Les quatre saisons
For thirteen years the Islamic movement strove in Makkah. It then obtained, in Madinah, a haven of refuge in which to concentrate its followers and its strength. The Prophet’s movement now entered in its third stage.
During this stage, circumstances changed drastically. The Muslim community succeeded in establishing a full-fledged state; its creation was followed by prolonged armed conflict with the representatives of the ancient Ignorance of Arabia. The community also encountered followers of the former Prophets, i.e. Jews and Christians. An additional problem was that hypocrites began to join the fold of the Muslim community; their machinations needed to be resisted. After a severe struggle, lasting ten years, the Islamic movement reached a height of achievement when the entire Arabian peninsula came under its sway and the door was open to world-wide preaching and reform. This stage, like the preceding one, passed through various phases each of which had its peculiar problems and demands.
It was in the context of these problems that God continued to reveal messages to the Prophet. At times these messages were articulated in the form of fiery SPOKEN word; at other times they were characterised by the grandeur and stateliness of majestic PROCLAMATIONS and ORDINANCES. At times they had the air of INSTRUCTIONS from a teacher; at others the style of PREACHING of a reformer. These messages explained how a healthy society, state and civilisation be established and the principles on which the various aspects of human life should be based.
They also dealt with matters directly related to the specific problems facing the Muslims.
How should they deal with the hypocrites (who were harming the Muslim community from within) and with the non-Muslims who were living under the care of the Muslim society?
How should they relate to the People of the Book?
What treatment should be meted out to those with whom the Muslims were at war, and how should they deal with those with whom they were bound by treaties and agreements?
How should the believers, as a community, prepare to discharge their obligations as viceregents of the Lord of the Universe?
Through the Quran the Muslims were guided in questions like these, were instructed and trained, made aware of their weaknesses, urged to risk their lives and property for the cause of God, taught the code of morality they should observe in all circumstances of life – in times of victory and defeat, ease and distress, prosperity and adversity, peace and security, peril and danger.
They were being trained to serve as the successors of the MISSION of the Prophet, with the task of carrying on the MESSAGE of Islam and bringing about reform in human life.
The Quran also addressed itself to those outside the fold of Islam, to the People of the Book, the hypocrites, the unbelievers, the polytheists. Each group was addressed according to its own particular circumstances and attitudes. Sometimes the Quran invited them to the true faith with tenderness and delicacy; on other occasions, it rebuked and severely admonished them. It also warned them against, and threatened them with, punishment from God. It attempted to make them take heed by drawing their attention to instructive historical events; people were left with no valid reason for refusing the call of the Prophet.
It is now clear to us that the revelation of the Quran began and went hand in hand with the preaching of the message. This message passed through many stages and met with diverse situations from the very beginning and throughout a period of twenty-three years.
The different parts of the Quran were revealed step by step according to the multifarious, changing needs and requirements of the Islamic MOVEMENT during these stages. It therefore could not possibly possess the kind of coherence and systematic sequence expected of a doctoral dissertation. Moreover, the various fragments of the Quran which were revealed in harmony with the growth of the Islamic movement were not published in the form of written treatises, but were spread orally. Their style, therefore, bore an oratorical flavour rather than the characteristics of literary composition.
Furthermore, these orations were delivered by one whose task meant that he had to appeal simultaneously to the mind, to the heart and to the emotions, and to people of different mental levels and dispositions. He had to revolutionise people’s thinking, to arouse in them a STORM of noble emotions in support of his cause, to persuade his Companions and inspire them with devotion and zeal, and with the desire to improve and reform their lives. He had to raise their morale and steel their determination, turn enemies into friends and opponents into admirers, disarm those out to oppose his message and show their position to be morally untenable; he had to do everything necessary to carry his movement through to a successful conclusion. Orations revealed in conformity with the requirements of a message and movement will inevitably have a style different from that of a professional lecture.
This explains the repetitions we encounter in the Quran. The interests of a message and a movement demand that during a particular stage emphasis should be placed only on those subjects which are appropiate at that stage, to the exclusion of matters pertaining to later stages. As a result, certain subjects may require continual emphasis for months or even years. On the other hand, constant repetition in the same manner becomes exhausting. Whenever a subject is repeated, it should therefore be expressed in different phraseology, in new forms and with stylistic variations so as to ensure that the ideas and beliefs being conveyed find their way into the hearts of the people.
At the same time, it was essential that the fundamental beliefs and principles on which the movement was based should always be kept fresh in people’s minds; a necessity which dictated that they should be repeated continually through all stages of the movement. For this reason, certain basic Islamic concepts about the unity of God and His Attributes, about the Hereafter, about man’s accountability and about reward and punishment, about prophethood and belief in the revealed scriptures, about basic moral attributes such as piety, patience, trust in God and so on, perpetually resonate throughout the Quran. If these ideas had lost their hold on the hearts and minds of people, the Islamic movement could not have move forward in its true spirit.
If we reflect on this, it also becomes evident why the Prophet did not arrange the Quran in the sequence in which it was revealed. As we have noted, the context in which the Quran was revealed in the course of twenty-three years was the mission and movement of the Prophet; the revelations correspond with the various stages of this mission and movement. Now, it is evident that when the Prophet’s mission was completed, the chronological sequence of the various parts of the Quran – revealed in accordance with the growth of the Prophet’s mission – could in no way be suitable to the changed situation. What was now required was a different sequence in tune with the changed context resulting from the completion of the mission.
Initially, the Prophet’s message was addressed to people totally ignorant of Islam. Their instruction had to start with the most elementary things. After the mission had reached its successful completion, the Quran acquired a compelling relevance for those who had decided to believe in the Prophet. By virtue of that belief they had become a new religious community –
the Muslim أمّة
Not only that, they had been made responsible for carrying on the Prophet’s mission, which he had bequeathed to them, in a perfected form on both conceptual and practical levels. It was no longer necessary for the Quranic verses to be arranged in chronological sequence. In the changed context, it had become necessary for the bearers of the mission of the Prophet to be informed of their duties and of the true principles and laws governing their lives. They also had to be warned against the deviations and corruptions which had appeared among the followers of earlier Prophets. All this was necessary in order to equip the Muslims to go out and offer the light of Divine Guidance to a world steeped in darkness.
It would be foreign to the very nature of the Quran to group together in one place all verses relating to a specific subject; the nature of the Quran requires that the reader should find teachings revealed during the Madinan period interspersed with those of the Makkan period. It requires the juxtaposition of early discourses with instructions from the later period of the life of the Prophet. This blending of teachings from different periods helps to provide an overall view and an integrated perspective of Islam and acts as a safeguard against lopsidedness. Furthermore, a chronological arrangement of the Quran would have been meaningful to later generations only if it had been supplemented with explanatory notes and these would have had to be treated as inseparable appendices to the Quran. This would have been quite contrary to God’s purpose in revealing the Quran; the main purpose of its revelation was that all human beings – children and young people, old men and women, town and country dwellers, laymen and scholars – should be able to refer to the Divine Guidance available to them in composite form and providentially secured against adulteration. This was necessary to enable people of every level of intelligence and understanding to know what God required of them. This purpose would have been defeated had the reader been obliged solemnly to recite detailed historical notes and explanatory comments along with the Book of God.
Those who object to the present arrangement of the Quran appear to be suffering from misapprehension as to its true purpose. They sometimes almost seem under the illusion that it was revealed merely for the benefit of students of history and sociology!
Modèle, déviations et réponse islamique
The major effort consists therefore in addressing invariably some of the most challenging questions on Islamic political order. Secular Western mind finds it very difficult to reconcile with the political role of religion. It defines religion in its classical Western and Eastern understanding as personal faith, a set of rituals, ceremonies, offerings, devotions and festivals while they take society and state as separate entities. State, they assume, must remain religion neutral, if not anti-religion.
The secularists’ argument against religion’s role in state, politics and society is that if a state has a religion it becomes partisan to interfering with people’s faith. Second, such a state would not be able to ensure religious equality to all its citizens when it may succumb to bias and unfairness towards its non-Muslim citizens. It further claims that if the state has Islam as its religion, it may create problems of interpretation.
In other words, which interpretation of the Quranic text or of the Hadith will it follow?
Summing up the issue, the secularists plead that state should have nothing to do with religion. However it will be in the fitness of things to point out that the historical process of transition from Caliphate to Kingship when reflected through the mirror of Islamic history should not be interpreted as a total distancing or separation of religion from state. STATE even when annexed through sheer political force by kings and monarchs continued to define itself as an Islamic state. It remained committed to the supremacy of the Law, presence of an independent Islamic judiciary, promotion of Islamic social norms, independent Islamic educational and social institutions. This continued to be the official policy, even under monarchy whose Islamic legitimacy people often publicly questioned. Relevance of religion to state and society was not the issue; the cause of contention was how to check transfer of power through succession and revive the Islamic system of decision making.
Having said so, it has to be acknowledged that the shift from caliphate to monarchial absolutism did represent a serious deviation from the qualitative, merit-based, consultative political order of Islam, which believed in public accountability of the rulers before Allah and the people. This is why most of the treatments on the subject assign first priority to Sovereignty of Allah in an Islamic political ORDER. This does not mean elected representatives in a parliament or legislature shall have no role to play. Indeed lawmaking is an ongoing process in any developing and growing society. However, the principles that go into lawmaking, and which define as purpose the objective of law, human life, society and state, are provided in the case of Muslim community, by the Divine command. For example, the Law declares that the killing of one person unjustly is like killing the whole of humanity while saving one single soul is like saving the life of all humanity (5:32). In the light of this universal Quranic principle a legislature shall have to develop laws and regulations in order to promote and protect life of its citizens irrespective of their religious affiliation, colour or racial origin.
It is a historical reality that Islamic law based on principles of Law in economic, social and legal matters did remain operative even when political deviance resulted into kingship and monarchy under the Umayyad, Abbasid, Mamluk, Fatimid, and Uthmani or even Mughal rulers. Therefore, historically religion and state dichotomy has not been a central issue for Islam in its history prior to the advent of European colonial rule in Muslim lands.