It is more by coincidence than by design that volume 30 of Sayyid Qutb’s most important work “In the Shade a/the Qur’an” should be the first to appear in English. Indeed Professor Muhammad Qutb, the author’s brother, only reluctantly approved its publication in book form now. The reason for starting with Volume 30 was simply that the greater part of it had already been translated and serialised in “The Muslim”; the organ of the Federation of the Students Islamic Societies in UK and Eire. The plan is, however, that volume I will follow shortly and the translation of the rest of this work will, Allah willing, proceed in the normal order.
The reasons for selecting In the Shade of the Qur’an for translation are self-evident. Ever since its first appearance this work has been welcomed throughout the Arab world as a major contribution to a clearer understanding of the Qur’an by contemporary Arab readers. The book has been translated into several languages. Its appearance in English will provide the students of Islamic thought with a reference book of great value and high esteem. It will give researchers and scholars an insight into modern Islamic thinking in the Arab World. Its paramount value, however, is that it will provide a medium for a comprehensive understanding of the Islamic principles as outlined in the Qur’an, for the many millions of Muslims throughout the world to whom English is the medium of instruction.
The translators wish to point out that in rendering in English the meaning of the surahs included in the present volume they did not adopt any of the many translations of the Qur’an. Each of these has its merits and its shortcomings. The translators produced their own version which, they hope, will be found to convey the Quranic meanings more fully while avoiding many of the shortcomings of the other translations. They acknowledge, however, that producing an English text of the meanings of the Qur’an which achieves the some degree of excellence as the Arabic text is a task far beyond human endeavour. The Qur’an is Allah’s book and no man can aspire to express Allah’s message as He Himself has done.
In addition to the usual problems of translation this work has presented us with the difficulty of trying to render in English passages which deal with purely literary or linguistic aspects of the Qur’anic text. The reader will better appreciate this problem when he takes into consideration the fact that in translation the Qur’anic text might not retain these aspects. Rather than omit such passages or reduce them to footnotes, we have modified the text slightly so as to incorporate such passages; indicating at the same time the variance between the two editions. All such passages are easily identifiable by the reader. At one point, however, it was necessary to omit a passage dealing with a linguistic problem which is relevant only to the Arabic text.
Readers of Islamic books in English often find Arabic terms used as if they are part of the English language. Such usage is usually employed because the author or the translator feels that the connotations of the Arabic term cannot be conveyed by any English equivalent. This may be so. But if the usage of Arabic terms is found to be an easy way out it has its disadvantages. It narrows the readership of such books to only those who have prior knowledge of Islamic terminology. It is felt, however, that “In the Shade of the Qur’an” can be of great benefit to the reader who wishes to learn about Islam and’ the Qur’an and who is totally unfamiliar with Islamic terminology. Hence we have refrained from using Arabic terms despite the inadequacy of some English equivalents. With wider usage such English terms may in time acquire new connotations when used in an Islamic context so as to convey the required meaning.
A Turkish friend who has had some experience in translation once remarked that he feels uneasy about using the English term “prayers” for the Turkish “namaz” or the Arabic “salah”, The English term, he said, is much too general to convey the precise meaning of “salah” or its Turkish equivalent. This is certainly true, but before the advent of Islam the Arabic term did not convey much more than what an Englishman understands by “prayers”. What did the term “namaz” connote, we wonder, before the Turkish people adopted the religion of Islam?
One exception is the retention of the term “Surah”, which indicates a separate and independent part of the Qur’an. An obvious English term which may be suggested for it is “chapter”. But “chapter” is inadequate as a substitute for “surah” because a chapter is supposed to deal with a single topic. None of the longer surahs of the Qur’an is confined to the discussion of one single idea. Furthermore, the Arabic term is used to refer to parts of the Qur’an only. No other book is divided into surahs, not even the books of the Prophet’s traditions. Since it is a special word in Arabic, its retention in the English edition is unavoidable.
The verses of surahs have been indicated by starting a new line for each verse. Verses, however, do not start with a capital letter except where a verse begins a new sentence. If a verse runs in more than one line the continuity is indicated by giving the second line a wider margin. This arrangement has been followed so as to avoid giving any impression of similarity between the Qur’an and poetry.
Despite the hard work that has been put into this translation of Sayyid Qutb’s work, this English edition is nowhere near the Arabic original for excellence of style and perfection of expression. Whatever shortcomings this edition suffers from, the translators acknowledge as their own. The author is in no way responsible for them. But those who have had some experience in translation and in the translation of Islamic texts in particular, recognise the difficulty of the task we have undertaken and will acknowledge that, humble as it may be, the result, in some measure, serves the purpose.
As this is the first English volume of “In the Shade of the Qur’an”, comments on the translation are invited so as to incorporate any useful suggestions in the following volumes.
Finally, the translators wish to record their deep gratitude to Dr. Abdullah Jibril Oyekan who, as editor of The Muslim, gave them immense help and encouragement in the early stages of their work. His successors also deserve our thanks. Dr. Carol Miles of King Alfred’s College, Winchester edited the English text with meticulous care and made numerous improvements for which we express our thanks.
It gives me great pleasure to write this introduction to In the Shade of the Qur’an in its English version. The book is the fruit of the most productive years of its author’s intellectual life and, at the same time, a vivid expression of the sacred battle which he fought and which culminated in his martyrdom in 1966.
The larger part of this work was written when the author was in jail in the period 1954-64. This was a period of complete solitude, when writing was the main preoccupation of the author and during which he lived totally “in the shade of the Qur’an”.
The author’s vigorous struggle, for which he was imprisoned, then killed, was, at the practical level, an attempt to achieve the implementation of Islam in the shape of a community which practises Islam in its life and preaches the need for its realisation until it becomes the actual code of practice for the society as a whole. At the intellectual level, however, the author’s life struggle is embodied in a collection of books devoted to explaining the true nature of Islam, its fundamentals, values and laws. The largest and most important of these works is undoubtedly In the Shade of the Qur’an.
The book is a “campaign of struggle” because it is, indeed, much more than a “commentary” on the Qur’an.
The Qur’an is the book of Islam. Hardly a generation has passed since the dawn of Islam without the appearance of one or more commentaries which explain the meaning of the Qur’an. Having spent a considerable part of his life “in the shade of the Qur’an” and, having joined the struggle for the sake of Islam, the author of this work did not intend to write just another ‘commentary. He had a different objective which he felt could be attained through writing his commentary.
Our -present age has its own features which, perhaps, have never existed in any period of history. They are the ones which give this commentary its own colouring and determine its points of emphasis.
The Muslims, for their part, are now far removed in their practical life from the true nature of Islam. The image of Islam they present by their way of life is nothing more than the indistinguishable negative of the true image of Islam as it was practised by the early Islamic generations, who perfectly fulfilled Allah’s own description of them: “You are indeed the best nation that has ever been raised up for mankind: you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong and you believe in Allah.” Hence they were able to write that incomparable page in human history. They established truth and justice on earth and raised for mankind an inimitable civilisation which builds up its structure in the material and spiritual worlds at the same time. It is a civilisation which unites the two worlds and achieves harmony between body and soul, religion and politics, faith and science, the present life and the hereafter, the practical and the ideal.
The non-Muslims, on the other hand, confront humanity with a host of philosophical, social, political and economic doctrines which banish religion from practical life and at best restrict it to a tiny corner of man’s conscience so that it may become purely a relationship between the individual and his Lord that has no bearing whatsoever on society and its active life, or, at worst, fight it tooth and nail and bar its very existence. As a result, human life is full of many sorts of political, social and economic injustice which know no limits. It witnesses various types of intellectual and moral perversion unknown in history. The advocates of such perversion and deviation try nevertheless to dress their erring ways in a scientific garment and they hold to them as if they were truth itself or the ideal sought after. This they do’ despite all that they suffer in consequence of nervous and psychological diseases - worry and restlessness, madness and suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction and crime.
What is worse is that these deviant philosophical, social, political and economic doctrines now dominate the lives of contemporary Muslims, wearing the false disguise of a “modern human civilisation”. Thus they poison the lives of the Muslim peoples to a larger degree than they do the life of the West because the Muslims of today have deserted Islam and are unaware of its true nature and fundamental value.
Hence the vigorous intellectual and practical “campaign of struggle” to which the author devoted himself was an attempt to explain to contemporary Muslims the true nature of Islam. His driving objective was that the Muslims of today should be able to live and practise true Islam in the same way as the early Islamic generations. They would then rescue themselves and would be able to show all mankind the road to salvation.
The Qur’an is the constitution revealed by Allah to regulate and govern human life. It is the book which educated the Islamic nation until it attained the standard which earned it the title “the best nation ever raised up for mankind”. Light should, therefore, be thrown on it from two angles. The first is the angle of education: this shows how the Qur’an, at the levels of the individual, the family, the community and the nation, leads man to achieve the highest degree of moral and spiritual nobility possible in this life. The other angle is that of the practical code which regulates human life in its noblest form and in all its spheres political, economic, social, intellectual and moral; that is, a life which is befitting to man whom Allah has ennobled and raised above all species of His creation and entrusted with the task the heavens, the earth and the mountains have all dreaded to shoulder.
This is the method the author has followed in explaining the meanings of the Qur’an. He does not dwell long on individual words or expressions, unless there is a special need for that. Rather, he takes the whole verse or a number of verses and explains their relevance to the education of man according to the Divine method, or to the practical code which regulates the life of Islamic society in all spheres.
Faith is the central point of Islamic education and the Islamic practical code. It takes up the larger part of the Qur’an and its surahs. Consequently, it takes up the larger part of In the Shade of the Qur’an. As presented by the Qur’an, faith is not merely a word to be uttered and then forgotten as man goes about his diverse practical affairs, heedless of the significance of faith and its controls. Faith is indeed the pivot around which all life turns: the conscience, the intellect and the practical sense all alike.
The belief in the unity of Allah goes deep into the very structure of the universe as well as into the human self. It provides a complete conception of life and human existence which differs greatly, in fundamentals and in details, from any concept which is not based on the same essential fact.
The believer; in whose heart this fundamental (act is firmly established, finds that his feelings, ideas and concepts as well ‘as his private and social actions, are totally different from those of a man who conducts his life, affairs on a different basis or who views faith as an abstract, philosophical idea which has little or no influence on his life. The same applies to the community whose life is governed by faith. Its aims, ambitions, behaviour and practical achievements are different from those of any other community which does not share its Islamic concepts of God, the universe, life and man.
The Qur’an projects this image in full detail: the image of the believer as his soul is moulded by the acceptance of the reality of the unity of Allah, in contrast with the erring soul who does not submit to this cardinal truth; and the image of the faithful community which conducts its life on the basis that there is no deity but Allah, in contrast with the erring communities which adopt different doctrines and ignoble values. Through this projection the Qur’an educates the individual believer and the community of believers so that they may attain their highest standards. It then provides them with the practical code which regulates the various aspects of life and establishes “the best nation ever raised up for mankind.”
The author actually lives with the Qur’an as it projects these images. He then tries to show his reader the image of a believer content with his faith, delineating the feelings, ideas, values, concepts as well as the practical conduct of the believer as described 10 the Qur’an. He also tries to explain the practical code Allah has laid down for human life. This is indeed the basic theme of this work: In the Shade of the Qur’an.
It dwells at length on faith and how it penetrates the human self, as well as on its influence on the various aspects of life especially in the area of the implementation of Divine legislation. There are two reasons for this: the first is that the Qur’an itself dwells for long on all these aspects. It describes how faith leaves its mark on all human actions, in all situations and conditions: in security or fear, in ease or hardship, in wealth or poverty, in society or solitude, in peace or war, in strength or weakness, in resisting personal desires or, struggling against the enemies. The Qur’an also repeatedly declares in clear terms that accepting the faith means submission to the Divine law and the rejection of all other laws. Failing that submission the declaration of faith by any person becomes a hollow statement, with no real substance and unacceptable to Allah. The other reason is that these very implications are the ones that have been forgotten by, or are completely unknown to, the Muslims of today. This applies more particularly in the case of submission to the Divine law as an essential part of faith, without which one’s faith is incomplete and faulty. For unless the Divine law is upheld the true image of Islam remains non-existent at both the individual and the social levels.
The author also speaks at length on the numerous signs in the universe which indicate the Divine existence, making occasional but cautious use of some of the conclusions arrived at by modern science. This he does because the Qur’an often dwells on these signs since they are sure to stimulate the human heart to conscious recognition of the unity of the Creator and his infinite majesty and greatness and, consequently to worship and submit to Him alone. He also describes scenes of the hereafter, because the Qur’an paints these in great detail as they are important means to awaken the religious conscience of man and to establish a dual relationship between Allah and man based on the two strongest and parallel feelings in man, namely, fear and hope.
He also dwells a great deal on the various Islamic systems, in their basic, unchangeable principles, as opposed to the multitude of deviant and Ignorant systems which rule the earth today. His aim here is to show how wide the gulf is between the rule of Allah and that of Ignorance, and to explain the serious consequences of man’s refusal to comply with the Divine instructions, his obstinate disregard ‘of His wisdom and his spurning of Divine revelations, claiming at the same time that he knows his needs and can judge what is most suitable for him better than Allah.
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