The Quran came to change the beliefs, behavior and outlook of all who are astray. It came to guide them to the true happiness and the way of life that one should follow in this life. The Quran states,
|“O you who believe, respond to Allah and His messenger as they call you to that which gives you life” (al-Anfaal 24). Al-Suddi, an early commentator on the Quran, stated that this verse means that Islam gave the Companions true life after they were truly dead in disbelief.|
The difference between faith and disbelief is truly comparable to the difference between life and death. Knowing the Quran, that source of life to which Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) is calling every human, as opposed to not knowing it is also comparable to the difference between life and death.
The effect of the Quran can clearly be seen in the first generation of Muslims. These were the people who were given life by the Quran. They were taken from darkness into light. The example they set is the example that all later generations who believe in the Quran must aspire to.
The World Before the Advent of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, in his work Islam and the World, has done an admirable job of describing the situation of the world before the coming of the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Nadwi described the plight of all of the different nations of the world. Herein, only a few passages from his description will be quoted. He begins his discussion with the following strong words,
|The sixth century of the Christian era, it is generally agreed, represented the darkest phase in the history of our race. Humanity had reached the edge of the precipice, towards which it had been tragically proceeding for centuries, and there appeared to be no agency or power in the whole world which could come to its rescue and save it from crashing into the abyss of destruction.|
After these words, he describes the plight of the Romans and the Persians, two of the major civilizations at that time. He said that they sunk “to a state of complete moral depravity. They wallowed in the inveterate vices of their corrupt and decaying civilizations.”
Perhaps religion could have been the savior for the moral situation of the people of that time. However, Christianity, the main religion of the Western power, had lost most of its original teachings. Indeed, it had become so mixed with Greek mythology, Roman idolatry, Egyptian Neo-Platonism and Monasticism 5 that it itself was in need of help. For other similar reasons, Judaism and the Jews also were not in a position to offer much help to the prevailing situation.
The plight of Europe has been summed up by Robert Briffault in his The Making of Humanity,
|From the fifth to the tenth century Europe lay sunk in a night of barbarism which grew darker and darker. It was a barbarism far more awful and horrible than that of the primitive savage, for it was the decomposing body of what had once been a great civilization. The features and impress of that civilization were all but completely effaced. Where its development had been fullest, e.g., in Italy and Gaul, all was ruin, squalor and dissolution.|
Nadwi continues to discuss North-Western Europe, Iran, Central Asia (India) and China in some detail. He also discusses the religions of Buddhism, Hinduism and others. The plight of those areas and religions were similar to the plight of Europe and Christianity. It is not necessary to comprehensively discuss these areas and religion. It is sufficient, for the purposes here, to understand that mankind was definitely in a state of loss. There was no true light of guidance emanating from any part of the world at that time.
The plight of the Arabs, who are of more immediate concern for this work, was not much different from the rest of the world. However, their situation shall be dealt with in more detail as they are the people to whom the Quran was first presented and they are the ones who were first most affected by its teachings.
The Arabs Before the Advent of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
The Arabs like all other peoples at that time had a combination of virtues and vices. However, like the others two dangerous characteristics were present: their vices were many and their virtues were distorted.
In the opening chapter of his The Life of Muhammad, Abdul Hameed Siddiqui has presented an overview of the characteristics of pre-Islamic Arabs. This overview is based on pre-Islamic poetry that describes the common practices and beliefs of those days. Among their common features and attributes were: idol worship, love for sensuous pleasures tribal pride, clan warfare, arrogance, disdain and lack of respect for women. 
For example, concerning their lust for sensual pleasures, Siddiqui wrote,
|Drinking had in fact become a second nature with Arabs. Wine and women go together, and as a result of licentious drinking, fornication was very rampant. The caravans which radiated from Mecca with native merchandise to the Byzantine Empire, Syria, Persia, and India, returned therefrom with all luxurious habits and vices and imported slave girls from Syria and Iraq who afforded vast opportunities of sensual pleasures to the rich with their dancing and singing and all corruption which usually goes with them. We reproduce below some of the verses which would give an idea of me immoral life which the Arabs of pre-Islamic period were habituated to lead… |
The old Arab poetry has so many tales to narrate of the drinking orgies of the people of Arabia before the advent of Islam..
| The heathen Arabs had little regard for the sanctity of matrimonial relations. They took pride in flouting them and describing publicly their adulterous adventures.[10|
Concerning ling the status of women in pre-Islamic Arabia, Siddiqui wrote, again based on evidence from pre-Islamic
|Not only were the female infants buried alive, but those who were spared, led a life of unspeakable misery and wretchedness. They were a sort of marketable commodity which could be sold in the open market to the highest bidder. At the time they were transferred to the custody of the husband their position was still worsened. Marriage for them was a kind of bondage and the marital rights of the husband were a kind of overlordship, he was free to treat and dispose of his property as he liked. |
The Change in the Arabs Brought about Through the Quran, by the Will of Allah
It is clear that the Arabs at the time of the Prophet peace be upon him) were wont to drink, make merry and engage in tribal battles. They were known to sometimes kill their female babies. However, one finds that in a short span of close to twenty years a movement that started with just one man was able, due to the grace of Allah and the miraculous effect of the Quran, to change almost all of the Arabs and non-Arabs in the Arabian peninsula and bind them together into a brotherhood of faith and mercy which was so strong that if any one part of this brotherhood was in anguish, the whole brotherhood would be affected negatively. At that time, one could find two people who were from previously antagonistic tribes sharing their wealth and willing to give up their lives for each other. Indeed, one was willing to split half of his wealth and divorce one of his wives for the sake of his new brother who was from a “foreign” tribe.
Perhaps one of the best descriptions of the change that took place among the Muslims can be seen in the famous statement of the Companion Jafar ibn Abu Taalib who was asked by the Negus of Abyssinia about the mission of the Messenger. He told him, O king, we were an ignorant people, worshipping idols, eating carrion and indulging in sexual pleasures. We teased our neighbors, a brother oppressed his brother, and the strong devoured the weak. At this time a man rose among us, who had already been known to be truthful, noble and honest. This man called us to Islam. And he taught us to give up worshipping stones, to speak the truth, to refrain from bloodshed, and not to defraud the orphans of their property. He taught us to provide comfort to our neighbors and not to bring a slander against chaste women. He enjoined upon us to offer prayers, observe fasts and give alms. We followed him, gave up polytheism and idolatry and refrained from all evil deeds. It is for this new way that our people have become hostile to us and compel us to return to our old misguided life.[ 13]
That generation, in turn, took the message to the rest of the world. They were clearly a people who were taken from darkness into light and to the straight path of Allah. When asked by the Emperor of Persia what brought the Muslims to their lands, two different Companions answered in similar terms: “Allah has sent us to take whoever wishes from the servitude of mankind to the servitude of Allah and from the tightness of this world to its expanse and from the injustice of the ways of life [in this world] to the justice of Islam.” 
During the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him) one can see how these people were turned into a pious generation, fearing Allah and hoping for Allah’s reward. Even when they, as humans, slipped and committed sins, they eagerly repented and turned to Allah for His forgiveness. They would much rather face a severe penalty in this life, such as death, than face Allah with their sins on their hands. This can be seen in the cases of Maaiz ibn Maalik al-Aslami and the woman called al-Ghaamidiyah. Both of them came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to admit that they had committed adultery and each asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) for the worldly punishment of stoning to death to erase their sins. In the case of al-Ghaamidiyah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked her to go back after her confession and to return to the Prophet (peace be upon him) after she had given birth. She came back with her child in her arms and asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) to purify her from her sins. The Prophet (peace be upon him) then asked her to return after she had weaned the child. Then she returned after some time and told the Prophet (peace be upon him) that the child was no longer in need of her breastfeeding. She once again asked for her expiation from her sin. Then, finally, the Prophet (peace be upon him) had a ditch dug for her and she was stoned to death as an expiation for her sin of adultery. The Prophet (peace be upon him) then praised her act of repentance.
The effect of this change in the Companions continued long after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Note the following accounts of the Companions as they sought to spread the message of Islam to the rest of the world:
The sterling character and qualities of the Muslim soldiers were once praised by a Roman officer in these words:
| “At night you will find them prayerful; during the day you will find them fasting. They keep their promises, order good de
eds, suppress evil and maintain complete equality among themselves.”
Another testified thus:
|“They are horsemen by day and ascetics by night. They pay for what they eat in territories under their occupation. They are first to salute when they arrive at a place and are valiant fighters who just wipe out the enemy.”|
A third said:
|“During the night it seems that they do not belong to this world and have no other business than to pray, and during the day, when one sees them mounted on their horses, one feels that they have been doing nothing else all their lives. They are great archers and great lancers, yet they are so devoutly religious and remember God so much and so often that one can hardly hear talk about anything else in their company.”|
Why Doesn’t the Quran Have the Same Effect Today?
William Ewart Gladstone, four-time Prime Minister of Great Britain, is famous for telling the English Parliament, “As long as this Quran exists, Europe will never be able to conquer the Islamic East.” Similarly, the French Colonial Governor of Algeria said, on the occasion of one hundred years of French occupation of Algeria, “It is a must to remove the Arabic Quran from their presence and to remove the Arabic language from their tongues in order for us to have victory over them. 
Actually, many of the enemies of Islam have perceived an even more important point: It is not necessary to physically remove the Quran from the hands of the Muslims. They only need to remove the Quran from being central to the life of the Muslim. It is possible for people Muslims to possess the Quran and still not receive the benefits, guidance and blessings that should go hand in hand with the Quran.
The reason why the Quran does not have the same effect today has nothing to do with the essential nature of the Quran as it will always be the true guidance that is ever available to take mankind from darkness into light. The source of the problem is in the way that many of today’s believers approach the Quran. The possible reasons for this kind of situation could be many. In general, though, four, which were mentioned in the introductory chapter, stand out glaringly:
(1) Some Muslims emphasize secondary aspects of the Quran while ignoring its more important primary aspects;
(2) Related to (1), too many Muslims do not recognize and understand the primary goals of the Quran; therefore they read it but do not get out of it what it desires
(3) In addition, some Muslims do not approach the Quran in the proper manner, missing the essential link between what it teaches and how it is to affect mankind; and
(4) Even when the above obstacles or problems are overcome, still some Muslims do not interpret the Quran in the proper manner and, hence, although they read it they do not get its correct teachings from it.
These issues are truly the heart of the matter. They are discussed separately and in detail in the following chapters.
1 Ibn Katheer, Tafseer al-Quran al-Adheem, p. 574.
2 See Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Islam and the World (International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, 1983), pp. 13-44. Nadwi has quoted a number of Western and non-Muslim sources that described the plight of mankind in the sixth and seventh centuries of the Christian era.
3 Nadwi, p. 13.
4 Nadwi, p. 13.
5 Nadwi, p. 14.
6 Quoted in Nadwi, p. 17.
7 See Abdul Hameed Siddiqui, The Life of Muhammad (P.B. U.H.) (Lahore Pakistan: Islamic Publications, Ltd. 1975), pp. 4-36.
8 Siddiqui, Life of Muhammad, p. 15.
9 Ibid p16
10 Ibid p17
11 Ibid p20-21
12 When the Muslims migrated to Madinah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) established a bond of brotherhood between members of the new emigrants and members of the residents of Madinah. Such a bond was established between Abdul Rahmaan ibn Auf, an emigrant from Makkah, and Saad ibn al-Rabee, one of the richest people in Madinah. Saad offered to split his wealth with Abdul Rahmaan and divorce one of his two wives so that Abdul Rahman could marry one of them. Abdul Rahmaan, also in a brotherly gesture, politely turned down Saad’s offer and asked Saad to point him to the market place wherein he could work to gain his own wealth and be able to marry on his own. (Recorded by al-Bukhari.)
13 The translation of this statement was taken from Allama Shibli Numani, Sirat-un-Nabi (Lahore, Pakistan: Kazi Publications, 1979), p. 211. The incident was recorded by ibn Ishaq in al-Maghazi and Ahmad. And its chain is sahih according to al-Albaani. See al-Albaani’s footnotes to Muhammad al-Ghazaali, Fiqh al-Seera (Qatar: Idaarah Ihyaa al-Turaath al-Islaami, n.d.), p. 126.
14 Ismaaeel ibn Katheer, Al-Bidaayah wa al-Nihaayah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyya, n.d.), vol. 7, pp. 39-40.
15 The story of both Maaiz and al-Ghaamidiyyah are recorded by Muslim.
16 Both quotes may be found in Nabeeh Zakariyyah Abd Rabbihi, Kaifa Nahyaa bi-l-Quran (Al-Dauha: Daar al-Haramain li-1-Nashir, 1983), p. 138.
(NOTE: If you want to build a strong and powerful relationship with Allah, check out Islamia TV, where you can watch Islamic speakers from across the globe deliver inspiring and motivational courses. Learn more at www.islamia.tv.)