The Science Of Discovering The Explanations In The Quran
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
Throughout history, many mistakes and wrong judgments have been made in the name of Islam. This is because scholars assume themselves to be authorized to explain the Quran. However, it is God Who has explained the Quran, and we are only allowed to obtain His explanations by means of the method He has taught. God calls this method to obtain His explanations “a science = علم” in the Quran. Let us take a brief look at this science:
The Almighty God has decreed in the following verse that He has explained the Quran in detail according to a science:
وَلَقَدْ جِئْنَاهُم بِكِتَابٍ فَصَّلْنَاهُ عَلَى عِلْمٍ هُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
We have brought them a Book that We have explained in detail according to a science. It is a guide and a grace for a group of people who believe (Al-A’raf 7:52).
The main principle of this science is that nobody but God has the authority to explain the Quran verses. God explains His verses Himself by giving all the details about them in His Book. The Almighty God decrees:
الَر كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آيَاتُهُ ثُمَّ فُصِّلَتْ مِن لَّدُنْ حَكِيمٍ خَبِيرٍ أَلاَّ تَعْبُدُواْ إِلاَّ اللّهَ إِنَّنِي لَكُم مِّنْهُ نَذِيرٌ وَبَشِيرٌ
Alif, Lam, Ra. This is a Book whose verses have been made decisive, and in the meantime have been explained in detail by the One Who judges correctly and is All-Aware; in order that you shall not serve any other than God. (Oh, Muhammad, say to people:) Indeed, I am the one who warns you with this Book and gives glad tidings to you from It (Hud 11:1-2).
According to these verses, accepting and complying with the explanations made by human beings, rather than made by God, causes us to be servants to those people. This means, whoever claims the authority to explain God’s verses has clearly strayed.
The details given by God may only be manifested by a group of experts. We learn this by the following verse:
كِتَابٌ فُصِّلَتْ آيَاتُهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ
This is a Book whose verses are explained in detail as qurans in Arabic, for a group of people who know (Fussilat 41:3).
The group of people who know must have the knowledge of “The Science of Explaining the Quran” in the first place.
The word “quran” derives from the verbal noun (masdar) of the word “qaraa = قرأ” whose root meaning is “collection”. It is used as a noun having the meaning “maqru = مقروء”, which can be translated as “unity” or “set”. Since “reading” is an act of “bringing the words together so as to understand the meaning”, the word “quran = قُرْآن” is also attributed the meaning “reading”.
There is not a plural form of the word. The same word is used to refer to both singular and plural meanings. Therefore the word “quran” may also be attributed the meaning “more than one quran = qurans”. So, “quran” is “a set or sets of verses”.
There are four different types of sets that bring the verses together. They are as follows:
1- The first meaning that comes to mind by the mention of the word “quran” is “the Main Book in Lawh al-Mahfooz (the Protected Tablet)”. The related verse is:
إِنَّهُ لَقُرْآنٌ كَرِيمٌ . فِي كِتَابٍ مَّكْنُونٍ . لَّا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ . تَنزِيلٌ مِّن رَّبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ .
It (that which is in the location of the stars) is a glorious Quran. It (that Quran) is in a Book protected in its covering. No one touches It (that Quran) except the purified. It has been sent down by the Master of all beings (Al-Waqiah 56:77-80).
That glorious Quran is the greatest set which is the source of all the verses God has sent down to the prophets (the nabi) from Noah (pbuh) onwards. The related verse is:
شَرَعَ لَكُمْ مِنَ الدِّينِ ما وَصَّى بِهِ نُوحاً وَالَّذِي أَوْحَيْنا إِلَيْكَ وَما وَصَّيْنا بِهِ إِبْراهِيمَ وَمُوسى وَعِيسى أَنْ أَقِيمُوا الدِّينَ وَلا تَتَفَرَّقُوا فِيهِ كَبُرَ عَلَى الْمُشْرِكِينَ ما تَدْعُوهُمْ إِلَيْهِ اللَّهُ يَجْتَبِي إِلَيْهِ مَنْ يَشاءُ وَيَهْدِي إِلَيْهِ مَنْ يُنِيبُ . وَما تَفَرَّقُوا إِلاَّ مِنْ بَعْدِ ما جاءَهُمُ الْعِلْمُ بَغْياً بَيْنَهُمْ وَلَوْلا كَلِمَةٌ سَبَقَتْ مِنْ رَبِّكَ إِلى أَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى لَقُضِيَ بَيْنَهُمْ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ أُورِثُوا الْكِتابَ مِنْ بَعْدِهِمْ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِنْهُ مُرِيبٍ
God has legislated for you the religion which He enjoined upon Noah. (Oh, Muhammad!) That which God has sent down to you, and that which He enjoined upon Abraham, Moses and Jesus is: “Keep up this religion, and therein do not separate or divide”. (Oh, Muhammad!) What you are inviting the mushrik (to do) is deemed difficult by them. God draws unto Himself the ones who make the right choice and guides to Himself the ones who keep heading for the right path.
They (the mushrik) separated after this science (of explaining the Quran) came to them, just because they desired to dominate one another. If it were not for your Master’s word to let people be free until a fixed term, they would be judged expeditiously. (Due to the behavior of the mushrik,) those who have been made to inherit the Book after them, fall into a dilemma doubting It (the Book) (Ash-Shura 42:13-14).
2- The second type of set of verses is Surah. Each of the surahs (chapters) are also called “quran”.
A relevant verse is:
وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَاكَ سَبْعًا مِنَ الْمَثَانِي وَالْقُرْآنَ الْعَظِيمَ
We have granted you seven of those pairs (mathani), (which are) the grand quran (chapter Fatiha) (Al-Hijr 15:87).
3- The sets of verses within the chapters (surahs) are also called “quran”. Indeed, the verses which have been sent down at the very beginning of Muhammad’s (pbuh) prophethood have been called “quran” by God because they constitute a set of verses within the chapter they reside in. The relevant verse is as follows:
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِيَ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ
Ramadan is the month when that quran (that set of verses) had been sent down (Al-Baqarah 2:185).
4- There are also sets of verses which are not bound together. These sets are collections of verses in different chapters, and they are formed by using the method of mutashabih – mathani (similar – pairs). A relevant verse is:
وَقُرْآنًا فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلَى النَّاسِ عَلَى مُكْثٍ وَنَزَّلْنَاهُ تَنْزِيلًا
We have separated It into qurans (subsets), so that you may read It to the people while they are in expectation; (because) we have sent It down part by part (Al-Isra 17:106).
“Mukth = مُكث” means “expectation”. When some new verses were sent down to the Messenger of God and those verses needed more detail to be able to make a decision using them on a related matter, it created expectations for further verses to be sent down.
Those expected verses would be giving details about and explaining the previous verses sent down. This proves that verses belonging to the same semantic set could also be sent down part by part at different times. The following verse clarifies what is told above:
وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يُقْضَى إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا .
Do not hasten (to judge) with the sets of verses (qurans) before their revelations are completed. Say: “My Master, increase my knowledge!” (Ta-Ha 20:114).
The above verse illustrates that a semantic set of verses which provides us with the complete information on a matter, and lets us make a judgment on that matter, is also called “quran” by God. This type of quran is the basis of “The Science of Explaining the Quran”.
According to this science, every decisive verse has been explained in detail by other verses which are similar to the explained verse in some aspects, thus forming a semantic set together with the explained one. The whole Quran has been made “clear” and “complete” in this way by God.
Now, let us see how the semantic sets are formed in this science:
Every phone number is a set of numbers, written by using the digits 0 to 9. Even if one digit is written falsely, the intended person cannot be reached. The Quran explains everything in a manner similar to this. Sound information cannot be obtained unless the necessary semantic set is formed.
Therefore, the experts must not rush to come to conclusions before the whole meaningful set on the subject of interest is discovered. Only then will it become apparent that there is not a single branch of science which would not improve from the Quran.
Our Prophet (nabi) Muhammad (pbuh) is both the Messenger and the teacher who was sent to communicate and teach the Quran, whereas Gabriel is the messenger and the teacher sent to him. Nabi Muhammad (pbuh) learned the Quran and the method of inferring sound information out of the Quran from Gabriel, and all of his sayings and practices comprise this kind of information.
Therefore, the Example (Sunnah) of nabi Muhammad (pbuh) is in perfect harmony and unity with the Quran. If scholars stick with the correct method, they can easily see this unity and discover and manifest the mistakes that have been made until now in the subject of Prophet (nabi) Muhammad’s sayings (hadith).
Below is the verse which summarizes the subject:
هُوَ الَّذِيَ أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ في قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاء الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاء تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلاَّ أُوْلُواْ الألْبَابِ
It is He Who has sent down this Book to you. Some of its verses are decisive (muhkam) and are the main (verses) of the Book. The others are similar (mutashabih) (to decisive) ones. As for those in whose hearts is deviation, they follow those (verses) in the Book which are similar (to the deviation in their hearts); seeking to cause affliction by seeking to reset the linkage (tawil) in the way they desire. However, no one knows its linkage of verses (the tawil) except God. Those who have solid knowledge in this science (of explaining the Quran) say: “We believe in this science; all of them (decisive one, similar one and the linkage between) are from the level of our Master.” No one may obtain sound information (dhikr) except the people of integrity (Al-e Imran 3:7).
A “muhkam = مُحكم” verse is “the main verse which includes a judgment (decision) about a matter”. So, we have translated the word “muhkam” as “decisive”. Almost all of the verses are decisive on certain matters. This judgment is detailed and therefore explained by other verses which are similar (mutashabih) to the decisive one.
“Mutashabih = مُتَشَابِه” is “any of the two similar things”. In this science, it denotes the similarity between the verses which explain one another. This similarity may be both literal and semantic.
“Ta’wil = تَأْوِيلِ” is “directing something to its original target”. The target (aim) of a similar verse is the main verse in that set of verses, which is: the decisive verse. When considered from this point of view, tawil is “linking the similar verse to the decisive one”. The linkages are set up by God; and a group of people that is comprised of experts of Arabic, of this science, and of the matter of interest can discover and manifest those linkages (relations).
“Mathani = مَثَانِي” means “pairs”. It expresses the system of pairs which consist of decisive and similar verses. The relevant verse is:
اللَّهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُّتَشَابِهًا مَّثَانِيَ تَقْشَعِرُّ مِنْهُ جُلُودُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ ثُمَّ تَلِينُ جُلُودُهُمْ وَقُلُوبُهُمْ إِلَى ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ هُدَى اللَّهِ يَهْدِي بِهِ مَنْ يَشَاء وَمَن يُضْلِلْ اللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُ مِنْ هَادٍ
God has sent down the best of words (the verses) arranged in similar pairs. This (the arrangement method) gives shivers to those who are in awe of their Master. Then, their bodies and their hearts soften to the information from God. This is God’s guidance. He guides the ones who prefer it (following the guidance) by means of this (the system of similar and decisive verse pairs). Whoever God calls “astray”, there is no one who can call him “rightly guided” (Az-Zumar 39:23).
In conclusion, to be able to obtain the explanations by God, a group of experts must find the decisive verse in regard to the matter, and then determine the similar (mutashabih) verses which have attributes in common with the decisive verse.
Below is an example that exhibits how “The Science of Explaining the Quran” has been inferred out of the set of verses related to this matter:
The Book being self-explanatory by the use of this method is not exclusive to the Quran. It is a particular attribute of all divine Books, including the Torah and the Gospel, as long as the similarities are studied in the original language and the original words of revelation. We learn this by the word “al-hikmat = الحكْمَة” mentioned in the Quran.
We have translated “al-hikmat” into English as “the Wisdom”. In several verses both the method, as well as the sound information inferred out of verses utilizing the method are called “al-hikmat”. So, we can also call this “science” briefly as “the Method of Hikmat”.
All of the prophets (nabi) have taught the Wisdom to their community. Nabi is a person whose worth has been increased by God by being granted the Book and the Wisdom. The Almighty God has mentioned the names of eighteen prophets (nabi) from Noah to Jesus in verses 6:83-84 and their consecutive verses, and has decreed:
اُولٰئِكَ الَّذٖينَ اٰتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحُكْمَ وَالنُّبُوَّةَ
Those are the ones to whom We have granted the Book, and the Wisdom and the prophethood (nubuwwat /being nabi) (Al-An’am 6:89).
Every nabi is commissioned to deliver the message that has been sent down to him. Therefore, every prophet (nabi = نبي) is also a messenger (rasul = رسول).
We understand by the following verse that the Messenger teaches the Wisdom:
كَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولاً مِّنكُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمْ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمْ تَكُونُواْ تَعْلَمُون
Indeed, I have sent you a messenger from among yourselves. He recounts Our verses to you, and improves you, and teaches you the Book and the Wisdom. He teaches you what you did not know before (Al-Baqarah 2:151).
A messenger is not allowed to add anything to the message he must deliver. Therefore, teaching the Wisdom while acting in the capacity of a messenger can be possible only if the method to obtain the Wisdom (hikmat) resides in the Quran. This method is the science of explaining the Quran that God has placed in the Qu’ran and that we have described above.
Attempting to explain the verses of the Quran in a way other than instructed by this science is putting the self in God’s place. Although God has such clear decrees, we cannot find any scholars who recognize or use this method. As a result of this, it is almost impossible to find a translation or commentary in which the verses describing this science have not been distorted.
After forty years of numerous meetings and efforts to understand the Quran, God has let us at Suleymaniye Vakfi attain this science, which has been forgotten since the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This must be because He decrees:
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
We shall certainly guide those who strive for Us to our ways. Certainly, God is with those who behave kindly (Al-Ankabut 29:69).
The natural order that God has established on the earth is in perfect harmony with the commands He has decreed in His books. God has established the order and then has sent divine books as guides to be followed in order to maintain and preserve this natural order. In His books, He has linked certain verses to other verses methodically, which has constituted sets of verses that are fully manifest of meaning.
He has described His method of linking verses to one another within the very same books. So, a group of God’s servants who have integrity and who have learned this method from the books will be able to discover the linkages among verses correctly and will be able to learn the explanations of God’s verses from His books. This way, no one will have to revere or obey other people who claim the authority to explain God’s books.
This is a perfect equilibrium set by God. If we abide by “The Science of Explaining the Quran” instead of considering human beings as the authority on God’s Book, the equilibrium will be preserved and all beings will be in peace. However, if we continue explaining the verses according to people’s assumptions and overrule the truth in God’s Book by man-made judgments, people will keep conflicting with each other, and the equilibrium will be spoiled.
The only way to live in peace is to fully trust in God’s Book, to understand that It includes the whole truth about all beings, to recognize God as the only authority, and to fully obey God’s commands.
Allah knows Best.
Credit Islam and Quran