Rebuttal to Sam Shamoun's Article "Quran Contradiction: Is the Quran Completely Clear or Not?"

By

Bassam Zawadi

 

Sam Shamoun's article could be located here.

Sam Shamoun said:

 

The Quran emphatically states that it is a clear scripture,

Alif Lam Ra. A Book whose verses are set clear, and then distinguished, from One All-wise, All-aware: S. 11:1

A book that fully and clearly explains everything,

. Shall I seek a judge other than Allah while it is He Who has sent down unto you the Book (The Qur'an), explained in detail. S. 6:114 Hilali-Khan

. And We have sent down on thee the Book making clear everything, and as a guidance and a mercy, and as good tidings to those who surrender. S. 16:89 Arberry

A Book whereof the Verses are explained in detail; A Qur'an in Arabic for people who know S. 41:3 Hilali-Khan

The implication of the aforementioned texts is that all of the verses of the Quran are clear and that the Muslim scripture doesn't contain any passages that are obscure or difficult to grasp.

Yet this is contradicted by the following verse that says that there are passages which are not entirely clear, whose meanings are known only by Allah:

It is He Who has sent down to you (Muhammad) the Book (this Qur'an). In it are Verses that are entirely clear, they are the foundations of the Book [and those are the Verses of Al-Ahkam (commandments, etc.), Al-Fara'id (obligatory duties) and Al-Hudud (legal laws for the punishment of thieves, adulterers, etc.)]; and others not entirely clear. So as for those in whose hearts there is a deviation (from the truth) they follow that which is not entirely clear thereof, seeking Al-Fitnah (polytheism and trials, etc.), and seeking for its hidden meanings, but none knows its hidden meanings save Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in it; the whole of it (clear and unclear Verses) are from our Lord." And none receive admonition except men of understanding. (Tafsir At-Tabari). S. 3:7 Hilali-Khan

So now which is it? What are Muslims supposed to believe concerning the nature of the Quran? Is the entire Quran clear and fully explained, or are there parts of it which are unclear and whose interpretation only Allah knows?

 

My Response:

Before we move on to address Shamoun's argument, it would be useful for us to note that the verses of the Qur'an are classified into two different categories: 1) Muhkam verses 2) Muttaashaabih verses.

Shaykh Abu Ammar Yasir al-Qadhi elaborates:

The Exact Meaning of The Muhkam and The Muttashaabih

The scholars of 'uloom al-Qur`aan have differed over the exact meaning of muhkam and muttashaabih. As-Suyooti lists almost twenty opinions concerning this issue alone. However, in reality, almost all of the definitions that as-Suyooti quotes have a similar meaning. Az-Zarqaani states, "If we look as these various opinions, we do not really find contradictions or discrepancies between them, but rather we see that they are all similar and close in meaning."

Some of the meanings that as-Suyooti quotes are:

1) The muhkam is that which is clear in and of itself, in contrast to the muttashaabih.

2) The muhkam are the verses whose meaning is understood, whereas the muttashaabih are those verses whose meaning is not understood.

3) The muhkam is that which can only hold one valid meaning, whereas the muttashaabih has many.

4) The muhkam can be understood by itself, whereas the muttashaabih must be understood in light of other verses.

5) The muhkam does not need any interpretation in order for it to be understood, whereas the muttashaabih needs interpretation.

As can be seen, the various definitions have the same theme: the muhkam verses are those verses that are clear in meaning, and cannot be distorted or misunderstood, whereas the muttashaabih verses are those verses that are not clear in meaning by themselves, and in order to properly understand the muttashaabih verses, it is necessary to look at them in light of the muhkam verses. (Shaykh Abu Ammar Yasir al-Qadhi, On the Muhkam and Muttashaabih, Source)

Yes, there is a difference of opinion regarding the exact meaning of these terms, but as Shaykh Qadhi pointed out we can generalize the meaning to include what everyone stated about the matter.

Now we will move on to Shamoun's arguments. First argument that Shamoun raises is that the Qur'an says that all of its verses have been made clear in Surah 11:1, yet else where in the Qur'an (Surah 3:7) we don't see that this is the case.

The issue with Surah 11:1 is that Shamoun is appealing to the wrong translation. The Arabic text states:

Alif-lam-ra kitabun ohkimat ayatuhu thumma fussilat min ladun hakeemin khabeerin

The key word in question is ohkimat. Shamoun appeals to Arberry who translates it as:

Alif Lam Ra. A Book whose verses are set clear, and then distinguished, from One All-wise, All-aware:

While it should have been better translated as:

Alif. Lam. Ra. (This is) a Scripture the revelations whereof are perfected and then expounded. (It cometh) from One Wise, Informed, (Translation by Pickthall)

Alif Lam Ra. This is a Book, whose verses have been made firm and free from imperfection and then they have been expounded in detail. It is from One Wise, and All-Aware. (Translation by Sher Ali)

A.L.R. [This] book, the verses whereof are guarded against corruption, and are also distinctly explained, [is a revelation] from the wise, the knowing [God]: (Translation by Sale)

Shaykh Abu Ammar Yasir al-Qadhi states:

 

On occasion, Allaah calls the entire Qur`aan muhkam. For example, He said, "Alif-Laam-Raa. These are the verses from the hakeem Book (10:1)," and, "Alif-Laam-Raa. (This is a) Book the verses whereof are Perfected (Ar. uhkimath)... (11:1)." In these verses, Allaah is saying that the whole Qur`aan is a clear, perfect Book which acts as a Criterion between good and evil. Imaam at-Tabaree (d. 310 A.H.) said, "Allaah has protected (ahkama) His verses from any evil entering it, or any flaw, or any falsehood. Then, He set it forth with commands and prohibitions. This is because to ihkaam something means to better it and protect it." As Allaah says of the Qur`aan, "Falsehood cannot come to it from before it or from behind it, (it is) sent down by the All-Wise, Worthy of Praise" (41:42).

 

On other occasions, Allaah calls the entire Qur`aan muttashaabih: "Allaah has sent down the best statements, a Book that is muttashaabih, oft-recited..."(39:23). The meaning of muttashaabih in this verse is that the verses of the Qur`aan resemble and complement one another in their eloquence and beauty, and in their beliefs and laws, so that there are not contradictions or differences in them. (Ibid.)

 

Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips said:

The Qur'aan has described itself in various verses as being entirely muhkam, in one verse as being entirely mutashaabih, and in another verse as being partially muhkam and partially mutashaabih. There is no contradiction here, because the first two cases use the words in their general sense, while the final one uses the words according to a more technical meaning. Since the general meaning of the Arabic term muhkam is "perfected" or "completely formed," the whole Qur'aan may be referred to as being muhkam in respect to it construction, its logic, and its message. Hence, we find Allaah referring to the Qur'aan as follows:

 

 "Alif, Laam, Raa. A Book from the Wise and Aware (Allaah), whose

verses were made muhkam, then explained." (Soorah Hood (11):1)

 

Likewise, Allaah applied the general meaning of mutashaabih, "mutually resembling one another" or "similar," to the whole Qur'aan in the following verse:

 

"Allaah has revealed the best speech (in the form of) a mutashaabih

book repeating (its message)." (Soorah az-Zumar (39):23.)

 

That is, all of the verses of the Qur'aan resemble each other in their rhythmic and poetic perfection, and they all mutually confirm each other's meanings. However, the specific meanings of these two terms play a very important role in the science of tafseer. Those meanings are contained in the following verse, along with a very stern warning:

 

 

"It is He Who revealed the Book to you; in it are muhkamaat verses which are the essence of the Book (umm al-kitaab) and other (verses) which are mutashaabihaat. As for those whose hearts are twisted, they follow the mutashaabih, seeking to sow discord and searching for its inner meanings, but no one knows its inner meaning except Allaah. And those firmly grounded in knowledge say, 'We believe in it, as it is all from our Lord.' Yet, none will realize (this) except the wise." (Soorah Aal 'Imraan (3):7.)

 

Hence, the muhkam could be defined as those verses whose meanings are clear, and the mutashaabih as those verses whose inner meanings are known only to Allaah. 'Aa'ishah reported that once the Prophet (r) recited the above mentioned verse and said,

 

" If you meet those who seek out the obscure verses (mutashaabih), they are the ones whom Allaah has named in the Qur'aan, so beware of them." (Collected by al-Bukhaaree (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, pp. 53-4, no. 70) and Muslim (Sahih Muslim, vol. 4, p. 1402, No. 6442). (Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, Usool At-Tafseer The Methodology of Qur'anic Interpretation, pp. 181-182, Source)

 

Shaykh Abu Ammar Yasir al-Qadhi concludes it off by saying:

In conclusion, Allaah has called the whole Qur`aan muhkam, meaning that it is a clear source of guidance and a criterion between good and evil; He has also called the whole Qur`aan muttashaabih, meaning that its verses are similar to one another in beauty and aid one another in meaning; and, finally, He has called part of it muhkam and part muttashaabih, meaning that part of the Qur`aan is clear and not open to distortion, and part of it is unclear and open to distortion by those 'who have a deviation in their hearts.' The portion that is muhkam forms the foundation of the Book, meaning that it comprises all the moral and social laws that mankind needs for its guidance. The muttashaabih portion of the Qur`aan is clear in its meaning to 'those well grounded in knowledge,' and it is necessary to understand these muttashaabih portions in light of the muhkam ones. The actuality of the muttashaabih verses, however, are known only to Allaah. (Shaykh Abu Ammar Yasir al-Qadhi, On the Muhkam and Muttashaabih, Source)

 

 

Shamoun also cites the following verses:

 

. Shall I seek a judge other than Allah while it is He Who has sent down unto you the Book (The Qur'an), explained in detail. S. 6:114 Hilali-Khan

. And We have sent down on thee the Book making clear everything, and as a guidance and a mercy, and as good tidings to those who surrender. S. 16:89 Arberry

A Book whereof the Verses are explained in detail; A Qur'an in Arabic for people who know S. 41:3 Hilali-Khan

He argues that these verses are saying that the Qur'an has made everything clear, so how can we have some ambiguous verses in the Qur'an?

 

Instead of reinventing the wheel, I will ask my readers to refer to my article Refuting The Argument That The Quran Is Complete; Therefore, We Don't Need Hadith, which addresses this argument, since it is originally a "Quran Only Muslim" argument to begin with.

 

Sam Shamoun said:

 

Moreover, why would Allah even bother revealing passages that no one knows besides him? Of what benefit is it to the Muslims to be given verses that cannot be understood by any one besides their deity? What do Muslims gain from such obscure passages that have no practical value for their lives?

 

Finally, how does a Muslim know for certain which verses are clear and which are obscure when the Quran nowhere delineates the two? Is it left up to fallible, uninspired Muslim scholars to inform the Muslim masses which passages are clear and which are obscure, individuals who often contradict and oppose one another in their exegesis and rulings concerning the application and meaning of the Quran and Sunna?

 

My Response:

 

Shamoun said:

 

Of what benefit is it to the Muslims to be given verses that cannot be understood by any one besides their deity?

 

Shamoun again has to solely rely on English translations. He doesn't know the depth of the Arabic language. The sentence could either be read to say that only Allah alone knows the muttashaabih verses or that both Allah and the people of knowledge could know the meaning of the muttashaabih verses (Sher Ali in his translation opts for the second way). Please refer to the commentaries of Ibn Kathir and Tabari for the details.

Furthermore, we must distinguish between the two kinds of muttashaabih verses:

 

The first type they mention is al-Ishtirak al-Lafdhi, i.e. when a word has two equally possible meaning [sic]. For example, the word Quran in Arabic refers to the menstrual period, as it also equally refers to the period between two menstrual periods.

The second type is ijmal, i.e. when Allah makes a general statement without mentioning the necessary specific details, such as and give its due (zakah) on the day of its harvest where we are literally ordered to give Zakah that is due on crops, but the amount due is not mentioned, and therefore, that makes this verse a mutashabih. Similarly, the Hanbali scholars, including Ibn Taymiyya, regarded the texts about Allaha's Attributes to be from the Mutashabihat, i.e. we literally believe that Allah Rose over the Throne, but the exact nature thereof remains a Mutashabih.

Secondly, the Mutashabih is not something we can never find out the true meaning of. Rather, even if a particular text on its own, due to its ambiguity is regarded to be mutashabih, other evidences from the Quran, the Sunnah or even Qiyas can clear that ambiguity to various extents.

For example, the above quoted verse: and give its due (zakah) on the day of its harvest, on its own is Mutashabih, because Allah did not specify how much Zakah to give. However, the Sunnah clarifies this Mutashabih, that 10% on naturally irrigated crops, and 5% on manually irrigated crops.

Likewise, Allah's statement: The day when the Shin will be revealed, and they are called to prostrate, they would not be able to, is Mutashabih, for number of reasons, most famous of them being: it is not clear whose Shin exactly is Allah referring to? His own? Or someone else's?

However, the Sunnah clarifies this Mutashabih by explicitly stating that when Allah will reveal His Shin, all those who would prostrate to him on this earth shall prostrate, while the backs of the hypocrites would be made straight and they will try to prostrate but fall flat on their faces. (I wonder how the Asharis react to "anthropomorphic" statements uttered by our Prophet SallAllahu alalaihi wa-sallam!)

This, one would only realise if he had formally studied Usul al-Fiqh, and hence, another reason why unqualified should not delve in issues they are ignorant of. (Saheefa.org, Are the Sifaat of Allah from the Mutashabih?, Source)

 

So here we see that a verse could be muttashaabih because when it is read alone the meaning could be ambiguous, however when read along with other verses or Sunnah the meaning could be clarified. The way the person knows this is by having knowledge, which answers Shamoun's questions:

 

Finally, how does a Muslim know for certain which verses are clear and which are obscure when the Quran nowhere delineates the two? Is it left up to fallible, uninspired Muslim scholars to inform the Muslim masses which passages are clear and which are obscure, individuals who often contradict and oppose one another in their exegesis and rulings concerning the application and meaning of the Quran and Sunna?

 

Also, we have to bear in mind that there is a difference of opinion in regards to what the word muttashaabih means. The scholars who take the opinion that Surah 3:7 should be read to mean that only Allah alone knows the meaning of the muttashaabih, define the word muttashaabih differently.

 

Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips provides some examples of verses that could be muttashaabih from the perspective that he takes:

 

Another example in relation to man himself is that of the rooh (soul). Its existence is confirmed by revelation, as well as human experience, but its reality is unknown to man. Allaah, in the Qur'aan, points out its origin for us, saying,

 

 "They ask you about the rooh; tell them, 'The rooh comes from my

Lord's command.' " (Soorah al-Israa' (17):85.)

 

Hence, we know that the soul is created, but as to what it is created from, Allaah alone knows. We know other things about it, like the fact that an angel is responsible for placing it in the fetus at the beginning of the fifth month of its development, and another angel is responsible for extracting it from the human body when its appointed time of death has arrived, etc. (See Qur'aan 32:11 and Sahih Muslim, vol. 4, pp. 1391-3, nos. 6390-7.) But how it was created, its form, its place in the body, or how it is connected to the body is not part of our knowledge.

 

In relation to man and his world, an example can be found in the references to the next life and the final hour. Fruits and drinks of paradise and Hell are mentioned by name, but as Ibn 'Abbaas (r) explained, only the names are similar; their realities are totally different. (Collected by Ibn Abee Haatim and Ibn Jareer. See Tafseer Ibn Katheer, vol. 1, p. 66.) Allaah Himself indicates that by mentioning some of their unique qualities, such as rivers of flowing milk that never sours or wine that does not intoxicate, a scale that weighs deeds and the skins of those doomed to the Fire, which grow back again as soon as the fire has burnt them.

 

Similarly, knowledge of the appointed time for the end of this world is unknown. Although many of the signs have been mentioned in the Qur'aan and Sunnah, and the process of disintegration has been vividly described, the exact time of its occurrence is completely hidden from man. Hence, Qur'aanic references to the Final Hour and the components of the next life are always vague.

 

The Qur'aanic verses that speak on the mysteries of creation and the Creator in such a way that their reality remains obscure are referred to as the "mutashaabihaat." (Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, Usool At-Tafseer The Methodology of Qur'anic Interpretation, pp. 180-181, Source)

 

So here we see the kinds of verses that are considered muttashaabih by some of our scholars. What they consider to be muttashaabih are things that only Allah alone knows, for they believe that Surah 3:7 should be read in that way.

 

This same argument could be applied to the Bible as well. The Bible could speak about heaven and hell, yet its true reality is unknown according to all Christians. Thus, all verses that speak about heaven and hell are muttashaabih for Christians. We recommend this article for our readers so that they know how just how "muttashaabih" the Bible could be.

 

Shamoun asks:

 

Moreover, why would Allah even bother revealing passages that no one knows besides him? Of what benefit is it to the Muslims to be given verses that cannot be understood by any one besides their deity? What do Muslims gain from such obscure passages that have no practical value for their lives?

 

Shaykh Ibn 'Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:

 

The wisdom behind the fact that the Qur'aan was revealed with verses of these two types is that this is a test, because those in whose hearts is deviation will follow that which is not entirely clear and will thus remain confused. But those who are well-versed in knowledge believe in all of it, both that which is not entirely clear and that which is entirely clear; they know that it is from Allaah and that there is no contradiction in it. (Source)

 

Indeed, this is a test from Allah. Allah purposely put these verses in order to test us. Are we going to accept them based on faith even though we might not fully comprehend them and fully submit to what He tells us? Or are we going to fail the test and instead appeal to these ambiguous verses and interpret them in ways that are false in order to fulfill our corrupted agendas?

 

In conclusion regarding the meaning of muttashaabih, scholars have differed in defining what this word really means because they have differed in the way Surah 3:7 should be read. Surah 3:7 could either be read to say that 1) Only Allah alone knows the muttashaabih verses or that 2) Both Allah and the people of knowledge could know the meaning of the muttashaabih verses.

 

If one opts for the first opinion then he would define the word muttashaabih to mean something that only Allah alone knows. For example, the nature of the soul and how it is connected to the body is something that Allah alone knows. Thus, when the verses in the Qur'an speak about the soul these verses would be considered muttashaabih because they are discussing something (i.e. the soul) that humans have not fully comprehended.

 

If one opts for the second opinion then he would define the word muttashaabih to mean any verse when read alone appears to be confusing and ambiguous. For example, when Allah says that we must give Zakah in one verse it does not clarify the exact amount. Thus, when this verse is read alone it appears to be dubious. However, when it is read along other verses or Sunnah it would be understood that there is a certain percentage of one's wealth that one would have to pay as Zakah.

 

The implications of the first opinion are that in reality there are things of the unseen realm that are only known by God and one must put his faith in them. Even Christians like Shamoun would agree with us on this point.

 

The implications of the second opinion are that it is important for one to have knowledge in order to fully grasp the meanings of all the verses in the Qur'an. One must not except to read any verse individually and then expect to understand it immediately.

 

Regardless of which opinion one adheres to there are no serious implications that either of them puts forth that would make the Qur'an worthy of criticism regarding this point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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