An amusing verse from the Koran (K.3:7)

Or: ‘Allah’ DOES have a sense of humour.

Jon MC

(Hat tip to Mohammed Asghar’s “On Interpreting the Quran”).

 

I had come across this verse before, but it was Mohammed Asghar’s article that caused me to look at it in a different light.

The verse is K.3:7. I present it here without (some) punctuation – for reasons that will become clear later.

“He it is Who has revealed the Book to you some of its verses are clear [Arabic: “Mukham”], they are the basis of the Book and others are ambiguous [Arabic “Muttashabih”]; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is ambiguous seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation, but none knows its interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say we believe in it, it is all from our Lord; and none do mind except those having understanding.”

The verse tells us that that Koran contains two types of verse. “Mukham” verses and “Muttashabih” verses.

Mukham verses are clear/decisive in their meanings, they simply say what they mean and are easy to understand – they need no interpretation or elaboration.

Muttashabih verses, ambiguous/allegorical/parallel verses, on the other hand are either hard to understand (being ambiguous or allegorical) or else re-state things said elsewhere (being parallel verses). If we wanted to be unkind we could call some of these “muddled” verses.

The verse then goes onto say that “those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is ambiguous seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation”. In other words, “faithless” people try – and fail – to interpret these “ambiguous” verses and, either deliberately or through ignorance, mislead people thereby.

So far, so mukham, one might say.

Then comes the amusing part. You would think that a verse that warns about “ambiguous” verses in the Koran would be a “clear” verse, would you not?

Surely a verse that warns people about such verses should have a clear meaning?

But no.

The verse then becomes ambiguous itself:

but none knows its interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say we believe in it, it is all from our Lord; and none do mind except those having understanding.

The ambiguity in the verse lies with the phrase emboldened above – or rather with which clause it should be associated.

Should it be:

but none knows its interpretation except Allah. And those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say: “We believe in it, it is all from our Lord; and none do mind except those having understanding.”

Or is it:

but none knows its interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge. Say: “We believe in it, it is all from our Lord; and none do mind except those having understanding.”

In case you have not quite grasped it, the ambiguity is this: is the Koran saying that only Allah knows what parts of the Koran mean, or is the Koran saying that no-one except Allah and the Islamically educated Muslims know (or can work out in the case of the latter) what the ambiguous parts mean?

In the former case, we are confronted with a god who either can’t or won’t express himself clearly in his language-of-choice (Arabic) and in the latter we are told by the Islamic god that you need “a life-time” of Islamic study to understand his words.

Either way this says little of the ability of this god to communicate with his “prophet” and his followers clearly.

It strikes me as typical of the Koran that even when it is warning against the false interpretation of muddled verses it can only do so in a verse which is itself a muddle.

This makes me smile.

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Jon MC

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