Unity of the Text of the Qurʾān

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Mustansir Mir
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As a subject of study, the unity of the qurʾānic text assumes special importance because the Qurʾān does not always seem to deal with its themes in what most readers would call a systematic manner (see form and structure of the qurʾān ). Western scholars of Islam have often spoken of the “disconnectedness” of the Qurʾān (see pre-1800 preoccupations of qurʾānic studies; post-enlightenment academic study of the qurʾān ). Historically, most Muslim exegetes have not raised the issue at all (see exegesis of the qurʾān: classical and medieval ). Of those who have, some have offered the apologetic explanation that a text revealed in portions (see revelation and inspiration ) over more than two decades cannot have a high degree of unity (see chronology and the qurʾān; occasions of revelation). But a few others, notably Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210) and Ibrāhīm b. ʿUmar al-Biqāʿī (d. 885/1480), present the Qurʾān as a well-connected text (for further discussion of the concept of tanāsub/munāsaba, see traditional disciplines of qurʾānic study ). A distinction must, however, be made between connection and unity: the former may be defined as any link — strong or weak, integral or tangential — that is seen to exist between the components of a text (see literary structures of the qurʾān; language and style of the qurʾān), whereas unity arises from a perception of a given text's coherence and integration and from its being subject to a centralizing perspective. In the second chapter of al-Burhān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān,al-Zarkashī (d. 794/1392) seems to make this distinction, but most of his illustrative examples bear upon the Qurʾān's connectedness rather than upon its unity. The attempts of al-Rāzī and others also do not go beyond demonstrating that the Qurʾān is, in the above-noted sense, a connected text. In modern times, however, a number of Muslim scholars from various parts of the Muslim world have, with varying degrees of cogency, argued that the Qurʾān possesses a high degree of thematic and structural unity, and this view seems to represent a modern consensus in the making (see contemporary critical practices and the qurʾān; exegesis of the qurʾān: early modern and contemporary). In the introduction to his Tafhīm al-Qurʾān, Abū l-Aʿlā Mawdūdī (d. 1979) maintains that one can appreciate the unity of the qurʾānic text if one notes that nowhere does the Qurʾān depart from its subject (humankind's ultimate success and failure; see eschatology; reward and punishment), its central thesis (the need for humans to take the right attitude in life — that is, to accept God's sovereignty [q.v.] in all spheres of life and submit to him in practice; see virtues and vices, commanding and forbidding ) and its goal (to invite man to adopt that right attitude). One of Sayyid Quṭb's (d. 1966) premises in Fī ẓilāl al-Qurʾān is that each sūra (q.v.) of the Qurʾān has a miḥ warmiḥwar v, 406a (pivot, axis) that makes the sūra a unified whole. But perhaps the most sustained effort to bring out the unity of the qurʾānic text has been made by two exegetes of the Indian subcontinent, Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Farāhī (d. 1930) and his student Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī (d. 1997). Developing his teacher's ideas, Iṣlāḥī in his Tadabbur-i Qurʾān shows that the Qurʾān possesses unity at several levels: the verse-sequence in each sūra deals with a well-defined theme in a methodical manner (see verses ); the sūras, as a rule, exist as pairs, the two sūras of any pair being complementary to each other; and the sūras are divisible into seven groups, each dealing with a master theme that is developed systematically within the sūras of the group. The Farāhī-Iṣlāḥī thesis would seem to constitute a serious challenge to the theories that view the Qurʾān as a disconnected text.

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