The Style of Presenting Rules in the Qur’an



The Qur’an describes itself as the Book of Guidance, not a book of rules.  However, it does contain a limited number of rules.  When presenting a rule, the Qur’an follows a certain style.  It does so with a strong reference to spiritual and moral values.  This simply means that rules cannot be applied in absence of high consciousness and virtues.  This style should guide the believers to the application of the Qur’anic rules and commands.

 

When the Qur’an speaks of rules or legal matters it usually interrupts the discussions to remind the reader of a few themes that elevate his spirituality and connects him to God.  Whether the subject is about requesting permission to enter a house or an injunction to refrain from gambling, the Qur’an always takes such opportunity to remind the reader of the Favours of Allah (swt) on mankind, the scenes of the Day of Judgment, the importance of establishing the daily prayers, the reward for the good deeds and so on.  This style holds a strong indication that the rules in Islam cannot be applied in absence of a spiritual ground, a sense of justice, tolerance, mercy towards others, love for others, etc.  

 

Let us consider the following examples from the Qur’an.  In the verses that deal with the law of retaliation for a killing, once the principles are set out the verse goes on to soften the hearts of both parties, the offenders and victims (2:178).

 

 “O you who believe, the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by a (relative from the family of the slain), then accept any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty.” 

 

Here, taking the soul of the killer for the soul of the killed is tolerated but with a stronger recommendation for mercy and forgiveness.  This spirit of forgiveness shut the door to more evil acts in the future.  And that is the real purpose of the rule.

 

Similarly, when the Qur’an discusses divorce, it does not simply produce regulations couched in dry legal terms.  Instead, it phrases the legal instructions in spiritual and emotional language while employing a powerful use of linguistic techniques of persuasion and dissuasion.  An example is found in (2:231):

 

“When you divorce women, and they fulfill the term of their (‘Iddat), either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; but do not take them back to injure them, or to take undue advantage of them ……….. . And fear Allah, and know that Allah is well acquainted with all things.” 

 

While this verse addresses divorce, we find a remarkable emphasis on revocation of divorce and returning to marriage with a condition that no harm should be caused to a woman in either case.  This is a positive note to emphasize that the painful process of divorce should proceed with as much good feeling as possible (herein lie the essence of spirituality).  Furthermore, the end of the verse is a gentle reminder to people in such a painful situation to “fear Allah, and know that Allah is acquainted with all things”.  Once again, it is an appeal to the spirituality of the reader. 

 

When the Qur’an calls on people to fight enemies of the faith it does so with a strong demand to refrain from transgression (2:190-192): “And fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah does not love transgressors.”  This is another demonstration of the style of presenting the rule.  It lays down the rule and leaves it up to the believer to determine how to use it to realize the goal of achieving justice, peace, love, etc. 

 

In other verses that describe similar situations of application of rules (especially those that are associated with difficult situations) we usually find them end with similar statements such as: “If you believe in God and know that you are going to meet Him” or “Remember that God is watching over everything and has full power over you”, or “He knows and you don’t know”, etc. 

 

The sirah (the autobiography) of Prophet Muhammad and his companions also confirms that rules cannot be applied in absence of high consciousness and virtues.  The Prophet was dealing with a person who broke his fast in Ramadan by having intimate relations with his wife during daytime.  The rule in this case is to feed sixty needy people as a mean of compensation.  However, when the Prophet (pbuh) found out that the man was too poor to afford this rule, he donated a few pieces of dates to him and asked him to feed his family with them.  Here, the spirit of mercy and rational thought overrode the sightless application of the rule. 

 

Caliph Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) was careful when he had to apply the punishment for a theft; i.e. cutting the hand of the thief.  He reduced or even eliminated it if the thief had no means to feed himself or his family.  Again, an exemption from the rule would be made in the name of justice. 

 

The rule of lining up for congregation prayer dictates that the children stand in lines behind the men’s lines.  But a strict application of this rule might cause emotional pain or even damage to a young child who is forced to be separated from his father during the prayer.  Once again, the notion of mercy and compassion would allow a compromise to this rule.

 

These examples point to the fact that spirituality is the only guarantee for one’s constructive and fair application of the rules.  We cannot proceed with a punishment until all calls for mercy are overridden.  We cannot proceed with fighting enemies without first exercising tolerance.  We cannot assume the duty of inviting people to Islam (da’wa) without the spirit of love for them. 

 

The Qur’an is not a book of dry rules that are set in store.  It is a combination of morals and insight, which both qualify the applications of the rules.  Some of us would like to view the Qur’an as our manual for life.  But we have to remember that manuals are made to operate and maintain machines.  People are not machines!  Life and people are much more sophisticated in their nature with much choices and unknowns. 

 

For that matter we have to view the Qur’an for what it is: the Book of Guidance that appeal to consciousness and spirituality of mankind.  And the rules have to be applied within this context.

 

By Mohammed Shokr



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