Method to Understand Quran

Many of the surahs begin as: “These are the verses of  the clear Book[1]”. One verse is:

وَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ تِبْيَانًا لِّكُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً وَبُشْرَى لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ

“We have revealed to you the Book to explain everything, and a guidance, and a mercy, and glad news to the ones who hold to it. ” (An-Nahl/The Bee 16/89)

Clarity of Qur’an is like Allah’s providing for people. The Glorified Allah commands:

“It is Allah Who has created you, and then He has given your rizq (provided for you); then He will cause you to die, and then He will bring you to life.” (Ar-Rum/The Romans 30/40)

Rizq is the food, drink, shelter, children, rain and science human beings make use of. We can find some of our neccessities ‘as is’ in the nature. However, acquiring some part of rizq requires effort. Bringing a piece of bread forth needs great amount of effort of many groups of people. Allah has created everything necessary for rizq, like seed, water, sun and soil. However, it is business of mankind to put them together to gain rizq. He commands: “Surely, your Lord enlarges His provision for who can afford. Verily, He knows and sees His servants full well.” (Isra/ Children of Israel 17/30)

Utilizing Qur’an is like reaching rizq. Most of the verses do not require explanation. However, obtaining the explanation of some verses needs effort. Allah has undertaken explaining Qur’an Himself and described the method to reach His explanation as follows:

“Move not your tongue concerning the (Qur’an) to make haste therewith.
Surely upon Us rests its collection and its recital.
So when We recite it, then follow you its recital.
Then upon Us rests the explaining thereof. ”
(Al-Qiyamah/ The Resurrection 75/16-19)

In our tradition; Qur’an is a book of religion that sets rules limited to belief, prayer and ethics. However, the number of such verses does not exceed a thousand. All of them also include judgements about other subjects. Since Qur’an informs us that It explains everything, drawing limits to It  would be wrong.

To reach the explanation of Qur’an, relations between verses must be known. This is like the relation between digits. There are ten digits from 0 to 9. All calculations are made with combinations of them. The more people know the relations between numbers, the better they calculate. Some people can only do daily accounting. Some others have superior abilities such that they use it for scientific calculations of space technology, computer technology and many other branches. Every person utilizes numbers in the extent of their knowledge. Utilizing Qur’an is similar to this. Some people only recite Qur’an without understanding and have some expectations in return. Qur’an names them as “ummi”, that is illiterate. Some people have the capability to reach the explanations in It. They are the owners of ‘firmly grounded knowledge’. Some others are at a stage between the two.

For instance, during the reign of prophet Sulaiman (a.s.) (Solomon), a jinn who had knowledge from the Book, had brought the throne of Belqis from Yemen to Jerusalem in the twinkling of an eye.

Sulaiman knew the language of birds. He had a great kingdom ruling birds, jinn, human beings and armies comprising of them. Belqis, the Queen of Saba, had realized she could not withstand his armies and set out for Jerusalem to surrender to Sulaiman. She had an imposing throne, which Sulaiman had heard of. Sulaiman gathered his men:

“He said: “Ye chiefs! which of you can bring me her throne before they come to me in submission?”

A stalwart of the Jinns said: “I will bring it to you before you rise from your council: indeed I have full strength for the purpose, and I am trustworthy.”

Said one who had a piece of knowledge from the Book: “I will bring it to you before ever your glance returns to you!” Then when (Sulaiman) saw it placed firmly before him, he said: “This is by the Grace of my Lord!- to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! and if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (a gain) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is Sufficient, Generous !” ” (Neml/ The Ant 27/38-40)

The Book, from which the knowledge to bring the throne in the twinkling of an eye was taken, is Tawrat. The Book mentioned as “That Book : Al Kitab” at the court of Sulaiman, who is one of Israeli prophets, cannot be any other book.

The expression : “who had a piece of knowledge from the Book”, rather than “who knows the Book” is important. That person did not have to know the complete book, but the verses related to his profession only. This is the know-how to bring some good from a distance. Today, scientists are working on teleportation of goods; but bringing goods from a distant place cannot even be imagined.

The verses above cannot be understood as long as Qur’an is supposed to be a religion book only. Therefore, mufassirs have had difficulty in understanding them. Some of them thought this event was a miracle of Sulaiman (a.s.), some contradicted thinking it was a karamat.

Miracle is a kind of proof for prophecy whereas karamat is a gift of Allah to His believers. Since nobody can promise instead of Allah, neither karamat nor miracle is assertible. The Glorified Allah commands: “and it is not in (the power of) a messenger to bring a sign except by Allah’s permission(Ar-Ra’ad/ The Thunder 13/38)

Bringing the throne from faraway is asserted in the above event. The person having a piece of knowledge from the Book said “I will bring it to you before ever your glance returns to you!”, to Sulaiman. Therefore this event is neither karamat nor miracle. As stated in the verse, it is information from the Book. This scientific information should be existing in the Qur’an, too. If the method in the Qur’an is followed and applied, it would be possible to extract that information.

Qur’an is explained by Qur’an Itself. The Messenger of Allah already expressed most of those explanations via His acts and words. Qur’an also shows the way to make use of previous holy books. Verses that emphasize the relation between Islam and creation, point out how important nature of creation is, to be able to understand the Qur’an. In the meantime, Qur’an being in Arabic stresses the importance of Arabic language. Reaching the explanations of verses may become possible only heeding these.

Quran Expounding Quran

The Glorified Allah commands:

الر كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آيَاتُهُ ثُمَّ فُصِّلَتْ مِن لَّدُنْ حَكِيمٍ خَبِيرٍ

“Alif Lam Ra (This is) a Book, whose verses are made decisive, then are they expounded, by One Wise, All-aware” (Hood 11/1)

‘Uĥkimat’made decisive-[2], are the words that are resolute, having no aspects to cause controversy or doubt neither by utterance nor by meaning. Since ‘decisive’ verses are then expounded by Allah, explanations are to be other verses. Therefore, verses of Qur’an are separated into two groups: first that are decisive and second that are explanatory. Second verse about this subject is as follows:

اللَّهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُّتَشَابِهًا مَّثَانِيَ

“Allah revealed the most beautiful Message in the form of a Mutashābihāan, Mathāniya Book. (Az-Zumar/ The Companies 39/23)

Two things similar to each other are Mutashabih. [3]
Mathani (مثَانِي) [4] is the plural form of mathna (مثَنى) [5] which means, two by two. That means, verses of Qur’an consist of groups of two, that are similar to each other. This means, a verse may be similar to and in bilateral relation with many verses. Not everybody can find out relational verses. The Glorified Allah commands:

كِتَابٌ فُصِّلَتْ آيَاتُهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ

“This is a Book whose verses are expounded as a discourse in the Arabic language, for a Qawm of knowledge.” (Fussilat 41/3)

Discovering the similar verses is the business of a Qawm of knowledge. Qawm, is a community consisting of men. However, it is used for a community consisting of men and women throughout the Qur’an[6]. Qur’an being Arabic, requires this community to include experts of Arabic language. As expressed in the following verse, these are not ordinary experts. They are  “الرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ = Ar-Rāsikhūna Fī Al-`Ilmi”, outperforming; deep and resolute in knowledge; having proven results of their knowledge. This is the kind of a community, who may discover the explanations in Qur’an.

This is the verse that exposes the subject as a whole:

هُوَ الَّذِيَ أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ في قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاء الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاء تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلاَّ أُوْلُواْ الألْبَابِ

“He it is Who has revealed to you the Book: In It are Muĥkamātun[2] verses; they are the foundation of the Book; others are Mutashabaha[3]. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the mutashabih one seeking discord and seeking Tawil of It. However, only Allah knows Its Tawil. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord.” These are only the ones with pure feelings in heart. ” (Al-e-Imran/ The House of Imran 3/7)

Tawil, is directing something to its target[7]. The target of mutashabih verses is muhkam verses. It is Allah who directs one of them to the other and explains one with the other. Nobody else can do this. But, “..those in whose hearts is perversity follow the mutashabih one seeking discord and seeking Tawil of It.” That means, they ignore the relations between verses and try to direct them to the targets they like to.

There may be scholars who relate verses to each other incorrectly, although they are good intentioned. Since they do not have perversity in their hearts, they are not from the people described in the verse.

“And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord.” That means, the One who reveals the verses as muhkam and mutashabih, who relates them to each other and makes the tawil is Him. We try not to make the tawil but try to discover the tawil Allah made.

Ones who ignore the relations amongst verses, ascribe different meanings to the words tawil[7], mutashabih[3] and mathani[4].

These mistakes have caused many of verses to be misunderstood and the integrity of Qur’an-Sunnah to be broken. Some supposed Sunnah as a second, independent resource of information beside Qur’an, which contends that Qur’an and Sunnah may regulate different fields in life or they may conflict with each other.

However, proper application of the method described by the above verses, prevents all potential mistakes while trying to understand the Qur’an.


* Abdulaziz Bayındır, Kur’an Işığında Doğru Bildiğimiz Yanlışlar, Süleymaniye Vakfı Yayınları, İstanbul, 2006, s: 249-275.

[1] Yusuf 12/1; Hijr 15/1, Shuara 26/2; Qasas 28/2; Duhan 44/2.

[2] ‘Uĥkimat’made decisive-, are the words that are resolute, having no aspects to cause controversy or doubt neither by utterance nor by meaning

[3] Two things similar to each other are Mutashābih

[4] Mathani, plural form of Mathna

[5] el-Beydâvî, Tefsîr’ul-Beydâvî, c. II, s. 323.

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Date: Dec 28, 2010