Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’ān; Translated and Explained by Muhammad Asad (1980)
created man out of a germ-cell!
Read – for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One
who has taught [man] the use of the pen –
taught man what he did not know.
With these opening verses of the ninety-sixth sūrah – with an allusion to man’s humble biological origin as well as to his consciousness and intellect – began, early in the seventh century of the Christian era, the revelation of the Qurʾān to the Prophet Muḥammad, destined to continue during the twenty-three years of his ministry and to end, shortly before his death, with verse 281 of the second sūrah:
Between these first and last verses (the first and the last in the chronological order of their revelation)1 unfolds a book which, more than any other single phenomenon known to us, has fundamentally affected the religious, social and political history of the world. No other sacred scripture has ever had a similarly immediate impact upon the lives of the people who first heard its message and, through them and the generations that followed them, on the entire course of civilization. It shook Arabia, and made a nation out of its perennially warring tribes; within a few decades, it spread its world-view far beyond the confines of Arabia and produced the first ideological society known to man; through its insistence on consciousness and knowledge, it engendered among its followers a spirit of intellectual curiosity and independent inquiry, ultimately resulting in that splendid era of learning and scientific research which distinguished the world of Islam at the height of its cultural vigour; and the culture thus fostered by the Qurʾān penetrated in countless ways and by-ways into the mind of medieval Europe and gave rise to that revival of Western culture which we call the Renaissance, and thus became in the course of time largely responsible for the birth of what is described as the “age of science”: the age in which we are now living.
All this was, in the final analysis, brought about by the message of the Qurʾān: and it was brought about through the medium of the people whom it inspired and to whom it supplied a basis for all their ethical valuations and a direction for all their worldly endeavours: for, never has any book – not excluding the Bible – been read by so many with a comparable intensity and veneration; and never has any other book supplied to so many, and over so long a span of time, a similarly comprehensive answer to the question, “How shall I behave in order to achieve the good life in this world and happiness in the life to come?” However often individual Muslims may have misread this answer, and however far many of them may have departed from the spirit of its message, the fact remains that to all who believed and believe in it, the Qurʾān represents
1 It is to be borne in mind that, in its final compilation, the Qurʾān is arranged in accordance with the inner requirements of its message as a whole, and not in the chronological order in which the individual sūrahs or passages were revealed.