Since the Revelation of the Qur'an, the world has studied this book. Those unconvinced by its claims and those who hang on every word and proclaim it to be the Speech of Allah have spent precious moments of their lives pouring over the contents of the Book, scrutinising every verse, paragraph, surah and sometimes even querying the origin of certain non-Arabic words in the text.
The Encyclopedia Americana proclaims, "…there is no other book that has been so studied." 1 Upon the completion of the Qur'an in the year AD 632, study of it by detractors and proponents did not stop, but accelerated.
The most important aspects used by scholars in the study of the Qur'an were five in number:
1) THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE QUR'AN
The Qur'an's revelation was between the years AD 610-632. 86 portions or "surahs" were given in Makkah - a place of persecution and bitterness - while the remaining 28 were in Al-Madinah - the city where Islam became the predominant religion and clandestine efforts for proselytising were well underway.2
Much of the application of the Qur'an is connected to what was revealed but also where it was revealed. If this beginning principle is not adhered to, the other four principles below are without meaning.
2) THE LANGUAGE OF THE QUR'AN
The language of the Qur'an is indeed Arabic.
Indeed We sent down a Qur’an in Arabic so that you might think.3
And likewise, we sent down an Arabic Qur'an and explained in detail some warning therein so that they might have fear of Him or that it might cause them to remember. 4
It is in a clear Arabic tongue. 5
This is an Arabic Qur'an without any crookedness therein so that they might have fear of Him.6
It is an Arabic Qur'an, in which its verses are explained in detail for a people who know. 7
And likewise, we revealed to you an Arabic Qur'an so that you might warn the Mother of the Cities and whoever is around it. 8
We made it an Arabic Qur'an so that you might think.9
The fact that the Qur'an was given in Arabic, in particular the dialect of Quraish, is clear to students of Arabic language and linguists alike; however the Arabic language, just like any other, has had absorbed words, concepts and vocabulary from other languages.
It is of the utmost importance that someone reading the Qur'an knows that these loan words bear a different meaning in the host language or are used for purposes other than those intended in the sampled language.10
There are examples that will be useful to the reader:
So We shall marry then to Hur with wide eyes. 11
The word 'hur' is not from Arabic but rather Farsi12 so one will have to read the context of the verse here, all other citations where the same expression is used and statements from the Prophet Muhammad to know what this word entails in its meaning and application.
The Paradise in the Hereafter is referred to often in the Qur'an and also its different layers.
Those who believe and do righteous deeds shall have for themselves gardens that they shall descend into as a reward.13
One of the sections in these gardens in the Paradise is referred to above as al-firdaws. The origin of this word is Syriac, which passed to Farsi, then Greek (or Koine) and finally became a loan word in Arabic.14
The context of this word explained by the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him,
"The gardens of the Paradise are of four divisions in number. There are two gardens that are of gold and all their finery, utensils and jewellery is also gold. The two other gardens are from silver and their finery, utensils and jewellery are all from silver as well. There is no veil between the people and seeing their Lord except the cloak of majesty on His Face in the garden of Eternity.15
The Arabic of the Qur'an is also studied with regard to how the wording or grammar of certain verses impacts the interpretation of the text.
Women that have been divorced shall wait for three periods…16
The word quru' used in the ayah is the singular of the word qar'. This word carries a dual meaning, encapsulating both the menstrual cycle and the period of time between each menstrual cycle. 17
The actual meaning of this word is crucial in establishing when a divorce is complete and a woman is eligible to marry again.
3) THE PERSON OF THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD, PEACE AND BLESSINGS OF ALLAH BE UPON HIM.
As the recipient of the Revelation, there is no practical way to separate him from the Qur'an's application.
His third wife, A'ishah As-Siddiqah, said of him, "His manners and morals were the Qur'an." 18 Knowing this to be the case, his word on the text would take rank over any other statement or opinion.
It then became of the utmost importance for the early Muslims to gather together his commentary on the passages of the Qur'an and his usage of the text to resolve disputes, conclude agreements, enact marriages and annul them and also organise the distribution of wealth.19
This vast body of literature, referred to as Sunnah, was to be utilised as a companion to the Qur'an in aiding understanding, implementation and limitation of verses that might seem general; absolute application of verses that might appear limited and suspension of laws and rules that have been superseded by later verses (known as abrogation)20
4) THE EARLY MUSLIM COMMUNITY'S UNDERSTANDING
As discussed above, the Prophet's relation to the Qur'an is crucial and thus one has to have both sources for a proper understanding of the Qur'an and balanced and responsible implementation of it.
In light of this, the same principles that would be used to explain the Qur'an also had to be applied to the Sunnah. These methods are both referred to using the same technical word: 'tafsir'.
One of the great masters of tafsir, `Abdur-Rahman ibn Al-Jawzi, defined this science by saying, "Tafsir means to bring to light and make clear a matter that had been concealed or unclear."21
5) EXHORTATIONS AND COMMAND
In the Qur'an, believers are commanded to carry out actions declared as compulsory, abstain from certain things prescribed as forbidden and to manage the wider society with the governing laws provided in its verses.22