There is a question raised in the Quranic sciences, and the answer to it is a starting point that will distinguish the exegetical methodology that a scholar chooses. This question is whether the Qur'an is only a book of information or also a book of moral training and guidance?
To clarify the first part of the question, let’s give an example. Suppose you visited a jurist to ask them for a ruling on a jurisprudential matter that concerns you. A jurist, in so far as he is a jurist, doesn’t have a responsibility beyond answering you with a yes or no based on his expert opinion on the matter. The jurist will not usually involve himself in the development of the person and his moral training in order that the person stays away from what is impermissible. Similarly, a mathematician who presents mathematical theories will explain his ideas so that others understand it but is not concerned with anything more than that.
As for the second part of the question, let’s also give an example. Suppose you visited a psychiatrist and complained to them of a problem you are suffering from. The psychiatrist will not just suffice themselves with writing a prescription to help cure you. Rather, they will sit you down and have a discussion with you that seeks not to give you information per se, but in order that the very discussion itself acts as a positive help for your situation and improves your psychological state.
After these two examples, let us present the question once again: Does the Qur'an play the same role as a jurist, philosopher, physicist or chemist in presenting ideas purely without thinking about a mechanism of ingraining them ideologically within the person’s mind thereby acting as a channel for knowledge that doesn’t have a responsibility beyond delivering information to the other person? Or is the Qur'an – in addition to being a channel for knowledge – a book of moral and spiritual training that seeks to convince its listeners of the ideas it presents, and furthermore seeks through various means to develop a person and deepen their ideas, removing unclarity from them, and thus through itself acting as a cause for human reform and to emphasize ideas that they may have previously known?
Undoubtedly, the second option is the correct one. If the Qur'an was merely a book of information, what was the need to bring it down in such disparate stages? It would have been possible for Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) to give it all at once to His Prophet (p) and the Prophet can subsequently explain this divine information, whilst comparing all its verses, without the need to bring it down in divided stages.
The Qur'an, however, plays an important role in building and reforming the Islamic society. One is mistaken if he expects answers akin to the jurists and scientists or considers it similar to a book that presents scientific theories in a dry mechanical style. The Qur'an, in addition to being a book with information, is a book of moral guidance and spiritual refinement, through its style, mode of presentation and its artistic way. The Qur'an aims through its eloquence, the arrangement of its words, its musical effect and its psychological impact to affect its listeners and to enter deeply inside their hearts, not merely to present them with some information. It is thus akin to an ethical scholar who seeks not to merely place information in the mind of his students, but rather act as a moral guide and exemplar for the information he has given them. If we restricted the role of an ethical scholar to just giving ethical information, the value of such scholars would be diminished.
Based on this premise, we can address another question: Why does the Qurān repeat itself?
[94:5-6] For indeed, after hardship will be ease. Indeed, after hardship will be ease.
In Sūrah al-Inshirāḥ, Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) twice repeats the point: there will be ease after hardship. There are many other places where the Quranic verses are repeated, either congruently in their words, or with very minor differences conveying the exact meaning. What is the reason behind the Qur'an containing multiple verses saying the same thing? Exegetes have been divided in their understanding of the secret behind this repetition:
a) A group of exegetes held the view that there is no repetition of meaning between any two verses, even though the same terms are used. For example, some advocates of this view argue that the basmalah at the start of Sūrah al-Baqara will indicate a different meaning to the basmalah at the start of any other surah. This is because each basmalah is part of a distinct composition that is exclusive to each chapter.
This view is based on the premise that repetition is useless and futile. They went as far as to say that such futility is impossible for a wise being such as God. If the meaning was completed in the first text, what need would the second text be trying to fulfil? This is what caused some contemporary exegetes to refuse the idea of repetition for the purposes of emphasis like in these verses and other verses in the Qur'an. As such, “indeed, with hardship comes ease” in the sixth verse must give a different meaning to the fifth verse “for indeed, with hardship comes ease”. This way, the Qur'an is placed – according to them – in its lofty position and we do not attribute pointless repetition to God.
b) In contrast to the first view, the second group of exegetes considered it unnecessary to go to these difficult lengths. Rather, repetition for emphasis amongst Arabs is something acceptable. As such, in the case of Sūrah al-Inshirāḥ for example, the second verse wished to emphasize the principle that ease accompanies hardship. A person who faces a hardship must not be overwhelmed by despondency and anxiety, because the Lord will place ease to accompany this hardship.
This group of exegetes reject there being any issue with the Qur'an repeating itself, whether its stories or other concepts if this repetition represents a way to emphasize the moral training present in the Qur'an and if it increases the importance of these concepts in the mind and soul of the listener. This is akin to you repeating a concept dozens of times in front of your children. Your purpose is not merely that they know the concept; this is achieved with you mentioning it once, but that the concept is emphasized in their minds and so that they consider it a priority. This way, they can act accordingly. This is one of the main differences between books of information and books of moral training, especially those which use various rhetorical means and tools of influence like the Qur'an.
Perhaps for this and other reasons, many narrations state that when a believer reads the Qur'an, he makes himself sad through it and he lives a state of fear, hope and is impacted spiritually and emotionally. This is because the Qur'an is not merely a book of information that has no ability to ability to impact through its content and style. It’s a book of knowledge that uses all the means of influence that purposeful and upright media would use.