Muqaddimah – Tafsir Nizam-ul-Quran – The Holy Quran and the previous Scriptures on the Divine Commands and Historical Narratives
A traveller does not need to turn to stars for direction in broad daylight. Similarly, after the revelation of the Holy Qur’ān Muslims do not need guidance from the earlier Scriptures for these are now a mixture of truth and falsehood. However, the Holy Qur’ān is one of the Books from amongst the Divine Books and the individual who brought it is a member of the community of the Prophets and Messengers of God. All Muslims, from Adam to us, in spite of the great number of the Prophets sent in different times and regions, form a single ummah following the same religion. This makes it imperative for the Muslims to understand the teachings of the earlier Divine books. A study of these books can yield great benefits:
- It will help us appreciate the excellence of Qur’ān over the previous Scriptures which, in turn, will lead us to thank God for blessing us with an unparallelled Book
- It will also help us discern the points lost upon the commentators of the later generations of Muslims which made it impossible for them to get to the true purport of certain Qur’ānic passages.
- This will also avail us with sound arguments against the People of the Book. This last point in itself yields great benefits. (Our earlier exegetes have abundantly quoted from the stories of the People of Israel viz. isra’īliyyāt , yet they did not make use of the earlier Revealed Scriptures. Only a few, like Ibn Taymiyyah, were those who employed the Divine Books of the earlier nations to make arguments against them, and I also stand with these scholars in this area)
With the earlier Scriptures already there, the Holy Qur’ān was revealed to serve two basic purposes:
- First, parts of the Divine religion which were not yet revealed were divulged
- Second, it clarified the religious issues which the followers of the earlier Scriptures had forgotten. Many matters were disputed among them and the Holy Qur’ān provided decisive commandments upon such differences. Some of the matters were no longer clear to them and they had lost the right course; Qur’ān revealed the true nature of all such matters. Most importantly, they had manipulated and altered many parts of the Divine revelation. The Holy Qur’ān corrected such manipulations. The Almighty says:
Woe be to those who write the book with their own hands and then claim that it is from God, seeking to earn trivial benefits! (2:79)
These are the basic objectives which called for a fresh Divine revelation. Besides fulfilling these purposes the Holy Qur’ān helps us remember God, propagate His teachings, and disseminate His message, which, of course, is the basic characteristic of all Divine Books.
Since the Holy Qur’ān was revealed to fulfil a specific purpose, it does not discuss but teachings of the highest value, leaving out the details of narratives, dispensable explanations of the divine commandments , and events of micro-history. Moreover, the general addressees of the Qur’ān were fully aware of these things thus repeating such matters would have been futile and wearisome for such an audience. Therefore, the historical narratives which the Holy Qur’ān discusses have been put very cogently either to provide pointers towards historical events or to unveil any hideous cheating by the People of the Book. Similarly, it has also not dealt with the well-known religious practices the humans were obligated to carry out except for explicating those aspects which still needed to be completed and perfected.
Believers in the call of the Holy Prophet (sws) were either the People of the Book or those who had intermingled with them. The latter kind too was, owing to their acquaintance with the former, aware of the teachings of the earlier Books. Thus, they did not find it difficult to understand the Qur’ānic passages which alluded to the things mentioned in the earlier Books even though certain details were left out by Qur’ān. They noticed the gulf of difference between the Qur’ānic style of expression and that employed in the earlier books in spite of the unity of purport thereby raising the status of the Holy Qur’ān in their eyes. Regarding such audience of the Holy Qur’ān the Almighty says (5:83):
When they listen to what has been revealed to the Apostle, you see their eyes fill with tears as they recognize its truth. They spontaneously say, “Lord, we believe. Count us among the witnesses”
The above discussion leads to the following conclusions:
- Errors in the earlier Scriptures should be determined in the light of the Holy Qur’ān. Difficulties in deciphering the meaning of the complex passages of the previous scriptures should also be explained in the light of the Last Revelation. The only way for the People of the Book to learn the truth is to follow the final revelation of God
- Since the Holy Qur’ān is a completely authentic and secure word of God it will serve as the final decisive word where the earlier Books differ with it on certain historical facts
- Those having full exposure to the history of the Divine Revelations, starting from the first Prophet to the last, and thus having a clear understanding of the gradual evolution of the Sharī‘ah of God to mankind, will certainly be able to see clearly the excellence of the Muslim ummah
- The contradictory isra’īliyyāt, intermixing truth with falsehood, will be explained away, guiding those amongst us who have been taken to error because of such narratives
- The People of the Book will be able to learn that the Holy Qur’ān does not draw upon these Books, rather it removes errors they are replete with and guides their adherents out of the labyrinths of assumptions and conjectures to the way leading to the truth
- Many of the Qur’ānic verses which refer to the Torah but the Muslim scholars take them to be referring to the Qur’ān will be correctly understood. The following two verses are examples (2:106) and (22:52):
Any verse which We annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or a similar one
Every Prophet or Messenger that We sent before you, whenever desired something Satan interpolated with his desires. But God cancels the whispers of Satan and establishes His commands firm
Before concluding this discussion, I want to discuss a point which the Christians usually put before Muslims in order to deceive them, dubbing it as the most manifest argument against Muslims’ stance. They maintain that the Holy Qur’ān at one place clearly requires from the Muslims that they believe in the Gospels. Granted this, they say, the Qur’ān contradicts itself when, on any other occasion, it negates any of the evangelical statements, something it often commits. This, they assume, provides them with an opportunity to invite the Muslims to have faith in whatever falsehood they have inserted in their book. In this effort they usually present proofs from the Qur’ānic verses some of which are produced below……*