Friday, December 29, 2006

Interpreting the Qur'an


Every Muslim and every reader of classical Arabic and all those who have access to an authentic translation of the Qur'an, can easily decipher from the Qur'an the articles of belief in Islam and the basic religious obligations bestowed upon a Muslim so that one can please one's Creator and attain salvation in the hereafter. As such, the Qur'an is a very straightforward book of guidance for all people.

However, to have a more scholarly understanding of the Qur'an and its message and to comprehend the accurate and in-depth meaning of its verses and their links together, in particular to be able to verify the authenticity of different understandings from the verses of the Qur'an, it is essential to have an in depth insight and means to appreciate and understand the Qur'an.

In this booklet, the essential means to appreciate and understand the Qur'an are called primary sources of interpretation of the Qur'an. These means and insights elucidate the Qur'an; others that are not essential but are helpful in the understanding and interpretation of the Qur'an are called secondary sources. The Primary and the secondary sources for interpreting the Qur'an are briefly introduced below.

Primary Sources for interpreting the Qur'an:

Language of the Qur'an: The language in which the Qur'an was revealed was the Arabic of the highest quality spoken by the Quraysh of Makkah. As such, it is impetrative that due consideration is given to an in-depth understanding of this particular language.

Context of the Qur'an: The Qur'an is a coherent Book in which its verses and Surahs are arranged in a specific order. While interpreting the Qur'an it is important to keep in view the context of its verses. No verse should be interpreted without regard to its context.

Parallels of the Qur'an: One of the main sources for understanding the Qur'an is the Qur'an itself. Many verses or words in the Qur'an are explained or further clarified in other verses of the Qur'an.

Theme of the Qur'an: The theme of the Qur'an is the "Indhar" of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) 1. Indhar is a term of the Qur'an and means admonition or warning. It is important to interpret verses of the Qur'an in the light of this theme (Indhar) and its different phases. In doing so, attention to the time of revelation and the addressees of verses (whether directives are general or are specific to certain group of people in the era of the Prophet (pbuh) are essential.

Secondary sources for interpreting the Qur'an:

Ahadith (the prophet sayings): Ahadith are potential sources to access the Prophet's (pbuh) and his companions' understanding, explanation and application of the verses of the Qur'an. A hadith that provides explanation for a verse or verses of the Qur'an helps in interpreting the Qur'an, provided that the chain of narrators of the hadith is not weak and that the context of Hadith itself is in line with the text of the Qur'an and its overall message. Hadith however cannot abrogate or add to a Qur'anic directive.

The previous scriptures: Previous divine scriptures are helpful in understanding the Qur'an. Though they are not present in their original form, however they are still an invaluable source of wisdom and divine directives. They also contain historical record about the previous prophets of Bani Israel (Children of Israel).

The major commentaries: Numerous translations and Tafasir (commentaries) have been written about the Qur'an by various Muslim scholars, these also provide a valuable source of scholarly insight and information about its interpretation.

History of Arabia: History of Arabia highlights the social, moral, intellectual and economic mood of the people at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The likes and dislikes of the people, rites, rituals and social norms of that time.

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