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Apr 13

Quranists: Between Reading and Interpretation

Among Quranists, the question of reading and interpreting the Quran is a relatively subtle issue but nonetheless, very important for us to build a open and accepting association.

The question is ever present in Traditional Islam too. Traditional Muslims ask ‘who speaks for Islam’ just as we ask ‘who has the right to speak for the Quran’. The answer to this question is tied who will be answering for us on judgement day: we ourselves. If we are to answer for ourselves, then it really is our right, nay our duty to offer our opinions on Quranic interpretation.

Let’s get back to the question of reading and interpretation. This question may also be phrased as the question of objectivity and subjectivity. Is it possible to read the Quran objectively, that is, without any kind of human element involved?

I believe that yes, it is possible. The Quran itself tells us it is possible touch the Noble Quran which is in a guarded book but not everyone can do so. One must be instigating purification of the self (56/79-80).  This is, of course, hidden to us (there is no tattoo on one’s forehead saying ‘He is purifying himself, trust him’) so it would be difficult for us to convince anyone that we are rightly guided. Indeed this is the problem with Traditional Islam (TI). TI has knowledge regimes which has turned tafseer (exegesis of the Quran) into an industry. Traditional Muslims are hardly allowed to differ from these individuals or risk being ex-communicated (being labelled ‘fasiq’/impious or kafir/disbeliever). This seems of course rather ironic the mufassireen/exegetes of TI can hardly agree even among themselves on many issues. Yet these people assume to be reading rather than interpreting.

We Quranists must never fall into this trap.

We need to realise, from the very beginning of the Quran’s answer to humankind which is Chapter 2, it starts with the enunciation of three Arabic alphabets: Alif Lam Meem. If the text of the Quran with words is open to interpretation, what more these three letters and others like them? TI itself has a long history of opinions on these letters which apparently ‘The Prophet’ never explained. These letters show that there is a mental agility needed and further, a spirit of accommodation for the opinions of others.

Quranists also sometimes have the notion that because they have left TI, the Quran becomes immediately a hundred percent clear. All they need is an Arabic dictionary and all will be clear. They then assume to be reading the Quran while in fact, they are still like everyone else, interpreters of the text. While the Arabic language definitely goes a long way in clarifying the Quran, there are other elements like the basic philosophy of the Quran, the context and consistency. The dictionaries, however ancient or authentic they claim to be, cannot have the final word. They are human products after all and also susceptible to tampering.

So where does this leave us? Is it a hopeless exercise to engage with the Quran? Absolutely not. It is not that we cannot arrive at a correct interpretation, it is only that we cannot objectively prove it to anyone. Not that this matters. The Quran speaks to the individual reader. The reader, once convinced, sets out to implement the Quranic programme. The Quran doesn’t really seem to care about the reader convincing anyone of his interpretation. Once we put our interpretation of the Quranic programme into practice, people would be convinced of the truth …or not.

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  1. Denis

    Quran is quite easy to understand. This is because of what surah 3 aya 7 says… Please read and think about what that particulat verse says…

  2. Machette

    I'm sorry, no matter what you may say someone cannot try and interpret the word of GOD based on their own wantings.

    The Qur'an explains itself, and it is easy to understand. "Quranist" is a deceptive label, we are all Muslims who must understand the Qur'an through the Qur'an and its context.

  3. Anwar

    I have to slightly disagree with the last part of this article. It is not that what you have said CANNOT be true, it is that it is not probable. Yes authentic arabic linguistic sources MAY have been tampered with but we need to work from what we KNOW, not the doubts that we can imagine. Imagining these doubts is fine and i think it is good to remind ourselves that in the end we could be completely wrong. And knowing exactly HOW we could be wrong is even more healthy and intellectually humbling. But just as most of us have been convinced through the logic of the Quran and our own analysis that God exists and that he revealed the Quran (even though we know we COULD be wrong about these things) that doesn't mean that we should throw away what can be shown to be sound knowledge when it comes to our study of the Quran.

  4. Anwar

    Too many people use doubts as proof, but this is an easy escape from doing the hard work. This is why I endeavored in different madh-habs opinions on what makes a narration truly sound, and even why the Quran's narrations are considered authentic, instead of relying purely on doubts. I'm sure you know what I'm refering to.

  5. Anwar

    So whereas the most authentic sources on the Classical Arabic language could be wrong, to doubt them without sound evidence and reject their counsel is in essence rejecting logic and preferring imagination. In the end we ARE interpreting the language and the ideas conveyed by the language used in the Quran, but the more we can base this interpretation on sound sources the less imaginative they will be, leading us to more founded ideas and not pure whims, fancies and baseless ideas. This has been my contention with abandoning Classical Arabic sources without sound internal evidence for abandoning them. I will however, NEVER claim that ANYONE'S (EVEN MY) reading of the quran is not an interpretation, because it is. How we understand ANY statement in any language is based on our linguistic capacity and mental perspective, which is why people understand so many things differently despite some basic ideas behind words that are universally shared by speakers of said language. Nonethess my point is that there are founded interpretations and unfounded interpretations, even if they are both interpretations.

  1. Why I over-analyse everything « Quranist Voices – Musings on Being Quranists

    [...] I fear God and I do my best to avoid the unforgiveable sin of commiting Shirk, insha’Allah.  I just want to worship Allah alone as instructed in the Qur’an (and previous Scripture) and obey the instructions. (Here is a good article on Reading and interpretation). [...]

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