Approaching the Quran

Approaching the Quran

The following is based off of a talk I gave at UTSC on March 8th 2018. The talk was entitled, “Approaching the Quran”.

Every verse of the Quran can serve as an index to centuries of discussion amongst exegetes. All these discussions occur between various scholars each adopting potentially different approaches to understanding the Quran. The purpose of this post is to highlight a few of these approaches in a practical manner by discussing a fragment of verse 89 of sūrat al-Naḥl. The verse is as follows,

…وَ نَزَّلْنا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتابَ تِبْياناً لِكُلِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ…

…We have sent down the Book to you as a clarification/explanation of all things1

There have classically been two major understandings of this fragment, although there are many more understandings than that. The first understanding asserts that the Quran is comprehensive of all knowledge and sciences. That is, the Quran contains information relevant to subjects such as philosophy, the natural sciences etc. in addition to its content related to the guidance of humans towards God. The second view is of a more minimalist nature and asserts that the Quran necessarily contains what is relevant for humans to be guided to God and therefore does not necessarily contain information or references pertaining to unrelated subjects.

In what follows, I will cover each view sequentially, detailing proponents of each view, discussing the approaches taken by different scholars to reach each view and furthermore discussing areas where these views are applied. At the end I will mention some other possible thoughts on this verse. Continue reading “Approaching the Quran”

  1. Al-Naḥl 16:89, some translators translate the word tibyān/تبيان as clarification while others translate it as explanation

“Al-Raḥmān” in the Quran

“Al-Raḥmān” in the Quran

الرحمن على العرش استوى

The All-beneficent, settled on the Throne1

I was recently writing an article about the word “al-raḥmān”, particularly focusing on its philological background amongst other discussions. While doing so, I came across a verse that was the source of some interesting philological discussions. The verse is as follows,

وَ إِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اسْجُدُواْ لِلرَّحْمَانِ قَالُواْ وَ مَا الرَّحْمَانُ أَ نَسْجُدُ لِمَا تَأْمُرُنَا وَ زَادَهُمْ نُفُورًا

When they are told: “Prostrate yourselves before the All-beneficent,” they say, “What is ‘the All-beneficent (al-raḥmān)?’ Shall we prostrate ourselves before whatever you bid us?” And it increases their aversion2.

In what follows, I would like to briefly discuss the following verse in terms of its role within the broader philological discussion on the word “al-raḥmān”. In order to do so, I will briefly summarize the general philological discussion about the word “al-raḥmān” so as to contextualize the role of this particular verse.

Origins and Philological Background

In short, there are two main views about the origins of the word “al-raḥmān”. Some scholars argue that the word was originally an Arabic word. Such scholars typically resort to quoting pre-prophetic usages of the word to establish a precedent for the word within the Arabic language.

The second view is that the word was taken from another language, that is, it is a loanword. This view has two groups of proponents. One group is that of the orientalists who largely resort to usages of similar words within other Semitic languages to establish that this word is a loanword3. The other group is that of the classical Muslim exegetes, many of whom resort to this particular verse amongst other proofs to establish the plausibility that this word was a loanword. They particularly use this verse as evidence that the Arabs were not familiar with this word, as indicated by the question, “What is ‘the All-beneficient (al-raḥmān)?’”

Regardless of whether or not the word is indeed a loanword, my goal here is simply to outline some other interpretations and understandings of this verse. This is in order to highlight that often times it is not an easy task to use a verse of the Quran within arguments because of the multiplicity of plausible interpretations that can be offered for Quranic verses.

For this purpose, I have quoted the relevant exegesis about this verse from The Study Quran and offered some criticism. Furthermore, I have also mentioned another interpretation of this verse. Continue reading ““Al-Raḥmān” in the Quran”

  1.  Ṭaha 20: 5
  2. Al-Furqān 25:60
  3. For a discussion concerning such usages see Arthur Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’ān pg. 140

LQS 4: Asbāb al-Nuzūl – The Causes of Revelation

LQS 4: Asbāb al-Nuzūl – The Causes of Revelation
و كلهم آتيه يوم القيامة فردا

And each of them will come to Him alone on the Day of Resurrection1

This post is the seventh in a series of summaries of Āyatullah Hādī Ma’rifat’s book entitled, Āmūzish ‘Ulūm Qurānī (Learning the Qurānic Sciences). For an introduction to Āyatollah Hādī Ma’rifat and his works, click here. To read the previous post which covered Sheikh Yūsufī Gharavī’s critique of the suspension of revelation (fatrah), click here.

The fourth chapter of sheikh Ma’rifat’s book discusses what are commonly referred to as asbāb al-nuzūl (causes of revelation) (s. sabab al-nuzūl). He defines a sabab al-nuzūl as, that which caused the Qurān to be revealed to address it2.

The asbāb al-nuzūl are typically documented in the form of narrations. The main work that is typically mentioned in the context of this subject is that of Wāhidī Nishapūrī (d. 468 AH/1076 AD) entitled, Asbāb al-Nuzūl al-Qurān. This work largely serves as the foundation of other Sunni works concerned with narrations of asbāb al-nuzūl such as Suyūtī’s (d. 911 AH/1505 AD), Lubāb al-Nuqūl fī Asbāb al-Nuzūl, which in addition to being largely composed of narrations taken from Wāhidī is also a much later work3.

As for Shia works, narrations related to the reason/cause for the revelation of certain verses can be found in the Four Books.

There are many examples of instances in which narrations of asbāb al-nuzūl aid one in understanding a verse of the Qurān. One such example which is often quoted in books about the Qurānic sciences is that of surah al-Baqrah, Verse 158 which is as follows: Continue reading “LQS 4: Asbāb al-Nuzūl – The Causes of Revelation”

  1. Maryam 19:95
  2. Ma’rifat, al-Tamhīd fī ‘Ulūm al-Qurān v. 1 pg. 267
  3. There is a lack of works written specifically about narrations related to asbāb al-nuzūl; for a more comprehensive survey of works related to asbāb al-nuzūl refer to, Andrew Rippin, The Exegetical Genre “asbāb al-nuzūl”: A Bibliographical and Terminological Survey