Opinion Editorials, July 2004, To see today's opinion articles, click here: www.aljazeerah.info
The Time Span of Qur’anic Revelations
Arab News, 7/4/04
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent
Thus against every prophet We have set up enemies from among the wicked. Sufficient is your Lord to provide guidance and support.
The unbelievers ask: “Why has not the Qur’an been revealed to him all at once?” Thus (it has been revealed) so that We might strengthen your heart with it, and We have imparted it to you by gradual revelation.
Whenever they come to you with an argument, We shall reveal to you the truth and the best explanation.
Those who will be gathered to hell on their faces — they will be worst in station and still farther away from the (right) path. (The Standard, Al-Furqan: 25: 31-34)
We commented at length last week on the first of these verses and concluded that the stand of the wicked against the prophets is only natural. The prophets advocate the message of the truth which is given at the appropriate time to rectify corruption that creeps into the life of the community or into human life in general. Such corruption is initiated, promoted and exploited by the wicked. Their opposition to the prophets aims to defend themselves and their interests. They fight the message of the truth tooth and nail. But it is only natural that it will emerge triumphant, because it promotes life and looks up to the sublime horizon which binds it to God. “Sufficient is your Lord to provide guidance and support.”
The surah goes on examining the arguments of the wicked who stand in opposition to the Qur’an: “The unbelievers ask: ‘Why has not the Qur’an been revealed to him all at once?’ Thus (it has been revealed) so that We might strengthen your heart with it, and We have imparted it to you by gradual revelation.”
The purpose of revealing the Qur’an is to re-educate a community and establish a new social order. Such a task requires time. In a process of proper education it is not enough to understand the words being said, but one must interact with them as also with the ideas expressed. This interaction should then be brought into the practical world. Human nature does not go through a total transformation overnight, as a result of reading a book providing a complete outline of a new way of life. It is more likely to be influenced day by day, and by one aspect of this way of life after another. This gives it a chance for a gradual, but thorough understanding of it, and to get used, bit by bit, to bear the responsibilities it requires. Thus, it will not be scared off as it might do should it have it presented in full, surrounded by difficulties. Its approach would be like one who is having a fresh nourishing meal every day, thus becoming stronger and better able to benefit by the next meal, enjoying it even more.
The Qur’an provides a comprehensive way of life, covering all its aspects, as well as a system of education that suits human nature. For it is revealed by God, the Creator of human nature who knows it thoroughly. For this reason, it has been revealed in parts, to suit the real needs of the Muslim community as it comes into existence and begins to grow. It is not meant to be a theoretical book which is read for enjoyment or increasing one’s knowledge. It is meant to be implemented in full, with every task accomplished and every detailed order carried out. Indeed its verses are “orders of the day” which Muslims receive and start to implement immediately, just like military personnel receive their daily orders in their camps or in the battlefield. They are keen to understand these orders properly, interact with, and implement them.
For all this, the Qur’an was revealed in small parts, explaining things first to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and strengthening his resolve to fulfill his task. Its revelation progressed, one passage or surah after another, as suited the different stages along the road the Muslim community traveled. “Thus (it has been revealed) so that We might strengthen your heart with it, and We have imparted it to you by gradual revelation.” The Arabic term tarteel, translated here as “gradual revelation”, indicates successive steps according to God’s knowledge of what suited the Muslims at the time and their readiness to receive more.
This method accomplished miracles in transforming the community which received it in succession, interacting with it day after day and absorbing its message part after part. When Muslims ignored this method, viewing the Qur’an as a book for theoretical knowledge and recitation in worship only, they no longer benefited by it. They simply abandoned its method which aimed to reshape their way of thinking and their practical life.
The surah continues to reassure the Prophet that he will be given the ultimate argument and the final evidence whenever the unbelievers come up with a new suggestion or objection. “Whenever they come to you with an argument, We shall reveal to you the truth and the best explanation.”
Their argument is false, and God refutes it with the truth. Indeed the Qur’an aims to establish the truth in full clarity. It does not aim to win an argument or to be applauded in a debate. It has no time for any such pursuit.
God, limitless is He in His glory, promises to help His Messenger in any argument he may have with his people. He follows the truth, and God empowers him with the truth that overcomes all falsehood. How can their argument stand up to God’s ultimate proof? How can the falsehood they advocate resist the overpowering truth revealed by God?
This passage of the surah ends up with an image showing their resurrection and how they gathered in hell, as a punishment for their rejection of the truth and upholding twisted logic and values: “Those who will be gathered to hell on their faces - they will be worst in station and still farther away from the (right) path.” The image of gathering them on their faces in hell is very humiliating. It is held in contrast to their arrogance and turning away from the truth. This image is placed before the Prophet to strengthen him against the opposition he was facing from them. It is also placed before them as a warning against what awaits them. The whole image is meant to undermine their arrogance and to show the weakness of their position. Yet despite such strong warnings, they stubbornly held on to their rejection of the truth.
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