One important point in understanding the Quran is that it is not a legal book, but a Book of Mission. This means that the Quran adopts a missionary rather than a legal style. The language of the law is specific. In legal writing, everything is meant in its literal sense and words are meant to be taken at their face value. The nature of missionary writing is different. In missionary writing, the emphasis is on the meaning, and the language used is only a form of rhetoric in that it is intended to influence and persuade. Very often in missionary writing, hard-hitting words are used which appear to be harsh. Now taking such words in their literal sense would be pointless. For it often happens, in missionary writing, that something which appears to be very harsh, if taken literally is, in actual fact, designed purely to focus the attention of the reader and to lay serious emphasis on the truth. It is resorted to principally to awaken human nature and activate latent consciousness. Here are some examples to explain this point.
1. There is a verse in the Quran: “O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and hypocrites. Be harsh with them.” (9:73)
Many take this verse to mean that the Prophet is commanded to wage war against the unbelievers and hypocrites. But events show that the Prophet never launched such armed aggressions. Whenever the Prophet Muhammad engaged in combat, it was only in defence, rather than as an outright attack. This clearly shows that in this verse the word ‘jihad’ and ‘harsh’ are expressions of emphasis rather than a legal command. If it had been a legal command, the Prophet Muhammad would certainly have carried it out by resorting to armed warfare.
2. In the chapter ‘Al-Kafirun’, which was revealed at the time of the emigration, the Makkans are addressed as ‘the deniers’ (al-Kafirun). In this same chapter, stress is also laid on the maxim: ‘For you your religion, for me mine”. But when we look at these expressions in context, we find that they were in actual fact forms of emphasis. Had these words referred to confirmed cases of denial (kufr) in the eyes of God, the persons concerned would have lived and died in denial. But, in effect, we find that it was just the opposite. While some of the Makkans were killed at the battle of Badr, there were many survivors who later converted to Islam. If we keep these facts before us, we will find that the wording of this chapter is designed to emphasize the true state of affairs rather than express any legalistic concepts.
As regards the style of the Quran, this point is very important. It is necessary to keep it in mind that the Quran is a book with a mission, for without this realization; the Quran cannot be properly understood.