Is it correct that we cannot understand the Qur’an until or unless we know the “Asbaab ul Nuzul”, i.e. the causes of revelation or the history attributed to the Qur’anic verses which inform us why a certain verse was revealed, and its historical background?
The Qur’an is not a book whose injunctions are bound to time and space. It offers principles which are applicable for all time and everywhere. To suggest that the Qur’an should be interpreted historically is merely to undercut its universality and to make it a subject for needless speculation. In fact, the Qur’an seems itself to be opposed to our reading it historically when it says, that it is <Zikr un lil Alameen> i.e. ” A reminder to all the nations” (81:27) and <Hudan li Naas> i.e. “Guidance for all mankind” (2:185). Whenever <An Naas> (Mankind) will exist, the Qur’an will provide it with divine values. These values transcend historical situations or time. They are immutable and universal. Besides, Qur’anic narratives are not, properly speaking, historical but moral. And they embody principles. The Qur’an is a guidance and light equally for men in the present. It is there to enable us to find solutions to present day problems.
This is also attested to by Surah Yusuf.
In their (all the previous messengers mentioned in the Quran) narratives there is certainly a lesson for people of understanding. It is not a tale which could be forged, but a verification of what is before it and a distinct explanation of all things and a guide and a mercy to a people who believe.” (12:111)
Surah Hood is no less relevant.
And all we relate to you of the accounts of the messengers is to strengthen your heart therewith; and in this has come to you the truth and an admonition, and a reminder to the believers. (11:120)
The accounts of the messengers of the past are present in the Qur’an not to give us lessons in history but to offer spiritual and moral guidance. Allah’s Book offers guidance for all times and is applicable to all ages. It also tells us about those who scoff at it for being replete with anachronisms.
Undoubtedly Allah doth know what they conceal and what they reveal: verily He loveth not the arrogant. When it is said to them What is it that your Sustainer has revealed? they say Tales of the ancients! (16:23-24)
This is echoed in the following ayaat,
Heed not the type of despicable men – ready with oaths. A slanderer going about with calumnies.(Habitually) hindering (all) good, transgressing, deep in sin. (Such a one is) violent (and cruel) – with all that base-born – because he possesses wealth and (numerous) sons. When to him are rehearsed Our Signs, Tales of the ancients, he cries! (68:10-15)
Above all, it is disbelievers who refer to Allah’s Book as historical or, for that matter, antiquated. Then, of course there are those who hold that the Qur’an cannot be understood in the absence of the “Asbaab ul nuzzul” or.the causes of revelation and the historical context of the Qur’anic ayaat.
One might ask if there is only one consistent set of data available for this. Or does the Muslim Ummah have an infallible source for this material? Alternatively, does every religious sect have its own version of “Asbaab ul nuzzul”?
The Book of Allah is free from all discrepancies, clear and distinct in meaning. It ought surely not to be studied in the light of a body of literature which is incomplete and in contradiction with itself and science, is accepted by one sect while rejected by the other and was compiled and collected by men who were not present at the time of the Qur’anic revelation and carried out their work on the basis of pure conjecture.
Wert thou to follow those who are in a majority on earth they will lead thee away from the way of Allah. They follow nothing but conjecture: they do nothing but lie. (6:116)
According to the Qur’an conjecture borders on untruth. It tells us clearly how not to proceed.