No End to Interpretation


The Arabic word تأويل, ta’wil, means « interpretation », and is used particularly in connection with the reading of the Qur’an, as to its inner, allegorical, mystical meaning.

This word has other meanings, which I recall here because they help to feel how the Arabic language understands the idea of « interpretation ».

Ta’wil may also mean: « vision, spectre, ghost; interpretation of dreams, of visions. »

The root of ta’wil is أول, ‘awal, which means « beginning » and comes from the verbal root أآل , ‘a’al, whose meaning, in its I form, is « to arrive, to reach a place; to return; to be a leader, to command; to abandon someone ». In form II of the verb ‘a’al, the meaning is: « to bring back, to make someone come back to something; to explain, to interpret; to establish, to institute; to define, to determine; to explain ».

Let’s indulge in an impromptu psychoanalysis of the word ta’wil and its verbal root.

It implies fundamentally a ‘return’ to a ‘beginning’. The ta’wil is essentially oriented towards an ‘origin’. The thought of ta’wil seems to be fascinated by an « original place », where it is necessary to « come back » to, in order « to take command », in order to « establish », to « institute », to « define », to « determine ».

But before attempting the ta’wil of any Koranic suras, it might be wise to proceed to the ta’wil of the ta’wil itself.

Perhaps the ta’wil would function more freely, if it were free from any absolute « beginning » and « origin », and if it took into account the complexity of human History, the diversity of beliefs, and the unexpected resources of various wisdoms, — and if it also turned more towards the future, towards the as yet unthought, rather than towards the past.

One of the most ancient meanings of the verbal root ‘a’al of the word ta’wil is « to abandon », as I already mentioned.

Perhaps, in order to make a good ta’wil, it is necessary to abandon clichés, repetitions, mechanical thoughts ?

Perhaps it is necessary to free the ta’wil from any imposed ‘truths’, from any fatwas, from any self-nominated ‘authorities’.

Perhaps it is necessary, for a really critical ta’wil, to finally leave the ossified, stale, dry, dead world of ready-made ideas, hammering heavily their way into human brains.

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