The Quran is a unique scripture. The history of how it came into existence, as narrated by Islam's own Traditionists, shows that the revelations were received by the Prophet not as a whole or in a single session. They came down to him 'from on high' at various times and stages of his 22-year prophetic career – as and when he needed divine guidance first as prophet and later as prophet-cum-head of the first Islamic state.

A close examination of the Quran's verses leads one inescapably to the conclusion that these are of two kinds: i) verses which convey cosmic and spiritual truths; and ii) verses which deal with mundane and routine issues. The whole of the Quran can therefore hardly be seen as of equal significance. And it is only reasonable to conclude that while verses of spiritual import are obligatory on the Believer, those of a mundane, this-worldly nature are not necessarily so.

A major constraint in Islam's developing a modern outlook has been that its followers are discouraged – from fear of a clerical backlash – to examine the historical facts that underlie the Quran's origin. As a result, the community has been led (or misled) into believing that the Quran so completely embodies a set of God-given, divine instructions aimed at solving the world's problems, no matter how complex, that it is sinful to lift its covers as it were and see the patent truth that lies beneath them.

This, in turn, has led to the general belief among Muslims that the Quran is God's eternal word, aimed at governing every aspect of life on earth, providing indeed a quick-fix for all human problems; indeed, as described by the devout, "a complete code of life". To put it in words favoured by the ulema, the Quran is "Word of God that is true and valid for all times and places". However, when one takes into account the varied circumstances and situations in which the Quran was revealed, it is rather truer to say that the Holy Book contains both historical/political verses and scripturally significant ones. It is thus best treated as part-scripture and part-history.

Once one begins to view the Quran in this light, many of the difficulties posed by Islam's medieval human and social value-system disappear – difficulties arising specifically from verses that prescribe: a) cruel forms of punishment; b) unequal treatment of women; c) outdated gender-insensitive rules of inheritance; and d) the waging of 'jihad' in the sense of holy war against 'kafirs' or non-Believers.