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Why Do We Contextualize The Quran?

Questioner

Anonymous

Reply Date

Mar 30, 2018

Question

As-salamu Alaykum. When reading certain verses or chapters of the Quran, one must take into account the context in which they were revealed. What I am wondering is, why didn't Allah reveal the Quran to Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a way so that the Quran would not have to be applicable to the time period? Because when people point out "violent" verses and try to connect them with terrorism, we as Muslims need to remind them of the context in which they were revealed. Great website you have here, and I eagerly await your reply. Thanks.

Consultant

Answer


Contextualize The Quran

Short Answer: When we study the occasions of revelation and their importance in understanding the meanings of the verses of the Quran, we are actually trying to explore the specific human contexts in which the verses were revealed. Some verses were revealed to respond to certain events and occasions but are limited. They can be understood in a wider and universal context that transcends the times and the places in which they were actually revealed.

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Asalamu Alaikum,

First of all, I would like to thank you for such an intriguing question.

Thank you also for your encouraging words. 

A close examination of your question shows that it speaks about something that has been put forward before by many people.

Let’s agree that regardless of where and when they live, people are people everywhere: They need food, water, systems to govern their lives, etc.

Certain conditions recur in their lives, and regardless of how advanced they become, they are still affected by those conditions in the same way. These could be called the Divine, universal laws.

For example, when a society lacks social justice, crimes will spread rampantly.

If we look deeply into the basic themes and events addressed in the Quran, we can distinguish between two levels of relations inherent in such events and themes: the locality of their contexts and the universality of their occurrence.

Occasions of Revelation

This can give us a hint as to how the Quranic verses are to be understood.

They relate to certain contexts and universal themes.

The events, when they were revealed, are in many aspects recurrent in a human and global context transcending time and space.

When we speak about the occasions of revelation and their importance in understanding the meanings of the verses of the Quran, we are actually trying to explore the specific human contexts in which the verses were revealed, not in a limited sense, but rather to distinguish them from other contexts which we may be confused about.

When we discuss or try to explore the occasion of the revelation of a certain verse, we are endeavoring to discover the human context in which this exact verse was revealed in order to be able to apply it in other exact contexts and never confuse contexts of similar, but not exact, nature.

One more fact to be highlighted here is that since the Quran is a universal book and the final word of Allah, its perfection requires it to cover all times and places. It is not a mere book of futurism, nor is it a mere book of science, history, or psychology; rather, it is all these, but not one of these alone.

Being the perfect and the final word of the Creator, the Quran relates the story of mankind since the dawn of time, passing through all times and spaces, not bound by any borders or locations.

This means that it tells the events of the past and responds to occasions at its time of revelation, relating them to their global and human context to link all aspects of life in all times to the fact that this Quran is the book of the whole universe.

Someone may say, so what is the benefit of speaking about a certain event at a certain time when the Quran was revealed and linking the event to this present time?

Why do we need this?

The simple answer will be to link all human beings to one another, to show people at all times that human beings are similar to their ancestors and that their children will be similar to them.

The pagan Arabs of Makkah could have raised a similar question and asked what is the point of telling us stories of the people of the past? Why does the Quran bring to us facts and lessons that relate to people who lived long ago or events that happened before our time?

However, they never did that simply because they realized that the themes are universal and the contexts are similar. And they saw that when a certain context does not exist at a certain time, it does not mean that there is no use of it, as such a context or occasion may happen sooner or later.

A perfect manual shows us how to troubleshoot or what to do in case of emergency.

The People of the Cave as an Example

To illustrate this further, we can take the story of the People of the Cave, which was revealed in a specific occasion as an answer to a question by the pagan Arabs to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to test his answer and to know whether he is a prophet or not.

The specific context serves as an answer to a question. However, looking at the universality of the verses, we realize that they depict a human situation in which people of faith flee from a tyrant who does not allow them their freedom of faith.

At the time of the Prophet, the story could relate to the situation of the emerging Muslim community and the early migrants to Abyssinia; now it relates to any who have to leave their home because they are not allowed to practice their faith.

In the future, the verses will continue to serve as a message to all believers who are forced to flee from tyranny that their name will be written in history and the name of their persecutor will be also disgraced therein; that they will end up getting victory and their opponent will get nothing and will never be able to oppress the word of truth.

With this in mind, we can see that the Quran is universal in both its themes and its contexts.

We may look at some of its verses revealed to respond to certain events and occasions as being limited.

But in fact, they can be understood in a wider and universal context that transcends the times and the places in which they were actually revealed.

Taking this human and universal context into account will help us greatly in realizing that the Quran is perfect and valid and that its verses never expire because they depict the human self in all situations and in relation to the environment, the universe, and its Creator.

I hope my answer can satisfactorily give enlightenment in this respect.

Walaikum Asalam and please stay in touch.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

5 Practical Steps to Understand the Quran

How to Introduce the Quran to Non-Muslims

Why Does the Quran Require Context?

The Fighting Verses of the Quran

3 Steps to a Deeper Relationship with the Quran

 

 




About Sheikh Ahmad Saad

Ahmed Saad is the founding director of Ihsan Institute of Arabic & Islamic Studies-UK. An international speaker and dynamic scholar. ()

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