Saturday, May 30, 2009

Al-Qur’an in a “Preserved Tablet”

Al-Qur’an in a “Preserved Tablet”
Shahul Hameed

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, May Allah blessings and peace be upon His Messenger.

The third article of Islamic faith says that Muslims believe in books revealed by Allah. They are, in their chronological order of revelation: Suhuf Ibrahim, Torah, Talmud, Bible and the Qur'an. Except for the Qur'an, Islamic doctrine states that all other books were revealed for particular people in particular time in the world history.

As for the Qur'an, it is revealed for all people and for all time and it was sent down to Prophet Muhammad. Those four previous revelations, are they the uncreated speech of Allah in exactly the same way as the Qur'an? Do these previous revelations have celestial texts on Preserved Tablet? If all revelations have their source in the same divine attribute, how could then these previous revelations have been lost when they enter the cosmos, God's creation? Although they are abrogated by the final revelation (the Qur'an) in the matters of the divine law, this does not alter the fact that they are too the uncreated speech of Allah. This problem is of course, non-existent if these previous revelations are not the uncreated speech of Allah.

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the perfect form of the guidance of Allah Almighty sent down to humanity through Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) . It is the completion and culmination of the previous revelations to the earlier prophets. The essential Message to all the prophets of Allah has been the same: worship Allah alone and abandon all other objects of worship.

While the earlier books contained the fundamental part of divine guidance, they also contained contingent directions suited for the time, which was not part of the essential message. The unchangeable Book of Allah inscribed on a 'Tablet Preserved' in heaven ought to be the Qur'an itself, from which the essential message of the earlier scriptures was extracted.

There is only one place in the Qur’an, where the 'Preserved Tablet' is mentioned:

“Nay, this is a Glorious Qur’an (inscribed) in a Tablet Preserved!” [Al-Buruj, 85: 21:22]

Elsewhere we read:

“Verily, We, it is Who have sent down the Remembrance (the Quran) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption)” [Al-Hijr, 15:9]

The eminent early Muslim scholar, Ibn Kathir said: "The phrase "in the Preserved Tablet" means, it is among the higher rank groups (i.e., angels), preserved and protected from anything being added or taken away, or any alteration or changes.” [Tafsir of Ibn Kathir].

And Allah s.w.t protects its existence, and protecting it from having anything added or omitted, or from being distorted. He is protecting its meanings from being twisted, just as He is protecting its words from being changed, and He is protecting its letters so that nothing is added or taken away.

As there are no details of "the Preserved Tablet" given in the Qur’an, several scholars use their ingenuity to describe it better than any reliable fact can do.

The well-known Qur’an Translator Muhammad Asad has written: "Some commentators take it (i.e. the expression, "the Preserved Tablet") in its literal sense and understand that it is an actual "heavenly tablet" upon which the Qur’an has been inscribed for all eternity; to many others the phrase has always had a metaphorical meaning: namely, an allusion to the imperishable quality of this divine writ. This interpretation is pointedly mentioned as justified by, e.g., Tabari, Al-Baghawi, Razi or Ibn Kathir, who all agree that the phrase "upon a well-guarded tablet" relates to Allah's promise that the Qur’an would never be distorted, and would remain free of all types of additions, diminutions and textual changes."

The prophecy in Surah Al-Hijr quoted above that the Qur’an will be guarded intact by Allah Almighty from any kind of corruption has been confirmed by the fact that the text of the Qur'an has remained free from all alterations, additions or deletions ever since it was enunciated by the Prophet (sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) in the seventh century of the Christian era. There is no other instance of any book, of whatever description, which has been similarly preserved over such a length of time.

Therefore, we may conclude that the "Glorious Qur'an (inscribed) on a Tablet preserved" [Al-Buruj, 85:21-22] corresponds to its preservation in space and time on earth too. That is why the Qur'an will remain safely protected from the hands of the wicked manipulators of sacred writings. And the term 'majid' is derived from a root word which means 'to excel in glory' and is completely applicable to the Qur'an, because its content is profound and glorious and its meaning is vast and exalted about Allah Almighty and about ethical morals, as well as religious laws.

Therefore, we have ample reason to state that the Qur'an has a unique status among the Holy Scriptures and no previous scripture can make any such claim.

Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) that:

“With it came down the truthful spirit, to your heart that you may admonish, in the perspicuous Arabic tongue” [As-Shu’ara', 26: 193-195]

And again:

“Say: If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid.” [Al-Kahf, 18:19]

The expression, 'Kalam Allah' means 'the Word of Allah' or the 'Speech of Allah'. There is some controversy over the "non-creation" of the Qur'an as it is described as "Allah's Speech". Whether the Speech of Allah should be viewed as having no 'beginning and no end, or with a beginning and an end like a creation of Allah – are two views based on interpretation.

If all scriptures were "the uncreated speech of Allah", they too like the Qur'an would have been protected from interpolation or corruption. But the facts on the ground do not square with such a claim. And that bolsters our belief that the expression "Preserved Tablet" is relevant only to the case of the Qur'an.

[Excerpted with modification from Islam Online-Ask about Islam, published on 16/Apr/2009]

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