This section in Quranology Blog is on the theory of Quran as a phenomenon within human being. In order to understand what this means, we should contemplate the concept of theory.
Theorising is simply thinking about a thing. It involves developing and testing propositions and compiling a set of principles. It is philosophising. Pontificating. Contemplating. Perhaps even rationalising to an extent.
In the case of Quran, some may ask: Why should we theorise it? Why not simply accept what its guardians tell us about it and get on with it? Why is it important to engage with it as a phenomenon and formulate an understanding of it?
I would pose the opposite question about Quran: How can we possibly not theorise it? Its claims and demands are too big to simply accept blindly. To ignore its biggest claim – which is to give us eternal bliss by virtue of serving Allah in turn by bringing good to humanity – would be foolish. However its demand – that we spend everything we have in attaining this goal – requires deep thought. This is not any old deal. It is the ultimate deal. It therefore requires deep thought.
How do we theorise Quran? The best way is to start from the beginning. Engaging with your most basic truth: that you exist. This is called in philosophy circles as the ‘facticity of Being’. It is simply about understanding the heaviness of existence. Not how you exist. Rather, that you exist. When we engage with this fact, we have stripped ourselves of any preconceptions.
As human beings, we have to engage with ideas which are brought to us through tradition. For example, if we are Traditional Muslims, we are told that Quran is the scripture descended to Muhammad and is unparalleled to any poem written at the time. A theorist might pose the following questions:
1. How do we know Quran was descended to Muhammad from Allah? History tells us that he received it in the Hira’ cave from Jibreel. This is of course unverifiable. Therefore, how can we know? Or do the historical details matter at all?
2. Muhammad then recited it to the people and traditionally, its poetic value proved that it was from a supernatural source. Is this enough as proof? Does Quran itself actually agree about poeticness? What are the implications to Quran’s universality if this claim is true?
3. What is the language of Quran? If it is indeed in Arabic, then does Quran need to follow Arabic rules of grammar and recorded meanings in dictionaries? If it does, then who actually controls the meanings of Quran? If it does not, then how does it produce meaning? What are the implications of either case to the divinity of Quran, i.e. does Allah need to conform to Arabic or does He retain sovereignty in language?
4. What is the philosophy of ethics in Quran? Are whatever norms Quran prescribes automatically deemed as ethical? Or perhaps they are ethical because Quran prescribes them? If they are unethical is it due to our own impaired sense of ethics? Or perhaps our interpretations of such verses?
5. Does Quran need a theology in the dogmatic sense (‘aqeedah in Traditionalist parlance)? If so, how should this theology be formulated and by whom? How does the term ‘ayat’ (sign, denoting subjectivity of experience) figure into a dogmatic theology? Is there a function of theology other than being a confessional validation (i.e. I believe God is one, I go to heaven)? If so, what is it?
These are just some of the questions we may face while attempting to create and formulate a theory on Quran. Theorising isn’t new. In fact, one of the biggest conflicts between the Traditionalists (Ahl As-Sunnah) and the Rationalists (Mu’tazilah) was on the nature of Quran. The Traditionalists believe that it is ‘uncreated’, always co-existing with Allah. This raises the problem of freewill and predestination of the personalities in Quran. Can this problem be solved? I believe so, with the understanding of kitab vs quran (an essay on this issue is forthcoming).
It should be noted that each of us needs to do this for him/herself. There should not be a select body representing any of us because it is our personal prerogative to find the answers for ourselves. Theorisation is a powerful tool for us to build a relationship with Quran and ultimately, with Allah Himself.