Rafed English

Knowledge of the Historical Environment in which the Qur`an was Revealed

Adapted from: "Introduction to the Science of Tafsir of the Quran" by: "Ayatullah Subhani"

The Qur`an was revealed in an environment in which the people were accustomed to a particular style of life and thus, the verses of the Qur`an which were sent down were suitable to and alluded to the lifestyle, traditions and customs of those people. In addition, the verses also went forth to comment on these people and their (negative) characteristics!
Thus, it is necessary for the commentator of the Qur`an to be aware of the lifestyle of the ’Arabs before Islam and even those contemporary to the revelation of the Qur`an so that they are able to clearly understand the verses of the Qur`an in relation to a particular theme.
For example, the Qur`an speaks about various issues and topics such as Azlam1 (animals which have been slaughtered as a sacrifice to the various false gods and idols), and the various idols such as Wadda, Suwaf, Yaghuth, Yafuqa and Nasra2. In addition, the Qur`an also speaks about issues such as the morals and ethical traits of the ’Arabs and their repulsive acts such as the killing of their female infants3. The verses of the Qur`an also speak about the relationship which the Arabs had with the orphans of the society and tens of other topics in relation to the life of the Arabs before Islam and during the time of the Prophet (‘s). Thus, the ability to completely review and explain the verses of the Qur`an in regards to these issues can only be performed by the person who has a full understanding of the complete way of life of this group of people since the Qur`an was revealed in the environment and surroundings of these people.
Sometimes, the Qur`an presents the truths to us in the form of a parable [such as the parable of the falsehood being equated with seeing a mirage in the desert]. However the only person who is able to understand the reality of the parable (of a mirage) is one who has an understanding of life in the desert or lives in a dry and arid land with little to no agriculture.
For example, when Allah (awj) mentions the parable of the truth and falsehood as being like a mirage, which one sees and He (awj) says:
وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍ بِقِيعَةٍ يَّحْسَبُهُ الظَّمْأَنُ مَـــاءً
And (as for) those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage in the desert, which the thirsty man deems to be water.”4
The person who lives in the desert or who has knowledge of the life of such people would be able to better understand the actuality of this parable whereas the person who lives near the banks of a river or in a very grassy, lush area would not, in the beginning stages, be able to fully understand the actuality of this similitude.
  • 1. Suratul Maidah (5), Verses 3 and 90
  • 2. Surat Nuh (71), Verse 23
  • 3. Suratul Takwir (81), Verse 8
  • 4. Suratul Nur (24), Verse 39


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