Ruling on Allegories in the Quran

Quran 3:7:

He it is who has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves – and these are the essence of the divine writ – as well as others that are allegorical. Now those whose hearts are given to swerving from the truth go after that part of the divine writ which has been expressed in allegory, seeking out [what is bound to create] confusion, and seeking [to arrive at] its final
meaning [in an arbitrary manner]; but none save God knows its final meaning. Hence, those who are deeply rooted in knowledge say:
We believe in it; the whole [of the divine writ] is from our Sustainer – albeit none takes this to heart save those who are endowed with insight. (Quran 3:7, Muhammad Asad translation)

In this verse Allah (God) describes the nature of two types of verses in the Quran:

  1. Ayat Mukhamat (The Clear Verses)
  2. Ayat Mutoshabihat (The Allegorical Verses)


Under the commentary of this verse, Asad writes,


“The above passage may be regarded as a key to the understanding of the Qur’an. Tabari identifies the ayat muhkamat (“messages that are clear in and by themselves”) with what the philologists and jurists describe as nass – namely, ordinances or statements which are self-evident (zahir) by virtue of their wording (cf. Lisan al-‘Arab, art. nass). Consequently, Tabari regards as ayat muhkamat only those statements or ordinances of the Qur’an which do not admit of more than one interpretation (which does not, of course, preclude differences of opinion regarding the implications of a particular ayah muhkamah). In my opinion, however, it would be too dogmatic to regard any passage of the Qur’an which does not conform to the above definition as mutashabih (“allegorical”): for there are many statements in the Qur’an which are liable to more than one interpretation but are, nevertheless, not allegorical – just as there are many expressions and passages which, despite their allegorical formulation, reveal to the searching intellect only one possible meaning. For this reason, the ayat
mutashabihat may be defined as those passages of the Qur’an which are expressed in a figurative manner, with a meaning that is metaphorically implied but not directly, in so many words, stated. The ayat muhkamat are described as the “essence of the divine writ” (umm al-kitab) because they comprise the fundamental principles underlying its message and, in particular, its ethical and social teachings: and it is only on the basis
of these clearly enunciated principles that the allegorical passages can be correctly interpreted.”

For a more in depth understanding of ‘allegories in the Quran’, see the post:

Symbolism and Allegory in the Quran

Commenting on the above mentioned verse, Yahiya Emerick writes:

“The Prophet once said, “When you see people busy trying to interpret the mutashabihat verses, stay away from them, for they are the people God talked about (in the Qur’an).”  (Bukhari) 

Does this mean that we can never speculate speculate on their meanings?  No, and many companions and later scholars cautiously looked into the possible meaning of such verses.” (The Holy Quran in Today’s English, note 268)

“In addition, there are other verses in the Qur’an that clearly state that insightful believers (in other words well-schooled scholars) can understand the meaning of the Qur’an’s verses.  (See 54:17 and 11:1 for example.)” (Ibid, note 269)

According to the classical commentators,
‘the mutoshahibat (allegorical) verses are not to be delved into. Their meaning is understood through the general idea that they convey. Rather, it is an obligation of the Muslims to believe in them exactly how the Prophet (peace be upon him) described them. The classical commentators take this as a rule and interpret the Quran accordingly.’

References:

Asad, Muhammad (1980). (pg. 92-93). The Message of the Quran. http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/55877864-54484011-Message-of-Quran-Muhammad-Asad-Islam-Translation.pdf

 Emerick, Yahiya. The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an in Today’s English (note 268-269). Unknown. Kindle Edition.