Bismillāh. 22 September 2023/6 Rabī‘ al-Awwal , 1445
إِنَّهُ لَقُرْآنٌ كَرِيمٌ فِي كِتَابٍ مَّكْنُونٍ لَّا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ
This is indeed a noble Quran, in a guarded Book. No one touches it except the pure ones.
(Sūrat al-Wāqi’ah, no.56, Āyāt 77-79)
After having established that the Quran is the exact word of Allah and has been protected from any distortion, a key concern that Muslims have is how they can benefit from this Divine book in their own lives. Benefitting from the Quran can be done in different ways and at different levels but one of the first levels is to read and try to understand the text of the Quran. In this regard, scholars of Islam have been divided into two overall camps: those who claim that the Quran cannot be independently understood and those who claim that it can.
In the larger Muslim community, there were those who altogether rejected the need for a divinely sanctioned interpreter of the Quran. This logic was encapsulated in the statement, “The book of Allah is sufficient for us,” which has been the source of many deviations within the Muslim community. For example, consider the literalist and irrational understanding of Quranic verses that some Muslims adopted. They interpreted verses where the Quran talks about the hand of Allah, the face of Allah, etc. by attributing anthropomorphic qualities to God. Had these Muslims studied the profound words of Imām ‘Alī (a) they would not have entertained such beliefs. For example, in the opening sermon of Nahj al-Balāghah, ‘Alī (a) says: … whoever recognises parts for Him mistook Him; and whoever mistook Him pointed at Him; and whoever pointed at Him admitted limitations for Him; and whoever admitted limitations for Him numbered Him.
On the other hand, within the Shī’ah school there were scholars of ḥadīth who went to the other extreme, claiming that understanding the Quran was the sole prerogative of the Ahl al-Bayt, peace and blessings be upon them. While they were correct to say that certain higher and deeper understandings of the Quran are exclusively reserved for the Ahl al-Bayt, this does not mean that the Quran is completely inaccessible to others. On the contrary, many verses and narrations can be cited to illustrate that the Quran is accessible and can be understood by common people.
Various verses describe the Quran as being manifest and clear. For example, it is mentioned as a manifest light in 4:174, as an explanation for mankind in 3:138, a clarification of all things in 16:89, and as being clear Arabic language in 16:103. Many verses challenge disbelievers to bring something like the Quran. There are verses that call upon man to ponder on the Quran, a discussion that will be discussed in an upcoming reflection inshāAllah. All these verses are clear indications that people can understand the Quran for themselves, ponder upon its meanings, and compare it to the words of normal people.
In one narration from Imām al-Sādiq (a), he says:
The [teachings of the] book of Allah include four things: the utterance, the indication, the subtleties, and the realities. The utterance is for the common people, the indication is for the people of distinction, the subtleties are for the close servants of Allah and the realities are for the prophets.
Any attempt to use textual sources such as the verses from Sūrat al-Wāqi’ah quoted at the onset of this writeup to claim that only the Ahl al-Bayt can understand the Arabic Qur’an that is before us is incorrect. These verses must be explained using other possible meanings. Perhaps the Quran being referred to in these verses is that which is in the lawh mahfūz (literally translated as ‘the preserved tablet”, a reference to a higher reality that is mentioned in the Quran in verse 85:22). Or perhaps the verses are a legal command to not touch the text of the Quran without being in the state of wudū’.
We pray to Allah to allow us to benefit from the noble Quran in the best manner. We humbly beseech Him to never disconnect us from the Quran nor the Ahl al-Bayt, peace be upon them.
Resources: Āyatullāh Muhammad Taqī Misbāh Yazdī, Quran Shenāsī (Cognition of the Quran).