فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ ۗ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا ۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
As for those in whose hearts is deviance, they pursue what is metaphorical in it, courting temptation, and seeking its interpretation. But no one knows its interpretation except Allah and those firmly grounded in knowledge; they say, ‘We believe in it; all of it is from our Lord.’ And none takes admonition except those who possess intellect.
(Sūrat Āl ‘Imrān, No. 3, Āyat 7)
In one of the earlier Reflections (No. 649) the onset of this blessed verse from Sūrat Āl ‘Imrān was commented upon. The verse initially divides all the verses of the Noble Quran into two groups: those that are definite (muhkam) and those that are indefinite (mutashābih). Definite verses are those whose meaning is clear, whereas indefinite verses are those that are ambiguous and can be interpreted in different ways. The remainder of the verse is quoted above and is what will be dealt with in this Reflection. In this section of the verse, Allah ‘azza wajall mentions a group in whose heart there is deviance (zaygh). These deviant individuals have left aside the definite verses and seek to deviate others by imposing an incorrect interpretation on the ambiguous verses of the Quran. The deviant group is juxtaposed in the verse with another group who are mentioned as being ‘firmly grounded in knowledge’.
One outstanding example of indefinite verses of the Quran that were misused by individuals in history are those verses used by oppressive governments to extinguish any political activism amongst Muslims. Verses such as verse number 59 of Sūrat Nisā:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ
O you who have faith! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you.
This was interpreted to refer to any political leader, regardless of how unjust he was and regardless of how he had consolidated power for himself. Because he was a Muslim leader all Muslims were apparently obliged to obey him! For example, Muhammad al-Ālūsī in his Tafsīr al-Ma‘ānī under this same verse presents this ridiculous interpretation. Such a pacifistic outlook goes against the ethos of Islam, as is clearly seen in other verses and in the lives of the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them). For example, when speaking to the army of Hurr, Imam al-Husayn ‘alayhis-salām quoted the Prophet (s) as having said: Whoever sees an oppressive ruler who legitimizes that which has been prohibited by Allah, breaks the covenant, opposes the sunnah of the Prophet, and behaves unjustly and oppressively with Allah’s servants, then if a person does not oppose him through his word or deed, it is incumbent upon Allah to place that person in the same place as that oppressor.
Returning to verse 7 from Sūrat Āli ‘Imrān, the individuals who are misinterpreting the indefinite verses of the Quran are then juxtaposed with those who are firmly grounded in knowledge (rāsikhūn). There is a technical and syntactical discussion amongst mufassirūn (exegetes) of the Quran here regarding whether the word rāsikhūn is joined to Allah or is it the start of a separate sentence altogether. That is to say: is the verse saying that both Allah and the rāsikhūn know the interpretation of the indefinite verses, or is it saying that only Allah knows this interpretation? Regardless of whichever answer is given, there is no doubt that the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them) are the epitome of the rāsikhūn and that they had been given knowledge of the Quran’s interpretation by Allah.
Two final points regarding those who are firmly grounded in knowledge that can be extracted from this verse are:
– Deviance is a state of the heart and is being juxtaposed with the intellectual trait of being knowledgeable. This is itself a lesson in the relationship between using one’s intellect correctly and the attachments of one’s heart. Clearly, those who are deviated do not seek to understand the truth and do not utilize their intellect correctly.
– Note the humility and belief that those who are firmly grounded in knowledge exhibit. Their deep knowledge has led them to realize the limitations of their knowledge, and although they may not comprehend all the lofty realities mentioned in the Quran, they still proclaim that ‘We believe in it; all of it is from our Lord.’
We pray to Allah to make us from those who believe in the Quran and humbly submit before it. As we witness the brutal oppression taking place in the world today, we pray to Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā by the sake of the Quran and the Noble Messenger (s) to send Divine help and hasten the arrival of our Imam (a).
Resources: Āyatullāh Muhammad Taqī Misbāh Yazdī, Qur’an Shenāsī (Cognition of Qur’an).