وَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ تِبْيَانًا لِّكُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً وَبُشْرَىٰ لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ
We have sent down the Book to you as a clarification of all things and as guidance, mercy and good news for the Muslims.
(Sūrat al-Nahl, Āyat 89)
One of the important Quranic discussions to consider is the scope and extent of the Quran’s content. Are the subjects and content of the noble Quran limited to specific topics such as spirituality and morality, or do they encompass all aspects of man’s individual and social life? Beyond the content that may be mentioned, what is the purpose and primary focus of the Quran? Does it intend to delve into the worldly sciences, politics, economics, and other such fields? Or is it focused on mankind’s success in the hereafter?
In response to such questions, different answers have been presented by Muslim scholars. In what follows three such answers will be given and analysed.
One answer has been to take a minimalistic approach, saying that the Quran was only sent to teach us about spirituality, ethics, values, and so on. The Quran is like a pious scholar who does not delve into the mundane affairs of politics, society, and economics. It is to give meaning and spirituality to man’s life, after which man can himself determine the appropriate system of governing society, running an economy, and so on. Such a view was put forward by the influential Iranian scholar and politician in the last century, Dr Mahdi Bazargan, in his book Khodā va Ākhirat, Hadaf-e Be’sat-e Anbiyā.
However, this viewpoint is untenable given the many social teachings of the Quran, such as laws about giving alms, waging warfare, enjoining good and forbidding evil, and so on. In some verses a connection between fulfilling social responsibilities and success in the hereafter has been mentioned (for example Q 23:1-9), whereas in other verses it is clearly stated that all worldly actions will have an effect in the hereafter, such as in Q 99:8-9.
A second answer has been to take a maximalist approach and claim that the Quran has indeed explained everything. All the realities of existence can be found in the Quran. In support of this claim, verses such as the aforementioned verse from Sūrat al-Nahl are quoted, wherein Allah says that the Quran is tibyān li-kulli shay (a clarification of all things). An example of a scholar who has mentioned this view is the eminent mystic and narrator of hadīth who lived four centuries ago, Mulla Fayd al-Kāshānī. In the seventh section to the introduction of his Tafsīr al-Sāfī, he quotes this opinion from some of the folk of gnosis (ahl al-ma’rifah), as he refers to them.
While this view is also corroborated by narrations of the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them) and cannot be rejected, it must be understood in an esoteric manner. The deeper meanings of the Quran that are not accessible to most people, can bestow a type of universal knowledge of everything. Otherwise, the apparent words of Quran do not delve into all the details of creation! Even fundamental Islamic teachings such as the number of units of prayer or the successor to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his family) are not explicitly found in the Noble Quran.
A third answer is to say that the Quran, as it itself has repeatedly said (for example Q 2:2) is a book of guidance for mankind. Its primary goal is to answer man’s fundamental need of attaining felicity and true success in this world and the hereafter. It is not a book of sociology, physics, or any of the other human or natural sciences. Hence its material is not laid out in a structured academic manner. Rather, as a book of guidance it intends to awaken man from his slumber, inspire him, direct him, teach him, and so on. In this regard it provides overall principles that would direct and govern the human sciences such as politics, laws, and economics. At times it even enters detailed discussions on social laws such as how to take a loan (Q 2:282), or detailed aspects of nature such as how a baby is formed in a mother’s womb (Q 22:5). But these were not the primary goal. Explaining Islamic laws was a responsibility largely delegated to the Messenger of Allah and his progeny (peace be upon them) and explaining the nuances of nature was not the goal of the Quran, perhaps it was mentioned as a means of inspiring man, making him recognize God’s greatness, encouraging him to use his intellect, or so on.
This third explanation is one given by Āyatullāh Misbāh Yazdī in a book of his entitled Quran Shenāsī. When it comes to the verses that seem to indicate the second maximalist approach, he argues that a logical explanation can still be given to them. For example, with regards to verse 89 from Sūrat al-Nahl (quoted above), it can be claimed that what is intended is not really “all things” in existence. Rather this is an Arabic term used in each context to indicate all things expected or appropriate. Refer for example to how the queen of Sheba is mentioned as having “all things” in the verse Q 27:23, or the book of Mūsā (peace be upon him) is also mentioned as having explained “all things” in the verses Q 7:145 and Q 6:92. These all are poofs to show that what is intended is that both the Torah and the Quran contain all that was required for the nation they were sent to, to attain the goal for which they were revealed, that is guiding mankind.
We pray to Allah to allow us to be guided by the Quran and attain the true success of being His humble and obedient servants. In these days of the Arba’īn of the Master of Martyrs (peace be upon him) we ask Allah to safely return those fortunate believers who have gone to visit the pure land of Karbala, and to bless those who did not go this year such that they may also join that caravan of love in the upcoming year.
Resources: Āyatullāh Muhammad Taqī Misbāh Yazdī, Qur’an Shenāsī (Cognition of Qur’an).