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Qur’anic Concept of History

Study of the Quran brings us to the conclusion that the fountain head of several sciences and disciplines is the Book itself and history is one of them, writes Tauseef Parray

The Holy Quran is a Book fully explained to mankind, a clear proof, a word that separates the truth from falsehood and in which every example and similitude is given.

From various Quranic verses like 6:98, 41:3, 17:89, 18:54, 86:13, it becomes clear that there are guidelines about every aspect and every sphere as well as detailed information about several sciences and disciplines and ‘history’ is one of them.

According to Quran, history is a ‘peripheral tussle between forces of good and evil’. According to classical Arabic historiographers history is “knowledge pertaining to a country, customs and manners of a people, remains of the people of yore, as well as account of the actions of those alive”. The early dogmatic vies of the purpose of writing history was to ‘obtain pleasure of Allah’. But the Quran stresses the need of historical knowledge as a moral exhortation of the faithful when it says:

“Have they not travelled in the land to see the Nature of the Consequences for those who disbelieved before them? They were mightier than these in power and (in the) traces (which they) left behind them in the earth; yet Allah seized them for their sins and they had no protector for Allah” (40:21). The holy Quran interprets history “neither a constantly moving equilibrium between self-developing spiritual forces nor as a constant clash between economic classes but as a peripheral tussle between forces of good and evil”. This is a theme to which Quran frequently refers and quotes instances from history, both the past and contemporary. The Quran asks the human being again and again to go through the world with open eyes and diligent hearts. Nisar Ahmad Faruqi, in the ‘Introduction’ of his book, “Early Muslim Historiography” writes about ‘Islamic concept of History’ as:

“The Quran, while referring to the bygone nations and extinct civilizations has, in its own way, presented the idea that ‘Nature’, or in Islamic terminology “the Will of Allah”, does not work blindly and arbitrarily, and there are certain historical reasons leading to every change or revolution which the Quran calls the ‘Sunnah of Allah’. The Quranic way of referring to ancient peoples, and their civilizations and of exhorting the faithful to learn a lesson from their history, clearly show that Islam is a religion essentially history conscious”.

From the historical point of view the holy Quran is the first and most authentic available source of the history of Islam. It covers various events of the lives of Prophets of Allah like Hadrat Adam, Nuh, Ibrahim, Yusu, Musa, Isa (AS) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW). It also cover accounts of the battles fought by Prophet (SAW) and the circumstances in which certain commandments of Allah were revealed unto Prophet (SAW). Indeed, historical studies started in Islam as a necessary adjunct of theological development. Various Quranic verses were interpreted in historical perspective and were given a historical colour. The truth is that with the thoughtful study of the Quran, a particular world-view takes place giving birth to a particular behavior. In this regard Muhammad Munawwar in his book, “Iqbal and Quranic Wisdom” writes:

“Study of the Quran brings us to the conclusion that the fountain head of several sciences and disciplines is the Book itself and history is one of them”.

Dr. G.N. Khaki, in his paper, “Arab History Writings: A Study of Methodology” writes:

“…History does not mean the history of the kings and their kingdoms. It is rather the story of the nation which includes kings. History describes the behavior and character of different people. …It depicts the phenomenon of the collective rise and fall of communities”.

The holy Quran repeatedly refers to the rise and destruction of nations as a phenomenon to be studied for guidance. It urges men to sojourn through the world and see themselves the fate of those who were once powerful and proud, but rebelled against Allah and were eventually destroyed for their wickedness. Various verses like 20:128, 22:45-46, obviously contain a “great lesson” for humanity. If a nation goes astray, it can only learn from history of the earlier nations which were destroyed in punishment, for their evils. In most cases their habitations became desolate and they now lie buried beneath the earth. To sum up, the above mentioned verses regarding ‘Concept of history in Islamic Perspective’ or “Quranic Concept of history” it is clear that holy Quran is replete with the verses which refer to the remains of ancient civilizations and the purpose of these verses is to remind human beings of the deeds and misdeeds of their predecessors so that: they may give a thought; they may ponder over/ upon; they may understand; they may know what is truth; they may know the reality – the right and the wrong; the good and the bad; the virtue and the vice; transgression and submission; unity and idolatry; monotheism and polytheism, justice and oppression, truth and falsehood, and above all, “their hearts and minds may thus learn wisdom”.