February 28, 2005

Taking the Qur’an out of Context

A popular pastime of many non-Muslims (primarily, but not limited to Christians) is to take ayaat (verses) out of context from the Qur’an. In doing so, they think that they are proving a point (e.g., trying to prove that Islam is “violent”) but what they really show is their ignorance of the Qur’an and Islam.

The Qur’an was revealed in stages to Muhammad (pbuh) over a 23-year period. Many of these ayaat were revealed in response (normally after, but sometimes before) to specific historical events. As a result, there is often an historical context to these ayaat that Muhammad (pbuh) and the Sahabah (“companions” to the Prophet (pbuh) – the first Muslim community) knew instinctively; after all, they were living through those events. However, we Muslims and non-Muslims are living 1400-plus years after the fact, and non-Muslims in particular are ignorant of Islamic history. Trying to use an ayah in a general fashion that was revealed for a specific event in history is tricky business, even for a Muslim. Without an understanding of early Islamic history and Arabian culture, mistakes are often made in the interpretation of Qur’anic ayaat. As an imam once said in a khutbah (sermon), “To understand the Qur’an, one must understand the life of Muhammad (pbuh). And to understand the life of Muhammad (pbuh), one must understand the lives of the Sahabah.”

To be continued, insha'allah.

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