Al Ta'wil, Thinking and Division of Muslims

Developing Just Leadership

Muhammad H. al-'Asi

Jumada' al-Akhirah 01, 1434 2013-04-12

Bismillah Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Raheem. Alhumdulillah. Peace and blessings on Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa alihi wa sallam), his Noble Companions and Family. Dear Committed brothers, dear committed sisters,

One of the issues that has accumulated throughout the ages (and) throughout our own history and has become a divisive one centres around what is known in Islamic history books and scholarly books and fiqhi books as At Ta’wil. This word is problematic in its translation so we will try to explain what it means. At Ta’wil means that if there is an ayah in the Qur’an, (and there are ayaat like these that’s is why we have the issue of At Ta’wil), this ayah can tolerate different understandings but never in the Qur’an is there to be contradictory understandings; whenever contradiction becomes a portion of a particular understanding that understanding is not a Qur’anic understanding. So when you have an ayah, (and we’ll quote an ayah to give you a sense of what we mean), and there are multiple hundreds of millions of people reading this ayah some individuals in their best mode of thinking will understand it one way and others will understand it another way and as long as these understandings are within a spectrum of scholarly work then we have no problem but once they go beyond that then we begin to have problems. The ayah in the Qur’an that we will cite to further clarify this is mentioned a few times but one of those times is in Surah Aal Imran, another one is in Surah Al An’am and other places. The ayah says

وَتُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ

… Allah causes the living being to come out of a dying being… (Surah Aal Imran verse 27)

Some people read this ayah and they think this ayah could be explained by a chick that comes out of an egg. The egg is not animate, the egg itself is not a living entity but out of that comes the chick. So that is a very understandable explanation of the ayah. There is another understanding and people who may read this and other ayaat in the Qur’an say the meaning of this ayah could be that Allah extracts out of a Kafir a Mu’min. There are other ayaat in the Qur’an that support this type of meaning

اسْتَجِيبُوا لِلَّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ إِذَا دَعَاكُمْ لِمَا يُحْيِيكُمْ

… respond to Allah if He calls you to that which brings you life… (Surah Al Anfal verse 24)

Or it could mean a person with knowledge is born to a person of ignorance- same thing. But when it comes to you, let’s say you are presented these two explanations; and mind you, these are not contradictory explanations, they are complimentary explanations but let’s say that there is a certain individual or a certain type of group of people who can’t understand it either the first way or the first explanation or the second way or the second explanation. They can only understand their own preferred explanation. They say “no, this is what the ayah means, we can’t see it that way meaning the way the others see it;” because there’s two meanings here to the same ayah but some people can only see one meaning they look upon those who have the other meaning as giving it a priority or a preference explanation- that’s called At Ta’wil. As we said, as long as the explanation of these ayaat are not clashing with each other there’s no problem here; but this explanation, however way you look at it, cannot conflict with the obvious wording of the ayah. No one can come and say that this ayah

وَتُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ

… Allah causes the living being to come out of a dying being… (Surah Aal Imran verse 27)

means “extracting a bush from a house.” The wording doesn’t tolerate that.

There is also in the Arabic language a form of speech called majaaz and so the explanation of this ayah cannot be in violation of this form of speech called al majaaz. An explanation also cannot be a valid ta’wil if it is in contradiction of the Muslim public mind’s understanding of the ayah once they think. We are not talking about the Muslim public mind that doesn’t think! If the thinking Muslim public mind has a consensus on the particular meaning of the ayah then the ta’wil becomes secondary to that or it becomes a diminishing explanation that has no grounds. Then there are other ayaat in the Qur’an just like we mentioned to you (or) gave you this example

وَتُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ

… Allah causes the living being to come out of a dying being… (Surah Aal Imran verse 27)

There are other ayaat in the Qur’an in which the word al hayy and its derivatives are used and the word al mayyit and its derivatives are used. If there is an attempt at understanding a particular ayah in the Qur’an or ayaat in the Qur’an it has to blend in with the other ayaat that have the other keywords in them. Then, in understanding these ayaat in the Qur’an, there are two components explaining the ayah of the Qur’an; the nass, the text or al manqul and then there is the human effort to understand it that’s called al ma’qul. So al manqul and al ma’qul have to be on par with each other. One of the problems that we are suffering from today, which leads to this accusation of takfir, is that we have some Muslims who want to rely totally on the manqul and then marginally, if any, on the ma’qul- as if the ayaat themselves can give a self explanation. The ayah in itself is words on paper! There is a human fact here that interacts with this ayah thus developing the practical or the relevant meaning of it but in our history and in our time we have people who pay most of the attention, if not all of the attention, to al manqul (or) to the nass and nothing to the rational aspect of it?! So what do you think? What does this mean? Then there’s the counterpart to this. There are people who go off on tangents and they try to measure the meanings of the Qur’an according to their thinking capacity. Both of these are extremes and they have resulted in the current polarisation that feeds into this attitude of one Muslim pointing to the other and saying you’re a Kafir. At ta’wil has become one of these instruments that is used because of the discrepancy of Muslims not being able to balance the ma’qul with the manqul or the wording of the ayah with the intellect and the experience that goes into producing its pertinent meaning or meanings.

Many ayaat in the Qur’an speak about al ghayb, the unseen, the unknown (or) the portion of existence that we cannot subject to our senses. Here is where this ta’wil sometimes plays havoc with certain components of Muslims, in the past and in the present. Without going into labouring details or laborious details we have to understand that our mind can only reach a certain degree of understanding of these ayaat that speak about al ghayb. This is where we as creatures or creations of Allah should realise that our capacity- even though this is a ni’mah, a blessing and a bounty from Allah to be able to think- even our ability to think is surpassed by Allah’s creation and the world that Allah has given us informational access to but not laboratory explanation of. Stay with us because the area (and) the territory that we’re covering here has accumulated as the years and the generations went by and right now, as Muslims of this world, those who beg to differ with the others in their difference turn accusatory against other Muslims. There’s an ayah in the Qur’an that makes it clear that our mind can only go to a certain extent. We haven’t activated this mind! Let us be honest with ourselves- we haven’t used our minds, but even after we do use our minds and try to extract the optimum meaning from the ayah we realise that we are still human and Allah is still Allah. This is around ayah number seven in Surah Aal Imran, the third Surah of the Qur’an

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ

It is He, Allah, who has brought down to you this scripture; in this scripture (or) in this Qur’an there are ayaat (or) there are verses that are explanationarily tight, there’s no doubt about their meanings; these ayaat are the basis (and) are the foundation of the Qur’an… (Surah Aal Imran verse 7)

It’s not like we are opening the Qur’an and we see all of these ayaat that need a ta’wil or there’s multiple non conflicting meanings to them- no! There are some; besides these some there are foundational ayaat- ayaat that no two Muslims disagree upon.

وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ

… and there are other ayaat that are similar or that have similar explanations and meanings… (Surah Aal Imran verse 7)

They don’t have one concrete (or) one solid meaning. This explanation that is given to these types of ayaat is parallel to another explanation or is complimentary of that explanation or reinforces a particular explanation- two, three, four, five, more who knows.

فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ

… as for those who have hearts that zigzag, they follow into the courses of this uncertainty of meanings… (Surah Aal Imran verse 7)

Then Allah describes these types of people. Remember the basis of this discrepancies among Muslims is a zigzagging low sigh of feelings. Why do they do that?

ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ ۗ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ

… because they are in pursuit of seditious objectives, al fitnah and in pursuit of meanings that are in the context of this fitnah and the only One who knows the final and the foremost ta’wil is Allah… (Surah Aal Imran verse 7)

So what does that mean? To some it means we are not permitted to think about this because Allah knows the ta’wil but that’s not what the ayah is saying. The ayah and the other ayaat in the Qur’an encourage us to think of the meaning but with a discipline and with conditions. You can’t let your mind run wild and then wind up subjecting the Qur’an to certain philosophers that are around. This is what happens with some people. They think that they’ve been schooled in philosophy, they went to universities, they got their degrees, they were given podiums and forums to speak and now they want to say about the Qur’an and about Allah and His Prophet things that run contradictory to the main flow of the Qur’an and the Prophet?! And Allah says in this context

وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا

… and those who are steeped in knowledge declare we are committed to it- to the muhkam and to the mutashaabihaat of Allah’s words- all of this issues from our Sustainer (or) all of this comes from our Lord … (Surah Aal Imran verse 7)

But then, just as we have people who want to arrest the thinking capacity in man we have people we want to run wild with the ta’wil and so we have some who declare that they are Muslims and then they come and say “the general understanding of the Qur’an is the understanding of the commoners. There are undisclosed meanings to the Qur’an that are only the privilege of those who have access to these secret meanings.” This type of trend developed in our Islamic history and we’re living with probably scores of millions of Muslims in the world who consider “there is a surface meaning to the Qur’an and then there is a core meaning to the Qur’an.” This may have been one of the features of oppression in Islamic history when there wasn’t a healthy exchange of ideas. When Muslims didn’t feel comfortable telling themselves “this is what I understand from reading the Qur’an.” When that freedom is taken away then Muslims go underground. They can go underground politically if political freedoms are taken away, they can go underground ideologically when ideological freedoms are taken away and they can go underground religiously when religious freedoms are taken away and this is what happened in the course of our history! So these types of Muslims- and remember we are saying they are Muslims. Even though there are serious discrepancies, no one has the right here to say “look they have gone off on a kufr tangent” as is being done in the political climate of our generation. If a person happens to understand ayaat from the Qur’an that in a serious sense depart from your understanding then you are quick to say “these are Kafirs.” These are in today’s language referred to as Islamic minorities. Whenever you see or hear about Islamic minorities instead of having the broad horizon and the inclusive psychology and looking at what happened here- “why are you guys secretive here?” There are some Muslims who are secretive! It’s almost like they don’t want to say who they are. What’s wrong? What happened? You think I’m going to kill you if you express your understanding of a certain ayah? So something has happened in our Islamic past, in our Islamic civilisation that caused some people to go religiously underground. Just like you have political opponents who can’t express themselves in totalitarian states, you also have religious opponents who are afraid to express themselves so they went underground and they made that feature of their community a permanent feature. (We don’t want to be specific here because sometimes it defeats the purpose- our minds close and we can’t think; our purpose here is to think), we come to certain Muslims, of “a particular minority” and you want them just to open up their minds- speak! Tell us what do you think? What’s the meaning of these ayaat or these ahadith? They won’t do it! Something is wrong when Muslims refuse to speak to other Muslims about what they feel in their hearts and they think in their minds. This has become a feature that today politically it’s being harvested with civil wars in the making. Brothers and sisters- when you listen to what’s being said here, this is not something theoretical that has no grounding in today’s world. This is something real. It’s causing people to die by the tens of thousands (and) to be dislocated by the millions in their own countries by their fellow Muslims because it has developed into some type of exclusionary position. Brothers and sisters- there’s nothing in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah that says a Muslim excludes another Muslim- nothing! We are so open minded and open hearted that we include those who are not Muslims provided they did not reach active operational opposition to us in their economic and political and military structures. Short of that, all of these people around- whatever religion they are of- to begin with we include them in our world view. So how come we wind up not being able to include our own selves in our own history, in our own heritage and in our own civilisations? Something happened. You ask yourself with the information that you’ve accumulated throughout the years- why is this happening? Why don’t we have Muslim who can interact with other Muslims as normal human beings? Then, as if that is not enough, (we don’t care how you define yourself as a Muslim- as Shi’i Muslim, a Sunni Muslim, a this type of Muslim or the other type), we have from our own context that you define yourself with individuals coming out of this context who claim that they are scholars and they are philosophers and they are “know it all” types of people, (there’s not many of them and may all thanks and gratitude be to Allah), but some of them who speak the Arabic language write books and give presentations saying “there are linguistic and grammatical mistakes in the Qur’an.” Can you believe this?! Anyone who knows the Qur’an knows that the Arabic language itself survived because of the Qur’an and they come and say “in the Qur’an itself there are linguistic and there are grammatical mistakes.” The ayah that almost all Muslims know

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

Lo! We reveal the reminder, and Lo! Verily we are its Guardians. (Surah Hijr verse 9)

And yet we have some of our own blood, features, language, culture, traditions come to us and they say “there are flaws in the Qur’an.” This is how the efforts have been put together- either through fanatical religious civil wars- sectarian types or those who present themselves as intellectuals- erudites who come and they say “they’ve studied philosophy and they’ve studied some type of rhetorical studies in universities and such and such was their mentor and such and such supervised their doctoral degree and all of this” and they turn around and they say these types of things. This is just the beginning. We know who the Prophet was. In the Qur’an Allah says about him

وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ

And you are indeed of a most befitting and awesome moral character. (Surah Al Qalam verse 4)

Then they come, (we know maybe some of you haven’t come across this information but it is good to know- we’ve always said it’s good to know if you have enough Qur’anic and Prophetic discipline in you), and say “look at the Muslims they have this concept of ismah. They say the Prophet is ma’soom, is immaculate and infallible.” They said “this is an attempt by the Muslims to compete with the Christians because the Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God and obviously God doesn’t make mistakes.” A God is a God. A God is ma’soom; so in order for Muslims to have a say in this area they turned around and they said “the Prophet is ma’soom. They couldn’t say the Prophet is God so short of that they said that the Prophet is ma’soom.” See the intellectual termites inside of our own bodies?

They looked at the document that the Prophet signed when he first arrived in Yathrib in Al Madinah. He signed what came to be known as watheeqat ul Madinah. They looked at that and said “this is a jahili document.” Some of us can understand this coming from those who will us no good- that’s expected but some of us come out and say these types of things using our own local and cultural and ethnic languages?! This is what they say. They say “they detect in this document that there are traces of jahili customs” and they said “the governance of the Prophet in Al Madinah were just like the governance that preceded it in times of jahiliyah.” Then they said “the Prophet’s history (and) the Muslims history of deviation began early on- two years after the Prophet arrived in Al Madinah he attacked the Mushriks. They say that this is the first deviation in Islamic history” they meaning we! In their minds, they belong to the other camp but in their appearances, in their traditions, in their rituals, they are part of us! So where do you place them? Who are these people who are speaking these types of things? Then they say “the Prophet attacked peaceful people who are not bothering the Muslims in Al Madinah.” This is in reference to the Islamic campaign against the anti-Islamic stronghold in Khaybar. They say “the Prophet had no business going attacking peaceful residents and occupants of the area of Khaybar.” They begin to make us feel ashamed of our own history and of our own Prophet! Then they dwell further and then they say “ Muslims impose financial penalties on those who are not Muslims. If you are not a Muslim and you live in an Islamic society governed by an Islamic authority then you’re subjected to jizyah or itawa or kharaj” or whatever name it is that they begin to give to the multiple financial responsibilities. We spoke about al jizyah previously and said that these people who are exempt from military service- ably bodied citizens of the state probably between the ages of fifteen and forty five are subjected to this jizyah because they are not expected to give their lives. In a clear thinking mind- you give a person a choice of being potentially being killed and paying some amount of money a person in his right mind will say “I’d rather pay a sum of money.” So they turned this privilege that they have in an Islamic social order against us and they want to make us feel inferior and guilty because of these things! Much can be said along these lines. The main things to understand here and not lose sight of is (that) today’s world is a collection of these types of historical accumulations and the penetration of the Islamic culture with people who have whatever makes us in appearance Muslims but in their hearts and in their minds they have gone over to the other camp that has all of its might and all of its wherewithal on a frontline of confrontation with the peaceful and the peace loving but justice seeking Muslims that we are. Don’t let anyone- if he has your own language, if he owns your own feature, if he is your own clone- of such a character fool you by their appearances and deliver the poison with the sugar coated ideas that they try to present to you because all of that is contributing to the misery and the bloodshed that has become part of our body in today’s world.

Dear fervent brothers and sisters in Islam…

If you take a moment, think about what is happening to us. Any average person would conclude that it really takes some plans and some social engineering to get us to where we are today. It’s not that we ourselves are not contributing to this- definitely we are. We wouldn’t be where we are if we were not passive about this issue. Something serious has to be done. Take the example here- we’re in Washington DC and many of us has been here for many long years and we sort of, (in a general sense), satisfy our conscience by saying “we are one body of people, we are one Ummah, Muslims are brethren of each other.”

وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا

And hold firm to the rope of Allah, all of you and do not be divided… (Surah Aal Imran verse 103)

A Muslim to another Muslim is like a solid cemented structure- each part reinforcing the next. Look at these ayaat and these ahadith and then look around and say “wait a minute here- something is terribly wrong. We understand these ayaat and these ahadith at a certain level and standard but look where we are.” We’re not being self-righteous here and we seek Allah’s help from referring to an incident that we are involved in, but look at here- for thirty plus years there has been a type of deliberate negligence of the violation of basic human conduct. We don’t want to say more than that. Muslims not being able to go into the Masjid! What do you say? What- are other Muslims playing ostrich? They’re burying their head and saying “nothing is happening. Everything is fine and all of this stuff.” What do you mean “everything is fine? Nothing is happening?” Something is going on in our internal self that is not normal. This is an indictment. We mean- look, a few more years and we’re all gone. You look at your past- you’re forty years old, fifty, sixty, seventy, thirty, whatever- look back at those years; it seemed like they were a dash of time. They went by so quick and the coming years of what is left of our own lifespan is going to go by so quick and then we’re all going to be assembled there- what are you going to say? What am I going to say? That we were forced to pray in the street? Some Muslims say “they are with the oppressed and they are against injustice and...” Where are you? This is oppression right here! This is injustice right here! Where are you? Then they come and they think we are weirdo’s! We are some imbalanced individuals in the street every Friday on Mass Avenue! Does this make sense? To them, they look at this, (once again, this is attributable to their inability just to think through this; it’s just common sense- that’s all we require. We don’t want any Islamic scholars out there, we don’t want any graduates from Hawzahs and Islamic Universities and any of that; the only thing we require is your common sense), Muslims who you claim are brothers- unless you have problems of ta’wil, you have minority complexes, you have a salary to collect at the end of the month and all of these other issues- but if you look at this on it’s own merits, (i.e.), Muslims not being able to go into an Islamic Centre?! There’s about forty or fifty other Jum’ahs in this area, (we lost count, there might be much more than that)- what’s going on in their minds? Then, who gets away with all of this? The Saudi ruling family that dwells in this Masjid for all of these thirty years. What do you think- they want Islamic unity? Look- they are demonstrating to you what they want; and who does this serve? So when these others who are on the other side of the issues- not Muslims by any stretch of the definition- say (like) this guy in Florida is saying “he wants to burn two thousand nine hundred and ninety eight copies of the Qur’an on September eleventh because of the two thousand nine hundred and ninety eight persons who were killed on that day- why does he do that? Because this is who we are. You can see who we are! There’s no togetherness. There’s no solidarity. There’s no cohesion- contrary to the ayaat and ahadith of unity and solidarity and cohesion and togetherness. Contrary to all of that, this is who we are! So we make it easy for these types of people. Then it becomes a media sensation. When September eleventh comes along you watch- mark the time as the date approaches- the media closes in and they make out of this a reactionary event. We can’t prepare for this in our own hearts and minds? Close ranks? Open up ourselves to each other instead of having these divisive centres that we have in this city. It’s a ni’mah from Allah that we don’t belong to any of these divisive centres, but only those who are living with Allah will understand this.

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