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meditation

                           

THE
HOLY QUR’AN

 

    
The Qur’an
(Khoran)
admittedly occupies an important position among the
great religious books of the world. Though the youngest of the
epoch-making works belonging to this class of literature, it yields to
hardly any in the wonderful effect which it has produced on large masses
of men. It has created an all but new phase of human thought and a fresh
type of character. It first transformed a number of heterogeneous desert
tribes of the Arabian peninsula into a nation of heroes, and then
proceeded to create the vast politico-religious organizations of the
Muhammadean world which are one of the great
forces with which Europe and the East have to reckon to-day.

 The
secret of power exercised by the book, of course, lay in the mind which
produced it. It was, in fact, at first not a book, but a strong living
voice, a kind of wild authoritative proclamation, a series of
admonitions, promises, threats, and instructions addressed to turbulent
and largely hostile assemblies of untutored Arabs. As a book it was
published after the prophet’s death. In Muhammad’s life-time there were
only disjointed notes, speeches, and the retentive memories of those who
listened to them. To speak of the Koran is, therefore, practically the
same as speaking of Muhammad, and in trying to appraise the religious
value of the book one is at the same time attempting to form an opinion
of the prophet himself. It would indeed be difficult to find another
case in which there is such a complete identity between the literary
work and the mind of the man who produced it.

 On
the question of originality there can hardly be two opinions now that
the Koran has been thoroughly compared with the Christian and Jewish
traditions of the time; and it is, besides some original Arabian
legends, to those only that the book stands in any close relationship.
The matter is for the most part borrowed, but the manner is all the
prophet’s own. This is emphatically a case in which originality consists
not so much in the creation of new materials of thought as in the manner
in which existing traditions of various kinds are utilized and freshly
blended to suit the special exigencies of the occasion. Biblical
reminiscences, Rabbinic legends, Christian traditions mostly drawn from
distorted apocryphal sources, and native heathen stories, all first pass
through the prophet’s fervid mind, and thence issue in strange new
forms, tinged with poetry and enthusiasm, and well adapted to enforce
his own view of life and duty, to serve as an encouragement to his
faithful adherents, and to strike terror into the hearts of his
opponents.

 There
is, however, apart from its religious value, a more general view from
which the book should be considered. The Koran enjoys the distinction of
having been the starting-point of a new literary and philosophical
movement which has powerfully affected the finest and most cultivated
minds among both Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. This general
progress of the Muhammadean world has somehow
been arrested, but research has shown that what European scholars knew
of Greek philosophy, of mathematics, astronomy, and like sciences, for
several centuries before the Renaissance, was, roughly speaking, all
derived from Latin treatises ultimately based on Arabic originals; and
it was the Koran which, though indirectly, gave the first impetus to
these studies among the Arabs and their allies. Linguistic
investigations, poetry, and other branches of literature, also made
their appearance soon after or simultaneously with the publication of
the Koran; and the literary movement thus initiated has resulted in some
of the finest products of genius and learning.

 


 History

The scattered fragments of the Koran
were in the first instance collected by his immediate successor Abu Bekr,
about a year after the Prophet’s death, at the suggestion of Omar, who
foresaw that, as the Muslim warriors, whose memories were the sole
depositaries of large portions of the revelations, died off or were
slain, as had been the case with many in the battle of Yemƒma, A.H. 12,
the loss of the greater part, or even of the whole, was imminent. Zaid
Ibn Thƒbit, a native of Medina, and one of the Ansars, or helpers, who
had been Muhammad’s amanuensis, was the person fixed upon to carry out
the task, and we are told that he “gathered together” the fragments of
the Koran from every quarter, “from date leaves and tablets of white
stone, and from the breasts of men.” The copy thus formed by Zaid
probably remained in the possession of Abu Bekr during the remainder of
his brief caliphate, who committed it to the custody of Haphsa, one of
Muhammad’s widows, and this text continued during the ten years of
Omar’s caliphate to be the standard.

 In the copies made from it,
various readings naturally and necessarily sprung up; and these, under
the caliphate of Othman, led to such serious disputes between the
faithful, that it became necessary to interpose, and in accordance with
the warning of Hodzeifa, “to stop the people, before they should differ
regarding their scriptures, as did the Jews and Christians.” In
accordance with this advice, Othman determined to establish a text which
should be the sole standard, and entrusted the redaction to the Zaid
already mentioned, with whom he associated as colleagues, three,
according to others, twelve of the Koreisch, in order to secure the
purity of that Meccan idiom in which Muhammad had spoken, should any
occasions arise in which the collators might have to decide upon various
readings. Copies of the text formed were thus forwarded to several of
the chief military stations in the new empire, and all previously
existing copies were committed to the flames.

Zaid and his coadjutors, however, do
not appear to have arranged the materials which came into their hands
upon any system more definite than that of placing the longest and best
known Suras first, immediately after the Fatthah, or opening chapter
(the eighth in this edition); although even this rule, artless and
unscientific as it is, has not been adhered to with strictness. Anything
approaching to a chronological arrangement was entirely lost sight of.
Late Medina Suras are often placed before early Meccan Suras; the short
Suras at the end of the Koran are its earliest portions; while, as will
be seen from the notes, verses of Meccan origin are to be found embedded
in Medina Suras, and verses promulgated at Medina scattered up and down in
the Meccan Suras.

 It would seem as if Zaid had to
a great extent put his materials together just as they came to hand, and
often with entire disregard to continuity of subject and uniformity of
style. The text, therefore, as hitherto arranged, necessarily assumes
the form of a most unreadable and incongruous patchwork; “une
assemblage,” says M. Kasimirski in his Preface, “informe et incoh’rent
de pr’ceptes moraux, religieux, civils et politiques, mˆl’s
d’exhortations, de promesses, et de menaces” and conveys no idea
whatever of the development and growth of any plan in the mind of the
founder of Islam, or of the circumstances by which he was surrounded and
influenced.

 It is true that the manner in
which Zaid contented himself with simply bringing together his materials
and transcribing them, without any attempt to mould them into shape or
sequence, and without any effort to supply connecting links between
adjacent verses, to fill up obvious chasms, or to suppress details of a
nature discreditable to the founder of Islam, proves his scrupulous
honesty as a compiler, as well as his reverence for the sacred text, and
to a certain extent guarantees the genuineness and authenticity of the
entire volume.  But it is deeply to be regretted that he did not combine
some measure of historical criticism with that simplicity and honesty of
purpose which forbade him, as it certainly did, in any way to tamper
with the sacred text, to suppress contradictory, and exclude or soften
down inaccurate, statements.

 

 

 

 


Comments &
Translation By Project GuttenBerg
Foundation

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