I reflect on the circumstances of the Revelation. Many parts came in response to something that was happening concurrently. Yet it’s meaning and message is for all time and not restricted to the time and place of its revelation. The entire Qur’an was revealed over 23 years in Makkah and Madina which are today in Saudi Arabia. It was not revealed in entirety at once, but was sent down in keeping with the wisdom of Allah(SWT) when He considered it necessary to say something. The Qur’an is an abiding miracle that lives on after the Prophet Muhammad(SAW) passed away; testimony to the existence of our Creator and to His concern for His creatures.
It is essential to be aware of the circumstances of the Revelation to appreciate how and why something has been prescribed or prohibited. For example the verses relating to fighting came after 13 years of merciless persecution, killing, torture, economic and social boycott. Only after 13 years, when their faith had survived the test of fire and proved to be true were the Muslims permitted to fight back. Until then they were told to simply bear the pain and pray for strength. The principle being established was that it is character which wins in the end, not muscle power.
If you want to influence people it can’t be done by force but by personal example and for that it is necessary to be tempered in the fire of personal hardship.
I marvel at the faith of people who accepted this message and did not lift a finger in anger even though they had the power, strength, courage and skill to do so. When fighting was finally permitted their capability became abundantly clear. But until that time they bore all hardships without complaint because they understood the intention of their Lord in ordering them to remain steadfast and not to retaliate.
Obedience is the soul of Islam and this was the training of those days. Obedience in hardship and ease. Obedience whether you like the order or not. Obedience to Allah(SWT) and to His Messenger(SAW) without question, argument or delay.
That is why the Qur’an needs to be read and understood in the context of its history so that one can appreciate how its injunctions were true to the time, yet they remain true for all time. For example, the Ayaat relating to war were needed at the time when the early Muslims were fighting their enemies. They were taught the etiquette of battle. They learnt the rules and they applied them. The result was that their victory became a source of inspiration for those who they vanquished. People who were vanquished saw the way Rasoolullah(SAW) entered Makkah, not arrogantly as a rampaging conqueror, intent on revenge but with his head lowered in submission to His Rabb, thanking Him for the victory, granting amnesty and protection to his erstwhile enemies who had persecuted him so mercilessly and not exacting revenge which is what they expected him to do.
That night the vanquished people saw the victorious soldiers gathered in the Masjid Al Haram around the Ka’aba, praying for mercy and forgiveness and giving thanks for their victory. Not looting and burning, drinking and dancing as is the custom of victorious armies. They did this because the Qur’an taught them how to behave when victorious in war.
So their behavior became a source of inspiration for others who loved them instead of hating them. That is why the Muslim can’t even imagine changing so much as a single letter in the Qur’an, because he knows that its author is the Creator Himself. The Muslim knows and acknowledges the fact that Allah(SWT) is superior to His creatures in every possible way. So His Word is superior to the word of any man, no matter how wise and learned that person may be. Therefore if anyone changes any part of the Revelation (Qur’an) in any way, the new change must necessarily be inferior to the original.
Now why would anyone who was intelligent and reasonable want to replace something superior with something inferior?
The Qur’an is protected by Allah(SWT) Himself. He said:
Verily We: It is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (Qur’an) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption)
The Muslim realizes that the Qur’an is an attribute of Allah(SWT) and is not a created thing. It is His Speech, His Kalaam and it is the closest sign of the Creator that one can hope to see, feel, and touch. It is to be honored, venerated, read, memorized, understood and practiced. Not changed, because it is perfect.
That is what the Qur’an means to the Muslim.