1.2 Historical context: Quran in history


The Quran has a very important place within the Islamic intellectual and religious tradition. More than a billion Muslims consider the Quran as the word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muḥammad. It is important to understand the context of the tribal Arab or ma’ud al’rab1 and the period in which the Quran was revealed to understand the Quran properly2.

1.2.2 The international situation

Mecca was located in the Arabian Peninsula. At that time, about 570, the Arabian Peninsula was surrounded by two major empires that both wanted to rule the entire Near East. On one hand, you had the Christian Byzantine Empire. On the other hand, there was the Sassanid empire in Persia. There was tension between the two empires because both wanted to expand their powers of domination. This was the context in which the Prophet received the Quran.

It is important to keep the tribal society of Arabs in an international context in mind. In order to discover the wisdom of the Quran, it is essential to understand the Arab civilization of that specific time. This means you have to understand their customs, culture, philosophy and language affinity, poetry, etc. ‘Abdallāh Ibn ‘Abbās (a companion of the prophet) made a statement to a companion of the Prophet: “Poetry is the tradition of the Arabs, so if there is a word for us in the Quran that Allah has revealed in the language of the Arabs that is not clear, then we return to their poetry”3. The International context and the Arab civilization / period or ma’ud al’rab as the theologian Abū Isḥāq al-Shāṭibī puts it, are very important to understand the verses and stories in the Quran.

1.2.3 The environment of MuHammad: Where did he live?

Moḥammad was born in the year of the Elephant which corresponds to the year 570 of the Gregorian calendar. He was born in a noble family in Mecca, the tribe of Banū Hāshim. This tribe was highly regarded by other tribes in Mecca and the surrounding areas. Muhammad had lost his father before he was born. He had a dual status for the inhabitants of Mecca. He belonged to an important clan, but he was also vulnerable because he was fatherless. The name “Mohammad” was completely unknown at that time in the Arabian Peninsula. His mother received the name “Mohammad” through a vision during her pregnancy. It also announced the birth of the “lord of this people”. During the birth of Mohammad, she mentioned: “I place him under the protection of the only One, from the wickedness of every envious person.” The Quraish had a special relationship with the nomadic lifestyle of the Arab Bedouin. They entrusted the care of their boys to the Bedouin foster families. The belief was that in the desert, the children would learn more self-discipline, nobility, and freedom. It requires a high level of solidarity and a high level of respect for the appreciation of human value in order to have a successful life in the desert.

1.2.4 Society of the Arabian Peninsula

The Arabian Peninsula had different religions. For example, you had Arabs who followed the religion of Ibrahim. They believed in one God. In addition, there were also Jews and Christians. Most Arabs worshiped different idols. Each tribe had one or more idols which they considered to be their gods. Since Mecca was a large religious center, most of the idols were located there. The Ka’ba was also located in Mecca. This religious center attracted many believers, while promoting trade. Abu Sufyan, one of the greatest idol worshipers said, “Our Gods are both religion and trade”.

This was economically in the disadvantage of the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula because they attracted less visitors. Many southern Arabs moved to the north of the Arabian peninsula. A second Ka’ba was built in the south to prevent the southern Arabs from moving to the north.
The Southern Ka’ba continued to exist until the 18th century. At the beginning of the revelation, according to Islamic tradition, more than 360 idols, images or statues were present in the Ka’ba. The worshipers were considered to be heathens. The Southern Ka’ba continued to exist until the 18th century. At the beginning of the revelation, according to Islamic tradition, more than 360 idols, images or statues were present in the Ka’ba. The worshipers were considered to be heathens.


Exercise 1: Fill in the Blank (Context)
Assignment: Answer the following questions below.

1. What is the difference between monotheism and polytheism?

2. Right or wrong: The Meccans were economically dependent on their gods?

3. Why did the Quraish entrust their children to the Bedouin foster families?

4. Name the empires that surrounded the Arabian Peninsula?

5. What were the major religions present in the Arabian Peninsula?

6. How did they attempt to prevent people from moving to the North in the South of the Arabian Peninsula?

7. Give two reasons that were the causes of the tribal wars?

Exercise 2: The Life Of The Prophet
Assignment: Put the right letter with the associated number

1. The clan or family of the Prophet Muḥammad

2. The tribal Arab or the ma’ud al’rab

3. Year of birth of the Prophet Muḥammad

4. Religion of the Byzantine Empire

5. A cultural tradition of the Arabs

6. City of birth of Prophet Muḥammad


1.3 Interpretation of the Quran

1.3.1 Introduction

“O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.” (Al-Mā’idah verse 51)

It is important to understand the verses in the Quran in their context of existence. The society in which the Quran originated is a survival society. When reading the Quran, it is essential to keep the structure of the Quran and the reason of revelation in mind.

1.3.2 Principles of the interpretations

1. Society

Studying both the political and the social context in which the Quran is revealed is a prerequisite for understanding the Quran1. The Arab society at that period was a tribal society in which various tribes were constantly in war and conflicts.

2. Structure of the Quran

Exegetes divide the Quran into two parts: Meccan verses and Medinan verses.

a. Meccan verses are verses revealed before the immigration of the Prophet PBUH from Mecca to Medina. The Meccan period was known for laying the foundations of Islam including attawhied (monotheism). Emphasis are placed on the universal values and norms such as justice, fairness, equality etc. Therefore, you cannot find detailed explanation in those verses.

b. Medinan verses are more detailed because Medina has a different context than Mecca.
Important Condition: Medinan verses must be understood in light of the Meccan verses!

3. The reason of revelation of sabāb an-nuzūl

Asbāb an-nuzūl (pl.) means the reasons why a verse was revealed. This is related to events that occurred during the time of the Prophet upon which the Quran responded with an answer.
Now let’s apply those three aspects to the following verse: “O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.”

1. The Arab society

This verse was revealed in Medina. The societies of Mecca and Medina differ from each other. Mecca was a city of trading and Medina was a rural society. Medina consisted of a series of hamlets inhabited by different ethnic groups. Medina was surrounded by volcanic rocks that were not fertile. Most residents were farmers who got their living from dates, palm groves and arable farming. So, they were not fully dependent on trade like the people of Mecca. They were more hostile towards other ethnic groups. They also felt inferior towards the Jewish tribes in the oasis. The Jewish tribes were pioneers in agricultural development.
The Aws and Khazraj are two tribes that played an important role in the arrival of the prophet Muḥammad in Medina. They were able to settle in Medina, especially in places that were not yet fertile. They were under the protection of the Jewish tribes. So, they had a subordinate position.
The three largest Jewish tribes in Medina were the Qaynuqa’, de Qurayẓah en de an-Naḍīr. The Jewish tribes formed separate alliances with the Arab groups and were often at war with one another. In addition, the constant battle between the Aws and Khazraj created tension in the city.

2. Structure of the Quran

Considering what we explained earlier in part 1 (Arab society), verse 51 in Surat Mā’idah is a Medinan verse. Medinan verses, as previously explained, are more detailed. In other words, this verse should not be understood out of context and should be placed in the light of Meccan verses, which emphasize justice.

3. The reason of revelation of sabāb an-nuzūl

At-Ṭabarī, a high-ranking Quran exegete, believed that this verse provides an answer to a war situation in which some Muslims, Jews and Christians took allies. At-Ṭabarī mentions the following: “The correct view is that Allah forbids Muslims to take Jews and Christians as allies against the people of faith in Allah and His Messenger” .
Jewish tribes in Medina had broken their pact with the Prophet. The pact includes the defense of the city of Medina from Meccan attacks. This caused Jewish tribes to be at odds with the Muslims of Medina. There were some Muslims who sought their refuge in Jewish tribes. They feared that they would suffer defeat by the Muslims. This is forbidden by the Quran because it weakened the Islamic community that was in its infancy. Knowing that at the time a weak community in the Arabian Peninsula - as mentioned earlier - did not have much chance of survival.
Arab society, which is a tribal society, had no mercy for the weak, so making an alliance with war enemies could spell doom for the young Muslim community. This verse is a Medinan verse and all Medinan verses are context bound and cannot conflict with Meccan verses. In other words, Medinan verses have no universal character. Every verse has a reason for revelation (sabāb an-nuzūl). The reason for revelation of Al-Mā’idah verse 51 is that some Muslims took refuge in Jewish tribes who were at odds with the Muslim community after breaking a pact. Finally, it is important to place other passages in the Quran alongside this verse. This way the reader has a general view.


Exercise 1: Fill in the Blank (Context)
Assignment: Answer the following questions below.

Guiding questions:
• Who do you ask for explanation if you do not understand something from the Quran?
• Is it possible to understand Quran in several ways?
• Do you think it is possible to search for your own answers to your questions about the Quran?

Exercise 1: Schedule
Assignment: Fill in as a class the schedule about the principles of the interpretation of the Quran.

Principles of the interpretation of the Quran

1.4 Prophet MoHammed’s functions


Moḥammed is an important person and an example for all Muslims. He is the source of morality alongside the Quran. However, it is very important to distinguish between the different functions of Moḥammed. In other words, Prophet Moḥammed acts in various functions. Sometimes he acts as a messenger / Prophet or as a leader or as a mufti or as a judge.
These different functions of the Prophet each have a separate influence on the morality of Islam. Some functions apply to the morality of Islam if they meet certain conditions.

1.4.2 The quality of a messenger

The most common function is the Prophet’s capacity as a messenger. This means that the message of this function is universal. For example, Moḥammed who proclaims monotheism (tawḥĪd). This announcement is universal and applies to all Muslims.

1.4.3 The quality of a leader

The quality of the Prophet as a leader has an important condition. In particular that the act he performs only relates to leaders or governments. This position is a political function. It only applies to political leaders and is not intended for everyone.

1.4.4 The quality of a mufti

A mufti is a spiritual religious leader who has the authority to give religious advice regarding certain phenomena. The religious advice of a mufti is called “fatwa” in Arabic. A Fatwa is always context-bound and should in no way be applied in other contexts without taking the customs and tradition into account.
The Prophet also issued fatwas, which should also be understood in context.

1.4.5 The quality of a judge

The capacity of the Prophet as a judge also has an important condition. In particular that the act he performs as a judge only concerns judges. This function is therefore a judicial function and only applies to judges and is also not intended for everyone.
The Prophet also served as a judge, and his judgments should be understood in context of his specific period.
In summary: It is very important when one studies Islam to distinguish between those different qualities. Unfortunately, especially among young people, we notice that they mix up the different functions of Prophet Moḥammed with often drastic consequences.

1.4.6 Application of the Qualities to verse 51 surah Al- Mā’idah

If we return to verse 51 of surah Al-Mā’idah4, then we can distract that what we have seen earlier in the principles of interpretation, the Prophet acted as a judge. This matter is a competence of leaders / theologians and not the task of a layperson.
The Muslims who, as previously quoted lived at odds with Jewish tribes due to a breach of contract and not based on faith. The Quran and the Prophet forbade taking Jews as allies for that specific reason.


Which the type of leadership applies to the Hadith
Military leader - religious leader - mufti – judge


Type of leadership

Khabab Ibn Mundhir was on the day of Badr critical of the Prophet's military strategy. When he understood that the strategy was an opinion of the Prophet and was not divinely inspired, he proposed a different approach to the Prophet. The Prophet chose Khabab's proposal because he believed it was better. That was the Prophet's philosophy, he consulted the Companions and considered their opinions to be very important. The companions, in turn, were able to distinguish between the human contribution (profane) and the Divine.

Ḥadīth of the five pillars: You will encounter people of the book, teach them the tawḥīd first. If they understand / accept this concept, then tell them that Allah has put out five prayers a day. If they have understood / accepted this concept tell them that Allah has prescribed zakat, and this means in concrete terms that part of their wealth is given to the poor ....

“A person from the Ansar (native of Medina) asked the Prophet Muḥammad for advice regarding a disagreement with Zubayr (a migrant from Mecca) about the fertilization of soil. The Prophet asked Zubayr to fertilize half of his soil - although he is entitled to more - and then let the water flow to the Ansari's soil. The Ansari got angry and said to the Prophet, "It is because he is a relative of yours." The Prophet also got angry and said to Zubayr, "Fertilize your soil completely and then let the water flow."

Ḥadīth from Hind bint "Utba and her husband Abū Sufyān:" Hind said to the Prophet: Abū Sufyān is a miserly person. He does not give me and my children enough maintenance money, except what I take without his knowledge. The Prophet replied, "Take from his money what is enough to cover your costs and those of your children.

Mugīth was madly in love with his wife Barirah. But Barirah did not like him and wanted to divorce him. The Prophet tried to intercede, "The Prophet said to Barirah," Will you come back to Mugīth, he is the father of your children! " Barirah (with all respect she had for the Prophet) said honestly, “O messenger of God, is this an order you ask me to carry out?” The Prophet replied: No, I am only a mediator. She replies without any embarrassment: “No messenger from God, I don’t want it”

Click on the finish button to complete the course!


In this glossary you will find more information and an explanation of certain concepts.

Ma’ud al’rab
This is a term used by the great theologian Abū Isḥāq al-Shāṭibī to emphasize the spirit of the Arabs during the time of revelation. With this he means that the knowledge of the habits and the way of life of the Arabs is an important fact to understand the Quran.

What is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad of both words, deeds, approvals, outward features and inward features.

Meccan verses
Are verses revealed before the immigration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina.

Medinan verses
Unlike the Meccan verses, Medinan verses are more detailed in nature because Medina had a different context than Mecca.

The reason of revelation or sabāb an-nuzūl
Asbāb an-nuzūl (pl.) .) means the reasons why a verse was revealed. This is related to events that occured during the time of the Prophet upon which the Quran responded with an answer.


Abd Arrahmane Assouyouti, J., Alitqaan fi ‘lum Alquraan, Medina, Majma’ Malik Fahd, 2002.
Attahar Ibn Asshour, M., Maqasid Assharia Al-Islamiya, Amman, Dar Annafa-is, 2002.
Ibn Ala Idris Al-Qarafi, A., Alihkam FI Attamyiz ‘An Alihkam Wa Tassarufaat Al-Qadi Wa Al-Imam, Aleppo, Maktab Amatbu’aat Al-Islamiya, 1987.
Ibn Ala Idris Al-Qarafi, A., Alfuruq, Beiroet, Al-lam Alkitab, zonder datum, volume 1.
Ibn Ibrahim Asshatibi, I., Almuwafaqat Fi Usul Ashari’a, Beiroet, Dar Al-Koutboub Al’lmiya, 2005.
Ibn Idris Asshafi’i, M., Arrisala, Beiroet, Dar Al-Marefah, 2004, volume 1.
Ibn Ja’far Ibn Yazid Attabari, M., Jami’ Albayan ‘An Tawil Ayi Alquran, Beiroet, Dar Arrisala, 1994, volume 4.
Polarisatie, Polarisatie uitgelegd; (toegang 03.04.2020).
Geraadpleegd op 3 april 2020, van van-de-rechten-van-de-mens-eenvoudige-versie/841