Is the Qur’an clear or not?

It is alleged that the Qur’an says that it is clear and yet also claims that it is unclear. The following are quoted in this regard:

الر كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ ءايَـتُهُ ثُمَّ فُصِّلَتْ مِن لَّدُنْ حَكِيمٍ خَبِير

Alif, Lam, Ra. [This is] a Book whose verses are perfected and then presented in detail from [one who is] Wise and Acquainted [Q.11:1].

أَفَغَيْرَ اللَّهِ أَبْتَغِى حَكَماً وَهُوَ الَّذِى أَنَزَلَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْكِتَـبَ مُفَصَّلاً وَالَّذِينَ ءَاتَيْنَـهُمُ الْكِتَـبَ يَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ مُنَزَّلٌ مِّن رَّبِّكَ بِالْحَقِّ فَلاَ تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ

[Say], “Then is it other than Allah I should seek as judge while it is He who has revealed to you the Book explained in detail?” And those to whom I [previously] gave the Scripture know that it is sent down from your Lord in truth, so never be among the doubters [Q.6:114].

وَيَوْمَ نَبْعَثُ فِى كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ شَهِيدًا عَلَيْهِمْ مِّنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَجِئْنَا بِكَ شَهِيدًا عَلَى هَـؤُلآءِ وَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَـبَ تِبْيَانًا لِّكُلِّ شَىْءٍ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً وَبُشْرَى لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ

And [mention] the Day when I will resurrect among every nation a witness over them from themselves. And I will bring you, [O Muhammad], as a witness over your nation. And I have sent down to you the Book as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the Muslims [Q.16:89].

غَافِرِ الذَّنبِ وَقَابِلِ التَّوْبِ شَدِيدِ الْعِقَابِ ذِى الطَّوْلِ لاَ إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ إِلَيْهِ الْمَصِيرُ

A Book whose verses have been detailed, an Arabic Qur’an for a people who know [Q.41:3]

Based on these verses, an absurd claim is made as follows:

The implication of the aforementioned texts is that all of the verses of the Quran are clear and that the Muslim scripture doesn’t contain any passages that are obscure or difficult to grasp.

What we witness here is a prime example of straw man. The Qur’an nowhere says that it doesn’t contain any passages that are obscure or difficult to grasp. From the quoted verses, what we actually learn is the following:[1]

  • This means perfect in its wording, detailed in its meaning. Thus, it is complete in its form and its meaning;
  • This means that it (the Qur’an) is from Allah (ﷻ), Who is Most Wise in His statements and His Laws, and Most Aware of the final outcome of matters;
  • This means that this Qur’an descended, perfect and detailed, with the purpose of Allah (ﷻ)’s worship alone, without any partners;
  • Ibn Mas’ud (رضي الله عنه) said: Allah (ﷻ) made it clear that in this Qur’an there is complete knowledge and about everything.” The Qur’an contains all kinds of beneficial knowledge, such as reports of what happened in the past, information about what is yet to come, what is lawful and unlawful, and what people need to know about their worldly affairs, their religion, their livelihood in this world, and their destiny in the Hereafter;
  • (a guidance) means, for their hearts; (a mercy, and good news for the Muslims). Al-Awza`i said: (And I have revealed the Book (the Qur’an) as an explanation of everything) means, with the Sunnah. The is the reason why the phrase, (And I have revealed the Book to you) is mentioned immediately after the phrase, (And I shall bring you (O Muhammad) as a witness against these) the meaning – and Allah (ﷻ) knows best – is that the One Who obligated you to convey the Book which He revealed to you, will also ask you about that on the Day of Resurrection;
  • (A Book whereof the Ayat are explained in detail) means, its meanings are clear and its rulings are sound and wise. (A Qur’an in Arabic) means, because it is a clear Arabic Qur’an, its meanings are precise and detailed and its words are clear and not confusing. This is like the Ayah: ((This is) a Book, the Ayat whereof are completed, and then explained in detail from One (Allah), Who is All-Wise Well-Acquainted) (Q.11:1). meaning, it is miraculous in its wording and in its meanings.

These verses are not difficult to grasp but when one operates on a faulty base, the resulting structure will be faulty as well.

The Qur’an says elsewhere that there are verses which are unspecific:

هُوَ الَّذِى أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَـبَ مِنْهُ آيَـتٌ مُّحْكَمَـتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَـبِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَـبِهَـتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فى قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَـبَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَآءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَآءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَالرَسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ ءَامَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلاَّ أُوْلُواْ الأَلْبَـبِ

It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise – they are the foundation of the Book – and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah. But those firm in knowledge say, “We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord.” And no one will be reminded except those of understanding [Q.3:7].

From this verse, we are asked:

So now which is it? What are Muslims supposed to believe concerning the nature of the Quran? Is the entire Quran clear and fully explained, or are there parts of it which are unclear and whose interpretation only Allah knows?

… how does a Muslim know for certain which verses are clear and which are obscure when the Quran nowhere delineates the two?

Allah states that in the Qur’an, there are Ayat that are Muhkamat, entirely clear and plain, and these are the foundations of the Book which are plain for everyone. And there are Ayat in the Qur’an that are Mutashabihat not entirely clear for many, or some people. So those who refer to the Muhkam Ayat to understand the Mutashabih Ayat, will have acquired the correct guidance, and vice versa. This is why Allah (ﷻ) said, (They are the foundations of the Book), meaning, they are the basis of the Qur’an, and should be referred to for clarification, when warranted, (And others not entirely clear) as they have several meanings, some that agree with the Muhkam and some that carry other literal indications, although these meaning might not be desired. The Muhkamat are the Ayat that explain the abrogating rulings, the allowed, prohibited, laws, limits, obligations and rulings that should be believed in and implemented. As for the Mutashabihat Ayat, they include the abrogated Ayat, parables, oaths, and what should be believed in, but not implemented.

It is further asked: why would Allah reveal passages that no one knows besides him? Of what benefit is it to the Muslims to be given verses that cannot be understood by any one besides their deity? What do Muslims gain from such obscure passages that have no practical value for their lives?

The answer is not very complicated. “As for the unclear Ayat, they can (but must not) be altered and changed, and this is a test from Allah (ﷻ) to the servants, just as He tested them with the allowed and prohibited things. So these Ayat must not be altered to imply a false meaning or be distorted from the truth.” Therefore, Allah (ﷻ) said, (So as for those in whose hearts there is a deviation) meaning, those who are misguided and deviate from truth to falsehood, (they follow that which is not entirely clear thereof) meaning, they refer to the Mutashabih, because they are able to alter its meanings to conform with their false interpretation since the wordings of the Mutashabihat encompass such a wide area of meanings. As for the Muhkam Ayat, they cannot be altered because they are clear and, thus, constitute unequivocal proof against the misguided people. This is why Allah (ﷻ) said, (seeking Al-Fitnah) meaning, they seek to misguide their following by pretending to prove their innovation by relying on the Qur’an — the Mutashabih of it — but, this is proof against and not for them. For instance, Christians might claim that `Isa (عليه السلام) is divine because the Qur’an states that he is Ruhullah (spirit from Allah (ﷻ)) and His Word, which He gave to Maryam, all the while ignoring Allah (ﷻ)’s statements, (He was not more than a servant. We granted Our favor to him) and, (Verily, the likeness of `Isa before Allah is the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then (He) said to him: “Be!” and he was).

(And seeking for its Ta’wil) to alter them as they desire. Imam Ahmad recorded that `A’ishah (رضي الله عنها) said, “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) recited:

هُوَ الَّذِى أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَـبَ مِنْهُ آيَـتٌ مُّحْكَمَـتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَـبِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَـبِهَـتٌ

(It is He Who has sent down to you the Book. In it are verses that are entirely clear, they are the foundations of the Book; and others not entirely clear) until, أُوْلُواْ الأَلْبَـبِ (Men of understanding) and he said:

فَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمُ الَّذِين يُجَادِلُونَ فِيهِ، فَهُمُ الَّذِينَ عَنَى اللهُ، فَاحْذَرُوهُم

When you see those who argue in it (using the Mutashabihat), then they are those whom Allah meant. Therefore, beware of them.

Al-Bukhari recorded a similar Hadith in the Tafsir of this Ayah as did Muslim in the book of Qadar (the Divine Will) in his Sahih, and Abu Da’ood in the Sunnah section of his Sunan, from Aisha (رضي الله عنها); “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) recited this Ayah and said:

فَإِذَا رَأَيْتِ الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ؛ فَأُولئِكَ الَّذِينَ سَمَّى اللهُ، فَاحْذَرُوهُم

When you see those who follow what is not so clear of the Qur’an, then they are those whom Allah described, so beware of them.

Therefore, we learn that there is no contradiction in the Qur’an; the only contradiction is in the minds of those who consider straw man to be a valid form of argument.

Indeed, Allah () knows best.

References and footnotes:

[1] Refer Tafsir Ibn Kathir for all these Ayaat. The entirety of the explanation is taken from there.

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One thought on “Is the Qur’an clear or not?

  1. Pingback: Is there any prophecy of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad? | Qur'anic misconceptions addressed

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