Saturday, March 4, 2023

The Enigmatic Verses of the Quran

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam 4 March 2023 The Quran Consists Of Verses That Are Muhkamat And Verses That Are Mutashabihat. Muhkamat is from the triliteral root Ḥā Kāf Mīm (ح ك م). The judge passes Hukum or judges and makes judicial pronouncements. Hukum is also an order that must be obeyed. Muhkamat verses are therefore verses that lay down the law which must be obeyed and by which our conduct will be judged in the Hereafter. These verses are the foundation of the Book. Such verses of necessity have clear established meanings so that there is no excuse for not following them in letter and spirit. Mutashabihat is from the triliteral root Shīn Bā Hā (ش ب ه). Tashabaha means similitude, or allegorical. Shabahat means likeness. Mutashabihat verses are other than the Muhkamat verses. These are about the realities of our Universe both Unseen and the Seen. Describing them using the vocabulary of the 7th century has limitations and even otherwise, words do not ever fully convey their meanings. The words used therefore must be taken as approximations of reality or as allegorical. Important concepts are however fully defined in the Quran through multiple verses such as the meaning of “Nafs”, “Taqwa”, “Kafir”, “Islam”, “Muslim” etc. To the extent the people in the 7th century had accurate knowledge of things covered by the Mutashabihat verses, there was no debate about them and easy agreement on their meaning. There are however many verses that were enigmatic because the people lacked the necessary knowledge to understand these. They debated in the absence of knowledge. When people cannot make sense of the clear literal meaning, they speculate on what they think must be the “hidden meanings” and created discord. This is why Allah warns them with: (3:7) He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings 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. Clearly, therefore, there were many enigmatic verses that were beyond the understanding of the people in the past. Their correct literal meaning was never in doubt but because these did not make sense, people interpreted them in terms of their defective knowledge and erred. These verses are however not there without a purpose and their meanings unfold as we gain the knowledge required to comprehend their meaning. This is the miraculous nature of the Quran that it continues to be a fresh revelation even for the people in our times if they sincerely seek the truth. This is a means through which Allah strengthens the faith of His sincere devotees and makes way for new thinking to replace the old for a fresh renewal of His religion. For those in whose hearts is a disease, it will add doubt to their doubt, and they will die in a state of Unbelief. (9:124) Whenever there cometh down a sura, some of them say: "Which of you has had His faith increased by it?" Yea, those who believe,- their faith is increased and they do rejoice. (125) But those in whose hearts is a disease,- it will add doubt to their doubt, and they will die in a state of Unbelief. A clear sign of an enigmatic verse is that it is heavily interpreted in several ways and yet leaves us dissatisfied with a feeling that there is something missing in our understanding, that just does not add up to its literal meaning. Verse 76:1 is one such verse. Its clear literal meaning is: “Has there not passed over mankind a very long period of time in Dahr, when he was a thing not worth mentioning?” Now let us examine how different Mufassarin have interpreted its meaning. 1. Shia website The question is asked, “Has there not been over man a long period of time when he was a thing not worth mentioning?” The answer, undoubtedly, is in the affirmative. a) For a long time, the tiny essential particles of his being were scattered in different places. They could have been in the soil, among the tiny droplets of water in the seas, or in the atmosphere. In fact, each of these three environments was so vast that the particles were lost within them and were so small as not to be worthy of mention. Some commentators believe that the term b) 'man', in the first verse, refers to 'Adam' and that 'man', in the second verse, indicates 'mankind' as a whole. However, this seems to be a contradiction in thought and does not appear to be probable. In the following sentence, “...he was considered a thing not worth mentioning?” there are various ideas put forth on this issue and one of them is that when man was but mingled sperm (and egg), he was not worthy of mention, however, later when the entity possessed the higher stage of development it became a worthy being. c) [It has been narrated from Imam Baqir (as), the fifth Imam, that man's existence was known to Allah even though he was not mentioned as being a worthy entity until Allah created him in the physical form.] d) Other interpretations indicate that the term 'man', in this verse, means learned people who were not recognized at first, but subsequently became so, after having obtained their knowledge. They were, then, mentioned everywhere, among all people, while they were alive and even after their death. (Comment: A single website is struggling with four different interpretations a, b, c and d although the literal meaning is crystal clear.) ------------------------------------------------------------- Also Read: Humans Are Not From Earth: The Brilliant Scientific Research of American Ecologist Dr Ellis Silver Supports the Fact Mentioned In the Quran ------------------------------------------------------------- 2. Tafheem ul Quran (Syed Abul A'ala Maududi) The first part of the sentence Hal Ata Alal-Insan-I, means “No doubt, there has indeed passed on man a time. In the second part of the sentence, Hin Um-Min Ad-Dahr the word Dahr implies the endless time, the beginning and end of which are unknown to man and this is the particular period of time which might at some time have passed during this endless period. What is meant to be said is that in this immensely long span of time, there has passed a long period when the human race was altogether non-existent. Then a time came in it when a species called man was created, and in the same period, a time passed on every person when a beginning was made to bring him into existence from nothingness. The third part of the sentence, “When he was not a thing (even) to be mentioned” implies that a part of him existed in the form of a microscopic gene in the sperm drop of the father and a part in the form of a microscopic ovum in the mother. This is the meaning of the sentence that at that time he was not yet a thing worthy of any mention although a beginning of his being as a man had been made. (Comment: While the verse speaks of a very long period of time that has passed over mankind during which he was a thing not mentioned, Maududi interprets the long period to mean the period before man was created or the period of his non-existence. This interpretation contradicts the literal meaning. The verse does say that the long period is in a part of dahr which means it speaks about man’s non-existence in a part of dahr but the long period during which man was a thing not mentioned refers to the period after man came into existence and not before.) ----------------------------------------------- Also Read: Al-Insan or The Man ----------------------------------------------- 3. Maarif ul Quran by Maulana Mufti Mohammad Shafi The verse signifies that there has come upon man a period of time in which he was nothing worth mentioning. The word hinun with nunation [which is the sign of 'indefiniteness'] signifies 'a long indefinite period of time; The verse mentions that a long period of time came upon man. This indicates that man essentially did exist at that time in one form or another, (but he was not worth mentioning), because time could not have come upon 'man' if he was in a state of pure non-existence [Al-'Adam-Ul- Mahd). Therefore, most commentators say that the 'period of time' here refers to the period when he was conceived in the mother's womb till his birth, which normally is nine months. This period covers all the stages of his creation, right from his being a sperm-drop up to his having a body and organs, and then his acquiring life and soul. During this time, he is thought existent, neither his gender is known to anyone, nor his name nor his shape or size. Therefore, he is unmentionable. The statement of the verse may also be taken in a wider sense. The inception of human creation takes place with the sperm that is produced by food. This food and its source and substance was existent in one or other form. If the period of that time is calculated, this long indefinite period of time can stretch into thousands of years. (Comment: To accommodate the long period, Mufti Mohammad Shafi is compelled to consider the atoms and molecules that make us which existed before our conception. We don’t come into existence prior to conception nor are we the atoms and molecules that constitute our body which change all the time and this interpretation is also unsatisfactory) 4. Tafsir al-Jalalayn Has there ever been — there has indeed been — for man Adam a period of time forty years in which he was a thing unmentioned? — he was during this period fashioned in clay and not mentioned; alternatively what is meant by Insan ‘man’ is the generic noun and by hīn ‘a period of time’ the period of gestation. 5. Kashf Al-Asrar Tafsir Has an era come upon man when he was not a thing remembered? The commentators say that man here means Adam and that era alludes to the days when he was thrown down for forty years as a body without spirit between Mecca and Taif. Someone may ask what wisdom there was in leaving Adam like that for forty years between Mecca and Taif and in delaying his creation. The answer is that Adam was made outwardly from clay, with which there is no need for delay. Delay is needed with the heart. I am not talking about the delay of power, but rather the delay of greatness. Adam was not like the other created things, which were created with “Be!”, so it comes to be [2:117]. In creation, Adam was the root, and the other creatures were his followers. He created whatever He created for Adam's sake, and He created Adam for Himself: “You I created solitary for the Solitary.” “In Adam's makeup, there must be a heart that recognizes Me, a tongue that praises Me, an eye that sees Me, a hand that takes the cup of union, a foot that walks in My road. If I were to bring him into existence in an instant, I would make My power apparent. By putting many years in the midst, I make apparent his greatness and magnificence. I would rather make the greatness of My friends apparent than show My own power.” What good fortune and generosity the Exalted Threshold placed before Adam! He brought him into the road with a hundred thousand endearments and exaltations, placing the embroidery of Surely God chose Adam [3:33] on the cape of his good fortune. He fixed the prosperous mole of I have blown into him of My spirit [15:29] on the beautiful cheek of his chosenness. He clothed him in the elevated robe of what I created with My two hands [38:75]. He conveyed him to a station where He gave him the wine of love in the row of chosenness on the carpet of witnessing. From the tip of the Pleiades to the end of the earth, He made him the trustee of greatness. He commanded the angels of the Dominion to prostrate themselves before him. Then, despite all this honour done toward him, his greatness, level, and rank had still not appeared. (Comment: Although this is not the meaning, the following points to the meaning. “If I were to bring him into existence in an instant, I would make My power apparent. By putting many years in the midst, I make apparent his greatness and magnificence. I would rather make the greatness of My friends apparent than show My own power.”) The evolutionary nature of Allah’s creation is apparent in the description of the creation of the Universe itself. It took two cosmic days to create the earth and the rest of the Universe and twice that time or four cosmic days to get the earth ready to sustain life. Life forms also appeared in a very logical sequence. The coming of Adam was preceded by other humans who came into being 2.5 million years ago. They were not different from other animals in their intellectual capacity and are therefore referred to as sub-humans although this is incorrect. Intellectual capacity is not what defines a human being or Al-Insan. Then about 0.07 million years ago, Adam was created. By putting 2.43 million years between the creation of the first humans and Adam, Allah made apparent the tremendous favour that He had bestowed on Adam and his progeny vis-a-vis the humans that preceded Adam. These other humans co-existed with Adam and his progeny for about sixty thousand years or until about ten thousand years ago when the last of them were driven to extinction. The favour on Adam and his progeny was very obvious. There is absolutely no doubt about the exceptionalism of Adam and his progeny in their unique intellectual and cognitive capabilities that enable them to understand at the micro level the nature and attributes of everything, as well as the design, the order, and the rationality built into the natural world at the macro level. For the first sixty thousand years of the existence of Adam and his progeny, there was the example of the other humans to remind them of the favours of Allah, feel grateful and follow His religion. Religion also helped them to build trust and cooperation among one another which was essential to fight and winning the war for survival with the other humans. (15:85) We created not the heavens, the earth, and all between them, but for just ends. And the Hour is surely coming (when this will be manifest). So overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness. If we look at the evolutionary nature of Allah’s creation, we can discover the purpose and how it is leading towards “just ends”. Now consider the following verses: (10:19) Mankind was but one nation, but differed (later). As long as there was a formidable common enemy, and as long as the memory of it lasted, the people were united. This also means that they remained true to their religion. (3:19) The Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will): Nor did the People of the Book dissent therefrom except through envy of each other, after knowledge had come to them. But if any deny the Signs of Allah, Allah is swift in calling to account. The verse above tells us that it is the envy of one another that makes people divide themselves into sects although they don’t lack the necessary knowledge of what is right. The Correct Meaning of Verse 76:1 That Remained Hidden For 1400 Years From the preceding discussion and our knowledge from cosmology that time began 13.8 billion years ago the following explanatory meaning of verse 76:1 fits perfectly the structural and grammatical integrity required as well as conforms with the known facts discovered by science. "Certainly yes. In the Dahr of 13.8 billion years, man has existed for 2.5 million years and a very long period of 2.43 million years has passed over mankind during which he was not a thing mentioned". When we find the true meaning, the flaws in every other interpretation become obvious. Now consider the first few verses of Surah Al-Insan (76:1) Has there not been over Man a long period of Time, when he was nothing - (not even) mentioned? (2) Verily We created Man from a drop of mingled sperm, in order to try him: So We gave him (the gifts), of Hearing and Sight. (3) We showed him the Way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will). (4) For the Rejecters we have prepared chains, yokes, and a blazing Fire. (5) As to the Righteous, they shall drink of a Cup (of Wine) mixed with Kafur,- The first verse provides the contrast and the context for Adam and his progeny to feel grateful for the gifts of understanding and guidance given by Allah to them as a trial to separate the righteous from the evil-doers. A gift not given to previous humans. Since nothing was revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) that was not revealed to the previous prophets, this could be a Surah revealed exactly as it appears in the Quran to Adam (PBUH) himself. Verse 76:1 required no explanation for them nor to us provided we are willing to understand. Corollary to the Discussion: Is there accountability in the Hereafter for the other human beings? Obviously not. How does the Quran answer this question? We are different from other human beings in that we have “nafs” and they don’t. The “nafs” together with our superior intellectual capability are what makes us moral agents and therefore accountable for our deeds in the Hereafter. The meaning of “nafs” is covered in my article: The Quran and the Psychology of Human Behaviour - Nafs We are therefore Nafsin as well as Insan. In every verse that is about accountability in the Hereafter, the Quran uses “Nafsin” and not “Insan” or “Bashar” which means only the Nafsin among the Insan are accountable for their deeds in the Hereafter and not every Insan. The verses about unlawful killing also use “Nafsun” and not “Bashar” or “Insun” because there was a perpetual state of war for survival with the other humans and it was not unlawful to kill them but unlawful only to kill another Nafsun. The characteristics of Al-Insan described in the Quran are common to all mankind. The verses that describe Al-Insan say he is, greedy, niggardly, impatient, ungrateful, contentious, acquisitive, envious, jealous, fearful, and suspicious. These can otherwise be understood as instincts for self-preservation. What we understand by Insaniyat is not to be found in the Quran. Insaniyat has come to mean a refined and cultured human being with humanitarian values. These are virtues that we learn but not born with and therefore not Insaniyat. The Insan of the Quran is both today’s Insan as well as the Insan of 2.5 million years ago. The Insan of today additionally possesses “Nafs” and far superior intellectual and cognitive capabilities than the Insan before the appearance of the modern Insan some 70000 years ago. Meanings Of Other Related Enigmatic Verses (2:30) Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He said: "I know what ye know not." Earlier, the exegetes wondered how the Angels knew that Allah was creating a being that would make mischief and shed blood. The exegetes were not aware that several other species of humans were created by Allah before Adam whose behaviour was known to the angels. The angels were therefore apprehensive about the creation of yet another human being whom Allah also wanted to make His vicegerent. The Enigmatic Story of Zulqarnain There is a story about Zulqarnain, a prophet who travels to several places on Allah’s mission. He travels west where he punishes those who do wrong and warns them of severe punishment in the Hereafter and gives glad tidings to those who believe and works righteousness. He then travels east and finds people who are without covering to protect them from the sun. He leaves them alone and Allah says (18:91) (He left them) as they were: We completely understood what was before him. (92) Then followed he (another) way, Why did Zulqarnain, not preach Allah’s religion to these people and what is it that Allah completely understood what was before him? Zulqarnain cannot be placed in history and was most probably a prophet more than ten thousand years ago when the primitive species of humans co-existed with modern man. These people he encountered must have been from among the older species of humans for whom there is no religion and no accountability in the Hereafter. Conclusion The remarkable consistency of the Quran in using precise words to make the distinctions and meanings clear has been demonstrated repeatedly which is why I call the Quran a Book that conforms to all the essential requirements of a logical system and must be treated as such. There should be no laxity in finding the correct meaning and we should avoid taking the easy path of interpretation unless we cannot help it. In that case, we should mark the verse for further research to find its correct meaning. The discussion shows how finding the correct meaning of one verse has helped us understand better many other related verses which the earlier commentators were forced to gloss over. ----- A frequent contributor to, Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He has spent years studying Quran in-depth and made seminal contributions to its interpretation. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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