Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holy Quran: Text and Context

Question: I agree with you about the unreliability of hadiths. The problem with relying on a Qur'an-alone approach, though, is that it is very difficult to know the context of what is written in the Qur'an. And I'm not sure you can understand a text if you don't know the context.

Answer: Knowing the context, and actually following the text are two different things. For example, if we are being told to not to lie, to be just, to take care of orphans, to speak in the best manner, to measure properly, to abstain from eating or drinking certain things, to establish prayers, what beliefs and deeds will lead to salvation, what will lead us to hell, we do not need to know the context. Such things transcend time, and are applicable to all people in all ages. Also, there are verses speaking of the nature and the signs in it, such things come under the domain of scientific thought and inquiry, and need no background regarding the context. Also, verses dealing with the unseen, those that we can only know of by what He has revealed also need no context…. If we believe the author to be the true God, then we must believe in what we are being told, that there is only one God, that there is heaven and hell, that we will be made to account for our deeds and actions, and that we will then live there eternally.
Then there are certain verses which deal specifically with a certain event, like Allah speaking about the battle of Uhud, and what actually happened. Okay, if one knows the history, that’s a plus, but even if one doesn’t know, the essential elements and the lessons to be learnt from it have been mentioned in the verses. Similarly, there is a lot of mention of other nations, especially the Children of Israel, how they were the favoured nation, how prophets kept coming to them, and what were the reasons [deeds] which led them ‘out of favour’. There is a strong message and reminder for all people, and especially muslims, as to what good deeds are, how important they are, and how important it is to continue being good. Also, the Quran presents the essentials of all such histories, such that the point is not missed or lost, and the irrelevant details of the story are omitted. Besides, a reading of other books tends to present a very distorted/immoral/strange picture of some prophets, something which to my mind just cannot be possible. Prophets are specifically hand-picked by God, and as such are the best of us. It is thus difficult to believe the picture presented in those books, which makes the rest of the content also questionable.
And since Allah says that this book is a guidance for mankind, and I believe Allah to be the true God, why should I consult other books. He tells me that this book contains guidance, and that I must believe that He has sent prophets and books to earlier generations, and I must respect all of them, then I must. He does not ask us to take guidance from books written by humans, thus I don’t.

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