10 July, 2013

The One Line Preface

Its 610 AC, a man named Muhammad, in the deserts of Arabia claimed to have received a revelation from God. He calls people to that revelation. The revelation continued for 23 years, and it was named as the Quran (the recitation). The revelation was powerful. Now, there are 1.6 billion Muslims on the globe, representing 23 percentage of the world’s population [1], all of them accept Quran to be the verbatim word of God.

After the opening prayer, Quran begins with these lines:

Alif Laam Meem

(is) the book
in it,
a Guidance
For the Muttaqeen

It may be read as:

-          Alif Laaf meem. That is the book, no doubt. In it, a guidance, for the Muttaqeen.

-          Alif Laaf meem. That is the book; wherein there is no doubt. A guidance, for the Muttaqeen.

P.F. Collier who studies prefaces and prologues of various classics, writes:

“ No part of a book is so intimate as the Preface. Here, after the long labor of the work is over, the author descends from his platform, and speaks with his reader as man to man, disclosing his hopes and fears, seeking sympathy for his difficulties, offering defence or defiance, according to his temper, against the criticisms which he anticipates. It thus happens that a personality which has been veiled by a formal method throughout many chapters, is suddenly seen face to face in the Preface.” [2]

The preface of Quran is unique:

Firstly, the preface was not revealed/ written after the long labor of work. Quran was not revealed in the order of recitation/reading. Quran was revealed in parts, in thousands of fragments, over a period of 23 years, with information on where the particular revelation was to be placed once the Quran takes the form of book. This one line preface was revealed, in rather early days of revelation.

Secondly, the author does not descend from his platform; rather there is grandiosity to the very first words: Alif-Laam-Meem.  The author of the Quran begins with three disjointed letters of Arabic language. Some understand them to be an abbreviation. Some deem them to be acronym. Some speculate that the words numerical values have some hidden meaning. Some believe that these letters are author’s signature that contains a hidden numeric code that runs throughout the Quran. Similar disjointed letters appear before several chapters of Quran. So, the author does not break down his efforts into easy wordings and give readers comfort that this reading is going to be an enjoyable ride. Rather, the message seems opposite. The author is showing the reader that there are things beyond their comprehension. He is not starting with the easy lessons first, but he is starting with the basic lesson first that no matter how hard you try, there will be secrets in this book hidden from your eyes and intellect. You will never fully unravel the mysteries that this book contains. There will always remain an element of unknown, a tinge of mystery to what this book has to say. 

Thirdly, the author does not disclose any hopes or fears. The author does not seek any sympathy for his difficulties. The author says plainly ‘This is the book; there is no doubt in this (information)’ and ‘this is the book, wherein is no doubt’. The author makes the bluntest statement and in doing so shows his supreme command over the language. The author does not reveal/ write any punctuation marks, and engages you in the effort of choosing your pauses. Quran does not declare the need for you to select any one of the meaning that may be derived with various pauses, rather it leaves it to your rationality to decode the massive meanings hidden in one sentences; meanings that multiply with punctuation marks. So, Quran is saying it is a fact, that this is the book (Al-Kitaab), and leaves it there. It does not say outright, what that book is. As you read the Quran, you find numerous references to the book (Al-Kitaab) and when I combine all those references, I feel Quran giving me an image of a collection of books, a bible containing all the testaments, a collection of all that was revealed to human kind from God. And, all that has been revealed, Quran says, are not assumptions, theories, hypotheses, conjectures but are facts and truths. Quran touches the subjects of science, biology, physics, meta-physics, history, pre-history along with many others, and yet, the author of the Quran claims that there is nothing in this book has any element of doubt. 

Fourthly, the author does not bind himself to any stringent methodology in any of the chapters. For instance, the author does not feel the need to introduce himself formally in the preface. He does not feel the need to keep the preface, entirely separate from the chapters. Rather, as one reads the Quran, the reader understands the author more and more. The introduction to the author and the message are interwoven, perhaps, because this introduction of the author is one of the primary messages of the Quran. So, the preface ends: ‘A guidance for the Muttaqeen’. Who are the muttaqeen, is what Quran addresses in the following verses and the tone shifts from being introductory to descriptive, rather swiftly.

Lastly, this one line preface is an introduction to the book, rather than the author of the book. The author chooses to introduce himself through the book. He realizes that it is beyond the capacity of the readers to understand him directly, so he is intriguing the readers to understand him through his message, through his book, the book.

[1] The Global Religious Landscape , A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010 [Web Link :]
[2] Prefaces and Prologues. Vol. XXXIX. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14;, 2001.

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Ruhiyah Sakinah said...

Dear author, in the third point you mention this " Thirdly, the author does
not disclose any hopes or fears." . Could you clarify on this. Because I am thinking that yes the author disclose the hopes and fears in many verses of the Quran

Muhammad Awais Tahir said...

Dear Ruhiya, I was referring to the contrast between the generally adopted disclosure of hopes and fears in the preface vs the blunt opening statement of the Quran presenting it as a book beyond doubts. The author presents the book as a book of ultimate truth, rather than mention its limitations.

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