RE-INTEPRETING THE QUR’AAN
Our Deen will remain pristine and pure, as long as we hold on to the Deen that was conveyed to us by The Prophet Sallallaahu Alaihi Wa Sallam and His illustrious companions.
The 21st century has brought about a new threat to our Deen in the form of ‘progressive Muslims’ who feel that ‘whilst the words of the Qur’aan cannot be changed, the interpretation of various laws giving verses needs to undergo change to make living in the 21st century ‘practical’ and accommodating!
One such ‘Scholar’ once said: “It is not the actual Qur’aan that restricts the Muslim today but it is the interpretation of the Qur’aan that has restricted the modern Muslim. This needs to be changed.”
We cannot just open the Qur’aan and start interpreting it as if we are starting on ground zero as if we are revamping the Deen.
The Qur’aan is the living miracle of the Prophet Muhammad Sallallaahu Alaihi Wa sallam. From beginning till end it contains nothing but the Words of Allah Ta’ala as revealed to Prophet Muhammad Sallallaahu Alaihi Wa sallam, through the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) Alayhis-salam. It tells us where we are coming from and where we are going. It tells us what will happen after death. It shows the Straight Path that will lead to the place of eternal bliss called Paradise. And it warns us about following the crooked paths that lead to the place of eternal doom called Hell. It gives a moral code for individuals as well as states. It gives the Law or Shariah for them as well. It addresses both the heart and the intellect. It educates; it inspires; it heals. It shows the Path and it gives us the energy and motivation to follow it. No one can go wrong who makes it his guide. No one can succeed who ignores its guidance.
The companions were the first group of people who followed it as it must be followed. They were transformed from being the lowest of the low to being the highest of the high. They established personal standards of piety and virtue that no other group of people since then can match. They established a society based on justice, fairness and goodness that no other society can match. This is the power of the Qur’aan as long as it is retained in its original form in every aspect.
“Then came their successors who deserted this Qur’aan,” says Shaikh Yusuf Qardawi in his book “Kaifa nata’amal ma’al Qur’aan-ul-Azeem” (How Should We Interact With the Great Qur’aan). “They preserved its words but lost its injunctions. They understood it poorly. They did not put first what this Book puts first. They did not put last what this Book puts last. They did not give eminence to what this Book gives eminence to. They did not belittle what this Book belittles… There is no way for deliverance of this Ummah from its loss, backwardness and ruin except by turning back to this Qur’aan. We must make this Qur’aan as the guide and the leader (to find our way out of our current misery).”
This turning back to the Qur’aan requires many steps.
- We must learn to read it in its original Arabic and we must teach our children to do the same. This learning to read is part of the knowledge referred to in the oft-quoted Hadith that specifies that seeking knowledge is a duty of every Muslim male and female.
- We should memorize it as much as possible.
- We must recite it regularly. Not a day should go by in our life in which we forget to read the Qur’aan.
- We must understand its message and ponder over its teachings.
- We must mould our life based on its commands.
- We must invite the entire humanity to the path of the Qur’aan.
The Qur’aan is guidance for all humanity but not everyone who reads it will get guidance from it. Qur’aan reserves its guidance for those who sincerely seek it and approach it in the proper way and the right attitude. Many who have ignored these basic requirements have gone astray in their study of the Qur’aan.
Interpreting the Qur’aan requires expertise in several areas. First, one must have a firm command over classical Arabic language including its vocabulary, grammar, metaphors, and idioms.
Second, one must know the history of the Qur’aan including where and when a verse was revealed; what other verses deal with the same subject; which of those, if any, supercede others. We must remember that the Qur’aan is the first resource for its own interpretation.
Third, one must have good command over the Hadith literature, as it was the Prophet’s job to explain the Qur’aan to us and no other interpretation of a Qur’anic verse is acceptable in the presence of an authentic Hadith that explains it.
Fourth, one must have knowledge of the comments of the Companions and their successors. After Qur’aan and Hadith, they are the third most important resource in interpreting the Qur’aan.
Fifth, one must have knowledge of the rich tafseer literature produced by the most reputed scholars of this Ummah.
Sixth, one must have sound knowledge of Shariah since no interpretation of the Qur’aan is acceptable that violates accepted Shariah principles.
Seventh, one must be leading a life of taqwa and piety, as the Qur’aan does not open doors to its understanding on those who are not serious in following it.
We cannot just open the Qur’aan and start interpreting it as if we are starting on ground zero. Anyone taking this road must be reminded of this grave warning: Sayyidna Abdullah bin Abbas, Radi-Allahu anhu, reported that Prophet Muhammad Sallallaahu Alaihi Wa Sallam said, “Whoever says something in interpreting the Qur’aan based on his own opinion should find his place in the Fire.” [Tirmidhi Hadith No. 4023]
Unfortunately, today a lot of well-meaning people are doing just this. They start, say, a Qur’aanic study group, and start giving lectures on Qur’aan. If the person is a good speaker, he might also get warm reception from an audience that confuses eloquence with scholarship. Soon, they start giving expert opinions about Shariah and Qur’aan without having even the minimum qualification for it. Many a time, the audience participates equally excitedly, discussing the Words of Allah and delicate issues of Shariah with the same assumed expertise that is normally reserved for discussion of latest current affairs.
This casual attitude must be contrasted with that of the Companions. They not only new the language of the Qur’aan better than anyone else, they were witnesses to its very revelation. Yet, they did not dare interpret it without first learning it, verse by verse, from Prophet Muhammad Sallallaahu Alaihi Wa Sallam himself. And even then they exercised extreme caution in making comments about the Qur’aan. Sayyidna Abu Bakr, Radi-Allahu anhu, said: ”Which land will give me protection and which sky will give me cover if I say something in interpreting the Qur’aan without knowledge.” Similarly, Yazid bin Yazid reports: “We used to ask Sayyidna Saeed bin Al-Musayeb, Radi-Allahu anhu, regarding Halal and Haram. And he was the most knowledgeable person regarding it. But whenever we asked him to give tafsir for a verse he would keep quite as if he had not heard us.”
They knew that Qur’aan declares that is has been made easy for remembrance, but they did not misinterpret it as a license to give personal opinions in areas of belief or law. Their caution stemmed from their realization that to say that a verse means such and such, is to attribute a statement to Allah!
It is our duty to study the Qur’aan. But the only proper way of doing it is by seeking a reliable Tafsir and/or a qualified teacher.
Reinterpreting it or even the thought of doing so should send shivers down the spine of any Muslim!