The Miracle of “You the People!”
Among its countless miracles, the Qur’an contains one miracle that should be visible to even the most naked of eyes: It is the miracle of “O, People!”
Or, if you want to put it differently, the miracle of “You the People!”
Or simply, “You People!”
Not man. Not mankind. But “People: The People.”
There is nothing like it in the world. Not to my knowledge. And to the best of my knowledge, there never was.
A concept called “The People“? As they say: You got to be kidding me!
And that in the beginning of the Seventh Century?
And that in a book coming out the mouth of an Unlettered Man, as the Bible calls him?
And that too, not once or twice, but well over 200 times?
That is right.
The expression “People” occurs in the Qur’an no less than 241 times!
Come on! Give me a break, as they say. How is it possible?
A Miracle from God Almighty
Unless, of course, it is a miracle from God Almighty himself. And that precisely is what it is: a miracle – unlike most other miracles you may have seen or heard of before.
But there is a huge difference: other miracles come and go, but this one is here to stay.
Other miracles are hard to see and nearly impossible to decipher. And they are open to all kinds of interpretations and constructions by all kinds of people.
But this one is different, very different.
It is a miracle that can be seen by all and it does not need a specialist to interpret it for you. All you need to do is go to the Qur’an and count the number of times this miraculous expression occurs in its pages.
And this miracle has been around for no less than 1400 years.
Therefore, all ye miracle hunters and mystery and magic lovers of the world! Stop your search. Here in the Qur’an is what you were looking for.
You need to go no further. And you need to look and search no more. For, the object of your search is here, right in front of your eyes.
In the Qur’an. All you need to do is to open the pages of the Qur’an and see for yourself.
Neither magic nor mystery, it is a miracle all the same. It is a miracle based on fact, centered in reality and subject to the testimony and evidence of your own eyes. It is an event or outcome that challenges you to rise to your highest level of rational thought, careful logic, analytical reasoning and scientific inquiry.
It is an event or outcome that is least likely to happen all by itself. It is an event or outcome that is most improbable.
A Sad Colonial Legacy
But there is a catch. Or a glitch, if you prefer to call it that. And it is of our own making. A “Man-Made” problem if you will.
If you are part of the English speaking people of the world – as most of us are – reading a translation of the Qur’an in English, then you have a sad colonial legacy to deal with first. For, you are likely to run into a problem, a serious one: You may still have to be content with the words “Man” or “Mankind” in places where you should have been able to find the most glorious expression “People.”
That is right.
That is what most English translators of the Qur’an did: both Muslim and non-Muslim. Not the Urdu or Farsi (Persian) or even Tamil translators, but English translators. They translated the unique, glorious and most powerful and blessed Qur’anic concept of “People” as “Man” and “Mankind.”
We all know how until the mid-1980s or so, the English language was still teaming with gendered nouns and pronouns like “Man,” “Mankind” and “He” and “Him” to connote all of humanity.
Poor English language! It couldn’t help itself. That was its character and its nature. That is how it was born, groomed and brought up by the English-speaking people who created and nurtured it.
For, English was a repository, guardian and conveyer of Western thought, religion and philosophy, which were mostly Christian in nature and origin. And the Christian worldview and mode of thought and expression were all heavily male-centric, sorry to say. It was but natural that English language too should be until most recently so completely male-gendered and male-centric.
In the Christian religion – and therefore in Western thought and culture as well as in English language – it was mostly “Man” who did everything, especially anything good or nice or noble.
It was “He” – “Man” – who was the object of all discourse and communication, especially all positive, laudatory and purposeful communication.
It was “He” and “Him” and “His” all the way and with regard to anything and everything good, meaningful or useful.
Where “Woman” was mentioned, it was generally in a secondary role or to simply show how bad she was, including how she was the Instrument of the Devil, Gateway to Hell and the cause of the Original Sin and Fall of Man.
When Western-Christian nations colonized the Muslim societies and Muslims learned the English language, they learned it the way it was: mainly Christian and overwhelmingly male-gendered.
And when Muslims began translating the Qur’an in English, they more or less blindly and unquestioningly followed the Western-Christian culture and thought patterns and language use.
In this, their example was the non-Muslim translators of the Qur’an.
As a result of this colonial legacy that was dominated by Christian thought, expression, culture and worldview, translators of the Qur’an also ended up rendering the concept “People” as “Man” or “Mankind.”
So, wherever the translators found the word An-Naas in the Qur’an, they simply translated it as “Man” or “Mankind,” rather than as “People,” as they should have done.
It was a classic case of blind following the blind.
And that is what most readers of the English translations of the Qur’an are likely to find to this day – even though some of the newer translations seem to be moving away from that old Christian-Colonial habit.
You may thus be forced to look at this most revolutionary Qur’anic concept of “The People” through the Western prism of the English language.
Sadly, you are thus likely to miss the purity of the Qur’anic expression of “The People” and be stuck with the age-old colonial perversion of “Man” or “Mankind.“
Not “Man” or “Mankind”
But the Qur’an, naturally, is in Arabic and not in English. So, the original Arabic expression for people in the Qur’an is An-Naas.
And that expression is perfectly gender-neutral as they say – both in diction and in meaning and import. It stands for all human beings of all ages and both genders.
That is how it was originally conceived and developed in the Arabic language. And that is how it is used and understood in the Qur’an. For all these 1400 long years.
That then is the expression – I mean An-Naas – the Qur’an uses every time it refers to “People.”
And it does so, not once or twice, or even 10 or 100 times. But the Qur’an uses this expression “The People” (An-Naas) a whole 241 times by my count.
That is not all.
In addition to An-Naas, the Qur’an makes use of two other expressions that are both etymologically – I guess etymology means the study of the origin and history of a word, at least that is what the dictionary says – derived from the same common root.
And – behold the miracle! – both of these additional expressions are also perfectly neutral with regard to age and gender.
Hallelujah, as our Christian brothers and sisters would say. Glory to God Almighty!
One of those additional gender- and age-neutral expressions is Ins. The Qur’an, by my quick count, uses it 18 times.
The other is Insaan. The Qur’an uses this expression no less than 65 times, again by my count.
Some Miraculous Numbers in the Qur’an:
241 + 18 + 65 = 324
So, here is the total number of gender- and age-neutral People-expressions we come up with in the Qur’an: 241 + 18 + 65 = 324.
All this by my quick count, mind you. But how much off the mark can I be, if I am?
So, what I am saying is this: If this does not look like a miracle to you then what does? Then there is no such thing as a miracle in this world.
For, a miracle is an event or phenomenon whose occurrence in this world is most unlikely or least probable. So much so that when it is witnessed, most people would cry out: No, this can’t be!
But the important point is this: In the language of the Qur’an, as well as in the general use of the Arabic language, all three of these expressions refer to the basic human entity in a completely gender- and age-neutral way.
That means all three of these Arabic expressions – Ins, Insaan and An-Naas – stand for human beings as a whole, as a class or species if you will, without any reference to how old or young those human beings are and without any concern with whether they are male or female.
That is the miracle.
For, how is something like this possible? In other words, what is the probability of something like this occurring in the real world?
That too in the Seventh Century?
The fact is humanity never witnessed anything like it, either before or since – until the 1980s or so.
If this is not a miracle, what is?
Yes, the ancient Greeks may have experimented a bit with the basic notion of “The People.” Yes, the Chinese may have looked into it briefly. And yes, the pre-Columbian peoples, nations and tribes of the Americas may have looked at everybody, including animals, as People.
But not quite like this. Not on the scale and with the meticulous thoroughness and unfailing consistency with which the Qur’an uses that concept and that expression “The People.”
Add to this the fact that all this goes back a full 1400 years?
Not yesterday or today, or even a few decades ago, but a full one thousand four hundred years ago! I find that mind-boggling.
And then all this coming out of the mouth of a man who never received any education or training or mentoring of any kind from any master or teacher of any kind?
A man who grew up in the rock-barren desert-city of Makkah tending goats and meditating alone in a cave?
And that man, instead of taking credit himself for something so stupendous and mind-blowing, claims that it was God Almighty who gave it to him, and that he himself was nothing but a lowly messenger of God like so many others before him.
And then instead of claiming he was God or Son of God, this man simply says that God Almighty – your God and my God, your father and my father, as they used to say in olden Biblical times – gave it to him with instructions to convey it faithfully to other people.
To all of God’s children.
Phew! Don’t you think this is something else? Don’t you think this is as good as a miracle can get?
Light Upon Light
What you have here, therefore, is one miracle added to another miracle added to yet another miracle.
Miracle upon miracle, you can call it.
I guess this is part of what the Qur’an refers to as “light upon light.”
Noorun alaa noor, as the Qur’an puts it in original Arabic.
It is in this original Arabic language in which the Qur’an is preserved to this day. And it is in this original Arabic language in which it is read and recited everyday by well over a billion people (1,000,000,000 people) around the world.
There is nothing quite like it in the world. Nothing like the Qur’an I mean. And nothing like the expression of “The People” in the Qur’an.
And there was nothing like it in the world if you were to turn the clock back all the way to the Seventh Century or even to the more recent Seventeenth Century.
That is why I say, if this is not a miracle and a most extraordinary phenomenon, what is?
This miraculous word An-Naas, therefore, stands for People. Not for “Man” or “Mankind.”
It stands for all people: male as well as female, old as well as young.
It stands for humanity as a whole, and not for this or that part or segment of it.
And it is a miracle, in the Qur’an, unlike most miracles you and I know.
Here is what the world needs to understand: If the Qur’an had given humanity and the world no miracle other than this one simple concept of “The People,” it would have been enough.
It took the world over 1400 years to come anywhere close to understanding, accepting and beginning to use that concept, even as the world continues to struggle to this day with the full acceptance, internalizing and embracing of the common humanity of all human beings.
Right at the Outset
What is remarkable about all this is not just the fact that there is an expression like “The People” in the Qur’an. Or the fact that it occurs in the Qur’an hundreds of times. Or even the fact that all this is 1400 years old.
What is remarkable also is the way in which the Qur’an introduces human beings to this most miraculous concept of “The People.” The Qur’an does so right at the very outset – in Passage # 8 of its Chapter # 2.
Thereafter, the Qur’an repeats and reiterates this concept well over 300 times using the three expressions of An-Naas, Al-Ins and Al-Insaan that I have noted above.
What a miracle indeed!
The Miracle of “O, You People!
But what is more remarkable – and what is absolutely revolutionary – than all this is the way in which the Qur’an goes on to address all of humanity directly saying “O, You People!”
The Qur’an does this in Passage # 21 of Chapter # 2.
This direct-address form in which the Qur’an talks to human beings directly in the Second Person, that fills the pages of the Qur’an, is one of the most powerful and enduring social accomplishments and miracles of the Qur’an – and of history.
It is one of history’s greatest social, moral, intellectual, cultural and political revolutions. It sounded the death knell of all forms of religious, political, cultural and social tyranny over the mind of “The People,” as the Qur’an put it, or over the mind of “Man,” as the rest of the world put it.
The essence of Qur’an’s most glorious revolution is this: If God Almighty himself can address you personally without any intermediaries, and if God Almighty himself can talk to you directly, then no human being is too big to address you directly and talk to you personally. All human beings are thus not only created equal, but all human beings, thus, have unfettered access to all other human beings regardless of any difference or disparity they may have in wealth, color, gender, education, power or position.
In fact, it was this miracle of the Qur’an that created a powerful echo, and a most positive and revolutionary effect, at a distant time, in a distant land, in the form of a great social, moral and political revolution among “The People” of the United States of America.
The Miracle of “We the People”
The Qur’an, thus, miraculously addresses humanity as a whole in the Second Person and calls them directly as “O, You People!”
This, mind you, was in the beginning of the 7th Century. And this was by no means a stray or rare occurrence but a consistent pattern of God Almighty addressing and talking to human beings, all human beings, which, to my knowledge, exists only in the Qur’an among the world’s great religious and social texts.
There simply, to the best of my knowledge, is no parallel to this Qur’anic miracle in the world’s literature or thought.
Then, toward the end of the 18th Century – nearly 1200 years later – that call that the Qur’an issued to “You People” found an echo in the Constitution of the United States of America, which began with a direct response to that miraculous divine call of the Qur’an with the words: “We the People.”
I will not here trace the tortuous path of that divine message of “The People” from the sands of Arabia to the shores of America. But suffice it to point out the most obvious and the most visible: Allah said in the Qur’an, “You the People!” (2:21). And the American Qawm – the great American People that is – responded, a thousand years later, through an acknowledgment, in the blessed American Constitution, on the beautiful American soil, of that great divine call of the Qur’an of “You the People!” with their own most amazing and revolutionary expression of “We the People!”
To most people in the world, including most Americans themselves, this revolution in Western thought and language was a mystery: where and how did America stumble upon this most breathtaking, refreshing and revolutionary of concepts and expressions?
But for those with a proper perspective on history, it was far from being a mystery or an accident. It was simply yet another remarkable milestone and manifestation of the continuing unfolding of the miracles of the Qur’an in the world and in human life throughout history.
Nor was it a mystery to a believer blessed by God Almighty with the ability to see through time, space and social confusion. Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, called it the Firaasat of a Mu’min – farsightedness of a believer.
To much of humanity this travel of the revolutionary concept of “The People” from the Islamic East to the Christian West may have been a long and even troubled and tortured path. But in the divine scheme of things, this was less than the blink of an eye. It was the rolling of God’s mercy, love and grace from Makkah and Madinah in the East to America in the West.
It was the golden bridge to Heaven and to his Grace that God Almighty was building for “The People” of the West in general, and for “The People” of America in particular, as a glorious culmination of their Enlightenment thought toward the end of the 18th Century.
For, American Enlightenment at bottom was a period during which the deep and outspoken skepticism of people like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin was actually a rational and scientific tool of inquiry that left them with an abiding belief in God Almighty that the world recognized as Deism.
So, welcome home, “People” of America and the West. Welcome home to Qur’an and Islam.
Welcome home to the original divine culture of “The People.”
© 2007 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.