Principles of Qur’anic Hermeneutics

Dr. Yamina Mermer

In Islam the „testimony‟ (shahaada) to the truth of the unity of divinity (tawhid),[1] i.e. to bear witness that “There is no deity save God,” is central to faith. In the definition of islam (surrender to the divine Will as it is conveyed by the divine Word), the shahaada is the first act required of muslims. It also defines the content of faith, whose primary element is faith in God. The one who surrenders (muslim)[2] himself to the truth is supposed to actually observe[3] how every thing in the observable world, the world of testifying („alam al-shahaada), indicates this truth of tawhid, and consequently testifies to the truthfulness of the Qur‟anic message. The Qur‟an[4]  refers very often to the universe and to the things and events in it and describes them as symbols, indicators or signs (ayat).[5] It invites the addressee to ponder[6] over the meaning of those signs in order to testify to the veracity of the teachings of the Qur‟an. But it also mentions stories of prophets and of their miracles, which are obviously not observable. What is their significance? How is it possible to “testify” to the truth of something that cannot possibly be observed? In order to answer these questions we need some indispensable knowledge of the principles of Qur‟anic hermeneutics. After setting up some basic rules, I will briefly apply them to a few examples. It turns out that those stories of the prophets and their miracles are particular events but they are signs that point to universally observed principles. They are like the tips to general laws that can be observed and experienced here and now. Hence, although those events themselves cannot possibly be observed, their truth can nevertheless be confirmed.

According to the Qur‟an, the verses of the Qur‟an as well as things and events are signs (ayat). God speaks through Qur‟anic signs as well as cosmic signs. The cosmos with all its activities is a kind of speech. Each being, each event, each change is like a word and their being in constant motion is like speech. It is as though the universe has been made to speak with constant change and renewal.  [7] In the words of the Qur‟an, “They will reply: God, Who gives speech to all things, has given speech to us (as well).” (41:21) That is, just as the Qur‟an is God‟s speech with words, the cosmos is God‟s speech with act. This situation led the Muslim scholar Said Nursi to define the Qur‟an as “the eternal translator of the mighty book of the universe and the interpreter of the various tongues reciting the verses of creations.”[8] He explains that from one point of view the Qur‟anic signs translate the cosmic signs according to our understanding and make them speak; i.e. the meaning of the Qur‟an unfolds in the cosmic signs. The Qur’an actually explains how every being or event is a sign pointing to the existence of God and making Him known with all His names and attributes of perfection. Nursi asserts that each Qur‟anic verse encompasses all the other verses and contains all of the aims of the Qur‟an because it is the word of One Who encompasses all.[9] God, in His infinite mercy has included the whole in the parts, like a hologram, so that man with his limited capacity may grasp the meaning of the whole Qur‟an in each of its parts. The same is true for the cosmic signs: each being, each thing or event is related to all the others and has meaning only within that web of relationships. For instance, an eye is an „eye‟ and sees only when it is in the head, which is part of the body, which is ultimately part of the cosmos. Hence the maker of the eye can only be the maker of the head, the body, and the whole cosmos because the eye can only exist together with all of them.  [10] The crucial point is that the Qur‟anic ayat (verses/signs) and the cosmic ayat (signs/verses) are accessible to human understanding precisely because of their aforementioned characteristic. Accordingly, although man cannot comprehend the whole, he can reach universal understanding by focusing on universal particulars.

From another perspective, it can be said that the cosmic signs disclose the reality of Qur‟anic signs. That is, God creates as he „speaks‟ the Qur‟an. For instance, He creates food and at the same time, He says in the Qur‟an that He is the merciful and generous sustainer. He describes His acts of creation to both “eye and ear”; He describes His act while performing it, and explains his gifts of mercy as He bestows them.[11] Thus, with the Qur‟an, word and act are combined: the creation is made to speak through the Qur‟an. That is, just as God makes His existence and presence known and perceptible through deeds, He also communicates His presence through speech.[12] The response of muslims to God’s speech is to learn by listening.[13] Accordingly, in order to understand and confirm the truth of Qur‟anic signs we need to “keep an eye” on the cosmic signs, i.e. on things and events, and if we want to comprehend the cosmic signs we should „keep an ear‟ on the Qur‟an. In other words, we are supposed to observe the universe while listening to the Qur‟an and vice versa, for just as the universe is the Creator‟s speech through deed; the Qur’an is His speech through word.

Another rule of usul al-tafsir (methodology of Qur’anic exegesis) is that speech derives its power of meaning from four sources: the speaker, the form of the speech, the addressee, and the purpose of the speech.  [14] If for instance, speech is in the form of command or prohibition, it looks to the speaker‟s will and authority, in accordance to his position. Consider a commander who utters the words “Forward, march.” These words represent a command and are binding if the addressees are subject to the authority of the speaker. If the same words are uttered by a soldier for example, we may conjure that he is joking; in any case, no one would take his words as a command. So although the two statements are the same in form and content, they are different in meaning. That is both the speaker and the addressee are crucial in determining the meaning of speech.. In the case of the Qur‟an, since the claim is that it is the word of God, then I need to consider it as the word of God if I don‟t want to alter its meaning. Indeed, „who the speaker is‟ determines the meaning of the content. It would be methodologically inappropriate to assume that the Qur‟an is the word of a man while it claims to be the word of God, because that assumption would modify the alleged meaning. For instance the Qur‟an says, Whenever We will anything to be, We but say unto it Our word “Be!” and it is” (16:40).[15] In order to understand this verse it is important to know who the speaker is and who he is addressing and what its purpose is. The Qur‟an says that it is the Creator of all things speaking to created human beings in order to teach them the cosmic reality of tawhid and its relevance to the human condition.. Now if I read it as the word of the messenger who brought it, i.e. Muhammad, then I would be reading something other than the Qur‟an, a product of my own imagination. Yes, the content would be the same, but it would not be the same message.

Methodologically, we[16]are supposed to consider a document as it claims to be unless proved otherwise and read it accordingly. Now the messenger who brought the Qur’an never claimed to be its author; he asserted that it was revealed to him by God. The Qur‟an itself professes to be an address of the Creator of the heavens and the Earth.  [17] Consequently, we will regard each verse of the Qur’an as the word of God. But if after that it does not make sense; if it is inconsistent in itself or in relation to the universe to which it often refers, then we will have the right to suspect its claim. If however from the beginning we reject the claim that the Qur’an is God’s word, then what we will read will not be the “Qur’an”[18], anymore, but some text allegedly written by Muhammad. And Muhammad would no longer be the messenger of God but an impostor who lied in the name of God.[19]

In addition, it should be noted that the Qur’an condemns blind imitation. It repeatedly condemns the blind following of the tradition of forefathers, But when they are told, “Follow what God has bestowed from on high,” some answer, “Nay, we shall follow that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing.” Why, even if their forefathers did not use their reason at all, and were devoid of guidance? ….Deaf are they, and dumb, and blind: for they do not use their reason (2: 170-171) The Qur‟an persistently says, “So will you not think?” and refers what it says to reason. It invites those who refuse to consider its proposition as reasonable on its merits to „produce an evidence for what they claim.‟[20] The believer is over and over invited to think and ponder over the evidences in the universe in order to confirm his iman (belief) in the truth of the Qur’anic message.

It is also important to realize that the messenger Muhammad, who was also the first teacher of the Qur’an, taught that God speaks to everybody, at all times through the Qur‟an.[21] It addresses the most common people and the elite; all may listen and benefit from its teachings. Nursi likens it to “a repast at which thousands of different levels of minds, intellects, and spirits find their nourishment. Their desires are fulfilled and their appetites are satisfied.”[22] Surely, if the Qur’an is God‟s universal address to all humanity as it claims to be, it should transcend time and space and it should make sense to everyone, at all time. It should speak to its addressee here and now. As to the main goal of the Qur‟an, according to the consensus of the scholars of Qur‟anic exegesis, it is the major pillar of faith, i.e. tawhid (divine unity). In other words, the Qur‟an‟s most important aim is to teach its addressee how to „translate‟ the language of the cosmic signs in order to testify to the truthfulness of divine unity. Tawhid does not simply refer to belief in one God as opposed to two or three. The Qur’an asserts that human beings have been created in such a way that they innately recognize the existence of one Creator.[23] It narrates the

Prophet[24] Abraham’s search for his Lord in celestial bodies (stars, moon, and sun), his recognition that transient created things could not be gods and eventually his seeking for God’s guidance; Then when he beheld the moon rising, he (i.e. Abraham) said, “This is my sustainer!”- But when it went down, he said, “Indeed, if my Sustainer does not guide me, I will most certainly become one of the people who go astray!” (6:77). As he understood and admitted his limitations, he was made to realize the transcendent and comprehensive existence of God. By doing so he became the locus of God’s love, and “a good paradigm” (60:4) for the believers as the Qur’an states, And who could be of better faith than he who surrenders his whole being unto God and is doer of good withal, and follows the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false – seeing that God exalted Abraham with His love? (4:125).[25] Because Abraham surrendered himself wholeheartedly, he attained a state of receptivity to revelation and hence revelation was bestowed unto him.

According to the Qur’an, man knows intuitively that there must be a Creator and he understands what the Creator is not, but in order to know Him, he needs revelation. The Muslim scholar Ibn ‘Arabi (1165-1240) explains that the only knowledge about God that we can acquire through rational means is the knowledge of the existence of God and of what God is not. That is, we can grasp God’s incomparability as illustrated in the story of Abraham, but we cannot gain affirmative knowledge of God. Only revelation can inform us about what God is rather than what he is not.  [26]   Furthermore since the Qur’an instructs man to strive to know God when he already knows His existence, it must be referring to another kind of knowledge that exceeds man’s acquired knowledge.[27] That is, revelation does not just state the obvious; it teaches what cannot be learned without having recourse to its teachings. If, for instance we understand divine unity as meaning no more than ‘there is only one God,’ then we can rightly conclude that Divine revelation is superfluous and unnecessary. The point however, is that the Qur’an teaches who that God is and what his purposes in creation are; it teaches how to know God with all his names and attributes of perfection and hence to love and worship nothing beside Him.[28] In other words the purpose of the Qur’an is to teach that all that is lovable and valued in things and beings proceeds from the Divine attributes of perfection; they all belong to their Enduring Creator alone and not to the transient created things themselves by means of which they are made manifest in this world. In other words, all created things point, beyond themselves, to the meanings of the divine attributes of perfection. They are signs speaking of their Maker.

When we reflect upon this reality of the created world and testify to its truth in our life (as the Qur’an bids us do), then our love for the world and the things in it is transformed into love for their creator,[29] and that is the core of tawhid (divine unity) as it is expressed in the Qur‟anic verse, God, there is no deity (i.e. there is nothing worth worshipping and loving) save Him, indeed to Him alone belong the attributes of perfection (20:8). The Muslim scholar Said Nursi (1886-1960) compares beings in the universe to a huge orchestra celebrating the Divine names. With their very mode of existence, they act as mirrors to the Divine attributes of perfection in many respects: they declare their maker‟s power though their intrinsic weakness, His riches and grace through their inherent neediness and poverty, and His everlastingness through their ephemerality. Each being, each event proclaims that nothing possesses deity but He, and attest that the Qur‟anic truths are not mere metaphysical ideals but cosmic realities.  [30] Every thing is like a mirror reflecting the divine attributes of perfection and thus making its Maker known and glorifying Him.[31]

In order to participate in this glorifying, one needs to acknowledge that his existence is dependent on a „wholly other‟ and that the continuance of his existence is due solely to the creativity of that other. Then he realizes that everything else also owes its existence to that same creator. That is, he sees the weakness and neediness of all things to the extent he admits his own weakness and neediness; and as a result he becomes aware that all grace and mercy, all attributes of perfection – reflected on himself or on beings – belongs to that creator alone. This awareness is the beginning of „glorifying‟ God and concurrently the beginning of „understanding‟ the reality of existence, for they are related in accordance with the Prophet Muhammad‟s saying, act upon what you know and God will teach you what you do not know. That is, as he purifies his ego following the teachings of the Qur‟an and realizes that he is not the real master in his sphere of disposal, i.e. as he gives up the illusion that his existence is essential and independent, the meaning of revelation starts unfolding itself to him as it is alluded in the following verses, Behold, it is a truly noble discourse (Lit. qur‟an) (conveyed unto man) in a well-guarded writ (kitab) which none but the pure can touch (56:77-79).[32] That is to say, to testify to the truth of tawhid, the foremost aim of the Qur‟an, entails the authentication of its reality in the universe,  [33] a task that can be accomplished to the extent one participates in that cosmic reality and experiences tawhid in his own life.

Let us consider the following Qur‟anic verse, He taught Adam the Names, all of them (2:31). According to the above rules of exegesis, this verse addresses us here and now and teaches us how to testify to the cosmic reality of tawhid and as a result to the truth of the Qur‟anic message. It is not just narrating the story of a prophet called Adam, for the Qur‟an does not claim to be a book of history and the Prophet Muhammad did not read it as such. In fact the Qur‟an reduces the stories of the prophets to their essential features precisely because it does not want the addressee to get drowned in unnecessary information and deviate from the aim of the message taught in those verses. But how is the teaching of the names to Adam mentioned in this verse relevant to my situation here and now?  Moreover, given that the Qur‟an instructs the readers to use their reason, how is it possible to understand this incident rationally? And lastly, what is the wisdom in the Qur‟an‟s mentioning particular events like this? The answer is in the Qur‟an itself, in accordance with a very fundamental principle that I have applied so far but without spelling it explicitly. This is that all of the Qur‟anic “statements and ordinances are mutually complementary and cannot therefore be correctly understood unless they are considered as parts of one integral whole.”[34] Hence in order to understand what „Adam‟ and „names‟ refer to, we need to consider them within the Qur‟anic context.[35]

In verse 2:31, “Adam” refers to the whole human race as is clear from the preceding verse 2:30, where Adam is referred to as “one who shall inherit the earth” and as one “who will spread corruption on earth and will shed blood.” More important, however, is verse 7:11. In the verses following 2:30, the Qur‟an mentions how all the angels prostrated before Adam except Iblis (Satan).  [36] In 7:11, it recounts the same event but with definite reference to all mankind as the preceding verses clearly demonstrate, O( people) We have given you a (bountiful) place on earth, and appointed thereon means of ivelihood for you: (yet) how seldom are you grateful! (7:10). We have created you, and then formed you, and then we said unto the angels, “prostrate yourselves before Adam!”- Whereupon they prostrated themselves, except Iblis (7:11). From this aya, it is obvious that the name Adam symbolizes the whole human race as all commentators on the Qur‟an have unanimously agreed. So when the Qur‟an says that He taught Adam the Names (al- asma‟), all of them, it is actually saying that all human beings have been taught all the Names. But what are these names? The Arabic for „names‟ is asma‟, and its singular form is ism. The term ism primarily denotes the intrinsic attributes of a thing under consideration. In other verses (7:180; 17:110; 20:8 and 59:24), the term asma‟ has been combined with the term al-husna which is the plural form of al-ahsan (that which is best or most goodly). The combination al-asma‟ al-husna, a term reserved in the Qur‟an for God alone, is often rendered as “the attributes of perfection,”[37] e.g. And God‟s (alone) are the attributes of perfection (al-asma‟ al-husna); invoke Him, then, by these, and stand aloof from those who distort the meaning of His attributes (asma‟) (7:180).

Thus the names refer to the divine attributes of perfection that constitute the reality of all things as indicated above. The „teaching of the names‟ alludes to man‟s comprehensive disposition in learning countless sciences and acquiring knowledge about the Creator‟s attributes and qualities through those sciences, all of which are signs to the Divine Names. Nursi writes that “All attainments and perfections, all learning, all progress, and all sciences, each have an elevated reality which is based on one of the divine Names. On being based on the Name…the sciences and the arts find their perfection and become reality. Otherwise they remain incomplete and deficient.”[38] Accordingly, medicine for instance, finds its perfection and becomes reality when it relies on the divine name Healer and sees „its compassionate manifestation in the vast pharmacy of the earth.‟

So in fact, the minor event of the teaching of the names to Adam is actually the tip of a universal observed principle namely the teaching of all the attainments with which mankind has been inspired. Nursi asserts that “through this minor event, the Qur‟an expounds a universal principle which is essential instruction in wisdom for everyone at all times.”[39] This verse teaches that this ability and the resulting attainments are to be consciously used to ascend to the divine Names, which are the realities and sources of those attainments. In Nursi‟s view, the verse says:

Come on, step forward, adhere to each of the names, and rise! But your forefather was deceived one time by Satan, and temporarily fell to the earth from a position like Paradise, Beware! In your progress, do not follow Satan and make it the means of falling into the misguidance of „Nature‟ from the heavens of the divine wisdom. Continuously raising your head and studying carefully my attributes of perfection (or My divine Names), make your sciences and your progress steps by which to ascend to those heavens. Then you may rise to my Names, which are the realities and sources of your science and attainments, and you may look to your sustainer with your hearts through the telescope of the names.  [40]

Therefore although verse 2:31 mentions the miracle of Adam, an event that the addressee has not seen, it is possible for him to testify to its truthfulness and confirm it because it refers to a universal truth that he can observe in the universe and experience in his life. This is how the cosmic signs help the Qur‟an‟s addressee witness to the truthfulness of the Qur‟anic verses (signs), which interpret and expound the cosmic signs. The same analysis may be applied to different verses of the Qur‟an related to the stories of the prophets.

R.W.J. Austin states that “the Koran places the prophets outside history, within the framework of the Unitarian message of Islam; it speaks in both general and universal terms, as it were.”[41] The central theme in the Qur‟anic reference to the stories of the prophets is the teaching of the reality of tawhid. In accordance with the Prophetic tradition, the different prophets correspond to various spiritual types and consequently, to different ways to reach knowledge and love of God.[42] For instance, the miracle of the staff of Moses, is referred to in the verse 2:60, And We said, strike the rock with your staff. Nursi reminds us that the roots of plants and trees spread through hard rock and earth just as easily as branches spread in the air. He says, “Like the Staff of Moses, each of those silken rootless conform to the command of, And We said, strike the rock with your staff, and split the rock.” [43] This way Nursi plays off the fact that revelation and creation witness to each other: the observed facts show that the miracle of the Staff of Moses points to a universal law, and the verse tells us that those observed facts are not „natural‟ events that happen haphazardly but rather „miracles‟[44]  of Divine power and mercy. Nursi also mentions how delicate and fine green leaves retain their moisture for months even when it is extremely hot, as in the summer. It is as though those leaves recite the verse, O fire be coolness and peace for Abraham! (21:69) against the heat of the sun, like the limbs of Abraham did against fire. Again the cosmic signs are juxtaposed to the Qur‟anic signs/ verses.[45]

From the above principles of Qur’anic exegesis, it is clear that understanding the Qur’an entails that the interpreter engages the Qur’anic signs as well as the cosmic ones. Understanding is given to him to the extent he succeeds in internalizing the meaning those signs convey. This process however is not arbitrary. It has been taught by the messenger Muhammad to whom the Qur’an was first revealed and as a matter of fact by all the prophets as the Qur’an teaches.  [46] In the Qur’anic context, the messenger Muhammad epitomizes the excellent Man (al-insan al-kamil) in the sense that he realized his createdness at the highest level and admitted his inherent weakness and neediness before His Creator and consequently became receptive to Divine revelation. He evinced a tawhid journey that reaches its apogee through purification of the ego from its false claims of existing by itself and from itself, and of conceiving of itself as a source of perfection including true understanding of the world. As one purifies one‟s ego and surrenders himself to the reality of his createdness, he can share in the cosmic reality of tawhid and therefore testify to its reality in his own life.

Subsequently, the muslim (the one who surrenders himself) may say like the prophet of islam (surrendering), “I only follow whatever is being revealed to me by my Sustainer: this (revelation) is a means of insight from your Sustainer, and a guidance and grace unto people who believe. Hence, when the Qur‟an is read, hearken unto it, and listen in silence, so that you might be graced with (God‟s) mercy” (7:203-204). „Silence‟ has been traditionally understood to refer to the fact that none other than the Creator knows the reality of creation, hence when God speaks in the Qur‟an, the wisest stand is to give up prejudices and preconceptions as much as possible and listen so that „true understanding‟ – which is also mercy – may be bestowed upon one. The Sustainer‟s favor and mercy dwells in the purification of the ego that yields proper listening and relying on the dynamic of gift of everything including understanding of the true meaning of the divine speech. The same law of ihsan (munificence and gift) is at work in the domain of divine creativity i.e. both in nature and in revelation. Divine mercy and all other attributes of perfection manifest themselves in the form of a beautiful fruit or a drop of water and also in meaningful words. All are divine speech, all are signs and symbols whose meanings are disclosed to us when we listen rather than merely project our „understanding‟ onto them. It seems therefore that listening is an important rule of Qur‟anic reasoning (QR). In order to practice QR one needs to trust the Qur‟anic text, listen to it, and allow it to disclose its reasoning to him. Otherwise if he simply „plays‟ with the text he may end up reading himself rather than the Qur‟an. QR is certainly not merely cogitation but a living interaction with the scripture for it has a fundamental ontological element that makes it more than just experiential or historical in the sense that it can at least be generalized if not universalized.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] The term tawhid is a verbal noun, the gerund form of the root w –h-d (to unite). It carries the connotation of a continuous, dynamic process rather than to a static state of being. Thus, although it is usually translated as „unity,‟ it is better rendered as „unification.‟ (NB: Most Arabic words stem from roots that consist of three or less often four consonants. Thus the meaning of any one word is related at its root to many other words.)

[2] The term muslim is the active participle of the verb aslama (to surrender). Aslama is the fourth derived form of the root s-l-m (to be safe, secure). Note that the verbal noun i.e. gerund of the first form salima is salaam (peace, peacefulness).

[3] In Arabic the words „observe‟ or shaahada and „testimony, testifying, witnessing‟ or shahaada are semantically related. Shaahada (to observe) is the third derived form of the

root sh-h-d, while shahaada is the verbal noun (gerund) of the first form i.e. shahida (to witness).

[4] The Arabic term qur‟an is a verbal noun, the gerund form of the root q-r-„. It thus carries the meaning of a continuous reading, a message that is repeatedly recounted. It may be translated as „recitation‟ or even „teaching.‟

[5] In lisan al-„Arab (the Tongues of the Arabs),the lexicographer Ibn Manzur (d.1311), defines aya as „alama (sign), a term which is etymologically related to the verb „allama (to teach). This corresponds to the teaching of the Qur‟an that the purpose of these divine signs, whether Qur‟anic signs or cosmic signs, is to teach the nature of the divine reality.

[6] The verb „aqala (to use one‟s reason/intellect) appears 47 times in the Qur‟an, e.g.

And He has made the night and the day and the sun and the moon subservient (to His laws, so that they be of use) to you; and all the stars are subservient to His command; in this behold, there are signs (ayat) indeed for people who use their reason! (16:12)

And in the succession of night and day, and in the means of subsistence which God sends down from the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and in the change of the wind; (in allthis) there are signs (ayat) for people who use their reason (45:5).

The verbs fakkara and tafakkara (2nd and 5th forms of the root f-k-r) both meaning to ponder, reflect, and think, appear 18 times in the Qur‟an; e.g.

Verily, in the creating (creation) of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed signs (ayat) for all who are endowed with insight (and) who remember God when they stand and when they sit and when they lie down, and (thus) reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! You have not created this without meaning and purpose. Limitless are You in Your glory!” (3:190-191)

And it is He who has spread the earth wide and placed on it firm mountains and running waters, and created tereon two sexes of every (kind of ) plant; ; (and it is who) causes the night to cover the day. Verily, in all this are signs (ayat) indeed for people who think! (13:4)

[7] Bediuzzaman Said Nursi,”The letters,” in Risale-i-Nur Collection (Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 1994), 339-340; Risale-i Nur Kuliyati, 481.

[8] Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, “The Words” in Risale-i- Nur Collection (Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 2002), 376- 377.

[9] Nursi, The Words, 454. [10] Nursi, The Words, 577. [11] Nursi, The Words, 444. [12] Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Supreme Sign (Berkley; Risale-i-Nur Institute of America, 1979) Trans. H. Algar, 49-50.

[13] The Qur‟an encourages its addresses to “listen to God‟s ayat (verses/signs) when they are recited,” and to not “become arrogant, as though (they) had not heard them.” (45:8)

[14] Nursi, The Words, 443-444; Risale-i-Nur Kuliyati, (Istanbul: Nesil basim yayin, 1996), 2019.

[15] Note again the close relationship between speech and deed: “We say “Be” and it is”! Deeds are a manifestation of speech.

[16] “We” here refers to those interpreters of the text who do not wish to impose their understanding on the text but rather to allow it “to speak for itself” as Toshihiko Isutzu says. (T.Isutzu, Concepts in the Qur‟an, (Montreal: McGill Unversity Press, 1966), 3.

In the modern academic study of religion, there are two dominant positions: The so-called hermeneutics of charity, which in the social sciences is identified with Max Weber, and the hermeneutics of suspicion which is identified with the tradition of Emile Durkheim. Here “we” refers to none of them because in either of these two approaches a choice needs to be made whether to listen to the self-description of the object of study (here the Qur‟anic text) or to ignore it in favor of models provided by academic theory. The hermeneutics of charity is not, as it is often assumed, inherently aligned with emic discourse. Often it appropriates the other as material for modern Western academic theories. The attempt to understand often turns into colonial eisegesis. [See K. Patton, A Magic Still Dwells : Comparative Religion in the postmodern Age (Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 2000), 2.] Also the bracketing of the subjective required in the hermeneutics of suspicion does not necessarily challenge emic discourse.

[17] The Qur’an says, “Or do they say: He himself has composed this (message)”? Nay, but they are not willing to believe! But then,(if they deem it the work of a mere mortal,) let them produce another discourse like if- if what they say is true! (52:33-34).

[18] See footnote 34.

[19] And who could be more wicked than he who attributes his own lying inventions to God or gives the lie to His signs? Verily such evildoers will never attain to a happy state

(6:21).

[20] And yet they choose to worship (imaginary) deities instead of Him! Say: “Produce an evidence for what you are claiming: this is a reminder (unceasingly voiced) by those who are with me, just as it was a reminder (voiced) by those who came before me.” But nay, most of them don‟t know the truth, and so they stubbornly turn away (from it) (21:24).

[21] Hundreds of verses of the Qur‟an point to this fact; they start with „o people‟ or end with „these are examples for people who think.‟ For instance,

O people! Worship your Sustainer, who has created you and those who lived before you, so that you might remain conscious of Him, who has made you the earth a resting place for you and the sky a canopy, and haas sent down water from the sky and thereby brought forth for you sustuneance: do not, then, claim that there is any power that could rival God, when you know (2:21-22).

And among His wonders is this: he displays before you the lightning, giving rise to (both) fear and hope, and sends down water form the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless: in this, behold, there are signs indeed for people who use their reason! (30:24).

Also in the hadith, the prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that „Every prophet was sent to his own people; but I am sent to all mankind‟ (bu„ithtu li‟l-nasi kaffa). See Bukhari, Tayammum, 1.

[22] Nursi, The Words, 402.

[23] Verse 30:30 says, And so, surrender your whole being steadfastly to the ever-true faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the disposition (fitra) which God has instilled into people: for not to allow any change to corrupt what god has thus created –this is the (purpose of the) ever-true faith; but most people know it not.

“The term fitra rendered here as „disposition‟, connotes in this context man‟s inborn, intuitive ability to discern between right and wrong, true and false, and thus, to sense God‟s existence and oneness… (it) consists in man‟s instinctive cognition of God and self-surrender (islam) to Him” (M. Asad, The Message of the Qur‟an (Gibraltar:Dar al- Andalus, 1980), 621).

[24] “We should point here that the words ‘prophet’ and ‘Prophecy’ may not convey precisely the same ideas in the three monotheistic religions. …According to the Koran, each prophet, including Christ, is a messenger sent by god to a particular people. This view …presumes that the prophet has reached the spiritual heights of human nature and that he is, like Adam, “God’s representative on earth.” The Koran places the prophets outside history, within the framework of the Unitarian message of Islam; it speaks in both

general and universal terms, as it were. Its prophets run the gamut from Adam to Mohammad and include not only the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament, but also an indefinite number of messengers sent by God to ancient Arabic and non-Arabic nations. The Bible stories linked to various prophets reappear in part in the Koran, but reduced to their essential features and, as it were, crystallized into symbolic accounts” (R. W. J.Austin in the introduction to his translation of Ibn’Arabi’s The Bezels of Wisdom (NJ: Paulist Press, 1980), xii).

[25] Literally, “God chose Abraham to be His beloved friend (khalil).”

[26] W.C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), 159.

The Qur‟an points to this fact, How could it be that He who has created all should not know all when He alone is unfathomable in His wisdom, all-aware! 67:14. The Qur‟an also says, Hence, place your trust in the Living One who dies not, and extol His limitless glory and praise: for none is aware of His creatures‟s sinsas He- He who has created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in six aeons, and is established on the throne of His almightiness: the Most Gracious! Ask, then, about Him, the One who is truly aware (25:59). That is, ask God Himself since He alone is aware of the mysteries of the universe. This is usually understood that “it is only by observing His creation and listening to His revealed messages that man can obtain a glimpse, however distant, of God‟s Own reality.” Asad, The Message of The Qur‟an, 557.

[27] S.Hakim, “Knowledge of God in Ibn ‘Arabi” Ed. S. Hirtenstein and M. Tierman, Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi: A Commemorative Volume (USA: Elements, Inc, 1993), 270.

[28] Nursi, The Words, 299-300.

Nursi explains that only revelation can teach true unity of God (tawhid), “which is to see the stamp of His power, the seal of His Lordship (rububiya); it is to open a window directly onto His light from everything and to confirm and believe with the certainty of seeing it that every thing emerges from the hand of His power and in no way has He any partner or assistant in His Godhead or in His Lordship or in His sovereignty, and thus to attain a sort of perpetual awareness of the divine presence.” Nursi, The Words, 300.

[29] “The heart loves whatever the source of loveliness is” B. S. Nursi, Risale-i-Nur Kulliyati, 611.

[30] Nursi, The Words, 342-343.

[31] The Qur‟an says, He is God, the Creator, The Maker who shapes all forms and appearances! His alone are the attributes of perfection; all that is in the heavens and on earth extols His limitless glory: for He alone is almighty, truly wise! (59:24) There are

many other verses that teach that all beings glorify their Maker with praise. See for instance, 17:44; 58:1; 59:1 etc.

[32] The commentators understood that from one perspective, this verse means that „only the pure of heart can truly understand and derive benefit from the Qur‟anic revelation.‟ Note also that the word „Qur‟an‟ refers to God‟s address to humanity and cannot be confined between the folds of a scroll or the covers of a codex. As Daniel Madigan explains in his work, The Qur‟an‟s Self-Image: Writing and Authority in Islam‟s Scriptures (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), from the Qur‟an‟s refutation of the proof value of written texts, as well as from the absence of a significant role for written material in the early history of the Qur‟an and in Islamic ritual, it can be inferred that scrolls and codices were not perceived as evidently important, and certainly not as constitutive of the authority of scripture. Madigan construes that the notion of kitab (scripture or writ) as evidenced in the Qur‟anic discourse exhibits an extraordinary elusiveness, which makes it impossible to understand scripture as a fixed, closed corpus. For once a book is produced, it exist independently of its author. The Muslim community however, has always had a lively sense that the Qur‟an‟s author remains engaged with his audience. The appeal of tradition to kalam Allah (speech of God) as the key to understanding revelation is probably a means to avoid the term scripture, which is often associated with the mushaf (codex). It is significant to note that although scripture occupies a central position in the faith and practice of Muslims, their approach to scripture is almost totally oral. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that they coalesced around the Qur‟an while it was still oral, still in process as the pledge of God‟s relationship of guidance to them rather than as a clearly defined and already closed text.

According to Madigan, the Qur‟an refuses resolutely to behave as an already closed and codified text since its role is to address people and situations as they arise. It insists on remaining open and responsive and makes it clear in its form and statements that it prefers to function as the voice of God‟s continuing address to humanity. Madigan presents a compelling semantic analysis of the Qur‟an‟s self-awareness. He argues that the Qur‟an views itself not as a completed book, but as an ongoing process of divine writing and re- writing; as God‟s active engagement with humanity. In fact the Qur‟an does not identify itself with the kitab (scripture or book) , to which it refers in the third person when proclaiming, defending, and defining it. Yet it does not speak of the kitab as something already fixed and separate but primarily as a symbol, for the Qur‟an (discourse) is the very mode by which the kitab is made manifest and engages with humanity.

The Qur‟an presents itself and is conscious of itself in a distinctive manner: it is not so much interested in writing as a mere description of the form of the divine word as in the source of its composition, authority and veracity. The Qur‟an‟s claim to being a kitab is a symbol for God‟s knowledge and authority rather than a simple statement about its eventual mode of storage. As kitab, it intended to be the locus of continued guidance. The Qur‟an‟s kitab cannot be mistaken for a book since it has no fixed boundaries: it is not made completely clear whether this text, i.e. the Qur‟an, is the whole kitab or part of it,

one of several kutub (plural form of kitab) or the only one. As a matter of fact, the implicit claim to totality and completeness contained in the word „book‟ may lead to the identification of the limits of the God‟s kitab with the boundaries of the text. Such understanding may become perilous for it opens the possibility of „possessing‟ the kitab and claiming hegemony over understanding it rather than listening to it and relying on the givenness of understanding.

[33] The antithesis of tawhid is shirk or ascribing partners to God not only in His godhead but in all His attributes of perfection. Shirk is defined in another verse as ascribing the attributes of perfection to things and beings themselves, And God‟s alone are the attributes of perfection; invoke Him, then, by these and stand aloof of those who distort the meaning of His attributes (by applying them to others); they shall be requited for all that they were wont to do! (7:180). Hence to ascribe power and creativity to causes, to Nature, etc is, by the Qur‟anic criterion of tawhid, shirk and idolatry.

[34] Asad, The Message of the Qur‟an, 261.

[35] Nursi says, “Seek the meanings of the Qur‟an in its luminous words, rather than those gimmicks and artifices you sneak in the back-pocket of your mind.” Nursi, Risale-i Nur Kulliyati, 1989.

[36] And When We told the angels, “Prostrate yourselves before Adam!”- they prostrated themselves except Iblis. 2:34.

[37] M.Asad, The Message of the Qur‟an, 231

[38] Nursi, The Words, 270. [39] Nursi, The Words, 254. [40] Nursi, The Words, 270 [41] R.W.J. Austin, Introduction to Ibn „Arabi‟s Bezels of Wisdom (NJ: Paulist Press, 1980), xii.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Nursi, The Words, 17.

[44] The Arabic word for „miracle‟ is „mu‟jiza‟. It does not refer to a „marvelous event that is attributed to a supernatural cause. Mu‟jiza is derived from the root „a-j-z, which means „to be incapable.‟ Something is a mu‟jiza in the sense that all causes, all things are incapable („ajiz) of making it. Thus it is not used only for the miracles of the prophets. Since, the Qur‟an holds that for one single thing to be, the whole universe must be there,

i.e. it exist only within the universe and therefore to make one thing is equivalent to making everything. The creator of one thing can only be the creator of all the universe. Causes themselves are being made and they cannot create. As far as creatorship is concerned, they are all „ajiz, , but as far as being made is concerned they are all mu‟jiza or miracle.

[45] Nursi, The Words, 17.

[46] The Qur‟an refers to all prophets as paradigms to be followed in reaching knowledge of God. Each one of them represents a different aspect of divine wisdom and as such their paths are relevant to man in different situations of his life. He can identify with their ways at various moments of his life. See also note 11.

Published in: Journal of Scriptural Reasoning

Number 5.1 April 2005

Title Page | Archive © 2004, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *