Quran Project - Appendix - The Unique Quranic Generation
callers to IslÄm in every country and in every period should give
thought to one particular aspect of the history of IslÄm, and they
should ponder over it deeply. This is related to the method of inviting
people to IslÄm and its ways of training.
one time this Message created a generation - the generation of the
Companions of the Prophet, may God be pleased with them - without
comparison in the history of IslÄm, even in the entire history of man.
After this, no other generation of this calibre was ever again to be
found. It is true that we do find some individuals of this calibre here
and there in history, but never again did a great number of such people
exist in one region as was the case during the first period of IslÄm.
This is an obvious and open truth of history, and we ought to ponder over it deeply so that we may reach its secret.
QurâÄn of this Message is still in our hands, and the hadith (prophetic
traditions) of the Messenger of God, i.e. his guidance in practical
affairs, and the history of his sacred life are also in our hands, as
they were in the hands of the first Muslim community whose equal history
could not produce again. The only difference is the person of the
Messenger of God; but is this the secret?
the person of the Prophet been absolutely essential for the
establishment and fruition of this message, God Almighty would not have
made IslÄm a universal message, ordained it as the religion for the
whole of mankind, given it the status of the last Divine Message for
humanity, and made it to be a guide for all the inhabitants of this
planet in all their affairs until the end of time.
Almighty has taken the responsibility for preserving the Holy QurâÄn on
Himself because He knows that IslÄm can be established and can benefit
mankind even after the time of the Prophet. Hence He called His Prophet
back to His mercy after twenty three years of messengership and declared
this religion to be valid until the end of time. Therefore the absence
of the Messenger of God is not the real cause nor does it explain this
look, therefore, for some other reasons, and for this purpose we look
at that clear spring from which the first generation of Muslims quenched
their thirst. Perhaps something has been mixed with that clear spring.
We should look at the manner in which they received their training.
Perhaps some changes have found their way into it.
spring from which the Companions of the Prophet drank was the Holy
QurâÄn; only the QurâÄn, as the hadith of the Prophet and his teachings
were offspring of this fountainhead. When someone asked the Mother of
the Believers, Aisha - may God be pleased with her, about the character
of the Prophet, she answered, âHis character was the QurâÄn.â
Holy QurâÄn was the only source from which they quenched their thirst,
and this was the only mould in which they formed their lives. This was
the only guidance for them, not because there was no civilisation or
culture or science or books or schools. Indeed, there was the Roman
culture, its civilisation, its books and its laws which even today are
considered to be the foundation of European culture. There was the
heritage of Greek culture, its logic, its philosophy and its arts, which
are still a source of inspiration for Western thought. There was the
Persian civilisation, its art, its poetry and its legends, and its
religion and system of government.
were many other civilisations, near or far, such as the Indian and
Chinese cultures, and so on. The Roman and Persian cultures were
established to the north and to the south of the Arabian Peninsula,
while the Jews and Christians were settled in the heart of Arabia. Thus
we believe that this generation did not place sole reliance on the Book
of God for the understanding of their religion because of any ignorance
of civilisation and culture, but it was all according to a well thought
out plan and method. An example of this purpose is found in the
displeasure expressed by the Messenger of God when Umar, may God be
pleased with him, brought some pages from the Torah. The Messenger of
God said, âBy God, if even Moses had been alive among you today, he would have no recourse except to follow me.â
is clear from this incident that the Messenger of God deliberately
limited the first generation of Muslims, which was undergoing the
initial stages of training, to only one source of guidance, and that was
the Book of God. His intention was that this group should dedicate
itself purely to the Book of God and arrange its lives solely according
to its teachings. That is why the Messenger of God was upset when Umar,
may God be pleased with him, turned to a source different from the
fact, the Messenger of God intended to prepare a generation pure in
heart, pure in mind, pure in understanding. Their training was to be
based on the method prescribed by God Almighty who saved the Holy
QurâÄn, purified from the influence of all other sources.
generation, then, drank solely from this spring and thus attained a
unique distinction in history. In later times it happened that other
sources mingled with it. Other sources used by later generations
included Greek philosophy and logic, ancient Persian legends and their
ideas, Jewish scriptures and traditions, Christian theology, and, in
addition to these, fragments of other religions and civilisations. These
mingled with the commentaries on the Holy QurâÄn and with scholastic
theology, as they were mingled with jurisprudence and its principles.
Later generations after this generation obtained their training from
this mixed source, and hence the like of this generation never arose
we can say without any reservations that the main reason for the
difference between the first unique and distinguished group of Muslims
and later Muslims is that the purity of the first source of IslÄmic
guidance was mixed with various other sources, as we have indicated.
is another basic cause, which has operated in creating this difference.
That difference is in the art of learning of this unique generation.
They of the first generation did not approach the QurâÄn for the purpose
of acquiring culture and information, nor for the purpose of taste or
enjoyment. None of them came to the QurâÄn to increase his sum total of
knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself or to solve some scientific
or legal problem, or to remove some defect in his understanding. Rather,
he turned to the QurâÄn to find out what the Almighty Creator had
prescribed for him and for the group in which he lived, for his life and
for the life of the group. He approached it to act on what he heard
immediately, as a soldier on the battlefield readsâTodayâs Bulletinâso that he may know what is to be done. He did not read many verses of
the QurâÄn in one session, as he understood that this would lay an
unbearable burden of duties and responsibilities on his shoulders. At
most he would read ten verses, memorise them, and then act upon them. We
know this from a tradition reported by Abdullah ibn Masud.
understanding, the understanding that instruction is for action, opened
the doors to spiritual fulfilment and to knowledge. If they had read
the QurâÄn only for the sake of discussion, learning and information,
these doors would not have opened. Moreover, action became easy, the
weight of responsibilities became light, and the QurâÄn became a part of
their personalities, mingling with their lives and characters so that
they became living examples of faith; a faith not hidden in intellects
or books, but expressing itself in a dynamic movement, which changed
conditions and events and the course of life.
this QurâÄn does not open its treasures except to him who accepts it
with this spirit: the spirit of knowing with the intention of acting
upon it. It did not come to be a book of intellectual content, or a book
of literature, or to be considered as a book of stories or history,
although it has all these facets. It came to become a way of life, a way
dedicated to God Almighty. Thus, God Most High imparted it to them in a
gradual manner, to be read at intervals:
(it is) a QurâÄn which We have separated (by intervals) that you might
recite it to the people over a long period. And We have sent it down
QurâÄn did not come down all at once; rather it came down according to
the needs of the IslÄmic society in facing new problems, according to
the growth of ideas and concepts, according to the progress of general
social life and according to new challenges faced by the Muslim
community in its practical life. One verse or a few verses would be
revealed according to the special circumstances and events, and they
would answer questions which arose in the minds of people, would explain
the nature of a particular situation, and would prescribe a way of
dealing with it. These verses would correct their mistakes, either of
understanding or of practice, would bring them closer to God, and would
explain to them the wisdom of the various aspects of the universe in the
light of Godâs attributes. Thus they clearly realised that every moment
of their lives was under the continuous guidance and direction of the
Almighty Creator and that they were traversing the path of life under
the wings of Godâs mercy. Because of this sense of constant relationship
with God Almighty, their lives were moulded according to that sacred
way of life, which was being instructed by Him.
instruction to be translated into action was the method of the first
group of Muslims. The method of later generations was instruction for
academic discussion and enjoyment. And without doubt this is the second
major factor, which made later generations different from the first
unique generation of IslÄm.
A third cause is also operative in the history of Muslims; we ought to look at it also.
a person embraced IslÄm during the time of the Prophet he would
immediately cut himself off from Jahiliyyahh (pre-IslÄmic ignorance).
When he stepped into the circle of IslÄm, he would start a new life,
separating himself completely from his past life under ignorance of the
Divine Law. He would look upon the deeds during his life of ignorance
with mistrust and fear, with a feeling that these were impure and could
not be tolerated in IslÄm! With this feeling, he would turn toward IslÄm
for new guidance; and if at any time temptations overpowered him, or
the old habits attracted him, or if he became lax in carrying out the
injunctions of IslÄm, he would become restless with a sense of guilt and
would feel the need to purify himself of what had happened, and would
turn to the QurâÄn to mould himself according to its guidance.
Thus, there would be a break between the Muslimâs present IslÄm and his pastJahiliyyahh, and this after a well thought out decision, as a result of which all his relationships withJahiliyyahhwould be cut off and he would be joined completely to IslÄm, although
there would be some give-and-take with the polytheists in commercial
activity and daily business; yet relationships of understanding are one
thing and daily business is something else.
This renunciation of theJahili(pre-IslÄmic
ignorance) environment, its customs and traditions, its ideas and
concepts, proceeded from the replacement of polytheism by the concept of
the Oneness of God, of the Jahili view of life and the world by that of
the IslÄmic view, and from absorption into the new IslÄmic community
under a new leadership and dedication of all loyalties and commitments
to this new society and new leadership.
was the parting of the ways and the starting of a new journey, a
journey free from the pres-sures of the values, concepts and traditions
of theJahilisociety. The Muslim encountered nothing burdensome except the torture
and oppression; but he had already decided in the depths of his heart
that he would face it with equanimity, and hence no pressure from theJahilisociety would have any effect on his continuing steadfastness.
We are also surrounded byJahiliyyahhtoday, which is of the same nature as it was during the first period of
IslÄm, perhaps a little deeper. Our whole environment, peopleâs beliefs
and ideas, habits and art, rules and laws isJahiliyyahh,
even to the extent that what we consider to be IslÄmic culture, IslÄmic
sources, IslÄmic philosophy and IslÄmic thought are also constructs ofJahiliyyahh.
is why the true IslÄmic values never enter our hearts, why our minds
are never illuminated by IslÄmic concepts, and why no group of people
arises among us who are of the calibre of the first generation of IslÄm.
is therefore necessary, in the way of the IslÄmic movement, that in the
early stages of our training and education we should remove ourselves
from all the influences of theJahiliyyahhin which we live and from which we derive benefits. We must return to
that pure source from which those people derived their guidance, the
source that is free from any mixing or pollution. We must return to it
to derive from it our concepts of the nature of the universe, the nature
of human existence, and the relationship of these two with the Perfect,
the Real Being: God Most High. From it we must also derive our concepts
of life, our principles of government, politics, economics and all
other aspects of life.
We must return to it with a sense of instruction for obedience and action, and not for academic discussion and enjoyment.
should return to it to find out what kind of person it asks us to be,
and then be like that. During this process, we will also discover the
artistic beauty in the QurâÄn, the marvellous tales in the QurâÄn, the
scenes of the Day of Judgment in the QurâÄn, the intuitive logic of the
QurâÄn, and all other such benefits, which are sought in the QurâÄn by
academic and literary people. We will enjoy all these other aspects, but
these are not the main object of our study. Our primary purpose is to
know what way of life is demanded of us by the QurâÄn, the total view of
the universe which the QurâÄn wants us to have, what is the nature of
our knowledge of God taught to us by the QurâÄn, the kind of morals and
manners which are enjoined by it, and the kind of legal and
constitutional system it asks us to establish in the world.
We must also free ourselves from the clutches ofJahilisociety,Jahiliconcepts,Jahilitraditions andJahilileadership. Our mission is not to compromise with the practices ofJahilisociety, nor can we be loyal to it.Jahilisociety, because of its Jahili characteristics, is not worthy to be
compromised with. Our aim is first to change ourselves so that we may
later change the society.
Our foremost objective is to change the practices of this society. Our aim is to change theJahilisystem at its very roots, this system which is fundamentally at
variance with IslÄm and which, with the help of force and oppression, is
keeping us from living the sort of life which is demanded by our
Our first step will be to raise ourselves above theJahilisociety, and all its values and concepts. We will not change our own
values and concepts either more or less to make a bargain with thisJahilisociety.
Never! Even if we were on different roads, and if we take even one step
in its company, we will lose our goal entirely and lose our way as
know that in this we will have difficulties and trials, and we will
have to make great sacrifices. But if we are to walk in the footsteps of
the first generation of Muslims, through whom God established His
system and gave it victory overJahiliyyahh, then God must be the Master of our wills.
is therefore desirable that we should be aware at all times of the
nature of our course of action, of the nature of our position, and the
nature of the road which we must traverse to come out of ignorance, as
the distinguished and unique generation of the Companions of the Prophet
came out of it.
Source: Chapter 1 fromMilestonesby Sayyid QutbÂ¸ Maktabah Booksellers and Publishers, available in full online: www.quranproject.org