An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer · Quran

Pondering Upon Qur’an

[Explanation in the light of Surah an-Nisa Ayah 82]

Noteworthy here are a few points. First of all, the words used are, “Do they not, then, ponder…” and not “Do they not, then, recite…” Obviously, there is a delicate hint being given through this ayah which is suggesting that if they were to look at the Qur’an deeply, they would find no discrepancy in its words and meanings. This sense can come only through the use of the word, ‘tadabbur’ which means to ponder or deliberate. A plain recitation which is devoid of deliberation and deep thinking may lead one to start seeing contradictions which really do not exist there.

The second point which emerges from this ayah is that the Qur’an itself demands that every human being should ponder over its meanings. Therefore, to suppose that pondering in the Qur’an is the exclusive domain of its highest and the ablest exponents (the Imams and Mujtahids) is not correct. However, it is also true that the levels of deliberation will be different in terms of the different levels of knowledge and understanding. The deliberation of the great exponents will deduce the solutions of thousands of problems from every single ayah, while the deliberation of a common scholar will reach only as far as the very comprehension of such problems and their solutions. When common people recite the Qur’an and deliberate in its meanings through the medium of its translation and explanation in their own language, this will impress upon their hearts the greatness of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, develop love for Him and implant there a concern for the life-to-come, the akhirah. This is the master key to success. However, in order that common people stay safe from falling into doubts and misunderstandings, it is better that they should study the Qur’an, lesson by lesson, under the guidance of an alim. If this cannot be done, take to the study of some authentic and reliable tafseer. Should some doubt arise during the course of such study, the wiser course is not to go for a solution on the basis of personal opinion, instead of which, one should consult expert scholars.

No group or individual holds monopoly on the exegesis and explication of Qur’an and Sunnah, but there are conditions for it.

The ayah under reference tells us that everyone has the right to ponder in the Qur’an. But, as we have said earlier, the levels of ‘tadabbur’ are different. Each one is governed by a separate rule. Let us take the serious deliberation of great exponent, the ‘tadabbur’ of a master mujtahid. Through this methodology, solutions to problems are deduced from the Qur’an at the highest level. For this purpose, it is necessary that one who is pondering in the Qur’an, should first acquaint himself with the basic rules employed in such deduction in order that the results he achieve are correct and sound. In case, he fails to arm himself with the basic postulate to begin with, or in case, his education and training in this discipline remain faulty; and in case, he does not ultimately possess the qualifications and conditions that must be found in a mujtahid exponent, then, it is obvious that he would come up with the wrong set of results. Now, this is a situation in which better-equipped scholars may challenge and contradict them, something they would be doing rightfully.

Think of a person who has never even walked the corridors of a medical college, yet he starts objecting as to why only trained doctors have been allowed to hold a monopoly of all medical treatment in the country, and why is it that he as a human being has not been allowed to exercise the right of treating patients?

Or, there may be a person who gags his reason and starts challenging as to why all contracts to build canals, bridges and dams are given to expert engineers only? Since, he is a citizen of the country, therefore, he too is fully deserving of discharging this service!

Or, there may be that person, devoid of reason who stands up raising an objection as to why legal experts alone have been allowed to hold monopoly over the interpretation and application of the law of the land, while he too, being sane and adult, can do the same job? Obviously, to that person, it would be said that, no doubt he has a right to do all such things as a citizen of the country, but it is also true that one has to undergo the difficult stages of education, training and experience for years and years together in order to imbibe the ability to accomplish such tasks. This is not what one can do all by himself. One has to assimilate an enormous body of arts and sciences under expert teachers on his way to established degrees and subsequent recognition in the field. If this person is ready to first go through this grind, and come out successful therefrom, then, he too could certainly become an arm of law in these fields.

But, when this analogy is applied to the interpretation and application of Qur’an and Sunnah, a highly intricate a very delicate job indeed, we come across a barrage of taunts and accusations that the ulama hold a monopoly over the job! Is it that the interpretation and application of Qur’an and Sunnah requires no ability, no qualification? Are we saying that, in this wide world of ours, the knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah alone has come to be so orphaned, so heirless that everyone can start getting away with his own interpretation and application as a matter of right, even though the claimant has not spent even a few months devoted to learning the great discipline of Qur’an and Sunnah? This is terrible!

The Proof of Qiyas

It is from this ayah that we also come to know an important rule, that is, when we do not find an explicit statement in the Qur’an and Sunnah about a certain problem, we should make the best of efforts to find a solution by a serious deliberation within these. This method is technically known as Qiyas or analogical deduction [Qurtubi].

A Great Deal of Contradiction

The last sentence of ayah 82 translated as “Had it been from someone other than Allah, they would have found in it a great deal of contradiction” needs some explanation. Here, ‘a great deal of contradiction’ means: Had there been a contradiction in one subject, the contradiction in many subjects would obviously have become a great deal of contradiction [Bayan ul-Qur’an]. But, the truth of the matter is that there is just no contradiction anywhere in the Qur’an. So, this is the word of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. This perfect uniformity cannot be found in the word of man. Then there is its unmatched eloquence which never tapers. It talks about the Oneness of Allah and the disbelief of men and lays down rules for the lawful and the unlawful, yet there is no inconsistency, no discrepancy in the process. It offers information about the unseen but there is not one bit of information which does not match with reality. Then there is the very order of the Qur’an which retains the quality of its diction all along, never ever touching a pitch which is low. The speech or writing of man is affected by circumstances. It varies with peace and distraction and happiness and sorrow. But, Qur’an is free of all sorts of incongruities and contradictions – actually, it is beyond any such thing. And this is a clear proof of its being the word of God.

[Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]


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