Author: Toshihiko Izutsu.
Publisher: A.S. Noordeen
Pages: 292 Binding: Paperback
Description from the publisher:
This book might as well have been entitled in a more general way "Semantics of the Qur'an" but for the fact the main part of the present study is almost extensively concerned with the problem of the personal relation between God and man in the Qur'anic worldview. Coming from the pen of the first serious Asian non-Muslim scholar and a Japanese, this book is now available in a new improved edition.
Book Review by Fazlur Rahman --
"This book, which constitutes volume V of the series Studies in the Humanities and Social Relations of Keio University is written by Professor Toshihiko Izutsu and has emerged out of his lectures at McGill University, Montreal in the spring of 1962 and 1963. Actually, I participated in a seminar given by Dr. Izutsu at McGill during the 1960-61 session where he had tried out some of the ideas contained in this book. These seem to have matured over the years and this constitutes not only a welcome addition to the existing literature on Islam but introduces a new approach to the understanding of Islam—particularly by non-Muslims—the linguistic approach. The Arabic mistakes that appear in the book (some of which must be sheer misprints which are also frequent in the book) must not lead the reader to accuse the writer of inadequacy in Arabic which he knows and speaks fluently. Nor is this Dr. Izutsu's first work on the Qur'an, he has already given us a work on the ethical concepts of the Holy Book.
At the outset, Dr. Izutsu gives us his idea of the science of linguistics or semantics through which he wishes to understand the Qur'an, "Semantics as I understand it is an analytic study of the key- terms of a language with a view to arriving eventually at a conceptual grasp of the weltanschauung or world-view of the people who use that language ...".
A semantical study of the Qur'an would, therefore, be an analytical study of the key-terms of the Qur'an. In the succeeding pages, Dr. Izutsu makes it abundantly clear that by a study of the key-terms is not merely meant just a mechanical analysis of these terms or concepts in isolation or as static units but even more importantly includes their living, contextual import, as they are used in the Qur'an. Thus, although the term Allah was used by some pre-Islamic Arabs not only to mean a deity among deities but even a supreme deity in hierarchy of deities, yet the Qur'an wrought a most fundamental change in the weltanschauung of the Arabs by precisely changing the contextual use of this term, by charging it with a new import—and that by eliminating all deities and bringing the concept of Allah to the centre of the circle of being. In order, therefore, to understand and even to find out the key- concepts themselves, one must know first of all the entire basic structure of the Qur'anic world of ideas. A portrayal of this basic structure or total Gestalt is then attempted in chapter 3 for, "The proper position of each individual conceptual field, whether large or small, will be determined in a definite way only in terms of the multiple relations all the major fields bear to each other within the total Gestalt".
With this we also approach the basic dilemma of Dr. Izutsu's semantic methodology. The key-terms, which, when grasped, were supposed to yield an understanding of the system as a whole (for, Dr. Izutsu assures us that the "key-terms determine the system"), cannot themselves be understood and even fixed without a prior knowledge of that system. This is what is called a vicious circle. There is nothing basically vicious with the approach (which is, indeed, a common-sense approach) that the best way of understanding a system is to study that system (in the present case the Qur'anic weltanschauung) as a whole and to pay special attention to its important concepts. I, therefore, must suspect that viciousness is the result of the desire to make semantics a science and to make grandiose claims on behalf of it.
From an Islamic point of view, however, this is only a formal difficulty; we shall now briefly see what constitutes for Dr. Izutsu, the substantive structure of this Qur'anic teaching. This teaching our author discovers in the first place in a fourfold relationship between God and man. viz., (i) God is the creator of man; (ii) He communicates His Will to man through Revelation; (iii) there subsists a Lord-servant relationship between God and man and (iv) the concept of God as the God of goodness and mercy (for those who are thankful to Him) and the God of wrath (for those who reject Him). The believers in this fourfold relationship between Allah and man constitute a Community (Ummah Muslimah) by themselves and believe in the Last Day, Paradise and Hell. Dr. Izutsu's description of the historical evolution of these concepts in pre-Islamic Arabia up to the appearance of Islam is quite rich and valuable.
The main question is whether the basic structure of the Qur'anic weltanschauung, as described by Dr. Izutsu, really does adequately tally with the Qur'anic teaching. One cannot help thinking that the author has carefully and quite subjectively tailored this "basic struc ture" to fit what he himself has decided to be the "key-concepts" of the Qur'an. He may have thereby semi-consciously discovered in the Qur'an the counterparts of his personal religious weltanschauung. For, how else to explain the fact that in this total picture the moral element is totally wanting? Dr. Izutsu approvingly quotes Prof. Sir Hamilton Gibb to the effect that the main difference between the portrayals of Heaven and Hell by Umayyah Ibn Abi al-alt and by the Qur'an is that in the Qur'an they are "linked up with the essential moral core of the teaching". But apparently Dr. Izutsu does not understand the implications of Gibb's statement because he himself entirely ignores the moral field as though it forms no part of the "basic structure of the Qur'anic weltanschauung". Indeed, while speaking of the "ethical relation" between God and man, Dr. Izutsu links up the ideas of salvation and damnation with purely personal faith.
One may raise the general question whether an ethical relationship, properly speaking, can be established at all between God and man. To God one can have only a worshipful attitude and not an ethical or moral attitude which he can have only towards other men, strictly speaking. One cannot be good to God but only to men. To a weltanschauung like Dr, Izutsu's, therefore, for which man-God relationships are imperturbable by and indifferent to man-man relationships, and can be established per se, the Qur'anic teaching is directly opposed—far from being adequately described by that weltanschauung. That the Qur'an's chief aim is to create a moral-social order, is actually proved if one historically studies the process of the revelation of the Qur'an—the actual challenges which the Prophet flung initially to the Makkan society. These challenges were not only to the pantheon of the Makkans at the Ka`bah but also to their socio-economic structure. This shows the superiority of the historical approach to the approach of the pure semanticist.
Only a historical approach can also do justice to the evolution of concepts, particularly the concept Allah. Dr. Izutsu, on the basis of certain verses of the Qur'an, thinks that the view of One God (Allah) generally prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabia on the eve of Islam, was "surprisingly close in nature to the Islamic one". There is, however, strong evidence to believe that this "surprisingly" close concept of Allah was developed by the Makkans under the impact of the Qur'anic criticism and, on the basis of this newly evolved concept, they wanted to effect a compromise with the Prophet. The Qur'an itself bears testimony to this.
One big trouble with Dr. Izutsu's conception of the Qur'anic teaching on God-man relationship is that he does not keep the Makkan milieu in view and for him there is no difference between a Bedouin and a Makkan of the Prophet's time. The Bedouin was haughty, proud, unrestrained and boastful beyond any proper sense of reserve; he was over-conscious of his individual self-respect—he possessed the quality of jahl (opposed to ilm). The function of Islam, therefore, consisted, above all—according to him—by humbling this haughtiness and unlimited sense of pride. This was done effectively by projecting an idea of God, which is, above all, forbidding and fear-inspiring. The truth, however, is that the immediate addressees of the Qur'an were the Makkans—more particularly, their wealthy commercial classes. These people recognized no restraint on their amassing of wealth, did not recognize any obligations to their less fortunate fellow-men; regarded themselves "self-sufficient (mustaghni)" i.e., law unto themselves. It is to them that the Qur'an first threw its challenge and required them to recognize limitations on their "natural rights". It was until they had rejected the challenge that the Qur'an backed up its demand by a theology with the doctrines of Heaven and Hell.
To make these criticisms, fundamental as they are, is not to deny the intrinsic value of this book which, according to this reviewer, lies in bringing out both the contrast and the continuity between the Qur'anic teaching and the post-Qur'anic developments in Islam at the hands of Muslims. On such vital issues as the definition of Islam and Iman (chapter 2, section II) and the freedom of man vis-à-vis God (chapter 6), how Muslim speculative theology later deviated from the pre-speculative mood of the Qur'an has been incisively brought out. One wishes the author had shown more elaborately and decisively that the Qur'an, far from being a work of speculative thought interested in system building, was as a living monument of moral and spiritual guidance, interested in keeping alive all the moral tensions which are requisite for good and fruitful life. It is because the Qur'an is interested in action that it is not shy of putting side by side the contradictory and polar terms of the moral tension. But probably the preoccupation of Dr. Izutsu to build out a system himself from the Qur'an did not allow him to do so.
Dr. Izutsu's treatment of the question of wahy or verbal commu nication from God in chapter 8 is good and comprehensive, although it is somewhat uncritical in the acceptance of traditional material on the subject and also naive in its interpretation. We are told that the verbal communication can occur only two beings of the same order of existenee—which is, of course correct. But when Dr. Izutsu tries to rationalise as to how the Prophet could have actually heard Words of Revelation and he tells us that the Prophet in his moments of Revelation, was transformed into a higher being, "against his nature". He does not see that this in fact explains nothing for the question still would remain. How is it possible for a being of one order to get altogether transformed—even against his own nature—from time to time, into a being of a different order and how, after the moments of Revelation have passed and the Prophet returns to his normal self, would he keep his identity? On the whole Dr. Izutsu's use of the terms "nature" and "supernatural" in this context smacks of the Christian doctrines about Jesus. The author's differentiation of the Biblical concept of Prophecy and the Qur'anic concept is again very good. I would like to add that the Prophecy of the Biblical Prophet was not always natural but was often an art cultivated in the Jewish temples.
In the end, one would like to underline the fact that this book is from the pen of the first serious Asian non-Muslim scholar and a Japanese. As such we welcome Dr. Izutsu's work and hope that it will be the harbinger of a growing tradition of Islamic scholarship in the Far East."