The Dome of the Rock
- :Roger Garaudy
THE DOME OF THE ROCK
The Dome of the Rock, the first Muslim masterpiece, was built in 687 A.C. by Caliph Abd al-Malik, half a century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (s). The rock marks the site from where Prophet Muhammad (s) made his Miraaj or Night Journey into the heavens and back to Makkah (Qur'an 17:1). The Dome of the Rock presents the first example of the Islamic world-view and is the symbol of the oneness and continuity of the Abrahamic, i.e. Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith.
Travelers and pilgrims have compared the cupola to a mountain made up of supernatural light, or else to a sun when its gold glitters in the dazzling light of Palestinian mornings, noons, and dusks, with endless variations in the intensity of shades. The atmosphere of beauty that prevails in the Dome of the Rock is like a distant announcement of the destiny of paradise.
Under the rule of the Arabian caliphs, Palestine enjoyed four centuries of peace and prosperity.
Jerusalem (Al-Quds) was the holy city of the Muslims, Jews, and the Christians. After the death of Caliph 'Ali (ra), husband of Fatimah (ra), and son-in-law of the Prophet (s), it was in Jerusalem that the Arab leaders met in 660 to elect as their king, Mu'awiyah, the founder of the dynasty of the Umayyads. The Arab chroniclers report that his first act upon becoming king was to go and pray at Golgotha and then at Gethsemane. After the death of Mu'awiyah's son, Yazid (680-693), Caliph Abd al Malik had the mosque known as the Dome of the Rock built at Jerusalem as a symbol of the unity of the three Abrahamic religions: Jewish, Christian and Islamic.
First Muslim Masterpiece
The Dome of the Rock, the first Muslim masterpiece, was built in 687 A.C., half a century after the death of the Prophet [Muhammad, pbuh]. A careful "reading" of the monument to grasp its inner spiritual meaning reveals that it contains the germ of the major themes in "Islamic art," whose fundamental purpose is to express the faith revealed in the Qur'an. This "art" is decipherable only if one recalls the tenets of the Islamic faith.
The Dome of the Rock presents the first example, and a very striking one, of the Islamic world-view. The very site where it was established, the structure of the building, its dimensions and proportions, the forms to be found within it, the colors that enliven it, its external outline, and the symphony of its internal space, are all representative of the faith that inspired its construction.
It would be fruitless, though easy, to start out by searching in Byzantine, Syrian, Persian, Hellenic, or Roman art for similar elements of architectural techniques, for a specific motif or for this or that mathematical harmony in the arrangement. These influences exist, of course, and historians, archaeologists, art critics, and architects have often carried out this work of analysis. They have done a fine and useful job of demonstrating how the builders, the craftsmen, and the mosaic artists who took part in the creation of the building in question came from all regions of the new "Arab empire" and brought to the task their own technique and their own styles or work.
If we are to stop short of this "objective" analysis, however, without making our point of departure the "subjective" central impulse from which the newly realized synthesis was effected, we would miss what is essential, namely, the organizing principle of the whole, which transfigures the borrowings and expresses a single faith through the diversity of the cultures that have been given a new lease on life by the re-emergence of the universal, and eternal Islamic faith.
Let us consider first the choice of the site and the importance of the resources committed to the work. The Caliph had resolved to consecrate to this building all the tribute levied in Egypt over a period of seven years.
It would be fruitless to dwell upon the anecdotal explanation or even the conjectural history of this decision, based on suggestions that the Caliph wished to "challenge the World" by building an Islamic monument finer than any built by rival religions, or that he was attempting to divert the stream of pilgrims from Makkah, where a rebel, Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr (ra), had seized power. Undoubtedly, such considerations and calculations were not absent from Abd-al-Malik's decision. But the creation, on the first attempt, of a new form of beauty, which would serve as a model for the architecture and artistic creations of all Muslims on three continents for a thousand years, cannot be "explained" by the trivial vanity, ambition, or stratagems of an ephemeral sovereign.
The Prophet Muhammad (s) never claimed to be creating a new religion, but rather to be recalling all men to the priniordial religion, contemporary with the awakening of the first man, the religion of which Abraham's sacrifice in responding unconditionally to God's call offered the finest model and example. Therefore it is not by an accident of history or through the whims of a despot that the starting point of Islamic art coincides with the starting point of the spiritual life of the Abrahamic tradition, including the lives of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, namely, Jerusalem. This is the place of the life and ascension of Jesus (pbuh), and, according to the Qur'an [Surah 17, Ayah 1, 'The Children of Israel'], of the rock from which the Prophet (s) rose from Earth to Heaven to contemplate the Ordinance of God six centuries before Dante's Divine Comedy.
Here it was that Solomon(pbuh) built the Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the temple that Herod built and that the Romam razed to the ground. When he entered Jerusalem in 637 A.C.,Caliph 'Umar Ibn al-Khattab (ra) ordered the erection of an austere wooden mosque on a deserted platform strewn with debris. The Umayyed, Abd-al-Malik, had the Dome built on this site, close to the dome of the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre and resembling it in many ways. The Dome of the Rock was thus the symbol of the oneness and continuity of the Abrahamic, i.e. Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith. [More]
The external appearance of the monument expresses the essential message of this faith. The transition from the double square that forms the basic octagon to the spherical cupola symbolizes the transition from Earth to Heaven as it does in the most ancient cosmogonies of the Middle East and, in particular, of Mesopotamia.
The cupola, with a diameter and a height that are much the same (a little under 25 meters), stands out more strikingly than the cupolas of Byzantine churches, for, being made of wood, its weight does not necessitate, as in the case of vaults made of stone, those buttresses or side cupolas that weight down the external outlines of Hagia Sophia and the monuments inspired by it.
This cupola has been covered with gold ever since it was built, due to the piety of the master-builders, Rija ibn Haya and Yazid ibn Salim, who spent upon this luminous covering all that remained of the wealth that had been entrusted to them for the purpose of erecting the monument. Travelers and pilgrims have compared the cupola to a mountain made up of supernatural light, or else to a sun when its gold glitters in the dazzling light of Palestinian mornings, noons, and dusks, with endless variations in the intensity of shades.
At the outset, before the successive restorations, the curve of the cupola was slightly horseshoe-shaped, something that must have accentuated its apparent upward movement, recalling the "night journey" or Miraaj of the Prophet (s) into the heavenly spheres.
This dome is set upon a drum, which, in turn, rests upon the basic octagon that represents the earth, like a perfect crystal. The original facing consisted of glass mosaics, magnifying the beauty of the earth created by God, but the porcelain of the present-day dome, with its dominant blues, growing denser and darker as it descends from the drum to ground level, doubtless recalls the transition, almost dematerialized and transparent, from the crown in the sky formed by the drum to the walls of the basic octagon. The delicate lacework of the azure tiles in the gilded areas becomes less and less frequent as one descends from the drum to the ground, though the golden light of heaven and of the cupola which is its messenger never ceases to filter downwards. Even the flagstone of veined Marble that make up the lowermost foundation seem to shimmer with the last rays of this celestial light.
Upon the beehive framework of gilded porcelain where sunshine and shade play ceaselessly, the arcades, with identical curves but with designs that vary from one arch to the next, dance their round dance about the octagon, hardly interrupted by the doorways at the four cardinal points that mark out this place as the center of the world. Above the arches surrounding the mausoleum, the subtle inflections of the Nakshi calligraphy sing Earth's last song to the Glory of God, before we reach the crown into the City of God, or rather, into a world wherein beauty gives us its earthly metaphor.
It is another world of forms, wherein everything descends from above, like the Revelation itself. It is said in the Mirhajnamah of Mir Haydar that when the Prophet Muhammad arrived in the Seventh Heaven, he saw a celestial vault in the colors of light. That is what the roof of the Dome of the Rock endeavors to evoke with its foliated scrolls, interlacements, arabesques, and mosaics of purple and gold, enhanced by the black band with its cursive letters, inscribed in gold, recalling the Message.
Below are sixteen stained-glass windows through which God's light enters. This iridescent light descends towards man, its reliefs and shadows filtering through the arches, pillars, and columns that articulate the space, outlining the arabesques that intertwine men and their universe, drawing them into the Wake of God, who is always living, always creating.
The inner pillars encircle the Rock.
His written word reveals itself in the places to which one's gaze is first directed, especially in the border of the cupola, in the niche of the mihrab, and in the frame of the doorway, but also in the friezes on the wall, under the capitals of the columns. Everywhere a form offers to the eye a springboard to infinity, reminding it, as it leaves the Earth, of God's Challenge.
It is said in the Qur'an that men of faith will know paradise as their eternal home. The atmosphere of beauty that prevails in a place like the Dome of the Rock is like a distant announcement of that destiny.
Caught in the mysterious network of the arabesque, of the cadence of the arches and columns, of all the forms and colors of beauty that spiritualizes what is material without concealing the lines of force of its construction, man finds himself in his finite state at the very heart of the Beauty and the Life of God, of which this mausoleum is the parable. Everything here - from the structure to the light, integrates man in a life that is higher than everyday life. This stone parable tells us that another world, a world different from this one, is possible. It frees him from the pressure of things and invites him to listen to a different appeal, to another promise than desire.
It teaches him the Oneness and Infinity of God. When he looks down earth-ward once more, he can contemplate the rock where, according to the Jewish and Christian tradition, Abraham set out to accomplish his sacrifice, and where according to the Muslims, the Prophet (s) rose to Heaven. He can feel himself returning to the clay from which he was created, as though he were nothing more, in God's hand, than a living particle of the honey-colored rock, gold and amber in the infinitely soft, penetrating light of the God Who created it, just as he created this mountain, these stars, the crystal of the world and its vault, and this temple, made by men's hands at the call of God.
The unity expressed in the Dome of the Rock is not just a symbol. The historian Rappoport, stresses the fact that the situation of the Jews greatly improved after the conquest of Palestine by the Muslims and that their intellectual activities flourished. A Jewish academy had been founded at Tiberias by the learned and pious rabbi, Jochanan ben Zakkai, soon after the Roman occupation. He had sufficient insight to see that, after the loss of a national existence of one's own, the unity and the purity of the faith were the new path that the Jewish community had to adopt. The work of exegesis on the Scriptures carried out by the rabbis at Tiberias made up the body of a new historical phenomenon: Judaism. [ Impressions of Michael the Elder, Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch , twelfth century C.E., after five centuries of Muslim rule].
Allah: Allah is the proper name in Arabic for The One and Only God, The Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It is used by the Arab Christians and Jews for the God (Eloh-im in Hebrew; 'Allaha' in Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus, pbuh). The wordAllah does not have a plural or gender. Allah does not have any associates or partners, and He does not beget nor was He begotten. SWT is an abbreviation of Arabic words that mean 'Glory Be To Him.'
s or pbuh : Peace Be Upon Him. This expression is used for all Prophets of Allah
ra: Radiallahu Anha (May Allah be pleased with her).
ra: Radiallahu Anhu (May Allah be pleased with him).
Roger Garaudy was elected to the French National Assembly in 1945 and later served as Deputy Speaker and Senator. He was a leading European Marxist thinker and contributed susbtantially to ideas on the political theory and the philosophy of civilizations. His writings cover such topics as the Morality, Aesthetics, Marxism, and Religion. Roger Garaudy, 84, was born in Marseilles and was raised as a Roman Catholic. He reverted to Islam in 1982.
The Prophet. s antagonistic contemporaries used any means to discredit his prophethood, discerning in it a cardinal threat to their supremacy as leaders of the community. Is it not strange to note how when modern Orientalists echo these accusations made fourteen centuries ago, they merely phrase them anew? God. s Composition under challenge - as His Book foretells. The human theorists refuted.
This is one of the most controversial points about the sacred book. Muslims are of the firm belief that it was God's composition, word by word and even letter by letter; the divine revelation coming down through the mission of the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad (s) in installments. Immediately after each revelation the Prophet (s) repeated the heavenly words aloud to his followers around him and to his scribes who wrote them down.
Yet, on the other hand, non-Muslims find it hard to accept that any book whatever exists or ever existed which was actually composed by God. Books held sacred by non-Muslims have been written by men who were saintly and held in great spiritual esteem, but who nonetheless were mortals. This applies to the Old and New testament as well as to books of other faiths.
Islam is the sole religion whose followers firmly believe their sacred book to have been composed by God. This, however, has been persistently denied by non-Muslim writers down the years who claim categorically that the Quran was composed by Muhammad with or without the help of others. Some of these writers' statements are extremely sweeping and moreover make little or no attempt to give supporting evidence.
Sale , for instance, in his Preliminary Discourse, first published in the eighteenth century, declared: "That Muhammad was really the author and chief contriver of the Quran is beyond dispute; though it be highly probable that he had no small assistance in his design from others." [Prophet Muhammad (s) never claimed that he is the author of Qur'an]. Sir William Muir in the last century, Wollaston in 1905, Lammens in 1926, Champion and Short in 1959, Glubb in 1970 and Rodinson as late as 1977 merely reiterated this logically unfounded assumption.
We find the echoing statements of other Orientalists: from Menzees , "Nothing else but a pure creation and concoction of Mohammed and of his accomplice;" and from Draycott , "Through it all runs the fire of his genius; in the later Surahs (chapters) it is the reflection of his energy that looks out from the pages." Many Orientalists have claimed the Prophet to be a poet, a thinker, an epileptic or bewitched, or to have relied on Jewish and Christian sources in composing the Book. A few writers in the Middle Ages even came out with the fantastic assertion that it was put together by Christians or Jews especially employed for the purpose, patching it up with bits of the Bible in order to satisfy popular demand! Of course, this particular medieval assertion was subsequently proved to be untrue and accordingly dropped when some accurate information became available in the West.
In fact, most of these notions are not exclusively the Orientalists' inventions, being promulgated originally by tribal chiefs among the disbelievers in the Prophet's own time. Naturally, such antagonistic contemporaries were prepared to use any means to discredit his prophethood, discerning in it a cardinal threat to their supremacy as leaders of the community. Their assertions and accusations against the Prophet have come down to us in the vivid terms of the Quran:
When it was said to them: There is no god save Allah , they were scornful and said: Shall we forsake our gods for a mad poet? Nay, but he brought the Truth and he confirmed the messengers before him. (52:29-34)
And when Our revelations are recited unto them they say: we have heard, if we wished we could say the like of it, this is nothing but fables of the ancients. (8:31)
Is it not strange to note how when modern Orientalists echo these accusations made fourteen centuries ago, they merely phrase them anew?
A claim put forward by Stobart about a hundred years ago was reiterated by Bell in the l920s, and was echoed much more recently by Rodinson. After reading the Quran in translation, Stobart asserted that it could have been written by any Arab who is "familiar with the general outline of the Jewish history and of the traditions of his own country and possessed of some poetic fire and fancy." Bell differed slightly when he described the Prophet as a poet, "but not of the ordinary Arab type," because his themes of religion and righteousness were hardly touched by other poets. Rodinson could not appreciate the Quran except as a poem stored up in Muhammad's unconscious mind.
Readers familiar with Arabic poetry realize that it has long been distinguished by its wazn, bahr and aafiyah - exact measures of syllabic sounds and rhymes, which have to be strictly adhered to even at the expense of grammar and shades of meaning at times. All this is categorically different from the Quranic literature style.
In the 1960s Anderson and Watt came up independently with almost the same theory. Anderson described the Quran as "the result of wishful thinking," assuming that words, thoughts and the Prophet's subconscious mind came to constitute the Quran. Watt, applying modern methods of literacy analysis, came to the conclusion that he may have been mistaken in believing the Quran to be a divine message: "What seems to a man to come from outside himself may actually come from his unconscious." Hence he described the Book as "the product of creative imagination."
But this theory of Anderson and Watt collapses under the weight of the mere fact that no other "imagination" - no matter how "creative" - has ever been able to produce a similar masterpiece or indeed even a pal of it.
It may just be mentioned here that this theory of Anderson and Watt is furthermore unoriginal, since it was also referred to in the Quran as one of the claims put forward against the Prophet by the disbelievers who used the term, "muddled dreams" instead of "imagination"(21:5)
San Pedro and other Orientalists of the Middle Ages and later have asserted that the Prophet was an epileptic or possessed by demons, in an attempt to explain the divine revelations. Much more recently Rodinson dubbed it as auditory visual hallucination. But this baseless claim has been ruled out by objective and rational writers. Daniel , for example, commented that "epilepsy as applied to the Prophet was the explanation of those who sought to amuse rather than to instruct." The question may well be asked: Has epilepsy - this sad and debilitating disease - ever enabled its victim to become a prophet or a law-giver, or rise to a position of the highest esteem and power?
How could it, when such a disease is scientifically known to lead eventually to mental deterioration in the form of defective memory, diminishing intelligence or irregularities of temper? On the physical side, as is well known, the effects of the epileptic attacks are often shattering on both sufferer and spectator. There have been no signs of this in any of the details of the Prophet's life which have come down to us through the centuries. "On the contrary, he was clearly in full possession of his faculties to the very end of his life." Moreover, Muhammad (s) was a man whose common sense never failed him - nor his physical strength. Had he ever collapsed under the strain of battle or controversy or fainted away when strong action was called for, a case of epilepsy might have been made out. As it is, "to base such a theory of epilepsy on a legend which on the face of it has no historical foundation is a sin against historical criticism."
Now to an oft-repeated charge, namely that the Prophet composed the Quran either with direct help from others, after reading books (despite the constantly reiterated fact of his illiteracy), or after being taught by someone of Jewish or Christian background (again reiterated in the Middle Ages as well as more recently). Once more, far from being original to this period these assertions were actually leveled by infidels in the lifetime of Muhammad as reported in the Quran itself in which they are challenged, (10:38; 11:13; 16:103). The Prophet was assumed to have been instructed on Christianity and Judaism either during his travels or while staying in Makkah or Madinah. He did travel to Syria twice, when aged thirteen and twenty-five, but this was long before his mission and consequently constitutes no justification for Bodley and others, to describe him as "a man who spent most of his time on the road;" nor for "his vast travels" to have been described as a major source of his accumulated knowledge.
Dry Arab history, according to Sale, records that Muhammad's first journey to Syria was made at the age of thirteen, with his uncle Abu-Talib. They had a brief meeting with a certain monk called either Sergius or Bohaira. Not only was this encounter too brief but it occurred too early to favor the surmise of the monk's assistance with the revelations, which began about thirty years later.
A further postulate was that Muhammad had a close acquaintance with Christianity while in Makkah through what he might have heard from bishops and monks. These men, stationed as they were on the Syrian borders of the Arabian desert could have conducted missionary activities in the vicinity. Both Bodley and Gibb have referred to bishops who used to preach Christianity from camelback during the fairs held annually at Oqadh near Makkah, naming Qissben-Sa'idah and another bishop called Assad-ben-Ka'b who did deliver many sermons to the Arabs during these fairs. The unfortunate fact regarding the theory of their influencing the Prophet is that both bishops died over a century before Muhammad's birth.
In addition to the bishops and monks, two Christians sword-smiths were alleged to have taught Muhammad - both by his disbelieving contemporaries and much more recently by Zwemer at the turn of the present century. Jaber and Yasser (ra) were Abyssinian slaves who had accepted Islam; their master, a member of the Bani-Hadramy, used to beat them saying, "You are teaching Muhammad!" They would protest, "No, by Allah! He teaches us and guides us!" It seems that Zwemer favored their master's opinion. Meanwhile Menezes, and Gardner , postulated a completely different teacher of the Prophet. They maintained that Salman, a Persian, had helped in writing the sacred Book. This Salman, a Zoroastrian before accepting Christianity in Syria, later moved to Madinah where he met the Prophet and embraced Islam. Salman's (ra) life is documented in Islamic history, notably as the very first person to propose digging a trench for the defense of Madinah when the city was threatened with invasion by the Makkan disbelievers and their allies. His bright suggestion, coupled with violent wintry gales, successfully repelled the enemy.
It is well known to Muslims that the greater part of the Quran, i.e., about two thirds of it, was revealed in Makkah before the Prophet migrated to Madinah, where Salman met him. Furthermore, the Book's literary style is so sublime that even born Arab linguists who have tried over the years to imitate it have not been successful - to say nothing of a Persian.
Sometimes Muhammad was simply accused of learning from an unnamed teacher, the charge being leveled in general terms such as, "The long rambling accounts of Jewish patriarchs and prophets [in the Quran] correspond in so much detail with the Talmud that of their essentially Jewish origin there can be no doubt." More recently Rodinson , following the same trail, naively alleged that Muhammad merely arabized Judaeo-Christianity on the basis that it had already attracted his countrymen because of its association with higher civilizations. But against these assertions Bell wrote, "Of any intimate knowledge for the prophet of either these two religions or the Bible itself there is no convincing evidence. The Surah 'Al-Ikhlas' of the Quran is sometimes quoted as an early rejection of one of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity." Bell's theory was recently corroborated by the striking contrast between the Quran and the Bible as shown by Bucaille in his treatise, "The Bible, the Quran and Science."
As it is, the drastic difference between the Quranic and biblical concepts of God, the contrasts between the biblical legends and the Quranic records, not to mention the extremely unfriendly attitude of the Jewish community of Madinah towards the Prophet must surely furnish convincing evidence against the conjecture that Jews or Christians helped him. Further objective proofs were provided by Bucaille. Less recently, it was argued that by the application of the principle of higher criticism it became clear that, "Muhammad had been gathering, recasting and revising in written form the material planned to issue as his book." Ibn-Taymiyah, who wrote a book on the same subject in the Middle Ages, stated among other things that the Prophet was illiterate. Secondly, he argued that the sublime style of the Quran remained the same throughout the entire period of its revelation. No mortal author could maintain such perfection of style, persistently, for so long.
Not a Surah, not a verse, not even a word was revised, as is recorded in history.
Allah :Allah is the proper name in Arabic for The One and Only God, The Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It is used by the Arab Christians and Jews for the God (Eloh-im in Hebrew; 'Allaha' in Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus, pbuh). The word Allah does not have a plural or gender. Allah does not have any associate or partner, and He does not beget nor was He begotten. SWT is an abbreviation of Arabic words that mean 'Glory Be To Him.'s or pbuh: Peace Be Upon Him. This expression is used for all Prophets of Allah ra: Radiallahu Anhu (May Allah be pleased with him).
"The Holy Qur'an," Text, Translation and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, 1934. (Latest Publisher: Amana Publications, Beltsville, MD, USA; Title: "The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an," 1992). Includes subject index.
"The Meaning of the Glorious Koran," An Explanatory Translation by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, a Mentor Book Publication. (Also available as: "The Meaning of the Glorious Koran," by Marmaduke Pickthall, Dorset Press, N.Y.; Published by several publishers since 1930).
"The Bible, The Qur'an and Science (Le Bible, le Coran et la Science)," The Holy Scriptures Examined in the Light of Modern Knowledge, by Maurice Bucaille, English version published by North American Trust Publication, 1978.
Abul A'la Mawdudi
The Quran is the unique book, unlike any other book in the whole world. The Quran is not a book on "religion" in the sense this word is generally understood. That is why when a reader approaches the Quran with the common notions of a book in mind, he is puzzled by its style and manner of presentation. The revelation of the Quran continued for twenty-three years. The different portions of the Quran were revealed according to the requirements of the various phases of Islam. It is thus obvious that such a book cannot have the kind of uniformity of style which is followed in formal books on religion and the like. Introduction
Before the reader begins the study of the Quran, he must bear in mind the fact that it is a unique book; the Quran does not contain information, ideas and arguments about specific themes arranged in a literary order. This is why a stranger to the Quran, on his first encounter with it, is puzzled when he does not find the enunciation of its theme, or a division into chapters and sections, or a separate treatment for different topics and separate instructions for different aspects of life, arranged in a serial order. Here, rather, is something with which he has not been familiar before and which does not conform to his conception of a book.
He finds that it deals with creeds, gives moral instructions, lays down laws, invites people to Islam, admonishes the disbelievers, draws lessons from historical events, administers warnings, offers good tidings, all blended together in a beautiful manner. The same subject is repeated in different ways and one topic follows the other without any apparent connection. Sometimes a new topic crops up in the middle of another without any apparent reason. The speaker and the addressees, the direction of the address, all these change without any notice.
Historical events are presented, yet not as they would be in traditional history books. The problems of philosophy and metaphysics are treated in a manner different from that of the textbooks on these subjects. Man and the universe are mentioned in a language different from that of the natural sciences. Likewise it follows its own method of solving cultural, political, social and economic problems and deals with the principles and injunctions of law in a manner quite distinct from that of the sociologists, lawyers and jurists. Morality is taught in a way that has no parallel in the whole literature on the subject.
The Quran is not a book on "religion" in the sense this word is generally understood. That is why when a reader approaches the Quran with the common notions of a book in mind, he is puzzled by its style and manner of presentation. He finds that in many places the background has not been mentioned and the circumstances under which a particular passage was revealed have not been stated. And the casual reader is therefore unable to benefit fully from the most precious treasures contained in the Quran, though occasionally he may succeed in discovering a few gems here and there. But only those people who are not acquainted with these distinctive features of the Quran become victims of such doubts.
The reader may be saved from all these difficulties, if he is warned beforehand of this essential point: the book he is going to study is the only book of its kind in the whole world; its literary style is quite different from that of all other books. Then, and then alone, can he understand it.
The Divine Guidance
First of all, the reader should understand the real nature of the Quran. Whether one believes it to be a revealed book or not, one will have to consider, as a starting point, the claim that it puts forward, as does its bearer, Muhammad (s, peace be upon him), that this is the Divine Guidance.
Allah, the Lord of the universe, its Creator, Master and Sovereign, created man and bestowed upon him the faculties of learning, speaking, understanding and discerning right from wrong and good from evil. He granted him freedom of choice, freedom of will, freedom of action. He gave him authority to acquire and make use of the things around him. In short, He granted him a kind of autonomy and appointed him as His representative on earth and instructed him to live in accordance with His Guidance.
... He organized all those who accepted the Divine Guidance into one community, which in its turn was required to reestablish its collective way of life based on the Guidance and to exert itself to reform the world, which had gone astray. The Quran which was revealed to Muhammad (s) is the Book which contains that Invitation and that Divine Guidance.
The SUBJECT it deals with is MAN: it discusses those aspects of his life that lead either to his real success or to his failure. The CENTRAL THEME that runs throughout the Quran is the exposition of the Reality and the invitation to the Right Way based upon it. It declares that this Reality is the same one that was revealed by Allah (SWT) Himself to Adam at the time of his appointment as His representative, and to all the Messengers after him. The AIM and OBJECT of the revelations is to invite man to that Right Way and to present clearly the Guidance which he has lost because of his negligence, or has perverted by his wickedness. If the reader keeps these three basic things in mind, he will find that in this Book there is no incongruity in style, no gap in continuity, and no lack of interconnection between its various topics.
As a matter of fact, this Book is never irrelevant with regard to its Subject, its Central Theme and its Aim... That is why it states or discusses or cites a subject only to the extent relevant to its aims and objects and leaves out unnecessary and irrelevant details, returning over and over again to its Central Theme and to its invitation around which every other topic revolves. When the Quran is studied in this light, no doubt is left that the whole of it is a closely reasoned argument and that there is continuity of subject throughout the Book.
The revelation of the Quran continued for twenty-three years. The different portions of the Quran were revealed according to the requirements of the various phases of Islam. It is thus obvious that such a book cannot have the kind of uniformity of style which is followed in formal books on religion and the like. It should also be kept in mind that the various portions of the Quran, both long and short, were not meant to be published in the form of pamphlets at the time of their revelation, but were to be delivered as addresses and promulgated as such. They could not therefore, be in the style of the written word. Moreover, these addresses were necessarily of a different nature from that of the lectures of a professor. The Prophet (s) was entrusted with a special mission and had to appeal both to the emotions and to the intellect; he had to deal with people of different mentalities, cope with different situations and various sets of experiences during the course of his mission. He also has to train and reform his followers and to imbue them with spirit and courage, to refute the arguments of opponents and to expose their moral weaknesses.
This also explains why the same issues are repeated over and over again in the Quran. A mission and a movement naturally demand that only those topics should be presented which are required at a particular stage and that nothing should be said about the requirements of the next stage. So the same instructions are covered again and again as long as Islam remains in the same stage. Of course, they have been differently worded and styled to avoid monotony, and couched in beautiful and dignified language to make them impressive as well as effective. Moreover, it repeats at suitable places the basic creed and principles in order to keep Islam strong at every stage.
All the surahs of the Quran contain references to its basic creed: the Unity of Allah (SWT), His attributes, the Hereafter, and accountability, punishment and reward, Prophethood, and belief in the Book. They all teach piety, fortitude, endurance, faith and trust in Allah (SWT) because these virtues could not be neglected at any stage of Islam. If any of these bases had been weakened at any stage in even the slightest way, the Islamic Movement could not have made any progress in its true spirit.
Allah (SWT) Who revealed the Quran Himself made arrangements for its safety and security forever. No sooner was a passage of the Quran revealed that it was recorded on leaves of date-palm, the bark of trees, bones, at the dictation of the Prophet (s) and all these pieces were put in a bag. Besides this, some of his Companions themselves wrote these pieces for their own use. At the same time, the Muslims committed these passages to memory as they had to recite them during Salat [obligatory prayers to Allah, the Lord of the universe], a prescribed practice from the very beginning of Islam. But immediately after his death, an event occurred that necessitated this work.
A furious storm of apostasy broke out and many of the Companions, who went to war to suppress it, were killed. Among these martyrs were some of the men who had committed the whole of the Quran to memory. So it occurred to 'Umar (ra, blessings be upon him) that necessary steps should be taken to preserve the Quran intact in its original form against any and every danger and that it was not wise to depend exclusively upon those who had learnt it by heart. He tried to impress the necessity of this step on Abu Bakr (ra) [died about two years after the Prophet] who at first showed hesitation in doing what the Prophet (s) had not done. But after some discussion, he too agreed. Accordingly, he entrusted the work to Zaid bin Thabit (ra) who also hesitated at first, like Abu Bakr (ra), and for the same reason. But at last he was convinced and he undertook this historic work.
Zaid (ra) was best qualified for this work. He had frequently acted as scribe to the Prophet (s) and was one of those Companions who had learnt the Quran directly from him. He was also present on the occasion when the Prophet (s) recited the whole of the completed Quran to angel Gabriel. Arrangements were consequently made to collect and gather all the written pieces of the Quran left by the Prophet (s) along with those in possession of his Companions. Then, with the cooperation of those Companions who had memorized the whole or any part of the Quran word for word, all the written pieces were compared with each other for verification; Zaid (ra) would not take down anything in his manuscript unless all three sources tallied with one another. Thus was compiled one correct, authenticated and complete copy. This authenticated copy of the whole Quran was kept in the house at Hafsah (ra, blessings be upon her; she was 'Umar's daughter and one of the wives of the Prophet). It was proclaimed that anyone who so desired, might make a copy of it or compare it with the copy he already possessed...
At several places, the Quran speaks of itself as a Book. For example, in Surah Muzammil, an early Makki revelation, Allah (SWT) says to the Prophet (s), ".... recite the Quran in order .... " (LXXIII: 4). This also shows that the Quran was meant to be a book from the beginning of the revelation and a book must follow some order.
The Quran, which is now in use all over the world, is the exact copy of the Quran which was compiled under Abu Bakr's order and copies of which were officially sent by 'Uthman (ra) to different locations. Even today many very old copies are found in big libraries in different parts of the world. A skeptic might entertain a doubt about its revelation from Allah (SWT), but none can have any doubt whatsoever regarding its authenticity, immunity and purity from any kind of addition, omission or alteration, for there is nothing so authentic in all of human history as this fact about the Quran, that it is the same Quran that was presented to the world by the Prophet (s).
Everyone knows that the Quran claims to provide guidance for the whole of mankind. But upon reading it, one finds that it is mainly addressed to the Arabs who lived at the time of its revelation. Though at times it also addresses other peoples and mankind in general, it mainly discusses those things which appealed to the taste of the Arabs and were linked with their environment, history and customs. The mere fact that the Quran refutes the blasphemous creeds and condemns the evil customs of a particular people living at a particular time and place, and bases arguments for the Unity of Allah (SWT) on the material gathered from their environment, is not a sufficient proof to establish the allegation that its invitation and appeal were local and temporary.
We should examine the question closely and decide whether what it says regarding the blasphemous people of Arabia is, or is not, equally true of every period and every place, and whether we can, or cannot, use everywhere, with minor changes, the same arguments that the Quran puts forward for the Unity of Allah (SWT). If the answer to these questions is in the affirmative, then there is no reason why such a universal revelation should be dubbed local or temporary, simply because it was addressed to a particular community and during a particular period. There is no philosophy, no way of life, and no religion in the world which expounds, from the beginning to the end, everything in the abstract without making any reference to particular cases or concrete examples, for it is simply impossible to build a pattern of life merely in the abstract. Even if we suppose, for the sake of argument, that it were possible to do so, most surely such a system would always remain no more than a theory on paper, and would never take practical shape.
A certain ideological system does not become national simply because it was at first presented to a particular nation and its arguments were addressed to a particular people. As a matter of fact, what distinguishes a national from an international, and a temporary from a permanent, system is this: a national system aims either at establishing its own superiority or its special claim over other nations or presents principles and theories which, by their very nature, cannot be applied to other nations. On the other hand, an international system grants equal status and equal rights to all human beings and puts forward principles of universal application. The principles of a temporary system become impracticable with the passage of time, while the principles of a permanent system are applicable to all times.
A Complete Code
Another aspect that causes mental confusion is the frequent assertion that the Quran is a complete code of life. But when one reads it one does not find detailed rules and regulations regarding social, cultural, political and economic problems. One is puzzled to see that it does not even contain any detailed regulations about Salat and Zakat [obligatory prayers to Allah (SWT) and obligatory charity (purification of wealth)], which are such important mandatory duties that the Quran itself lays great emphasis upon them over and over again.
A casual reader cannot understand how this Book can be called a complete code. This confusion is caused because the objector loses sight of the fact that Allah (SWT) not only sent down the Book but also appointed His Messenger (s) to demonstrate its teachings by putting them into actual practice. To illustrate this, we may take the case of the construction of a building. If only a plan of the proposed building is laid down and no engineer is appointed to supervise and direct its construction, then every detail must be supplied. But if an engineer is also appointed along with the plan to construct the building on the spot, there is no obvious need for a detailed plan. In that case only a sketch with its essential features will be quite sufficient. It would, therefore, be wrong to find fault with such a plan as being incomplete. Since Allah (SWT) sent His Messenger (s) along with the Quran, only general principles and absolutely essential instructions were needed and not their details.
The main function of the Quran is to present clearly the intellectual and moral bases of the Islamic Way and to reinforce them with arguments and appeals to the heart. As far as the practical side of building of the Islamic way of life is concerned, it confines itself to defining the limits and the boundaries of every aspect of life without giving detailed rules and regulations. In addition, it fixes sign-posts for guidance at certain important places to show how they are to be constructed in accordance with Allah's will. The actual work of building the Islamic way of life, in accordance with the instructions contained in the Book, was entrusted to the Prophet (s), who was sent specifically to set up the pattern of life: one valid for the individual, for the society and for the Islamic State to be constructed along practical lines on the principles of the Quran.
Another question which causes confusion to some is the one of divergences in the interpretation of the Quran. People say that, on the one hand, the Quran condemns very severely those people who create differences in the Book of Allah (SWT) and cause division in their religion; yet on the other hand, so many different interpretations of the injunctions of the Quran have been made that there is hardly any command to be found that carries a universally agreed interpretation. And it is not the people of the later periods alone who differ with one another, but even the great scholars of the early period, including the Companions of the Prophet (s) and their followers, who did not all agree in every detail on how to interpret the Commands and Prohibitions. Do all these people then deserve the condemnation pronounced in the Quran for making different interpretations?
Suffice it to say here that the Quran is not against healthy difference of opinion in the interpretation of its injunctions, provided that (a) there is agreement on the basic principles of Islam among those who differ and (b) they remain united within the fold at the Muslim Community. The Quran deprecates that kind of divergence which starts with self-worship and crookedness and leads to disputes and sectarianism. As the two kinds of differences are neither alike in their nature nor in their results, they should not be placed in one and the same category. The first kind of divergence is essential for progress and is the very soul of life and every community of intelligent and thinking people must encourage it. Its existence is a sign of vitality and only that community can afford to repress it which desires to have only blockheads in it.
Suggestions for Study
The one prerequisite for understanding the Quran is to study it with an open mind. Whether one believes it to be a revealed book or not, one should, as far as possible, free one's mind of bias in favor of or against it, get rid of all preconceived opinions and then approach it with the sole desire of understanding it.
If one wishes to have a deep knowledge of it, one will have to go through it several times and each time from a different point of view. Those who desire to make a thorough study of the Quran should read it at least twice with the sole purpose of understanding, as a whole, the system of life it presents. One should also try to find out its fundamentals and the way of life it aims to build upon them. During this preliminary study, if some questions occur in his mind, the reader should note them down and patiently continue his study, for he is likely to find their answers somewhere in the Quran itself. If he finds answers to his questions, he should note them down along with the questions. But if he does not find an answer to any question in his first reading, he should patiently undertake the second reading. I can say in the light of my own experience that in the second reading hardly any question remains unanswered.
After obtaining a general insight into the Quran in this way, one should begin its detailed study and take down notes of the different aspects of its teaching. For instance, one should note down which pattern of life it approves of and which it disapproves. One should note the qualities of a good man and those of a bad man, side by side, in order to bring both patterns clearly in view simultaneously. Similarly, one should write, side by side, those things which lead to the success and salvation of man and those which lead to his failure and ruin. In the same way, one should put down, under different headings, the teachings and instructions of the Quran on creed, morality, duties, obligations, civilizations, culture, economics, politics, law, social systems, peace, war and other human problems.
The Book of Life
But in spite of all these devices, one cannot grasp the inspiring spirit of the Quran unless one begins to put its message into practice, for the Quran is neither a book of abstract ideas and theories which may be studied in an easy chair nor a book of religious enigmas which may be unraveled only in universities and monasteries. It is a Book that has been sent down to invite people to start a movement and to lead its followers and direct their activities towards the achievement of its mission. One has, therefore, to go to the battlefield of life to understand its real meaning.
It is thus obvious that one cannot possibly grasp the truths contained in the Quran by the mere recitation of its words. For this purpose one must take active part in the conflict between belief and unbelief, Islam and un-Islam, truth and falsehood. One can understand it only if one takes up its message, invites the world to accept it and moves on and on in accordance with its guidance.
Allah: Allah is the proper name in Arabic for The One and Only God, The Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It is used by the Arab Christians and Jews for the God (Eloh-im in Hebrew; 'Allaha' in Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus, pbuh). The word Allah does not have a plural or gender. Allah does not have any associate or partner, and He does not beget nor was He begotten. SWT is an abbreviation of Arabic words that mean 'Glory Be To Him.'
s or pbuh: Peace Be Upon Him. This expression is used for all Prophets of Allah ra: Radiallahu Anha (May Allah be pleased with her).
ra: Radiallahu Anhu (May Allah be pleased with him).
"The Holy Qur'an," Text, Translation and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, 1934. (Latest Publisher: Amana Publications, Beltsville, MD, USA; Title: "The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an," 1992). Includes subject index.
"The Meaning of the Glorious Koran," An Explanatory Translation by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, a Mentor Book Publication. (Also available as: "The Meaning of the Glorious Koran," by Marmaduke Pickthall, Dorset Press, N.Y.; Published by several publishers since 1930).
Pickthall writes in his foreward of 1930: "...The Qur'an cannot be translated....The book is here rendered almost literally and every effort has been made to choose befitting language. But the result is not the Glorious Qur'an, that inimitable symphony, the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy. It is only an attempt to present the meaning of the Qur'an-and peradventure something of the charm in English. It can never take the place of the Qur'an in Arabic, nor is it meant to do so...."
For the serious readers of the meaning of the Qur'an in English, it is recommended that it should be read along with a good commentary to comprehend the essential meaning and scope of verses. Either Yusuf Ali's or Mawdudi's commentaries are a good starting point. The former presents the meaning Ayah (verse) by Ayah with footnotes and includes a detailed index of the topics mentioned in the Qur'an, while the latter presents commentaries for each Surah (chapter) of the Qur'an.
Mohammad Khalifa The Quran in English: with cautionary points to consider. Those who have tried to translate the Quran from its Arabic original have found it impossible to express the same wealth of ideas with a limited number of words in the new language. Comparing any translation with the original Arabic is like comparing a thumbnail sketch with the natural view of a splendid landscape rich in color, light and shade, and sonorous in melody. Scanty knowledge of classical Arabic would deprive anyone from appreciating the different shades of meaning rendered by the occasionally slightly different declensions of Arabic words.
"No man has ever played on that deep-toned instrument with such power, such boldness and such range of emotional effects." "To anyone who has not heard the sonorous majesty of an Arab reciting the Quran, it is impossible to convey what the Book lacks in English, French or German."
According to the Oxford Dictionary, "translation" means expressing the sense of a word, sentence, or book in another language. Those who have tried to translate the Quran from its Arabic original have found it impossible to express the same wealth of ideas with a limited number of words in the new language. Indeed, some writers, recognizing this extreme difficulty, have refrained from calling their works "translation." Pickthall for instance, called his rendering "The Meaning of the Glorious Quran," while Arberry entitled his, "The Quran Interpreted." Both have made their translations directly from the Arabic. Needless to say, in the case of a second or third hand translation such as from Arabic into Latin or French and thence into English, the result is bound to be still further away from the original. Despite the evident inaccuracy of the word, "translation" remains the most convenient one.
The first translation of the Quran into a Western language was made into Latin. It was carried out by Robertus Rotenesis and Hermannus Dalmata in 1143, but was not published until 1543. In 1647 Andre du Ryer , French Consul in Egypt, translated it into French. This was later described by Sale as having mistakes on every page besides frequent transposition, omissions and addition. This French version was the basis of the first English version of the Quran and was described by Savary as "despicable;" Sale described it as a very bad one, no better than its French source. Many later English translations were based on a Latin version by Father Ludovic Maracci in 1698. Maracci was the confessor of Pope Innocent XI and was taught Arabic by a Turk.
One of the most famous English translations was by George Sale in 1734, who included a detailed explanatory discourse. Sale depended largely on Maracci's Latin version (he could not fully master the Arabic language). His tutor was an Italian named Dadichi, the king's interpreter at the time. Although Voltaire asserted that Sale had spent "five and twenty years in Arabia where he had acquired a profound knowledge of the Arabic language and customs," this was ruled out in his biography by the historian R.A. Davenport as being "opposed by the stubborn evidence of dates and facts."
Undeniably Sale's translation of the Quran contains many faults, each one indicating that he could not have fully grasped the Arabic language. But despite its many inaccuracies, Sale's version has gone through some thirty editions; it was retranslated into Dutch in 1742, German in 1764, French in 1750, Russian in 1792, Swedish in 1814, and into Bulgarian in 1902.
Many other attempts to translate the Quran into English have been published by English writers who largely depended on Sale's or other non-Arabic versions. Rodwell 's rendering appeared in 1861, Palmer 's in 1880, Bell 's in 1939 and Dawood 's in 1956.
Professor Arberry's translation of the original Arabic was published in 1955 and was described by Watt, Williams and others as of the "greater literary distinction." The one by Dawood was considered by Watt as very simple and "always having an intelligible meaning."
A number of translations have also been made by born Muslims, among them Abdul-Hakim Khan in 1905, Mirza Abul-Fazl in 1911, Mohammad Ali in 1916 and Abdullah Yusuf Ali in 1938 . Another translation was published in 1930 by a Western scholar who accepted Islam: Marmaduke Pickthall .
The Sonorous Majesty
To be realistic one should never expect any translation to convey in full the idea expressed in the Arabic original. "No translation, however faithful to the meaning, has ever been successful." (Williams). Anyone who has read the Quran in the original is forced to admit this statement is justified. Arabic, when expertly used, is a remarkably terse, rich and forceful language, and the Arabic of the Quran is by turns striking, soaring, vivid, terrible, tender and breathtaking. In Professor Gibb 's words, "No man has ever played on that deep-toned instrument with such power, such boldness and such range of emotional effects."
Bodley declared: "To anyone who has not heard the sonorous majesty of an Arab reciting the Quran, it is impossible to convey what the Book lacks in English, French or German." Certain translations were so well done that they could move readers sincerely searching for the truth and illumination even to the extent of accepting the faith of Islam.
Comparing any translation with the original Arabic is like comparing a thumbnail sketch with the natural view of a splendid landscape rich in color, light and shade, and sonorous in melody. The Arabic vocabulary as used in the Quran conveys a wealth of ideas with various subtle shades and colors impossible to express in full with a finite number of words in any other language.
To Illustrate this point let us look at the two Arabic words ista'a and istata'a. Both words were translated interchangeably as "could" or "was able to" by Sale, Muhammad Ali, Pickthall, Rodwell and others, all of whom overlooked the delicate difference in meaning between the two words. Ista'a is only used for relatively easy actions such as climbing a hill; istata'a is used for a more difficult task such as boring a tunnel through the hill.
Another example is related to the attributes of Allah ( SWT); he is Khaliq (the Creator who creates things from nothing) Khaliq (who creates everything), Fatir (the original Creator of things - without a previous example to imitate), Al-Badi (who creates and perfects things without previous examples), Al-Bari (who creates and gives substance). All these names are translated interchangeably as the "Creator," the "Maker," the "Originator," or the "Producer." The Arabic words malik are slightly different from one another in writing and meaning. Malik is "king," [or again] the "maker and owner" and malik is the "supreme sovereign." Sale and Rodwell interpreted them all as "king," "owner" by Pickthall and as "lord" by Ali.
Again, the word qadir means capable; qadir and moqtadir are two different superlative forms with the same root. Moqtadir was constructed by Sale as "most potent," by Rodwell as "potent" and by Pickthall as "mighty." The closest rendering could be "most capable of great things." Ali rendered the word as "powerful" while he rendered qadir as "possessor of power." The latter word was interpreted by Sale as "almighty," and by Pickthall as "able;" whereas the closest expression would be "infinitely capable."
More often than not, a single word can hardly be adequately translated by less than a long phrase. The word muftah was rendered by Bucaille as "a small quantity of liquid" who regretted not having "the terms which are strictly appropriate." Rendering the adjective makin as a "firmly established lodging" he described it as "hardly translatable." The subtle difference between mataand ayyana could hardly be discerned in any translation the author ever read. Although both mean the interrogative "when" the word ayyana implies a denial that the event in question will ever take place.
By this it is meant that the original sense of the word or verse was not properly expressed. This could have resulted for several reasons: nescience of the Arabic word's exact meaning
knowing only one shade of the meaning
confusion between different Arabic words
limited knowledge of Arabic eked out with figments of imagination
mistaking Arabic for Hebrew or Syriac
some confusion with Hebrew traditions.
In translating 18:26 Palmer's version is, "He can see and hear;" whereas Sale's is, "Do thou make Him to see and to hear" and Rodwell's is, "Look thou and hearken to Him alone." Pickthall renders it "How clear of sight is He and keen of hearing," which is the one that can be described as nearest to the correct rendering.
In attempting to construe the words in 64:9 , Palmer wrote, "that is the day of cheating." He tried to elaborate further; "i.e., both the righteous and wicked will disappoint each other by reversing their positions, the wicked being punished while the righteous are in bliss." But it is perfectly well known from the Quran that the righteous and wicked are never going to "reverse positions" nor are the righteous going to be "disappointed" on the Day of Judgment. Actually, the Arabic word attaghabon does not mean "cheating." It means taking each other to judgment and suing each other. Furthermore, this specific verse does not say exactly where the righteous and wicked are as claimed by the Orientalist.
In trying to translate 56:75 , Sale wrote "Moreover, I swear by the setting of the stars," but fala does not mean "moreover." It means "so I do not." Mawaqi-an-nujum does not signify the actual setting of the stars but rather the places where the stars are or the places where the stars are going to fall. Jeffery came to a very wrong set of conclusions from a similar mistake. His attempt to translate 75:34-35 reads, "Nearer to thee, ever nearer to the Hour; then nearer the still nearer." He goes on to say, "This is merely an attempt to link these two out-of-place verses with what goes before and what goes after." Jeffery has missed the point; the verses preceding these describe the conditions of the mischievous and disbelievers, calling the attention of the reader to reflect on the Hereafter just described and on the following verses which provide additional proof that Judgment is as definite as the everyday world we see around us. The whole group of verses as correctly interpreted should actually read: For he neither trusted nor prayed. But he denied and rebelled. Then went he to his folk with glee. Nearer unto thee and nearer. Again nearer unto thee and nearer. Thinketh man that he is to be left aimless? Was he not a drop of fluid which gushed forth? Then he became a clot (of blood) then Allah shaped and fashioned, And made of him a pair, the male and female. Is not He
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