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

Grammatically Understanding Surat al-Tawhid

Grammatically Understanding Surat al-Tawhid

Photo credits: Faleh Zahrawi

In the previous term, I had the opportunity to spend some time on focused exegetical discussions on sūrat al-Tawḥīd with some colleagues. We covered many different aspects of sūrat al-Tawḥīd, but one aspect that I found to be the most interesting was the grammatical discussion surrounding the first verse.

The following is an attempt to grammatically understand the first verse of this chapter. I have relied heavily on a lot of grammatical jargon and have tried to explain it as best as I can so as to facilitate readers not well versed in Arabic grammar.

The first verse of sūrat al-Tawḥīd is as follows,

ٌقُلْ هُوَ اللهَ أَحَد

(Tentative Translation) Say,” He is Allah, the One… 1

Defining the Text

Before, attempting to understand the verse grammatically, the actual verse and any other potential variant readings must be defined. Works documenting the 7, 10 or 14 readings of the Qurān indicate that most scholars of the readings of the Qurān were in agreement over the popular recitation of the verse that is present in the Qurān today, that is, “قل هو الله أحد”.

Further evidence of the fact that the text of the verse has been correctly preserved is that some books of history have recorded that this verse was minted in the same form on Syrian coins between the years 42 A.H. and 49 A.H. during the caliphate of Marwān bin al-Ḥakm2.

Zamakhsharī and Variant Readings

In light of this, it is interesting to note that Zamakhsharī (d. 538 A.H.) mentions some differences in reports of the recitations of this verse3.

  1. It has been reported that Ibn Mas’ūd and Ubay bin Ka’b read the verse without the word “قل”, thus reading it as “هُوَ اللهُ أَحَد”
  2. A’mash read the word “أَحَد” as “وَاحِد”. Thus the verse would be, “قُلْ هُوَ اللهُ وَاحِد”
  3. It has been reported that the Prophet read the verse without the words, “قُلْ هُو”. Thus the verse would simply be, “اللهُ أَحَد”. This has apparently been recorded in a narration that says, “To read ‘اللهُ أَحَد’, is equitable to reading the whole Qurān”.

Continue reading “Grammatically Understanding Surat al-Tawhid”

  1. Al-Tawḥīd 112:1
  2. Details about this can often be found in entries about Marwān, refer to Ibn al-Athīr, Asad al-Ghābbah fī Ma’rifat al-Ṣaḥābah, v. 4 pg. 348
  3. Zamakhsharī, al-Kashshāf ‘an Ḥaqāiq Ghawāmiḍ al-Tanzīl v. 4 pg. 817 – 818

Comparing Exegetical Traditions: al-Wāqīat, Verse 79

Comparing Exegetical Traditions: al-Wāqīat, Verse 79
لا يمسه الا المطهرون

No one touches it except the pure ones 1

Something which I have wanted to make mention of for a while now is the wealth of methodologies and approaches extant within the exegetical corpus.

I think that rather than approach such exegetical methodologies in a descriptive manner, it would be prudent to present examples of such approaches while, at the same time, being aware that one example may not be accurately representative of an exegete’s methodology. My purpose for highlighting such differences is to introduce different scholarly views and also to encourage questions and thoughts.

As such, in the following post, I hope to briefly cover different exegeses of verse 79 of Surah al-Wāqīat.

لَّا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُون‏

No one touches it except the pure ones [1. al-Wāqīat 56:79]

Many jurists have interpreted this verse to be indicative of the impermissibility of touching the Qurān while being ritually impure2. Of course, narrations are also present that support this interpretation3.

This seems to be a valid understanding, supported by narrations. However, there are also other interpretations such as that which Sadr al-Dīn presents in one of his works entitled, “Risalay Seh Asal”. Continue reading “Comparing Exegetical Traditions: al-Wāqīat, Verse 79”

  1. al-Wāqīat 56:79
  2. This view is presented in works such as, Tūsī, al-Khilāf v.1 pg. 99; Hillī, Mukhtalif al-Shī’a fi Ahkām al-Sharī’a v. 1 pg. 292
  3. Tūsī, al-Istibsār fī mā ikhtalafa min al-akhbār v.1 pg. 114

An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qurān

An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qurān
سبحانک لا علم لنا الا ما علمتنا

Glory be to thee, We have no knowledge except for that which you have taught us[1]

For a while now I have wanted to briefly introduce some of the different subjects that are discussed and researched as a means to understand the Qurān. However, practically I have found this task very difficult due to numerous reasons, one of them being simply because of the numerous subjects that are associated with the Qurān[2]. Anyhow, my goal here is to introduce merely some of the numerous subjects that are critical to one’s understanding of the Qurān.

1. Exegesis of the Qurān (Tafsir)

Perhaps the most widely studied subject in relation to the Qurān is that of exegesis. Exegesis is sometimes defined as, “Attempting to understand the intent of Allah in accordance to the capabilities of human beings”[3]. That is, exegesis is an attempt to understand the intended meaning of Allah within the Qurān while taking into account that man is a limited being and is not necessarily capable of perceiving the depths of the meanings within the Qurān. Throughout history, exegesis has been the subject of a lot of debate and discussion and literally thousands of exegeses (tafasir) have been written in attempting to convey understood meanings of the Qurān. Continue reading “An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qurān”