THE QURAN IS the vital center of Islam. For this reason, every Muslim should know the basics of what is called “the Qur’anic Sciences,” or, in its original Arabic, ʿUlûm Al-Quran.
What Are “The Qur’anic Sciences”?
The phrase “Qur’anic Sciences” has two technical meanings.
The first is obvious: It is the field of all the sciences, or branches of learning, whose subject of study is the Quran, from any particular approach. Tafsîr (exegesis or explication of the Quran), tajwîd (correct recitation and enunciation of the Quran), and qira’ât (variant accepted recitations of the Quran), are a few constituents of this field.
The second technical meaning of the designation “Qur’anic Sciences” is any particular one of these “sciences” dedicated to the study of some aspect of the Quran on its own, again like tafsîr, tajwîd, qira’ât, etc., but individually.
The first indicates a singular area of learning. One says: “The Quranic Sciences is an important field to learn.” The second usage denotes a plural (that is, a set of individual subjects of study). One says: “The Qur’anic Sciences are important to learn.”
The subject of the Qur’anic Sciences by the first meaning is the verses of the Quran themselves. In the second meaning, the subject is the sciences themselves, the means of valid knowledge, which one uses to study the verses.
For example, when one studies tafsîr, one reads a verse, then reads its explanation. When one studies tajwîd, one learns to follow its rules of recitation and patterns of pronunciation When one learns the qira’ât, one learns the variant recitations.
In the study of “the Qur’anic Sciences,” in tafsîr, one studies the principles of tafsîr, such as whether or not it is permissible for us to explain verses based on narrations from, say, the scriptural explanations of Banî Isrâ’îl. In tajwîd, one learns the rules that govern elocution of the recited, that is, chanted, Quran and the 10 unexceptionably transmitted (tawâtur) recitations, and the distinctions and gradations between them, as well as the principles underlying their distinction from one another and the four additional ṣaḥîḥ, but non-canonical, recitaitons. In qira’ât, one studies the important issues connected to the variant recitations, such as the fact that the complete Revelation of the Quran includes all the approved variant recitations, and the like.
The field of “the Qur’anic Sciences” acts as a detailed index to the many sciences connected to the Quran. This is an important categorization of what the Qur’anic Sciences is. It also treats other Quran-related issues. For example, it addresses the question: Is surah order divine, or is it the result of the efforts of the Companions in the Quran’s compilation?
As an independent religious science, ʿUlûm Al-Qur’ân developed a curriculum. This means that books written on ʿUlûm Al-Qur’ân by its scholars for the most part cover the same topics in a particular order, i.e., following a set curriculum. Its scholarly methodology is consequently analogous in its approach to that of the religious sciences of Fiqh and Mus ṭala ḥ Al-Ḥadîth.
The reason this science was named ‘ʿUlûm’ (‘sciences’) Al-Qur’ân, and not ‘ʿIlm’ (‘science’), that is “The Qur’anic Sciences” and not “The Science of the Qur’ân,” is to show that its field includes a number of branches of learning. Yet, as previously mentioned, it is something different than merely tafsîr alone, or tajwîd alone, and the like.
ʻUlum Al-Qur’an Defined
A formal definition of “the Qur’anic Sciences” is as follows: “Topics relating to the Quran in terms of how it was revealed; its order of revelation; how it was gathered; how it is to be written, recited, and explained; its miraculousness; what verses are abrogated, defending against doubts about the Quran, and other such Quran-related topics.”
ʿUlûm Scholars specify three general categories of benefit that come from studying “the Qur’anic Sciences”:
- It raises general awareness of important issues pertaining to the Quran about which no Muslim should be ignorant.
- It enables one to defend the Quran against aspersions cast upon it.
- It serves as an invaluable primer to those wishing to compile a tafsîr of their own.
The Intention to Serialize The Qur’anic Sciences
An objective of Al–Jumuʿah is to publish a series on ʿUlûm Al-Qur’ân, The Qur’anic Sciences, to serve as a moderately detailed introduction to the Sciences’ topics and concepts. There are many seminal books on ʿUlûm, classical and modern, a primary source from the latter period being Manâhil Al-ʿIrfân fî ʿUlûm Al-Qur’ân (The Watering Places of Knowledge for the Sciences of the Quran, by Mu ḥammad ʿAbd Al-ʿA·îm Al-Zarqânî, a 14th-century Hijri professor of ʿUlum al-Qur’ân at Al-Azhar University.
Our schedule of topics broadly covers ʿUlûm Al-Qur’ân’s history; a study of the Quran’s revelation (including order, occasions, the seven dimensions or dynamics (a ḥruf) of revelation, its Makkan and Madinan portions); its compilation; reduction to writing; variant recitations; style; and other topics already mentioned here.
The virtue of ʿUlûm Al-Qur’ân is that it gathers, in a remarkably condensed and organized fashion, the essential elements of knowledge and research that comprise the fundamentals of Qur’anic studies that would otherwise require of one an immense load of research, erudition, and aggregation, to say nothing of time. In this sense, it reverberates with something of the wonder of the Quran itself, for it is a matrix for all relevant knowledge and learning in the religious sciences.