A ‘Worlds Greatest Expert’ on something will only be a useful speaker if he is invited to speak at an event which is relevant to his expertise. There is no use in inviting Albert Einstein to speak about the history of pie making in Ireland if his expertise was quantum mechanics! He would only have a few words to say and even they may not be true.
Sadly, this is mostly the case with Quran. Quran is very often placed in fields where its voice is not allowed to speak at length. Often its voice is cut off mid passage or even mid verse. I contend that very little of Quran is used in our discussions as quranists.
If we examine Muslim writings about the Quran, we will find that its voice is also tremendously subdued. It is rare to find writings which quote entire verses, let alone entire passages. Perhaps you have noticed this verse before:
Verily the Prayers are enjoined on believers at fixed times (4/103)
And from this verse, we are told that we must establish prayers at fixed times. Of course it does seem so if one reads the above verse but here is the problem:
This is not the complete verse!
This is last sentence in the verse made up of three complete sentences. What then of the surrounding verses? What about when the passage begins and ends and what of the theme of the chapter itself? This is what I mean by subduing the Quran’s voice. The Quran barely speaks before it is cut off and interpretations are made.
This cutting off becomes necessary because Quran is placed is the wrong field. Albert Einstein needs to speak at a convention on quantum mechanics to really bring out his voice. He would be so effective then that the audience would have to hang on to his every word because they are all relevant his overall message. That is Einstein, a human being speaking about something his human limited knowledge grasp. What about Quran, authored by the one who knows the secrets of the heavens and the earth?
In my view, the reason Quran is subdued in most methods of reading is due to the fact that we think Quran is about a particular subject when in fact it is not.
The most glaring example of this is in the quranist approach called ‘traditional quranism’. Traditional quranism is the approach to the quran which sees rites and rituals as part of Quranic teachings. More so, rites and rituals similar to Traditional Islam.
Often times, we will find their discussions putting together verses of the Quran as a patchwork. One verse here, one verse there. Verses not actually including the word ‘salah’ (so-called prayers) but rather ‘dhikr’ and ‘tasbeeh. Context is often ignored as they would suggest ‘salah’ would not fit the ‘prayer’ understanding. Is this how Quran speaks to us? By patching together verses out of context? I highly doubt it.
It is also the same with ‘secular quranism’ which hopes to extinguish any kind of religious devotion from the Quran. While reducing every occurrence of ‘salah’ to ‘commitment’, it has failed to take into account occurrences where salah are clearly linked with emotional states (such as 19/58-59). Salah comes in a wide variety of contexts yet that is ignored completely. It is because to me the field where Quran is placed isn’t right.
I believe the right field to place Quran is the ‘existential field’. That is where you strip your ‘frame’ of all extraneous terms – religious, secular, socio-political, ethical and others. Instead, go back to the inescapable fact – existence. That we are. I believe this is where Quran speaks loudest , as an overseer of our human experience.
Why do I believe so? For two reasons:
1. Quran speaks to the reader. The reader is the recipient of the dialogue (the ‘you’) and is thus the experiencer of the experience. I believe if we read with a focus on the reader, we will find entire chapters of Quran speaking to us from beginning to end.
2. Quran is a book of ayaat (signs). The word ‘aya’ appears nearly 400 times in the entire text. Signs are living. They are different from tales of the past which disbelievers say Quran is about (83/13). Therefore, one’s immersion into the universe of Quran is like a never ending oscillation between signs of reality and self and the text as the pivot.
The poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal said one should read Quran as if it is being revealed to us. I would even say there is no ‘as if’. It is being revealed to us as we experience human being. It speaks loudest when we engage with this frame.