By Nikhat Sattar
August 10, 2018
THE Quran describes itself as the Furqan,
i.e. that which distinguishes truth from falsehood. “Blessed is He who sent
down the criterion to His servant, that it may be an admonition to all
creatures” (25:1). This is the criterion or standard that differentiates
between good and evil, pious deeds against wrongdoing and those who are beloved
by God against those who expose themselves to His wrath.
The Quran is considered variously as a book
of prescriptions for daily life; a book of laws and regulations; a book of
guidance; a book of sanctity, of science or a combination of these. The most
common belief is that it is a book of rules, and Muslims as well as non-Muslims
believe that it has brought the Sharia (equated with law) for Muslims. And yet,
the Quran is foremost a book of ethical principles for those who can look
beyond into its depths.
‘Sharia’ means a path in Arabic. The path
to God lies in adopting righteousness that follows from faith and submission to
God, qualities that are attributed to Hazrat Ibrahim and other prophets and
that were preached throughout the centuries.
The Quran Is Foremost A Book of Ethical
Like the Torah and Injeel, the Quran also
reminded people of basic morality, a message which had been sent continuously
through His messengers, and which the people had forgotten. In pre-Islam
Arabia, for example, people were mostly polytheists, exploited the weak and the
poor and were unjust and oppressive to women. Men used a number of ways to
exploit their numerous wives. If they got tired of them, they would say that
they were like their mothers, and this implied that they were no longer man and
wife. However, whenever they wanted, they would return to claim their marital
This was an abhorrent act called Zahar,
and the Quran forbade it clearly. Since Arab society was tribal, relying on the
physical ability of men to fight and travel and bear hardships, they were the
bread earners and hence given a slight priority over wives in terms of divorce
and inheritance. In case of a testimony over a financial matter in front of people,
two women were considered to be able to do so and thus provide support to each
other and be less overwhelmed.
One of the practices very common in those
times was the debt which a poor man would owe to a moneylender which would
increase exponentially as the former would be unable to pay the capital and
ultimately the entire family and generations would become the moneylender’s
slaves. This was Riba, which was strictly forbidden.
As society changes, so do humans evolve and
their intellectual and physical abilities change. Over the past centuries,
human evolution has been faster than ever before. Women and men possess equal
potential for intellectual excellence; both can do the same or similar jobs and
in many countries, are equal partners in bringing up a family and contributing
to societal development. The specific rules provided by the Quran need to be
studied in terms of their relevance in the context of the society of tribal
Arabs in the seventh century and the wisdom extracted from them.
This wisdom should then be applied to the
society of today and laws made that meet the basic guidelines of justice,
equity and morality defined in the Quran. That no person should be oppressed by
any other; that no person is of higher status except in piety and this can only
be determined by God and that both women and men should adopt modesty and
morality in their interactions. There is, of course, room for considerable
subjectivity in what a society considers moral or otherwise, and this must be
determined by personal and collective wisdom.
In Muslim societies, Sharia has come to be
equated with rules and procedures while guidance in ethics and morality has
been lost somewhere. Many Muslim scholars justify economic misdeeds, greed,
exploitation, marrying many women, slavery, depriving women of their
inheritance, beating wives based upon verses that were never meant to do any of
these. They spend their efforts in resisting any movements that advocate
educating women and laws against domestic violence and supporting feudal
systems that uphold economic exploitation of the poor. It has become easy to
give Fatwas and declare anything Haram without thinking of the context, then
One of the major scholars of our times,
Fazlur Rahman, suggests that the Quran is a response to the social, moral,
religious issues present in the society where it was revealed and it would be
necessary to study its specific responses, distil its general meanings, study
the present socio-moral context and then apply its generic guidance. Without
this, Muslims might remain in the conundrum of their ignorance, both of the
Quran and the challenges of our times.
Nikhat Sattar is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.