And whatsoever He has created for you on this earth of varying colors [and qualities from vegetation and fruits, etc. (botanical life) and from animal (zoological life)]. Verily! In this is a sign for people who remember. The Holy Quran 16:13


 Introduction to Qur'anic Studies - 3

June 19, 2013

AMDA, Sterling Heights, MI

الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على سيد المرسلين وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين فَأعُوْذُ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشَيْطَانِ الرَّجِيم بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم

رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

Continuing with our discussions on introduction of the Qur’an, today’s lecture is the third in the series of lectures on the subject. Up to now, we have covered topics touching upon the following:

1.      The definition, meaning and attributive names of the Qur’an.

2.      The Quran’s relationship with previous Scriptures. We found that the source, the attributes, and the basic universal message of all Scriptures are the same.  

3.      Unlike the previous scriptures, the Qur’an remains intact without any change.  The final Scripture revealed upon the last and final messenger of Allah will never change. Allah (SWT) Himself has preserved and protected the Qur’an for all times to come. 

4.      The relationship between the Qur’an and Hadith. Here we saw that Allah (SWT) also protected the Qur'an's essential meanings from change by entrusting the explanation and the interpretation of the meanings of the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

5.      The Qur’an we have with us is the certified attested copy of the original Qur’an, which is in the preserved guarded tablet with Allah (SWT) in the seventh heaven.

6.      The Qur’an was sent down to us in two stages. In the first stage, the whole Qur’an was sent down in one piece to the first heaven (al-Sama’u al-Duniya). In the second stage, it was revealed gradually, little by little over a period of 23 years of the Prophethood of Muhammad (SAW).

7.      The first revelation constituted the first five ayaat of Surat al-‘Alaq; and the last revelation was the third ayah of Surat al-Ma’idah.

8.      The Qur’an was revealed in a small part of the Arabian Peninsula called al-Hijaz that includes the cities of Mecca, Medina, Taif, and Tabuk.

9.      The Qur’an was revealed in the language spoken and understood in Hijaz and to be more specific, it was the language of the Bedouins of Hijaz and not the urban population of Hijaz.

10.  The style of the Qur’an is neither that of prose, nor that of poetry. Its style resembles a khutba. The Qur’an can be said to be a collection of Divine khutbas comprised of ayaat or signs.   

Today in sha Allah, we’ll talk about (1) the addressees of the Qur’an, (2) the primary subject of the Qur’an, (3) the levels of guidance that the Qur’an provides to man, (4) the division of the Qur’an into  surahs and ayaat, (4) the modes of interpretation of the Qur’an, (5) the understanding of the Qur’an from different perspectives, (6) the sequence of the Qur’an, (7) the script finalization, and (8) the putting of the diacritical Marks in the Qur’an to facilitate reading of the Qur’an by non-Arabs.

Who are the addressees of the Qur’an? 

Primarily, the first addressees of the Qur’an were the unlettered Bedouin Arabs or al-Ummiyeen and secondly the addresses were the people of the Book, the Jews and the Christians. Finally, the whole of humanity is the addressee of the Qur’an. The Qur’an addresses humankind in many places. It has been sent down for the entire mankind; not just for the Muslims. Muslims are the people who believe in it. 

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَتْكُمْ مَوْعِظَةٌ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَشِفَاءٌ لِمَا فِي الصُّدُورِ

O mankind! There has certainly come to you an advice from your Lord, and a cure for what is in the breasts (Yunus, 10:57).

What is the Primary Subject of the Qur'an?

The primary subject of the Qur'an is man. As established earlier, the Qur’an is not a book of poetry nor is it a book of history. It is neither a book of science nor of humanities. References to these subjects and almost all kinds of sciences are mentioned in the Qur'an. Stories from the past as well as news of the future and of the unseen can be found in the Qur'an. All these references go toward enhancing man’s understanding of the nature of things. Therefore the main subject of the Qur'an is man; not the physiology or anatomy of man, rather his attitude, thinking, behavior, philosophy, character, and basically his search for the truth. 

Levels of Guidance

Allah (SWT) guides man at two distinct levels.

  1. The guidance of man at the individual level: The Qur'an addresses all the questions a man encounters during his life time. Who am I? Where do I come from? Is there life after death? What is good? What is evil? Are moral values permanent or do they change? What is knowledge? What is the purpose of creation? And so on. The Qur’an addresses questions concerning metaphysics which deal with the nature of existence. All these subjects are central to the subjects of the Qur'an.

  2. The guidance of man at the collective level: The Qur'an deals with the social life. What is a family? What is a society? What is the relationship between parents and children? What are the social values? What is social evil? What is halal and what is haram? The Qur'an also addresses the economic structure as well as the political structure. This provides guidance toward establishing a just social, political, and economic order. The criminal law, the laws of inheritance are other subjects mentioned in the Qur’an. All these subjects are discussed in the Qur'an.

Division of the Qur’an into Surahs, Ayaat, Ahzab, and Ruku’at

Unlike a book that is divided into chapters and each chapter is further divided into paragraphs and further each paragraph is a set of complete sentences, the Qur’an is divided into surahs and ayaat.

Surah: What is meant by surah? In English we call it a chapter. But the word surah in Arabic means an enclosure or a fence. It is derived from the root letters seen-waw-rasa-wa-ra which means to surround something within a wall. The surah of the Qur’an has the ayaat within it. There is another word from sa-wa-ra, which is siwar meaning a bracelet. Bracelet is worn to adorn a person. The bracelet has gems that are joined together. Similarly, a surah joins together the ayaat, and is a collection of ayaat. Another meaning of surah is an ‘elevated plane’; a piece of land that is raised up high from the rest of the land that is around it. The raised land immediately gets our attention. Every surah of the Qur’an is elevated more than any other speech in the world, and every surah deserves our attention and our reflection. There are 114 surahs in the Qur’an. A surah may be as short as three ayaat as in Surat al-Kauthar or as long as 286 ayaat in Surat al-Baqarah.

Ayah: What is meant by ayah? The word ayah (plural: ayaat) literally means ‘sign’, ‘indicator’, ‘symbol’, ‘emblem’, and ‘token’.  An ayah denotes a sign or symbol of divine knowledge and wisdom. It serves as a token of guidance and an indicator to the power of Allah. Ayah is generally translated into English as verse, but this is not an appropriate version. Verse is a term applied to poetic lines conforming to a particular musical parameter. The Qur’an is not poetry. The term ayah has multiple shades of meanings.

Sign: Prophet Zakariyyah (AS) was assured by Allah that despite his old age and the barrenness of his wife, he would get a son. He requested Allah for a sign to appear for that event. Allah responded by telling that the sign is that he would not be able to speak for three days and night.

قَالَ رَبِّ اجْعَلْ لِي آَيَةً قَالَ آَيَتُكَ أَلَّا تُكَلِّمَ النَّاسَ ثَلَاثَ لَيَالٍ سَوِيًّا

“He said, My Lord, grant me a sign! He said, Your sign will be that you will not speak to anyone for three successive days and nights, while  in sound health” (Maryam, 19:10).

Message: By referring to His ayah or ayaat, Allah invites man to take and grasp His messages. 

رَبَّنَا وَابْعَثْ فِيهِمْ رَسُولًا مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آَيَاتِكَ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

“(Ibrahim and Ismail (AS) said): Our Lord! Raise among them a Messenger who will recite to them your Messages”(al-Baqarah, 2:129).

Wonder / Marvel: Things causing amazement or astonishment have been described as ayaat.

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً

“And among His wonders is that He created mates from among yourselves, for you to find tranquility in them, and He ordained love and kindness between you” (al-Rum, 30:21).   


فَالْيَوْمَ نُنَجِّيكَ بِبَدَنِكَ لِتَكُونَ لِمَنْ خَلْفَكَ آيَةً

“This day we will save your body so that it may serve as a lesson for those after you” (Yunus, 10:92).

Miracle: Prophets and Messengers of Allah had been equipped with one or more miracles (ayaat) to substantiate their truthfulness.

وَاضْمُمْ يَدَكَ إِلَىٰ جَنَاحِكَ تَخْرُجْ بَيْضَاءَ مِنْ غَيْرِ سُوءٍ آيَةً أُخْرَىٰ

“Put your hand under your armpit: it will come forth shining white, flawless, as another (miraculous) sign” (Ta Ha, 20:22).

Proof: The word ayah has also been used as the proof for the existence of Allah. 

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافُ أَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَأَلْوَانِكُمْ 

“Among His proofs are the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors” (al-Rum, 30:22).

What constitutes an ayah?

Although in many instances it is a complete sentence, an ayah, does not necessarily have to be a complete sentence. An ayah may be a word and sometimes it may be as long as two letters. One letter, however, is not an ayah. In Surat Taha (Surah # 20), for example, the first ayah is the two letters TA and Ha. Similarly, the first ayah of Surat Yasin (Surah # 36) consists of only two letters: Ya and Seen. On the other hand, Surat al-Qalam (Surah # 68) begins with the letter Noon. However, Noon is not an ayah, it is followed by wal qalami wa ma yasturoon to complete the ayah. Therefore, one letter cannot constitute an ayah. On the other hand, an ayah may be one word as in Surat al-‘Asr. The first ayah of the surah is “Wal ‘Asr” or it may be composed of more than one complete sentence. Ayat al-Kursi (al-Baqara, 2:255) is made up of at least 10 complete sentences. The principle regarding the enumeration of ayaat is not based on any principle of grammar, diction, or logic. Rather it is ‘Amr Tawqifi” meaning that it is dependent upon what the Prophet (SAW) informed us. There are over six thousand ayaat in the Qur’an.

Hizb: We find that in the days of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) the word Hizb or Ahzab was used to refer to a section of the Qur’an. Today we call them Manzil or Manazil. Surahs were grouped together to make nearly seven equal parts of the Qur’an. It was customary for the companions of the Prophet (SAW) to complete reciting the entire Qur’an every week. The Hizb division allowed them to recite one section every day.

Juz: Later Muslim scholars divided the Qur’an into nearly 30 equal parts called Juz (pl. Ajza’). This division enabled a devout Muslim to recite the entire Qur’an in a month particularly during the month of Ramadan. This division into 30 Juz was made much after the death of the Prophet (SAW). Ruku’: Another division is Ruku’ (pl. Ruku’at). Scholars of the Qur’an divided each surah into a number of Ruku’ which consist of some 10 ayaat capturing an idea or a subject making it easy to memorize. Each Ruku’ is marked with the letter 'ain ع, with the number of the Ruku’ over it written on the margin.

Lafz: In Arabic, a word is called lafz; la-fa-za means to throw. So lafz is that which is thrown out; which is spoken; which is enunciated. There are less than 2000 distinct words in the Qur’an. There are, however, about 78 thousand words when all repeated and various combination of words are taken into consideration. Lafz is made up of letters or huroof (plural of harf). There are some 324 thousand letters or huroof in the Qur’an.

Modes of Interpretation

There are two modes of interpretation of the Qur’an (al-Ta'wil al-Khas & al-Ta'wil al-‘Aam)

Al-Ta’wil al-Khas

One level of understanding of the Qur'an is to keep it connected with the context of the time and place of its revelation, i.e., the historical context.  What were their ideas, customs, and traditions of the people whom the Qur’an was talking to? How did they understand these ayaat? The Qur'an was being revealed bit by bit in accordance with the environment and the events that were taking place. The book is eternal, but the book was being revealed in a particular time and space context. This is what, in the terms of tafsir or exegesis of the Qur’an is called Al-Ta’Weel al-Khas or the specific mode of interpretation.

Al-Ta’wil al-‘Aam

The other mode of interpretation is the general mode of interpretation –Al-Ta’weel’ al-’Aam. This is to ponder upon the general meaning of the ayah by putting aside the specific mode of interpretation, because the Quran is for all times to come. How does the ayah that was revealed 1400 years apply today? In some cases we’ll begin to appreciate some of the ayaat more than those who first received them because humanity at that time was still evolving. The knowledge of this material world acquired over this period of time adds another dimension to the beauty of the ayaat that explained those physical phenomena 1400 years ago. The Qur’an is guidance for the whole of humanity for all times to come. Therefore, it must contain the wisdom for all times.  But, this wisdom has to be discovered through focusing on the words, on the context, on the group of the ayaat in the surah, on how the surahs are connected to each other, and so on. This whole study is al-Ta'wil al-‘Aam.

The Qur’an can be understood from two perspectives: (Tazakkur and Tadabbur)

Tazakkur in the Qur’an means to understand its meaning as provided on the surface, and this is not difficult. In this sense the Qur’an is an easy book to follow. Allah tells us four times in ayaat 17, 22, 32, and 40 of Surat al-Qamar,

وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآَنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِنْ مُدَّكِرٍ

“And We made the Qur’an easy to learn. Do any of you wish to learn?” (al-Qamar, 54:17).

For this, a basic knowledge of Qur’anic Arabic is required, and this is easy to acquire with a little effort. 

Tadabbur in the Qur’an is to dive deep into the Qur’an for the purpose of discovering the hidden treasure of knowledge and wisdom from the Qur’an. In this sense, it is the most difficult book because it is unfathomable. No one can claim to have found all the treasures of the Qur’an, even after devoting his whole life to its study.

Sequence of the Qur’an

The present order of the Qur’anic ayaat dates back to the Prophet’s time. There is a consensus among ‘Ulama that the placement of ayaat in a certain sequence is divinely inspired. The Prophet (SAW) arranged them under the instruction and supervision of Allah. The Angel Jibril (AS), following every revelation, used to guide the Prophet (SAW) to the exact place of the revealed ayaat, clarifying the preceding and succeeding ayaat. The Prophet (SAW), as a part of his responsibility, used to read the revealed portions in the same order as dictated by Jibril (AS).

The Prophet (SAW) used to recite the Qur'an before Angel Jibril once every Ramadan, but he recited it twice in the same order we have today in the last Ramadan before his death. The ayaat were written by Scribes, selected by the Prophet, on any suitable object - the leaves of trees, pieces of wood, parchment or leather, flat stones, and shoulder blades. Scribes included Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Mu'awiyah Ibn Abi Sufyan, Ubaiy Ibn Ka'ab, Zayed Ibn Thabit, and others. Several hundred companions memorized the Qur'an by heart.

During the caliphate of Abu Bakr (RA) (632-634 CE), Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (RA) urged Abu Bakr (RA) to preserve and compile the Qur'an. This was prompted after the battle of Yamamah, where heavy casualties were suffered among the reciters who had memorized the Qur'an.

Abu Bakr (RA) entrusted Zayed bin Thabit (RA) with the task of collecting the Qur'an. Zayed (RA) had been present during the last recitations of the Qur'an by the Prophet (SAW) to the Angel Jibreel (AS). Zayed (RA), with the help of the companions who had memorized and written verses of the Qur'an, accomplished the task and handed Abu Bakr (RA) the first authenticated copy of the Qur'an. The copy was kept in the residence of Hafsah (RA), daughter of Umar (RA) and the wife of the Prophet (SAW). The name chosen for the compilation was al-Mushaf as proposed by Abdullah bin Zubair (RA).

Script Finalization

During the caliphate of Uthman (RA), (644-656 CE),  Uthman (RA) ordered Zayed Ibn Thabit, Abdullah Ibn Al Zubayr, Saeed Ibn Al-Aas, and Abdur-Rahman Ibn Harith Ibn Hisham to make perfect copies of the authenticated copy kept with Hafsah (RA). This was due to the rapid expansion of the Islamic state and concern about differences in recitation. Because of the different accents of people, there was a possibility of changes from accents into scripts. So, the script was standardized. Copies were sent to various places in the Muslim world. The original copy was returned to Hafsah (RA), and a copy was kept in Medina. This took place within 25 years of the death of the Prophet (SAW).

Diacritical Marks were put to facilitate reading of the Qur’an by non-Arabs

A complete system of diacritical marks (damma, fatha, kasra) was applied at the time of Hajjaj bin Yursuf (661-714) during the Umayyad Rule, following the rule of the righteous caliphs. This was done to make reading of the Qur’an, easy, especially for the non-Arabs.

  أَقُولُ قَوْلِي هَذَا وَأَسْتَغْفِرُ اللَّهَ لِي وَلَكُمْ وَلِسَائِرِ المُسْلِمينَ وَالمُسْلِمَاتْ فَاسْتَغْفِرُوهْ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ 

وصل الله عَلَى خيرِ خَلقه مُحمَّدٍ وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين- بِرَحْمَتِكَ يا أرْحَمَ الرَّاحِمِين

Wassalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.