- “Will they not, then, ponder over this Qur’an? - or are their hearts sealed”? (Al-Qur’an 47: 24).
- “The petal of a flower may pierce through the heart of a rock – but the Noble Word has no effect on the ignorant.” – Muhammad Iqbal, bale jibrail, preamble
By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
This is not to suggest, let alone advocate any direct incorporation of the injunctions of the Qur’an in statecraft, or to politicise the Qur’an in any manner, as that will enable political bodies of diverse orientations to legitimize their respective ideologies and aspirations by interpreting the Qur’an expediently or by venerating their own ideologies on the strength of the Qur’an. The object of this exercise is to inspire the believers to study this eternal book of guidance as it should be studied (2:121), seeking the best meaning in it (39:18/55). This is a pressing need of the day in order to deliver the hearts and minds of the Muslim umma from the domination of historically evolved theological discourses – which though glorious for their era, stand out this day as restrictive, divisive, exclusive, intellectually foreclosing and atavistic.
On the Day of Reckoning, each individual person will be handed the record of his/her deeds (17:71, 84:7-11, 99:6/7), to be benchmarked against the divine guidance/imperatives as perfected in the Qur’an (5:3). Therefore, it is imperative for each person who believes in the divinity of the Qur’an to seek its guidance as he/she solicits in each cycle of the daily prayer by pleading to God – ‘ihdinas sirat al mustaqim.’
As for those opinionated readers and self-acclaimed intellectuals – Muslims and non-Muslims alike, sceptical of the very notion of sourcing a fourteen centuries old book – divine or otherwise for guidance, the following quotation from Kenneth Cragg, a distinguished contemporary scholar of Islamic and Christian studies should suffice to evoke interest .
“What happens in the Qur’an is deeply related to the travail of our time, and we need the Qur’anic word in the face of it. This would be true, of course, if only for the reason that multitudes of mankind, to be guided or persuaded about modernity at all, will need to be guided and persuaded Qur’anically.....Even where secularism has gone far among them or irreligion presses, their judgments and their sanity, their priorities and their ideals, will always be in large measure within the mind of the Qur’an.”
The aloofness of the educated Muslims from the Qur’an
It is no secret that the young students, fashionable and educated youth, housewives, academicians, professionals of all categories, and the intellectual elite among the Muslims have virtually no time, nor any curiosity to probe the fundamentals of their religion. As its Arab audience turned away from the Qur’an in dread - like frightened donkeys fleeing a lion (74:49-51), the Muslims, by and large, turn away from it in awe and reverence or apathy if not antipathy. Some of them do read, recite and even memorize the Qur’an – partly or even wholly, to please God, to experience the transcendent, and to seek peace and solace. However, they seldom make any effort to study it to comprehend its message. They do not read it as it should be read to their own loss (2:121). Consciously or subconsciously they go by the tradition that “one who discusses about the Book of God, (the Qur'an) makes a mistake, even if he is correct .
The Qur’an brought about the greatest social, political and intellectual revolution in human history.
The advent of the Qur’an – the divine speech descending upon humanity in the seventh century Arabia, created a sudden turbulence in human history, the ripple of which was soon to sweep the world. Within less than a hundred years of its inauguration, its dynamic spirit and liberating paradigms led to the establishment of the greatest civilization of the era that spanned almost the entire expanse of the political map of the era from East to West (Spain to China) and saw remarkable advancement in diverse fields of knowledge. Its veneration of hikmah (universal wisdom) inspired its scholars to preserve the works of Greco-Roman philosophers through a massive translation drive leading to the flowering of Islamic philosophical heritage (e.g works left by al-Ghazali, Ibn Rush, Ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi, Sa‘di, for example). Its emphasis on universal knowledge (‘ilm) led to a phenomenal advancement in practically all fields of universal sciences - mathematics, physics, chemistry, botany, astronomy, medicine, metallurgy, and manufacturing technology (paper, textile etc.). Its patronization of scholars attracted the intellectually gifted regardless of religion to its centre (Baghdad) and many to its fold from the farthest regions of the then world. Its respect and tolerance of non-Muslims, liberating social paradigms and exemption from restrictive taboos, theological speculations and scholasticism won innumerable coverts, constantly feeding the faith with fresh blood and intellect. Its exhortations to use reason (‘aql), to cogitate and think rationally (fiqh) and emphasis on justice led to phenomenal advancements in the field of jurisprudence. Its empowerment of women found them pursuing the highest levels of knowledge and rising to the position of jurists and scholars who taught mixed batches of students and bestowed academic credentials on them regardless of gender. These achievements in diverse fields found their way into Europe by way of translation of their works, first into Latin, and later into European languages, and served as the taproot of post Renaissance advancement in Europe.
The foregoing is no window dressing, nor mere tall talk. Some of the outstanding scholars of the Christian West acknowledge the extraordinary contributions of Islam to humanity by praising in superlatives the faith or its founder, Muhammad (Pbuh) – whom they however decline to acknowledge as God’s Messenger:
Michael Harts ranked Prophet Muhammad as No. 1 among 100 great men of history. .
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), in one of his famous lectures on heroes among the Prophets declares: “A poor shepherd people, roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world: a Hero-Prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe ... as if a spark had fallen, one spark, on a world of what seemed black unnoticeable sand; but lo, the sand proves explosive powder, blazes heaven-high from Delhi to Grenada! I said, the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame.” 
Alphonse de LaMartaine (1790-1869) while recounting the remarkable rise of Arabs declares: “As regards all the standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask IS THE RE ANY MAN GREATER THAN HE (Mohammed)?” .
Robert Briffault (1867-1948) states: “Science is the most momentous contribution of Arab [Muslim] civilization to the modern world; but its fruits were slow in ripening. Not until long after Moorish Islamic] culture had sunk back into darkness did the giant to which it had given birth, rise to its might” .
Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair (the husband wife team, jointly appointed to the Norma Jean Calderwood University Professorship in Islamic and Asian Art), declare: “Islam, which is only half a dozen centuries younger than Christianity, created a long and brilliant civilization, which is responsible for much of the way we are today. … When a few medieval monks were desperately trying to preserve what little they knew of Greco-Roman civilization, academies and universities flourished in the splendid cities of the Muslim lands” .
Count Leon Ostrorog declares: “The Eastern thinkers of the ninth century laid down on the basis of their theology, the principle of the Rights of Man, ....of which the humane and chivalrous prescriptions would have put to blush certain belligerents in the Great War; expounded a doctrine of toleration of non-Muslim creeds so liberal that our West had to wait a thousand years before seeing equivalent principles adopted.” 
The pre-eminence of the quoted scholars and the diversity of their backgrounds and regions sufficiently demonstrate the positively remarkable, rather, benevolently revolutionary role of Islam on world history. This raises the obvious question: what was it in Islam that fuelled its prodigal role. The answer is obvious. Islam drew its moral code and inspiration singularly from the Qur’an, whose sole mission was to guide humanity – “to bring it out of darkness (of jahiliyyah/ignorance) into light (of enlightenment)” (2:257, 14:1, 57:9) under the ambit of pure monotheism. Thus there can be no doubt that it is the revolutionary tenets of the Qur’an – its moral imperatives and liberating spirit, its universalism and pluralism, its call to human intellect that fed its uniquely and remarkably positive role in history.
The grievous fallout of the detachment of the Muslims from the Qur’an
As the Islamic civilization was taking long strides of advancement, its orthodox theologians and ulema were striving unceasingly to freeze it at their era, in direct contradiction to the letter and spirit of the Qur’an. Thus, they set aside the guidance of the Qur’an and venerated theological discourses –notably the Hadith and the classical Islamic law as the necessary and sufficient vehicles for understanding and implementing the Qur’anic message. These were the ahl al Hadith - the orthodoxy. They advocated that all that had to be learnt had already been learnt during the Prophet’s time, and was contained in the Qur’an and the Prophet’s normative ways (Sunnah), and the posterity was expected to simply imitate them . This resulted in stagnancy of knowledge, abhorrence against any scientific advancement, and division of universal knowledge into Islamic and European categories  – the former foreclosed for all time and the latter growing exponentially. Their retrogressive views were opposed by the rationalist theologians of the era – the ahl al kalam, who advocated pursuit of knowledge in all fields, and promoted material prosperity within the framework of the Qur'an. However, the orthodoxy prevailed and intellectual activity in Islam came to a virtual halt. This happened around the end of the fourth century of Islam, marked the beginning of the decline of Islamic civilization, and set this faith and its followers on a path of decline.
Following continued decline for almost a millennium through to the present era, punctuated by occasional upsurge in broad historical timeframe, the Muslims have fallen into the lowest depths of a pit of failure. Any comparative assessment of the deprivations, sufferings and injustices faced by the diverse confessional communities at this juncture of history will single out the Muslims as the most deprived, devastated and uprooted community, and the biggest victims of human rights violations. From domestic violence against their own womenfolk to internecine conflicts, sectarian violence, terrorism, just and unjust wars, forced confinement in war zones and collective punishment in the name of sanctions, to the psychological trauma of Islamophobia and trivialization and marginalization in the pre-dominantly non-Muslim countries, the Muslims have the greatest share of sufferings and humiliation in the present day world. Likewise, any comparative analysis of achievements in the diverse lawful pursuits and arenas of life (professional fields, academy, bureaucracy, sports, art and culture for example) will find the Muslims as the poorest and obscurest performer.
Thus, in broad historical perspective it was the revolutionary social and intellectual paradigms of the Qur’an that took the Muslims to the zenith of their civilization in less than a hundred years of its advent and enabled them to lead the world for the next four to five hundred years, and it was their gradual detachment from the Qur’an that led to their stagnation, decay and downfall in the ensuing centuries.
Thus, the cost of detachment from the Qur’an has been extremely high and the Muslims continue to bear it, as their detachment is only exacerbating with time. This essay is just a reminder and warning and a challenge to the Muslim intellect.
1. Kenneth Cragg, The Event of the Qur’an, Oneworld Publications, Rockport, USA 1974, p. 22/23.
2. Sanan Abu Daud, Urdu translation by Wahiduz Zaman, Vol.3, Acc. 253, p. 118.
3. Michael H. Hart, The 100. A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Hart Publishing Company Inc New York, USA 1978, p. 33.
6. Making of Humanity, p. 202, Extracted from Muhammad Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Islamic thoughts, 6th reprint, New Delhi 1998, p. 130.
7. Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair, Islam, Empire of Faith, BBC Series, UK 2001, p. 11.
8. Asaf A.A. Fyzee, Outlines of Mohammedan Law, 5th Edition, New Delhi 2005, p. 53/54.
9. Abul Kalam Azad, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, 1931; reprint New Delhi 1989, Vol.1. p. 42,43.
10. Jamal Afghani, extracted from John L.Esposito’s, Islam in Transition, New York 1982, p. 18.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.