The Qur'an is to Islam what the Torah is to Judaism, the Bible to Christianity and the Gita to Hinduism. I believe that the Qur'an has three basic themes. In this paper, I show the importance of the Qur'an to Muslims and, in the process, attempt to capture the essence of the Qur'an through the critical reading of three Surahs -- 96, 74 and 107.
Muslims believe that Allah (God) had, through Abraham, Moses and Christ, sent down his teachings. Yet, over time, the teachings of Allah lost its purport. Neither Moses, nor Abraham nor Christ had recorded Allah's teachings, leading to people misinterpreting and corrupting Allah's word as the teachings were handed down orally from one generation to the other. The Torah and the Gospel came to be composed many years later and in the process, God's original teachings went through numerous editions.
However, it is believed that the Qur'an was compiled and recorded during the Caliphate of Uthman (644-656 A.D.), just a few years after the Prophet Mohammed's demise (632A.D.). Thus, the final revelation of Allah had been faithfully recorded, word for word.
The Qur'an is God's final revelation to mankind through the prophet Mohamed. It is intended to guide its followers'the Muslims ' and the people of the Book (Jews and Christians'for they too had received some form of Allah's teachings through the Torah and the Gospel) to the right path'the path of complete submission (Islam) to Allah.
In the year 610 AD, Mohammed underwent his first religious experience at Mount Hira. During this time Mohammed felt the presence of the divine and was terrified at the unnerving experience at the beginning when the revelations began but finally he realized that Allah was sending down his word to him through the angel Gabriel and the Qur'an was revealed to the prophet Mohammed.
There are 114 Surahs or chapters in the Qur'an. Each Surah consists of Ayat or verses. Thus, the 114 Surah's consist of 6000 Ayat. Each Surah has a title and begins by exhorting Allah. These exhortations reinforce the belief in one God'Allah.
Surah 96 is God's first words to Mohammed. It summarizes the reasons behind Allah's revelation and thus, is a very important Sura to analyze if we wish to understand the Qur'an. Allah reminds Mohammed that he is man's creator and preserver. Through this Surah one is made to realize how insignificant man is compared to the power of Allah who 'Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood.' Allah has been mankind's teacher and has taught man everything he knows and yet mankind has forgotten him. Allah goes on to say that our ego has blurred our minds in that we see ourselves as completely independent and detached from him and consider ourselves as the masters of our destiny.
This is not to say that Islam is a completely fatalistic faith for the notion of individual accountability does exist (Sura 74:38). Which means one should follow the path of Islam but if one strays from it, one should be ready to accept what comes to him. It does not mean that Allah has decided beforehand what sort of lives we shall lead and that we have no hand in shaping our future.
Sura 96 also reminds us that Allah is omnipresent, omniscient'he sees all and knows all'so we should be careful in how we conduct ourselves. Allah knows when we sin and all mortal power fades away in front of his judgement which is final. Thus, God exhorts mankind to turn to him and to not pay heed to sinners. We come close to God as soon as we submit to him.
It is clear why the Qur'an was handed down to Mohammed by Allah through this Sura. Mankind had lost its way and the Qur'an serves as a reminder of God's greatness and calls upon us to realize there is a higher being, a higher intelligence than us to whom we should turn to, away from sin.
Surah 74 reiterates the importance of submitting to Allah, turning away from a life of sin, before it is too late. This Surah also makes clear the concept of individual accountability (94:38) and the consequences of an evil life. Allah makes it clear that he does not need to prove himself through miracles. One could almost say that God has shown enough of miracles over the past and yet people have gone astray and consequently, this final revelation is a miracle in itself and those who submit shall find themselves closer to God; those who don't and keep waiting for miracles to enforce their faith in God are forewarned.
So who are these people who sin? What is sin in Islam?
We get a direct and precise answer in Surah 74. Those who do not pray, are uncharitable, and egotistic, denying the existence of Allah as well as of the Day of Judgement are those who will be assigned and banished to hell (74:43-47). Though Allah says in Surah 74 that he does as he pleases (Ayat 31) it is quit clear that it is up to the individual to make his own future. Should he submit to Allah, he might be forgiven, though he may be a sinner for it is up to Allah who to forgive and whom to punish.
Finally, Surah 107 mentions the duties of those who submit to Allah. People should accept that they will be judged by Allah and those who sin shall be appropriately punished. Thus we should dedicate our lives to goodwill and charity. We should look after the orphan'implying that we should care for those who are weak and cannot fend for themselves. It is a Muslim's duty to give alms'to provide for those who are not lucky enough to provide for themselves. Consequently, those who are hungry should be fed. Muslims should not go about with a bloated ego. Those who want to be admired by others and who, at the same time, refuse to be good to others, failing to carry out their basic duties, will be punished as well.
These three Surahs'96, 74 and 107' capture the essence of the Qur'an. The exhortations at the beginning of each Surah emphasize the tawhid or unity of Allah. One of the most important themes in the Qur'an is that of judgement by Allah, his warning that he should be obeyed. Allah is repeating his warning one last time and people should heed his warning and turn towards him, ceasing from sin. The third theme is that of intelligent responsibility. As I have mentioned earlier, the Qur'an makes it quite clear that Allah hasn't decided on the fate of mankind. Every person is free to choose as he pleases but at the same time those who turn away or do not turn to Allah should be aware of the consequences. The Qur'an exhorts mankind to turn to Allah, away from sin. Obviously had Allah already decided on the fate of mankind there would have been no need of revealing himself to Mohammed.
What then is Islam?
It is a monotheistic faith that believes in one and only one God. Everyone can be a Muslim. All one needs to do is submit to Allah and lead a life of charity and goodwill for Allah will judge those who sin. It is also a miracle in itself as it is the direct word of Allah. Allah need not show us signs to make us believe in him for the Qur'an is a miracle in itself and the last sign. Through the ages Allah has sent down his word that has been misinterpreted and the Qur'an is his final sign, his final revelation.
This is what Muslims believe in, this is Islam.