News Item: : A Scientific Methodology for Understanding the Qur'an
(Category: Media > Column & Articles > More Writing)
Posted by webmaster
Tuesday 30 December 1997

Taken from "Hadith - A Re-evaluation" by Kassim Ahmad
Translated from the Malay Original
Monotheist Productions International

"What did your Lord say?"
They will answer, "The truth." (Quran, 34:23)

The Beneficent.
He teaches the Quran. (Quran, 55:1-2)

Some people argue that, even if we hold on to the Quran, we shall still be faced with the problem of different interpretations, and this in turn will bring about disunity. It is for purposes of answering this question that we include this chapter. The two verses that we quote above not only tell us that the Quran contains the truth; they also tell us that in the final analysis it is God Who teaches us the Quran.

This topic itself can be the subject of a big volume, but our intention is not an exhaustive study from all angles. We are not discussing history and comparative study of Quranic exegeses, history of the Quran, Quranic language, its relations with previous scriptures and so on. We shall only discuss the question of a scientific methodology for understanding the Quran.

What we have to avoid is not differences of opinion, but differences in aims. We can resolve differences in opinion through discussions. But differences in aims cannot be settled in that way, since both sides begin from different bases. Take for example the difference between a colonial power and a colonized people: this contradiction can only be resolved through pressure of the colonized people's movement against the colonial power.

A Clear Book

There is no doubt that there are differences in Quranic interpretation. This is proved by the existence of many translations. However, God tells us that the Quran is `clear' and `easy.' `Clear' here means `straight', `not crooked', `not deviating'. It also means `easy', because the Quran has been sent down as guidance for all, and not for any elite class of people. Still, since the Quran covers all matters, including Resurrection, Heaven, Hell, the creation of the universe, the creation of mankind and the purpose of creation – subjects which are still beyond human comprehension – it is not easy in a trivial sense.

It is due to the Quran's clarity that no one can falsify it or make it crooked. Nor can anyone else, except God, invent it. It is in this sense that the teachings of the Quran cannot contradict science and reason, for science and reason are nothing but manifestations of the laws created by God in nature, human society and the human psyche. Therefore, God has proclaimed that there is no discrepancy between the verses of the Quran. It is on this basis – the integrity and unity of Quranic verses – that if we hold on to the Quran we shall succeed.

Two Types of Verses: Decisive and Allegorical

The Quran itself has given us a basic rule of interpretation, contained in the following verse:

He is the One Who revealed to you this scripture. Of its verses, some are decisive, constituting the essence of the scripture; others are allegorical. Those who harbor doubts in their hearts dwell on the allegorical verses, to create confusion and misrepresentation. No one knows its interpretation except God and those well-grounded in knowledge...

The verse tells us that the Quran has two types of verse: those whose meanings are clear and decisive, forming the bases of Quranic teachings, called muhkamat, and those with allegorical meanings, called mutashabihat, whose interpretation should not be attempted by the people but should rather be left to the experts in the field.

Let us test this division by taking one example of each type of verses. Below we quote fourteen muhkamat verses containing a list of fourteen commandments:

  1. You shall not set up beside God any other god, lest you end up despised and disgraced.
  2. Your Lord has decreed that you shall not worship except Him, and your parents shall be honored. For as long as they live, one of them or both of them, you shall not speak harshly to them, nor mistreat them; you shall speak to them amicably. And lower for them the wings of humility and kindness, and say, "My Lord, have mercy on them, for they brought me up from infancy." Your Lord is fully aware of your innermost thoughts; if you are righteous, whenever you turn to Him, you will find Him forgiving.
  3. And you shall regard the relative, the needy, the poor and the alien equitably.
  4. But do not be extravagant, for the extravagant are brethren to the devils, and the devil is unappreciative of his Lord.
  5. If you have to break up with any of them, in the cause of your seeking your Lord's mercy, you shall continue to speak to them amicably.
  6. Do not keep your hand tied to your neck, nor open it completely, in excessive charity, lest you end up blamed and remorseful. Your Lord increases the provision for whomsoever He wills, and withholds it. He is fully Aware of His creatures, Cognizant.
  7. You shall not kill your children for fear of poverty; We provide for them along with you. Indeed, killing them is a gross offense.
  8. You shall not commit adultery, for it is a vice and a wicked path.
  9. You shall not kill anyone, for life is made sacred by God, except in the course of justice. Anyone who is killed unjustly, We give his kin authority to avenge; thus, he shall not avenge excessively; he will then be helped.
  10. You shall not touch the orphan's money, except for his own good, until he grows up.
  11. You shall fulfil your covenants; you are responsible for your covenants.
  12. You shall give full measure when you trade, and weigh with an equitable balance. This is better and more righteous.
  13. Do not accept anything that you yourself cannot ascertain. You are given the hearing, the eyes and the mind in order to examine and verify.
  14. Do not walk on earth proudly, for you can never rend the earth, nor become as tall as the mountains. All the evil things are disliked by your Lord.

We have deliberately given an example of a long series of muhkamat verses, because they contain fourteen command-ments that we need to carry out. If they are difficult to understand, if their meanings are not clear, how are we to carry them out? This example serves to demonstrate to us the meaning of muhkamat or decisive verses. Their meanings are clear; there is no ambiguity whatsoever.

On the other hand, the mutashabihat or allegorical verses refer to a phenomenon that mankind does not yet know, like Resurrection, Heaven, Hell, or even the creation of man and the universe. Observe the following verses:

If you fail to do this, and most certainly you will fail, then beware of hellfire whose fuel is people and rocks; it awaits the disbelievers. And give good news to those who believe and work righteousness that they have deserved gardens with flowing streams. When given a fruit therein, they would say, "This is what was given to us before." They will be given the same kind. They will have pure spouses therein, and abide therein forever. Thus, God does not shy away from any kind of allegory, from down to a mosquito and higher. Those who believe know that it is the truth from their Lord, while the disbelievers would say, "What did God mean by such an allegory?" He misleads many thereby and guides many thereby, but He never misleads any except the wicked.

The above verses draw a picture of Heaven and Hell. They are allegorical, because man does not, and never can, know the conditions in Heaven or Hell until those conditions themselves exist on the Day of Judgement.

There are, of course, instances when the allegorical verses refer to something that, at the time of the Prophet, was not yet known, but would later be known through scientific and technological discoveries. The Miracle of Code 19 is an example. Note the following verses:

I will commit him to retribution. What a retribution! Thorough and comprehensive. Obvious to all the people. Over it is nineteen. We appointed angels to be guardians of Hell, and We assigned their number to disturb the disbelievers, to convince the Christians and the Jews, to strengthen the faith of the faithful, to remove all traces of doubt from the hearts of Christians and Jews as well as the believers, and to expose those who harbor doubts in their hearts, and the disbelievers, for they will say, "What did God mean by this allegory?" God thus sends astray whomever He wills, and guides whomever He wills. None knows the soldiers of your Lord except He.

These verses in the beginning seem to indicate that the number 19 refers to the angels guarding Hell, but later state that the number is allegorical, and finally deny that it refers to the guardian angels of Hell.

There are verses which, at the time of their coming down, relate to future events, and they are plain, straightforward verses, belonging to the muhkamat category, although they are not command verses. One of them is with regard to the splitting of the atom, an event mentioned in the Quran more than 1,300 years before it actually happened. At the time when the Quran was being sent down, the world knew the atom to be the smallest particle. Only towards the end of 19th the century did European physicists discover that the atom can be broken into smaller constituents.

The discovery of the remains of Merneptah, the son of Ramses II, the Egyptian Pharaoh who was drowned in the Red Sea, is another example of a scientific discovery, not known at the time of the Prophet, but was foretold in the Quran.

The muhkamat verses differ from the mutashabihat ones in their function. The function of the first type is to clarify divine commandments, to state a principle or a rule, or simply to give information. We have seen the above-quoted 17:22-38 verses which contains fourteen commandments. Likewise, the short pitchy Sura Al-Ikhlas (Sura 112), also contain muhkamat verses that inform us of five very important attributes of God.

On the other hand, the mutashabihat verses bring to us information regarding the invisible worlds through the language of allegories. We have given some examples above. Other examples of mutashabihat verses are those referring to Man's creation, the creation of the Universe and to the coming of Gog and Magog or Anti-Christ towards the Last Day. These are not command verses which require our obedience to them. Therefore, the ordinary people need not concern themselves with their interpretations. We are required to believe in them, but we are to leave them to be interpreted by God and those who are experts in the field.

We use metaphor or allegorical language in order to explain something which our listeners do not know or have no experience of. For example, a father trying to impress upon his two-year baby not to touch or play with fire. Or a teacher trying to explain the joys of married life to his students of five or six years old. Such listeners have not yet the knowledge of these things, and so we use allegorical language to make them understand. Yet, they will later come to know of these things. In the same way, God uses metaphorical language to let us know Him, the Day of Resurrection, Heaven, Hell and other invisible things. When the time comes, we too shall know the worlds that are now incomprehensible to us.

This basic rule of interpretation taught by the Quran in order to understand its verses properly will enable us to avoid the pitfalls of misinterpreting the mutashabihat verses. There are other rules, comprising what we may call a scientific methodology for understanding the Quran, that we need to follow to get a better understanding of the divine book. An example of misinterpretation can be shown in the case of the famous verse concerning the sources of law, verse 59 of Sura 4, although this is not a mutashabihat verse. We shall come to this later.

A Scientific Methodology of Interpretation

What do we mean by this scientific methodology? Whatever man wishes to do, from eating, bathing, sleeping and playing to the understanding of his God, there is a method. This method must of necessity be scientific, because only a scientific method can guarantee success. On the other hand, an unscientific method can only result in failure.

If we wish to study Plato's philosophy, not only do we have to read Republic and Symposium, we have to read all his dialogues. We also have to study the history of Athens around the time of Plato, learn about other philosophers who were his contemporaries and go through his genealogy and character. Only then can we gain a full and proper understanding of Plato's philosophy. The same applies to the Quran.

However, when we come to the Quran, we are in a more fortunate position. Understanding the Quran is, in fact, easier than understanding Plato. This is because God's revelations are consistent and not self-contradictory. Furthermore, the Quran gives us a complete set of rules for its own interpretation. We shall list out the following nine principles of scientific Quranic interpretation:

  1. Two types of verses that must be distinguished, which establish the principle of distinction between straightforward and metaphorical language. (Quran, 3:7)
  2. The principle of unity of the Quran's contents, meaning that its verses are not contradictory, but in perfect harmony. (4:82)
  3. The congruence of Quranic teachings with truth and logic, establishing the principle of truth, and its congruence with science and right reason. (41:41-42; 42:24; 23:70-71; 8:7-8; 17:81; 10:100)
  4. The principle of self-explanation, i.e. that Quranic verses explain one another. (55:1-2; 75:18-19)
  5. The principle of good intention, i.e. that the Quran cannot be comprehended by anyone who approaches it with bad intention. (41:44; 56:77-79; 17-45-46)
  6. The principle of topical context, i.e. that the meaning of any verse or verses must be understood in the context of the topic under discussion. (17:58; 53:3-4; 59:7)
  7. The principle of historical context, i.e. that verses relating to a particular historical condition must be interpreted in the light of that condition. (4:25, 92; 4:3)
  8. The principle of easy practicability, i.e. that the teachings of the Quran are meant to facilitate and not to render things difficult for mankind. (22:78; 20:2; 5:6, 101-102; 4:28)
  9. The principle of distinction between principle and methodology and putting principle above methodology. (22:67; 2:67-71)

Proof of the Truth of This Scientific Methodology

These are nine principles of scientific interpretation given either directly or indirectly in the Quran. When we use these principles to evaluate existing translations, we shall discover several weaknesses. Let us examine a few cases.

(a) Regarding Sources of Law

The famous verse stipulating the two sources of law reads as follows:

O you who believe, you shall obey God and you shall obey the messenger and those in charge among you. If you dispute in any matter, you shall refer it to God and the messenger, if you believe in God and the Last Day.

At first glance, it would seem that the verse stipulates three sources of law: God, the messenger, and any secular authority. But, upon closer reading, and in reference with other verses regarding obedience – where obedience to the messenger means obedience to God – and regarding the function of the messenger solely to deliver the message, it becomes absolutely clear that the verse refers to two sources of law. The primary source is, of course, God, Who is the Absolute Sovereign. His Law is the fundamental law for mankind. Obeying God and the messenger means obeying God, because the messenger, being God's instrument, cannot be separated from Him in this case. Therefore, obeying God and the messenger means upholding His Book, the Quran, as the fundamental law.

The secondary source of law is the recognized or duly constituted human authority in any social unit, from the family right up to the nation. This source, however, is not independent; it derives its authority from the Lawgiver God and acts only in consonance with His Law. Thus, the secondary source can only draw up supplementary laws to implement the fundamental law. It can in no way promulgate laws contradicting the fundamental law. If it does, then such laws become null and void.

Now almost all translations of the Quran interpret obedience to God to mean upholding the Quran, and obedience to the messenger to mean upholding the so-called hadith/sunna of Prophet Muhammad. Although such an interpretation flies in the face of incontrovertible Quranic evidence, it is claimed that it is based on an `authentic' hadith.

(b) Regarding Man's Ability To Know

The verse informing us of the two types of Quranic verses that we discussed above have been translated in two ways. More translators think that no one knows the interpretation of the mutashabihat except God, while others think that a class of people, the experts, can have such knowledge by God's leave.

Basing oneself on the Quranic premise that the whole Quran was meant by God as a guidance for mankind, it is not logical to say that any of its verses are beyond human comprehension. Moreover, verses 30-34 of Sura 2 tell us that God has endowed man with the ability to know all of His creations, above the knowledge even of His angels. It is, therefore, conclusively proved that the second minority group of translators are correct in this case.

(c) Regarding the Death of Jesus Christ

This is one of the good examples of the classical jurisprudential doctrine that the hadith interprets the Quran. The Quran is quite clear about the death of Jesus Christ, although it denies that he was killed on the Cross, as his enemies alleged. It states the fact on five occasions, either directly or indirectly. Let us see the verse where the misinterpretation is made.

Thus, God said, "O Jesus, I am terminating your life on earth, raising you to me and ridding you of the disbelievers. I shall raise those who follow you above those who disbelieve from now until the Day of Resurrection. To Me is your ultimate return. Then I shall judge among you regarding everything you disputed."

Note the two key phrases used in this: `to terminate your life' (mutawaffika) and `to raise you' (rafi`uka). There is no ambiguity whatsoever. First, God took Jesus' life; then He raised his soul as He does to all human souls when the body dies.

The above translation is Rashad Khalifa's. Let us look at the popular Marmaduke Pickthall's:

(And remember) when Allah said: "O Jesus! Lo! I am gathering thee and causing thee to ascend to me, and am cleansing thee of those who disbelieve ..."

The phrase `I am gathering thee' is ambiguous and is a mistranslation. Why? The answer lies in the hadith that speaks not of Jesus's death but of his ascension and his Second Coming in the Latter Days and the desire of many translators to bend the words of God to conform to the hadith! Thus, the doctrine that the hadith interprets the Quran is here falsified.

So far, we have talked only of the translation of the relevant verse as against its text. When we apply the principle of internal consistency of Quranic text, it becomes over-whelmingly clear that this verse cannot mean other than what it says, that is that Jesus died, though not on the Cross, as claimed by his persecutors who wanted to kill him.

(d) Regarding the Idolization of Muhammad

Muslims throughout the world will deny vehemently that they have idolized Muhammad, just as the Christians had Jesus and other religious communities had their leaders. But it is highly enlightening to look closely at the Quranic verse that has been used to promote this idolization. It goes as follows:

God and His angels honor the prophet. O you who believe, you shall honor him and regard him as he should be regarded.

On the basis of this verse, Muslims would call for the blessings of God on him every time his name is mentioned. Strangely, the mention of God's name does not evoke the same response from them! However, a careful reading the Quran would immediately tell us not to do so. Firstly, a few verses before the above-quoted verse (verse 43), we are told that God and His angels honor the believers to lead them out of darkness into light (the same Arabic root word salla is used). This means that God puts the believers and the prophet on the same level, deserving of God's and His angels' honor. How is that this verse has not been brought out together with the other verse so that the Muslims would have a proper understanding of Prophet Muhammad's status?

Secondly, Muslims should know that God prohibits them from discriminating His prophets and messengers. They are all on the same level and we are not to elevate any of them above the others.

(e) Regarding Touching the Quran Without Ablution

The belief the Quran cannot be touched prior to taking ablution is based on a misunderstanding of the following verse:

This is an honorable Quran. In a perfectly preserved book. None can grasp it except the righteous.

A literal translation of the verse in question would give us: "None can touch it except the clean." When these verses are compared to others regarding the understanding of the Quran, it becomes clear that the word `touch' means `grasp' or `understand' and the word `clean' means `pure,' `righteous' or `believer', so that the verse can be paraphrased thus: "None can achieve an understanding of the contents of the Quran, except those who believe in it and strive sincerely to understand it."

Such a translation is much more logical, for if it were a matter of touching, the disbelievers have been touching and reading it too, for centuries! What they did not do is understand its message.

(f) Regarding Loss of Ablution Through Touching Women

The Shafi`i school of thought holds that touching women of the marriageable categories results in loss of ablution. This erroneous belief is based on a misinterpretation of the Arabic word lamastum whose literal meaning is `you touch' in verse 43 of Sura 4. In fact, it is an idiom meaning `you have sexual intercourse'. This is proved by a reference to Sura 3, verse 47 which speaks of Mary, the mother of Jesus, `not being touched' by man, using the same root word massa. Here, again, we arrive at a correct understanding by using the principles of logic, internal consistency and easy practicability mentioned above.

Methodology of Classical Jurisprudence

Studying the Quran without a scientific methodology definitely gives rise to many problems. Orthodox translation uses the methodology of classical jurisprudence which is based on the teachings of Imam Shafi`i (d. 820 Hijra). According to him, the four sources of Islamic law are : Quran, Hadith/Sunna, Ijma' or consensus of scholars and Qiyas or analogy. This methodology places the hadith as interpreter of the Quran, in contradiction to the Quranic principle of self-explanation (Principle 4). On the top of that, according the ijma' principle of classical jurisprudence, it is ijma' that determines the authenticity of hadith as well as the correctness or wrongness of Quranic interpretation.

It is due to this unscientific methodology of classical jurisprudence that the interpretation of many Quranic verses has been rendered subjective, arbitrary and contradictory. We have seen how the famous verse 4:59 on legal authority has been misinterpreted by this methodology to mean that Prophet Muhammad brought two books, namely Quran and hadith. We have also shown other misinterpretations. We can add to these examples.

The principle of topical context (Principle No. 6) is such an elementary principle in any understanding of any text that one wonders how any educated person can make an error on this point. Yet the error has been made regarding at least two crucial verses on the issue of the role of the Prophet. Let us look at the verses:

The spoils of war that God bestowed upon His messenger from the banished inhabitants of the town shall go to God and the messenger in the form of charity to the relatives, the needy and the alien. In this way, it will not be monopolized by the rich among you. Whatever the messenger gives you, you shall accept, and whatever he forbids you, you shall forgo.

By the falling star! Your friend is neither astray, nor a liar. He does not speak on his own. This is a divine inspiration. A teaching from a Mighty One. The Possessor of omnipotence. So he attained to perfection.

As can be seen, the first passage speaks of the division of the spoils of war. God ordered the Muslims to accept whatever the Prophet gave them and to desist from taking whatever He forbade them. However, the Ahlul-Hadith have interpreted it to refer to hadith! What a far cry!

The Ahlul-Hadith interpret the statement "He does not speak on his own" in the second passage to mean that all the Prophet's words and actions are equally inspired, divine revelation not being confined to the Quran alone. This inter-pretation is obviously a mistake, because the passage clearly speaks of the process of Quranic revelation to the Prophet. Moreover, Muhammad, being a human being like the rest of his followers, were subject to the same human weaknesses. It was only when he was receiving and reciting the revelation that "He does not speak on his own."

The Abrogation Theory

The principle of Quranic unity (Principle No. 2), stating that no Quranic verse contradicts another, is a very important principle in our scientific methodology. This principle is found in the following verse:

Why do they not study the Quran carefully? If it were from other than God, they would have found many contradictions in it.

Since the Quran is a perfect divine revelation, it is logical that we do not find any contradictions in its teachings. Although we know from history that a period of twenty-three years lay between the first and the last revelations, the entire teachings of the Quran remain integral and harmonious. If the Quran were a human composition, we shall no doubt find many a contradiction in its parts, since human beings change.

However, human thinking is subject to the laws of evolution; it is to be expected that many students of the Quran, including famous translators, see `contradictions' in its teachings. Due to their failure to solve these `contradictions' in a logical way, some of them came to erect this so-called theory of abrogation, meaning that some verses of the Quran have been abrogated by some other verses. They base this theory on the following verse:

Any message which We annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or similar one. Do you not know that God has the power to will anything?

The Arabic word ayat is used here to mean `message' or `revelation'. This is clear from the context. Some translators have mistranslated it as `verse', thus giving rise to this abrogation theory. The topic under discussion, however, is about the unbelievers from among the Jews and the Christians as well as the idol worshippers who did not like the idea of a new message being given to the Arabs. This meaning of the verse is supported by verse 16:101 which reads:

When We substitute one revelation in place of another, and God is fully aware of what He reveals, they say, "You made it up!" Indeed, most of them do not know.

When we take into consideration the verses which reject totally the abrogation of any of its parts, this theory collapses.

Take an example of a verse alleged to have been abrogated, according to this theory. Verse 6 of Sura 109 on the freedom of religious practice, revealed in Mecca, is said to have been abrogated by verse 5 of Sura 9, revealed later in Medina, ordering Muslims to kill unbelievers. However, this view is falsified on our principle of historical context (Principle No. 7). The historical context of the verse in question was a war situation between the Muslims and the idolatrous tribes of Arabia. Hence the order to kill those enemies who broke their treaties with the Muslims. Thus, there is no contradiction between this order and the fundamental policy of the freedom of religion proclaimed by Islam.

Historical Context

The principle of historical context is another important principle of Quranic interpretation, which, if neglected, would render the Quran to be an obsolete teaching. This can be shown in matters relating to slaves, status of women, law of inheritance and penal law.

A careful study of the Quran would reveal that its contents consist of two types of statements: the universal and the particular. The universal statements refer to absolute truths, while the particular statements refer to relative truths that are limited to certain concrete situations. Take the example of the concept of God itself: one the one hand, the Quran mentions `Lord of the Universe', and `the God of mankind' (the universal concept); on the other, it mentions `my Lord', `your Lord', or `the God of Moses, or `the God of your fathers Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac' (the particular concept).

The same applies to other matters. Mankind is one and equal as creatures of God, but from a historical point of view, there existed slave communities oppressed by free powerful communities; there existed communities where the women were oppressed by the men with laws that were not equitable to women, and there existed harsh penal laws. All these inequalities can be explained by a recourse to historical circumstances and a historical process which developed from a primitive human society to conditions of civilization, eliminating slavery, giving equal status to women and practicing humane penal laws.

The Quran acknowledges the existence of slaves in the Arabia of the time the Prophet arose, but advocates their freedom. The Quran acknowledges the low status of women at the time when the Prophet arose, but it establishes the equality of men and women and advocates steps towards achieving that. The Quran acknowledges the harsh laws that were in existence in the Arabian Peninsula at the time of Prophet Muhammad, just as they existed in other countries, but opens the way for lighter and more humane punishments.

In the matter of inheritance laws, the two portions given to men is a rule stipulated in the light of historical conditions. These historical conditions refer the times and places when and where men assume the role of bread-winners, thus deserving of two portions: one for the family and one for himself. But when this condition changes and women become equal and assume an equal role for the family, the rule also changes, as provided for by this general rule:

The men get a share of what parents and relatives leave. The women too shall get a share of what parents and relatives leave. Whether it is small or large, a definite share.

A Practical Way of Life

God has made the religion of Islam easy for mankind to practice (Principle No. 8), because God, being Merciful to His creatures, does not want to overburden men. This is another principle that we must remember when interpreting the Quran. We can give many examples. Here we cite three.

First: the prohibition against liquor or intoxicants. This prohibition is given in three stages. During the first stage, God says that liquor contains more harm than good, but stops short from prohibiting it. During the second stage, God prohibits us from praying while in a state of drunkenness, yet not prohibiting liquor totally. The final stage comes when God prohibits liquor totally.

It would be wrong for us to say that verses 5:90-91 which bring the total ban against liquor have abrogated verses 2:219 and 4:43. Such an interpretation shows that we fail to take into consideration this principle of easy practicability. This principle teaches us this wise strategy when we convert idolaters who normally are heavy drinkers to Islam. This does not mean, of course, that those who can give up liquor at once, cannot do so. But, generally, most people do not possess such strong will power to accomplish that. Most people need time; hence this flexibility is given by God to them.

The second example is the method of regular prayer. In extraordinary circumstance, we are allowed to perform prayers in any manner suiting the circumstances we are in: as we walk or as we travel in any type of vehicle, or while sitting or lying down, if we are prevented from standing. Only under normal circumstances are we required to perform these prayers in the usual way.

The last example is the allowance for the suspension of ordinary laws under circumstances of extreme danger. Ordinarily, pork is prohibited, but in circumstances when pork is the only food available to keep oneself from starving, its eating becomes permissible. Even outwardly committing disbelief under compulsion is allowed.

Principle Is More Important Than Form

What is meant by the difference between principle and form (Principle No. 9) has been explained above in the case of penal laws. The form of punishment may vary according to time and place, but the principle of punishment occurs universally. That applies to other matters as well.

There is a story in the Quran about the Jews being asked by God to make a sacrifice. They were reluctant to do it and asked Moses all types of questions about the size, age and color of the cow to be sacrificed in order to evade it. This story teaches us that form is less important than the principle. Are we prepared to make sacrifices in the way of God? If we are, only that matters; how we do it should depend on our capability and our situation.

The same applies to prayer. The purpose of prayer is to worship God, to praise and to supplicate Him for man's own self-development. Although the salat prayer has its definite form, in the end this form is not important, as this verse tells us:

For every community We have established its own devotional practices. Therefore, do not let yourself be dragged into argument about these, but continue to invite to your Lord. Most assuredly, you are on the right path.

What we have explained above regarding the principles of historical context and the supremacy of principle over form also conforms to the principle of truth and logic (Principle No. 3), a very important principle in this scientific methodology. This is because the Quran is the Word of God and contains the Truth, as the verse we quoted at the beginning of this chapter shows. It is a book of guidance for mankind designed to take them out from the realm of darkness into the realm of light, from falsehood into truth, from injustice into justice and from slavery into freedom.

Can such a grand book not encourage to free the slaves, not give equal status to women, not advocate just and humane laws, not advocate fundamental human rights, not advocate science and technology and scientific, rational and logical thinking for man's advancement? Impossible! Only those who are narrow-minded, who cannot comprehend that God is the Most Beneficent and the Most Merciful who would think otherwise. Our scientific methodology must subsume these principles.

Although existing translations of the Quran, especially those in the Malay language, suffer from certain weaknesses, it is far better that our people read and study the Quran in these translations rather adhering to the old customs of `reading' the book in Arabic without understanding. By reading the translation, they will have direct access to the source of their religion. This is a thousand times better than just depending on middle men to teach their religion for them.


This article do not indicate our endorsement of any author. We are merely highlighting articles that are part of the discourse on Islam and women, including some that are useful for background information and others that provide analyses and opinions considering various social, political and cultural frameworks. We are continuously adding to this list and appreciate comments and suggestions.

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