By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
12 September 2018
What are the Mutashaabihat verses of the Quran? Are they beyond our understanding? Does the Quran discourage us from discussing these or to try to understand them or derive lessons from them? Verse 3:7 discusses what these are:
The Keywords in the verse that are often mistranslated are:
1. Mutashaabihaat – It Means Allegorical Using Similitude
2. Tashaabaha – Means Similitude Or What Is Similar
There is no word which means ambiguous and those who translate “Tashaabaha” as ambiguous mistranslate. No word or verse of Allah can be ambiguous.
The correct translation of the verse 3:7
He is the One who revealed to you the Book. Of it are verses of precise meaning. They are the most important part of the book (Ummu also means mother and therefore these verses are the foundation of the Book or the mother of the Book). And others are allegorical verses. (Verses that describe reality using similitudes describe a model of reality for our understanding and do not represent the reality itself). Then as for those on whose hearts is perversity they follow the part that is the similitude seeking mischief and seeking its interpretation. None knows its meaning except Allah. Those, firm in the knowledge they say we believe in it - all is from our lord and none will take heed except persons with understanding.
The best example of “Tashabaha” or use of a similitude is the “Wajha of Allah” which literally means “the face of Allah” but only means the existence or presence of Allah or takes the appropriate meaning from the context of the verse. People should not take the face which is only “Tashabaha” to approximately describe to us a reality that is outside our experience and therefore beyond our precise comprehension, to speculate on what the face of Allah is like or to conjure an anthropomorphic conception of Allah. Those who speculate thus, based on the “Tashabaha”, are those in whose hearts is perversity. They follow the part that is the similitude seeking mischief and seeking its interpretation. None knows its meaning except Allah. Who can imagine what it is to see the “face of Allah” or what the expression means except Allah? However, the meaning of an allegorical verse is clear and unambiguous. There is nothing ambiguous about the following verses that contain “Tashabaha”:
((2:115) To Allah belong the east and the West: Whithersoever ye turn, there is the presence (Wajha) of Allah. For Allah is all-Pervading, all-Knowing.
(28:88) And call not, besides Allah, on another god. There is no god but He. Everything (that exists) will perish except His own Face (Wajha). To Him belongs the Command, and to Him will ye (all) be brought back.
(55:27) But will abide (for ever) the Face (Wajha) of thy Lord,- full of Majesty, Bounty and Honour.
The import or intent or the meaning sought to be conveyed using a “Tashabaha” is never in doubt and can be discussed, understood and adopted.
There are therefore two types of verses – Muhkamat verses that use precise words in which we should take the literal meaning of the words and the Mutashaabihat verses that use a “Tashabaha” or similitude and the similitude is not the reality itself but gives an approximate idea using what is familiar, to convey what is beyond our comprehension. While the word used is a similitude, the meaning of the verse itself is clear and never ambiguous.
Now let us take the word “Ruh”. Is it a “Tashabaha”? Face in the “face of Allah” and throne in “the throne of Allah” are “Tashabaha” but “Ruh”, if it is used to mean Ruh itself, is not “Tashabaha” and the verses containing it are not Mutashaabihat verses. The Quran itself defines the meaning of the word as brought out in my article:
Islam and Mysticism: Is ‘Ruh’ Soul? (Part 2)
The verses covered in the article are not Mutashaabihat and the word Ruh in those verses is not used as a similitude or “Tashabaha” but for Ruh itself. Since these are Muhkamat verses and not Mutashaabihat, the meaning is precise and must be taken literally. The meaning of Ruh defined by Allah is that it means “divine inspiration” as discussed in detail in the article. That it does not mean “soul” is also clear from the verses.
Which of the verses are Muhkamat and which of the verses use similitudes is never in doubt. For example, the following verse uses similitudes and which of the words are used as similitudes is not in doubt at all.
(24:35) Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.
The words: Light, Niche, Lamp, Glass, Oil are used as similitudes. The verse is difficult to understand but not ambiguous. What it means and what it does not mean can be understood with the help of other verses as brought out in my article:
An Exposition of the Verse of Light (Ayat al-Nur)
To summarise, there are no ambiguous verses in the Quran. There are two types of verses – the Muhkamat are those that use precise words and must be taken literally and those that use similitudes “Tashabaha” where a word does not take its literal meaning but is used only as a similitude.
Allah has made clear what must be taken literally and what needs to be interpreted. The irony is that the Book is mostly misunderstood because the Muhkamat verses that must be taken literally are also interpreted with the result that everyone has his own understanding of the Book in place of a common understanding!
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 is a frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com
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For the sake of argument, let us accept that nafs means soul. If so,
nafs is mortal and dies with the person as per six different verses. It is not
Now, if it also means another nafs which is the immortal soul, then let GM
Sb cite a verse in support of such a nafs. The verse in Arabic must contain the
word nafs and not some English translations that puts in the word “soul” without
the verse in Arabic containing nafs.
The nafs of the Quran is what “psyche” in psychology means or the more
modern word “cognition” and its associated processes. The same psyche has been
understood as soul in philosophy and religion but not in science or psychology.
The nafs of the Quran is the “psyche” or “cognition” of psychology/science and
not the “soul” of philosophy and other religions. As to why nafs gets mistranslated
should be obvious from the fact that psyche is also understood as soul in
philosophy and other religions.
Many of the beliefs of our scholars have no basis in the Quran. For
example, there is no mention of punishment in the grave in the Quran but this
is a firm belief of all the scholars. There is no mention of Alam-e-Arwah or
Alam-e-Barzakh but these are also firm beliefs.
Most of the Muslims have been brought up to not entertain any arguments
about religious beliefs and go by what the scholars have said. Is GM Sb one among
such Muslims? No, he isn’t. He is even prepared to edit the verses or give them
new meanings to suit his beliefs. He talks about rendering words and verses as
obsolete. He talks about over inclusion and is therefore prepared to drop verses
that he thinks should not be included. He isn’t even bothered about the correct
meaning of the Quran if what is said agrees with him. To him interpretation as
per his beliefs is more important than the meaning. So why is he so bent upon
forcing the concept of an immortal soul on the Quran? Is it because he believes
in the existence of an immortal soul? No, he does not even believe in the immortal
soul. Then what is his motivation? He is most comfortable if the Quran is shown
to be flawed rather than flawless. It is simply a defence mechanism to justify
to himself, his inability to take the Quran seriously. He is uncomfortable when
the Quran is shown to be the infallible word of God and in complete agreement
with science. He would rather that the Quran is presented as a 7th
century Book which in the 21st century has become anachronistic and
therefore need not be taken seriously. The fact however, is that the Quran is
the infallible word of God and flawless. A thousand years of misinterpretations
have not managed to conceal its meaning. The crystal clear meaning shines through
for all those whose vision has not be blurred by their false beliefs.
When the Quran says in six different verses that the nafs dies, who
will argue that the "nafs therefore means the immortal soul" except:
One who is mentally challenged or
One who is motivated to spread mischief such as a hypocrite or
A blind believer
So what are you Mr Ghulam Mohiyuddin?