I was first piqued to this idea of modern language and Quranic discourse when a scholar said to me ‘The Quran is a 7th century text. It does not have modern political concepts and so is unsuitable for human use’. This was a disturbing thought at first but after giving it some thought, I did ask come up with the following counter-question: Why should Quran have such concepts?
Quran purports itself to be a detailing of every thing (12/111) which I interpret to mean it captures the essence of being human. This essence is immutable and thus not subject to space and time. This is how Quran is above human chronology. No matter where one is or in whatever period of time, Quran would be relevant to his human essence.
So why does Quran lack these ‘modern political concepts’? Perhaps concepts like ‘state’ (dawlah), ‘civil society’ (mujtama’ madani) and ‘citizenship’ (muwataniya). None of these exist in Quran yet are part of the vocabulary of modern political language. As I see it, there are two conclusions to make here. One, that Quran has failed in its purpose or two – these concepts are not essential to human being.
Yes Quran does not have these terms but it does have concepts which are approximations to the above. For example, its concept of ‘ummah’. ‘Ummah’ concepts from the word ‘umm’ which suggests a parent like act of a community over its members. Moreover, the ummah seems to be the natural formations in the animal kingdom as well (6/38) which gives us an unlimited source of information as to what the concept refers.
Perhaps then the concept subsumes all these of the above, state, civil society and citizenship. Perhaps Quran purports a concept which transcends all three. It wishes to see a society in which state, civil society and citizenship are one. Certainly, this possibility is increased by Quran’s assertion that essence of humankind is one ummah and that our tendency for mutual exploitation undermines that unity (2/213).
It is also interesting that the messengers who are the agents of truth and justice are said to be a single ummah and that Allah is their lord (21/92). This shows that the system of truth feeds into the concept of ummah. However, it should also be noted that firaun (the leader of the system of oppression) does not use this term. Rather, he breaks up his people into factions, keeping them against one another (28/4). Perhaps the concepts of state, civil society and citizenship fits more into this mould and it does with the concept of ummah?
It is not within the scope of this essay to provide substantial answers to the above question. Rather it is meant to be an example about how terms emerging in the modern language may find their reality of factuality in Quran yet not its wording. Perhaps Quran does not use these words because it has a more succinct way or even more accurate way of framing the reality of human being. The key is to find similar ideas then elicit Quran’s worldview of those ideas through its contexts.