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Muqaddimah – Tafsir Nizam-ul-Quran – Correspondence and Sequence

February 7, 2010

A military commander arranges his army in various orders that reflects wisdom. However, only an expert in the field can understand the strategic wisdom involved in such an ordering: ordinary people can only get to know the use of such meaningful ordering when the army eventually emerges successful in a battle. Similarly, the Holy Qur’ān expresses a single theme in diverse ways employing diverse styles. It is only the experts in stylistics who can understand the beauty and wisdom behind these diverse styles and can grasp the rhetorical purpose which is achieved thereof. Some of the commentators of the Holy Qur’ān hold that this phenomenon serves to make the Qur’ān an inimitable and a matchless discourse. We believe that inimitability is not the basic objective which the Holy Qur’ān was revealed to achieve; rather it is a necessary element of the discourse.  We believe that every creature of God in the universe, from an atom to the firmament encompassing us, is an irreproducible miracle. Yet none of these things has been created to demonstrate His miraculous power. Primarily they reveal profound wisdom of the Almighty. That none other than God can produce such miraculous works is independently true: it only goes to prove that these are all creations of  God.

The Holy Qur’ān discusses an issue as the ‘umūd (the central theme) of a sūrah at one place and makes it a secondary reference at another. Here a matter is alluded to briefly and there it is fairly detailed. At one occasion something follows its pair and at another time precedes it; sometimes it comes alone and at another accompanies its opposite; at one time it is paired with one thing and at another with something else. All of these points lead to the conclusion that a single theme has been discussed in different sūrahs in an entirely different order. Obviously when a single theme is discussed in different ways it will no more be difficult for one to identify and fully grasp it. If it remains concealed at one instance it reveals itself at another. The Almighty has referred to these qualities of the Qur’ān in the following words (6:46):

See how We expound the verses in various ways that they may understand

Each type of arrangement reflects some special wisdom. Here we will briefly discuss various ways of ordering schemes adopted in the Holy Qur’ān and will discuss four important aspects of the ordering of the themes and interconnection of the things mentioned in the Book.

First of all an exegete has to ponder over the ‘umūd of the sūrah. Each sūrah has a single ‘umūd, however, it may cover a number of issues. For example the ‘umūd of Sūrah Ḥujurāt is condemnation of bad morals. It is a distinctly singular theme permeating the entire sūrah though we may not point out a single word in the sūrah expressing this theme. The sūrah covers moral degradedness of thoughts, sayings and actions. The sūrah, therefore, forbids raising voice in front of the Prophet (sws), calling him the way common men call one another, disturbing him without reasonable excuses and without waiting for a proper time, and attacking some group or individuals on unfounded reports. Then the sūrah goes on to exhort the believers on making peace between two warring groups of Muslims, siding by the oppressed against the oppressor of the two, and deciding between them with justice. It stops Muslims from scoffing at, defaming, and nicknaming each other, proscribes showing ill-will, mistrust, and curiosity, and condemns backbiting, racial pride, and self-righteousness. Finally, it forbids Muslims from indicating to the Prophet (sws) that he should appreciate their conversion to Islam as a favour to him.

The above example makes it clear that a single theme has multiple facets. The beauty of the coherence in the sūrah will be discussed in its own commentary.

The ‘Umūd of a sūrah may not be the most conspicuous issue discussed in it. In other words central theme is not marked by its conspicuousness rather by its comprehensive treatment in the sūrah: it is a unifying thread in the sūrah and  assumes the status of the most clearly explained theme in the unit. Take for example āyah nūr (the verse of light) in Sūrah Nūr. Though the verse shines out like the sun in a clear day yet it does not form the ‘umūd of the sūrah. It has rather been discussed as a subjective and secondary theme. The ‘umūd of the sūrah is teaching best conduct to women in their social role. That is the reason the Holy Prophet (sws) commanded that women should be taught this sūrah so that they learn their duties and rights.

The above discussion deals with the ‘umūd of the sūrahs. Now we turn to themes which are discoursed in sūrahs at a secondary level. Such themes usually corroborate an argument or provide an example. Sometimes both of these things jointly preface the discussions following them. They may sometimes generalize the relevance of a theme or specify it to a certain group, answer a question arising out of the current discussion, serve as a preface to the forthcoming discussions, mention some point of wisdom if suitable for the occasion, explain the preceding theme and exhort upon it through threats of retribution and promise of reward or by condemning or praising it, further detail it, or praise and exalt God on suitable occasions, which ultimately is the basic spirit of the Qur’ān.

The fifth of the issues noted at the beginning (i.e. at one time it is paired with one thing and at another with another) requires further detail. We will see how a single theme is paired with one thing at one place and with another at a different place. When those who believe that the book of God contains unparallelled wisdom in its order observe that two different issues are addressed together they try to understand their mutual kinship. This quest surely leads them to some subtle points of wisdom which do not usually reveal themselves to those who are not used to critical and thorough analysis of a text. Everything has multiple aspects: it is related to one thing in one aspect and to another in another. For example, we see that ṣalāh is related to ḥajj in many ways. Both of these rituals serve as a reminder of God; both are worship rituals involving physical exercise; both are related to the house of God, and finally, that the Holy Prophet (sws) has termed ṭawwāf (circumambulation of the Ka‘bah) as a form of ṣalāh.

Keeping these various kinds of interrelationships of ḥajj and ṣalāh in mind, we turn to see how the latter is related to fasting. Both of these worship rituals are beyond spatial considerations in that both can be offered anywhere; both are based on perseverance; in the Sharī‘ah of the earlier Prophets staying silent was a necessary condition of the ritual of fasting. Seen in this perspective, ṣalāh is the inner and hidden fasting of nafs (the self).

Turning to the interrelationship of ṣalāh and zakāh we see that both of them reflect contrast in such a way that they complement each other and also have similar roots: ṣalāh is based on one’s turning to God in love and fear and zakāh is the product of one’s inclination towards human beings in  love and affection. Moral perfection cannot be attained if any one of them is left out. Both also share the same spirit that is compassion. This leads us to the conclusion that the basis of religion is love and internal compassion. This, we believe, is the reason God declared that His first and all encompassing attribute is compassion. He says (7:156):

My mercy encompasses everything

The underlying theme of the Religion basically is to adopt a moral conduct imitating the attributes of God. God has made man His vicegerent (khalīfah) on earth. Thus a thorough reflection on the kinship of ṣalāh (the prayer) with other worship rituals led us to grasp the essence of the religion and the spirit of the Sharī‘ah. This is also clear in the teachings of the Torah and the Gospels.

Now we take another example. In Sūrah Mā’idah Almighty Allah has explained what is allowable for us to eat. Next to this command, He told us who we can marry. Then He detailed and explained the ritual of ablution. We can divide these discussions in two different kinds: a) basic issues and b) necessary conditions. The necessary conditions consist of the means of achieving purity. Slaughtering animals purifies them for us to eat, dower and protection purify women to be taken in marriage, and wuḍū purifies the body of a believer for ṣalāh. God himself has guided us to the wisdom of these commands by the saying (5:6):

God does not want to create any inconvenience for you. He, on the contrary, intends to purify you and to complete His favour upon you.

As regards the basic issues, the Almighty has mentioned three things: pure edibles (i.e. those which are allowable for us), women which are pure (and allowable for us), and the ṣalāh. If you ponder over this you will realize that this world is a world of existence and non-existence. An individual, his species, and his spirit are three distinct realms of existence which are protected from extinction by food, nikaḥ, and ṣalāh respectively.

Food and nikāh are interrelated with each other in that the prohibitions concerning both of these matters have been specified. Consequently we find that the verses dealing with them follow a common style of expression (4:23):

Forbidden to you are your mothers, your daughters…

and (5:3):

Forbidden to you are carrion, blood, and the flesh of swine…

Similarly Salāh and nikāḥ have another aspect of mutual affinity: Nikāḥ saves us from promiscuity while ṣalāh guards us against indecency and evil. God Almighty says (29:45):

Salāh fends off lewdness and evil

At the heart of this interrelation between the two in this place is their position as tools of purification. There is still another interrelation between them as alluded to in Sūrah Baqarah. God has given certain allowances concerning both (2:238-9):

Guard strictly your prayers, [………] If you are in danger, then offer your prayer on foot or while riding……..

This alleviates the condition of offering the ṣalāh while standing. Same is the case of nikāḥ (marriage). We have been obliged to keep the marriage union working. In extreme cases of unease, however, the Sharī‘ah allows separation. This is another manifestation of affinity between the two acts i.e. ṣalāh and nikāḥ. Thus we come to know that every order and arrangement produces beautiful panorama.


This is a rendering of English translation of Muqaddimah – Tafsir Nizam ul Quran by the permission of the translator, Tariq Mahmood Hashmi. Original version available here.

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