Quranic Dialectics

In the Quran, man appears in a variety of capacities: as prophet, messenger, sage; as Muslim, Faithful, Jew, Christian, Magician, Sabian; as disbeliever, skeptic, hypocrite, idolater; as tyrant and his victims crying out for justice; as one whose self-regard has made him deaf, dumb and blind to the signs of God; as men whose hearts tremble with awe when God is mentioned.

The Quran Speaks to All

God speaks to all of them, directly and indirectly, and at different levels, the contest for man’s soul undergirds nearly all the exchanges in the Quran, whether these exchanges occur between God and the angels, God and Iblis (Satan), or God and man.

Of necessity, these exchanges turn their attention to nearly everything in God’s creation, seen and Unseen – from the design of the heavens to the manner in which cows are put together to produce pure milk, sweet to the drinker.

For a Better Understanding of the Quran

- Quran in Focus

- Introduction to the Quran

- The Morals Of the Quran

- Qur'anic Studies

- Modern Stress and Its Cure from the Quran

In order to bring man to the straight path, the Quran harnesses the resources of human language, reasoning, rhetoric, and prosody; it infers the unknown from the known; it draws lessons from the history of human arrogance; it borrows images from this life to illustrate the felicity and pain of the Hereafter; it speaks to each interlocutor in a manner suited to his or her capacity and needs.

Since the Quran had to speak to audiences that were often hostile to its message – Arab pagans or followers of previous revelations jealous of a new revelation given to a people without a Scripture – it was forced to respond to their objections, using reason and rhetoric to bring them into the new faith.

Repeatedly and without flinching, the Quran records the objections and taunts of its adversaries: mushrikin who associate other divinities with God; munafiqin who entered Islam in order to undermine it from within; and the kafirin, disbelievers, among Jews and Christians. It also answers their objections.

In large parts, the Quranic mode of revelation is dialectical. God listens and speaks to men, answering their objections, addressing their concerns, guiding, giving comfort. Muhammad did not go up to the mountains to receive the Quran inscribed on tablets, nor was the Quran delivered as a manuscript written out on papyrus scrolls. Instead, at least as things appear to us, the Quran emerges out of the social matrix in which Muhammad finds himself – in Makkah and Madinah – daily wrestling with the task of saving souls, unraveling the plans of his adversaries, and bringing guidance and comfort to those who had chosen to stand by his side.
God sent down portions of the Quran  to Prophet Muhammad – communicated to him by the angel Gabriel – over a period of twenty-three years: the first revelation came in 610 when he was alone, on one of his customary retreats in the mountain cave of Hira’ outside Makkah; he received the last verses shortly before his death in 632.

{Step by step He has sent the Scripture down to you with the truth, confirming what went before, and He revealed the Torah and the Gospel} (Al-Imran 3: 3)

This was contrary to the notions the Makkan pagans had about a revealed book: and they ask, Why was the Quran not sent down to him all at once? God answers: {We sent it in this way to strengthen your heart [Prophet]; We give it to you in gradual revelation.} (Al-Furqan 17: 32)

Often, but not always, the Quran comments upon events as they unfold, giving instructions on how Prophet Muhammad should respond to them, or, after the fact, draws lessons from these events. In order to make sense of these exchanges, the early Muslims developed a genre of writing describing the ‘occasions of revelation’ for each verse. In later times, these would become indispensable aids to the understanding of the Quran.

God and man are constantly in conversation in the pages of the Quran. Nearly always, moreover, these conversations are reported directly, so that we can listen in to the conversations that take place between the prophets and disbelievers. In these conversations, we can see ourselves mirrored, for man was created weak, in the disbelievers, as they demanded proofs, signs, and miracles. We too face the need, more than our ancestors, to overcome doubt and disbelief: to resist the downward pull of our appetites.

Equally, we can hear the prophets in conversation with God, His angels and the disbelievers. We listen in to God, as He answers the disbeliever’s questions, confronts them with questions, demands that they provide proofs for their rejection of the revelations, urging them to observe, think, ponder, and reason. In short, God insists on engaging the disbelievers: in order that He may dispel their doubts.

A Great Variety

As a result, the Quran contains a great variety of arguments: including questions, parables, analogies, syllogisms, contrasts, comparisons, and conditional, probabilistic and disjunctive arguments. As if to compensate for God’s refusal to deliver miracles to the polytheists and disbelievers of Arabia, the Quran offers a nearly endless array of dazzling insights into the physical world, society, and human nature; it also brings – depending on our ability to receive them – endless intimations of the Unseen.

In some ways, Quranic dialectics transports the reader to the time and locale of the revelations. We can witness the events of the Quran as if in real time; we can hear the voices of blessed Prophet’s companions; we become witnesses to the sacred history taking shape in the environs of Makkah and Madinah. Above all, the reader can hear God speaking to man in a hundred different voices, in a hundred different circumstances. In other words, the Quran seeks to incorporate its readers into its revelation: and by so doing it recreates some of the impact which had it on those who first heard its inimitable symphony of sense and sound.

In its dialectical method of discourse, the Quran finds the amplitude to record and respond to the objections of the disbelievers, pagans and the hypocrites who opposed and challenged the prophets and their mission.

Its dialectical method allows the Quran to speak to the skeptical and disbelieving man across all ages, to appeal to his sensate experiences, his feeling of shame, his innate sense of the just, true, and beautiful, his sense of wonder and awe, his quest for meaning, but above all, his powers of thinking, reasoning and imagination: constantly urging him to use all his cognitive faculties to see the unseen in the visible world, to discern God in His signs, and, eventually, to awaken his latent cognitive powers, to see all things with the eye of the heart.

The Quran addresses the integral man: for only the integral man is capable of discovering God. God seeks to restore wholeness to men and women whose worldly ambitions and cares have denuded them, reduced them to truncated creatures who view the world only as appetite and quantity: so that they measure life primarily in terms of growth that satisfies their appetites.

The Quran strives to re-center man in his spirit, from where he can see things as they really are, that is, as God sees them. This was the blessed Prophet’s constant prayer: it should be ours too.

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