“As often as we approach the Quran, it always proves repulsive anew; gradually, however, it attracts, it astonishes, and, in the end forces admiration.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We are making Khan’s translation available online here: Quran Translation by Sir Zafrulla Khan
Source of Zafrulla’s article about the holy Quran: Islam – Its Meaning for Modern Man, by Sir Zafrullah Khan
THE QURAN, AS ALREADY STATED, IS THE RECORD of the verbal revelation vouchsafed by God to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, over a period of approximately twenty-two years (610⎯632). It is the very words that God put in the mouth of that Prophet (Deut. 18:18). It contains all truth (John 16:13) for the guidance of mankind. Its message is universal. It affirms the truth of all previous revelations and the righteousness of all Prophets (2:137; 5:45, 47).
The arrangement of verses in the Quran does not follow the chronological order. Whenever a verse or group of verses was revealed, the Prophet indicated its place in the order and sequence of the Quran. Obviously, the compilation of the whole in the form of a book could not be undertaken so long as the revelation to the Prophet continued; but it is a mistake to suppose that the present arrangement was determined by the second or third Khalifa some years after the death of the Prophet. That is not so. The Prophet himself instituted and authorized this arrangement. In fact, during the Prophet’s lifetime the Quran was committed to memory and was recited in the order in which we find it. Each fresh revelation found its place in that order as indicated by the Prophet. His opponents sometimes made objection to the manner in which the Quran was being revealed, that is to say, in portions spread over a long period, and they asked: “Why is it not revealed all at once?” The revelation itself pointed out the reason and the wisdom underlying its manner and arrangement (25:33; 17:107).
One reason why the present arrangement does not adhere to the chronological order is that the revelation came as it was needed in the contemporaneous state of the people to whom it was immediately addressed⎯the purpose being, first, to create faith in the Existence and Unity of God; then, to lay the foundations of a beneficent society in accordance with the principles of Islam; then, to reconstruct society on those principles and to train it in their exercise so that the people could become the bearers of the Divine message and illustrate it in practice in daily living. This necessitated that revelation be vouchsafed stage by stage over a period of years, reinforcing the cardinal, central doctrine of the Existence and Unity of God throughout, but working out the pattern of a beneficent society gradually, adding new features after those revealed earlier had been firmly grasped and put into practice. Once this purpose was achieved, it was no longer necessary to have the revelation arranged in that order. It had then to serve the need of an established, though constantly growing, community. The order to be followed henceforth was that which was appropriate to those conditions.
In view of the lack of the mass-printing facilities to which mankind has since become accustomed, the method adopted for safe-guarding the revelation was to commit it to memory rather than to preserve it in the form of a book, though the text of each revelation, comprising one or more verses, was also written down as it was received. The Prophet himself was not literate, but others who were competent in that respect were employed for the purpose (29:49).
Guidance having been furnished to mankind through a series of revelations vouchsafed to the various Prophets, what is that position of the Quran with respect to those revelations whose truth it affirms? Previous revelations were limited in their scope. Each was designed to meet the needs of the people to whom it was sent during the stage of development upon which that people was about to enter. Each contained fundamental truths, valid through the ages in respect of the whole of mankind, but it also contained guidance, directions, commandments, and prohibitions which were of a local or temporary character. Moreover, in course of time, portions of those revelations were lost or forgotten. That which was of universal and permanent application in previous revelations, in other Scriptures, has been reaffirmed in the Quran. Such portions as had been lost or were overlooked or forgotten, but were still needed, have been revived. That which was of purely local or temporary application and was no longer needed has been omitted. That which was not contained in previous revelations, the need for it not yet having arisen, but which would henceforth be needed by mankind, was added (2:107; 3:8).
This does not mean that the Quran makes obligatory upon the Muslims all the commandments and ordinances contained in today’s version of the previous revelations and Scriptures. Indeed, it emphasises repeatedly that these versions have suffered grievously at the hands of some of those who profess to be their supporters (2:80). What the Quran affirms is the actual revelation vouchsafed to the previous Prophets. Thus: “Surely, We sent down the Torah wherein is guidance and light. By it did the Prophets, who were obedient to Us, judge for the Jews, as did the godly people and those learned in the Law” (5:45). And again: “And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, fulfiling that which was revealed before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel which contained guidance and light, fulfiling that which was revealed before that in the Torah as an admonition for the God-fearing” (5:47). The Gospel here means the revelation vouchsafed to Jesus, and not the books which are today commonly so described.
Not only are today’s versions of previous revelations open to serious question on the score of authenticity of the text and accuracy of translation and interpretation, many of the details concerning commandments and ordinances and even doctrine which were of a temporary or local character are now out of date or inapplicable. Today’s doctrine is also in many cases based on subsequent interpretation and formulation which appear to have little connection with what was contained in the revelation and even contradict it. Attention is drawn to all this in the Quran, and yet the Quran emphasises the unity of the fundamental teaching contained in all previous Scriptures and insisted upon by the Prophets, namely belief in the Existence and Unity of God and in the Hereafter, and conformity to God’s will through righteous action.
As already stated, the Quran reaffirms all that was fundamental in previous revelations and which is still needed by mankind. That is part of the guidance which the Prophet, and through him the Muslims and, indeed, all mankind are exhorted to follow⎯the guidance revealed by God through the prophets (6:91).
Thus the Quran, while affirming the truth of all previous revelations, itself comprises all truth for the whole of mankind for all time. It has been described as “pure Scriptures, comprising lasting commandments” (98:3—4).
The Quran is thus a universal possession and inheritance; its message is directed to the whole of mankind (7:159). It is sent down as a guidance for mankind, with clear proofs of guidance and with discrimination between truth and falsehood (2:186).
It expounds and explains all that is or may be needed by mankind for the complete fulfilment of life (11:2). It seeks to create faith in God through rehearsal of God’s Signs; it makes provision for mankind’s welfare, material, moral, and spiritual; it teaches all that is needed for the beneficent regulation of human life and expounds the philosophy underlying it, so that reason being satisfied, wholehearted conformity to what is taught may be assured (62:2—3). It expounds the significance of establishing and maintaining communion with God. It draws attention to various Divine attributes, their operation and the manner in which mankind may derive benefit from the knowledge thereof. In short, all that is basic for the promotion of human welfare in all spheres, whether pertaining to principles or conduct, is set forth and expounded (16:90).
It is this comprehensiveness of the Quran, the need to make provision for guidance in every respect for all peoples for all time, that made it necessary that the guidance should be conveyed in verbal revelation. The Quran is literally the Word of God and possesses the quality of being alive, as the universe is alive. It is not possible to set forth at any time the whole meaning and interpretation of the Quran or, indeed, of any portion of it with finality. It yields new truths and fresh guidance in every age and at every level. It is a standing and perpetual miracle (18:110).
The world is dynamic and so is the Quran. Indeed, so dynamic is the Quran that it has always been found to keep ahead of the world and never to lag behind it. However fast the pace at which the pattern of human life may change and progress, the Quran always yields, and will go on yielding, the needed guidance in advance. This has now been demonstrated through more than thirteen centuries, and that is a guarantee that it will continue to be demonstrated through the ages.
The Quran has proclaimed that falsehood will never overtake it. All research into the past and every discovery and invention in the future will affirm its truth (41:43). The Quran speaks at every level; it seeks to reach every type of understanding, through parables, similitudes, arguments, reasoning, the observation and study of the phenomena of nature, and the natural, moral, and spiritual laws (18:55; 39:28; 59:22).
It reasons from the physical and tangible to the spiritual and intangible. For instance: “Among His Signs is this; that thou seest the earth lying withered, but when We send down water on it, it stirs and swells with verdure. Surely He Who quickens the earth can quicken the dead. Verily, He has power over all things” (41:40). Here, by quickening of the dead is meant the revival and rebirth of a people. As the dead earth is quickened by life-giving rain from heaven, a people that appears to be dead in all respects is revived and regenerated through spiritual water from the heavens, that is to say, through Divine revelation. This idea is expressed in the Quran in several places. Both resurrection and renaissance are explained with reference to the phenomenon of the dead earth being revived through life-giving rain (22:6⎯8).
The Quran repeatedly urges observation and reflection, the exercise of reason, and understanding (2:270). For instance: “In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and the day there are indeed Signs for men of understanding, who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying down, and ponder the creation of the heavens and the earth. This leads them to exclaim: ‘Our Lord, Thou hast not created all this without purpose; Holy art Thou’” (3:191—192).
Whenever attention is drawn in the Quran to God’s Signs, the object is to urge reflection upon the event or phenomenon cited, that we may proceed to draw lessons therefrom which would help us grasp the Truth; to understand the operation of Divine attributes and of Divine laws; to appreciate spiritual values and to adjust and order our lives accordingly, so that all our activities in every sphere should become wholly beneficent. It is in that sense that the guidance contained in the Quran is described as “a healing and a mercy for those who put their faith in it” (17:83). We are reminded: “O mankind, there has indeed come to you an exhortation from your Lord and a healing for whatever ills there are in the hearts, and a guidance and a mercy for those who believe” (10:58).
With all this, man is left to his own free choice and acceptance of the Truth. Faith is not commanded on the basis of authority, but is invited on the basis of understanding (12:109). “This is a Book that We have revealed to thee, full of blessings, that they may reflect over its verses, and that those gifted with understanding may take heed” (38:30). There is complete freedom to believe or to deny. “Say: ‘It is the Truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve’” (18:30). But of course, though the choice is free, the consequences of the choice follow in accordance with Divine law. No one is forced. Everyone must choose and seek the purpose of his life on the basis of faith or turn his back upon the Truth and destroy his soul, according to his choice.
It has sometimes been suggested that belief in Divine revelation and acceptance of revealed truth tend toward intellectual rigidity and narrowness. The exact reverse is the truth. Revelation stimulates the intellect and opens all manner of avenues for research and expansion of knowledge. The constant and repeated exhortation to reflect upon and ponder every type of natural phenomenon with which the Quran abounds is an express urge in that direction. History furnishes incontrovertible proof of this. Within an astonishingly brief period following the revelation of the Quran, darkness and confusion were dispelled over vast areas of the earth, order was established, all manner of beneficent institutions sprang into life, a high moral order was set up, and the blessings of knowledge, learning, and science began to be widely diffused. Human intellect, which for some centuries had been almost frozen into inactivity, experienced a sudden release and upsurge, and the world became witness to an astounding revolution. This was no freak occurrence, no sudden flare-up followed by an even more sudden collapse. This was a phenomenon characterized by strength, beneficence, and endurance. It fulfiled to a pre-eminent degree the needs and yearnings of the human body, intellect and soul. It changed the course of human history. It flung wide open the gates of knowledge and progress in all directions. Its impact continues to be felt today through many and diverse channels.
The Quran has been described as a Light and as a clear Book, whereby “does Allah guide those who seek His pleasure along the paths of peace, and leads them out of every kind of darkness into the light by His will, and guides them along the right path” (5:16⎯17).
On the other hand, the Quran itself discourages the tendency to seek regulation of everything by Divine command, pointing out that such regulation would become restrictive and burdensome (5:102).
One of many characteristics of the Quran which mark it as the Word of God is that to arrive at the comprehension of its deeper meaning and significance the seeker must, in addition to a certain degree of knowledge of the language and the principles of interpretation, cultivate purity of thought and action. The greater the purity of a person’s life the deeper and wider will be his comprehension of the meaning of the Quran (56:80). This has always been strikingly demonstrated.
The Quran contains Divine assurance that the guidance embodied therein will be guarded under Divine protection (15:10). This comprises several aspects:
First, the text of the revelation should be preserved in its purity and entirety for all time. Considering that the revelation contained in the Quran was vouchsafed to the Prophet over a period of twenty-two years, first in Mecca and then in Medina, that this period was marked by persecution, disturbance, and fighting, that the Prophet himself was not literate, and that there was no sure method for preserving a record of the revelation except through human memory, it is a truly miraculous fact that the text of the Quran has been preserved absolutely pure and entire, down to the last vowel point. Even nonMuslim scholars, who do not accept the Quran as Divine revelation, affirm that the Quran is word for word that which Muhammad gave out to the world as Divine revelation.
Second, the language in which the revelation was sent should continue to be a living language. Classical Arabic is today understood and used as a means of communication over much vaster areas of the earth and by many hundred times more people than it was in the time of the Prophet.
These factors, so essential for the safeguarding of the guidance contained in the revelation, could not have been assured by the Prophet in advance. Yet they are not enough. For life is dynamic, and the pattern of human life is subject to constant change. The process of evolution is at work all the time. Besides, history testifies that the passage of time brings about a decline in spiritual and moral values in a civilization. It is inevitable, therefore, that over the centuries there should be a falling-off in the true appreciation of Divine guidance set forth in the Divine revelation as applicable to current conditions and situations. The complete safeguarding of the Divine revelation necessitates a constant process of spiritual revival and rebirth. In the nature of things this must also come about through revelation. It was announced by the Prophet that to meet this need God would continue to raise from among the Muslims, at the beginning of each century, someone who would be inspired to revive the faith by drawing attention to the guidance contained in the Quran apposite to existing conditions. History has confirmed the truth of this assurance conveyed by the Prophet.
The last half-century has, however, witnessed the onset of a tremendous revolution in human values in all spheres of life. Standards that had been accepted and subscribed to through centuries are undergoing rapid revision and modification. The very dimensions of human life are being reshaped, so that scholars and thinkers are beginning to stress the need of a new revelation. Yet, the Quran is quite clear that the guidance contained therein will be found adequate during all stages at all times.
What provision, it may be asked, is there in the Quran to meet the contingency with which mankind is faced today, and which is likely to grow ever more insistent during all the tomorrows that lie ahead? To meet this contingency the Quran announced that the Prophet not only had been raised in the generation among whom he lived, but would also be raised among others “who have not yet joined them” (62:3⎯4). This means a spiritual second advent of the Prophet for the purpose of setting forth from the Quran guidance that may be needed in the New Age, and for illustrating the values demanded by the exigencies with which man may then be faced. This promise has been fulfiled in the advent of Ahmad, of Qadian (1835⎯1908), who warned that mankind stood at the threshold of an era which would bear the same relation to his age, that is, the beginning of the twentieth century, as the beginning of that century bore to the days of Adam, and who proceeded to set forth from the Quran, in the light of revelation vouchsafed to him, the guidance that mankind now desperately needs.
He was a devoted follower and ardent lover of the Prophet. He claimed that in his advent were fulfiled the prophecies of the Prophet concerning the appearance of the Messiah and the Mahdi in the latter days. In his voluminous writings and discourses he set forth in great detail the philosophy of all aspects of the teachings of Islam and thus demonstrated the supremacy of Islam over all other faiths, as had been foretold in the Quran (9:33; 48:29; 61:10). In one of his revelations he was described as Allah’s Champion in the mantles of the Prophets. In his daily life he illustrated in practice all the values inculcated by Islam.
Read the whole book online: ISLAM – Its Meaning For Modern Man