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The Allegorical verses of the Quran

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Quran 3:7:

He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: in it are verses
basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part there of that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord”; and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding. (Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation)

Under the commentary of this verse, Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes,

This passage gives us an important clue to the
interpretation of the Holy Quran. Broadly speaking it
may be divided into two portions, not given separately,
but intermingled: viz.

  1. the nucleus or foundation of the Book, literally “the
    mother of the Book”.
  2. the part which is figurative, metaphorical, or allegorical.
    It is very fascinating to take up the latter, and exercise
    our ingenuity about its meaning, but it refers to such
    profound matters that are beyond human language and
    though people of wisdom may get some light from it, no
    one should be dogmatic, as the final meaning is known
    to Allah alone.
    The Commentators usually understand the verses “of
    established meaning” (muhkam) to refer to the
    categorical orders of the Shariah (or the Law), which are
    plain to everyone’s understanding. But perhaps the
    meaning is wider: the “mother of the Book” must include the very foundation on which all Law rests, the essence of Allah’s Message, as distinguished from the various illustrative parables, allegories, and ordinances. If we refer to xi. 1 and xxxix. 23, we shall find that in a sense the whole of the Quran has both “established meaning” and allegorical meaning. The division is not between the verses, but between the meanings to be attached to them. Each verse is but a sign or symbol: what it represents is something immediately applicable, and something internal and independent of time and space,-the “Forms of Ideas” in Plato’s Philosophy. The wise man will understand that there is an “essence” and an illustrative clothing given to the essence, throughout the Book. We must try to understand it as best we can, but not waste our energies in disputing about matters beyond our depth.

“Nursi defines mutashābih as follows: The styles of the Qur’an, called mutashābih (ambiguous verses), put the forms before the people’s eyes like telescopes or powerful spectacles. Most of the masters of eloquence use figures of speech (al-istiʻāra) in order to illustrate subtle meanings or depict different views. Therefore, mutashābih verses are figures of speech of an abstruse kind because they depict subtle truths. In other words, because of the intellectual capacity of the ordinary people, the Qur’an depicts the subtle truths in allegorical form (mutashābihāt), with metaphors (istiʻāra) and similes (tashbīh). For example, regarding the use of Merciful (al-Rahmān) and Compassionate (al-Rahīm) in reference to God, Nursi underlines that both attributes are ambiguous forms (mutashābihāt), like God having a “Hand”. This style is a divine condescension to human minds, and it makes something familiar to the mind and causes the subtle truths to be understood. This style is like one’s speech to a child, in terms that he is familiar with. The ordinary people gather their information through their senses, and they can only understand subtle truths in the mirror of what they envisage them to be.” (Modern Interpretaton of the Quran, under the category ‘clear and ambigious verses’)

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 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)

Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes,

“One reading, rejected by the majority of
Commentators, but accepted by Mujahid and others,
would not make a break at the point here marked Waq
Lazim, but would run the two sentences together.
In that case the construction would run:
“No one knows its hidden meanings except Allah
and those who are firm in knowledge. They say”,
etc.”

The following excerpt is taken from “Science in the Quran” by Sayyid Rami Al Rifai chapter 1:

“It is clear from the prophet Muhammad’s (saws) own words that He (saws) understood there is knowledge in everything which needs to be studied and discovered before it can be known, today for mankind science fulfils this role. The Prophet – praise and peace be upon him – said, “Indeed, knowledge has a branch which resembles a hidden thing (it needs to be discovered); no one grasps it except those who know Allah.” Allah in the Quran speaks about all aspects of creation, but much of it was beyond the understanding of the desert Arabs living 1400 years ago, Allah says: “And we strike these similitudes for the people, but none understands them except those who know.” (29: 42). Regarding this the prophet (saws) said, “Indeed, there is an external meaning and an internal meaning to the Qur’an, a scope and a point.” Ali, pointing to his breast, said, “Indeed, herein lies abundant knowledge; would that there were some to (comprehend and) transmit it.”   It was because not every person was capable of understanding science that the prophet (saws) said, “We prophets were ordered to communicate with everyone according to his ability to understand.” This is because there was a danger in trying to teach people science they would not be able to prove for another 1400 years, so the prophet (saws) warned, “No one has ever recited a prophetic quotation to a people which their minds have failed to grasp without it being a temptation for them.” The prophet taught the scientific meanings behind specific verses to the companions who could grasp them and they understood the dangers of trying to teach knowledge that could not be visually proven.   Allah said in the Quran, “It is Allah who has created the seven heavens and of (the) earth, their like (meaning the other planets); and between them the Command descends (the Laws of Physics governing space)” (65: 12). Ibn Abbas (r.a) said about this verse, “Were I to relate its interpretation you would stone me” or  “ you would have said, ‘He is an unbeliever’”. Abu Hurrah similarly said, “I have received from the Prophet of Allah two things (types of knowledge), one of which I have made public. Were I to divulge the other, this throat would be cut.”   The prophet  ( saws)   said, “Abu-Bakr has excelled you not by excessive fasting and much prayer, but by a secret which rests in his chest.” His ability to understand science and everything the prophet (saws) taught him about the universe and Allah.   Allah said in the Quran “Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Are those who know equal with those who know not? But only men of understanding will pay heed.” (39: 9)

References:

Al Rifai, Sayyid Rami. Science In The Quran (pp. 1-2). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

Çoruh, Hakan. Modern Interpretation of the Qur’an (Palgrave Series in Islamic Theology, Law, and History) . Springer International Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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

Noomani, Maulana Manzur. (2012). Maariful Hadith – Meaning and messages of the traditions/hadith. (pg. 241-242). http://www.islamibayanaat.com/MaarifulHadith.htm

Yusuf Ali, Abdullah. Translation and Commentary of the Quran. (Surah 3 verse 7). http://www.quran4u.com/Tafsiraya/003%20Imran.pdf