By now, we will all have heard about the fascinating discovery of the Qurānic manuscript. If found to be true (and there is no reason to doubt it as things stand), we welcome it and await for further news on this development. As someone who has been blessed with the memorisation of the Qur’ān, I was filled with nostalgia as I read through some of the pictures of the manuscript – it was familiar. For us, it is sufficient that the Qur’ān has reached us through trustworthy chains.
It is an article of faith in Islām that the Qur’ān is ‘inimitable’; try as he may, no man can write a paragraph that is comparable with a verse of the revealed Book. This has little to do with the literary merit of the text; in fact a perfect work of literature could never be ‘sacred’ precisely on account of the adequacy of its language to its content. No conjunction of words, however excellent, could ever be adequate to a revealed conteur. It is the efficacy of the words – their transforming and saving power – that is inimitable, since no human being can provide others with a rope of salvation made from strands of his own person and his own thoughts. The Qur’ān, set on a shelf with other books, has a function entirely different to theirs and exists in a different dimension. It moves an illiterate shepherd to tears when recited to him, and it has shaped the lives of millions of simple people over the course of almost fourteen centuries; it has nourished some of the most powerful intellects known to the human record; it has stopped sophisticates in their tracks and made saints of them, and it has been the source of the most subtle philosophy and of an art which expresses its deepest meaning in visual terms; it has brought the wandering tribes of mankind together in communities and civilisations upon which its imprint is apparent even to the most casual observer. The Muslim, regardless of race and national identity, is unlike anyone else because he has undergone the impact of the Qur’ān and has been formed by it.
More importantly for me, is the question of our relationship with the Qur’ān. If someone struck up a conversation with you about it, would you be confident and well versed enough to have a meaningful discussion? Do you even sit in gatherings where Tafsīr (commentary on the Qur’ān) take place? If not, why not? This is the real crisis of our Ummah: we fail to study our faith seriously or, worse, we think we know enough to have an opinion on every matter. This inevitably leads to us trivialising sacred knowledge.