Specific and Ambiguous Verses

Further explanation of allegorical (ambiguous) and decisive (specific) verses, and their link in explaining Qur’anic concepts, extracted from Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari’s book ‘Man & Universe’

‘As a tradition says, some verses of the Qur’an explain some other verses. The Quran is a Book which is manifest and manifesting. It itself says that its verses are of two types: specific and ambiguous. It calls the specific verses the mother verses, which is of course a queer expression: "Allah is He who revealed the Book to you, some of its verses are specific and they are the mother of the Book, and others ambiguous." (3:7).

The ambiguous verses are those which can be interpreted in different ways, while a specific verse can be interpreted only in one way. The Qur’an calls the specific verses mother verses because with their help the ambiguous verses can be interpreted. In case we come across a verse of the Qur’an which can be interpreted in several ways, we have no right to fix its meaning. We should refer to other verses to find out how it can best be expounded. An ambiguous (Mutashabih) verse does not mean a vague or an unintelligible verse. It only means a verse that can be interpreted in more than one ways resembling each other.

For example there are several verses in the Qur’an relating to Absolute Divine Will which state that everything depends on the Will and Pleasure of Allah. They make no exception.

One of such verses is the following verse which is ambiguous for this very reason: "(Muhammad) Say: O Lord! Owner of sovereignty! You bestow sovereignty on whomsoever you Will and withdraw sovereignty from whomsoever You Will. You exalt whomsoever You Will and You abase whomsoever You Will. In Your Hand is all that is good. No doubt You are able to do everything." (3:26).

This verse is ambiguous or because it can be interpreted in more than one way. It says only that everything depends on the Will of Allah. This is possible in two ways: One way is to say that Allah’s Will is absolutely unconditional. Some people have interpreted this verse in that way and have inferred from it the wrong conclusion that it is possible that in the presence of all the conditions conducive to honour, disgrace appears and similarly it is possible that all the conditions conducive to humiliation are followed by honour and power.

According to them, success in this world and the Hereafter has no pre-requisite conditions, for everything depends on the Will of Allah. As a result it is possible that a people or an individual attains complete success in his worldly affairs without any pre-requisite conditions or fails utterly without any tangible reason. Similarly a people may be taken to the peak of Paradise or to the lowest level of Hell for absolutely no reason. Unfortunately some Muslims called Ash’arites have drawn this conclusion from this verse. They say that it would not be something impossible if the Holy Prophet goes to Hell or Abu Jahl goes to Heaven. But this is a wrong interpretation of the verse, which only says that everything depends on the Will of Allah, but is silent as to how this Will on which success and failure, honour and disgrace depend, actually operates. That is why it can be interpreted in several ways.

But when we refer to other verses of the Qur’an, they serve as its mother verses and explain what this verse actually signifies. For example one verse expressly says: That is because Allah never changes the grace He has bestowed on any people until they first change that which is in their hearts. Another verse says: Surely Allah changes not the condition of a people until they change that which is in their hearts. Each of these two verses says something which the other verse does not say. The second verse says that Allah does not change the condition of a people whether it is good or bad, unless they themselves take action to change it. Otherwise Allah neither withdraws His favour nor disfavour. Only people themselves change their condition. The first verse is not concerned with the unhappy condition. It talks only of Allah’s grace. But it mentions an additional point. It says: That is because Allah never changes… Allah is not such as to withdraw His grace from any people for no reason, because that would be against His wisdom, His perfection and His Divinity. These are the mother verses in relation to the verse under discussion. The verses relating to Allah’s Will say only that everything depends on His Will. Other verses explain how this Will operates and what law it has. This point has been expressed in the Qur’an at several places in the form of a firm principle. According to it those who are grateful to Allah for His bounties, that is those who put them to a proper use, will continue to enjoy them, but those who are ungrateful and abuse His bounties, will be deprived of them.

So the verse, This day the unbelievers have lost all hope of ever harming your religion; so fear them not, and have fear of Me, means that the unbelievers do no longer pose any threat to the Muslim world. ‘Have fear of Me.’ means: be afraid of yourselves, for if there is any danger now, that lies in your being ungrateful to Allah and not taking full advantage of His bounties. Should the Muslim not act properly, the law is bound to come into force against them. Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change that which is in their hearts.

Henceforward no danger from outside threatens Muslim society, but danger from inside does threaten it.’

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