Understanding the Qur'an in the 21st Century


Human beings have the ability of meta-cognition[1] which provides them with the ability to think about thinking. Modern developments have facilitated the communication, which has helped to develop our rational thinking with an ever increasing addition to our understanding of the world. Modern man is looking for a solution to his problems and is willing to come out of the narrow world of human emotions[2]. The recent financial melt down has made us think about the capitalist system and there is soul searching to find an alternative to this system. The issues of poverty, conflicts, population growth, and other events e.g. the so called Arab Spring has made the new generation linked through the internet to question the existing world order.

Within the Muslim world those who believe[3] in the Quran as a revelation from God, are involved in a debate to assess the prevalent views within traditional Islam. The younger generation is reaching out to the Book with a view to understanding it. The Quran has been translated extensively in English and is also available on the internet. In order to understand the Quran, we need to first look at the basic constitution of ourselves. We are a combination of a physical body, emotions, thinking (cognition) and meta-cognition. We have a free will due to our developed thought process and as a consequence of this we do not have inbuilt guidance within us. Meta-cognition provides us with the ability to think rationally which leads us to rational values. This rational thinking operating within the domain of relative values which leads to human conflicts. The Quran explains the concept of the human ‘self’ which emerges through rational thinking but only within the domain of the permanent values.

The Quran claims to provide an external standard of guidance with the proclamation of the permanent values and their application to human life. The Quran guides us to its study by drawing our attention to the working of the outer world – the open book of physical sciences, and then points us to our inner self (Nafs). The purpose of the whole creation is declared by stating ‘Allah created the heavens and the earth as Haqq (Reality) in order that each self finds the recompense of what he has earned and none of them is wronged’ (45:22).

The study[4] of the Quran with a view to understanding this process of accountability provides a fascinating view of our political landscape and points to a future where mankind will ultimately unite to achieve new heights both in the physical sciences and their application in the moral sphere. The human models of righteousness described in the Quran provide access to the hidden potentials within each one of us. Study of the Quran will provide an understanding of the link between the human self, human thoughts and emotions, and human body; much beyond the existing study of human rational thinking, emotions and motivation. The Quran also asks us to explore beyond the physical life to where a developed human self conquers death and provides a new insight into our inner thought processes.

The unique concept of God based on His attributes serves as a model (Ultimate Self) for us all i.e. for the human self to emulate within the limits of human finite abilities, to carry out creative activity in this world within the permanent values. The study and understanding of the Quran in the 21st century can open an infinite aspects of the human self which have not been explored so far. This can lead to the fulfilling prophecy in the Quran:

‘Soon will We show them Our signs in the farthest explored parts of the Universe(s) and within their own self, until it becomes manifest to them that this is Haqq (Reality)…’ (41:53)

So the Quran is awaiting to be studied and understood by anyone or any community in the world so that mankind can look at the higher purpose of its creation, much beyond the rational thinking which has so far been evolved[5] through human efforts alone.


Dr Ejaz Rasool, Glasgow, UK


[1] or the ability to reason about reasoning.

[2] Experiential process.

[3] Mostly of these beliefs are not bases on rational reasoning.

[4] The mode of this study is explained within the Quran.

[5] Allama Iqbal has discussed some of these aspects in his book titled- Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam.

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