Rafed English

Need of Topical Exegesis

Now we revert to the points of difference between topical exegesis and split exegesis. We have already given some reasons why topical exegesis is preferable. As we have pointed out, the field of topical exegesis is vaster and more fruitful. It is more advanced than split exegesis. It can continuously make progress and make new discoveries, for this type of exegesis is based on human experience and as human experience advances, it becomes more fruitful.

In topical exegesis the accuracy of the data provided by human experience is checked against the Qur'an. That is the only way that enables us to find out the basic views of the Qur'an and Islam in regard to different subjects of life.

It may be said: What is the need of finding out these basic views of Islam? For example, what is the need of knowing the general theory of Islam about Prophethood? Is there any need of knowing what the Qur'an says about the trends of history? Or why would we interpret the social changes in the light of what the Qur'an says? Why should we know the Islamic law of economy?

Is there any reason why should we know what the Qur'an means by the words of sky and earth? What is the need of knowing the significance of these words and deducing theories relating to them. We know that the Holy Prophet himself refrained from describing any such theory in exact and definite terms. Generally speaking he has not mentioned any such theories. He only presented the Qur'an to the Muslims in its present form. Then why should we trouble ourselves to derive from it any separate theories?

In fact, today we feel a basic need of discovering these theories and cannot dispense with this need.

The Holy Prophet explained these theories in the context of the Qur'an in a way suited to his environment. He applied them on the whole to Islamic life. Now it is a duty of every Muslim to rediscover these theories within the ideological framework of that time. That framework was natural, though it might be a little primitive. It is only the spiritual, social, intellectual and instructional framework prescribed by the Holy Prophet that can convey to us his ideas in a perfect form. It alone can evaluate every situation and every event of any time and can apply what it says to all situations.

If you compare between two common situations, this idea will be understood better:

Suppose a man is living among the people who speak a particular language. He wants to learn their language and its usage, and wants to know how their mind reaches from a word to its meaning and how they comprehend the exact meaning of a word. Now there are two ways of doing this.

One way is that he should mix up with the people of that society and fully participate in their activities. If he does that for some time, he will become familiar with the correct use of their language and as a result his mind will begin to move from the words to their meanings as required by that language and its usage. As this man lives among those who speak the language as their mother tongue, a hidden stock of the meanings will soon be deposited in his mind. As a word will be uttered he will draw upon that stock and understand the word correctly. As a result of his contact with those who speak the language as their mother tongue, he will get an insight into the language like them. In contrast a man who is not living in the society of those who speak the language -as their mother tongue, but wants to become conversant with its correct usages, has no alternative but to refer to its grammar and composition. He will have to acquire the ability of deriving its general rules. Take the case of Arabic language. In the beginning the Arabs had to make no effort to learn it, for they lived in a predominantly Arab society. But later when their atmosphere changed and with the entry of other languages into their life, their own language became weak and mixed with a large number of foreign words, need was felt for the development of Arabic grammar and the theories of philology. As the atmosphere was no longer conducive to learning correct Arabic, it became necessary to study it in scientific lines. Theories were formed for consideration, discussion and criticism, so that the language may be moulded according to scientific rules and new theories. This was only an approximate example to explain our point.

The companions who lived along with the Holy Prophet might not have understood his views as general principles, but there is no doubt that they on the whole absorbed his ideas and were mentally impressed by them.

The general condition of the social, spiritual and mental framework in which they lived was helpful in understanding the Holy Prophet's teachings and creating an accurate standard for the purpose of evaluating the things. But such a helpful atmosphere and appropriate conditions do not exist today. At a time when a need is being felt for the study of the views of the Qur'an in respect of the science of Islam, how can the general and universal theories in this respect be ignored?

During contacts between the Muslim world and the Western world expression is given to many divergent theories and points of view. Although the Muslims have vast treasures of intellectual resources and the Qur'an has provided them with a rich and varied source of learning in all branches of human knowledge, when there is a contact between a Muslim and a Westerner, the Muslim finds himself faced with so many theories which have emerged in different fields of life. Therefore it is a duty of the Muslims to know Islamic view vis-à-vis other theories. For this purpose they have no alternative but to go deep into the texts of Islam and find out Islam's stand in order to be able to understand how Islam has solved particular problems in a way commensurate with intelligent human experience in different fields of life.

Adopted from the book: "Trends of History in Qur'an" by: "Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr"

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