Intro to Revelation

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 17, 2020


we have made it clear that our analysis of Allah’s Book is based on the understanding that its text is divided into two basic units: the ‘book of messengerhood’ and the ‘book of prophethood’.

This part of videos is dedicated to a full exploration of this division. Its aim is to show how Allah has split up the different parts of these two books and shared them out between the suras of the written text. We believe that the miraculous nature of the text lies precisely in the Book’s dual nature and that its protection against any tampering with the text’s meaning must be secured by keeping verses of prophethood apart from the verses of messengerhood. All of this is based on our notion that Allah’s words are nonsynonymous, in the sense that no word shares exactly the same meaning with another word regardless of how close their semantic core may be. This point will be demonstrated by a detailed comparison between verses that are believed to contain synonymous words. The semantic differences between these words will be shown by an analysis of their specific location and concrete context within a sura. Let us first quote some of these verses of the Book and begin by asking questions that are meant to raise some doubts about how they are conventionally understood. The answers to these questions will be provided in later videos.

– First, we observe that the text uses several different terms in referring to Allah’s revelation. Apart from terms such as al-Quran, al-kitab, and al-furqan we also find al-dhikr. Do all these supposedly synonymous terms carry the same meaning? If not, how and why are they different?

– Second, when the text refers to ‘book’ we find that the noun is qualified by two different attributive phrases: (This is) a book, with verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning) … (Hud:1) …a book, consistent with itself ( Zumar:23)

Is it correct to say that in the first instance the text refers to a book that contains all ‘definite verses’ of the Book, whereas in the second instance a different book is mentioned which contains ‘ambiguous verses’? Is it feasible to assume that the text contains two different categories of verses, each of which are assembled in two different books, that is, two smaller units within the larger unit of the Book?

– Third, we observe in the following verse that the term al-Quran is juxtaposed with the term al-kitab, connected by the conjunction )wa(.)A. L. R.( These are the ayats of revelation [  الكتاب]—of [and] a Quran that makes things clear. (hijr:1).

‘ambiguous’ that is, inconclusive, enigmatic, or indefinite, because its meanings are kept in a state of eternal indeterminateness until the Last Hour, hence the opposite term ‘definite’ connoting explicitness, clearness, and exactness. It does not convey the meaning of perfection.  Are we right in saying that two words in a divine text cannot be juxtaposed unless they are purposefully thought to contain different meaning? If so, is it not logical to assume that the term Quran adds something different to the term al-kitab first mentioned?

– In the text it is said that al-kitab is ‘guidance for the pious’ [Baqara:2], whereas al-Quran is ‘guidance for the people’ [Baqara:158].

Does this not indicate that the divine message is intended for two different groups of recipients? Of the two, ‘people’ is certainly the more generic term as it includes both ‘pious’ and ‘non-pious’ persons, whereas addressing ‘the pious’ excludes people who are not religious. Is it right to infer that since al-Quran means ‘guidance for the people’, referring to both religious and secular people, it cannot contain verses that address issues of religious practice? If that is correct, to what exactly does the Quran refer?

– A clue is given in the following verse: It is a confirmation of (revelations) that went [with] it (Yunus:37) The Quran is a confirmation of what ‘went with it’. But what does the phrase ‘what went with it’ mean? Does it refer, as the traditional exegetes thought when they rendered it as ‘what went before it’, to the Torah and the Gospel?

This would imply, to the greatest delight of some Jews and Christians, that the Quran was revealed only in order to confirm previous scriptures. Or does it instead refer to the fact that Muhammad’s prophethood in seventh-century Arabia was supposed to confirm a new legislation, different from the Torah and Gospel? If so, what was the new legislation that Muhammad was asked to confirm by the Quran?

 – Two important terms in this respect are ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’: [Prophet], they ask you about the spirit. Say: ‘The spirit is part of my Lord’s domain. You have only been given a little knowledge.’ (Isra”:85,) It is God that takes the souls (of men) at death…  (Zumar:42).

How does ‘spirit’ ( al-ruh) differ from ‘soul’ ( al-nafs)? It is incorrect to interpret ‘spirit’ as the ‘secret of life’ as many traditional exegetes have claimed because this implies that all living creatures— animals, plants, and humans—share God’s ‘spirit’. But if Allah has ‘breathed his spirit’ only into Adam, the ‘father’ of humankind, would that not exclude animals and plants? Is it correct to associate ‘spirit’ with ‘God’s command’ simply because it is mentioned in the same verse ?

Are they not two separate terms, connoting two different concepts that should not be confused? Did traditional exegesis not simply err here because it did not fully engage with a thorough study of the term ‘spirit’? To simply define it as ‘secret of life’ seems to be highly inadequate, given the depth and complexity of this term. But, if ‘spirit’ is different from ‘soul’ and ‘command’, what exactly does it mean?

Also, what is the difference – between ‘Lord’ and ‘God”? Why does the text always use the term ‘God’ (Allah) when it refers to ritual duties of worship? Why does it not contain a phrase such as: ‘Do not worship anyone but the Lord’? In what context does the text use ‘Lord’ and when does it use ‘God’?

The following verse, for example, uses the term ‘Lord’. Revealingly, it does not command a specific ritual but a decree about general human behavior:

Thy Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. (Isra”:23)

Does the verse state a decree that contains objective reality unrelated to the human mind? Is this a command that human beings can fulfill regardless of their actual mindset and behavior?

– On a different topic, why, in the traditional interpretation of the following verse, was the descriptive negation (‘nobody touches’) changed into a prescriptive negation (‘none shall touch!’)? That this is indeed a Quran most honorable * in a book well-guarded * which none shall touch but those who are clean. (Waqi’a:77–79).

How could the traditional exegetes ever say that the phrase ‘those who are clean’ refers to the pure and sane, thereby excluding menstruating women, women in childbirth, and people in a state of major ritual impurity from being allowed to touch the Quran? Do these verses really refer to a written copy of the Quran, written down by a human being on a piece of wood or camel skin, or recorded on a tape? Is this really the rule not to touch a copy of the Quran in a state of impurity? If not, what could be the alternative?