has a meaning and a purpose: cf. 3:191, 10:5 and 38:27 (particularly, see note 11 on 10:5). In the present context, the phrase relates both to the truth referred to in the preceding verses and to its rejection by those who are "wont to follow [but] their own desires".

KNOW [O men] that the life of this world is but a play and a passing delight, and a beautiful show, and [the cause of] your boastful vying with one another, and [of your] greed for more and more riches and children.[29] Its parable is that of [life-giving] rain: the herbage which it causes to grow delights the tillers of the soil; but then it withers, and you can see it turn yellow; and in the end it crumbles into dust. But [the abiding truth of man’s condition will become fully apparent] in the life to come: [either] suffering severe, or God’s forgiveness and His goodly acceptance: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion. (Q57:20)

Note 29 (Qur'an Ref: 57:20) Commenting at length on this passage, Razi makes it clear that life as such is not to be despised, inasmuch as it has been created by God: cf. 38:27 – "We have not created heaven and earth and all that is between them without meaning and purpose"; and 23:115 – "Did you think that We have created you in mere idle play?" But whereas life in itself is a positive gift of God and – as Razi points out – the potential source of all blessings, it loses this positive quality if it is indulged in recklessly, blindly and with disregard of spiritual values and considerations: in brief, if it is indulged in without any thought of the hereafter.

Free Will and Diversity Promotes Intellectual, Moral, and Social Development

AND [know that] all mankind were once but one single community, and only later did they begin to hold divergent views.[28] And had it not been for a decree – that had already gone forth from your Sustainer, all their differences would indeed have been settled [from the outset].[29] (Q10:19)

Note 28 (Qur'an Ref: 10:19) Lit., ("and then they disagreed [among themselves]". For an explanation of the term "one single community" (ummah wahidah), see surah 2, note 197. In the present context, this expression alludes not merely to mankind's one-time homogeneity, but also – by implication – to the fact, repeatedly stressed in the Qur'an (e.g., in 7:172), that the ability to realize God's existence, oneness and omnipotence is innate in man, and that all deviation from this basic perception is a consequence of the confusion brought about by man's progressive estrangement from his inborn instincts.

Note 29 (Qur'an Ref: 10:19) Lit., "It would indeed have been decided between them regarding all that they were differing in": i.e., had it not been for God's decree – which is the meaning, in this context, of the term kalimah (lit., "word") – that men should differ in their intellectual approach to the problems touched upon by divine revelation, "they would not have contended with one another after having received all evidence of the truth", but would all have held from the very outset, and would continue to hold, the same views (cf. 2:253 and the corresponding note 245). Since, however, such a uniformity would have precluded men's intellectual, moral and social development, God has left it to their reason, aided by prophetic guidance, gradually to find their way to the truth (see also surah 2, note 198). The above parenthetic passage must be read in conjunction with 2:213.

There is No Predestination in Islam

AND NEVER have We sent forth any apostle otherwise than [with a message] in his own people's tongue, so that he might make [the truth] clear unto them; but God lets go astray him who wills [to go astray], and guides him who wills [to be guided] – for He alone is almighty, truly wise.[4] (Q14:4)

Note 4 (Qur'an Ref: 14:4) Or: "God lets go astray whomever He wills, and guides whomever He wills". All Qur'anic references to God's "letting man go astray" must be understood against the background of 2:26-27 – "none does He cause to go astray save the iniquitous, who break their bond with God" (regarding which latter expression, see surah 2, note 19): that is to say, man's "going astray" is a consequence of his own attitudes and inclinations and not a result of an arbitrary "predestination" in the popular sense of this word (cf. surah 2, note 7). In his commentary on the above verse, Zamakhshari stresses this aspect of free choice on the part of man and points out that "God does not cause anyone to go astray except one who, as He knows, will never attain to faith; and He does not guide anyone aright except one who, as He knows, will attain to faith. Hence, the [expression] 'causing to go astray' denotes [God's] leaving [one] alone (takhliyah) and depriving [him] of all favour, whereas [the expression] 'guidance' denotes [His] grant of fulfillment (tawfiq) and favour .... Thus, He does not forsake anyone except those who deserve to be forsaken, and does not bestow His favour upon anyone except those who deserve to be favoured." Commenting on the identical phrase occurring in 16:93, Zamakhshari states: "[God] forsakes him who, as He knows, will [consciously] choose to deny the truth and will persevere in this [denial]; and ... He bestows His favour upon him who, as He knows, will choose faith: which means that He makes the issue dependent on [man's] free choice (al-ikhtiyar), and thus on his deserving either [God's] favour or the withdrawal of [His] aid ... and does not make it dependent on compulsion [i.e., predestination], which would rule out [man's] deserving anything of the above."

[Webmaster’s note]: There are several ahadith that speak of predestination, e.g., the angel writing down the path someone will choose and his / her entire life while still a fetus in the womb. These ahadith are fabrications and an affront to Allah and His mercy. God does not deliberately lead someone astray and then punish him / her for it, such a notion means that we have no free will and are predestined (at birth) for either heaven or hell.

Modes of Dress are Determined by Environmental, Social, and Cultural Norms

[And then he marched eastwards] till, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found that it was rising on a people for whom We had provided no coverings against it: thus [We had made them, and thus he left them[92] ; and We did encompass with Our knowledge all that he had in mind. (Q18:90-91)

Note 92 (Qur'an Ref: 18:91) This is Razi 's interpretation of the isolated expression kadhalika ("thus" or "thus it was") occurring here. It obviously relates to the primitive, natural state of those people who needed no clothes to protect them from the sun, and to the (implied) fact that Dhu'l-Qarnayn left them as he had found them, being mindful not to upset their mode of life and thus to cause them misery.

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters, as well as all [other] believing women, that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments [when in public]: this will be more conducive to their being recognized [as decent women] and not annoyed. But [withal,] God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace![75] (Q33:59)

Note 75 (Qur'an Ref: 33:59) The specific, time-bound formulation of the above verse (evident in the reference to the wives and daughters of the Prophet), as well as the deliberate vagueness of the recommendation that women "should draw upon themselves some of their outer garments (min jalabibihinna)" when in public, makes it clear that this verse was not meant to be an injunction (hukm) in the general, timeless sense of this term but, rather, a moral guideline to be observed against the ever-changing background of time and social environment. This finding is reinforced by the concluding reference to God’s forgiveness and grace.

The Qur’an Must Be Understood as a Whole and Not Piecemeal

[Know,] then, [that) God is sublimely exalted. the Ultimate Sovereign, the Ultimate Truth and [knowing this,] do not approach the Qur'an in haste, before it has been revealed unto you in full, but [always) say: "O my Sustainer, cause me to grow in knowledge![101] (Q20:114)

Note 101 (Qur'an Ref: 20:114) Although it is very probable that – as most of the classical commentators point out – this exhortation was in the first instance addressed to the Prophet Muhammad, there is no doubt that it applies to every person, at all times, who reads the Qur'an. The idea underlying the above verse may be summed up thus: Since the Qur'an is the Word of God, all its component parts – phrases, sentences, verses and surahs – form one integral, coordinated whole (cf. the last sentence of 25:32 and the corresponding note 27). Hence, if one is really intent on understanding the Qur'anic message, one must beware of a "hasty approach" – that is to say, of drawing hasty conclusions from isolated verses or sentences taken out of their context – but should, rather, allow the whole of the Qur'an to be revealed to one's mind before attempting to interpret single aspects of its message (see also 75:16-19 and the corresponding notes).

Some Established (Biblical) Legends Repeated in the Qur’an Are Not Necessarily Historical Facts

And among the rebellious forces [which We made subservient to him] there were some that dived for him [into the sea] and performed other works, besides: but it was We who kept watch over them.[77] (Q21:82)

Note 77 (Qur'an Ref: 21:82) In this as well as in several other passages relating to Solomon, the Qur'an alludes to the many poetic legends which were associated with his name since early antiquity and had become part and parcel of Judeo-Christian and Arabian lore long before the advent of Islam. Although it is undoubtedly possible to interpret such passages in a "rationalistic" manner, I do not think that this is really necessary. Because they were so deeply ingrained in the imagination of the people to whom the Qur'an addressed itself in the first instance, these legendary accounts of Solomon’s wisdom and magic powers had acquired a cultural reality of their own and were, therefore, eminently suited to serve as a medium for the parabolic exposition of certain ethical truths with which this book is concerned: and so, without denying or confirming their mythical character, the Qur'an uses them as a foil for the idea that God is the ultimate source of all human power and glory, and that all achievements of human ingenuity, even though they may sometimes border on the miraculous, are but an expression of His transcendental creativity.

Yet [even Solomon had to die; but] when We decreed that he should die, nothing showed them that he was dead except an earthworm that gnawed away his staff.[20] And when he fell to the ground, those invisible beings [subservient to him] saw clearly that, had they but understood the reality which was beyond the reach of their perception,[21] they would not have continued [to toil] in the shameful suffering [of servitude][22] (Q34:14)

Note 20 (Qur'an Ref: 34:14) This is yet another of the many Solomonic legends which had become an inalienable part of ancient Arabian tradition, and which the Qur’an uses as a vehicle for the allegorical illustration of some of its teachings. According to the legend alluded to above, Solomon died on his throne leaning forward on his staff, and for a length of time nobody became aware of his death: with the result that the jinn, who had been constrained to work for him, went on labouring at the heavy tasks assigned to them. Gradually, however, a termite ate away Solomon’s staff, and his body, deprived of support, fell to the ground. This story – only hinted at in its outline – is apparently used here as an allegory of the insignificance and inherent brittleness of human life and of the perishable nature and emptiness of all worldly might and glory.

Note 21 (Qur'an Ref: 34:14) Al-ghayb, "that which is beyond the reach of [a created being’s] perception", either in an absolute or – as in this instance – in a relative, temporary sense.

Note 22 (Qur'an Ref: 34:14) I.e., because they would have known that Solomon’s sway over them had ended. In the elliptic manner so characteristic of the Qur’an, stress is laid here, firstly, on the limited nature of all empirical knowledge, including the result of deductions and inferences based on no more than observable or calculable phenomena, and, secondly, on the impossibility to determine correctly, on the basis of such limited fragments of knowledge alone, what course of action would be right in a given situation. Although the story as such relates to "invisible beings", its moral lesson (which may be summed up in the statement that empirical knowledge cannot provide any ethical guideline unless it is accompanied, and completed, by divine guidance) is obviously addressed to human beings as well.

And, indeed, [in times long past] We sent forth Noah unto his people, and he dwelt among them a thousand years bar fifty;[12] and then the floods overwhelmed them while they were still lost in evildoing: (Q29:14)

Note 12 (Qur'an Ref: 29:14) Sc., "and despite this great length of time was unable to convince them of the truth of his mission". The identical figure – 950 years – is given in the Bible (Genesis ix, 29) as Noah’s lifespan. By repeating this element of the Biblical legend, the Qur’an merely stresses the fact that the duration of a prophet’s mission has nothing to do with its success or failure, since "all true guidance is God’s guidance" (3:73) – and, as we are so often told in the Qur’an, "God guides [only] him that wills [to be guided]". Thus, the reference to Noah is meant to reassure the believer who may be distressed at seeing the majority of his fellowmen refuse to accept, all at once a truth which appears self-evident to him.

The Qur’anic Message is Universal

And [thus, O Prophet,] We have sent you as [an evidence of Our] grace towards all the worlds.[102] (Q21:107)

Note 102 (Qur'an Ref: 21:107) I.e., towards all mankind. For an elucidation of this fundamental principle underlying the message of the Qur'an, see 7:158 and the corresponding note 126. The universality of the Qur’anic revelation arises from three factors: firstly, its appeal to all mankind irrespective of descent, race or cultural environment; secondly, the fact that it appeals exclusively to man’s reason and, hence, does not postulate any dogma that could be accepted on the basis of blind faith alone; and, finally, the fact that – contrary to all other sacred scriptures known to history – the Qur'an has remained entirely unchanged in its wording ever since its revelation fourteen centuries ago and will, because it is so widely recorded, forever remain so in accordance with the divine promise, "it is We who shall truly guard it [from all corruption]" (cf. 15:9 and the corresponding note 10). It is by virtue of these three factors that the Qur'an represents the final stage of all divine revelation, and that the Prophet through whom it has been conveyed to mankind is stated to have been the last (in Qur’anic terminology, "the seal") of all prophets (cf. 33:40).

[They were truly guilty] because all [the evil] that they ever did had been [revealed to them as such] in the [ancient] books of [divine] wisdom;[31] (Q54:52)

Note 31 (Qur'an Ref: 54:52) I.e., the ancient revealed scriptures (az-zubur) had made the meaning of good and evil absolutely clear to them, but they willfully disregarded or even consciously rejected that teaching. The above verse implies, firstly, that the basic ethical teachings of all revealed religions are essentially identical, and, secondly, that God "would never destroy a community for [its] wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong]" (see 6:131-132, 15:4, 26:208-209, and the corresponding notes).

Dominant Nations are Impervious to the Desire for Liberty on the Part of the Oppressed

And Pharaoh sent heralds unto all cities, [bidding them to call out his troops and to proclaim:] “Behold, these [children of Israel] are but a contemptible band; but they are indeed filled with hatred of us seeing that we are, verily, a nation united, fully prepared against danger[30] – and so we have [rightly] driven them out of [their] gardens and springs, and [deprived them of their erstwhile] station of honour!” (Q26:53-58)

Note 30 (Qur'an Ref: 26:53-58) Thus the Qur’an illustrates the psychological truth that, as a rule, a dominant nation is unable really to understand the desire for liberty on the part of the group or groups which it oppresses and therefore attributes their rebelliousness to no more than unreasonable hatred and blind envy of the strong.

Blind Following (Taqlid) of Traditional Ideologies, Saints, Scholars, etc. is Reprehensible

They exclaimed: But we found our forefathers doing the same!”[38] (Q26:74)

Note 38 (Qur'an Ref: 26:74) The particle bal at the beginning of the sentence expresses astonishment. Thus, evading a direct answer to Abraham’s criticism of idol-worship, his people merely stress its antiquity, forgetting – as Zamakhshari points out – that "ancient usage and precedence in time are no proof of [a concept’s] soundness". Razi, for his part, states that the above verse represents "one of the strongest [Qur’anic] indications of the immorality (fasad) inherent in [the principle of] taqlid", i.e., the blind, unquestioning adoption of religious concepts or practices on the basis of one’s uncritical faith in no more than the "authority" of a scholar or religious leader.

And thus it is: whenever We sent, before your time, a warner to any community, those of its people who had lost themselves entirely in the pursuit of pleasures would always say, “Behold, we found our forefathers agreed on what to believe – and, verily, it is but in their footsteps that we follow!”[23] (Q43:23)

Note 23 (Qur'an Ref: 43:23) Commenting on this passage, Razi says: "Had there been in the Qur’an nothing but these verses, they would have sufficed to show the falsity of the principle postulating [a Muslim’s] blind, unquestioning adoption of [another person’s] religious opinions (ibtai al-qawl bit-taqlid): for, God has made it clear [in these verses] that those deniers of the truth had not arrived at their convictions by way of reason, and neither on the clear authority of a revealed text, but solely by blindly adopting the opinions of their forebears and predecessors; and all this God has mentioned in terms of blame and sharp disparagement."

Do Not Question People’s Faith, Leave Judgment to God Alone

Said he: “And what knowledge could I have as to what they were doing [before they came to me]? Their reckoning rests with none but my Sustainer: if you could but understand [this]![50] (Q26:112-113)

Note 50 (Qur'an Ref: 26:112-113) This is obviously a retort to the unbelievers’ suggestion (elliptically implied here) that those "abject" followers of Noah had declared their faith in him, not out of conviction, but only in order to gain some material advantages. Noah’s answer embodies a cardinal principle of Qur’anic ethics and, hence, of Islamic Law: No human being has the right to sit in judgment on another person’s faith or hidden motives, whereas God knows what is in the hearts of men, society may judge only by external evidence (az-zahir), which comprises a person’s words as well as deeds. Thus if anyone says, "I am a believer", and does not act or speak in a manner contradicting his professed faith, the community must consider him a believer.

Lineage Does Not Confer Any Special Privileges on Anyone

[And know, O believers, that] Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men,[50] but is God’s Apostle and the Seal of all Prophets. And God has indeed full knowledge of everything. (Q33:40)

Note 50 (Qur'an Ref: 33:40) I.e., he is the spiritual "father" of the whole community (cf. note 8 on verse 6 of this surah), and not of any one person or particular persons – thus, incidentally, refuting the erroneous idea that physical descent from a prophet confers, by itself, any merit on the persons concerned.

There is no Concubinage in Islam

O PROPHET! Behold, We have made lawful to you your wives unto whom you have paid their dowers, as well as those whom your right hand has come to possess from among the captives of war whom God has bestowed upon you.[58] And [We have made lawful to you] the daughters of your paternal uncles and aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncles and aunts, who have migrated with you [to Yathrib]; and any believing woman who offers herself freely to the Prophet and whom the Prophet might be willing to wed: [this latter being but] a privilege for you, and not for other believers – [seeing that] We have already made known what We have enjoined upon them with regard to their wives and those whom their right hands may possess. [And] in order that you be not burdened with [undue] anxiety – for God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. (Q33:50)

Note 58 (Qur'an Ref: 33:50) As pointed out in several places (see, in particular, note 32 on 4:25), Islam does not countenance any form of concubinage, and categorically prohibits sexual relations between a man and a woman unless they are lawfully married to one another. In this respect, the only difference between a "free" woman and a slave is that whereas the former must receive a dower from her husband, no such obligation is imposed on a man who marries his rightfully owned slave (lit., "one whom his right hand possesses") – that is, a woman taken captive in a "holy war" (jihad) waged in defense of the Faith or of liberty (note 167 on 2:190 and note 72 on 8:67) – : for, in such a case, the freedom conferred upon the bride by the very act of marriage is considered to be equivalent to a dower.

There is no Vicarious Atonement in Islam; Each Person is Individually Accountable to God

AND NO BEARER of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden;[15] and if one weighed down by his load calls upon [another] to help him carry it, nothing thereof may be carried [by that other], even if it be one’s near of kin.[16] Hence, you can [truly] warn only those who stand in awe of their Sustainer although He is beyond the reach of their perception, and are constant in prayer, and [know that] whoever grows in purity, attains to purity but for the good of his own self, and [that] with God is all journeys’ end. (Q35:18)

Note 15 (Qur'an Ref: 35:18) I.e., on Judgment Day – for "whatever [wrong] any human being commits rests upon him alone" (6:164, which is followed by a sentence identical with the one above).

Note 16 (Qur'an Ref: 35:18) Thus, any transfer of moral responsibility from one person to another is shown to be impossible. Whereas the first part of the above statement implies a negation of the Christian doctrine of "original sin" with which mankind is supposedly burdened, the second part categorically refutes the doctrine of the "vicarious atonement" of that sin by Jesus. (See also 53:38 and the corresponding note 31).

If you are ingrate behold, God has no need of you; none the less, He does not approve of ingratitude in His servants: whereas, if you show gratitude, He approves it in you. And no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden.[12] In time, unto your Sustainer you all must return, and then He will make you [truly] understand all that you were doing [in life]: for, verily, He has full knowledge of what is in the hearts [of men]. (Q39:7)

Note 12 (Qur'an Ref: 39:7) This statement occurs in the Qur’an five times in exactly the same formulation (apart from the above instance, in 6:164, 17:15, 35:18 and 53:38 – this last being the earliest in the chronology of revelation). In the present instance, it contains an allusion to (and rejection of) the Christian doctrine of "vicarious atonement" and, indirectly, to the worship of saints, etc., spoken of in verse 3 above and referred to in the corresponding note above. (See also note 31 on 53:38).

Or has he never yet been told of what was [said] in the revelations of Moses, and of Abraham, who to his trust was true: that no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden.[31] (Q53:36-38)

Note 31 (Qur'an Ref: 53:38) This basic ethical law appears in the Qur’an five times – in 6:164, 17:15, 35:18, 39:7, as well as in the above instance, which is the oldest in the chronology of revelation. Its implication is threefold: firstly, it expresses a categorical rejection of the Christian doctrine of the "original sin" with which every human being is allegedly burdened from birth; secondly, it refutes the idea that a person’s sins could be "atoned for" by a saint’s or a prophet’s redemptive sacrifice (as evidenced, for instance, in the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ vicarious atonement for mankind’s sinfulness, or in the earlier, Persian doctrine of man’s vicarious redemption by Mithras); and, thirdly, it denies, by implication, the possibility of any "mediation" between the sinner and God.

Critical Thinking is Encouraged in Islam

Give, then, this glad tiding to [those of] My servants who listen [closely] to all that is said, and follow the best of it:[22] [for] it is they whom God has graced with His guidance, and it is they who are [truly] endowed with insight! (Q39:18)

Note 22 (Qur'an Ref: 39:18) According to Razi, this describes people who examine every religious proposition (in the widest sense of this term) in the light of their own reason, accepting that which their minds find to be valid or possible, and rejecting all that does not measure up to the test of reason. In Razi’s words, the above verse expresses "a praise and commendation of following the evidence supplied by one’s reason (hujjat al-‘aql), and of reaching one’s conclusions in accordance with [the results of] critical examination (nazar) and logical inference (istidlal)." A somewhat similar view is advanced, albeit in simpler terms, by Tabari.

Hell Is Not Eternal

[It will be] a Day when they will be sorely tried by the fire,[8] [and will be told:] “Taste this your trial! It is this that you were so hastily asking for!” (Q51:13-14)

Note 8 (Qur'an Ref: 51:13) This "trial (fitnah) by the fire" is in tune with several Qur'anic allusions to the effect that the otherworldly suffering described as "hell" is not to be eternal: see in this connection notes 114 on 6:128, 40:12 and note 53 on 43:74.

In it shall they remain for a long time.[12] (Q78:23)

Note 12 (Qur'an Ref: 78:23) I.e., not forever, since the term huqb or hiqbah (of which ahqab is the plural) denotes no more than "a period of time" or "a long time" (Jawhari) – according to some authorities, "eighty years", according to others, "a year" or simply "years" (Asas, Qamus, Lisan al-Arab, etc.). But however one defines this term, it is obvious that it signifies a limited period of time, and not eternity: and this is in tune with many indications in the Qur’an to the effect that the suffering described as "hell" is not eternal (see note 114 on the last paragraph of 6:128), as well as with several authentic sayings of the Prophet (e.g., the one quoted in note 10 on 40:12).

God Ordains Kindness Towards non-Muslims Who Are Not Actively Engaged in Hostilities towards Muslims

You cannot find people who [truly] believe in God and the Last Day and [at the same time] love anyone who contends against God and His Apostle – even though they be their fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or [others of] their kindred.[29] [As for the true believers,] it is they in whose hearts He has inscribed faith, and whom He has strengthened with inspiration from Himself, and whom [in time] He will admit into gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide. Well-pleased is God with them, and well-pleased are they with Him. They are God’s partisans: oh, verily, it is they, the partisans of God, who shall attain to a happy state! (Q58:22)

Note 29 (Qur'an Ref: 58:22) The operative phrase of this passage is contained in the words, "anyone who contends against (man hadda) God and His Apostle": i.e., anyone who is engaged in active hostility against God’s message and the person or the teachings of His Apostle. As regards relations with non-believers who are not actively hostile to Islam, the Qur’an explicitly permits and implicitly ordains in many places (e.g., in 60:8-9) kindness and friendliness towards them.

As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity:[ 9] for, verily, God loves those who act equitably. God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth: and as for those [from among you] who turn towards them in friendship; it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers! (Q60:8-9)

Note 9 (Qur'an Ref: 60:8) The expression "God does not forbid you'" implies in this context a positive exhortation (Zamakhshari ). See also note 29 on 58:22.

Many Muslims Misunderstand the Definition of “Kafir” (Unbeliever)

And [warn all men that] when the trumpet-call [of resurrection] is sounded, that very Day shall be a day of anguish, not of ease, for all who [now] deny the truth![4] (Q74:8-10)

Note 4 (Qur'an Ref: 74:10) Since this is the earliest Qur'anic occurrence of the expression kafir (the above surah having been preceded only by the first five verses of surah 96), its use here – and, by implication, in the whole of the Qur’an – is obviously determined by the meaning which it had in the speech of the Arabs before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad: in other words, the term kafir cannot be simply equated, as many Muslim theologians of post-classical times and practically all Western translators of the Qur’an have done, with "unbeliever" or "infidel" in the specific, restricted sense of one who rejects the system of doctrine and law promulgated in the Qur’an and amplified by the teachings of the Prophet – but must have a wider, more general meaning. This meaning is easily grasped when we bear in mind that the root verb of the participial noun kafir (and of the infinitive noun kufr) is kafara, "he [or "it"] covered [a thing]": thus, in 57:20 the tiller of the soil is called (without any pejorative implication) kafir, "one who covers", i.e., the sown seed with earth, just as the night is spoken of as having "covered" (kafara) the earth with darkness. In their abstract sense, both the verb and the nouns derived from it have a connotation of "concealing" something that exists or "denying" something that is true. Hence, in the usage of the Qur’an – with the exception of the one instance ((in 57:20) where this participial noun signifies a "tiller of the soil" – a kafir is "one who denies [or "refuses to acknowledge"] the truth" in the widest, spiritual sense of this latter term: that is, irrespective of whether it relates to a cognition of the supreme truth – namely, the existence of God – or to a doctrine or ordinance enunciated in the divine writ, or to a self-evident moral proposition, or to an acknowledgment of, and therefore gratitude for, favours received. (Regarding the expression alladhina kafaru, implying conscious intent, see surah 2, note 6).

The Universe Was Created Long Before Humans

HAS THERE [not] been an endless span of time[1] before man [appeared – a time] when he was not yet a thing to be thought of?[ 2] (Q76:1)

Note 1 (Qur'an Ref: 76:1) Implying, according to all the classical commentators, "there has indeed been an immensely long [or "endless"] span of time" – the interrogative particle hal having here the positive meaning of qad. However, this meaning can be brought out equally well by interpolating the word "not".

Note 2 (Qur'an Ref: 76:1) Lit., "a thing mentioned" or "mentionable" – i.e., non-existent even as a hypothetical concept. The purport of this statement is a refutation of the blasphemous "anthropocentric" world-view, which postulates man as he exists – and not any Supreme Being – as the center and ultimate reality of all life.

The Qur’anic View is that the Hereafter is a Continuation of this Earthly Life

ABOUT WHAT do they [most often] ask one another? About the awesome tiding [of resurrection], on which they [so utterly] disagree.[1] (Q78:1-3)

Note 1 (Qur'an Ref: 78:3) The question which preoccupies man above all others – the question as to whether there is life after death – has been variously answered throughout the ages. It is, of course, impossible to describe the innumerable variations of those answers; nevertheless, a few main lines of thought are clearly discernible, and their mention may be useful for a better understanding of the Qur'anic treatment of this problem. Some people – probably a minority – seem to be convinced that bodily death amounts to total and irreversible extinction, and that, therefore, all talk about a hereafter but an outcome of wishful thinking. Others are of the opinion that after individual death the human "life-essence" returns to the supposed source of its origin – conceived as the "universal soul" – and merges with it entirely. Some believe in a successive transmigration of the individual soul, at the moment of death, into another body, human or animal, but without a continuation of individual consciousness. Others, again, think that only the soul, and not the entire human "personality", continues to live after death – that is, in a purely spiritual, disembodied form. And, lastly, some believe in an undiminished survival of the individual personality and consciousness, and regard death and resurrection as the twin stages of a positive act of recreation of the entire human personality, in whatever form this may necessarily involve: and this is the Qur'anic view of the life to come.

Posted August 19, 2011