The Equivocal Qur’an

The 7th verse of the 3rd Sura of the Qur’an offers one hell of an enigma, opening up a flood of comments.

« It is He who has sent down the Book to you, there are unequivocal verses in it. (ءَايَتُ مُّحْكَمَتُ ), which are the mother of the Book, and other equivocal ones (مُتَشَبِهَتُ ). People who have an inclination to straying in their hearts, put the emphasis on the equivocal verses, seeking dissension by trying to find an interpretation for them, when no one knows the interpretation, except God and men of a deep science. They say, ‘We believe: all things come from our Lord’, but only men of understanding remember them.» i

The word « unequivocal » translates the adjective مُّحْكَمَتُ, coming from the verbal root حَكَمَ « to judge, to decide ». The word « equivocal » translates the adjective مُتَشَبِهَتُ . But this adjective may have other meanings : « doubtful, ambiguous, uncertain, suspicious ».

It is really not common, for a revealed text such as the Quran, to challenge itself directly, by claiming that Quranic verses can be « equivocal » or even « dubious, suspicious » – as the word مُتَشَبِهَتُ implies.

There is another question, perhaps an even deeper one, which has fascinated such eminent philosophers as Averroes or Ghazzali: is this verse 3:7 itself equivocal or not?

Indeed, there are two very different ways of reading its second sentence, thus producing a real equivocation as to its true meaning.

The first reading, which has just been given, suggests that philosophers and men of profound science can decipher the obscure allusions and secret knowledge that the text conceals, and come closer to its true interpretation, the one that God knows.

But if the end of the sentence is marked just after « except God », – as the lack of punctuation marks in Arabic allows –, the text then reads:

« No one knows the interpretation, except God. But men of deep science say: ‘We believe in it’…etc. ».

This second reading brings the « men of deep science » back to a radical modesty. They are granted only the possibility of conceiving the existence of these allusions and their potential secrets from a distance, but without being able to grasp them, to explain them, to understand them. Philosophers and men of science are reduced to measuring their ignorance and the absolute transcendence of God.

In this second interpretation, philosophers and scientists would therefore be held silent on all equivocal verses, including verse 3:7, – which deals with the existence of equivocal verses in the Qur’an in an equivocal manner.

They must renounce the apparent superiority of their science of interpretation, not so much out of humility, but because they have to admit their radical limits with regard to the transcendence of the revealed text.

Averroes addressed this delicate issue in his Decisive Treatise.

He takes a clear stand for the first reading: « We opt, for our part, for the reading that consists of pausing after the words:  »and men of deep science ».»ii

In so doing, it supports the cause of philosophers, recognizing the freedom of scholarly analysis, and the benefit of seeking to reconcile science and belief, reason and faith.

He makes a thorough analysis of the various levels of meaning to be found in the Qur’an, and the precautions to be taken in this regard. Only philosophers and men of science can be brought to discuss this subject, far from the unlearned ears of common people and crowds. « True interpretations [of revealed statements] should not be written down in books for the masses, let alone those that are flawed.» iii

Revelation, perhaps a little paradoxically, is not always clear; it does not reveal everything and there are many things that continues to keep hidden.

« We know from the tradition of their words that many figures of the first age of Islam believed that the Revelation includes the apparent and the hidden (ظاهِرأوَباطِنأ , zāhiran wa bātinan), and that the hidden should not be known by those who are not men who possess the science of it and who would be incapable of understanding it. Proof of this, the sayning of ‘Ali ben Abi Tālib – reported by al-Boukhāri – God be pleased with him: ‘Speak to men about what they know. Do you want to tax Allah and His Prophet with a lie?’, and similar words that are reported from many other pious elders. » iv

There is a radical difference between « clear » verses, which often deal with practical religious issues, around which it has been easy since the earliest ages of Islam to form a consensus and then to conform to it, and « equivocal » verses, which raise theoretical questions, which in themselves offer no possibility of consensus.

Consequently, Averroes judged, like many others before him, that the interpretation of these verses should not be made public. « No era has been short of scholars who felt that the Revelation contains certain things whose true meaning should not be known by everyone.»v

If consensus is not conceivable in these theoretical matters, the consequence is that one cannot call it ‘infidelity’ either if one breaks the consensus on this or that interpretation.

But not everyone is as broad-minded as Averroes:

« What about Muslim philosophers, such as Abū Nașr (al-Fārābī) and Ibn Sinā (Avicenna)? Abū Hamid [Ghazali], in his book known as Incoherence of Philosophers, however, categorically concluded that they were unfaithful to three questions.» vi

(These three famous and unresolved questions were the issue of the eternity of the world, the assertion according to which God does not know the particulars, and the theses of the ressurection of the flesh and future life.)

Averroes concludes that it is better to keep secrecy about philosophical research and interpretations of the Qur’anic text. And this for a very good reason :

« It is because of the interpretations, and because of the opinion that these should, from the point of view of the revealed Law, be exposed to everyone, that the sects of Islam appeared, which came to the point of accusing each other of infidelity or blameworthy innovation, especially those of them that were perverse. The Mu’tazilites interpreted many of the prophetic verses and traditions, and exposed these interpretations to the crowd, and so did the Ash’arites, although the latter interpreted less. As a result, they precipitated people into hatred, mutual abhorrence and wars, tore the Revelation to pieces and completely divided people. » vii

One may say ‘Yes’ to science, therefore, ‘Yes’ to philosophy, ‘Yes’ to making an effort to interpret the Qur’an, in its most ambiguous, opaque, uncertain verses. But it’s an absolute ‘No’, as for communicating the results to the people, to the crowd.

This would only lead to hatred, division and wars…

Is truth equivocal? Should it be kept secret?

Averroes, unequivocally, answered « yes » to these questions.


iQur’an, 3.7

iiAverroes. Decisive Treatise. § 28

iiiIbid. §63

ivAverroes. Decisive Treatise. § 26

vAverroes. Decisive Treatise. § 26

viAverroes. Decisive Treatise§ 27

viiIbid. §64

Une réflexion sur “The Equivocal Qur’an

  1. Why has Israel enshrined the Right of Return for all g’lut Jewry? Most simple answer: the nations of the world shut and bolted their doors, when Hitler together with his diabolical criminal fiends, initiated the Shoah of European Jewry.

    The sages, both rabbi Akiva and Hillel, learned the mitzvah of kre’a shma through its נמשל דיוק, that which you hate, do not project this hate unto others. Judea after some 100 years of Civil War, culminated when Roman troops – our leaders actually invited the Roman Army into the walls of Jerusalem; this absolute disgrace, Judea surrendered her hard fought-for national Independence! Our own divided kingdom, those warring brothers who argued between them, who would wear the crown, both brothers had invited a Roman general, together with his Army, to resolve their dynastic dispute! Nothing could express the exhaustion, the absolute weariness of soul, that hatred without cause had obliterated the dignity of the nation of Judea.

    Jews we won our Independence War, and then immediately thereafter – we made war against ourselves. This absolute disgrace has haunted Jewry for 2000+ years of horrid g’lut. Then pop up Hitler, and the world, it too abandoned all its enlightenment ideals – overnight. Scratch a European and behold an uncivilized barbarian. Two European Civil Wars have distorted and scared not only the Jewish survivors.

    Europe obliterated its ‘good name’, its Moral mandate to rule the inferior dark skinned sub-humans of Africa and the Pacific. Just as my people bore the burden of our guilt throughout 2000+ years of oppression and injustice, this disgrace directly compares to China’s Century of Shame. Post Shoah, the mark of Cain, it now burns within the souls of all Europeans, all nations who – when the lives of European Jewry hung in the scales of balance – foreign leaders across the world, made the decision to close their borders to Jewish refugees who sought to flee from the Nazis death trap. This judgment effectively condemned European Jewry to the Nazi damnation of Hell.

    The refusal of the Allied ‘Big Three’ to bomb the Nazi rail lines unto the death camps, that decision goes hand in glove with the pre-war passage of the 2nd British White Paper. That decree completely betrayed the tenets upon which the League of Nations originally awarded the “Palestine Mandate”. Following the successful destruction of the 2nd German empire, to the British empire. Consequently, David Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders understood the t’shuvah payment which Israel must pay. “Never Again ” commands: the Jewish State forever has an open door policy which extends to all Jewish refugee g’lut populations, scattered across the 4 corners of the Earth. The State of Israel must forever bear the burden of Jewish regret for the sin of Hatred without Cause among our people – our golden calf.

    Children do not grasp the pain of disgrace and failure. Adults, we all possess the potential to cook our emotional mind, through the heat generated by disgrace and humiliation. The mitzvah of tefillah remembers, the memories of social behaviors among our own people – which produce the consequences of life or death, blessing or curse. Tefillah which lacks k’vanna, remembering tohor and tumah middot; the success or failure of our people to honor the brit, to breath tohor middot ideals – which both our forefathers and ourselves have dedicated them as a holy korban, most holy to HaShem. A man can not dedicate tohor middot without remembering the disgrace and humiliation of tumah social behaviors, made throughout life. Who ultimately bears responsibility for the crimes of the Shoah? We, the chosen Cohen nation alone, we bear responsibility for this horror, this disgrace. Our leaders chose, and kissed the calf of assimilation. Our leaders lead Israel back unto Egyptian slavery and bondage. We see the cause of the Shoah, every time we honestly look at ourselves in the mirror.

    Amos 5:4: “Seek Me, and live” succinctly defines the revelation of the Torah @ Sinai as expressed in the First Commandment. Hab. 2:4: The righteous shall live by his faith” confirms this prophetic mussar which Amose commands. Specifically all generations of the bnai brit Cohen nation, either we do or we fail to obey the First Commandment לשמה. Hillel’s mussar “go and learn” directly applies to all generations of Israel living. The lame excuse of doing mitzvot לא לשמה leads to doing mitzvot לשמה – it fails to teach prophetic mussar. The 2000+ years of g’lut serves as the prosecutor’s main witness which condemns my People. The purpose of the תרי”ג commandments, Moshe the prophet stood the Sanhedrin courts upon the principles of Common Law. Mitzvot learn from other mitzvot like halachot function as precedents to understand the k’vanna of a specific Case\Rule Mishna. Avot teaches that Am haʼaretzim can not live modest lives. The freed slave, who bears the scares of slavery, only such a man as this, can truly walk in modesty before his fellow citizens.

    The Yigdal hymn shares no portion with modesty, because Ben Maimon did not keep the Torah לשמה. The Creed of the 13 principles, that death creed, it follows the cultures and customs of religions whose people never accepted the revelation of the Torah @ Sinai\Horev. It fails to validate Rabbi Akiva’s פרדס understanding of how to correctly learn the k’vanna of the Oral Torah revelation @ Horev, commonly known as מלכות. To swear an ברכה requires שם ומלכות. This profound interpretation, which separates blessings from tehillem, defines the meaning of faith, the sanctification of Will to do mitzvot לשמה. The supporters of Ben Maimon refer to the Yigdal creed as a “prayer”. But Rabbi Yochanon objects. Tefillah requires שם ומלכות, this pre-condition, it defines the k’vanna of “prayer”. The alien notion – prayer – does not define the k’vanna of tefillah anymore than Covenant defines ברית. The latter, an oath alliance, requires making an oath לשמה. Sinai & Horev serve as the יסוד of שם ומלכות. Ben Maimon organized his code of halachah based upon Aristotelian principles of logic. He did not understand Rabbi Akiva’s פרדס explanation of Oral Torah logic. He did not understand that Moshe the prophet organized the תרי”ג mitzvot as Common Law by which he intended Israel to set up, and establish the Federal Sanhedrin Court system, within the Republic of the Written Torah Constitutional State. This mitzvah, commonly known as – to built the Beit Hamikdash.

    Ben Maimon failed to understand the Moshiach dedication of the House of Aaron as the יסוד of the Moshiach anointing of the House of David. Obedience takes priority over sacrifices. Obedience applies to all generations of the brit Cohen nation. No one man can ever encapsulate the k’vanna of the mitzvah of Moshiach. Therefore the Moshiach “tarries” only because we, all generations of our people, fail to take responsibility for our lives, in our walk before HaShem to obey our King לשמה. King does not refer to some glorified monarch. King directly connects with the 13 tohor middot Oral Torah revelation, which Moshe the prophet heard @ Horev. Torah logic not dependent upon Eras or times. All generations of the bnai brit Cohen nation require Oral Torah logic to correctly interpret the Written Torah Constitution of the Republic. Israel does not require the 3rd rule of the Rambam, we have the mitzva דאורייתא known as chanukah.

    The sealed masoret tradition serves as witness that Israel accepts the revelation of the Torah @ Sinai. The counterfeit claimants — never once do their holy books include the Name revealed in the First Commandment @ Sinai. Never once do their holy books recognize the moral priority, to rule the land with justice, through the establishment of Federal common law courts. Neither the new testament nor the koran understood that the T’NaCH exists as the first Common Law codification based upon the תרי”ג commandments.


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