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

Āyatullah Jawadī on The Disjointed Letters

Āyatullah Jawadī on The Disjointed Letters

ن و القلم و ما يسطرون

Nun. By the Pen and what they write1

The following is an abridged translation of Āyatullah Jawadī Āmulī’s discussion concerning the hurūf al-muqatt’āt, the disjointed letters which are found at the beginning of some chapters of the Qurān.

Shaikh Jawadī begins his discussion by recounting some features related to the presence of these letters which are as follows:

  1. These letters are specific to the Qurān in so far as nothing similar to them is found in other divine books such as the Torah or Bible.
  2. The hurūf al-muqatt’āt are not specific to Meccan or Medinan chapters of the Qurān. There are 27 Meccan chapters and 2 Medinan chapters, a total of 29, that contain the hurūf al-muqatt’āt.
  3. The hurūf al-muqatt’āt at the beginning of chapters range from being 1-5 letters long such as;
    1. ق, ص, ن
    2. طس, یس
    3. الم, الر, طسم
    4. المص, المر
    5. كهيعص, حم عسق
  4. Some of the hurūf al-muqatt’āt have been counted as part of a verse, others as a complete verse and others as two verses.
  5. Some of the hurūf al-muqatt’āt have been repeated many times such as ص, which has been mentioned independently in sūrah Sād and in sura al-‘araf as part of المص. Other have only been mentioned once such as ن. Interestingly, حم has been mentioned 7 times and the chapters in which حم has been mentioned are collectively referred to as the “Hawāmīm al-sab’ah” (حواميم السبعة).
  6. There are 14 hurūf al-muqatt’āt (not counting repetitions) which are as follows; ي ,ه ,ن ,م ,ل ,ك ,ق ,ع ,ط ,ص ,س ,ر ,ح ,ا
  7. Some exegetes have mentioned the view that by organising the hurūf al-muqatt’āt in different ways, statements such as “صراط علي حق نمسكه” (The path of ‘Alī is the truth and we hold steadfast to it) or “علي حق نمسك صراطه” (‘Alī is the truth, we hold steadfast onto his path) can be formed2. Although this is an interesting point, there is no reliable proof for it. Ālūsī, after mentioning what the Shiites have formed using the hurūf al-muqatt’āt proposes other formations in favour of the ahl al-sunnah such as “صحّ طريقك مع السنة” (Your path is correct if in accordance with the sunnah(tradition))3.
    1. The lesson learned from this example that pertains to this or any discussion is that views and opinions which are offered should not be flawed; that is, they should be supported by either rational evidence or reliable textual evidence (from the Qurān or ahadith corpus).

Sheikh Jawadī then goes onto recount 20 different opinions concerning the interpretation of the hurūf al-muqatt’āt according to different exegetes. Continue reading “Āyatullah Jawadī on The Disjointed Letters”

  1. al-Qalam 68:1-2
  2. Bahrānī, al-Burhān fī Tafsīr al-Qurān v. 1 pg. 167
  3. Ālūsī, Rūh al-M’ānī v. 1 pg. 172