Question: The Quran says that it is `a guidance to the godfearing' (2:2). This seems to imply that the Quran's appeal is to an in-group only, to those who already believe in Islam. If so, then would it be incorrect to say that the Quran is clipping its own wings by making such a remark? That it is, in any case, arguing in a circle?
Answer: In the verse referred to, the original Arabic word used for `the godfearing' literally translates: people who have `taqwa'. What is taqwa? Literally again, it means cautiousness, wariness. In religious parlance, it means the care which a man exercises in warding off evil and avoiding the sinful path. As a term in the Quran it has been used in two senses: (1) a quality of mind which is the cause of faith and (2) a quality of mind which is the product of faith. For want of better expressions, we shall call these two types pre-faith taqwa and post-faith taqwa. While post-faith taqwa denotes an attitude of `being wary' of what God has forbidden or warned against, pre-faith taqwa, being non-religious in nature, simply implies a certain carefulness of disposition, a certain watchfulness of manner, a certain seriousness of approach which qualifies a man to receive the Quran and become a believer:
Now in the verse under discussion, the Quran is speaking of the first type of taqwa, the pre-faith taqwa. It is saying that it intends to guide all, but only those will be able to draw benefit from it who possess a certain basic goodness of mind and heart, who are `mindful' in their thought and conduct, who `care' and are not the flippant type. In terms of analogy, just as a radio station transmits its programmes for all and yet only those may listen whose wireless sets are in order, similarly the Quran offers to guide all and yet only those will benefit from it who have the basic goodness of their nature intact. One is reminded of Christ's remark he used to make on finishing his address to people: `He that hath ears to hear, let him hear'. Christ's address was given to all and yet it was actually given to those who had `ears'. The Quran is saying much the same thing.
It can be objected that the attributes which the Quran enumerates of the `godfearing' in the verses immediately following 2:2 clearly indicate that the taqwa the Quran is speaking of, at least in the present case, is post-faith and not pre-faith. For do we not read: `Who believe in the unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them. And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter'? The answer is that in 2:2 the Quran is speaking of pre-faith taqwa but in the verses which follow, it is speaking of post-faith taqwa. That is to say, it first tells us about the qualification for receiving the Quran and then apprises us of the results of that reception.
This switch from one sense of taqwa to another is both subtle and important. The subtlety consists in the almost imperceptible shift which takes place in the meaning of taqwa, the importance in the suggestion that the first type of taqwa, that is to say, the pre-faith taqwa, should logically lead to the second type, that is, the post-faith taqwa. Imagine yourself first equating knowledge with virtue and telling one of your friends that Mr So-and-so is a knowledgeable person; you would naturally expect your friend to conclude by himself that Mr So-and-so is a virtuous man also. Likewise, the Quran first identifies pre-faith taqwa with post-faith taqwa in the sense that it visualizes the former as inevitably leading (of course through the agency of belief in the religion of God) to the latter, and then tells you that (pre-faith) taqwa is required to make use of this book, expecting you to infer for yourself that this taqwa must manifest in itself in practice. Once you have derived this conclusion, it spells out for you the exact form in which that taqwa must manifest itself.