The Two Kinds of Qur'anic Verses: The Explicit and the Implicit
In chapter XI:I God says of the Qur'an, "This is a book whose meanings are secure. " From this we may draw the meaning to read "whose meanings are perfected, expanded, firm and strong. " In chapter XXXIX:23, it reads, God has revealed the fairest of statements (consistent with and in relation to each other) and arranged in pairs (according to meaning) which cause the flesh of those who fear their Lord to creep.
In chapter III:7 He says, "He it is who has revealed to you the Book in which are clear revelations, (that is, verses whose meaning is immediately clear and which Muslims use for guidance). They are the substance of the Book and others which are allegorical. But those in whose heart is doubt indeed follow the allegorical seeking dissension by seeking to explain it. None knowest its explanation except God and those who are of sound instruction say: We believe in it, it is all from our Lord.
The first of the verses describes those sections of the Qur'an whose meaning is explicit, clear and unambiguous, and safe from misinterpretation. The second verse refers to all those verses whose meanings are implicit, and which are considered allegorical. It then proceeds to indicate that both types of verses, (the explicit, or clear and the implicit, or allegorical), share certain common qualities: beauty and sweetness of language, and a miraculous power of expression which are present in the entire Qur'an. The third verse under consideration divides the Qur'an into two parts: the explicit and the implicit, the clear and the allegorical, or, in Qur'anic terms, the muhkam and the mustashabih. The muhkam and those verses which are explicit, clear and immediate in their message and, therefore, incapable of being misinterpreted; the mutashabih verses are not of this nature. It is the duty of every firm believer to believe in and act according to the verses which are mahkam. It is also his duty to believe in the verses which are mutashabih, but he must abstain from acting upon them; this injunction is based on the premise that only those whose heart is corrupt and whose belief is false follow the implicit, mutashibih, verses, fabricating interpretations and, thereby, deceiving common people.
The meanings of the Explicit and the Implicit Verses, According to the Commentators and Scholars
There is much difference of opinion amongst the Islamic scholars concerning the meaning of explicit and implicit verses, with almost twenty different views on the matter. We can, however, conclude from the views of commentators, ranging from the time of the Prophet to the present day, that the explicit verses are clear and unambiguous, and that one is obliged to believe in and act according to them. The implicit verses, on the other hand, are those which outwardly seem to express a meaning, but which contain a further truer meaning whose interpretation is known only to God; man has no access to it. However, he is enjoined to believe in them but to avoid acting upon them. This view is held amongst the Sunni scholars. It is also maintained by the Shi'ite scholars except they believe that the Prophet and the Imams of his family also understood the hidden meanings. They also maintain that the ordinary man must seek knowledge of the implicit verses from God, the Prophet and the Imams. This view, although held by most commentators, is in several aspects not in accord with the text of the verse beginning, He it is who has revealed to you the Book in which are explicit verses (whose meanings are immediately clear) ...
Adapted from: "The Quran in Islam" by: "Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i"
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