by Prof. Dr. Suat Yıldırım on . Posted in Reflections on the Qur'an

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There is nothing before us but the understanding of the Qur’ān that is bestowed upon the Muslim person.[1]
Sayyidinā ‘Alī al-Murtadā

All praise is for Allāh, the Lord of the worlds, and peace and blessings be upon the Prophet, to whom the Qur’ān was revealed, and upon his dear Family and Companions. Integrating theoretical knowledge and thought with action is very rare, and indeed according to many is even impossible. Undoubtedly this assessment is true to an extent, but there are always exceptions, like the works of Fethullah Gülen. A renowned scholar and man of action and thought, Gülen adds this new work to his existing collection of more than fifty books.

Reflections on the Qur’ān is an exposition and commentary of se-lected verses of the Qur’ān. It presents subtle points and details revealed in these Qur’ānic verses while expounding on them in the sequential order in which they appear in the Holy Qur’ān. The highly respected author’s knowledge of the classical commentary books of the Qur’ān and the fact that he based this work on these books is evident at first glance. Another significant characteristic which is immediately noticeable is that he also presents further insight, views, and splendor while remaining within the boundaries of the science of Qur’anic exegesis. Indeed, the author implies this in the book’s original title Kur’ān’dan İdrake Yansıyanlar (literally “Re-flections of the Qur’ān into the [Author’s] Perception,”) here presented as Reflections on the Qur’ān: Commentaries on Selected Verses.

As specialization in certain fields increases in this modern age, the experts are also experiencing the need to convey the results of these studies to larger audiences, and they endeavor to fulfill this. This method, known in the West as “vulgarization,” is an attempt to spread the results of specialist studies to large audiences without lowering their quality and has become a defining feature of our modern times. In particular, the demand to convey the results in the fields of science and knowledge that directly concern larger masses, such as religion, continues to grow. If a scholar were to write an exposition and commentary of the Qur’ān in the classical exegesis style similar to that of az-Zamakhshārī (d. 1144), ar-Rāzī (d. 1210), al-Baydawī (d. 1286), an-Nasafī (d. 1310), or Abū’s-Su‘ūd Efendi (d. 1574) today, he would be aware of the lack of potential readers. Therefore, scholars and authors tend to employ methods that appeal to the existing audience, such as the use of a minimal of technical terms.

This method is clearly evident in this book. Here the author ad-dresses a general audience who is unfamiliar with the specialized vocabu-lary and language of the field, enabling his message to reach a wide and diverse readership. Nonetheless, using technical terms in the discussion of certain topics was unavoidable.

Readers who usually experience difficulties in understanding these technical terms will not only benefit from his method and find the opportunity to improve their knowledge even further, but they will also become aware of the intrinsic relationship between these verses and other Qur’anic verses within the context of the totality of the Qur’ān. For example, the readers will learn that the term “hudan” (perfect guidance) used in both the 2nd and 5th verses of chapter al-Baqarah is in response to the prayer of petition to God in strong aspiration for guidance to faith found in the verse, “Guide us to the Straight Path” in the previous chapter al-Fātihah (1:6). They will also learn the answer to this probing question: “Although the Qur’ān has been sent to the whole of humanity, why does this verse state that it is ‘a perfect guidance for the God-revering, pious’?” Indeed, just as pious believers are isolated from any doubt regarding faith, they are also prepared to fulfill the commandments of the Religion and eager to acknowledge the truth. Furthermore, because they are unprejudiced, reaping the benefits of such faith is granted to them alone.[2] As a result of their greatly benefiting from this guidance, it may appear that the Holy Qur’ān has been sent to the believers specifically. At this point, it may be suitable to relate the author’s excellent analysis of the comparison between the general mindset of the hypocrites and the state of mind of the unbelievers who embrace Islam once they feel the light of faith in expounding the following verse:

“They are like him who (while traveling with company in the desert, halted for the night and) kindled a fire (for light and warmth and protection). However, when the fire had just lit all around him (and the company had be-come comfortable but were not properly appreciative of the fire and failed to guard it against wind, the fire was extinguished. Thus) God took away their light and left them in darkness, unseeing.” (Al-Baqarah 2:17)

This verse vividly illustrates the inner world of the hypocrites in a sim-ile comparing it to the state of those unappreciative of the light in the dark-ness of the night. The hypocrites of the early years of Islam coexisted with Muslims; thus they could occasionally glimpse the light of faith, at least out of the corner of their eyes. Nevertheless, the dissent in their hearts and minds did not allow them to be adequately nourished from this light.

These hypocrites looked but could not see the torch in the hand of the blessed Prophet, for either their frivolous gaze undermined and dimmed the light, or deceit dulled their natural disposition and aptitudes. On the outside they appeared to be looking, but in the face of the dazzling light of the torch, instead of intensifying their focus to see, with doubts and suspicions they neutralized the dynamism that was activated in their soul, rendering it completely inefficient. Furthermore, far from making use of the light to be able to progress on their path, they conceived of plans as to how they could start a fire out of it; the word “kindle” in the verse seems to refer to both of these interpretations.

Unbelievers, on the other hand, had not been acquainted with faith and its illuminating lights. They had never experienced its enchanting and blissful atmosphere. This is why once unbelievers had felt the light of faith, they would never abandon it, and they strove to maintain a life of sincere de-votion. This is because there is a black-and-white difference between disbelief and belief. For the unbelievers, it was like waking up to a new life and leaving behind another that was totally different, and they could observe Islam with all its charm. Even the comparison of the Muslims who are born and live in Muslim lands with those who embrace Islam later in life would reveal this reality.

Over and above attracting attention to the subtle points in terms of the sciences of eloquence (Balāgha) and grammar (Nahw), the author di-rects our attention towards understanding the intended meanings of Qur’anic verses. Penetrating into the actual meanings, he presents exquisite evaluations and comments. The following explanation of the Divine Name of “Badī‘u’s-samāwāti wa’l-ard” (The Originator of the heavens and the earth) is a notable example:

The verb Ba-Da-‘A in Arabic means creating something completely novel without imitating anything preceding it. The heavens and the earth are unique and incomparable in terms of their profundity and beauty. In other words, they are wonders of creation, before which there existed no model. In addition to the originality of their creation, nothing, no universe is more beautiful than the heavens and earth. Therefore, with their billions of beacons of light, they point to the All-Originating.

Indeed, the heavens and the earth, their fascinating beauty, all they contain, and the mysteries behind them were created with the command of “Be!” of the All-Holy Creator. Furthermore, they were created perfectly, with-out any defect. All of the creatures are neither a part of the Creator nor are they God’s incarnations. The relationship between all existing things and/or beings and the All-Originating is only the relationship between the Creator and the created. Neither are they born of Him or emanations from Him. Clearly, all things and beings come into existence within time and space and then depart to make room for those who will follow them. Indeed, everything is born and dies, comes and goes, and only the Originator of the heavens and the earth remains unchanged.

Thus, as the All-Originating manifests His existence by bestowing ex-istence or life on every new-comer, so does He display His eternality or ever-permanence by making His creatures come one after the other in a perfect sequence.

In order to benefit from the Qur’ān in the best possible manner, a Muslim must seriously reflect on how it should be read. Although those who duly reflect upon this are a minority, those who actually implement the highly-recommended method of reading the Qur’ān to understand the depths of meanings and benefit from it are even fewer. This subject is discussed extensively in both Imām al-Ghazālī’s Ihyā ‘Ulūmu’d-Dīn (Revival of Religious Sciences) and in Bediüzzaman Said Nursi’s Mektubat (Letters). Clearly, the honorable scholar and author of this book, Fethullah Gülen, also felt the need to emphasize this subject when he said:

Prophet Noah’s prayer for his obstinate, disbelieving, and tyrannical people, “My Lord! Do not leave on the earth any from among the unbelievers dwelling therein” (Nūh 71:26), may at first sight be seen as contrary to the voice of those who live for others and show mercy even for their enemies. Actually, it is not so. According to the principle of “drawing the conclusion based on what has happened,” Prophet Noah, who knew his community very well during the long years he served as Prophet, must have prayed so after he knew the Divine will or judgment about his people. When we take the way and practice of the Prophets into consideration, we will come to this conclu-sion.

In addition, there are some who claim that the stories in the Qur’ān are symbolic stories which the Qur’ān narrates to teach lessons. This is absolutely wrong, for they are historic events which took place as the Qur’ān relates.

By narrating these events, God shows us the tips of some universal truths or laws which will be valid until the end of time. In other words, these kinds of events began with Adam and will continue to happen until no human beings remain on the earth. In fact, if we view their contents, we realize that the Qur’ān does not relate them to any specific time or place. This must be what is expected from a Universal Book. Furthermore, in order to benefit from the Qur’ān sufficiently, we should never miss this important point. We should view the verses in which such events are narrated in connection with the lessons they intend to give. Another point is that whether a verse was revealed concerning a specific occasion or a specific event or a specific group of people, such as the Jews or Christians or unbelievers or hypocrites, everyone who reads the Qur’ān should assume that the Qur’ān addresses him or herself di-rectly. Besides, readers of the Qur’ān should try to make the connection between the time, place, conditions, and the figures mentioned in the verses and their own time and place and the very conditions surrounding them. The Qur’ān is not a book addressing only a specific time and place and specific conditions; rather, it addresses everyone regardless of time, place, and conditions. Therefore, a reader should think: “With the exception of the fact that I am not a Prophet, the Qur’ān addresses me directly,” and if one views the Qur’ān and reads it from this perspective, one will see that the Qur’ān addresses him or her. How can God and the truths about Him be restricted to a specific time and place? Therefore, having issued from the All-Eternal God’s Attribute of Speech, the Qur’ān addresses everybody regardless of time and space; at the same time it addresses God’s Messenger and his Companions. Despite this fundamental reality, if we view the narratives in the Qur’ān as certain stories about certain bygone peoples, our benefit from it will be little.

An attentive reader will undoubtedly recognize that this short pas-sage integrates the sciences of eloquence, assessments of circumstances under which the specific verses were revealed, thorough reflection of the verses, lessons for us and an understanding of the purpose and meaning behind the stories of the Prophets and the bygone nations in the Qur’ān, and the all-inclusive guiding nature of the Qur’ān—that is, its characteristic of guiding all generations until the Day of Judgment in the most excellent manner. In the same way that an expert on the subject will find all of the facts in this book more than satisfactory, an average reader is sure to find many aspects of the book very beneficial.

In this work, the author often presents direct references from or makes allusions to the collection of the Risale-i Nur (The Epistles of Light), an important modern commentary of the Qur’ān by the eminent Muslim scholar and exegete Bediüzzaman Said Nursi.[3] (See pages 12, 33, 44, 54, 64, 70-71, 78, 98-99, 112, 158, 170, 185, 189, 204, 240-241, 268.) In addition to his frequent references to this modern commentary as well as the classic exegeses and commentaries of the Qur’ān, the author presents further insight on subjects as we see in the extensive passage allocated to the explanation of the term, “mawāqi‘i’n-nujūm” (the locations of the stars), from chapter al-Wāqi‘ah (56:75). Here, he explicates its various aspects in terms of Qur’anic exposition and commentary excellently. For Gülen, “the locations of the stars” refers to Prophet Muhammad, the star of humanity, and the other Prophets, peace be upon them all; the locations of the stars in space; the trustworthy heart of the Archangel Gabriel, to which all the verses of the Qur’ān were entrusted; the verses (or stars) of the Divine Revelation, each having its own place in the Qur’ān as well as the perfection in the sequel of each of the verses; and the pure hearts of the believers as the abode of the verses of the Qur’ān. All these aspects the author explicates in relation to “the locations of the stars” shine as splendid as the stars. As the subject begins, he actually touches on another significant aspect:

Alas for humanity whose heart has been hardened and covered with rust! Almighty God, Who is the All-Knowing, knows this state of humanity and reveals His Message to them by a tremendous oath.

A human being should feel ashamed at this and shudder while reading the verses with this meaning and message. The Lord of humanity swears and speaks emphatically and repeatedly in order to awake humanity to the truth of the Qur’ān and make it believe that the Qur’ān is His most honorable Book or Message.

The author ends this long passage, saying: “It is due to all these and many other similar meanings or realities that God Almighty swears by ‘the locations of the stars.’ And He declares that this oath is a very great, important oath. We believe in the mysteries unknown to us as we believe in the known ones, and we affirm the declaration, ‘It is indeed a very great oath, if you but knew,’ with all our hearts.”

As the author interprets those verses of the Qur’ān, warning believers against the relentless disbelievers and hypocrites, he also calls upon believers to be aware of the deceit and traps that await them:

The hypocrites and unbelievers who are persistent in unbelief and heresy and whose unbelief has been ingrained in their character are no different from Satan. If the word “God” sometimes comes out from their mouths and if they talk about religion and religious life positively, this is aimed at deception. They act with rancor and enmity toward believers and never keep back from searching for the ways to satisfy their anger and enmity. When they are unable to do evil with and inflict harm on believers, they act hypocritically, trying to conceal their hatred and enmity behind their deceptive smiles and gentleness and championing democracy. But whenever they find an opportunity and are able to do whatever they wish to harm believers, they commit all kinds of wickedness in the name of their unbelief. For them, might is right, and democracy is only a fantasy or is acceptable only as long as it serves their interests.

While putting trust in such people is disrespect for the feeling of trust, being in fear of them is distrust in God. Undeterred by satanic unbelievers and hypocrites, believers should always be open and frank toward everyone and act with love and affection, taking refuge in God from such people and their evils.

After his analysis on the subject, the author concludes with the words:

As hypocrites are themselves liars, dishonest, and two-faced and are busy deceiving others, they suspect even the most innocent behavior and consider all the words, actions, and movements which stem from the most sincere, in-nocent, and decent feelings and thoughts as hostile towards them. Since they look at others through the mirror of their scorpion-like poisonous character, they think the most innocent people are deceitful like themselves. In line with the adage that says, “A betrayer is fearful,” the hearts of hypocrites beat with the thought of betrayal while their pulses beat with fear. They are the most dangerous enemies of the believers.

Exposing their inner and outer traits, God Almighty warns the believ-ers to be cautious against the hypocrites while they continue their own right-eous manners and behavior in an honest and upright way.

The commentary of the following verse referring to those who re-nounce Islam showcases Gülen’s excellent analytical skills. A person who briefly reads the verse may think that he or she has clearly understood the meaning. However, after studying the author’s analysis, the audience will certainly acknowledge that, in fact, they learned a great deal in terms of the meaning and wisdom of the verse.

“How would God guide a people who have disbelieved after their belief, and after they have borne witness that the Messenger is true and after the clear proofs (of his Messengership and the Divine origin of the Book he has brought) have come to them? God guides not wrongdoing people.” (Āl ‘Imrān 3:86)

Those who advocate evil, impropriety, and infidelity and support evil-doers and unbelievers even though they witnessed good and truth in all their beauty and witnessed evil and falsehood in all their ugliness are the arro-gant, inhumane people in deviation. Those are such unfortunate ones who have corrupted their nature or dispositions and blunted their ability to follow right guidance so much that in accordance with the usual Divine Practice, God no longer guides them to the Straight Path. Since those people have left the sacred gravitation of Islam, becoming more and more distant from it, they will always be inclined to distancing themselves from Islam, constantly accusing and disparaging the center they have left, and they will therefore darken their nature in excessive degrees. In this way, they will expose the believers in a negative way as if they knew them well and boost the morale of the adherents of unbelief and make them happy while they overwhelm the believers with sorrow and refraction.

In addition, since they left Islam, which is like the sun in respect to its light, compared to other religions that resemble a candle, those ill-natured people will always be searching. However, unable to find what they are searching for, their life will come to an end in the search of something impos-sible to be found. In the process, they set a bad example for the naïve, bewil-dered masses.

On some occasions, the author presents explanations relating the true objective regarding subjects that may be misunderstood. For example, conveying the word of faith and guidance is essential. However, some perceive the verse: “So remind and instruct (them in the truth) in case reminder and instruction may be of use” (al-A‘lā 87:9) as meaning: “I ex-plained many times but they did not understand. After all, they were incapable of understanding. So my advice and warnings are of no avail. The stipulation of benefit is a conditional clause of this verse, and there is nothing more to be done.” In presenting the following comment regarding the aforementioned verse, the author explains the actual purpose of the verse, and also that steadfastness in fulfilling duties and conveying the word of faith is essential:

Since our master, Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was absolutely responsible for reminding, instructing, and exhorting, the conditional clause, “In case reminder and instruction may be of use,” has the meaning of emphasizing the responsibility rather than restricting it. An eloquent, powerful speech, the Qur’ān, which was revealed for the guidance and benefit of people, absolutely has the potential and capacity to give benefit. If some do not benefit from it while many others do benefit from it and are guided, that is their problem. Therefore, we should understand the verse in discussion as, “Remind and instruct, because it is definitely of use.”

Finally, I would like to highlight the author’s commentary on the following verse of the Qur’ān which establishes both the framework and perspective for the Muslim way of life, labor, activity, and rest:

“Therefore, when you are free (from one task), resume (another task).” (Al-Inshirāh 94:7)

This verse presents Muslims with an important philosophy of life. In-deed, a believer should always be active; both their working and resting should be an activity. In other words, believers should arrange their working hours in such a way that there should be no gaps in their lives. In fact, as a requirement of being a human, people should rest as well, yet this kind of resting should be an active resting. For instance, when people whose minds are busy with reading and writing become tired, they can rest by lying and sleeping, but they can also rest by changing the work or activity they do. They may read the Qur’ān, perform the Prayer, do physical exercise, or engage in a friendly conversation. After a while, they can return to their normal activity. In sum, it must be the manner of believers that they are always active and remain active by changing activities. That is, they rest by working and work while resting.

If we consider this matter in relation to the service of belief and the Qur’ān, it can be said that we enjoy the bounties and blessings that God be-stows for nothing in return. God Almighty has created us as humans and has honored us with Islam and with the service to the faith and the Qur’ān. This is manifest in the lives of many people among us. For example, many wealthy people who pursue God’s good pleasure and desire to serve both their society and humanity at large rent out houses that accommodate many poor and tal-ented students. Without being content with this, they build hostels for the ac-commodation of greater numbers of students and open private schools for their education in better and more favorable conditions. In the face of the sincere demands of some “hearts” that desire serving humanity in much broader spheres, God has given them the opportunity to open schools or other institutions of education throughout the world. They taste the pleasure of serving lofty ideals in the highest degrees. (…) Essentially, believers have no other alternatives than to act in such a manner. First of all, every bounty that God grants to the believers is very great. His creating us as human beings is a bounty; good health is another bounty. Belief and perception of these to be God’s bounties with the light of belief is another, greater, bounty. Eating and drinking and anticipating eternal bounties are other great bounties. In fact, everything is a bounty for us; we are surrounded by bounties. However, unfortunately, we cannot appreciate their worth due to our over-familiarity with them and fail to give proper thanks for them. While people in many countries suffer deprivations, many others die or are left widows or orphans or without children in pitiless wars, and still many others are in the darkness of unbelief or in the clutches of tyrannical regimes, it is a great blessing that we follow right guidance, have possibilities to fulfill our duty of worship, and do not suffer as much as many before us have suffered because of belief. Therefore, we should always be active, hasting from one activity to the other, (…) and live without leaving any gaps in our lives.

As can be clearly understood from these citations, this book con-tains guidance that will fill the believers’ lives with activity. Indeed, one of the important elements in the exegeses of the Qur’ān is the concept that may be called a “dynamic exegesis.” Islamic scholars and exegetes such as Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966) and Mawdūdī (1903–1979) considered “dynamic exegesis” an indispensable condition for their commentaries, for the Qur’ān is by no means a book for analyzing religion secluded from daily life and activities. On the contrary, it is a call that demands implementation and practice in life—a Divine call which descended gradually and in parts in response to questions asked or problems to be solved or in connection with certain occasions and circumstances leading up to the revelation of particular verses.

In conclusion to my preliminary analysis of this valuable book, I must state that although the author attempted to write the book in a simple manner comprehendible to a vast audience and also avoided using technical terms in the science of Qur’anic exegesis, some of the readers may still find certain sections of the book difficult to understand. In such situations, reading the section again, but more attentively the second time, may be beneficial to the reader. Alternatively, readers may try to increase their level of knowledge by asking someone familiar with the subject or by simply referring to a dictionary. If they still have no success, like a person who enters an orchard and after eating his fill of the various fruits, they can leave the remainder to the experts who are firmly grounded in knowledge, saying, “Eating all of the fruit is not necessary, those able to reach the re-maining fruits may benefit from the rest.” Regardless of how much one is endued with knowledge, we should always keep in mind that, “Above every owner of knowledge, there is (always) one more knowledgeable” (Yūsuf 12:76). And God knows best!

The highly respected scholar and author is unpretentious regarding the breadth of the book: “It would take many thick volumes to explicate the Qur’ān with examples. What we have attempted to present in this relatively small one-volume book is just a few breaths amidst the shallowness of the impromptu speeches I made at various times and occasions and as the opportunity arose. Moreover, what if these breaths belong to one who causes even the brightest truths to fade in the face of his emotions and thoughts?” Although I have no right to comment on the author’s modesty, I am unable to accept his words, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the author of this book for his outstanding success because understanding the Qur’ān, which as narrated in the afore-mentioned words of Sayyidinā ‘Alī al-Murtadā, is the right and duty of every Muslim. I pray to God, the One Whose benevolence is plentiful, to grant him health and success in his services to Islam and Islamic knowledge and sciences, and may this book be a means of reward for the author and beneficial to all audiences.

[1] When ‘Alī, may God be pleased with him, was asked: “Did God’s Messenger leave anything to his family (Ahl al-Bayt)?”, he replied: “By the One Who splits the grains and seeds and causes them to grow into trees, and Who created humankind and all living creatures to perfection, I swear God’s Messenger left nothing for us other than the understanding of the Qur’ān that is bestowed upon the Muslim person and what is on these pages (pointing to just a few hadīths written on them).” as-Suyūtī, al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān (The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qur’ān), 2/179, Cairo, 1368 AH.
[2] See pages 3–4.
[3] Bediüzzaman Said Nursi (1877–1960) presented the truths of Islam to modern minds and hearts of every level of understanding in his magnum opus, the Risale-i Nur. Although Nursi was clearly a very accomplished exegete, his Risale-i Nur collec-tion is not a work of exegesis in the technical sense of the word. While the Risale-i Nur collection is for all intents and purposes is a commentary on the Qur’ān, it is not the sequential verse by verse running exposition of the Qur’ān, but a large body of Qur’anic commentary concentrating mainly on the verses that people of our modern age need the most. In other words, it studies the verses about the six articles of Islamic belief such as believing in the existence and Oneness of God, Resurrection and the Day of Judgment, Prophethood, the Divine Scriptures primarily including the Qur’ān, the invisible realms of existence, Divine Destiny and human free will, worship, justice in human life, as well as humanity’s place and duty among the entire creation. Exceeding 5,000 pages, the Risale-i Nur is a collection with four main volumes that are Sözler (The Words), Mektubat (The Letters), Lem’alar (The Gleams), and Şualar (The Rays). All these volumes as well as his Al-Mathnawi al-Nuri, Muhakemat (The Reasonings), and Asay-ı Musa (The Staff of Moses) are also rendered into English and published by The Light Publishing in New Jersey. The translations of Nursi’s Risale-i Nur collection are also available in various world languages. (Tr.)