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Three Misconceptions about the Quran

1. The Quranic topics are arranged randomly[1]

Some believe that the Quranic topics are arranged randomly.

The works of the Farahi school in the last century has served to remove this misconception. Farahi’s Majmu’ah-i Tafasir [2], Islahi’s Tadabbur-i Quran [3] and Ghamidi’s ongoing exegesis al-Bayan have shown that each surah is a coherent collection of verses. These verses are not disjointed and randomly placed in a surah. In fact, each surah has a theme and all the verses are aptly placed with regard to this theme. When a surah is studied while keeping in consideration its theme its coherence becomes evident as a result of this study and all the topics will appear as a well-knit unit.

Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

Every person knows that it is the strong rope of the Quran that holds together the fabric of this ummah, and all Muslims have been directed to hold steadfast to this rope and not divide themselves into factions. An obvious requirement of this directive is that we must turn to the Quran to resolve all differences which arise among us; however, it is very unfortunate that all of us have different opinions regarding the Quran. There are so many views in the interpretation of every verse, and most of these views are contradictory to one another and we do not have any reference point to decide which view is the correct one. If a difference of opinion arises in the interpretation of a discourse, the most satisfactory thing which can resolve this is the context and coherence of the discourse. Unfortunately, most people do not regard the Quran to be a coherent book having a definite context. The result is that differences of opinions have become permanent. A lot of differences of opinion which have arisen in fiqh are because of disregarding the context of a verse. If this context is kept in consideration, one will find that at most occasions only one interpretation is possible.[4]

It is evident from the foregoing discussion that what makes the Quran a document having one definite meaning and which resolves all differences of interpretation and thus verifies Imam Farahi’s view 5 about the coherence in the Quran.

The way the exponents of the Farahi school of thought have revealed the coherence in the Quran does not require any further discussion to prove that it does exist; however, what is the nature of this coherence? The following points will help in understanding it:

  1. Each surah has a theme around which its contents revolve and make it into a unified whole. It is the most comprehensive statement of its contents and what the soul is to a body, the theme is to a surah.
  2. Together with the main text of a surah, there is an introduction and a conclusion. Surahs have distinct sections to mark thematic shifts, and every section is paragraphed to mark smaller shifts. Some surahs may be without sections. The verses of the introduction and of the conclusion also may at times be divided into paragraphs.
  3. These paragraphs and these sections relate to each other not through a verse to verse linear connection but through various literary devices like metaphors, comments, conditional statements, parenthetical statements, principle statements, warning statements, parallelism, conclusion of a theme, questions and their answers, and statements or passages which return to what is said in the beginning. This of course is not an exhaustive list.
  4. The text of a surah progresses through these paragraphs and sections and gradually reaches its culmination. As a result, the surah assumes a distinct and unique form and shape, and becomes a complete and independent whole.

2. Only God knows the Meanings of Certain Quranic Verses

It is generally thought that there are certain verses of the Quran whose meaning are only known to God and that no man is able to understand them. They are called the mutashabihat verses of the Quran.

It needs to be clarified that the mutashabihat of the Quran are verses in which things that are beyond human observation or comprehension are mentioned in the form of comparison (tashbih) to things which we know in our own language and through our own experience. The actual purport conveyed by these verses is clear. However, human intellect is not equipped to grasp the reality to which they refer. For example, it is said in Surah Haqqah that the Almighty’s throne shall be lifted by eight angels on the Day of Judgment. Now we cannot know what the throne will be like, though we may have a slight idea since the word throne is also a common word in our language. Similarly, Surah Muddaththir says that there will be 19 sentinels guarding Hell. Again we cannot say why there will be 19 and what they will be like, though we know that the word 19 mentions a definite number. Consequently, verses which mention the blowing of spirit in Adam [ 6], the birth of Jesus without a father [7], nature of God’s actions like His sitting on a throne [8], the blessings of Paradise like the nature of its milk and honey [9], the torments of Hell like the tree of zaqqum growing in fire [10] are examples of the mutashabihat. The real purpose of such verses is that they become a trial and test for people since they must profess faith in them, without going after their reality. The Quran says:

He it is Who has sent down to you the Book; in it are verses fundamental; they are the foundation of the book: others are mutashabihat. But those in whose hearts is a twist follow the mutashabihat seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows their true reality except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord;” and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding. (3:7)

An important point worth noting in the above mentioned verses is that it has not been said that the meaning of the mutashabihat is only known to Allah. Rather it has been declared that their reality is only known to Him. The actual word used is ta’wil which is used in the same sense here as in the following verse:

He [Joseph] said: This is the reality [in the interpretation] of my dream which I had seen before. (12:100)

Consequently, the meaning of the words in which the dream of Joseph has been mentioned in the Quran is clear to everyone who knows Arabic. However, the reality denoted by the various elements of the dream like the sun, the moon and the eleven stars (12:4) was only known once the dream was fulfilled.

It is evident from these details that the mutashabihat of the Quran are verses the true reality of which human intellect is not capable of knowing since there can be no words in a language which can describe things yet to come in human observation. Consequently, words which may be similar to the concepts conveyed by these things of the unknown world are used to portray these details. It is incorrect to regard them as verses whose meaning is unclear or doubtful.

3. The Qur’an is a Manual of Complete Knowledge

Some people are of the view that the Quran contains knowledge of everything and in it is found the answer to every question which comes to our mind. The following verse is generally presented to substantiate this view.

We did not leave anything out of this Book. Then all will be gathered before their Lord [for judgment]. (6:38)

A little deliberation on the context of the verse shows that the verse has a specific connotation and it is incorrect to draw this conclusion from it.

6:37 says that the disbelievers demand that they be shown some sign so that they may profess belief. It is evident from later verses that the word “sign” actually refers to the punishment the disbelievers were threatened with by the Prophet if they rejected him.

Say: “What do you think, if there come upon you the punishment of God, or the Hour [that you dread]. Would you then call upon other than God? – [Answer] if you are truthful! Nay, – On Him would you call, and if it be His Will, He would remove [the distress] which occasioned your call upon Him, and you would forget [the false gods] which you join with Him!” (6:40-41)

Consequently, the disbelievers have been quoted by the Quran at many instances saying that they would like to see the punishment they are being threatened with in order to see whether Muhammad was a true messenger of God. At all such places, they are answered that if this sign is shown to them, then they would not be given any further respite – they would be destroyed. So it is better that instead of demanding this ultimate sign, they pay heed to the numerous other signs found in abundance around them and within their own being.

This is precisely what has been stated in 6:37 and at the beginning of 6:38:

And they say: “Why is not a Sign sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “God has certainly power to send down a Sign: but most of them understand not. There is not an animal [that lives] on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but [forms part of] communities like you.” (6:37-38)

The disbelievers are told that God has all the power to send down such a sign, but most of them do not know its implications. For when such a sign is sent, it is a signal of destruction for the people. So instead of demanding such a sign, they should look around and they will find plenty of signs. If they contemplate even on the animals around them and on the birds above them they will find many lessons. They will find in the individual and collective lives of these species the manifestations of the Almighty’s mercy, power, providence and wisdom. These manifestations show that this world has been made for a specific purpose by the Almighty.

In other words the expression: “We did not leave anything out of this book” if taken in context means that as far as signs to profess belief are concerned, this Book has plenty and that nothing has been left out of it. The verse does not imply that the Quran contains guidance on everything.

Moreover, it needs to be appreciated that man has been blessed with innate guidance which in most cases is able to guide him in various affairs of life. It is only at certain cross roads where man has the data but is not equipped to decide the right line of action or in certain other spheres where he has no data at all to make decisions that divine revelation comes to his rescue.

Notes:
1. Translated and adapted from Ghamidi’s Mizan
2. Hamid al-Din, Majmu’ah Tafasir, 2nd ed. Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986.
3. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, 2nd ed., 8 vols. Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986.
4. Ibid.
5. “There is no possibility of more than one interpretation in the Qur’an.” (Farahi, Rasa’il fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an, 2nd ed. (Azamgarh: Da’irah Hamidiyyah, 1991), 230)
6. See for example 15:29, 38:72
7. See for example 21:91, 66:12
8. See for example 2:29, 7:54, 20:53
9. See for example 47:15
10. See for example 37:62, 44:43, 56:52

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