al-Kitab & al-Quran

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 27, 2020


Let us first explore the two terms al-kitab and al-Quran and establish how they are related to each other. The following three verses will guide us on this:

These are the ayats of revelation [ al-kitab]—of [and] a Quran that makes things clear. (hijr:1) This is the book [ al-kitab]; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear God [li’l-mutaqin]. (Baqara :2). Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind [huda li’l-nas], also clear (signs) for guidance and judgement (between right and wrong). (Baqara185).

In verse 1 of Surat al-hijr the term Quran is added to the term al-kitab through the conjunction ‘and’ (wa). A conjunction is employed in Arabic to either connect two distinct lexical units or to add a new semantic property to a preceding term. If al-kitab and al-Quran were two completely different categories, it would be as if someone said:
‘Ahmad and Saeed’, referring to Ahmad and Saeed as two different persons. If, however, al-Quran was a more specific unit of al-kitab, it would either corroborate al-kitab or introduce a different nuance to it. Surely, we need to establish which of the two possibilities is correct.

But first we maintain that, based on the reading of the following two verses, al-Quran contains ‘clear signs’, and that these ‘clear signs’ represent the truth (al-Haqq). And if the Quran contains clear signs, and if the clear signs represent the truth, then al-Quran means truth:
But when Our clear signs rehearsed unto them, those who rest not their hope on their meeting with Us, say: “Bring us a reading other than this, or change this.” Say: “It is not for me, of my own accord, to change it: I follow naught but what is revealed unto me: if I were to disobey my Lord, I should myself fear the penalty of a great day (to come).” (Yunus:15) When Our clear signs are rehearsed to them, the unbelievers say, of the truth [al-Haqq] when it comes to them: “This is evident sorcery!” (Ahqaf:7)

As for the relationship between al-Quran and al-kitab, verse 31 of Surat Fatir provides a clue: That which We have revealed to you of [from] the book [min al-kitab] is the truth [ al-Haqq], confirming what was (revealed) [with] it: for God is assuredly—with respect to His servants—well acquainted and fully observant. (Fatir:31).
If it says that the Quran was revealed from the book, it means that the Quran does not cover the entire book but only one part of it. We will prove further that al-Quran represents that part of the Book which is the truth (al-Haqq), embodied in the ‘ambiguous verses’, i.e. the verses of prophethood.

In this specific capacity as the truth, it is attached to the more generic term al-kitab. Conversely, a different part of al-kitab will then embody the ‘definite verses’ (ayat muhkamat), i.e. the verses of messengerhood which do not specify the truth (even if, in being more generic, it does participate in the truth by being controlled or monitored by it). Whereas the former refers to objective reality, revealed as ‘knowledge’, in its totality the latter represents a much narrower glimpse of that reality and is dependent on its ‘corroboration’ by the Quran.

(1) Al-kitab (the Book)

The word kitab is derived from the Arabic root k-t-b which literally means ‘to collect or compose things’ in a coherent and comprehensive manner. The derivative kitaba means ‘writing’ and refers to the process of composing a series of sentences for the purpose of dealing with a specific subject matter. It always denotes ‘writing’ of more than one line or less. The term al-katib refers to the author of a book.

If the term kitab is indefinite, meaning ‘a book’, it always requires a genitive compound to qualify what kind of book it is: ‘a book of physics’, ‘a book of medicine’, or ‘a story book’. In the Book, the many topics revealed to Muhammad are called ‘books’ (kutub), as in: An apostle from God, rehearsing scriptures kept pure and holy * wherein are laws [books] [kutub] right and straight. (Bayyina:2–3).

Prayer, for example, constitutes one book, a ‘book of prayer’; all verses that deal with the topic of prayer are contained in this book, such as: For such prayers are enjoined on believers at stated times. (Nisa”:103) Other books are the ‘book of fasting’, the ‘book of pilgrimage’, the ‘book of inheritance’, the ‘book of death’, and so forth; every subject matter is arranged as a book. Not a single thing exists in nature, in the cosmos or in society that is not kept in a book—as in the following verse: And all things have We preserved on record [in a book]. (Naba”:29)

The definite term al-kitab, the Book, refers to the entire body of all subject matters that exist. The Book has been revealed in individual ‘books’ to Muhammad, but these books are scattered throughout the text. Books have been revealed as ‘words’ with ‘meaning’, thus representing the complete textual corpus (al-mus-haf )—from the first Surat al-Fatiha to the last one, al-Nas.  The indefinite term kitab, a book, refers therefore only to one subunit within the larger unit of ‘the book’; kitaban mutashibihan, for example, the book of ambiguous verses, does not refer to the entire revelation (i.e., the Book) but only to a smaller component of it. Humankind explores the universe through the study of these verses.  The same applies to kitabun uhkimat ayatihi , the ‘book whose verses are definite’, which covers only the definite part of the Book. The believers explore the etiquette of human behavior through the study of these verses. A look at verse 3 of Surat al ‘Imran reveals what exactly is covered by the term al-kitab:

He it is who has sent down to you the book [ al-kitab]: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning) [ayat muhkamat]; they are the foundation of the book [umm al-kitab]—others are [ambivalent] [mutashabihat].But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except God. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge [ al-rasikhun fi’l-‘ilm] say: “We believe in the book; the whole of it is from our Lord”—and none will grasp the message except men of understanding [ulu ’l-albab]. (al‘Imran:7)

  1. I) The Definite Book (al-kitab al-muhkam):

The definite book contains all ‘definite verses’ (ayat muhkamat) of Allah’s revelation to which the term ‘mother of the book’ (umm al-kitab) has been given to designate the origin or source of this book. The ‘definite verses’ address the rules and principles of human behavior within the spheres of ritual worship, economics, the community, politics, and social and personal ethics. They embody Muhammad’s messengerhood (risala).