A QURANIC VARIANT THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE PT. 3

The Quran claims that there are verses within it whose meanings are known only to Allah:

It is He Who has sent down to you (Muhammad) the Book (this Qur’an). In it are Verses that are entirely clear, they are the foundations of the Book [and those are the Verses of Al-Ahkam (commandments, etc.), Al-Fara’id (obligatory duties) and Al-Hudud (legal laws for the punishment of thieves, adulterers, etc.)]; and others not entirely clear. So as for those in whose hearts there is a deviation (from the truth) they follow that which is not entirely clear thereof, seeking Al-Fitnah (polytheism and trials, etc.), and seeking for its hidden meanings, but none knows its hidden meanings save Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in it; the whole of it (clear and unclear Verses) are from our Lord.” And none receive admonition except men of understanding. (Tafsir At-Tabari). S. 3:7 Hilali-Khan

Suffice it to say this verse raises difficulties for the Muslim view that the Islamic book is a perfectly clear revelation that has been perfectly preserved, for the following reasons.

First, what purpose does it serve to “send down” verses whose interpretation are known only to Allah? How do such passages benefit anyone seeing that no one knows what they mean?

After all, a person cannot be guided if s/he doesn’t know what a verse is actually instructing them to do. Therefore, where is the wisdom in “revealing” such unclear, incoherent texts? Doesn’t this prove that the Quran is a book of misguidance whose aim it is to deceive and mislead people?

Second, the Islamic scripture fails to provide a list of all the unclear texts from the clear ones, which is something necessary for the reader or reciter of the Quran to know if s/he wants to avoid focusing on those passages whose meanings are known only to the Islamic deity lest they incur the wrath of their lord.

Therefore, why does the Quran fail to distinguish the clear texts from the unclear ones as a safeguard to prevent Muslims from seeking to interpret the unclear verses?

To reiterate the severity of this problem, a Muslim must know just how many of the Quran’s ayat are unclear. Are there 20 unclear passages, or 30, 100, 1,000, or perhaps even 6,000? The Muslim scripture fails to provide such details.

The third problem that Muslims face is that the so-called Islamic “revelation” repeatedly asserts that it is an unambiguous book that explains everything in detail:

Thus doth God MAKE CLEAR His Signs to you: In order that ye may understand. S. 2:242 Y. Ali

And thus do We explain the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) IN DETAIL, that the way of the Mujrimun (criminals, polytheists, sinners), may become manifest. S. 6:55 Hilali-Khan

It is He Who has set the stars for you, so that you may guide your course with their help through the darkness of the land and the sea. We have (indeed) explained IN DETAIL Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, Revelations, etc.) for people who know. It is He Who has created you from a single person (Adam), and has given you a place of residing (on the earth or in your mother’s wombs) and a place of storage [in the earth (in your graves) or in your father’s loins]. Indeed, We have EXPLAINED IN DETAIL Our revelations (this Qur’an) for people who understand. S. 6:97-98

Thus We explain variously the Verses so that they (the disbelievers) may say: “You have studied (the Books of the people of the Scripture and brought this Qur’an from that)” and that We may make the matter clear for the people who have knowledge. S. 6:105 Hilali-Khan

[Say (O Muhammad)] “Shall I seek a judge other than Allah while it is He Who has sent down unto you the Book (The Qur’an), EXPLAINED IN DETAIL.” Those unto whom We gave the Scripture [the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)] know that it is revealed from your Lord in truth. So be not you of those who doubt. S. 6:114 Hilali-Khan

And this is the Path of your Lord (the Qur’an and Islam) leading Straight. We have DETAILED Our Revelations for a people who take heed. S. 6:126

Say (O Muhammad): “Who has forbidden the adoration with clothes given by Allah, which He has produced for his slaves, and At-Taiyibat [all kinds of Halal (lawful) things] of food?” Say: “They are, in the life of this world, for those who believe, (and) exclusively for them (believers) on the Day of Resurrection (the disbelievers will not share them).” Thus We explain the Ayat (Islamic laws) IN DETAIL for people who have knowledge. S. 7:32 Hilali-Khan

Certainly, We have brought to them a Book (the Qur’an) which We have explained IN DETAIL WITH KNOWLEDGE, – a guidance and a mercy to a people who believe. S. 7:52 Hilali-Khan

Thus do We explain the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) IN DETAIL, so that they may turn (unto the truth). S. 7:174 Hilali-Khan

And this Qur’an is not such as could ever be produced by other than Allah (Lord of the heavens and the earth), but it is a confirmation of (the revelation) which was before it [i.e. the Taurat (Torah), and the Injeel (Gospel), etc.], and A FULL EXPLANATION of the Book (i.e. laws and orders, etc, decreed for mankind) – wherein there is no doubt from the Lord of the ‘Alamin (mankind, jinns, and all that exists). S. 10:37 Hilali-Khan

But if they repent, perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat) and give Zakat, then they are your brethren in religion. (In this way) We explain the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) IN DETAIL for a people who know. S. 9:11

Alif Lam Ra. This is a Book, whose verses have been made firm and free from imperfection and then they have been expounded in detail. It is from One Wise, and All-Aware. S. 11:1 Shakir

Indeed in their stories, there is a lesson for men of understanding. It (the Qur’an) is not a forged statement but a confirmation of Allah’s existing Books [the Taurat (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel) and other Scriptures of Allah] and A DETAILED EXPLANATION OF EVERYTHING and a guide and a Mercy for the people who believe. S. 12:111

A. L. R. These are the Ayats of Revelation, – of a Qur’an that makes things clear. S. 15:1 Y. Ali

One day We shall raise from all Peoples a witness against them, from amongst themselves: and We shall bring thee as a witness against these (thy people): and We have sent down to thee the Book EXPLAINING ALL THINGS, a Guide, a Mercy, and Glad Tidings to Muslims. S. 16:89 Y. Ali

He sets forth for you a parable from your ownselves, – Do you have partners among those whom your right hands possess (i.e. your slaves) to share as equals in the wealth We have bestowed on you? Whom you fear as you fear each other? Thus do We explain the signs IN DETAIL to a people who have sense. S. 30:28 Hilali-Khan

We verily, have made it a Qur’an in Arabic, that you may be able to understand (its meanings and its admonitions). S. 43:3 Hilali-Khan

By the manifest Book (this Qur’an) THAT MAKES THINGS CLEAR, S. 44:2 Hilali-Khan – Cf. Q. 2:187, 219, 266; 3:103, 118; 4:26, 176; 5:89; 24:18, 58-59, 61; 57:17

A Book whereof the Verses are explained IN DETAIL; A Qur’an in Arabic for people who know. S. 41:3 Hilali-Khan

Here is another version of this last passage:

A scripture whose verses PROVIDE THE COMPLETE DETAILS, in an Arabic Quran, for people who know. Khalifa

Therefore, how could Muhammad then come along and recite Q. 3:7, stating that not everything in the Quran is perspicuous and perfectly explained without this blatantly contradicting all of the aforementioned verses?

The problem becomes even more compounded when we realize that even the meaning of this particular text is itself not so clear since Muhammad’s companions were divided over its precise interpretation.

For instance, some of Muhammad’s personal followers who learned the recitation of the Islamic scripture directly from him read this passage differently, so that it isn’t merely Allah who knows the meaning of the unclear verses. Rather those who are grounded in knowledge also know what these texts mean. According to these Muslims, the verse should actually be read in the following manner:

“… but none knows its hidden meanings save Allah AND those who are firmly grounded in knowledge. Say: “We believe in it; the whole of it (clear and unclear Verses) are from our Lord.”

In order to help the readers appreciate the gravity of the problem I will let one of Islam’s greatest scholars, historians and commentators explain the situation more thoroughly:  

The interpreters disagreed over the interpretation of that, as to whether [the words] those well-grounded in knowledge (al-rasikhun fi’l-‘ilm) is in coordination with the noun “God,” affirming that they have knowledge of the interpretation of its ambiguous verses; or whether they are part of a new sentence, meaning “Those well-grounded in knowledge say, ‘We believe in the ambiguous verses and affirm that knowledge of [their interpretation] is known by none save God.’”1

OPINION: Some of them said: The meaning of that is: None knows the interpretation of that save God, Singular is He, the only one with knowledge of this. As for those well-grounded in knowledge, they are the subject of a new sentence, the predicate of which is: [They] say, “We believe in the ambiguous and clear verses, and all of that is from God.”

An account of those who said that:

Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abd al-Hakam–Khalid b. Nizar–Ibn Abi Mulayka–Aisha said, concerning His statement And those well-grounded in knowledge say, We believe in it, “Part of their grounding in knowledge is that they believe in the clear and ambiguous verses, but they do not know their interpretation.”

Al-Hasan b. Yahya–‘Abd al-Razzaq–Ma’mar–Ibn Tawus–his father said: Ibn ‘Abbas would say, None knows its interpretation save God. Those well-grounded [in knowledge] say, We believe in it.”2

Yunus [b. ‘Abd Al-A’la]–Ibn Wahb–Ibn Abi’l-Zinad–Hisham b. ‘Urwah [b. al-Zubayr] said, “My father would say, concerning the verse None knows its interpretation save God. And those well-grounded in knowledge, ‘Truly those well-grounded in knowledge do not know its interpretation. Instead they say, We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’

Ibn Humayd–Yahya b. Wadih–‘Ubady Allah–Abu Nahik al-Asadi said, concerning His statement None knows its interpretation save God. And those well-grounded in knowledge, “You coordinate this sentence when it should be separated into two sentences: None knows its interpretation save God; and, Those well-grounded in knowledge say, We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord. The outer limit of their knowledge is the statement they have said [in this verse].”

Al-Muthanna–[al-Fadl] ibn Dukayn–‘Amr b. ‘Uthman b. ‘Abd Allah b. Mawhab–‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz said, concerning and those well-grounded in knowledge, “The outer limit of the knowledge of those well-grounded in knowledge, regarding the interpretation of the Qur’an, is that they say, ‘We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’”  

Yunus [b. ‘Abd al-A’la]–Ashhab–Malik [b. Anas] said, concerning His statement None knows its interpretation save God, “Then there begins a new sentence: Those well-grounded in knowledge say, ‘We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’ They do not know its interpretation.”

OPINION: Others said: Rather, the meaning of that is: And none save God and those well-grounded in knowledge know the interpretation of that, and that [these people], with their knowledge of this and grounding in it, say, We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.

An account of those who said that:

Muhammad b. ‘Amr [al-Bahili]–Abu ‘Asim [al-Nabil]–‘Isa [b. Maymun]–Ibn Abi Najih–Mujahid–Ibn ‘Abbas said, “I am among those who knows its interpretation.”

Muhammad b. ‘Amr [al-Bahili]–Abu ‘Asim [al-Nabil]–‘Isa [b. Maymun]–Ibn Abi Najih–Mujahid said, “Those well-grounded in knowledge know its interpretation and say, We believe in it.”

Al-Muthanna–Abu Hudhayfa [Musa b. Mas’ud]–Shibl–Ibn Abi Najih–Mujahid said, “Those well-grounded in knowledge know its interpretation and say, We believe in it.”

[Anonymous]–‘Ammar b. al-Hasan–Ibn Abi Ja’far–his father–al-Rabi’ said, “Those well-grounded in knowledge know its interpretation and say, We believe in it.”

Ibn Humayd–Salama–Ibn Ishaq–Muhammad b. Ja’far b. al-Zubayr said, “None knows its interpretation, which [God] intends–What does He intend?1save God and those well-grounded in knowledge [who] say, We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord. Then they harmonize the interpretation of the ambiguous verses with the clear verses, for which there is only a single interpretation, which they know. The Book [of God] becomes settled by their interpretation, parts of it verifying other parts. [Its] argument becomes effective, [its] case clear; falsehood is driven away by it, and disbelief is demolished.”1

As for those who adopted the first opinion, who said that those well-grounded in knowledge do not know the interpretation of [the ambiguous verses] and that God merely informed [us] of their faith and belief that [these verses] come from God, they put those well-grounded in knowledge in the nominative case on account of it being the subject [of a nominal sentence], the predicate of which is, [they] say, We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord. (This is the opinion of the Basrans.) As for the opinion of some of the Kufans, they said that [those well-grounded in knowledge is in the nominative case] because rasikhun is the backward referent (‘a’id) from their mention [as the subject of the verb] [they] say (yaqulun).2 Another Kufan said that [rasikhun] is in the nominative case because of the sentence that is predicated of them, namely [they] say.3   

As for those who adopted the second opinion and claimed that those well-grounded [in knowledge] know the interpretation [of the ambiguous verses], they coordinate between those well-grounded [in knowledge] and God; this coordination then explains why [those well-grounded in knowledge] is in the nominative case.4

TABARI SAID: The correct opinion, in our estimation, is that [those well-grounded in knowledge] is in the nominative case on account of them [being the first part] of a sentence, the predicate of which is [they] say, on the basis of what we have clarified previously. They do not know the interpretation of the ambiguous verses that God (Mighty and Majestic is He) mentioned in this verse. [This is further substantiated] by what has reached me concerning the [irregular] reading OF UBAYY: Those well-grounded in knowledge say [yaqulu instead of yaqulun], as we mentioned above ON THE AUTHORITY OF IBN ‘ABBAS, WHO RECITED IT THIS WAY TOO. Also [consider] the [irregular] reading OF ‘ABD ALLAH [B. MAS‘UD]: “Its interpretation is only with God. Those well-grounded in knowledge say.”1 (Tabari: Selections from The Comprehensive Exposition of the Interpretation of the Verses of the Qur’an, translated by Scott C. Lucas [The Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute For Islamic Thought and The Islamic Texts Society, 2017], Volume 1, pp. 238-242; bold and capital emphasis mine)

1 The ambiguity is due to the fact that the particle waw can mean, among other things, “and” or it can indicate the beginning of a new sentence. In the former case, it is called waw ‘atf (“the waw of coordination”) and, in the latter, waw isti’naf (“the waw that initiates a new sentence”). The interpretation of the waw in wa’l-rasikhun fi’l-‘ilm determines whether human beings who are “well-grounded in knowledge” have access to the interpretation of the ambiguous verses of the Qur’an, or whether this knowledge is restricted exclusively to God. According to Suyuti, VERY FEW Sunni scholars have read this as a waw of coordination and MOST believe that those well-grounded in knowledge DO NOT HAVE ACCESS to the interpretation of the ambiguous verses. See Suyuti, al-Itqan fi’ulum al-Qur’an, naw’ 43 (fi’l-muhkam wa’l-mutashabih). Among the Mutazila, Qadi ‘Abd al-Jabbar accepts both interpretations as valid, while Zamakhshari (d. 528/1134) prefers the reading of a waw coordination; see Qadi ‘Abd al-Jabbar, Tanzih al-Qur’an ‘an al-mata’in, 58; and Mahmud b/ ‘Umar al-Zamakhshari, al-Kashshaf ‘an haq’aiq al-tanzil, ed. Mustafa Ahmad, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1986 [1966]), 1:338.  

2 Ibn ‘Abbas transfers the verb yaqulun, which follows those well-grounded in knowledge in the orthodox reading of the Qu’ran, to yaqulu immediately prior to those well-grounded in knowledge, so that it reads wa-yaqulu’l-rasikhuna fi’l-‘ilm. The only conceivable interpretation of this irregular reading is that the waw initiates a new verbal sentence. (Ibid., p. 239; bold and capital emphasis mine)

1 This is part of a long report that is found in Guillaume, 273.

2 In other words, since rasikhun is the backward referent of the subject “they” of the verb yaqulun and subjects of verbs are in the nominative case, rasikhun is therefore in the nominative case.

3 In other words, rasikhun is the first part (mubtada’) of a nominative sentence, the predicate (khabar) of which is [they] say. The default case of the first part of the nominative sentence in Arabic is the nominative. This is also the opinion of al-Farra’, who says rasikhun is in the nominative case because of yaqulun, not because the Divine Name Allah, which precedes it, is in the nominative case; Ma’ani al-Qur’an, 1:191.

4 Since “God” is one of the subjects of the verb “knows” in the sentence, None knows its interpretation save God, it is in the nominative case; anything coordinated with the word “God” by a conjunction would necessarily be in the nominative case as well, according to the rules governing conjunctions in Arabic. (Ibid., p. 241)

1 Arabic: in ta’wiluhu illa ‘ind Allah wa’l—rasikhuna fi’l-‘ilm yaqulun. Notice that in this [Masud’s] irregular reading, the Divine Name Allah is in the genitive case, while rasikhun is in the nominative case, which renders IMPOSSIBLE the reading of the waw as coordinating God and those well-grounded in knowledge. The irregular readings of Ubayy and Ibn Mas’ud are found in al-Farra’, Ma’ani al-Qur’an, 1:191. (Ibid. p. 242; the comments in brackets along with the bold and capital emphasis are mine)

I highlight the variant readings listed by al-Tabari to help the readers better appreciate and understand the various ways Muhammad’s companions and/or their followers recited the verse, and how they affect the meaning of the text.

The Uthmanic recension which Muslims follow today reads this way: wa’l-rāsikhūna fī‘l-ʿil’mi yaqūlūna.

And yet the Qurans of Ibn Abbas and Ubayy b. Kabb read it this way: wa-yaqulu’l-rasikhuna fi’l-‘ilm.

There is another important difference found between the Quran of ibn Masud with that of Uthman’s. The Arabic of the Uthmanic text reads in ta’wiluhu illa l-lahu, whereas that of ibn Masud’s reads in ta’wiluhu illa ‘ind Allah:

Compare:

UTHMAN: ta’wīlahu illā l-lahu wal-rāsikhūna fī l-ʿil’mi yaqūlūna.

IBN MASUD: ta’wīlahu illā ‘ind Allah wal-rāsikhūna fī l-ʿil’mi yaqūlūna.

The words ‘ind Allah makes this a genitival phrase (“with Allah”) whereas rasikhun is in the nominative case, and therefore becomes the subject of a new sentence. Ibn Masud’s reading reinforces the fact that there is no possible way of coordinating or grouping those grounded in knowledge with Allah in knowing the meaning of the unclear verses.

Therefore, we have two different readings coming from the very eye and ear witnesses of Muhammad, men who learned the Quran directly from their so-called prophet, that contradict each other.

Q. 3:7 is either stating that no one knows the meaning of the unclear verses except Allah. Or the passage actually teaches that Allah AND those grounded in knowledge both know the meanings of the ambiguous texts of the Quran. Both can’t be correct since one cancels out the other.

So, which is it Muslims? What is this Quranic passage actually saying? Is the Quran claiming there are texts whose meanings are known to no one else besides Allah? Or is the meaning of these verses known to BOTH Allah AND men who are firmly grounded in the knowledge of the Quran?

Even more devastatingly, how could these individuals who all learned the “revelation” directly from Muhammad be so confused and get it so wrong? Did Muhammad fail to communicate his point clearly, and therefore failed in his mission to guide his community aright? Or were his followers such terrible disciples that they constantly misheard and/or misunderstand what their “prophet” was teaching them?

We will leave it to the followers of Muhammad to sort out this mess which they have been duped into thinking is a revelation from the true God.

FURTHER READING

A QURANIC VARIANT THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE

A QURANIC VARIANT THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE PT. 2

2 thoughts on “A QURANIC VARIANT THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE PT. 3

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