03 Nov Qur’anic verses are divided into two groups, known as muhkam or mutashabih. What is the difference?.Part2
2. Mutashabih caused by meaning: Sometimes the phenomenon of mutashabih can happen through the meaning. There are a number of examples in the Qur’an that are related to this. For example, the attributes of God, Judgment Day, life after death, the rewards of Heaven, and the hardships of
Hell are metaphysical matters which the human intellect cannot fully comprehend. The Islamic scholars adopt two distinct approaches in this regard; according to the first, the mutashabih verses in connection with the Divine attributes, for instance, do not refer to God’s Self, Who cannot be known in His Essence. Thus, they choose to refer the true nature of such attributes to God. The second is that these attributive words, which outwardly seem inconceivable, should be interpreted in accordance with God’s Divinity. For instance, in connection with the Divine attribute mentioned in,
“Those who swear allegiance to you (O Messenger), swear allegiance to God only. God’s “Hand” is over their hands…” (Fath 48:10),
the Salafis consider that God is far above the literary meanings of these attributes. They do not make any commentary on such attributive words; rather they believe in them as they are mentioned and thus refer their true meanings to God. But, later scholars have felt that it is possible to interpret such attributes so long as one can ascribe a sound meaning to these words that is both reasonably appropriate to God and which is in accordance with Islamic Law. They give two important meanings to the aforementioned verse. One meaning they give to this mutashabih word is that the Messenger’s hand is over the hand he grasps in allegiance as it represents God’s Hand; that is, obedience to the Messenger means the same as obedience to God. The other meaning is that God helps those who swear allegiance to the Messenger.
So, here “Hand” signifies “Power.” Similarly, for God “Hand,” “Face,” or any other such term is metaphorical.
3. Mutashabih verses in both words and meaning: The mutashabih state in certain verses arises both from the word and its meaning. The following verse may be an example for this:
They ask you (O Messenger) about the new moons (because of the month of Ramadan). Say: “They are appointed times (markers) for the people (to determine time periods) and for the Pilgrimage.” (Do not link them to superstitions and superstitious behavior like entering dwellings by the back rather than the front.) It is not virtue that you enter dwellings from the backs of them, but virtue is (the state of) one who (truly believing in God) strives to attain righteousness and piety (by carrying out His commandments and refraining from His prohibitions). So come to dwellings (in the normal way) by their doors. (Do everything according to the rule and establish relations with your leader and among yourselves in proper terms.) And strive to obey God in due reverence for Him and piety so that you may prosper. (Baqara 2:189)
This verse uses the occasion of people asking the Prophet about the new moons and demands that people not connect such events to superstitions or superstitious behavior, like entering dwellings by the rear entrance rather than the front. The Arabs at that time would, when dressed in ihram (a special two-part apparel put on for pilgrimage purpose), enter and exit their houses from the rear entrance, through an opening in the back wall of their houses. God Almighty expressed in the above verse that such behavior does not entail good behavior, and thus no righteousness is derived from it. The verse, thus, invites them to true piety and godliness. Obviously, it is difficult to understand what is meant by this verse without knowing the tradition of the Arabs at that time.
The verse, thus, clearly shows that both its words and meaning are mutashabih, or intricate. To sum up, the aspect of mutashabih can be divided into three parts: One is the category of mutashabih from which no one can comprehend the true meaning. There are many mutashabih matters about which only God can know their true meanings, such as God’s Divinity, the Truth (essence) of His attributes and the time of the Day of Judgment.
Secondly, there are verses that any one can comprehend with a little study or by some exegetical effort. The quality of mutashabih in this category arises either from the brevity of the words or from the word order. Finally, there are certain mutashabih verses which can be grasped only by those who are firmly grounded in knowledge. These are concerned with matters that only the scholars who study the commentaries and explanations of the Messenger and who are experts in the Arabic language, linguistics, literature, and other relevant fields of science, can comprehend. The prayer that the Prophet made for Ibn Abbas indicates this third category:
“O God! Make him (Ibn Abbas) a learned scholar in religion and teach him the exegesis of the Qur’an.”
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