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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 29 May 2010, 21:31 
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Al-Jabri, in his book الناسخ والمنسوخ بين الإثبات والنفي, Chapter 4 starting on page 97, discusses the origins of the abrogation notion by highlighting the notions of Muhkam (definite) and Mutashaabih (indeterminate). He says that when foreigners and others came under the fold of the Islamic state, some started throwing a monkey wrench, using the Mutashaabih verses, seeking sedition, just like 3:7 warned against.

He says that the start was what Ash-Shaafi`i wrote in his landmark book الرسالة, recognized as the foundation of Usool-ul-Fiqh (Foundations of deduction). He wrote that if there is contradiction between two verses, and he wrote there were none, then that is an issue of abrogation.

Al-Jabri says that Ibn Hazm later opined that what is hard to understand is called Mutashaabih. Then arguments arose whether the Mutashaabih can be understood. Some, such as Taawoos and Ibn Abbaas (in one report) said it can be.

I humbly say that the issue is not whether the Mutashaabih verses can be understood. The issue is what to do with them. And my humble answer to that question is: honor all legitimate meanings of the words; they were all intended. That is, IMHO, why God phrased those verses the way He did: because not one meaning in particular is intended; all of them are. To keep trying to guess which particular meaning is meant by a Mutashaabih verse is precisely what God warns against in 3:7 and He enjoins on the people of knowledge to accept them as they are, i.e., accept all their legitimate meanings.

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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 11 Jun 2010, 16:41 
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Al-Jabri dedicates 9 pages in his book الناسخ والمنسوخ بين الإثبات والنفي, pages 131-139, to this subject. He addresses the following questions:


As expected, there is no agreement between scholars on any of the above. Here is a summary of what Al-Jabri has reported quoting scholars.

Is the Quran Muhkam, Mutashaabih, or both?

Al-Haakim An-Naysapoori said that the primary scholar who said that the Quran is Muhkam was Abu-Muslim Al-Asfahaani and many of the Mu`tazila, a school of thought that gives precedence to reason over narratives. One Mu`tazili who dissented was Abdul-Jabbaar ibn Ahmad, a renowned judge, who, in explaining 2:106, said that Muhkam and Mutashaabih are the abrogating and the abrogated.

An-Naysapoori's opinion is that the Quran is Muhkam in its general definite verses, Mutashaabih in its general indeterminate verses and is both Muhkam and Mutashaabih in its specific verses. I'm not sure I understand that explanation.

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Which are the Muhkam verses and which are the Mutashaabih ones?

  • Ibn Mas`ood opined that Muhkam are the abrogating and Mutashaabih are the abrogated verses.
  • Ibn Abbaas had two opinions:
    1. Muhkam is the Quran which abrogated prior scriptures and nothing abrogated it,
    2. Muhkam are 6:151-153 and 17:23, while the Mutashaabih are the broken up words that open many Chapters of the Quran. He said that the Jews tried to interpret those verses in order to estimate how long the Islamic era will last!
    Al-Jabri states that most narrations attributed to Ibn Abbaas are weak, especially those by way of Al-Kalbi, Al`Awfi, Ad-Dhahhaak and Muqaatil.
  • Ibn Hazm Al-Andalusi agreed about the broken-up words but said the rest is Muhkam. Al-Ghazaali disagreed.
  • Qataada, according to exegesis of At-Tabari, said Muhkam is what has no shakiness or falsehood in it and the Mutashaabih is the opposite. It is difficult to believe that he would say that, says Al-Jabri. He points out that he often narrated from Mujaahid ibn Jabr.
  • Mujaahid said that Muhkam are the verses of mandates and prohibitions. The rest are Mutashaabih, meaning they all confirm and emphasize each other, hence they look alike.
  • Muhammad ibn Ja`far ibn Az-Zubayr, Mujaahid, Ibn Is-haaq and Ibn `Atiyya said that Muhkam are the verses whose meaning is definite and Mutashaabih are those whose meaning is subject to interpretation.
  • An-Nahhaas Ad-Dhareer said that Muhkam is what does not need additional verses to convey its intent, such as 19:25, while Mutashaabih is what cannot be fully understood without additional verses, such as 39:53 which needs 20:82 and 4:48 to fully understand it.
  • Jaabir ibn Abdillah, Ash-Sha`bi and Sufyaan Ath-Thawri said that Muhkam is what God made clear to us and Mutashaabih is what God kept it to Himself, such as the comeback of Jesus, peace be upon him, and his killing of the Antichrist. Al-Qurtubi agrees but Al-Ghazaali disagrees.
  • Al-Khaazin, in his exegesis, volume 1 pages 268-269, answered those who claimed that the entire Quran is Mutashaabih, citing 39:23, said that what the verse means is that all of the verses look alike in their beautiful style and truthfulness. He then added that the Muhkam verses are those set in place, not subject to interpretations, because theu are so obvious and clear.

Emphasis mine.

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What is the wisdom of revealing Mutashaabih verses?

Detractors have posed this question implying that it is unwise to reveal verses that seem contradictory, which is how they interpret the word Mutashaabih. Examples they cite include,

which implies that it God who seals the hearts of the disbelievers, something that the Jabriyya faction has advocated. They are a group of people who believed that our actions are dictated by God and we don't really have a free will. Then you read a verse like,

which implies that the disbelievers are the ones who sealed their hearts and "punctured" their ears. That is the belief of the Qadariyya faction who believed that all our actions are free. The error of both camps is that they each insist it's one way or the other, when in fact, by evidence of the two verses, it is both ways. First, a disbeliever chooses to deny, as if his heart is sealed, then, and as a result, God seals his heart. I see no confusion here.

Another example cited is,

which imply that some of us, may God make us and our loved ones among them, will look at God. Then you read a verse like,

which implies that God cannot be seen. Again, the error here is an assumption that both verses apply to the same circumstances, when in fact 75:22 clearly states that looking at God will happen in the Hereafter, while 6:103 is speaking of this world, where not even Moses (PBUH) could see God.

Al-Jabri quotes a number of explanations offered by Ar-Raazi:
  • Mutashaabih makes finding the truth harder and thus gets the seeker more reward.
  • Mutashaabih makes Mazhaahib (schools of thought) possible.
  • Mutashaabih makes learning exegesis, deduction methods and Arabic necessary.
  • Mutashaabih forces the analyst to use reason and thus frees him from imitation.
  • Mutashaabih brings hard-to-understand concepts closer to commoners, such as 75:22-23 quoted above, while Muhkam is the actual principle about the matter, which in this case is

IMHO, the wisdom of Mutashaabih verses is rather simple: all the legitimately deduced meanings of the verse are intended. If God wanted one particular meaning to prevail, He could have easily made the verse Muhkam. Thus, the only points from Ar-Raazi's explanations above that I agree with are the need to learn Arabic and deduction methods and to use reason. Then, one would be able to conclude a number of legitimate deductions from the Mutashaabih verses. That said, digging deeper into them is what God warned against in 3:7. God knows best.

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Can Mutashaabih verses be interpreted?

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I believe so. Al-Jabri propounds scholars opinions about that:

  • Ubayy ibn Ka`b, Ibn Abbaas and Ibn Mas`ood said no. They said that the full-stop in 3:7 is after the holy name of God, i.e., "None know its ultimate meaning but God. And those steep in knowledge ...".
    My humble comment on that is that there is a difference between تفسير (explanation or interpretation) and تأويل (ultimate meaning). Verse 3:7 talks about the latter.
  • Mujaahid said yes. He reads the verse with a full-stop after "steep in knowledge", i.e., "And none know its ultimate meaning but God and those steep in knowledge. They says, 'We believe in it; all of it is from our Lord..."
    Same comment from me.
  • Mannaa` Qattaan, in his book مباحث في علوم القرآن, pages 215-217, says those steep in knowledge know the ultimate meaning in general but not in detail. Only God knows that.
  • Some scholars quoted in a book called تنزيه القرآن عن المطاعن, page 58, have explained the verse in a manner similar to mine.

Al-Jabri concludes that with such diversity of opinions on every aspect of 3:7, it cannot be used as evidence of abrogation, nor that Mutashaabih would mean abrogated. He adds that the majority indeed does not quote 3:7 as evidence of abrogation.

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How the warning in the verse has come true.

Al-Jabri finally talks about how the warning in 3:7 has come true. He quotes Al-Ghazaali from his book المستصفى giving examples of the use of the Mutashaabih verses to seek sedition:

  • Al-Mujassima, a faction that interpreted literally God's attributes with which He described Himself, such as Face, Hands, Eye, etc.
  • Orientalists and missionaries who extract portions of verses and quote them out of context to imply they contradict other verses. I say that many Muslim scholars gave them the green light by delving into the abrogation doctrine.
  • Corrupt scholars twisted verses to make them sound like they promote the ruler's policies.
  • Partisan scholars interpreted verses so as to support their Mazhhab (school of thought).
  • Blind followers adopted their teachers' opinions without scrutiny. I'd add that some of them were even hostile to holders of opposing views without even discussing their arguments.

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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 12 Jun 2010, 04:52 
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Thank you, Linguistic, for an excellent, well-organized exposition. Let me add my opinion for what it's worth. The Quran is not only a source of rulings for the legislators and scholars. It is a book that ordinary Muslims are encouraged to read as an act of worship. Inevitably, different people will read parts of the Quran that they cannot fully comprehend, and parts that, if taken literally in isolation, can be seriously misunderstood. Because we are asked to read the Quran nonetheless, a warning about misinterpreting or jumping to conclusions, and a warning about those who will twist the words of the Quran, is warranted. IMHO, this is the message of the verse. We are not to shy away from reading the Quran over and over, and we are warned about some of the traps that this commendable practice may expose us to. God knows best.

BTW, your post mentioned:

Quote:
Al-Jabri states that most narrations attributed to Ibn Abbaas are weak, especially those by way of Al-Kalbi, Al`Awfi, Ad-Dhahhaak and Muqaatil.

Since this has significant ramifications on the abrogation doctrine, I think we should verify it and document that.

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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 19 Jun 2010, 18:01 
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Linguistic wrote:
Is the Quran Muhkam, Mutashaabih, or both?

Member "Professor" once posed this question for discussion. I woke up this morning with an idea, so I thought I'd write it down :)

Per 11:1,

The Quran is all Muhkam by God. It is all set. It is final. Nothing may be added to it, be taken out of it, or abrogate it. Its verses detail each other. These details are presented in multiple ways and may imply many meanings, all of which are meant. The ultimate meaning (تأويل) of some of its verses may not be obvious to us and known only to God, but that's no reason to call those verses not Muhkam. They are Muhkam but we don't know how. When we treat all verses as Muhkam, we comply with God's commands. When we start to delve into its other possible meanings (Mutashaabih), that's when we veer into endless tangents.

Per 3:7,

Some of it is Muhkam (definitive) and some of it is Mutashaabih (indeterminate). Those verses that imply a variety of meanings are there for a purpose: All the legitimately deduced meanings are intended. Those who attempt to confine its meanings to only one, do so for one of two reasons: aspiration to find the ultimate meaning, which only God knows, therefore it's a futile effort, or to cause sedition and division. Those steeped in knowledge, on the other hand, accept all of its meanings.

Per 39:23,

The Quran is Mutashaabih (looks alike). All parts of it resemble the other parts in literary prowess and style, in teachings and in benefit. It is consistent. There are no odd verses that stand out that cause one to wonder if they are part of the Quran. One can tell that the author of each verse is the same and is divine. It has no contradictions or conflicts to resolve, if one would actually study it as a whole and in depth. No part of it has abrogated any other part.

It is fascinating that the word God uses, Mutashaabih, is itself Mutashaabih! The word means looks alike, familiar, heteronym, indeterminate. If you think about it, all those meanings are actually related. When something looks like something else you know, you are uncertain if it is the same. It isn't but it sure looks like it.

This notion can be seen in a number of verses, for instance,

There, the people of Paradise, may we and our loved ones be among them, are handed what looks to them like fruits and goodies they've enjoyed on earth. But they are not. They are much better.

And

There, the Jews were confused about what cow to slaughter and started to see all cows looking alike. They did not follow the simple instruction they first received, which was vague on purpose: Slaughter a cow! If they had slaughtered the first cow they found, they would have complied with the command and saved themselves the agony. But they chose instead to nitpick. They followed the Mutashaabih! So, God made it harder and harder on them until they almost could not fulfill the command. That's what God warns against in 3:7 when He warns against "following the Mutashaabih."

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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 20 Jun 2010, 05:32 
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Linguistic wrote:
They did not follow the simple instruction they first received, which was vague on purpose: Slaughter a cow! If they had slaughtered the first cow they found, they would have complied with the command and saved themselves the agony. But they chose instead to nitpick. They followed the Mutashaabih! So, God made it harder and harder on them until they almost could not fulfill the command. That's what God warns against in 3:7 when He warns against "following the Mutashaabih."

Nice example.

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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 01 Jul 2010, 19:43 
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In the introduction to his book استحالة وجود النسخ بالقرآن, page 8, points out a profound point: The prohibition in the Quran against following conjecture includes taking for evidence any text that is either uncertain in its authenticity (ظني الورود) or uncertain in its meaning (ظني الدلالة)! He quotes,

Indeed, that is a superset of the warning God implies in 3:7 against pursuing indeterminate verses.

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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 02 Jul 2010, 04:07 
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Linguistic wrote:
In the introduction to his book استحالة وجود النسخ بالقرآن, page 8, points out a profound point: The prohibition in the Quran against following conjecture includes taking for evidence any text that is either uncertain in its authenticity (ظني الورود) or uncertain in its meaning (ظني الدلالة)!

Excellent point. Even more pointed verses would be:



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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 04 Jul 2010, 17:31 
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Linguistic wrote:
The Quran is all Muhkam by God. It is all set. It is final. Nothing may be added to it, be taken out of it, or abrogate it.

Another confirmation of that is

in which God swears that the Quran is decisive. If any part of it was abrogated then it couldn't be decisive, could it? God also swears that He is not joking around. To claim that verses abrogated all or parts of other verses without saying which ones were abrogated and which ones did the abrogation and what parts were abrogated and that the abrogating was itself abrogated, saying any of that is to attribute fooling around to the Book of God :astaghfir: I can't understand how honorable scholars let themselves slip into that mess.

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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 09 Jul 2010, 03:58 
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Linguistic wrote:
Per 11:1,
The Quran is all Muhkam by God. It is all set. It is final. Nothing may be added to it, be taken out of it, or abrogate it. Its verses detail each other.

Ihaab Abduh, in his book استحالة وجود النسخ بالقرآن, pages 185-186, quotes the following verses as supporting the assertion of 11:1 that the Quran is detailed,

And

And

And

And

Therefore, Ihaab says, no one can claim that the Quran needs detailing. I'd add that these verses confirm what I wrote in the quoted post that the Mutashaabih verses deliver some of those details in that they provide options all of which are acceptable to God. God knows best.

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 Post subject: Re: Definition of محكم /muħkæm/ and متشابه /mutæ,ʃæ:bih/
PostPosted: 07 Aug 2011, 09:03 
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I noticed this verse tonight


It uses "متشابه" and contrasts it with a similar word to describe a physical situation. I thought it is worth looking at to understand the subtleties of the word "متشابه" following the principle of interpreting the Quran using the Quran, and since the situation being described in this verse is tangible.

Of course I'll let others do the hard work. :D

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