What Is The Quran?
There are a few things we need to know about the Holy Quran before we start interpreting its verses. I shall briefly state the most important of these here:
The Quran is not simply a book that equals the Bible, though there are many common points between the two. One major difference is that the original books of the Bible are not available in the form and language in which they were first written and only translations are extant – whereas no translation of the Quran is called the Quran.
Anyone who has done translation knows that some kind of interpretation creeps into every translation, and only a person who knows the original language can be a legitimate interpreter of the sourcebook. So, to interpret the Quran truthfully, one should have a good knowledge of the Arabic language.
Another point about the Quran is that it is not a book of history, a book of science, or a book of law – though it has all these in it. It is first and foremost a book of Divine Guidance. Also, one needs to know that the Quran does not contain detailed explanations of the situations that prompted the revelations of its verses.
Mostly the verses are guidelines and general principles. Besides, they offer good news for the good people and warnings for the misguided. They contain a number of narrations that serve to give admonitions, exhortations, and warnings to mankind in general. Also in certain cases, the Quran gives specific instructions too.
The Quran was revealed in the course of the 23 years of the prophetic career of Muhammad (peace be upon him), in accordance with the requirements of the particular contexts that called for divine guidance in certain issues. For this reason, in order to arrive at the correct understanding of many of its verses, we need to know the circumstances in which these verses were revealed. That is why the foundation of the religion of Islam is not just the Quran; it includes the sayings and the example of the Messenger (peace be upon him), as well. This also means that the best interpreter of the Quran is the Prophet (peace be upon him), to whom the verses were actually revealed.
For example, Allah says in the Holy Quran:
And We have sent down to you (O Muhammad, peace be upon him) the Book (this Quran) in truth, confirming the Scriptures that came before it, and Muhaymin (trustworthy in highness and a witness) over it (old Scriptures). So judge among them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging away from the truth that has come to you. To each among you, We have prescribed a law and a clear way. If Allah had willed, He would have made you one nation, but that (He) may test you in what He has given you; so compete in good deeds. The return of you (all) is to Allah; then He will inform you about that in which you used to differ. (Surah Al-Ma idah, 5: 48)
This above verse clearly states:
(1) That the Quran is not the only scripture sent by God.
(2) That the Quran confirms the truth in the earlier scriptures.
(3) That God will judge between those who dispute the truth of the matters at issue.
The Prophet (peace be upon him), in fact, started his preaching of Islam among his own people in Makkah. To most of the influential figures in Makkah, Islam meant a number of things. Among these were the giving up of their gods and idols, the acceptance of their slaves as equals, and the loss of a number of privileges they were enjoying in the old dispensation.
Naturally, they opposed Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his religion; but Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) determination in his mission piqued these leaders so much that they unleashed a most brutal persecution campaign against him and his followers. It was in this context that he was forced to emigrate to Madina, where he was welcomed, wholeheartedly, by the people of that city.