On Interpreting the Quran
Ever since I began talking on the Internet about the Quran, I have often been told by many Muslims as well as by some non-Muslim readers that I needed to correctly interpret its contents before saying anything about them. A few Muslim scholars not only advised me not to follow its [literal meaning], they also abused me for not being able to “correctly interpret” what is written in their Holy Book.
But when I asked them to give me the non-literal meaning of a Quranic verse, all of them disappeared for good. As a result, my inquiry still remains unfulfilled.
Despite being abused and mistreated, I have steadfastly argued that it is not necessary for anyone to interpret the Quran in order to understand its messages. I have also argued that Muslims should act upon its messages on the basis of what they tell them, and not on the basis of what they think should be their interpretations.
On the allegorical messages that the Quran contains, I have maintained a distinct position and it was this: Muslims must not attempt to interpret the allegorical verses of the Quran in order to avoid discord among themselves and the punishment that they would be given by Allah in the world hereafter.
I wanted to give a recital on the word [interpretation] in this write up, but abandoned the idea after I came to the conclusion that no matter how strong a recital I give, Muslims would not accept it on account of their belligerent attitude towards those beings they consider, albeit unjustifiably, hostile to Islam. Instead, I decided to make my point by relying on what is stated in verse 3:7 of the Quran regarding the interpretation of its contents.
Three translations of this verse, done by Yusuf Ali, Pickthall and Shakir, read:
YUSUF ALI: [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.
PICKTHAL: He it is Who hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture wherein are clear revelations – they are the substance of the Book – and others (which are) allegorical. But those in whose hearts is doubt pursue, forsooth, that which is allegorical seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking to explain it. None knoweth its explanation save Allah. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord; but only men of understanding really heed.
SHAKIR: He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, 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.]
Since all the above three translations are a little bit confusing, I have another translation of it that is absolutely clear and leaves no scope for us to argue on its true message. It reads:
[He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, 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].
Before one accuses me of being selective, or of harboring an ill will towards Islam, I hasten to emphasize that I have another translation of this verse that is as clear as the above. I am not quoting it here for the sake of keeping this write up short.
That said, we can now go back to the verse and try to understand what it really tells us.
I believe it tells us this: The Quran has two kinds of verses. Some of them are decisive, clear and fundamental. They need no interpretation, as they are clear and easy to understand. They should be taken to mean what we find stated in them.
There are, in the Quran, some allegorical verses as well. No one should try to interpret them in order to understand their true or close-to-true meaning. Attempting to interpret them is what Allah has called to be a perversity in the hearts of those who seek to do so, as their meaning is known only to Him. No matter how hard we humans try, we can never decipher their true import and meaning.
Instead of trying to understand what was, or still remains, within Allah’s knowledge, those Muslims who are knowledgeable should contend themselves by saying: We believe in it [both the decisive and fundamental verses as well as the allegorical ones], it is all from Allah and that this belief is enough for us to retain our faith in Him and in what He has revealed to us through His Quran.
In other words, Allah has prohibited all the humans from interpreting the Quran. This restriction applies more stringently to the Muslims. They should never try to interpret anything that the Quran contains for, attempting to do so would prove that they are perverts and perverts Allah did not like in the past, nor is He going to like them in future.
Perverts and those who mislead the Muslims will become, on the Day of Judgment, the fire of Hell. The Quran is clear on this point. So the question is:
Should Muslims try to interpret the Quran even after knowing that they would be living, if they attempted in their earthly life, to do what is clearly forbidden, a most frightening and dreadful life in the world hereafter?