Aspects of the First Revelation
A brilliant analysis of the first five verses of Surah Al Alaq which I found worthy of sharing.
Prof. U Muhammad Iqbal discusses the question why Allah selected the five verses – 96:1-5 – as the first installment of revelation, and highlights its historical, scientific, educational, doctrinal and spiritual aspects. Read on, InshaaAllah….
Now there arises a question why God should select these five verses (Surah al Alaq 96:1-5) as the first installment of revelation. If the revelation had to begin with the instruction of reading only, then there are verses like the following which would have served the purpose equally well.
“Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to thee.” (29:45)
“And recite (and teach) what has been revealed to thee, of the Book of the Lord; none can change His words.” (18:27)
“………And I am commanded to be of those who bow in Islam to Allah’s will and to rehearse the Qur’an.” (27:91, 92)
The selection of verses 96:1-5 for the first revelation serves many more purposes than the mere instruction to read. One purpose seems to be to foster a scientific temper. This is done by laying emphasis on the “How” aspect of three main verbs used in the revelation – read, create, teach. How should one read? The answer is that one should read in the name of God. How did God create? The answer given is that God created man out of a mere clot of congealed blood. How did God teach man? The answer given is that God taught man the use of the pen, as a tool for instruction.
The answer to the first ‘How’ refers to a mental cause; the answer to the second ‘How’ refers to a material cause; the answer to the third ‘How’ refers to an efficient cause. The emphasis on ‘How’ is to encourage the use of technical devices, to cultivate the spirit of curiosity, to develop scientific temper and enquiry.
There is the question, ‘What did God teach man?’ The answer is – what man did not know and could not have known without God’s explicit role. The properties and constituents of any given object implicit in the question ‘What’ are stressed. The biological taxonomy of any living creature is implicit in the question ‘What’.
The cheek-by-jowl allusion to creation and knowledge, the allusion to the invention of the pen, and the repeated reference to ‘Man’ emphasise scientific discoveries, and areas of scientific study and man’s role in expanding the horizon of scientific progress under divine guidance.
Another aspect of the first revelation seems to reveal a comprehensive historical perspective of the Author of the revelation. In the human history, the first stage ought to be the ultimate advent of man. The statement, ‘He created man’ marks the first stage. The world has never been the same again after man’s appearance on earth. The second stage commenced when the foundation for the era of communication technology was laid with the invention and use of the pen. The statement, “He taught the use of the pen” refers to that landmark invention. God had been reaching out to mankind through the medium of His Messengers and scriptures in different parts of the world and at different times. The definitive and seminal revelation of the Qur’an preserving forever in a nutshell all the timeless and genuine teachings and precepts revealed through the preceding Messengers and the scriptures of the world commenced with the order ‘Read’ to Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be to him) in the cave of Hira. This order marks the third epoch-making stage in human history. The day was Monday and the month was Ramadan. There will be no other Scripture to be revealed by Allah after the Qur’an. Muslims, therefore, celebrate this revelation throughout the month of Ramadan, year after year.
“This Qur’an is not such as can be produced by other than Allah; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it, and a fuller explanation of the Book – wherein there is no doubt – from the Lord of the worlds.” (10:37)
“Say: “In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy – in that let them rejoice”: that is better than the (wealth) they hoard.” (10:58)
As the Qur’an conveys Allah’s bounty and mercy, its revelation has a significance which will stand the test of time and which will remain unsurpassed by any future development. It will remain the most widely read book; the human voice should bring forth its concealed melody; and the art of governance should display its splendid spectacle of social justice and harmony.
Carl Sagan (an eminent astrophysicist) offers a perspective on human history and it refers to three stages too. He says in his book, Cosmos, talking about extra-terrestrial intelligent beings and their tentative presence: “Might they somehow have an inkling of the long evolutionary progression from genes to brains to libraries that has occurred on the obscure planet Earth?” The three landmarks which he prefers are genes, brains, and libraries.
When he mentions ‘genes’, he may have in his mind Charles Darwin’s concept of random genetic mutation which led to the emergence of men as a new species in different parts of the world. The Qur’an refers to the advent of man too as the first stage and the presence of the word alaq or the clot of blood (something that clings) is indicative of the father’s and the mother’s genomes coming into balance and preserving their hereditary factors but the Qur’an makes it clear that this takes effect not as a result of random mutation but as a result of God’s role as the Creator. Ignoring other stages of creation, the Qur’an prefers the stage of alaqa here to emphasise the genetic factor. Isn’t this choice miraculous?
When Carl Sagan refers to ‘brains’, he may have in his mind Aristotle’s definition of man as a “rational animal”. This definition exalts intellect as the key to the sustained promotion of human capabilities, and development. The Qur’an prefers a verb ‘taught’ to the noun ‘brains’ that Carl Sagan uses. Teaching is directed towards the cultivation of the brains. The Qur’an presents God as the Teacher of mankind and never as a student of anybody. Carl Sagan thinks of ‘brains’ without reference to God.
When Carl Sagan refers to the ‘libraries’, he may have in his mind the outcome of the cultivation, education and enlightenment of the brains. The libraries preserve and store this outcome and make it accessible to posterity, advancing and enriching thereby this outcome. What Carl Sagan calls ‘libraries’ is anticipated by the use of the term qalam / the pen, the mechanism which makes the emergence of libraries possible.
Carl Sagan : 1. Genes 2. Brains 3. Libraries
The Qur’an : 1. ‘Alaq / clot of blood 2. Allama / taught 3. Qalam / pen
Carl Sagan and The Qur’an
1. Genes 1. Alaq / clot of blood
2. Brains 2. Allama / taught
3. Libraries 3. Qalam / pen
The chart above shows how the first revelation of the Qur’an anticipated in a miraculous manner Carl Sagan’s interpretation of human history and his definition of modern progress. The supremacy of the Qur’anic approach to human history lies in its emphasis on the role of God and of the scriptures with special reference to the Qur’an. It is unfortunate that such a brilliant astro-physicist denied himself the blessings of the Qur’an and died in such a state.
Besides dealing with science and history, the first revelation deals with the theory of education too. God is presented as the teachers’ Teacher who prescribes the syllabus, describes the instructional objectives, chooses the scriptures, selects and appoints the Messengers as teachers who have to elevate humanity to a high level of intellectual enlightenment and ethical excellence.
According to educationists, there are three components of the human personality and they are known as the cognitive, the psycho-motor and the affective. These components are taken care of as follows:
Cognitive component: Knowledge of the name of the Lord, Knowledge of His attributes, Teachings of God, removal of ignorance.
Psycho-motor: Reading, writing – “a dance of the pen”.
Affective: God’s affection and bounty and grace as Teacher is shown in the words Rabb and Akram and in His sustained campaign to spread knowledge. The use of one adjective, Akram, in relation to God is highly significant.
Constant increase in knowledge, the generous quantum of wisdom and the company of people endowed with moral excellence, and the avoidance of ignorance, superstition, and prejudice are some of the ideals of the Qur’anic theory of education. Uprightness in social behaviour is given a pride of place. A Muslim is sensitised against indecorous, shameful, unnatural, and obscene conduct.
The Qur’an trains a Muslim to function efficiently as a vicegerent of God on earth, as a cautious consumer of resources, as a responsible member of society, and as a generous contributor to the welfare and well-being of one and all.
Moreover, the first revelation is an excellent introduction to the doctrinal base of Islam. There are three important beliefs – belief in God, belief in prophethood, and belief in the life hereafter. (That is, Tawheed, Risalah and Aakhirah)
With regard to the first belief, the first revelation has the following details: God is one and He has created all things. The scientists lump life into three categories – bacterial, archaean, and everything else. He is the only Creator of man and He feeds him and takes care of him in several ways. God is the most knowledgeable, most beneficent, and most bounteous and honourable. One of the ways in which He takes care of man is that He teaches and guides him and tells him what is good and what is evil and how he should promote goodness and eradicate evil in all walks of life. In this task of shaping human personality, He makes use of education technology (represented by qalam), of parents (alaq), of scriptures and Messengers (iqra), and prescribes the universe and man for study (represented by khalaqa and insan here and afaaq and unfus in 41:53)
Belief in prophethood is emphasised. The order to proclaim, communicate, and teach mankind is given to Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be to him) in the expression ‘Thy Lord and Cherisher’. ‘Thy’ refers primarily to Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be to him) and secondarily to every human being because God is God of all human beings. (114:1) The duties of a Prophet, as listed in the first revelation, are reciting revealed verses, proclaiming the message of God to mankind, bringing mankind closer to their one and only Creator, explaining how God is bounteous, obeying God’s orders, and becoming instrumental in God’s plan to educate and enlighten mankind. The agglutinative nature of the Arabic language brings out the symbiotic nature of God and the Prophet very clearly indeed. ‘Thy Lord and Cherisher’ is written as Rabbuka, which is one word only.
Belief in Aakhirah has a unique educative and purifying value and so the Prophet (May Allah bless and greet him) has given it due importance in his teaching. What man knows not is a broad area which includes ignorance about life after death. (16:78) The Qur’an says, “They know but the outer (things) of the life of this world but of the end of things (Aakirah) they are heedless.” (30:7) In another place, the angels’ question to the unbelievers is given as follows:
Did not messengers come to you from among yourselves, rehearsing to you the signs of your Lord and warning you of the meeting of this Day of yours? (39:71)
Still less can their knowledge comprehend the Hereafter. (27:66)
From these verses, it is clear that God and the Prophets have been forewarning mankind about the true life (89:24) for which this life is but a preparation and this forewarning has been a vital component of divine instruction that has been imparted down the ages, and particularly from the time the pen began to play its role in divine teaching. Indifference to the concept of the Day of Judgment may qualify for divine wrath and for spiritual benightedness.
“The Hereafter is better and more enduring. And this is in the Books of the earliest revelations – the books of Abraham and Moses” (87: 17-19) The relationship between the pen and the books is there for all to see.¨
Prof. U Muhammad Iqbal in Radiance Weekly
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