i. The Qur’ān is an Incoherent Book

 

It is generally believed that the Qur’ān is an incoherent book with haphazardly arranged verses.

Hamīd al-Dīn al-Farāhī’s Majmū‘ah-i tafāsīr,[1] Amīn Ahsan Islāhī’s Tadabbur-i Qur’ān[2] and Javed Ahmad Ghāmidī’s on-going exegesis al-Bayān have served to remove this misconception. These scholars are of the view that the Qur’ān was arranged and compiled by the Prophet (sws) under divine instruction. This final arrangement of the Qur’ān possesses coherence, both at the structural and at the thematic levels. It is not a haphazardly arranged book. At the structural level, the sūrahs of the Qur’ān are arranged in a very meaningful way by the Almighty Himself. This arrangement is closely  related to the very theme of the Qur’ān. Similarly, at the thematic level the verses within a sūrah are arranged on divine bidding in a very meaningful way. This arrangement also is closely related to the theme of a particular sūrah.

 

Amīn Ahsan Islāhī writes:

 

Every person knows that it is the strong rope of the Qur’ān that holds together the fabric of this ummah, and all Muslims have been directed to hold steadfast to this rope and not divide themselves into factions. An obvious requirement of this directive is that we must turn to the Qur’ān to resolve all differences which arise among us; however, it is very unfortunate that all of us have different opinions regarding the Qur’ān. There are so many views in the interpretation of every verse, and most of these views are contradictory to one another and we do not have any reference point to decide which view is the correct one. If a difference of opinion arises in the interpretation of a discourse, the most satisfactory thing which can resolve this is the context and coherence of the discourse. Unfortunately, most people do not regard the Qur’ān to be a coherent book having a definite context. The result is that differences of opinions have become permanent. A lot of differences of opinion which have arisen in fiqh are because of disregarding the context of a verse. If this context is taken into consideration, one will find that on most occasions only one interpretation is possible.[3]

 

As is evident from the foregoing discussion, what makes the Qur’ān a document having one definite meaning and one which resolves all differences of interpretation and thus verifies Al-Farāhī’s wordsالْقُرْآنُ لاَ يَحْتَمِلُ إِلاَّ تَاْوِيْلاً وَاحِداً[4]about it, is the coherence it possesses.[5]

The way the exponents of the Farāhī school of thought have revealed the coherence in the Qur’ān does not require any further discussion to prove that it does exist; however, what is the nature of this coherence? The following points will help in understanding it:

1. Each sūrah has a theme around which its contents revolve and make it into a unified whole. It is the most comprehensive statement of its contents. What the soul is to a body, the theme is to a sūrah.

2.Together with the main text of a sūrah, there is an introduction and a conclusion. The content of a sūrah in some cases can be divided into sections and paragraphs, and in other cases only in paragraphs. Paragraphs depict small shifts in the subject and sections depict greater shifts in it. The verses of the introduction and of the conclusion also may at times be divided into paragraphs as per the subject they discuss.

3. These paragraphs and these sections relate to each other not through a verse to verse linear connection but through various literary devices like parables, comparison or parallelism as well as through statements and passages which are conditional, parenthetical, inferential, modifying, cyclic or which signify corollaries, conclusions, questions or answers. This of course is not an exhaustive list.

4. The text of a sūrah progresses through these paragraphs and sections and gradually reaches its culmination. As a result, the sūrah assumes a distinct and unique form and shape, and becomes a complete and independent whole.

5. The sūrahs of the Qur’ān are not haphazardly compiled as is generally thought. They have been arranged in a specific order by the Almighty, and like the arrangement of the verses within a sūrah, the arrangement of the sūrahs within the Qur’ān is very apt and meaningful with relation to the topic they discuss. In a nutshell, as per this arrangement, the Qur’ān is divided into seven distinct groups and the sūrahs within each group occur in pairs. This pairing of the sūrahs is on the basis of the topics discussed, and each member of a pair has a complementary relation with the other. Some sūrahs are an exception to this scheme like Sūrah Fātihah, which is like an introduction to the whole Qur’ān. Some other sūrahs have come as a supplement or as a conclusion of a group. This scheme, with its seven sūrah-groups and pairing of the sūrahs, is stated by the Qur’ān in the following words:

 

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَاكَ سَبْعًا مِنَ الْمَثَانِي وَالْقُرْآنَ الْعَظِيمَ (15 : 87)  

And We have bestowed upon you seven mathānī[6] which is this great Qur’ān. (15:87)[7]

 

 

ii. The Qur’ān has Variant Readings

 

It is alleged that the Qur’ān has variant readings. Typically a verse may have more than one variation. These variations are not merely in pronunciation, they exist, for example, in addition or deletions of words, in the singular and plural form of words, in declensions and in verb structures.[8]It is generally believed that these variations have been divinely revealed. The first person to record these readings in the form of a book was Abū ‘Ubayd Qāsim ibn Sallām (d. 224 AH). He recorded twenty five readings; Abū Ja‘far al-Tabarī (d. 310 AH) recorded over twenty readings, while it was Abū Bakr ibn Mujāhid(d. 324 AH) who selected the seven famous ones.[9] These seven readings became famous through their readers. They are:

 

 

Place                                      Reader

1. Madīnah                  Nāfi‘ (d. 169 AH)

2. Makkah                   Ibn Kathīr (d. 120 AH)

3. Damascus                Ibn ‘Āmir (d. 118 AH)

4. Basrah                     Abū ‘Amr (d. 154 AH)

5. Kūfah                      ‘Āsim (d. 127 AH)

6. Kūfah                      Hamzah (d. 156 AH)

7. Kūfah                      Kisā’ī (189 AH)

 

These readings cannot be accepted in any manner as having the same status as the Qur’ān because of the following reasons.

(i) There exists a consensus of opinion among the scholars of our ummah on the fact that the Qur’ān is mutawātir (ie such a large number of people have transmitted the Qur’ān that the existence of any error in the transmitted text is impossible).

Now, if the chains of narrators of each of these variant readings are examined, none of them can be claimed as mutawātir. They may be mutawātir from their famous originators but they are certainly not mutawātir all the way from these originators up to the Prophet (sws). At best, they can be classified as ahād (isolate reports). Thus al-Zarkashī writes:

 

القراءات السبع متواترة عند الجمهور وقيل مشهورةوالتحقيق أنها متواترة عن الأئمة السبعة أمَّا تواترها عن النبى صلى الله عليه وسلم ففيه نظر فإنّ إسنَاد الأئمة السبعة بهذه القراءات موجود في كتب القراءات وهي نقل الواحد عن الواحد لم تكمل شروط التواتر في استواء الطرفين والواسطة : وهذا شىء موجود فى كتبهم‘.

The opinion of the majority is that these seven readings are mutawātir. However, one opinion is that they are mashhūr[10]…. The truth in this regard is that they are mutawātir from these seven [qurrā’]. As far as their tawātur from the Prophet (sws) is concerned, this is debatable. For the chains of narrators of these seven are found in the books of qirā’āt. These chains are transmission from a single person to another and do not fulfil the condition of tawātur neither from the first narrator to the last nor in between.[11]

 

(ii) Not only are these readings isolate reports (ahād), but also many of the narrators of these readings are not regarded as trustworthy by the scholars of ‘ilm al-rijāl as far as accepting Ahādīthfrom them is concerned. As an example, this is what is written about Hafs ibn Sulaymān, perhaps the most famous and most widely acclaimed of all the disciples of the major qurrā’:

 

In the opinion of ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Abī Hātim, ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Yūsuf ibn Khirash and Imām Muslim he is matrūk al-hadīth (abondoned in Hadīth). Al-Bukhārī comments on him as tarakūhu. ‘Alī ibn al-Madīnī and Abū Zur‘ah regard him to be da‘īf al-hadīth (weak in Hadīth). In the opinion of Yahyā ibn Ma‘īn as quoted by Abū Qudāmah Sarakhsī and ‘Uthmān ibn Sa‘īd al-Dārimī he is laysa bi thiqah (not reliable). Al-Nasā’ī also regards him to be laysa bi thiqah. S~ālih ibn Muhammad al-Baghdādī says that the Ahādīthnarrated by him are not worth writing as primary evidence and all of them mention unfamiliar things in religion. ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Yūsuf ibn Khirāsh says that he is a great liar and forges Āhadīth. Yahyā ibn Ma‘īn also regards him to be a great liar.[12]

 

It seems quite strange that a person so widely regarded as unreliable (even called a liar) in accepting Hadīth from be regarded as a very dependable person as far the Qur’ān is concerned.

(iii)The only complete reading of the Qur’ān which is in vogue from the time of the Prophet (sws) is the al-qirā‘āt al-‘āmmah (the universal reading) – the very reading read out to the Prophet (sws) once the revelation of the Qur’ān had been completed. It was this very reading which existed among the companions of the Prophet (sws). Abū ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sulamī(d. 105 AH)[13]narrates:

 

قال أبو عبد الر حمن السلميّ : كانت قراءة أبى بكر وَعمر و عثمان و زيد بن ثابت و المهاجرين وَالأنصار وَاحدة  كانوا بقرءون القراءة العامة وَهى القراءة التى قرأها رسولالله صلي الله عليه وسلم على جبريل مرتين في العام الذى قبض فيه’ وكان زيد قد شهد العرْضَة الأخيرة  وَكان يقرئ الناس بها حتى مات.

The reading of AbūBakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmān and Zayd ibn Thābit and that of all the Muhājirūn and the Ansār was one. They would read the Qur’ān according to the al-qirā’āt al-‘ammah. This is the same reading which was read out to the Prophet (sws) in the year of his death by Gabriel. Zayd ibn Thābit was also present in this reading [called] the al-‘ardah al-akhīrah[14] and it was this very reading that he taught the Qur’ān to people till his death.[15]

 

As far as certain countries are concerned where the Qur’ān is practically read on a different reading,[16] these readings are bound to have been enforced in them in a certain period of time much later after the departure of the Prophet (sws). Thus, for example, it is historically known that the reading of Nāfi‘was officially promulgated in the third century hijrah in North Africa after the rise of the Malikite fiqh in this area.[17]

It is clear from this analysis that these extant readings which are found in books of tafsīr and read and taught in religious schools can in no way be accepted. Whether they originated from insistence by some to cling to the first recital of the Qur’ān, or were mere explanations of the actual verses written down by the companions in their own codices or were concocted to disparage the Qur’ān is a mystery which perhaps may never be solved. However, this much is certain.They cannot be regarded as the Qur’ān in any way.

 

 

iii. The Qur’ān was revealed on Seven Ahruf

 

There are certain narratives which say that the Qur’ān was revealed on seven ahruf. A typical narrative reads:

 

حَدَّثَنِي يَحْيَى عَنْ مَالِك عَنْ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ عَنْ عُرْوَةَ بْنِ الزُّبَيْرِ عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنِ عَبْدٍ الْقَارِيِّ أَنَّهُ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ يَقُولُ سَمِعْتُ هِشَامَ بْنَ حَكِيمِ بْنِ حِزَامٍ يَقْرَأُ سُورَةَ الْفُرْقَانِ عَلَى غَيْرِ مَا أَقْرَؤُهَا وَكَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَقْرَأَنِيهَا فَكِدْتُ أَنْ أَعْجَلَ عَلَيْهِ ثُمَّ أَمْهَلْتُهُ حَتَّى انْصَرَفَ ثُمَّ لَبَّبْتُهُ بِرِدَائِهِ فَجِئْتُ بِهِ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنِّي سَمِعْتُ هَذَا يَقْرَأُ سُورَةَ الْفُرْقَانِ عَلَى غَيْرِ مَا أَقْرَأْتَنِيهَا فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَرْسِلْهُ ثُمَّ قَالَ اقْرَأْ يَا هِشَامُ فَقَرَأَ الْقِرَاءَةَ الَّتِي سَمِعْتُهُ يَقْرَأُ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ هَكَذَا أُنْزِلَتْ ثُمَّ قَالَ لِي اقْرَأْ فَقَرَأْتُهَا فَقَالَ هَكَذَا أُنْزِلَتْ إِنَّ هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ أُنْزِلَ عَلَى سَبْعَةِ أَحْرُفٍ فَاقْرَءُوا مَا تَيَسَّرَ مِنْهُ

‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn ‘Abd al-Qārī narrated: “ ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb said before me: ‘I heard Hishām ibn Hakīm ibn Hizāmreading Sūrah Furqānin a different way from the one I used to read it, and the Prophet (sws) himself had read out this sūrah to me. Consequently, as soon as I heard him, I wanted to get hold of him. However, I gave him respite until he had finished the prayer. Then I got hold of his cloak and dragged him to the Prophet (sws). I said to him: “I have heard this person [Hishām ibn Hakīm ibn Hizām] reading Sūrah Furqān in a different way from the one you had read it out to me.” The Prophet (sws) said: “Leave him alone [O ‘Umar].” Then he said to Hishām: “Read [it].” [‘Umar said:] “He read it out in the same way as he had done before me.” [At this,] the Prophet (sws) said: “It was revealed thus.” Then the Prophet (sws) asked me to read it out. So I read it out. [At this], he said: “It was revealed thus; this Qur’ān has been revealed on Seven Ahruf. You can read it in any of them you find easy from among them.” ’ ”[18]

 

While critically analyzing this narrative, Ghāmidī writes:[19]

 

If the following points about this narrative are  contemplated on, it becomes evident that it is an absolutely meaningless narrative which should not be considered of any worth in this regard:

 

Firstly, even though this narrative has been recorded in the basic books of Hadīth literature, no one in history has ever been able to offer a convincing explanation of it rendering it totally ambiguous. Al-Suyūtī[20] has recorded about forty interpretations of this narrative and then, while acknowledging the weakness of each of these, has confessed that this narrative should be regarded among the mutashābihāt, whose meaning is only known to God:

 

وأرجحها عندي قول من قال : إن هذا من المتشابه الذي لايدري تأويله

And to me the best opinion in this regard is that of the people who say that this Hadīth is from among matters of mutashābihāt, the meaning of which cannot be understood.[21]

 

Secondly, the only plausible interpretation of the word ahruf is that it connotes pronunciation[22] of words the Arabs were used to. However, in this case, the text of the H~adīth itself negates this meaning. It is known that both Umar (rta) and Hishām (rta) belonged to the same tribe: the Quraysh. Obviously, people of the same tribe could not have had different pronunciations.

 

Thirdly, even if it is accepted that this difference was of pronunciation between various tribes and as a result they were allowed to read it variously, the verb unzila (was revealed) is very inappropriate. The Qur’ān has specified that it was revealed in the language of the Prophet’s tribe: the Quraysh (See for example: 19:97, 44:58). After this, it can be accepted that the various tribes were allowed to read it according to their own accents, but how can it be accepted that the Almighty Himself revealed the various dialects and pronunciations.

 

Fourthly, it is known that Hishām had accepted Islam on the day Makkah was conquered. If this Hadīth is accepted, it would mean that even after the conquest of Makkah senior Companions and even a close associate like ‘Umar (rta) was unaware of the fact that the Prophet (sws) secretly taught the Qur’ān in some other form and reading from the one openly heard from the Prophet (sws) and preserved in writing and in memory. Every person can realize how grave this claim is and how far reaching are its effects.

 

 

iv. Only God knows the Meanings of

Certain Qur’ānic Verses

 

It is generally thought that there are certain verses of the Qur’ān whose meaning is only known to God and that no man is able to understand them. They are called the mutashābihāt verses of the Qur’ān.

It needs to be clarified that the mutashābihāt of the Qur’ān are verses in which things that are beyond human observation or comprehension are mentioned in the form of comparison (tashbīh) to things which we know in our own language and through our own experience. The actual purport conveyed by these verses is clear. However, human intellect is not equipped to grasp the reality to which they refer. For example, it is said in Sūrah H~āqqah that the Almighty’s throne shall be lifted by eight angels on the Day of Judgement. Now we cannot know what the throne will be like, though we may have a slight idea since the word throne is also a common word in our language. Similarly, Sūrah Muddaththir says that there will be nineteen sentinels guarding Hell. Again we cannot say why there will be nineteen and what they will be like, though we know that the word nineteen mentions a definite number. Consequently, verses which mention the blowing of spirit in Adam,[23] the birth of Jesus (sws) without a father,[24] nature of God’s actions like His sitting on a throne,[25] the blessings of Paradise like the nature of its milk and honey,[26] the torments of Hell like the tree ofzaqqūm growing in fire[27] are examples of the mutashābihāt. The real purpose of such verses is that they become a trial and test for people since they must profess faith in them, without going after their reality. The Qur’ān says:

 

هُوَ الَّذِيَ أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ في قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاء الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاء تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلاَّ أُوْلُواْ الألْبَابِ (7:3)

He it is Who has sent down to you the Book; in it are verses fundamental; they are the foundation of the book: others are mutashābihāt. But those in whose hearts is a twist follow the mutashābihāt seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows their true reality 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. (3:7)

 

An important point worth noting in the above mentioned verses is that it has not been said that the meaning of the mutashābihāt is only known to Allah. Rather it has been declared that their reality is only known to Him. The actual word used is ta’wīl which is used in the same sense here as in the following verse:

 

قَالَ يَا أَبَتِ هَـذَا تَأْوِيلُ رُؤْيَايَ (100:12)

He [Joseph] said: “This is the reality [in the interpretation] of my dream which I had seen before.” (12:100)

 

Consequently, the meaning of the words in which the dream of Joseph has been mentioned in the Qur’ān is clear to everyone who knows Arabic. However, the reality denoted by the various elements of the dream like the sun, the moon and the eleven stars (12:4) was only known once the dream was fulfilled.

While explaining this aspect, Amīn Ahsan Islāhī writes:

 

The reality to which these [mutashābihāt] point is itself very clear and obvious. Human intellect can understand that part of it which is essential for it to understand. However, since it belongs to an unseen world, the Qur’ān mentions it through parables and similes so that students of the Qur’ān can understand it as per their capabilities and consider that only God knows what their real form and shape is. These [mutashābihāt] relate to attributes and works of God or to the reward and punishment of the Hereafter. We are able to understand them to the extent we need to understand them, and this increases our knowledge and faith but if we go beyond this and start to seek their real form and shape, then this will only lead us astray. The result of this is that while wanting to clear one doubt from the mind, a person ends up gathering many more; so much so, in this quest to know more he loses what he had gained and refutes very clear facts just because he is not able to ascertain their form and shape.[28]

 

It is evident from these details that the mutashābihāt of the Qur’ān are verses the true reality of which human intellect is not capable of knowing since there can be no words in a language which can describe things yet to come in human observation. Consequently, words which may be similar to the concepts conveyed by these things of the unknown world are used to portray these details. It is incorrect to regard them as verses whose meaning is unclear or doubtful.

 

 

v. The Qur’ān is a Manual of Complete Knowledge

 

Some people are of the view thatthe Qur’ān contains knowledge of everything and in it is found the answer to every question which comes to our mind. The following verse is generally presented to substantiate this view:

 

مَا فَرَّطْنَا فِي الكِتَابِ مِن شَيْءٍ ثُمَّ إِلَى رَبِّهِمْ يُحْشَرُونَ (6: 38)

We did not leave anything out of this Book. Then all will be gathered before their Lord [for judgement]. (6:38)

 

A little deliberation on the context of the verse shows that the verse has a specific connotation and it is incorrect to draw this conclusion from it. 

6:37 says that the disbelievers would demand that they be shown some sign so that they may profess belief. It is evident from later verses that the word “sign” actually refers to the punishment the disbelievers were threatened with by the Prophet (sws) if they rejected him:

 

قُلْ أَرَأَيْتُكُم إِنْ أَتَاكُمْ عَذَابُ اللّهِ أَوْ أَتَتْكُمُ السَّاعَةُ أَغَيْرَ اللّهِ تَدْعُونَ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ بَلْ إِيَّاهُ تَدْعُونَ فَيَكْشِفُ مَا تَدْعُونَ إِلَيْهِ إِنْ شَاء وَتَنسَوْنَ مَا تُشْرِكُونَ (6: 40-41)

Say: “What do you think, if there come upon you thepunishment of God, or the Hour [that you dread]. Would you then call upon other than God? – [Answer] if you are truthful! Nay, – On Him would you call, and if it be His will, He would remove [the distress] which occasioned your call upon Him, and you would forget [the false gods] which you join with Him!” (6:40-41)

 

Consequently, the disbelievers have been quoted by the Qur’ānat many instances saying that they would like to see the punishment they are being threatened with in order to see whether Muhammad (sws) was a true Messenger of God. At all such places, they are answered that if this sign is shown to them, then they would not be given any further respite – they would be destroyed. So it is better that instead of demanding this ultimate sign, they pay heed to the numerous other signs found in abundance around them and within their own being.

This is precisely what has been stated in 6:37 and at the beginning of 6:38:

 

وَقَالُواْ لَوْلاَ نُزِّلَ عَلَيْهِ آيَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِ قُلْ إِنَّ اللّهَ قَادِرٌ عَلَى أَن يُنَزِّلٍ آيَةً وَلَـكِنَّ أَكْثَرَهُمْ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَمَا مِن دَآبَّةٍ فِي الأَرْضِ وَلاَ طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلاَّ أُمَمٌ أَمْثَالُكُم (6: 37-38)

And they say: “Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “God has certainly the power to send down a sign: but most of them understand not. There is not an animal [that lives] on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but [forms part of] communities like you.”  (6:37-8)

 

The disbelievers are told that God has all the power to send down such a sign, but most of them do not know its implications. For when such a sign is sent, it is a signal of destruction for the people. So instead of demanding such a sign, they should look around and they will find plenty of signs. If they contemplate even on the animals around them and on the birds above them they will find many lessons. They will find in the individual and collective lives of these species the manifestations of the Almighty’s mercy, power, providence and wisdom. These manifestations show that this world has been made for a specific purpose by the Almighty.

In other words the expression: “We did not leave anything out of this book” if taken in context means that as far as signs to profess belief are concerned, this Book has plenty and that nothing has been left out of it. The verse does not imply that the Qur’āncontains guidance on everything.

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