Logic For Islamic Rules

Interpretation of Quran Based On Personal Views

Question: It is mentioned in many traditions that no one has the right to interpret the Quran according to ones personal views and opinion. And if anyone does it, his place is hell. What is the meaning of interpreting according to ones personal views?

Answer: Muslim scholars and commentator of Quran are unanimous on the view that no one has the right to interpret the verses of Quran according to ones personal view and opinion. Many traditions are narrated in this regard. We present below a few examples of the same:

  1. The Holy Prophet (a.s.) said: One who interprets the Quran according to personal opinion[1] he makes his place in fire (Hell).

  2. One who interprets the Quran according to his view,[2] even though it may be right, yet he has committed a sin.[3]

There are some of the traditions that are related on the topic. Now we should see what does interpretation on personal view mean.

The great commentators have given three meanings of Al-

[1] These traditions are quoted from the Prophet (s.a.) in many scholarly books. [2] Tafseer Jameul Ahkaam of Qurtubi, Vol 1, p. 32 and Majmaul Bayan, Vol 1, p. 9 **
[3]** Jameul Bayan Vol. 3, p. 32

Tafseer bir-Ray (interpretation based on personal views) and we shall explain each of them briefly.

  1. If the commentator forms an opinion before conducting considerable research it becomes a cause that the word which has two meanings and there is no indication which meaning should be taken or an verse is enigmatic from the aspect of its meaning and it becomes necessary to remove its doubt and ambiguity with the help of other verses but the commentator explains it in a way which is in conformity with his preconceived notions. In other words to justify the established beliefs and preconceived notions become the cause that one does the Tafseer of a particular verse without any testimony and method, on the basis of his beliefs and instead of making the Holy Quran his guide and leader, he moulds it according to his own views. Also he were not having these views previously, he would never have interpreted in this way.[1]

Examples of this type of Al-Tafseer bir-Ray is seen in the books of those who follow the Mu'tazilah, Ashariah, Batiniyyah and Sufis. When a commentator has fully accepted the views of the Mutazilah or Ashariah school of thought regarding the attributes and actions of Allah and the people, when he comes to those verses regarding whom it is possible to interpret them according to his personal belief. And these verses may have a different inner meaning from that of the apparent meaning and he may interpret them according to his beliefs. And instead of presenting his beliefs to the Holy Quran, (to evaluate on the scale of Quran), he presents the

[1] Majmaul Bayan Vol. 1, p.12

 Holy Quran to his beliefs. (That is, he does the tafseer of the Holy Quran according to his belief) and on the basis of his personal whims and desire, distorts the meaning of the verses.

Tafseer Al-Kashshaf, the commentary of Zamakhshari[1] is a living example of the interpretation of Quran according to the beliefs of the Mutazilah. In the same way Mafatihul Ghaib of Fakhruddin Razi is the tafseer of the Quranic verses according to the Ashariah school of thought. Both these commentators had tried to justify their predestined beliefs in the light of Quran and they were not ready to release themselves from their past beliefs that by freeing themselves from their original faith they should have made the verses of the Holy Quran material of their research which were revealed regarding the attributes of Allah and the deeds of men.

In the same way in different periods of history, the Batiniyyah and some philosophers have interpreted some verses of the Holy Quran to justify their views. For example Mulla Abdur Razzaq Kashi has based his tafseer on the levels of Batiniyyah faith and Muhiyyuddin Arabi has done the tafseer of Quran according to his Sufi beliefs.[2]

This tafseer which is compiled only for the propagation of a particular school (a school whose founder was an errant and fallible person) even though some of the points may be

[1] Though it was written as the Mutazilte commentary yet its beauty cannot be denied. **
[2]** According to some it was not Muhiyuddin Arabi who has written this Tafseer, it was a student of his who had written it.

 correct but Ashariah as a whole it constitutes Al-Tafseer bir-Ray.

At the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century this trend became common and discoveries and inventions threw up new sciences. On the basis of this a new basis of Al-Tafseer bir-Ray came into being for Muslim commentator and the interpretation of verses dealing with supernatural things like soul, angels and prophets took a new shape. So that natural and material scientists could be attracted and the verses could be presented to them so that they may be considered valuable. The truth of our statement will become apparent if you study a tafseer like Al Manar. (Though in many of these commentaries, for example in Al Manar there are also some strong points and this is itself a remarkable thing ).

Since these intellectuals were influenced by the natural material science that is why they interpreted the verses of Quran in the light of scientific research till the present time. According to some, angels were the power hidden in ones nature.

Some experts of ethics, having a keen eye for ethics and morals have gone to such limits in interpreting the verses of Quran that they have explained Shaitan to be Nafs-e-Ammara (sensual appetite) and they do not accept the existence of any such thing as Shaitan.

Sometimes it is also seen that some people interpret verses (like: Go to Firon he has exceeded his self) in the way that it is not about a particular Firon. It is about anyone who goes

 against his conscience.[1]

These kinds of commentaries are Al-Tafseer bir-Ray because they are influenced by pre-conceived beliefs and the apparent of the verses is ignored and some other meaning is derived from them.

  1. The second meaning of Al-Tafseer bir-Ray is that the initial words of the verse are followed (without considering the confirmed proofs and studying other verses which are related on this topic). For example an intellectual proof and ignoring other verses which clearly negates that God has a physical body and by the apparent meanings of some verses which are all metaphorical and that it should be proved that Allah has a body and for example it is said: The hands of Allah were on their hands proves that Allah has hands, although doubtlessly here hands do not denote hands of Allah but it refers to the power of Allah.

  2. The third meaning of Al-Tafseer bir-Ray is that regarding the tafseer of the Holy Quran apart from the Holy Quran some other source is referred. Apart from the verses concerned with Islamic laws all the Quranic verses can explain all the other verses and regarding the Tafseer of the Holy Quran does not require the understanding of the Companions and the Tabe'een (Companions of Companions).[2]

The compiler of Kashfuz Zunoon[3] has mentioned five types of Al-Tafseer bir-Ray. Their basic points are the same as

[1] Baraheenul Quran, p. 55 **
[2]** Tafseer Mizan Vol 3, p. 85-86 **
[3]** Preface to Majmaul Bayan p. 6

 mentioned above.

Here it is necessary to mention the point that the different meanings related about Al-Tafseer bir-Ray are such that no one has ever said that Al-Tafseer bir-Ray according to the Holy Prophet (a.s.) is Tafseer without reason so that we may object upon it and say:

He has mentioned this meaning so that people may not understand the Holy Quran and they may keep Quran like the Christian priests of the middle ages had kept Taurah (Old Testament) and Injeel (New Testament). And to prohibit the contemplation and pondering on Quran thus making it into a book whose body remains among the people and its soul is unknown and its value should just remain of holy words and secret and enigmatic voice.

Those Islamic commentators who have discussed Al-Tafseer bir-Ray they have not this meaning of tradition in their discussion, rather Muslim intellectuals and specially the Shia intellectuals consider reason (Aql) to be a divine argument and absolute proof so much so that they consider it in the Class of the Book, the Sunnah and Ijma (consensus).

How can they take word Rayy that is mentioned in the tradition of the Prophet (a.s.) in the sense of Aql and reason while in the Arabic Lexicon which is compiled to explain. The words of the Holy Quran and traditions mention the meaning of the word Rayy to be Zann, Suman hadath and Tahmeem (conjecture and guess).[1]

If people of a particular group (Akhbaris) do not act on the

[1] Mufradat of Raghib

apparent meaning of those verses which are regarding the practical laws then it is not due to the fact that they say: Holy Quran must not be interpreted by Aql. Rather it is because the Verses are of different types, abrogating and abrogates, general and special, absolute and conditional. And it is not possible for us to classify them without referring to the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt (a.s.). On the basis of this, we do not act on the apparent meanings of these verses.

Even if one or two unreliable people have made such a statement would it be correct that such a baseless allegation should be presented in this way? That people imagine that in different periods of Islam, the Islamic intellectuals had kept the people away from understanding the Quran and did not permit them to understand its meanings while the same scholars and intellectuals have written hundreds of commentaries of Holy Quran in different languages. And to know the number of commentaries of the Holy Quran written by the scholars refer to Kashfuz Zunoon and Dharia.(reference?)

The truth is that if they had intended to keep the Quran to themselves like the Taurah (Old Testament) and Injeel (New Testament) they would not have written commentaries on this heavenly book. They would not have discussed and debated on the Quranic verses from the aspect of Aql and traditions.

One who says this has also committed another mistake. That they have given the translation of the hadith as follows.

One who does the tafseer of Quran according to his personal view his abode will be filled with fires.

 Although the feminine Tabbu from which Yattabbu is taken is not in the meaning of filling. Rather its meaning is to prepare and obtain the place.

Also the meaning taken by that person is for a particular place though it is definitely not so. Rather in hadith it denotes place and not a particular spot.

In the following verse both words are used and the meaning of both is the same as we have already given.

And when you did go forth early in the morning from your family to lodge the believers in encampments for war [Surah Aali-Imran 3:121]

 (Either it denoted the preparation of places for them to fight).[1]

Thus, the correct meaning of this verse is: One who interprets the Quran from his personal view he should select a place for himself in the Hell or prepare for himself a place in Fire. (And those who have construed some other meaning of the hadith it shows their ignorance of Arabic literature).

[1] Tafseer Majmaul Bayan Vol 5, p 495