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The Holy Qur'an/Introduction

< The Holy Qur'an
بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِي


Introduction


God's purpose with man

C. 1.—Glory to God the Most High, full of Grace and Mercy;
He created All, including Man.
To Man He gave a special place in His Creation.
He honoured man to be His Agent,
And to that end, endued him with understanding,
Purified his affections, and gave him spiritual insight;
So that man should understand Nature,
Understand himself,
And know God through His wondrous Signs,
And glorify Him in truth, reverence, and unity.

C. 2.—For the fulfilment of this great trust
Man was further given a Will,
So that his acts should reflect God’s universal Will and Law,
And his mind, freely choosing,
Should experience the sublime joy
Of being in harmony with the Infinite,
And with the great drama of the world around him,
And with his own spiritual growth.

C. 3.—But, created though he was in the best of moulds,
Man fell from Unity when his Will was warped,
And he chose the path of Discord.
And sorrow and pain, selfishness and degradation,
Ignorance and hatred, despair and unbelief
Poisoned his life, and he saw shapes of evil
In the physical, moral, and spiritual world,
And in himself.

C. 4.—Then did his soul rise against himself,
And his self·discord made discord between kith and kin:
Men began to fear the strong and oppress the weak,
To boast in prosperity, and curse in adversity,
And to flee each other, pursuing phantoms,
For the truth and reality of Unity
Was gone from their minds.

C. 5.—When men spread themselves over the earth,
And became many nations,
Speaking diverse languages,
And observing diverse customs and laws;
The evils became multiplied,
As one race or nation
Became alienated from another.
The Brotherhood of Man was now doubly forgotten,—
Firstly, between individuals, and secondly, between nations.
Arrogance, selfishness, and untruth
Were sown and reaped in larger fields;
And Peace, Faith, Love and Justice
Were obscured over masses of men,
As large tracts of land are starved
Of sunshine by clouds Boating far on high.

C. 6.—But God in His infinite mercy and love,
Who forgives and guides individuals and nations,
And turns to good even what seems to us evil,
Never forsakes the struggling soul that turns to Him,
Nor the groups of men and women
Who join together to obey His Will and Law
And strengthen each other in unity and truth,
Nor the Nations that dwell
In mountain or valley, heat or cold,
In regions fertile or arid,
In societies that roam over land or seas,
Or hunt, or tend flocks, or till the soil,
Or seek the seas for food or oil or fat or gems,
Or dig out from the bowels of the earth
Precious stones or metals or stored-up heat and energy,
Or practise arts and crafts, or produce abundant wealth
By machines of ingenious workmanship,
Or live a frugal life of contemplation:
For all are children of One God,
And share His loving care
And must be brought within the pale
Of His eternal unity and harmony.

The light of His Revelation

C. 7.—And so this light of eternal Unity
Has shone in all ages and among all nations,
Through chosen Apostles of God, who came
As men to dwell among men,
To share their joys and sorrows,
To suffer for them and with them,—
Aye, and to suffer more than falls
To ordinary mortal lot,-
That so their message and their life
Might fufil the eternal
And unchanging purpose of the Most High,-—
To lead man to his noblest destiny.

C. 8.—Ever this eternal light of Unity,
This mystic light of God's own Will,
Has shone and shines with undiminished splendour.
The names of many Messengers are inscribed
In the records of many nations and many tongues,
And many were the forms in which their message was delivered,
According to the needs of the times and the understanding of the people;
And manifold were the lives of the Messengers,
And manifold also was the response of their people;
But they all witnessed to the One Truth:
Of God's unity, might, grace and love.

C. 9.—As the records of man are imperfect,
And the memory of man unstable:
The names of many of these messengers
Are known in one place and not in another,
Or among one people and not among others;
And some of their names may have perished utterly;
But their message stands one and indivisible,
Even though it may have been forgotten,
Or twisted by ignorance, error, superstition or perversity;
Or misunderstood in the blinding light
Or time or tortuous Circumstance.

C. 10.—Many were the faiths in the composite world
Of Western Asia, Northern Africa, and Europe,
And many were the fragments of ancient wisdom,
Saved, transformed, renewed or mingled;
And many new streams of wisdom were poured through the crucibles
Of noble minds,—prophets, poets, preachers,
Philosophers, and thinking men of action;
And many were the conflicts, and many
The noble attempts reaching out towards Unity,
And many were the subtle influences
Interchanged with the other worlds
Of further and Eastern Asia,-
Aye, and perchance with the scattered Isles
Of the Pacific and the world between
The Atlantic and the Pacific.

The Voice of Unity

C. 11.—At length came the time when the Voice of Unity
Should speak and declare to the People,
Without the need of Priests or Priest-craft,
Without miracles save those that happen
Now and always in the spiritual world,
Without mystery, save those mysteries
Which unfold themselves in the growing
Inner experience of man and his vision of God,—
To declare with unfaltering voice
The Unity of God, the Brotherhood of Man,
And Grace and Mercy, Bounty and Love,
Poured out in unstinted measure for ever and ever.

C. 12.—And this great healing light shone
Among a people steeped in ignorance,
Brave and free, but without cohesion or union,
Simple and rude, but with an easy familiarity with Nature,
Accustomed to Nature’s hardships and her rugged resistance to man,
But dreaming of the delights of gardens and fruitful fields,
Cruel, yet with a rough sense of equality,
And wielding a tongue, flexible, beautiful,
And able to respond, with brevity and eloquence,
To the sublimest thoughts which man could conceive,

C. 13.—Who were lit to be vehicles of this light?—
Not men intoxicated with words and mysteries,
Men whom politics had debauched or tyranny had subdued,
Men whose refinement had ended in vices,
Who saw Nature only through books or artificial conceits,
Or in moods which bred softness, indolence, or luxury,
Who spoke of love and justice, but practised
Gross selfishness between class and class,
Sex and sex, condition and condition;
And had perverted their language, once beautiful,
Into jargons of empty elegance and unmeaning futility.

C. 14.—For the glory of Hellas, and her freedom and wisdom had departed;
Rome’s great systems of law, organization and universal citizenship
Had sunk into the mire of ecclesiastical formalism,
And dogmatism, and exclusive arrogance;
The living fire of Persia’s Prophet scarce smouldered
In her votaries of luxury;
In India, countless castes and kingdoms
Cancelled the unity of Buddha’s teaching;
The wounds of China had not yet been healed by T'ang culture;
And Japan was still a disciple of China.

C. 15.—Then in the sacred city of pagan Arabia,
Shone a light that spread in all directions.
It was centrally placed for the bounds of the world
Of men’s habitations in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
It made the Arabs the leading nation of culture and science,
Of organized enterprise, law, and arts,
With a zeal for the conquest of Nature and her mysteries.

Muḥammad

C. 16.—Behold! There was born into the world of sense
The unlettered Apostle, the comely child,
Noble of birth, but nobler still
In the grace and wisdom of human love
And human understanding; dowered with the key
Which opened to him the enchanted palace
Of nature; marked out to receive—
To receive and preach in burning words
The spiritual truth and message of the Most High.

C. 17.—Others before him had been born
In darkness, beyond the reach
Of history; others again it pleased God
To send as Messengers, preaching, working
In the dim twilight of history,
Wherein men fashion legends
After their own hearts, and dimly seek
A light afar, remote from the lives,
Mean and sordid, such as they knew.

C. 18.—But Muḥammad came in the fullest blaze
Of history; with no learning he put to shame
The wisdom of the learned; with pasture folk
He lived and worked, and won their love; in hills
And valleys, caves and deserts, he wandered,
But never lost his way to truth and righteousness;
From his pure and spotless heart the Angels washed
Off the dust that flew around him; through the ways
Of crooked city folk, he walked upright and straight,
And won from them the ungrudging name
Of the Man of Faith[1] who never broke his word.

C. 19.—To the Praiseworthy[2] indeed be praise:
Born in the Sacred City[3] he destroyed
Its superstition; loyal to his people to the core,
He stood for all humanity; orphan-born
And poor, he envied not the rich,
And made his special care all those
Whom the world neglected or oppressed,—
Orphans, women, slaves, and those in need
Of food or comforts, mental solace, spiritual strength,
Or virtues down-trodden in the haunts of men.

C. 20.—His mother[4] and his foster-mother[5]
Loved and wondered at the child;
His grandfather, ’Abdul Muṭṭalib,
Of all his twice-eight children and their offspring,
Loved him best and all his sweet and gentle ways;
His uncle Abu Ṭālib, loth though he was
To give up the cult of his fathers,
Knew well the purity of Muḥammad’s
Mind and soul, and was his stoutest champion
When the other chiefs of Mecca sought to kill
The man who challenged in his person
Their narrow Pagan selfish lives.

C. 21.—To his cousin ’Alī, the well-beloved,[6]
Born when he was thirty, he appeared
As the very pattern of a perfect man,
As gentle as he was wise and true and strong,
The one in whose defence and aid
He spent his utmost strength and skill,
Holding life cheap in support of a cause so high,
And placing without reserve his chivalry,
His prowess, his wit and learning, and his sword
At the service of this mighty Messenger of God.

His Mission

C. 22.—Not till the age of forty[7] did he receive
The Commission to stand forth and proclaim
The Bounty of God, and His gift, to lowly Man,
Of knowledge by Word and Pen; but all through
His years of preparation he did search
The Truth: he sought it in Nature’s forms and laws,
Her beauty and her stern unflinching ways;
He sought it in the inner world
Of human lives, men's joys and sorrows,
Their kindly virtues and their sins
Of pride, injustice, cruel wrong,
And greed of gain, scarce checked by the inner voice
That spoke of duty, moral law, and higher still,
The Will Supreme of God, to which the will
Of man must tune itself to find its highest bliss.

C. 23.—But he grew steadfastly in virtue and purity;
Untaught by men, he learnt from them, and learned
To teach them; even as a boy of nine,
When he went in a trade caravan with Abu Ṭālib
To Syria,[8] his tender soul marked inwardly
How God did speak in the wide expanse
Of deserts, in the stern grandeur of rocks,
In the refreshing flow of streams, in the smiling
Bloom of gardens, in the art and skill with which
Men and birds and all life sought for light
From the Life of Lives, even as every plant
Seeks through devious ways the light of the Sun.

C. 24.—Nor less was he grieved at Man’s ingratitude
When he rebelled and held as naught the Signs
Of God, and turned His gifts to baser uses,
Driving rarer souls to hermit life,
Clouding the heavenly mirror of pure affections
With selfish passions, mad unseemly wrangles,
And hard unhallowed loathsome tortures of themselves.

C. 25.—He worked, and joyed in honest labour;
He traded with integrity to himself and to others;
He joined the throngs of cities and their busy life,
But saw its good and evil as types
Of an inner and more lasting life hereafter;
People gladly sought his help as umpire
And peacemaker because they knew his soul
Was just and righteous: he loved the society
Of old and young, but oft withdrew to solitude
For Prayer and inward spiritual strength;
He despised not wealth but used it for others;
He was happy in poverty and used it as his badge
And his pride[9] when wealth was within his reach
But not within his grasp, as a man among men.

C. 26.—At twenty-live he was united in the holy bonds
Of wedlock with Ḵẖadīja the Great, the noble lady
Who befriended him when he had no worldly resources,
Trusted him when his worth was little known,
Encouraged and understood him in his spiritual struggles,
Believed in him when with trembling steps
He took up the Call and withstood obloquy,
Persecution, insults, threats, and tortures,
And was a life-long helpmate till she was gathered
To the saints in his fifty-first year,—
A perfect woman, the mother of those that believe.

C. 27.—There is a cave in the side of Mount Ḥiraa
Some three miles north of the City of Mecca,
In a valley which turns left from the road to ’Arafāt,
To which Muḥammad used to retire for peaceful contemplation:
Often alone, but sometimes with Ḵẖadīja.
Days and nights he spent there with his Lord.
Hard were the problems he revolved in his mind,—
Harder and more cross-grained than the red granite
Of the rock around him,—problems not his own,
But his people’s, yea, and of human destiny,
Of the mercy of God, and the age-long conflict
Of evil and righteousness, sin and abounding Grace.

C. 28.—Not till forty years of earthly life had passed
That the veil was lifted from the Preserved Tablet
And its contents began to be transferred to the tablet of his mind,
To be proclaimed to the world, and read and studied
For all time,—a fountain of mercy and wisdom,
A warning to the heedless, a guide to the erring,
An assurance to those in doubt, a solace to the suffering,
A hope to those in despair,—to complete the chain
Of Revelation through the mouths
Of divinely inspired Apostles.

C. 29.—The Chosen One[10] was in the Cave of Ḥiraa.
For two years and more he had prayed there and adored
His Creator and wondered at the mystery
Of man with his corruptible flesh, just growing
Out of a clot,[11] and the soul in him
Reaching out to knowledge sublime, new
And ever new, taught by the bounty
Of God, and leading to that which man himself
Knoweth not. And now, behold! a dazzling
Vision of beauty and light overpowered his senses,
And he heard the word "Iqraa!"

C. 30.—"Iqraa!"—which being interpreted may mean
"Read!" or "Proclaim!” or "Recite!”
The unlettered Apostle was puzzled;
He could not read. The Angel seemed
To press him to his breast in a close embrace,
And the cry rang clear "Iqraa!"
And so it happened three times; until
The first overpowering sensation yielded
To a collected grasp of the words which made clear
His Mission; its Author, God the Creator,
Its subject, Man, God’s wondrous handiwork,
Capable, by Grace, of rising to heights sublime;
And the instrument of that mission, the sanctified Pen,
And the sanctified Book, the Gift of God,
Which men might read, or write, or study, or treasure in their souls.

C. 31.—The veil was lifted from the Chosen One’s eyes,
And his soul for a moment was filled with divine
Ecstasy. . .When this passed,
And he returned to the world of Time
And Circumstance and this world of Sense,
He felt like one whose eyes had seen
A light of dazzling beauty, and felt dazed
On his return to common sights.
The darkness now seemed tenfold dark;
The solitude seemed tenfold empty;
The Mount of Ḥiraa, henceforth known
As the Mountain of Light,[12] the mere shell
Of an intense memory. Was it a dream?
Terror seized his limbs and he straightway sought
Her who shared his inmost life,
And told her of his sense of exaltation,
And the awful void when the curtain closed.

His first Disciples

C. 32.—She understood, rejoiced, and comforted him;
Gave strength to his shaken senses;
Wrapped up in warmth his shivering body,
Unused as yet to bear the strain and stress
Of an experience rare to mortal men.
She knew it was no dream or delusion.
She went and consulted her cousin Waraqa,
A devout worshipper of God in the Faith of Christ,
Learned in spiritual lore. He listened
And with her rejoiced that he, Muḥammad,
Was God’s Chosen One to renew the Faith.

C. 33.—She said: Blessed be thou, Chosen One!
Do we not see thy inner life,—true and pure?
Do not all see thy outer life,—kind and gentle?—
Loyal to kin, hospitable to strangers?
No thought of harm or mischief ever stained thy mind
Nor word ever passed thy lips that was not true
Or stilled not the passions of narrower men.
Ever ready in the service of God, thou art he
Of whom I bear witness: there’s no God but He,
And thou art His chosen Apostle.

C. 34.—Ḵẖadīja believed, exalted in faith
Above all women; ’Alī, the well-beloved,
Then a child of ten, but lion-hearted,
Plighted his faith, and became from that moment
The right hand of Islam; Abū Bakr, the Sincere,[13]
The True-hearted, the man of wealth and influence,
Who used both without stint for the Cause,
The sober Counsellor, the inseparable friend,
Never hesitated to declare his faith;
And Zaid, the freedman of Muḥammad,
Counted his freedom as naught compared
With the service of Muḥammad and Islam.
These were the First fruits of the mission:
A woman, a child, a man of affairs, and a freedman,
All banded together in the equality of Islam.

The Task before Him

C 35.—The revelation had come, the mission
And the inspiration. But what was it leading to?
It was a miracle, but not in the sense
Of a reversing of Nature; Muṣṭafā's vision
Was linked with Eternity, but he was no soothsayer
Foretelling passing events; the mysteries
Of knowledge were being opened out, but his message
Was no mere esoteric doctrine, to be grasped
By a few in contemplation, fleeing from action;
Nor was it the practice of single or social monasticism,
Undisturbed by the whims or passions of life.
He was asked to stand forth, to preach, to declare
The One Universal God, the Gracious, the Merciful,
And to lead men to the Right and forbid the Wrong.

C. 36.—The wrong?—The selfish pride of birth,
The massing of power and wealth in the hands
Of a few, the slaughter of female infants,
The orgies of gambling and drunkenness,
The frauds of temples and idols and priests,
The feuds and arrogance of tribes and races,
The separation of Sacred and Profane,
As if the unity of All Life and all Truth
Did not flow from the unity of God Most High.

C 37.—He was loyal to his family, but could he support
Their monopoly of power?—To his tribe,
But were the Quraish the only creatures
Of God?—To the temple of Mecca, but
Could he wink at Lāt and ’Uzzā, and the other monsters,
Whose worship killed the spiritual growth of Man?—
To the earlier Revelations, but could he hold
With the superstitious and falsehoods, the dogmas and creeds
Which went against reason and nature, and the inner light
Which was now fanned into flame by the Will of God?

C. 38.—And so his very virtues and loyalties pointed
To offence and conflict, mockery and misrepresentation,
Hatred and persecution, threats, tortures, and exile
For him and his, and martyrdoms, wars, revolutions,
And the shaking of the foundations of history
And the social order. But Islam meant
The willing submission of his will to God,
The active attainment of Peace through Conflict.

C. 39.—And he gave that submission, not without effort,
Even as Moses[14] did before him,
And Jesus[15] in the agony of the garden of Gethsemane.

* * *

The Qur'ān

C. 40.—For three and twenty years, in patience,
Coniiict, hope, and final triumph,
Did this Man of God receive
And teach the Message of the Most High.
It came, like the fruit of the soul’s own yearning,
To teach profound spiritual truths,
Answer questions, appeal to men
In their doubts and fears, help and put heart
In them in moments of trial, and ordain
For them laws by which they could live
In society lives of purity goodness and peace.

C 41.—These messages came as inspiration
To Muhammad as the need arose,
On different occasions and in different places:
He recited them, and they were recorded
By the Pen: they were imprinted on his heart
And mind, and on the memory
Of his loving disciples: as the body
Of sacred Scripture grew, it was arranged
For purposes of public prayer and reading:
This is the Book, or the Reading, or the Qur'ān.

Contents

Notes

  1. 1. Al-Amīn
  2. 2. Muḥammad
  3. 3. Mecca
  4. 4. Amina
  5. 5. Ḥalīma
  6. 6. Murtaḏẖa
  7. 7. The Arabian year before H. 10 was roughly luni-solar: See Appendix 11, p.1077.
  8. 8. It was on such visits that he met and conversed with Nestorian Christian monks like Bahīrā who were quick to recognize his spiritual worth. Perhaps the meeting was in Busrā بُصرىٰ in the Jabal Druze district of Syria, some 80 miles south of Damascus. There was another Busrā in Edom, north of Petra in Transjordania. Busrā was famous for trade in costly red dyes, and is referred to as Bozrah in Isaiah, 63:1. Neither of these towns is to be confounded with the modern Basra.
  9. 9. Alfaqru faḵẖrī: "Poverty is my pride."
  10. 10. Muṣṭafā
  11. 10-A. See 96:2, and n. 6205.
  12. 11. Jabal-un-Nūr.
  13. 12. Ṣadīq or Ṣiddīq, the title of Abū Bakr.
  14. 13. Qur'ān 20:25-32.
  15. 14. Matt. 26.