After Monotheism, the Two Most Seminal Verses of the Quran

Allah it is Who has sent down to you (Muhammad) the Book; in it there are verses that are fundamental or decisive in meaning — these are the corner stone of the Book — and there are others that are susceptible of different interpretations. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue those that are susceptible of different interpretations, seeking discord and wrong interpretation of such ambiguous verses. And none knows their right interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge; they say, ‘We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’ — And none heed except those gifted with understanding. (3:7/8) هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ ۖ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ ۗ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا ۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
Why don’t they ponder over the Quran, had it been from anyone other than All Knowing God, they would have found ample contradiction in it. (4:82/83)أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ ۚ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا

By Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

I believe that the most important verse of surah Qamar is: “Indeed We have made the Qur’an easy to understand and to remember. But is there anyone who would receive admonition?” (54:17/18)

It is repeated a total of four times in this surah. But, many of us  don’t find it easy and struggle with the understanding of the holy Quran. So what is the catch?

Most of us continue to struggle with the understanding of the holy Quran as we have not clearly thought through how to understand or read the Divine Scripture.

Different commentators highlight different criteria for commentary of the Quran. But, ultimately as the particular scholar or commentator is the judge of how to apply those criteria for his or her commentary, it is reasonable to say that all commentaries ultimately are based on the judgment or opinion of the commentator.

It is self evident that all commentators or commentaries are not created equal. Ultimately it boils down to the vision or judgment of the person commenting on the holy scripture.

It has been said that the most important teaching of the holy Quran is Monotheism and it is also claimed that a third of the Quran is about the One God of the Abrahamic faiths. These claims are self evident to most of the Muslims and will not be discussed any further here.

The Quranic verse 3:7/8 is seminal and fundamental in my opinion as it lays out a very important principle that any writing should be examined and understood in light of its fundamental claims and subjects and not peripheral ones. The verse claims that those who have an axe to grind stress verses that allow them to put forward their agenda even though in so doing they distort the Quranic message.

The corollary that follows is that which ever verses or message we choose as pivotal or central, begin to define the whole of our understanding of the Quran. So, the quality of any commentary of the Quran can be judged from what verses of the Quran he or she picks as the core or the most fundamental crux and then explains rest of the text in the light of the core.

For me, I have taken Monotheism, human accountability and the message of compassion and justice as the core of the Quran and tried to see every thing else through that prism.

Before the next seminal verse, let me suggest to the open minded readers, to read on and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”

The reason I have found the verse 4:82/83 as core and fundamental is because it invites us to resolve all possible contradictions in our understanding of the Quran. It has freed me from the bondage of the previous commentators, regardless of their repute or imagined station in the Muslim history, as human presentations do present periodic contradictions.

If the Quran is to be understood by every student and we are accountable to All Knowing God, in the Hereafter, how we understood His message and implemented in our lives, then each one of us also has the freedom to freely understand the Divine message. Based on the message of this verse, we can infer that every prior commentary or commentator would have human limitations and his message in some respects may be contradictory, while the Quran is not so, as it is from an All Knowing source. So, whenever we find the past commentaries to be lacking or contradictory, within themselves or when compared to others, I find those as fertile opportunities to come with better and more satisfying and internally consistent understanding of the Divine message.

So, in that sense this verse has become a litmus test for my understanding of the different verses and their commentaries. In other words as students it is our job to understand the Quran in holistic terms that are free of contradictions. As we pursue that goal to resolve contradictions, our understanding will embellish and continue to become more comprehensive and consistent.

As the human societies continue to evolve and human information and knowledge keeps growing at an unprecedented pace, the Quranic understanding should also continue to evolve and it certainly has in the past fourteen centuries.

I believe that if we keep these two verses in the forefront of our mind then the claim in Surah Qamar, “Indeed We have made the Qur’an easy to understand and to remember. But is there anyone who would receive admonition,” will become true. Inshallah!

Additional reading: Scope, Style and Preservation of the Quran

My understanding of the Quran is not borrowed from one teacher or commentator, no matter how much popularity he may have enjoyed in his time in any group. The Quran is a book of All Knowing God and of infinite wisdom and to be fair and just with the book, I learn from teachers of all walks of life and all different sects of Islam and even non-Muslim scholars.

Having said that the first question in the following video that is in Urdu talks about commentary of a verse of the holy Quran that talks about the age of the prophet Noah and then goes into discussion of the verse 3:7 talked above. This adds useful metaphors to discussion at hand how to read and understand the Quran:

Now learn parts of the Quran from an award winning Catholic teacher:

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