Qur’an

The holy scripture of Islam. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the direct, perfect word of God, and its text an earthly manifestation of God’s presence. Its message replaces or supersedes all previous divine revelations, although it also confirms them. The Qur’an is the ultimate source of all Islamic belief and provides the foundation for the interpretation of Islamic law. The Qur’an is made up of revelations made by God to the prophet Muhammad. Muhammad, a merchant of the Arabian city of Mecca, began receiving these revelations, both directly from God and via an intermediary, the angel Jibreel (Gabriel), in 610. They continued intermittently until Muhammad’s death in 632. The word qur’an means recitation; the revelations were at first recited to Muhammad and then by him. The Prophet’s first followers memorized these recitations as he spoke them and began to use them in prayers. Some of them were eventually written down during Muhammad’s life- time using his dictation. The first Qur’anic collection was made in the 630s, after the Prophet’s death, by his scribe Zayd Thabit, working under the instructions of Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s successor as leader of the Islamic community.

Zayd and others later compiled a more definitive collection dur ing the reign of the third of Muhammad’s successors, the caliph Uthman, in the 650s. Any other versions of the recitations were ordered destroyed. The Qur’an that exists today is this definitive compilation. The Qur’an contains 114 chapters known as suras. These are commonly described as either Meccan or Medinan suras depending on where Muhammad received the revelations. The earlier Meccan suras are shorter and written with vivid imagery in rhymed prose. Their teachings are mostly those of basic Islamic principle. They recognize that God is the source of all Creation and urge the unity of humanity within a community of believers. Believers are enjoined to recognize God’s forgiveness and compassion as well as his judgment, since God’s final judgment will ultimately come. The Meccan suras also acknowledge Muhammad’s role as Messenger of God. The Medinan suras are composed of revelations granted to Muhammad after the establishment of the first Islamic community in the city of Medina in 622. They are generally longer than the earlier suras, use more straightforward language, and focus on matters relating to religious, social, and moral order, on the actual workings of the community of believers. Warfare, marriage and divorce, and behavior are among the issues the suras touch upon. They also describe the fundamental duties of Islam including the Five Pillars of Faith: profession of the faith, prayer, charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage.

The Qur’an does not place the suras in chronological order. Rather, they are organized more or less according to length, with the longest suras apppearing first. The exception to this is the first sura, known as al-Fatiha, the opening, which is a brief devotional prayer commonly considered to contain the essence of the entire Qur’an. Only One God An understanding of the Qur’an in its entirety provides the basis for the understanding of the Islamic faith. The scripture makes clear that only one God exists for the faithful: There is no other God but God. This God is the Creator of the perfect order of the universe and of all within it. He is separate from Creation but also constantly present within it. The Qur’an, God’s revealed word, provides humanity with all the guidance it needs, and human beings must be prepared to accept that guidance, to submit to the will of God. Indeed, the word islam is generally accepted to mean such submission to God’s will. The extent to which individuals do this will be the basis of God’s final judgment of humanity. The Qur’an’s verses emphasize that God is compassionate and merciful, and indeed such a statement appears at the start of every sura. But he is also ready to pass strict judgments on his day of judgment. God has given human beings many qualities and the potential for greatness. But of all his creatures they are the only ones fully capable of evil, and only through submission will they be fully able to guard against their evil tendencies as well as completely open themselves to God’s mercy and compassion. The Islamic God, according to the Qur’an, is the same God worshipped by Jews and Christians, and indeed the text itself notes the line of the prophets that was eventually sealed by the final prophet, Muhammad. These include Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. But Jewish and Christian communities never completely accepted the teachings of these prophets as contained in such texts as the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament. Consequently these earlier revelations had become corrupted and impure. Only the Qur’an, God’s final word, remains pure and perfect. Indeed, the Qur’an is not simply a compilation of God’s revelations. It is an attribute of God, eternal and unchanging. On many matters the Qur’an is indirect or ambiguous, a fact acknowledged by believers.

Parts of it, for example, emphasize human free will while others assert that a person’s fate is hung about his shoulders in a way that cannot be altered. The Qur’an also lacks specific information on Islamic law as well as the ritual requirements of the faithful beyond the Five Pillars of Faith. To address these features believers use, first, the Hadith, a living commentary on the Qur’an, as well as the Sunna, which provides more elaborate guidelines for the 90 percent of Muslims who belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. In addition, numerous schools of interpretation have arisen with different understandings of Islamic law, of free will, and of many other issues. The disputes that have arisen focus invariably on interpretation rather than on the Qur’an itself, the foundation for all interpretation. Uses of the Qur’an Believers use the Qur’an in distinct ways, and in this sense it has acquired some of the coloring of a sacred ritual object. Muslims generally only approach the text while in a state of ritual purity, which requires washing beforehand. Some believe that the text itself has the power to heal or perform other miracles, as it conveys God’s power and compassion. Unsurprisingly, the Qur’an has been the basis of Islamic education since its first appearance, and its often poetic writing encourages believers to memorize and recite its suras, an echo of the earliest groups of believers. Those who memorize the entire text to the extent of being able to recite it are granted the honorific title of hafiz. The suras have also been frequently set to music, and they have been chanted by Sufi mystics in search of divine visions. Since the Qur’an is considered the eternal and unchangeable word of God, Islamic tradition has urged that believers read and recite it in the original Arabic language in which it was transmitted. Most of the faithful continue to do so, reciting Qur’anic prayers daily in Arabic even if they do not understand the language. Although translations into most languages are now commonly available, the scholarly or devout consider these translations to be only paraphrases or interpretations that believers might use to begin their understanding of the canonical Arabic text.

One recent English paraphrase of sura 2, verse 255, the Throne Verse, runs: God! There is no God but He, the living, the eternal, self-subsisting, ever sustaining. Neither does somnolence affect Him nor sleep. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth, and who can intercede with him except by His leave? Known to Him is all that is present before men and what is hidden and that which is to come upon them, and not even a little of His knowledge can they grasp except when He wills. His Throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He tires not protecting them: He alone is high and supreme. In general, a Jewish religious teacher. The Hebrew term can be translated as either my teacher or my master. The term first came into usage during the late period of the second Temple, the first century B.C. to A.D. 70; before this Jewish religious experts were generally known as sages. As Rabbinical Judaism took shape over the centuries after the destruction of the second Temple, rabbis emerged as the spiritual leaders in the Jewish religion. In order to achieve the status of rabbi, one had to demonstrate thorough knowledge in both the oral and written Torah, or the Jewish spiritual tradition. In time, and especially among the Jewish communities of Europe, rabbis emerged as community leaders as well as spiritual guides. In the modern world, and especially in Reformed and Conservative congregations, rabbbis have taken on roles closely approximating those of clergy in other faiths: preaching, providing pastoral counseling and presiding over such ceremonies as bar mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals. They do this while maintaining their status as teachers and maintainers of Jewish traditions and, indeed, it is not unheard-of for rabbis to profess atheism; in this case their goal is to preserve community traditions rather than perform religious duties. In the West, rabbis generally have to undertake a long period of both secular and spiritual education before they can be ordained as rabbis, while in Israel rabbis are trained in yeshivas, or Jewish schools.

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