(2:1) Alif, Lam, Mim.1 (2:2) This is the Book of Allah, there is no doubt in it;2 it is a guidance for the pious,3 (2:3) for those who believe in the existence of that which is beyond the reach of perception,4who establish Prayer5 and spend out of what We have provided them,6 (2:4) who believe in what has been revealed to you and what was revealed before you,7 and have firm faith in the Hereafter.8 (2:5) Such are on true guidance from their Lord; such are the truly successful. (2:6) As for those who have rejected (these truths),9 it is all the same whether or not you warn them, for they will not believe. (2:7) Allah has sealed their hearts10 and their hearing, and a covering has fallen over their eyes. They deserve severe chastisement.
1. The names of letters of the Arabic alphabet, called huruf muqatta'at, occur at the beginning of several surahs of the Qur'an. At the time of the Qur'anic revelation the use of such letters was a well-known literary device, used by both poets and orators, and we find several instances in the pre-Islamic Arabic literature that has come down to us.
Since the muqatta'at were commonly used the Arabs of that period generally knew what they meant and so they did not present a puzzle. We do not notice, therefore, any contemporaries of the Prophet (peace be on him) raising objections against the Qur'an on the ground that the letters at the beginning of some of its surahs were absurd. For the same reason no Tradition has come down to us of any Companion asking the Prophet about the significance of the muqatta'at. Later on this literary device gradually fell into disuse and hence it became difficult for commentators to determine their precise meanings. It is obvious, however, that deriving right guidance from the Qur'an does not depend on grasping the meaning of these vocables, and that anyone who fails to understand them may still live a righteous life and attain salvation. The ordinary reader, therefore, need not delve too deeply into this matter.
2. One obvious meaning of this verse is that this Book, the Qur'an, is undoubtedly from God. Another possible meaning is that nothing contained in it can be subject to doubt. Books which deal with supernatural questions, with matters that lie beyond the range of sense perception, are invariably based on conjecture and their authors, despite their brave show of competence, are therefore not immune from a degree of scepticism regarding their statements. This Book, which is based wholly on Truth, a Book which is the work of none other than the All-Knowing God Himself is distinguishable from all other books. Hence, there is no room for doubt about its contents despite the hesitation some people might express either through ignorance or folly.
3. This means that while the Book is potentially for all, only those who possess certain qualities can benefit from it. The first such quality is piety: those who want to benefit should be disposed to distinguish between good and evil, and to shun evil and do good. Those who lead an animal existence, who never to consider whether their actions are either good or bad, whose cynically follow the prevailing winds, who are helplessly tossed about by the animal desires that dominate their minds, such persons are all together incapable of deriving any benefit from the guidance embodied in the Qur'an.
4. This is the second prerequisite for deriving benefit from the Qur'an. Ghayb signifies the verities which are hidden from man's senses and which are beyond the scope of man's ordinary observation and experience, for example the existence and attributes of God, the angels. the process of revelation, Paradise, Hell and so on. 'Belief in the ghaib' means having faith in such matters, based on an absolute confidence in the Messengers of God and despite the fact that it is impossible to experience them.
According to this verse, Qur'anic guidance can prove helpful only to those prepared to affirm the truths of the suprasensory realm. People who make their belief in these questions conditional upon sensory perception of the object of belief, and who are not prepared even to consider the possibility of the existence of things that cannot be weighed or measured, cannot profit from this Book.
5. This is the third requirement. It is pointed out that those to whom belief means merely the pronouncement of a formula, who think that a mere verbal confession of faith is enough and that it makes no practical demands on them, can derive no guidance from the Qur'an. To benefit from the Qur'an it is essential that a man's decision to believe should be followed immediately by practical obedience to God.
Prayer is the first and continuing sign of practical obedience. No more than a few hours can pass after a man has embraced Islam than the mu'adhin calls to Prayer and it becomes evident whether or not the profession of faith has been genuine. Moreover, the mu'adhin calls to Prayer five times every day and whenever a man fails to respond to his call it becomes clear that he has transgressed the bounds of practical obedience. An abandonment of Prayer amounts to an abandonment of obedience. Obviously, if a man is not prepared to follow the directives of his guide, it is immaterial whether or not true guidance is available to him.
It should also be noted that the expression 'establishment of Prayer' has a wider meaning than mere performance of Prayer. It means that the system of Prayer should be organized on a collective basis. If there is a person in a locality who prays individually but no arrangements are made for congregational Prayer, it cannot be claimed that Prayer is established in that locality.
6. This, the fourth prerequisite for a person to benefit from the Qur'an, demands that the person concerned should neither be niggardly nor a worshipper of money. On the contrary, he should be willing to pay the claims on his property of both God and man, and should not flinch from making financial sacrifices for the sake of his convictions.
7. The fifth requirement is that one should believe in the Books revealed by God to His Prophets in the various ages and regions of the world, in the Book revealed to Muhammad (peace be on him) as well as in those revealed to the other Prophets who preceded him. The door of the Qur'an is closed to all those who do not consider it necessary for man to receive guidance from God. It is also closed to those who, even if they believe in the need for such guidance, do not consider it necessary to seek it through the channel of revelation and prophethood, but would rather weave their own set of ideas and concepts and regard them as equivalent to Divine Guidance.
This door is also closed to those who believe in Divine books as such, but confine this belief to those books accepted by their forefathers, and spurn Divine Guidance revealed to anyone born beyond their own racial and national boundaries. The Qur'an excludes all such people and is prepared to open the source of its grace only to those who believe that mankind does require Divine Guidance, who acknowledge that this guidance does not come to people individually but reaches them through Prophets and Divine Books and who are not given to racial or national chauvinism but are devotees of Truth alone, and are therefore prepared to submit to Divine Guidance wherever it be found.
8. Belief in the After-life is the sixth and last requirement. The term al-Akhirah embraces a whole set of ideas: (i) that man is not an irresponsible being, but is answerable to God for all his conduct in this world; (ii) that the present order of the world is not timeless, but will come to an end at an appointed hour known only to God; (iii) that when this world comes to an end God will bring into being another world in which He will resurrect, at one and the same moment, all the human beings ever born on earth. He will gather them together, examine their conduct and grant each one just reward for his actions; (iv) that those who are accounted good in God's judgement will be sent to Heaven, and those judged by Him as evil-doers will be consigned to Hell; (v) that the real measure of success and failure is not one's prosperity in the present life, but one's success or failure according to God's judgement in the Next. Those who do not accept this set of beliefs can derive no benefit from the Qur'an. For if a man is merely in a state of doubt and hesitation with regard to these matters - let alone disbelieving them - he cannot advance even one step forward along the path charted out by the Qur'an.
9. That is, those people who do not meet these six requirements, or reject all or any one of the fundamentals set out above.
10. This does not mean that their rejection of the Truth is a consequence of God sealing their hearts. What is meant is that God sealed their hearts and ears as a consequence of their decision to reject the fundamentals of faith, of their deliberate choice of a path divergent from that charted out by the Qur'an. Anyone who has worked for the dissemination of the Truth often finds that if, after full consideration, a person decides against a doctrine, his mind begins to move in a completely opposite direction so that he fails to appreciate anything that is explained to him. His ears become deaf, his eyes are blinded to the merits of that doctrine, and one gets the distinct impression that the person's heart has indeed been sealed.