I do not believe in the divinity of religions. Religions (defined here as traditions comprising dogma, rituals, institutions, cultural elements such as food and dress) are to me simply human products. They are born out of a historical process to which is added cultural elements. They may be helpful in reaching the divine experience which is the goal of Quran but they are certainly not divine in themselves.
Having said the above, I should clarify some of my essential beliefs:
1. I believe in Allah
2. I believe in Quran as inspired by Allah to be the whole truth.
This is as far as the divine element goes for me. Quran is an inspired text from Allah but its interpretation isn’t necessarily the case (although we aim for objectivity in our interpretation). Around where Quran was first brought, there was already a culture – that of the ancient Arabs and this cultural lens was used to interpret Quran. They read Quran in their cultural mould, as it were. I personally disagree with the underlying philosophy of their approach which presumes that Quran is a religious text. When I read Quran, I do not see a religious text as I did as an adolescent. I do not even see it as being secular or socio-economic. Quran goes beyond any form of classification. It is a text of being. A manual to engage with our existence and to build upon that knowledge to find our place in the totality of human experience.
If my approach is correct, then Quran has a whole other significance for humanity. To paraphrase Inayatullah Al-Mashriqi (whose writings helped me think along these lines in the first place through his essay ‘Mankind to Develop as a Single Nation’), Quran helps mankind to develop as a species. Mashriqi called it ‘the science of religion’ although I refer to call it ‘the science of being’.
If Quran is not a religious text, then how can it benefit humanity? I would argue that its benefit to humanity is extremely limited if it was seen as a religious text. This is because Quran contains narratives which, through a religious lens are about Prophets performing miracles and thereby proving the existence of the one true God. I prefer to see it as an existential text whereby these personalities play out various aspects of human being.
So we finally approach the question: How can Quran benefit humankind without being a religious text? Although I cannot answer this question comprehensively, I do believe that the following points may help in starting to paint a picture:
1. Quran helps us understand the divine force which it calls ‘Allah’. This understanding fulfils a very practical need. In fact, in the very first description of Allah, He calls himself ‘Lord of the Worlds’(Ch 1 Vs 1) which shows his divine energy sustains the universe. Our task is to tap into this divine energy(rabubiyah) in order to achieve our highest potential. I believe all of Quranic teachings is underpinned by this.
2. Quran gives us an understanding of the soul or personality (nafs in Quranic language). This soul helps us to appreciate the various ins and outs of our psyche which in turn helps us to understand what will bring about change (8/53 and 13/11). The soul is also inextricably connected to Allah so that if we forget Him, our souls would also be forgotten (59/19).
3. Quran helps us to understand the essence of humanity. What is that for which we exist? What are we to take from our earthly existence. It does not simply tell you the meaning of life but rather it encourages experimentation so that you may discover this meaning yourself. This is what QG calls the Quranic State of Being (QSOB).
4. Quran helps us understand social dynamics and thus equips us to fully take advantage of social living. This is what QG calls ‘divine sociology’ and Quran uses examples of various groups and personalities to demonstrate social conditions and the best solutions to improve upon them. We can also come to understand what the idea of ‘worshipping Allah’ means through these narratives.
5. Quran helps us understand the ‘garden’ and ‘fire’ concepts. These are traditionally understood to make an extra-worldly heaven and hell but I believe these to be only part of the definitions. Our earthly human experience is a measure through which we will come to understand the otherworldly experience of the two. Quran uses these concepts to illustrate human utopia and dystopia.
So as we can see, there are a number of ways Quran can be of great benefit to the human species. These benefits are not easily seen from a religious lens but if we adopt a more existential reading (a reading pertaining to existence or being) , I believe Quran can yield as much as any other book on philosophy, in fact more so.