Friday, May 17, 2013

Passing Time

This is my 444th post :D

There are things that I love and loathe about summer. I love that I don't have to wear thick clothes, yet at the same time I also loathe when it gets too hot. I like the fact that I get a break from school, but I hate it when there are uneventful days where I end up sitting about spending away money on food, but one reason that I like summer for is that when people are going away, they leave their books behind and I pick it up and read :D

So, I read this book by Ahmad Von Denffer, 'Ulum al-Quran, or in English, Sciences of the Quran, it's available in pdf, here, at least part of it.

It's kind of one of those books where you go to Islamic seminars and they open booths that sell books that are introductory in nature partly cuz maybe there are some people who are new to Islam and want to take baby steps in understanding the religion.

It's pretty much introductory about what 'Ulum al-Quran is about. I actually took the time to read it, because I used to have exposure on intro to 'Ulum al-Quran ages ages ages ages ago.

So, when I started reading it, it's your standard intro textbook, even the wording and arrangement seems really familiar, like I've read it before only in Malay.

So, the break down of what the book covers is :

1. History of how the Quran was revealed, transmitted and became a volume
2. Asbab al-nuzul (reason for revelation, where you look at the context in which the verses are revealed)
3. Al-nasikh wal-mansukh (the abrogating and the abrogated. like, which verses abrogate which. The reason the Quran was revealed in stages and not in one book is because each verse was revealed to suit the certain circumstance at the time it was revealed and later verses came, to put it crudely, "update" what was revealed before).
4. Script and style
5. Different modes (ahruf), readings (qira'a) and tajwid.

Of course, for tafsir purposes, 2 and 3 are important. Tafsir means "explanation", and tarjamma means "translation".

It gives you the low down on what each branch is about, like, you can't really go into that detail. but at least, it gives you an idea of what it's about and I like that the book includes an extensive bibliography so, it kind of points you to proper directions for in depth reading. I also like that they include a summary at the end of every chapter to recap.

So, briefly, the neat stuff that I learnt is:

1. The verses aren't revealed in the order because they're revealed befitting the situations it's revealed in, however, the arrangement of the verses and surah's were already fixed by the prophet. Some arrangements of the surah's differ between the companions because that's the way they wrote it down. The standardized version is Mushaf Uthmani.

2. Arabic script evolved with the Quran because they needed to standardize the way you read the Quran for non-Arabic speakers, even amongst the Arabs they have differences in dialects, so to ensure that the meanings don't change with the way you  read it, they had to standardize the script.

3. There's different modes of readings (ahruf) because the companions also read it differently, but select few are accepted. The reason that they allow for these different modes is so that it is easier accepted by multi-background Arabic readers at that time.

4. The location in which the surahs are revealed shows differences in the content, since they address different audiences. Surahs that are revelaed in Makkah tend to have messages of tawheed, whereas those revealed in Madinah tend to be more juristic (?).

5. The Quran contains two types of ayats. The Muhkamat and the Mutasyabihat. The Muhkamat ayats are clear, it is one-dimensional, whereas the Mutasyabihat needs further interpretation for it to be understood and the real meaning is only known by God, i.e. multidimensional.

6. There's actually surviving scripts from long ago kept in museums. Uthman's original copy (which he actually copied from Hafsa's copy) was called "Imam Mushaf". Different Mushafs from Uthmans have different ordering of the surahs and different number of surahs because that's how they took down erh, dictation of the surahs and bind it together.

7. The letters on the page margins like hizb, manzil and the juz are guides to how to divide the Quran for recitation in 30 days, 7 days, etc.

Probably those who were paying attention in Agama class already knows all this, but it's still good stuff to me. I might have forgotten them since I haven't looked at any Agama textbooks for a long time.

The volume also includes a brief commentary of work on 'Ulum al-Quran by the Orientalist where they attempt to disprove the Quran as the Word of God.

All in all, it's a good book to start with to get your bearings about what this field is about, and to kind of give you an appreciation of the discipline of tafsir. A lot of consideration and deliberation from different analyses of the Quran and Ahadith is needed before one can write a Tafsir, and even existing Tafsirs include commentaries on some weak sources that they included.

Seriously, Tafsirs are a lot of work. One, you have to look at the actual order is revealed, which ayat cancels which, what's the context of the revelation ? Is it supported by reliable ahadith sources for the allegations of the context in which the verses are revealed ? It's not really daunting though, at least it gives us, non-scholars, a good place to look for resources when it comes to self-checking.

So, that's it.

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