Qur’anic Sciences

Eclectic Understanding of the Story of Habil and Qabil

habilnqabil

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’.”2

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.”3

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 rawdhahkhani4 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!

The presentation of an ambiguous image of religion

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!

——-

Notes:

2. Surah al-Ma’idah 5:27. [Trans.]

3. Surah al-Ma’idah 5:31.

4. 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

IslamicPoliticalTheoryV1An excerpt from Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, ISLAMIC POLITICAL THEORY (STATECRAFT), Volume 2, trans. Mansoor Limba (Tehran: ABWA, 2011), 233 pages.

Categories: History, Philosophy, Qur'anic Sciences, Translated Books | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Qur’an and the Word Taḥrīf

quran

The Qur’an has used the word tarīf only in its literal sense, i.e. distortion in the meaning of the word and its interpretation in a wrong way, which is called misinterpretation (sū’ tafsīr) or conjectural interpretation (tafsīr bi ’r-rayy). Tarīf in this sense refers to the contextual distortion.

Earlier, we have dealt with this noble verse:

يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ

“They pervert words from their meanings.”[1]

An mawāḍi‘ihi in this verse refers to the following: after the word is used in its real sense as it appears, or based on the conventional implication of the common meaning, its message is distorted as a treacherous act. For example, in the expression min ba‘di mawāḍi‘ih[2] this meaning has been indicated although taḥrīf means to divert the word from its real meaning.

It is thus stated in Sūrat al-Baqarah:

وَقَدْ كَانَ فَرِيقٌ مِنْهُمْ يَسْمَعُونَ كَلامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُحَرِّفُونَهُ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا عَقَلُوهُ

Though a part of them would hear the word of Allah and then they would distort it after they had understood it.”[3]

That is, after understanding that the real meaning – which is what God intends – is contrary to their own interests, they would distort it so as for it to become favourable to them.

As such, Ṭabarsī, and prior to him, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī have described this kind of tarīf as misinterpretation (sū’ ta’wīl). In Al-Tibyān, the late Shaykh says, “Tarīf is of two types, viz. misinterpretation, and changing and substitution.”[4] That is, the intonation of the word is changed in such a way that the meaning it conveys is distorted, such as the case mentioned in verse 78 of Sūrat Āl ‘Imrān.

Shaykh Muḥammad ‘Abduh says:

Amongst the meanings of taḥrīf is [conjectural] interpretation of the word in the sense that it is construed in a way different from its contextual meaning. This is the meaning of taḥrīf being raised because their pretext in denying the Prophet () and his prophethood lies in this meaning [of taḥrīf]. As such, they would interpret in a way the glad tidings of his prophethood.”[5]

‘Abduh implies that the plausible meaning of tarīf mentioned in these verses is the distortion of meaning, and what gave them courage to interpret in a way the glad tidings and therefore to deny the prophethood of the Prophet () is contextual distortion.

In his exegesis of the noble verse, “They pervert words from their meanings,”[6] Zamakhsharī says, “They pervert the word from its [supposed] position,”[7] for if a word is not interpreted according to its apparent meaning or implications, it is tantamount to taking it away from its position.

In sum, the distortion of the New and Old Testaments which is indicated in the Qur’an is either through misinterpretation in the sense of manipulating them contrary to the truth – without any basis from the book – or in addition to it, changing the pronunciation of the words when reading the book. As God says,

 وَإِنَّ مِنْهُمْ لَفَرِيقًا يَلْوُونَ أَلْسِنَتَهُمْ بِالْكِتَابِ لِتَحْسَبُوهُ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ

There is indeed a group of them who twist their tongues to mimic the Book, that you may suppose that it is from the Book, though it is not from the Book, and they say, ‘It is from Allah,’ though it is not from Allah, and they attribute lies to Allah, and they know [it].”[8]

This is because if a word is pronounced contrary to the way it is first pronounced, it will be treated as another word and not the earlier word. And in a bid to conceal the truth and not to disclose the glad tidings of the coming of the Holy Prophet (), the People of the Book[9] had engaged in contextual distortion. But tarīf in the sense of addition, deletion or changing of words by another set of words which is the technical meaning of tarīf, as can be observed, has not been used in the Qur’an.

——-

Notes:

[1] Sūrat al-Nisā’ 4:46; Sūrat al-Mā’idah 5:13.

[2] Sūrat al-Mā’idah 5:41.

[3] Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:75.

[4] Al-Tibyān, vol. 3, p. 470.

[5] Al-Manār, vol. 5, p. 140.

[6] Sūrat al-Nisā’ 4:46; Sūrat al-Mā’idah 5:13.

[7] Al-Kashshāf, vol. 1, p. 633.

[8] Sūrat Āl ‘Imrān 3:78.

[9] People of the Book (ahl al-kitāb): the respectful title given to the Jews and Christians in the Qur’an. [Trans.]

ulumquran2(Excerpt from Muhammad Hadi Ma’rifat, INTRODUCTION TO THE SCIENCES OF THE QUR’AN, Volume 2, trans. Mansoor Limba and Salim Rossier (Tehran: SAMT Publications, 2014))

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The Role of Mountains in the Stability of the Earth

mountains

In nine places of the Qur’an,[1] mountains are mentioned with the expression rawāsiya:

 وَجَعَلْنَا فِي الأرْضِ رَوَاسِيَ أَنْ تَمِيدَ بِهِمْ وَجَعَلْنَا فِيهَا فِجَاجًا سُبُلا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ

We set firm mountains in the earth lest it should shake with them, and We have made therein broad highways (between mountains) for them to pass through: that they may receive Guidance.”[2]

The mountains are described as rawāsiya because they are the ‘firm ones’ which are based on strong foundations and it is derived from the term rasati ’s-safīnah which means “ship’s anchor”. Because of this anchor, the ship remains stable in the middle of the raging sea. As such, the mountains are like anchors which prevent the earth from shaking on account of its rotation.

The mountains are also described with the term awtād which means “nails” which keeps the earth from scattering together:

 وَالْجِبَالَ أَوْتَادًا

“…And the mountains as pegs?[3]

In this regard, the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) said something which satisfactorily clarifies the inimitable expressions of the Qur’an. Imām ‘Alī (‘a) thus says:

وَجَبَلَ جَلاَمِيدَهَا وَنُشُوزَ ضس مُتُونِهَا وَأَطْوَادِهَا فَأَرْسَاهَا في مَرَاسِيهَا وَأَلْزَمَهَا قَرَارَاتِهَا فَمَضَتْ رُؤُسُهَا فِي الْهَوَاءِ، وَرَسَتْ أُصُولُهَا فِي الْمَاءِ، فَأَنْهَدَ جِبَالَهَاعَنْ سُهُولِهَا، وَأَسَاخَ قَوَاعِدَهَا فِي متُونِ أَقْطَارِهَا، وَمَوَاضِعِ أَنْصَابِهَا فَأشْهَقَ قِلاَلَهَا، وَأَطَالَ أَنْشَازَهَا وَجَعَلَهَا لِلْأَرْضِ عِمَاداً، وَأَرَّزَهَا فِيهَا أَوْتَاداً، فَسَكَنَتْ عَلَى حَرَكَتِهَا مِن أَنْ تَمِيدَبِأَهْلِهَا، أَوْ تَسِيخَ بِحِمْلِهَا، أَوْ تَزُولَ عَنْ مَواضِعِهَا. فَسُبْحَانَ مَنْ أَمْسَكَهَا بَعْدَ مَوَجَانِ مِيَاهِهَا.

He also created high hills, rocks of stones and lofty mountains. He put them in their positions and made them remain stationary. Their peaks rose into the air while their roots remained in the water. In this way He raised the mountains above the plains and fixed their foundations in the vast expanse wherever they stood. He made their peaks high and made their bodies lofty. He made them like pillars for the earth and fixed them in it like pegs. Consequently, the earth became stationary; otherwise it might bend with its inhabitants or sink inwards with its burden, or shift from its positions. Therefore, glorified is He who stopped it after the flowing of its waters.[4]

In some parts of this speech, it is said that notwithstanding its movements and motions, the earth is prevented from shaking and scattering together. From this speech, three points can be inferred:

  1. The earth has various movements, yet in spite of these movements, it remains stable and firm;
  2. The earth’s surface is firm and solid such that its inhabitants and contents do not sink therein.
  3. In its rotation, revolution and other movements, the earth is constant and firm, and it does not swerve from the axis determined for it.Now, we can grasp better the fine and subtle points in the statement of Imām ‘Alī (‘a) in the first sermon of Nahj al-Balāghah, in which instead of the word jibāl (mountains), the word ṣukhūr (rocks) has been used: ﴿ وَجَعَلْنَا فِي الأرْضِ رَوَاسِيَ أَنْ تَمِيدَ بِهِمْ ﴾The Imām (‘a) connects the mountain’s being ṣakhrah to the stability and firmness of the earth.
  4. The rocky mountain ranges – with their different curves and contours – have vital role in the stability of the earth, its surface and contents as they keep the earth intact notwithstanding the frames underground.
  5. We set firm mountains in the earth lest it should shake with them.”[5]
  6. This statement is the interpretation of the abovementioned verse:
  7. ووتّد بالصخور مَيَدأن أرضه.
  8. These points have been confirmed by current scientific discoveries and research studies. In view of this vital role of the mountains which make life possible on the vast extent of the earth, the mountain ranges which are scattered on the firm surface of the earth are like chains which are put around the earth.

—–

Notes:

[1] Sūrat al-Ra‘d 13:3; Sūrat al-Naml 27:61; Sūrat al-Ḥijr 15:19; Sūrat Qāf 50:7; Sūrat al-Naḥl 16:15; Sūrat Luqmān 31:10; Sūrat al-Anbiyā’ 21:31; Sūrat al-Fuṣṣilat 41:10; Sūrat al-Mursalāt 77:27.

[2] Sūrat al-Anbiyā’ 21:31.

[3] Sūrat al-Naba’ 78:7.

[4] Nahj al-Balāghah, Sermon 211, p. 328.

[5] Sūrat al-Anbiyā’ 21:31.

ulumquran1(Excerpt from Muhammad Hadi Ma’rifat, INTRODUCTION TO THE SCIENCES OF THE QUR’AN, Volume 1, trans. Mansoor Limba and Salim Rossier (Tehran: SAMT Publications, 2014))

Categories: Qur'anic Sciences, Translated Books, Translation | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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