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On The Holy Qur’ān And Its Interpretation Print E-mail
Written by M. Fethullah Gülen   
Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Fethullah Gülen: On The Holy Qur’ān And Its InterpretationThe Qur’ān is God’s miraculous, matchless message that has been sent to all humanity via His last Messenger. With the Qur’an, God has shown humanity, one last time, a short-cut to His good pleasure. He has communicated to us about His Essence, Attributes, and Names. He has expressed in the most explicit way, leaving no room for any misunderstanding, His will to be known and recognized in the correct way, to be believed in and worshipped. Almighty God has put emphasis on the duties and responsibilities of believers, while enthusing hearts and agitating souls with His promise for punishment and reward. He has presented the Qur’ān as a sign for perfection and completion and as an orbit to rotate around for His good pleasure, while condescending to offer this gift to us as a compliment greater than any that has been or will ever be granted to anyone else.

The Qur’ān is the most radiant and enduring of the hundreds of miracles bestowed upon Prophet Muhammad, upon Him be the best of blessings and peace, by the Master of Creation. In addition to its wondrous discourse, articulation, and styles of expression, with its social discipline, legal rulings, principles of good morality, and education, its analysis of the whole creation, including especially humanity, with its many allusions and indications to the essentials of almost all the sciences, which are sometimes even presented as manifest expressions, and the alternative solutions it offers for many administrative, economic, and political problems, the Qur’ān is the ultimate source of reference for everyone and for all times. It is an untainted fountain with an infinite resource; it is a vast ocean which can never be dimmed by even the most complicated and filthy of eras.

With all my respect for its grandeur, I have to confess to my inability and insufficiency to elaborate on the depth of meaning and richness of expression and style of the Qur’ān. A considerable number of studies have been dedicated to the Qur’ān, and many more studies will be carried out on this topic. There is no doubt that all these studies have presented valuable content for any seeking person to grasp the gist of what the Qur’ān stands for and to believe in its message, and they mirror the order of Islam in its true essence. However, it would not be right for anyone to claim that they have come up with a perfect interpretation of the endless content of this expository atlas of humankind, the universe and the truth of Divinity. The Qur’ān can be interpreted only to the extent that a heavenly and Divine word can be interpreted by human perception. Thus, although it does not seem to be possible to spell out this huge atlas within the measures of an article, we cannot stay indifferent to or neglect studying the Qur’ān with the excuse that our interpretations are deficient or the power of our discourse is inadequate. Everyone has the right to study the Qur’ān; more than that,  it is a duty upon those equipped with necessary, accurate knowledge. We should work harder to better understand the Qur’ān, while the learned should wield all their perceptiveness and sensations toward understanding it and conveying its message, allowing a wider audience to learn more from it. Indeed, the Qur’ān is the greatest gift to be understood and conveyed from the Mercy of God to the human mind. Understanding the Qur’ān is both a duty and an act of gratitude, whereas conveying its message to those hearts in need of its light is a prerequisite of respect and fidelity.

The Qur’ān is a miracle of eloquence honored with the merit of being the voice of all ages. It is the most luminous expression of the Divine Speech, around whose light the angels hover like moths. If we take into consideration its Source and purpose of revelation, its first representative(s) and the impact it leaves on hearts, then we must realize that it is not a book to put to one side. When the Qur’ān speaks, angels fall deep into a silent vigilance, spirit beings fall prostrate, and the jinn, enchanted with its voice, set out to the deserts to meet it.

The Qur’ān is the expression and explanation of God’s laws of creation or “nature,” and the strongest and immutable source of religious rules and pillars. The Qur’ān is the indisputable Book that includes the most reliable criteria for studying existence (the whole universe and humankind). Thus for all individual, familial, social, or ethical problems, we must seek wisdom and illumination from the Qur’ān; it cries out that its source is the all-encompassing Knowledge of the One Who knows everything, along with all causes and results. The Qur’ān has captivated everyone to whom its voice has reached – provided they were not prejudiced – with its holistic perspective, comprehensive discourse and style, the vastness of its content and meaning, its delicate expressions, its magical expounding in proportion to the different levels of knowledge and understanding, and its capacity to penetrate souls. Neither its friends nor its foes have been able to come up with something in a similar style or an utterance that is equal in grandiosity, the former motivated by imitation, the latter in fury to choke off its voice, despite their efforts for almost fourteen centuries. Even when they use the same material and concentrate on the same issues, their works have never been able to overcome artificiality, they have never been appreciated by masters of literary skills, and they have never evoked any lasting or effective influence.

The Qur’ān has such a musical harmony and delicate correlations between the topics it deals with, be they interrelated or apparently unrelated with each other, that one is able to realize, with only the slightest effort of comprehensive thinking, that many apparently unrelated topics have points of junction. The mastership of discourse belongs to the Qur’ān, which no literary personality can challenge, and enables those of its audience who are unprejudiced and can judge with some reason to obtain some things from it, introducing them to deeper contemplation beyond their horizons of thought. Once they can judge fairly and let their souls delve into this heavenly waterfall of expression, all other speech-like voices will immediately turn into nothing but rumblings.

Above all, the Qur’ān has come from an all-encompassing Knowledge; it contains and explains the meaning and content of human and non-human existence, of humankind, nature, and all the worlds; it is both their language and interpreter of their purpose of creation. It speaks to multifarious dimensions of its audience all at the same time: while addressing the mind, it does not neglect to speak to the heart in its own language; when it calls out to the consciousness, it does not push emotions aside; while conversing with the faculties of reasoning and logic, it does not leave the soul without any favor. All faculties and senses, external and internal, benefit from the Qur’ān, which gives each its share without giving rise to any deprivation and contradiction. They all receive their share from this heavenly table, each to the extent of its capacity, and enjoy a most harmonious composition.

All Divine Scriptures, especially before human interpolations were mixed with the original texts, possessed the same holistic approach and all-embracing quality; nevertheless, the superiority and widest comprehension of the Qur’ān are evident in proportion to the profundity of the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. It is by no means possible to show any other heavenly or manmade book which excels it with its content and extensiveness. It is by no means an exaggeration to claim its uniqueness in dealing with humanity, the universe and Divinity in the most comprehensive, as well as the most exquisite fashion, while interpreting them in the best forms of synthesis and analysis in its own way.

All of the topics that the Qur’ān deals with are the most valuable treasures of the truths pertaining to Divinity and the realm of creation. Some of these truths are decisive or explicit in meaning and content, and others are concise, metaphorical, and allegorical, the explanation of which has been entrusted to the one who brought the Qur’ān, upon him be peace and blessings, and the scholars favored with inspiration. The Qur’ān never complicates any of the matters it presents or analyzes. It presents topics concerned with the essentials of faith, worship, and morality, and basic principles of individual and social life clearly and succinctly; while for matters requiring comprehensive thinking, reflection, and careful consideration, it demands deeper examination and scrutiny, and suggests turning to God, without approving of burdening oneself with grave matters that one cannot shoulder. Like a wondrous  chandelier which continuously shines brighter, it is a means for brand new discoveries at diverse wavelengths, as hearts and minds go deeper in thought, thus offering Divine gifts of all kinds to our internal and external senses. With its blessings and inspirations augmenting in excess, light rain becoming BECOMES a deluge, and with its endless beauty and glittering lights, the Qur’ān offers  banquets one within another to those who ponder and study it.

True understanding of existence and what lies beyond the sensed dimension of the cosmos, and also humankind with its spiritual depths, is possible only through the Qur’ān. Readers  discover in its bright realm straight thinking and real sources of reflection, and are thereby saved from the vicious circles of deception and misjudgments based on probabilities. There is no other source of knowledge that is free of error, uncertainty or doubt other than this miraculous Speech from God, the All-Knowing of the Unseen. The Qur’ān explains and presents everything explicitly, plainly, and correctly. It enables us to understand that it is we who make errors in evaluating the issues, giving rise to contradictory judgments and filling in the gaps entrusted to reflection. Understanding and interpreting the Qur’ān correctly is not only a duty upon us, but also a requirement of our fidelity to it. The fulfillment of this duty and fidelity is closely related with the erudition of every capable and well-equipped individual and in their living in devotion to God. Such individuals dive into this vast ocean with utmost sincerity and commitment for the good pleasure of God, uncovering the truth so that it flourishes. They proceed toward this infinite horizon with caution, composure, and comprehensive thought, and without surrendering to their carnality. The Messenger, who brought the Qur’ān from God, is their first and greatest guide; they also follow the pious scholars among the earliest generations of Islam in the light of its expressions, which are decisive and explicit in meaning and content. They are less likely to err; their efforts to attain the pleasure of God are rewarded with special treatment. Their interpretations and explanations of the Qur’ān are each a hue and adornment of Qur’ānic uniqueness.

On the other hand, the Qur’ān cannot be explained as it deserves in consideration of its position and loftiness with rudimentary Arabic and the limited scope of dictionaries; such an attempt would also constitute manifest disrespect to this heavenly monument of speech. It should be rendered in other languages as is required. Anything concerning Qur’ānic expositions (tafsīr) should be very well-researched, and before it is launched, every tafsīr should be tested against the exalted Islamic sciences. What falls to us is not to bring the Divine Word down to our level of perception or expression in its immeasurable immensity and depth, excusing such an act as we have translated it for the benefit of everyone.  

While it is a duty, an appreciation of, or an act of respect toward the Qur’ān for experts to make the Qur’ān known to everyone via exposition, interpretation, or a commentary, such an attempt would be paramount to insolence if one did not have a high command of Arabic grammar, the principles of rhetoric or eloquence, knowledge of the study of Qur’anic exposition (tafsīr), the methodology of hadīth studies (Traditions of Prophet) and Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). The Qur’an cannot be translated as a novel is; and even the translation of a novel calls for an expertise in its own genre.

Forging the way toward a sound interpretation of the Qur’an, it would be better to discuss first what a “translation” is, and what tafsīr (exposition) and ta’wīl (commentary) mean.

Translation is the rendering of a text or statement in one language into another language, while preserving the meaning. An accurate translation would be to transfer the exact meaning of every word – if this is ever possible – while preserving the relationships between word combinations. On the other hand, a literal translation of the words only, or an exclusively semantic translation, would be a deficient translation.

To a certain extent, we can also talk about translation software; however, the current technology or even more advanced technology to come is not able to help very much in the translation of substantial literary works. Now consider the situation when the text is the Word of God, which addresses all times, conditions, and levels and, therefore, the exposition of which, with all its depths, is considerably dependent on time, inspiration, and circumstances. Some works of literature are said to be impossible to accurately render; then it is clear that there is no way that the Holy Qur’ān, with its immense profundity, could ever be expressed by an ordinary translation.

Many Muslim scholars, including Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, are of the opinion that it is impossible to translate the Qur’ān, due to the aforementioned and many other considerations. Some other scholars, on the other hand, approach the matter cautiously, but more moderately, provided that the prerequisites underscored above have been adhered to.

The late Hamdi Yazır, one of the greatest contemporary expounders of the Qur’ān, states that the translation must exactly correspond to the original text in terms of explicitness and indications; conciseness and comprehensiveness; generalizations and specifics; restrictedness or exclusiveness and inclusiveness; powerfulness, appropriateness, eloquence and style. Therefore, prose or poetry can be translated into another language which is as developed as the original language, with the condition that the translator is well-versed with the subtleties of both languages; however, such a translation is hardly possible for a book which addresses the mind and heart, the soul and all the senses together, with all its diverse literary delicacies, and its vigor and exuberance. And what happens if the book to be translated is a work of God that transcends all other books Divine or non-Divine with its dimensions beyond time and space, and speaks to all ages?!...

The Qur’ān is, in the words of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, a Divine interpretation of the Book of Existence. It is the voice and breath of the laws of creation; the true interpreter of things and events that bear multifarious meanings; a candid expounder of this world and the world to come; the revealer of the treasure of the Divine Names hidden in the heavens and on the earth;the mysterious key to the mysteries beyond all things; the plain language of the beyond manifested in this world; the sun, the foundation, and the geometry of the spiritual world of Islam; the sacred map that explicitly lays out the worlds of the Hereafter with clearly drawn lines;the voice and clearest interpreter of the Divine Essence, Attributes, and Names; the most reliable teacher of all humanity; the air, the water, and the light of the Islamic world;  the Word of the All-Exalted, All-Majestic Being, Who is the Creator and Lord of all worlds;and His decree and address.

This is not to say that the Qur’ān cannot be understood; on the contrary and most importantly of all, it was revealed to humanity to be understood and to be lived by. However, its phrases are so deep and have so many meanings, and its content is so multi-layered, that even if we could know and understand the meaning of every single word, and sense certain things from word combinations, we would still certainly miss many truths that are contained in styles, indications, suggestions, connotations, and purposes, that cannot be fully reflected in any translation.

I am of the opinion that every person who approaches the Qur’an with an open mind can perceive all of the above characteristics, and thus appreciate that its sublimity and transcendence cannot be confined to a simple translation. A translation might certainly have some value in proportion to the translator’s learning, knowledge, horizon of perception, and skills; however, it can never convey the Qur’ān in all its profundity. Therefore, no translation nor commentary or interpretation can ever be called the Qur’ān itself.

Tafsīr and Ta’wīl

We all have a need for the Qur’ān and thus are obliged to understand it, even if at different levels. In order to penetrate its essence and understand it according to what it really and essentially is, we must study it following a comprehensive exposition (tafsīr) that has been prepared in accordance with the methodology of the science of tafsīr by learned scholars. We should not narrow down its content, which is as extensive as all the worlds, to the levels of our inadequate learning, knowledge, and perception.

Tafsīr is an exposition which entails an effort to reflect the content of a text. A Qur’ānic tafsīr is an exposition of the Divine Word that takes into account the grammar, the principles of eloquence, and the explanations of God’s Messenger and the earliest Muslim generations (the Messenger’s Companions), as well as an exposition illuminated by the light of the mind and the rays of the heart. Most of the tafsīrs which have been prepared up to now can be said to comply with this. Any given tafsīr can be defined according to the dominance of any feature given above. For instance, if the tafsīr is based in various ways upon the commentaries and explanations of the Messenger of God, as well as on the opinions of the Companions who best understood the language of the time, then this is a “tafsīr based on Traditions or knowledge reported (from the Messenger and his Companions)” (at-tafsīr ar-riwāyah). A “tafsīr by expert knowledge” (at-tafsīr ad-dirāyah), on the other hand, is an exposition based on, in addition to reported knowledge, a direct or indirect study of linguistics, literature, and other relevant fields of science.

In earlier times, the Qur’ān was primarily expounded by recourse to the Qur’ān itself, with the Sunnah being the second source of its exposition. The explanations of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, were always the most reliable source from which the Companions benefited. Most of the Companions already had a good command of the language; therefore, they encountered few problems. Those issues which needed explanation were either referred to the Prophet or clarified by the Prophet himself without any need of another recourse.

In later times, large volumes that compiled such statements, explanations, and expositions were gathered, an effort which was initially started earlier by some Companions. A very rich heritage was left behind by the Tābi‘ūn (the generation of Muslims who came after the Companions) to the following centuries. Verifying scholars, such as Muhammad ibn Jarīr at-Tabarī, made great use of this heritage from the tenth century onwards. Alongside the explanations of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, the collections composed of the reports from the Companions and the next two generations have always constituted a reliable source for scholars.

Az-Zamakhsharī, a scholar of Mu‘tazilah and a master of the language, is considered to be one of the pioneers of the “tafsīr by expert knowledge” with his al-Kashshāf (“The Discoverer”). Fakhr u’d-Dīn ar-Rāzī’s Mafātīh al-Ghayb (“The Keys to the Unseen”) is one of the most powerful voices of the Sunnī tafsīr approach and trend, and is considered to be one of the greatest representatives of this tradition. Baydāwī’s Anwar at-Tanzīl wa Asrār at-Ta’wīl (“The Lights of the Revelation and the Mysteries in its Meaning”) is one of the significant links in the chain of tafsīr s; this is of particular significance as it contains answers to Zamakhsharī’s Mu‘tazilī thoughts and considerations.

Subsequent centuries witnessed a number of tafsīr studies within the framework of Sufism and jurisprudence. Ebu’l-Lays as-Samarkandī, Baghawī, İbn Kathīr, Jalālu’d-Dīn as-Suyūtī, Ebu’s-Suūd, Kemalpaşazade, İsmail Hakkı Bursevî, Ālūsī al-Baghdādī, Konyalı Vehbî and Allame Hamdi Yazır are some of the distinguished figures who have preserved this sacred tradition.

A majority of these figures and others have applied the utmost care to their expositions; they did whatever needed to be done with superhuman effort in order to accurately understand the Divine purposes in the Qur’ān. They carefully studied wordby-word how the Companions, who constituted the first row of its audience, understood and interpreted the Qur’ān; their studies were based on the essentials of the religion in their studies and approach to the Qur’ān, and they tested their personal opinions against the disciplines of Qur’ānic study and the authentic Sunnah. Thus, they discarded distorted crumbs of information which had been put forward by the enemies of the Qur’ān as commentary and explanations. Their effort was a marvelous feat by which we are better able to understand the will of God.

It is also worth noting at this point Hamdi Yazır’s thoughts on tafsīr: Tafsīr, he says, is opening something that is closed and revealing it; therefore, a Qur’ānic tafsīr is an effort to disclose the meanings of God’s Word in accordance with His will.

With its wording and meaning of immeasurable profundity, each word of which gives its share to everyone in every age, the Qur’ān is a unique, matchless Book. It addresses different ages, different nations, and people of different intellectual levels all at the same time. It is a book of wisdom that is easily understood by its readers, yet at the same time has veiled, difficult, terse, or concise, as well as metaphorical or allegorical aspects. The profundity and secretiveness of the first three aspects can be revealed through agreement among the scholars, whereas the fourth is entrusted to the interpretation and commentary of the verifying scholars well-versed in knowledge, who remain faithful to the essentials of the Qur’ān and Islam, and have the capacity to understand what is figurative or allegorical.

Although almost every individual who knows its language can grasp something from the Qur’ān, a true and comprehensive understanding of it can be achieved only by those experts of exposition and commentary who have attained the required and correct level of knowledge. These experts take into consideration the linguistic rules, and pay necessary attention to the methodology of tafsīr in understanding what is veiled, difficult, or abstruse. They exert endless efforts in reflection, contemplation, and meditation in order to be able to attain a correct understanding of the Divine purpose, what God really means. They resort to the explanations of God’s Messenger in order to expound the concise verses (mujmal), and explore the depths of reported knowledge with expert knowledge and vice versa. Throughout history, the genuine commentators and expounders have always followed this same path.

As for ta’wīl (commentary), it means referring a word, an attitude, or an action to or explaining it with one of its probable meanings. Some have defined ta’wīl as expounding words and actions to the contrary of what reason superficially judges; in other words, it is also possible to say that ta’wīl is expounding something read or seen or heard with other than what first comes to the mind and with a rational knowledge that is not instantly comprehended. Imam Abū Mansūr al-Māturidī makes the distinction that tafsīr is the exposition of the Qur’ān by the Companions, and ta’wīl is the commentaries and interpretations made by the tābi‘ūn and succeeding generations.

Ta’wīl comes from the root AWL and due to the fact that it implies the preference of one of the probable meanings, it would be wrong to propose meanings which are in no way related with the wording the Qur’ān as being either tafsīr or ta’wīl.

It is also essential that there be some sign that provides evidence for the meaning proposed, or a rational or transmitted proof that supports the idea put forward. It would be wrong to load different meanings on words or sentences on the grounds of “figurativeness” or “allusion,” without a sign or proof, while ignoring what the word or sentence apparently means. Such loading of different meanings has no real value in any case.

The end-result or product of ta’wīl is called a me‘āl (interpretation). We can define this as the preference of one of the meanings. A Qur’ānic interpretation is neither just a translation nor a tafsīr. An interpretation might include points or issues that are typically found in a tafsīr; however, it does not go beyond this framework.

From the first centuries of Islam, alongside many high- and low-quality translations, there have been, and will continue to be, many interpretations and tafsīrs. We applaud all sincere efforts dedicated to voice the spirit of the Qur’ān and to reveal the Divine purpose. We particularly applaud efforts which do not ignore the passage of time and the aspects of Qur’ānic content and meanings that address themselves to each part of time, the circumstances that prevail in every age and environment, the essential purposes of the Religious Law and efforts which adhere to them in accordance with the spirit of the Qur’ān and the authentic Sunnah, the thoughts enriched with the passage of time and through developments in human life, and new discoveries and attainments in sciences and human thought.

On this study of interpretation

Taking this opportunity, I would like to express my due appreciation for the services of Ali Ünal to the Qur’ān, and I hope that he will be able to produce many other good works.

I personally think of this fellow brother as one of those figures who can read our age well, who seeks solutions for the problems of our day, and who is imbued with love for the truth and a desire for learning. There are quite a few people today who study the Qur’ān and try to uncover the Divine purposes in the same way as the pioneers (the Companions) did. It is without a doubt that Ali Ünal is one of these. Above everything else, he is not a stranger to the Message of the Qur’ān, and I assuredly express my confidence in his overall approach to Islamic issues. He is an intellectual who confronts himself frequently and is filled with the courage to voice his beliefs confidently. His perseverance to attain the truth in religious matters, the importance he lays on consultation, his concern to avoid doing wrong, and his readiness to return from error are indications of his proximity to the Almighty Lord.

He has never claimed that his work is the best among the interpretations of the Qur’ān. As a matter of fact, no one should make such a claim. His efforts and services to the Qur’ān, as well as those of his predecessors and successors in the same way, are in proportion to their knowledge and sincerity, and to God’s favor and help.

In this work, he has paid careful attention to the disciplines of tafsīr methodology, like many other contemporary commentators, and he has answered the criticisms of those many hypocrites who harbor incessant animosity towards Islam and of the many furious aggressors. His answers are to the point and sometimes, having recourse to contemporary interpretations and commentaries, he has articulated important things in today’s language. He has always taken side with the Qur’ān with sincerity and unpretentiousness. While expressing his views, he is humblebut determined and persistent, resolved to attain the truth, but always open to correction.

In his interpretation, he has consulted a variety of Sunni-Shi‘īte sources, whether classical or contemporary. I see this not as a luxury, but as an endeavor to find a worthwhile inference or comment that could have been inspired by God Almighty. Motivated by the idea that, “Wisdom is the lost property of a believer; a believer should obtain it wherever he finds it, ” Ali Ünal has aimed to present, for the benefit of everyone, any truth which he has found to be in compliance with the essentials of Islam.

Together with the requirements mentioned for a good tafsīr, ta’wīl, and me‘āl (interpretation), God’s special help or favor is incomparably important in order to discover His purposes and what He means in His Speech. Without this favor, nothing can be truly discovered, comprehended, or voiced. In my humble opinion, Ali Ünal has made the utmost endeavor to correctly understand and render the Qur’ān comprehensible for us; he is filled with a desire and diligence to carry out the necessary research in order to answer any old or new objections and accusations made against Islam; and in the face of efforts made by a positivist group to reduce every truth to material experience and observation, his confidence and trust in God’s Word is exactly as it should be in a believer. Nevertheless, all these positive attitudes and features can earn their value only by Divine help and special favor, and we hope that everything written and expressed here has been realized through this help and favor.

A number of books have been written about Qur’ānic interpretation and commentary, while objections to the Qur’ān and some of its contents have been repeatedly addressed. Many more interpretations and commentaries will continue to be prepared in the future, too, just as many new objections will be answered, and this will perhaps continue until the end of time. How many new doubts will be manufactured about the Qur’ān? How many more times will minds be exposed to contamination? What new unthinkable plots will Satan, our eternal enemy, play on weak believers? What new scenarios, unheard of until today, will the devils of humankind and jinn put on the stage to tempt humanity? And how many more times will they induce suspicion with regards to our values and agitate people? Such animosity has always existed and will continue to exist. Thankfully, hundreds of people like Ali Ünal, with zeal to serve the Religion, will always stand to face them by exploring new depths of that Book of lofty truths and strive to interpret that Eternal Speech, which they hold in the greatest esteem. The mischievous organizations of Satan and his companions will always be challenged by the companions of the Qur’ān.

The interpretation in your hands can be perceived as a product of the aforementioned efforts. At certain points, the work goes beyond the limits of a restricted interpretation to include answers to doubts that have been put forward by some deniers, as well as by some orientalists and their ignorant imitators, and it presents satisfactory information to remove doubts in hearts with frequent references to the invincible power of the Qur’ān.

The fundamental elements of the Qur’ān are constantly emphasized in this work: the Unity of God (tawhīd), Prophethood (nubuwwah), Resurrection, and worship (together with justice) are discussed in keeping with the approach of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi. The essence of faith and the ways in which it flourishes are frequently brought to mind, together with topics concerning the spirit and meaning of worship.

The work presents to its reader much new material about faith, unbelief, and hypocrisy, as well as former and new representatives of these attitudes. Sūrah Baqarah (The Cow) is studied in the scope of a large tafsīr, delving into the history of the Children of Israel, and issues of war and peace. The truth of Jesus and Āl ‘Imrān (The Family of ‘Imrān), the rights of women, and issues concerning the lawful and forbidden are also broadly presented. Paradise, Hell, and the world in-between are told of together with instances of wisdom. The answers given to distorted thoughts are wise and based on accurate knowledge. It is clear that a serious effort has been made to discover the instances of wisdom in the narratives. Issues such as the Night Journey and Ascension of God’s Messenger, the Companions of the Cave, the companionship of Moses and al-Khadr, and the campaigns of Dhu’l-Qarnayn are all studied in detail and in a manner which is found in tafsīrs. The whole of the work gives the impression that Ali Ünal has tried to compress the content of the Qur’ānic tafsīrs and commentaries into a single volume of interpretation.

It is impossible to cite all the distinguished aspects of this work, but we will give some examples from the last chapters.

In Sūrat al-Mulk (The Sovereignty), the fourth verse is interpreted in the style of Bediüzzaman, and many things are whispered into our hearts that transcend the scope of an ordinary interpretation. It says: “Perfect artistry in creation despite abundance, perfect order despite absolute ease, perfect measure, proportion, and firmness despite incredible speed, perfect individualization despite world-wide distribution, the highest price and value despite the greatest economy, perfect distinction despite absolute integration and similarity – all point to the One, Single Creator and Lord, Who has absolute Will, Power, and Knowledge.”

Another example is from a footnote to the first verse of Sūrat al-Insān (Human): “Humankind is the fruit of the Tree of Creation and therefore contained in its seed. So the Tree of Creation has grown out of the seed of humankind. In other words, as a tree is the grown or developed form of its seed, humankind carries in its body and being the nature and all original elements of other beings. What meaning a seed bears with respect to a tree, humankind has with respect to the universe. Science should concentrate on this point while investigating how life began on earth and how humankind was originated.”

There are references to modern scientific discoveries, and we are given as much knowledge as can be found in a tafsīr. For instance, the 1993 report of the International Meteor Organization is referred to in connection with the fifth verse of Sūrat al-Mulk: “The Perseid meteor shower observed almost every year suggests that those meteors are shot for certain, important purposes, for they surprise the observers by showing great diversity. The observations made in, for example, 1993, demonstrate the fact that the structure of the shower is yet little understood.” Such verses are significant sources of knowledge, but it is always difficult to say exactly how we benefit from them.  

Metaphorical or allegorical verses are interpreted within the Sunni approach and understanding, their exact nature, however, being referred to the Knowledge of God Almighty. For example, verse 16 in Sūrat al-Mulk is interpreted in this way: And yet, are you secure that He Who is above everything will not cause the earth to swallow you up then, when it is in a state of commotion?

In many cases, and distinct from similar studies of Qur’ānic interpretation, this work presents meanings beyond the words and phrases that are suggested by the context and the whole of the Qur’ān. Although this entails numerous explanations inside parentheses within the text, it is hoped that the meaning and content are thus better disclosed for the reader. Verse 18 in Sūrat al-Qalam is an example from among many: They made no allowance (in their oaths, being oblivious of the rights of the needy and oblivious of God’s will).

Sūrat al-Jinn (The Jinn) 72: 18 is interpreted: All places of worship (and all parts of the body with which one prostrates) are for God, and all worship is due to Him alone, so do not worship anyone along with God. The interpretation of Sūrat al- Muzzammil (The Enwrapped One) 73: 4 is: Or add to it (a little); and pray and recite the Qur’ān calmly and distinctly (with your mind and heart concentrated on it). There are many other examples, but may these few suffice for now.

The author sometimes quotes directly from great commentators of the past, preferring their way of understanding to his own. For example, in interpreting verse 17 in Sūrat a-Hāqqah (The Sure Reality), he provides noteworthy information transmitted by Hamdi Yazır from Ibn ‘Arabī and others, concerning the eight angels carrying the Throne of God Almighty.

The author stands firmly at various places where others might speculate and tries to prevent distorted understandings. For instance, for verse Noah 71: 17: And God has caused you to grow from earth like a plant, he footnotes the following explanation: “The verse alludes to the first origin of the father of humanity from the elements of the earth – soil, air, and water – and also the material origin of every human being, which are the same elements that are made into particular biological entities in the human body. As Hamdi Yazır points out, the word nabātan, which comes at the end of the verse as an adverbial complement to ‘grow,’ denotes the particular way of human creation and growth. So, it allows no room for any inclination toward the Darwinian Theory of Evolution.”

The work emphasizes the role of asbāb anl-nuzul (reasons for and occasions on the revelation of verses) in understanding the Qur’ān, but it never confines the interpretation to them. Thus it can approach many issues from a different, wider perspective without diverting from the rules of the methodology of tafsīr. For instance, this work suggests some other probable considerations in interpreting the initial verses of Sūrah Abasa (He Frowned).

I personally believe that the reader will benefit from this interpretation of the Qur’ān at least as much as she or he will from others. I pray that the endeavor dedicated to this work may become a means for Divine blessings and the seeking of forgiveness from God Almighty for our mistakes and misdeeds.

Last Updated ( Friday, 04 September 2009 )
 
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