Around 30 years ago, one of those Marxist-leaning and eclectic individuals presented in his lecture a symbolic interpretation of the story of Habil and Qabil mentioned in the Qur’an. The story as narrated in the Qur’an is as follows:
وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ابْنَيْ آدَمَ بِالْحَقِّ إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا فَتُقُبِّلَ مِن أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الآخَرِ قَالَ لَأَقْتُلَنَّكَ قَالَ إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللّهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ
“Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons. When the two of them offered an offering, it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other. [One of them] said, ‘Surely I will kill you.’ [The other one] said, ‘Allah accepts only from the God-wary’.”
As can be deduced from traditions, the sons of Hadhrat Adam (‘a), Qabil (Cain) and Habil (Abel), were supposed to make an offering to God. Habil offered a sheep for sacrifice while Qabil offered some grain. The offering of the former was accepted by God but that of the latter was not accepted. As such, Qabil became jealous and envious of his brother Habil to the extent that he murdered him. But he regretted what he had done. As he did not know what to do with the corpse of his brother, God sent a crow to teach him how to bury the dead body:
فَبَعَثَ اللّهُ غُرَابًا يَبْحَثُ فِي الأَرْضِ لِيُرِيَهُ كَيْفَ يُوَارِي سَوْءةَ أَخِيهِ قَالَ يَا وَيْلَتَا أَعَجَزْتُ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِثْلَ هَـذَا الْغُرَابِ فَأُوَارِيَ سَوْءةَ أَخِي فَأَصْبَحَ مِنَ النَّادِمِينَ
“Then Allah sent a crow, exploring in the ground, to show him how to bury the corpse of his brother. He said, ‘Woe to me! Am I unable to be [even] like this crow and bury my brother’s corpse?’ Thus he became regretful.”
When a crow, sent by God, started digging the ground in search of food in front of Qabil, the eldest son of Hadhrat Adam (‘a) who did not realize till then how he could dig the soil and bury a corpse, learned it from a crow and buried his brother’s corpse.
In his symbolic interpretation of this story, the said writer and speaker said that Habil is the symbol of the hardworking class of workers and peasants, the product of whose unrelenting sweat and toil is insignificant. Since God supports and inclines toward this class, He accepted his humble pasture product offering. Meanwhile, Qabil is the symbol of capitalists and when he offered his produce, God rejected his offering because God is against capitalists.
The speaker concluded that Habil and Qabil and their respective offerings did not exist in reality as they only represent and symbolize the classes of proletariats and capitalists and the struggle between the two classes. (During the time of Hadhrat Adam (‘a) when there was no other person other than him, his wife and two sons, how could the classes of the proletariats and the capitalists have existed and what was the meaning of class-based interpretation at that time? In any case, due to the prevalence of Marxist thought 30 years ago and the multitude of supporters of atheistic schools of thought, these symbolic interpretations earned wide acceptance.)
The said speaker presented a symbolic interpretation of Habil and Qabil but he did not tell what the raven symbolized. One of his students discovered this secret and in his article, he introduced the black raven as the symbol of akhunds who are preoccupied with rawdhahkhani and lamentation, propagators of wickedness and misfortune from pulpits, busy supporting feudal lords and capitalists. By discovering this secret, he allegedly completed the so-called third side of the triad of gold [zar], force [zur] and deceit [tazwir]. Interestingly, in narrating this story, God says: “Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons.” That is, “Relate to the people the truth of this real event.” It is as if God predicts that one day there will be an unrealistic and erroneous interpretation of this event in history, and emphasizes that no distortion be made and the truth related to the people.
Yes, during recent decades, especially nowadays, symbolic, allegorical and fictitious interpretations of the Qur’an have increased and been propagated to such an extent that some of those who have studied Islam and are even wearing clerical garbs are hymning such melodies and claim that the language of the Qur’an is not realistic and it is not true that the Qur’anic verses show us objective and immutable realities.
Accordingly, in interpreting Qur’anic verses, we do not have decisive and convincing bases, fixed frameworks, and scientifically accurate criteria with which we can claim that so-and-so verse can have only one interpretation and explanation and all other interpretations are wrong. Rather, everyone can have a symbolic and allegorical interpretation of Qur’anic verses according to his ideas, presumptions and thoughts even if his interpretation is totally incompatible with other interpretations!
In order to be familiar with the theory of symbolism of religious narratives including the Qur’anic narratives and to enhance our minds, let me tell you that displayed in modern arts museums are tabloids with ambiguous geometrical forms that do not clearly show images of certain things, and everyone has his own interpretation and perception of them according to his literary talent, and introduces them as symbols of certain things.
Perhaps, the drawers of those tabloids might be unaware of others’ interpretations and perceptions of those drawings. Similarly, in some psychological tests some ink are spread on a sheet of paper and every patient is asked what object he can see on the paper. After a bit of thinking and conceiving the specific shapes on the paper which he thinks is the form of a certain object, each of the patients offers his own interpretation, saying, for example, that a certain portion of the formed shape shows the hair of a woman and another portion shows her hands, and finally, he introduces the ambiguous form and image as a woman’s portrait.
This is in spite of the fact that the one who scattered the small pieces of paper in different shapes on a sheet of paper has not intended to make a specific form or image at all and he did not want to do so consciously and logically. He just spread some ink on a sheet of paper, and as a result, an ambiguous image which is subject to various interpretations is formed.
They claim that the language of the Qur’an is not realistic and its narratives are related so that anyone can understand and comprehend something from it according to his own discernment. One should not treat as absolute his understanding and perception of the Qur’an and say that his interpretation of the Qur’an is definitely correct and that of others is wrong.
Likewise, if a person happens to deal with modern arts and has an interpretation of them, he can not say that his interpretation is definitely correct and that of another is wrong because he has a specific interpretation and understanding of them according to his ideas and specific conditions. Others also have their distinct interpretation and understanding according to their respective ideas and specific social conditions. Some interpretations cannot be regarded as correct and others as wrong. In essence, correctness or incorrectness in such cases is not something real and fixed and it cannot be said that one person’s understanding is correct and another’s wrong!
Is the Qur’an—God forbid—like modern arts which anyone can interpret according to his understanding? Most of those who have such understanding of the heavenly scriptures do not believe in God and divine revelation, and if ever they talk about religion, it is only meant to deceive others. Then, the advocates of the theory of various interpretations and readings of heavenly scriptures say: Assuming that there is God who has sent divine revelation and His Apostle has heard it correctly—which is of course, debatable—yet, the Apostle is human and his understanding is not error free. So, he might not have understood the words of God correctly.
Besides, if we accept that the Apostle has not erred in receiving and understanding the verses of the Qur’an, one cannot present a definite way of interpreting Qur’anic verses on the basis of which an interpretation can be treated as correct and definite and other interpretations as wrong. Instead, anyone can have an interpretation and understanding of the Qur’an and this interpretation and understanding is credible and authentic for him and no one can reject it. In dealing with the Holy Scripture, we are exactly like those who have undergone psychological tests, shown an ambiguous image and asked to state their interpretation of it. Then, everyone can have his own interpretation according to his mental setup!
Surah al-Ma’idah 5:27. [Trans.]
Surah al-Ma’idah 5:31.
Rawdhahkhani refers to the systematic commemoration of the martyrs of Karbala’ through the professional narrators of the event in ‘Ashura’ so as to excite weeping and lamentation. [Trans.]
Image courtesy of ytimg.com
An excerpt from Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, ISLAMIC POLITICAL THEORY (STATECRAFT), Volume 2, trans. Mansoor Limba (Tehran: ABWA, 2011), 233 pages.