Introduction to Qur'anic Studies - 4
June 26, 2013
AMDA, Sterling Heights, MI
الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على سيد المرسلين وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين فَأعُوْذُ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشَيْطَانِ الرَّجِيم بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم
رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي
Continuing with our discussions on introduction of the Qur’an, today’s lecture is the fourth in the series of lectures on the subject. Last week we discussed the following:
The addressees of the Qur’an: They included the Bedouin Arabs, the people of the Book, i.e., the Jews and the Christians and of course the humanity at large.
The primary subject of the Qur’an: It is man--his attitude, thinking, behavior, philosophy, character, his search for the truth, and his link to Allah and the Day of Judgment.
There are two levels of guidance that the Qur’an provides to man: It guides man at the individual as well as the collective level.
The division of the Qur’an: Unlike a book that is divided into chapters, the Qur’an is divided into surahs and ayaat. We also looked at the different shades of meanings of these two terms.
The modes of interpretation of the Qur’an: These are (1) to understand the Qur’an in its historical context, and (2) to understand how the ayaat revealed 15 centuries back apply today.
The Qur’an can be understood from two different perspectives: Tazakkur and Tadabbur; Tazakkur is to comprehend the plain meaning of the text as it appears on the surface, and this is easy, and Tadabbur is to dive deep into the Qur’an to discover the hidden treasures of knowledge that it contains, and this is not so easy; rather it is difficult.
The sequence of the Qur’an: The arrangement of the surahs and ayaat were done by the Prophet (SAW) himself under divine inspiration and under guidance and supervision of Jibril (AS).
The finalization and standardization of the Qur’anic script was done at the time of the third righteous caliph Uthman (RA) within 25 years of the Prophet’s demise.
The putting of the diacritical Marks (the dhamma, fathah, and kasrah) was done in the time of Hajjaj bin Yusuf during the Umayyad Rule to make the reading of the Qur’an, easy, especially for the non-Arabs.
Today, in sha Allah, there will be a discussion on (1) The concept of Muhkamat & Mutashabihat, (2) Asbab al-Nuzul, and (3) Categorization of the surahs into Makkan and Madinan.
Muhkamat & Mutashabihat
The Qur’an itself categorizes its ayaat into two groups, the Muhkamat and the Mutashabihat. This division offers guidelines for the understanding of the Qur’an.
هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ
“It is He who has sent down the Book to you. Some of its verses are clear and precise in meaning; they are the basis of the Book while others are allegorical” (Aal ‘Imran, 3:7).
Allegorical means metaphorical; ambiguous, unclear, open to interpretation etc. Muhkamat is plural of Muhkam, which is derived from the root letters Ha Kaf Meem. From the same root we have words such as Hukm, meaning order or directive, Hakim meaning judge, ruler, or administrator, and Hikmah, meaning wisdom. Muhkam carries various shades of meanings such as firm, solid, compact, well-knit, precise, accurate etc.
Muhkamat are those ayaat whose language is self-explanatory, providing no room for any confusion over the meaning. They include ayaat dealing with halal and haram, beliefs, devotional matters, moral values, admonitions, exhortations, condemnation of errors, and clarification of right path, and obligations that are required to be believed in and that are meant to be translated into life. A typical example of Muhkamat are the ayaat 151 to 153 of Surat al-An’am, translated as:
“Say, Come! I will tell you what your Lord has really forbidden you! Do not associate anything with Him; be good to your parents; and do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We shall provide sustenance for you as well as for them. Refrain from committing indecent deeds, whether openly or in secret; and do not take the life which Allah has made sacred, except by right. That is what He has enjoined upon you, so that you may understand. Stay well away from an orphan’s property, except with the best intentions, before he comes of age. Give full measure and weight, according to justice. We never charge a soul with more than it can bear. When you speak, observe justice, even though it concerns a close relative; and fulfill the covenants of Allah. That is what He has enjoined upon you so that you may take heed. This is My Path and it is straight, so follow it. Do not follow other ways or you will become cut off from His Way. That is what He instructs you to do, so that hopefully you will have taqwa” (al-An’am, 6:151-153).
Mutashabihat is the plural of Mutashabih, which is derived from the letters Sheen Ba Ha. The words derived from this root carry different shades of meaning; Ashbaha: ‘things appeared similar to each other’; Shabbaha: ‘the matter caused one to become confused. Ishtabaha: the thing became doubtful; Tashabaha: two things looked similar, leading to indecision; Tahbih: comparison, Shibh: almost the same; Shubha: suspicion or vagueness. The word Mutashabih conveys the meanings of similar, parallel, uniform, comparable and identical.
Mutashabihat are those ayaat which deal with some supernatural, invisible, unseen, unheard, and unimagined realities using such language as to help man develop an understanding of Allah’s power of creativity and power. In other words, ayaat dealing metaphorically with matters which lie beyond human observation and perception are Mutashabihat.
Basically, the following six areas of subjects are identified as Mutashabihat.
(1)Attributes of Allah; (2) invisible creation; (3) metaphysical world; (4) eschatological references; (5) miraculous events; and (6) abbreviated letters (Huroof al-Muqatt’at).
Let us review some ayaat of the Qur’an under each of these categories.
Attributes of Allah
It has been mentioned at seven places (7:54, 10:3, 13:2, 20:5, 25:59, 32:4, 57:4) in the Qur’an that ‘Allah is established on the throne’. For example in Surat al-A’raf, we have,
إِنَّ رَبَّكُمُ اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ ثُمَّ اسْتَوَىٰ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ
“Your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and earth in six Days, then established Himself on the throne” (al-An’am, 7:54).
In eight ayaat (3:26 and 73. 5:64, 48:10, 57:29, 36:83, 38:75, 67:1) there are references made to Allah’s hand.
وَقَالَتِ الْيَهُودُ يَدُ اللَّهِ مَغْلُولَةٌ غُلَّتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَلُعِنُوا بِمَا قَالُوا بَلْ يَدَاهُ مَبْسُوطَتَانِ
“The Jews said, .Allah‘s hand is tied up. Tied up are their own hands, and cursed are they for what they said. In fact, His hands are outspread” (al-Ma’idah,5:64).
In four ayaat (11:37, 23:27, 52:48, 54:15), there is mention of Allah’s eyes.
وَاصْنَعِ الْفُلْكَ بِأَعْيُنِنَا وَوَحْيِنَا
“Build the Ark under our eyes and in accordance with our revelation” (Hud, 11:37).
The attributes of Allah, particularly those depicted through the words denoting human organs such as hand and eye are all allegorical; hence interpretation in the light of popular usage, i.e., Allah’s Hand signifies His authority. And Allah’s eyes mean His awareness. Literal explanation of these statements given in previous scriptures has led individuals and nations to ascribing human form or attributes to a deity, and thereby to the growth idol worship.
Angels and Jinns are two invisible creatures whose repeated mention has been made in the Qur’an. It is difficult to construct exact images of these unseen beings. Who are they? What is their shape? Where do they live? What do they subsist on? These and many other related questions have not been taken into consideration by the Qur’an. Undue interpretation of the statements concerning angels has given birth to fairy tales and the idea of their partnership in the divinity of Allah.
Out of the 44 times Jinns are mentioned in the Qur’an, only three pieces of information could be gathered. (1) They are created out of fire; (2) They are morally responsible for their acts like human beings, and (3) Satan, the open enemy of man is a Jinn.
The Qur’an speaks at many places about the world which man’s sense of perception cannot grasp fully because his capability of observation, experimentation, and speculation all fall short of comprehension of the reality which lies outside the physical phenomena. The heaven (as-Sama), the smoke (al-Dukhan), meteorite (Shahab Thaqib) are some of the metaphysical references made in the Qur’an.
Eschatology is the branch of theology that is concerned with the life after death and all related matters. The Qur’an says over and over again that the life after death is a reality for which man has to prepare himself well in advance. Thus the terms Barzakh (barrier), al-Jannah (the paradise), al-Jahannam (the hell), al-Akhirah (the hereafter), al-Qiyamah (the Day of Judgment) and so on. The Qur’an talks in human language and uses terms that could help man to have some idea about the world beyond death.
Allah is All-powerful. He can do what He wills. We find the account of many events in the Qur’an that are supernatural and cannot be explained by physical phenomena. Appearance of an extraordinary she-camel during Prophet Salih’s time, inability of the fire to burn Ibrahim (AS), Musa (AS)’s stick turning into a snake, ‘Isa (AS)’s birth without a father, and his bodily elevation to the heavens, Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) night journey and ascension (al-Isra’ wa’l Mi’raj), and numerous other miraculous events are not legendary tales but historical facts. Modern man who has enslaved himself to his self-developed scientific theories and explanations can hardly accept them as true. Muslims who believe in the all-mightiness of Allah do not find any reason to reject such events as impossible even though they are against regular physical laws.
Abbreviated Letters (Huroof al-Muqatta’at)
Twenty nine surahs of the Qur’an have abbreviated letters or huroof al-Muqatta’at prefixed to them. There may be only one letter prefixed to them, such as Sad, Qaf, Noon. Then there are surahs that begin with the combination of two letters, such as Ta Ha, Ta Seen, Ya Seen. There are surahs beginning with three letters combinations, such as Alif Lam Mim, Alif Lam Ra, Ta Seen Mim. We also see four letters and five letters combinations like Alif Lam Mim Sad and Kaf Ha Ya ‘Ain Sad in Surat al-A’raf and Surat Maryam respectively.
Scholars have tried to give explanations to these letters, but all of them are mere conjectures. Some are of the opinion that these letters are names of the Qur’an. Others say that they are the great names of Allah. Their exact and precise meaning is known to Allah alone. Al-Zamakhshari, one of the well-known mufassir of the Qur’an has to say as follows:
“Abbreviated letters used in the beginning of various surahs seek to attract in a challenging way the attention of the Arabs who felt proud of their eloquence and rhetoric to the fact that the Qur’an has also used the same Arabic alphabet to communicate its message. Yet the Qur’anic formation of words and the resulting eloquence and rhetoric are all inimitable; hence the Qur’an is not a human speech but the word of Allah.”
It is also observed that these letters are usually followed by an ayah that exalts the status of the Qur’an.
يس وَالْقُرْآَنِ الْحَكِيمِ
“Ya Sin. By the Wise Qur’an” (Ya Sin, 36:1-2)
ق وَالْقُرْآَنِ الْمَجِيدِ
“Qaf; by the Glorious Qur´an” (Qaf, 50:1)
ص وَالْقُرْآنِ ذِي الذِّكْرِ
“Sad By the Quran, full of admonition!” (Sad, 38:1)
حم وَالْكِتَابِ الْمُبِينِ
“Ha Mim; By the Clear Book” (al-Zukhraf, 43:1-2)
It is a discipline in which reasons and circumstances which may have led to the revelations of Qur’anic ayaat, and surahs are studied. Asbab al-Nuzul means ‘reasons of revelation’. The knowledge of Asbab al-Nuzul helps trace the true meaning of the revelation, derive legal rulings, and shed light on the various aspects of the human psyche in different situations.
Makkan and Madinan Revelations
Majority of the scholars are of the view that the surahs and ayaat revealed before hijrah are defined as Makkan revelations and those received by the Prophet (SAW) after hijrah are called Madinan revelations.
A knowledge of Makkan and Madinan revelations helps develop an in-depth appreciation of the message of the Qur’anic passages and its application in a particular situation. Unawareness of the time and place of revelation may lead the reader of the Qur’an to arrive at a totally different conclusion, conflicting with the Qur’anic ruling. Rulings on the prohibition of usury, alcohol, gambling, and other issues have to be read in context of their time and place of revelation.
In sha Allah, next week, there will be a brief discussion on Usul at-Tafsir or the methodology of Qur’anic explanation, and that will be the last lecture before the actual tafsir of selected portions of the Qur’an is taken up after Ramadan bi-iznillahi Ta’ala. May Allah bless you and your families.
أَقُولُ قَوْلِي هَذَا وَأَسْتَغْفِرُ اللَّهَ لِي وَلَكُمْ وَلِسَائِرِ المُسْلِمينَ وَالمُسْلِمَاتْ فَاسْتَغْفِرُوهْ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
وصل الله عَلَى خيرِ خَلقه مُحمَّدٍ وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين- بِرَحْمَتِكَ يا أرْحَمَ الرَّاحِمِين
Wassalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.