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Muhammad started his mission when he was forty years old and continued preaching until his death at the age of sixty-three. The inspirations (revelations) which formed Muhammad's preaching discourse over the twenty-three-year period constitute the Qur'an, which means 'the recital' or the proclamation. Muhammad's additional expositions of some aspects of the Qur'anic discourse for various groups, which were collected separately much later under the title of 'Hadeeth', are not treated here. The Qur'an is essentially made up of units arranged in chapters (surahs). A unit may be composed of several sentences. A sentence may be a simple or a very complex one. Some chapters are very short, composed of a single unit; others are very long, made up of many units strung or interwoven together. There are many chapters of intermediate length.
A unit may be a statement, a proclamation, an injunction, a prayer or a preaching unit. A preaching unit may start first by picturing the coming of the Day of Judgement and then the urging that this Day should be taken into consideration during one's lifetime. Man is urged to be grateful to his Lord by doing good works and to avoid the consequences resulting from ignoring this Day. Good works are characterised by being socially relevant, that is, of benefit to society. A preaching unit may also start with an introduction pointing to a phenomenon or phenomena to be considered and reflected upon, ending with the affirmation that for intelligent, thoughtful people, such phenomena are signs pointing towards God. The signs, phenomena or pointers cover all sorts of topics, physical, biological and psychological, which are not necessarily familiar to every person but are dependent on the audience being addressed. Examples include time (several aspects of it, whether to a particular part of the day or to a very long period of time), the sun, the stars, the moon, animals and their uses, trade, wealth, ships, winds, rain, thunder, lightning, plants and the seasons, creation from dust or from water, the formation of life in the womb, the creation of male and female spouses for love and affection, the creation of the heavens and the earth, old age, death, fear, love, aggression, the pen, even the letters of the alphabet and the rise and fall of civilisations.
Each surah stands alone. Since the Qur'an is mainly a preaching discourse occupied to making the human being conscious of God, there is much repetition of preaching units and formulas in the various surahs and even within the same surah. The preaching revolves around a central theme: warning humans that after they die, they will be raised up again and returned to God who will judge them, according to their conduct in this life, at the Day of Reckoning. Therefore they should be conscious of God during this life and follow the direction of the way of God. The way of God is not defined by dogma but is indicated operationally in two ways. The first is practical and socially oriented. It pertains to carrying out actions characterised only by being beneficial to the welfare of humanity (society). The second involves a mental orientation and empirically following a certain procedure. The empirical procedure stresses that the means of gaining faith in God is through observing His creation, thinking (reasoning) and reflecting upon such observations, not in seeking proof but following the direction suggested by such deliberations. Any person who commits or submits (the verb used in Arabic is aslama) himself to this course, that is, directs his face (sets his direction) towards God, is a muslim (the active participle of aslama). Hence we have the word 'islam' (the verbal noun) describing the religion preached by Muhammad.
The pointers to God are the 'miracles' of God according to Muhammad's inspirations and are the only reliable indicators to Him. From this, one sees they are not miracles in the popular sense of the word. That is, they are not supernatural, but are only manifestations of God's laws as seen in the natural world. Muhammad, during his mission, was pestered and taunted by his opponents to produce a miracle like those reported in the previous Scriptures. His reply to such demands was always that he was only a human being, like everybody else. (It is worth noting here that later Muslims, seeing the extraordinary miracles in the Christian and Jewish Scriptures, invented all sorts of extraordinary happenings and attributed them to Muhammad, all of course outside the Qur'an.)
It is stressed in the Qur'an that all previous messengers and prophets of God were also human. Such statements were directed to Muhammad in order to console and encourage him in the face of the challenges thrown at him to produce something extraordinary. This served as an indirect reply to the question of miracles in the previous Scriptures. There are many verses in the Qur'an directed to Muhammad not only to comfort and console but also to rebuke, for being overzealous or not carrying out his mission properly. This is a reflection of Muhammad's continual interaction with the results and the methods of his preaching and his contemplation upon them, thus resulting in new inspirations.
The Qur'an also contains preachings related to previous prophets. These occur on two levels. One level shows them in the light of Muhammad's mission, as an extension of his message, where the inspirations have been put in the mouths of the ancient prophets or messengers of God. The preaching in this level has several aspects. It encourages Muhammad to pursue his mission by reminding him that the previous prophets faced similar difficulties. It also points to the continuing efforts of humanity to seek the truth and thus to the evolution of the concept of God. The emphasis in this level is on preaching and development of ideas and not history.
The second level deals with the preaching of Muhammad to the Christians and Jews. This preaching involved reminding them of some aspects of their Scriptures or their traditions, the basic deviations from the natural evolutionary course of religion that were introduced, namely the divinity of Jesus and the Judaic exclusiveness (claiming arbitrarily a special position with God exclusively for themselves), and inviting them to the new message which subsumes all what is true in their Scriptures.
Included in the units of the Qur'an are statements and principles that form a plan which establishes the position of man on earth, points to the purpose of life, provides guidance and freedom of choice as well as the necessary tools for the trust or mandate given to mankind. As a consequence of granting freedom of choice to mankind, religious diversity is taken for granted, so the Qur'an contains the principles regulating the dynamic coexistence between the various communities.
The building blocks or units of the Qur'an which have been mentioned or alluded to above cover the major part of the Qur'an, the framework of the Qur'anic discourse. There are other units in the Qur'an which will not be focussed upon in this work. These may be divided into two classes. The first pertains to rituals: fasting, food restrictions and pilgrimage. These rituals, especially those of the pilgrimage (Hajj), were well established and based on ancient rituals which were part and parcel of the annual festivities in Mecca and its surroundings as well as across the whole of the Arabian Peninsula and its periphery. All that Muhammad has done is to de-paganise these rituals to fit the new outlook. The second category pertains to what may be termed application units, which deal with some aspects of social regulations like inheritance, punishment, marriage and divorce, and so on, which needed immediate attention. These instructions are applications of the principles in the light of customs and circumstances of the local people at the time, and are couched in a preaching manner stressing the observance of the consciousness of God when applying them. To fruitfully discuss them would take us beyond our main objective, since that would entail the enquiry into the prevalent social conditions at that time.
- Source: Mohammad Abu-Hamdiyyah, The Qur'An: An Introduction. Routledge, London. 2000. Page 45 - 48
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