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
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
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
“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.