In The Exegetes Vain Attempt

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 27, 2020

In their vain attempt to protect the Quran from the outside world,

traditional exegetes have ignored the fact that the Qur’anic text, even in the most sophisticated abstraction, is the entire objective reality revealed as text, which, by definition, cannot be contradicted. In other words, since the Quran represents the totality of reality, and since nothing else but this reality is contained in the Quran, no single item of this reality could ever occur which is not already apprehended

inside the Quran. The called scholars have also ignored Allah’s dictum that He has revealed the Quran from the intelligible world so that people can understand it. Human reason, again by definition, is therefore unable to contradict the content of the Quran.
Based on this insight we conclude this section by proposing two fundamental doctrines and eight principles of ta’wil.
The doctrines:

  1. Revelation does not contradict reason.
  2. Revelation does not contradict reality.

 The principles:

  1. Interpreters of the Quran need to view the text as if Muhammad died only yesterday. They also must believe in the eternal validity of its content and that, because of its inherent ambiguity (tashabuh), it is applicable in all times and all places in this world.
  1. Interpreters start their exegesis by asking the most pressing questions of their time. They extract answers directly from the text without reference to traditional exegesis and the literature of religious heritage ( al-turath). This interpretation is the realm of modern philosophy.
  2. The Quran is to be studied by the human faculty of reason (al-‘aql ), given that it was revealed to people from the sphere of the intelligible world so that they could comprehend it (‘We have made it a Qur’an in Arabic, that you may be able to understand’ [Zukhruf:3]).
  3. The aim of interpretation is to establish a constant harmony between objective reality, which we perceive via our senses, and the theories and laws that we derive from reading the Quran. Sometimes a complete harmony is achieved (when science has discovered an absolute truth, for example, the earth is a globe and rotates around the sun), at other times, harmony remains deficient (if a scientific theory is not yet fully proven, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution). Total harmony will never be fully achieved—except on the Day of Resurrection.
  1. Since revelation cannot contradict reason, we have to suspend criticism if we come across a passage that apparently contradicts the laws of nature. Verse 45 of Surat al-Furqan, for example, seems to suggest that there are shadows that exist without light. According to what we currently know about shadows’ dependency on light, such claims seem inaccurate. Since we cannot say that the text is wrong (it never is!), we need to intensify the study of light and eventually discover a type of shadow that is yet unknown to us.
  1. When we deal with future aspects of reality that empirically cannot be known yet, for example, the end of the world, the Day of Judgement, Hell and Paradise, the theories of the Quran cannot be supported by empirical knowledge. We can only speculate about such events in the distant future. We can do this on the basis of the verses which the Book provides. We thus assume that the discrepancy between the rational and empirical will eventually be resolved by the occurrence of these events (Day of Resurrection, Day of Judgement etc.), that is, when they become reality. Rational theories will then either be confirmed or contradicted by experiences of the other world. As Allah says: ‘On the day when it is fulfilled, those who have forgotten it before will say: “The messengers of our Lord did indeed bring true (tidings)”’ [An’am:53].
  1. No interpretation is ever eternally final or fixed. As human views change with time, certain interpretations will become obsolete. They will be replaced by new ones. To preserve previous interpretations as ‘guardians of the truth’ means, in reality, to preserve the shortcomings and limitations of previous centuries. Interpretation must remain fluid and flexible. We do not expect the generations of interpreters coming after us to deal with our interpretations as if they were the non plus ultra of truth, thus fossilizing what we said as doctrines that can never be challenged.
  1. The Quran needs to be taken away from the so called scholars because their attitude towards it is like that of uneducated people: they surrender their brains uncritically in a cloud of piety. They do not ask questions that satisfy the modern, rational mind, nor do they understand the philosophical quest for the truth. They use the Quran primarily as a tool for moralistic and ritualistic exhortations to bring the masses in line with their views. The Quran needs to be studied by an enlightened, educated, and intellectually open readership. This is the last and most important principle of ta’wil.