From the Fatawa Issued by the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Ifta’, Saudi Arabia (Fatwa No. 11627, Volume IV, Page 139)
What is meant by the clear cut Qur’anic verses and verses that are not entirely clear? How can we refute the opposition raised by some people that if the Qur’an is an explanation of each and every thing and that it is a guidance to all mankind and jinns, what about the following verse:
وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ
“But none knows its hidden meanings save Allâh. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge” [al-Imran 3:7]
What is meant by “those who are firmly grounded in knowledge”? What is the difference between interpretation of the Qur’an and its Tafsir?
Praise be to Allah Alone, and prayers and peace be upon the last Prophet Muhammad.
The entire Qur’an is perfected in terms of the obviousness of its meanings, its accuracy, its distinction between the true and the false, and guidance and deviation. In this context, the Qur’an is all clear cut as Allah said:
كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آيَاتُهُ ثُمَّ فُصِّلَتْ مِن لَّدُنْ حَكِيمٍ خَبِيرٍ
“(This is) a Book, the Verses whereof are perfected (in every sphere of knowledge, etc.), and then explained in detail from one (Allâh), Who is All-Wise and Well-Acquainted (with all things).” [Hud 11:1]
He also said:
الر تِلْكَ آيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ الْحَكِيمِ
“These are the Verses of the Book (the Qur’ân) Al-Hakîm (showing lawful and unlawful things, explaining Allâh’s (Divine) Laws for mankind, leading them to eternal happiness by ordering them to follow the true Islâmic Monotheism, – worshipping none but Allâh Alone – that will guide them to Paradise and save them from Hell).”
Second, resemblance in speech indicates its similarity. It is harmonious as far as its commands integrate with each other. It does not enjoin a certain command in a location and prohibits it in another. The stories it relates are all believable and harmonious. If it confirms the occurrence of an event in a location, it does not negate it in another. In this context, the entire Qur’an is similar from the perspective that its parts do not contradict each other, as Allah said:
أَفَلاَ يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ اللّهِ لَوَجَدُواْ فِيهِ اخْتِلاَفًا كَثِيراً
“Do they not then consider the Qur’ân carefully? Had it been from other than Allâh, they would surely have found therein much contradictions.” [an-Nisa 4:82]
He also said:
اللَّهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًمُّتَشَابِهًا
“Allâh has sent down the best statement, a Book (this Qur’ân), its parts resembling each other in goodness and truth, oft-repeated.” [az-Zumar 39:23]
In this context, resemblance and similarity do not indicate that the general meaning is clear cut. Each part of the Qur’an integrates with the other and there is no taint of contradiction among them.
Third, similarity in special meanings occurs when a thing resembles another in an aspect but contradicts it in another. In the Qur’an, there are some verses which are similar in this context. In their connotation, they conform with the clear cut verses and they may contradict them as well. Therefore, many people may misunderstand them.
If a person understands such similar verses in the light of the self-explanatory clear cut ones, he will know their meanings, and he will be guided to the right path.
If a scholar understands the similar verses alone without referring to the self-explanatory clear cut ones, he will deviate from the right path such as the Christians in their claim that Allah has a son.
Allah says about Jesus that he is son of Mariam (Mary), and that he was (no more than) a Messenger of Allâh and His Word which He bestowed on Mariam (Mary) and a spirit (Rûh) created by Him. Even though, the Christians abandoned Allah’s saying:
إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا عَبْدٌ أَنْعَمْنَا عَلَيْهِ وَجَعَلْنَاهُ مَثَلًا لِّبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ
“He (‘Iesa (Jesus)) was not more than a slave. We granted Our Favor to him, and We made him an example to the Children of Israel (i.e. his creation without a father).”
He also said:
Say (O Muhammad (peace be upon him)): “He is Allâh, (the) one. “Allâh-us-Samad (The Self-Sufficient Master, Whom all creatures need, (He neither eats nor drinks). “He begets not, nor was He begotten; “And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him.” [al-Iklaas 112: 1-4]
The following verse pointed out the rulings on the similar and the clear cut verses and the different stands people hold towards them:
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 to you (Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم) the Book (this Qur’ân). In it are Verses that are entirely clear, they are the foundations of the Book (and those are the Verses of Al-Ahkâm (commandments, etc.), Al-Farâ’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 Allâh. 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.” [al-Imran 3:7]
Therefore, it has been found out that the Qur’an points out each and every thing and that it is a guidance and mercy to the Muslims. The texts of the Qur’an are harmonious and there is no taint of contradiction about them. Scholars firmly grounded in religious knowledge follow the right path. They explain the similar and not entirely clear verses in the light of the self-explanatory clear cut verses. Thus, any air of misunderstanding on similar verses is eliminated.
As for others whose hearts are deviant from the truth, they are very obstinate and follow their whims and caprices. They explain and interpret the similar and not entirely clear verses without having recourse to the self-explanatory clear cut verses with the aim of sowing the seeds of doubt and skepticism in the hearts of the believers.
As for the difference between the interpretation of the Qur’an and its Tafsir, interpretation may refer to making Tafsir by explaining its meanings even by having recourse to the clear cut verses. Therefore, it is sound that a reciter pause at the word “knowledge” as in Allah’s saying:
وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ
“But none knows its hidden meanings save Allâh. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge.” [al-Imran 3:7]
Those who are firmly grounded in knowledge know the Qur’anic verses that are not entirely clear and their meanings by having recourse to the clear cut verses. The “and” in the above verse is a conjunction that joins “Allah” with “those who are firmly grounded in knowledge”.
It may be meant that the interpretation of the Qur’an means the fulfillment of its promises and threats as Allah said:
هَلْ يَنظُرُونَ إِلاَّ تَأْوِيلَهُ يَوْمَ يَأْتِي تَأْوِيلُهُ يَقُولُ الَّذِينَ نَسُوهُ مِن قَبْلُ قَدْ جَاءتْ رُسُلُ رَبِّنَا بِالْحَقِّ
“Await they just for the final fulfillment of the event? on the Day the event is finally fulfilled (i.e. the Day of Resurrection), those who neglected it before will say: “Verily, the Messengers of our Lord did come with the truth….” [al-A’raf 7:53]
The same thing applies to the story of Prophet Joseph alaihi salaam when his parents and brothers bowed to him as Allah said:
وَقَالَ يَا أَبَتِ هَـذَا تَأْوِيلُ رُؤْيَايَ مِن قَبْلُ قَدْ جَعَلَهَا رَبِّي حَقًّا
“And he said: “O my father! This is the interpretation of my dream aforetime! My Lord has made it come true!” [Yusuf 12:100]
He explained their bowing as the realization of his dream which came true.
Also known to those who are firmly grounded in knowledge is the interpretation of the Attributes of Allah which He mentioned in the Qur’an such as His saying:
الرَّحْمَنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَى
“The Most Beneficent (Allâh) Istawâ (rose over) the (Mighty) Throne (in a manner that suits His Majesty).” [Ta-Ha 20:5]
The same ruling applies to the coming of Allah along with angels in rows as He said:
وَجَاء رَبُّكَ وَالْمَلَكُ صَفًّا صَفًّا
“And your Lord comes with the angels in rows.” [al-Fajr 89:22]
The meaning of “Istawâ” and “comes with the angels in rows” is known to scholars firmly grounded in religious knowledge. As for how He will perform “Istawâ” or how He will come with the angels in rows, it is known by Allah Alone.
Thus, it is correct to pause on the word “Allah” when reciting the following verse: But none knows its hidden meanings save Allâh. Both pauses are correct as each conveys a certain meaning.
Another example of such explanation which indicates that a thing comes true or is fulfilled is the Hadith reported by ‘A’ishah radi Allahu anha that she said:
“Glory be to You our Lord, O Allah, forgive me.”
[Recorded by al-Bukhari in the chapter on adhan 794]
By saying this supplication, ‘A’ishah was applying a verse in the Holy Qur’an. She refers to Allah’s saying:
فَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ وَاسْتَغْفِرْهُ إِنَّهُ كَانَ تَوَّابًا
“So glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask for His Forgiveness. Verily, He is the one Who accepts the repentance and forgives.” [an-Nasr 110:3]
Explanation here means that she quotes the Qur’an.
Interpretation of the Qur’an or other legal texts may mean that the scholar prefers a more probable opinion to a less probable one because there is a proof that supports the first. This is a term used by many jurists and scholars of the principles of jurisprudence. This is the term used by many late scholars who talk about the interpretation of the Attributes of Allah. Sheikh of Islam Ibn Taimiah reported such saying at the end of the fifth rule in his book “At-Tadmuriyyah”. If a person would like to know the matter in more details, he should refer to this book.
May Allah grant us prosperity. Peace and prayers be upon our Prophet Muhammad.
The Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Delivering Fatwas
(Member) ‘Abdul-‘Aziz bin Ghudayan
(Vice-President of the Committee) ‘Abdur-Razzaq ‘Afifi
(President) ‘Abdul-‘Aziz bin Baz