Q. Many people say that quoting a Qur'anic ayah to adduce a certain point is often not acceptable, for the simple reason that there may be several interpretations to one verse. Is this view correct?
A. The Qur'an speaks of itself as a book wherein there is no doubt. It also speaks of its language as being in clear Arabic. It further states that were it from any other than Allah, there would have been much contradiction in its text. All these statements show only one thing: that as a general rule, there can be no claim for a plurality of interpretations. Certainly in rare cases, because of the naturalness of differences in human perception, there may be a variance. However, this is the exception and not the rule. Now the Biblical scholars have what they call the "double hermeneutic" -- which is to say that the original meaning of a word is to be understood, and then interpreted in today's light. Among the Muslims, Fazlur Rahman had what he termed as the "double movement" method. Like the scholars of the Biblical method, he sought the meaning and message of the Qur'an in its time of revelation, and then applied those words in a modern context.
This, when taken in consideration with what is known as the thematic reading of the Qur'an -- that is to read the Qur'an as a whole and perceive its themes -- is the best method, which does not allow for the vast differences in interpretation. To this I add that the Qur'an's language -- the very clear Arabic -- is often distorted by recourse to ahadith, which often refract the original meanings to a distortion so crude that it is blasphemous. This totally denies Allah's promise and desire of wanting that which is easy for us, rather than that which is difficult. A typical example is in the verses pertaining to the khimar of the woman. Analysis of Q33:59 and 24:31 would show that the khimars were already being worn by the women, and as such is a dress of the time, and does not come as incipient legislation. The focus is on that which is revealed by the "juyoob" -- the neckline -- and we know that the only thing that rivets the glance in this case is the attraction of the breasts. So the Qur'anic imperative is to cover the breasts.
The hair is not even spoken of, and in fact is an importation of Judeo-Christian piety combined with the passage of the Hammurabic code of laws, which had dictated that a free woman should cover her head, and a slave woman should not. In today's society, that can only be interpreted, even in its most stringent lexicality, that the women should not wear garments with necklines that expose the breasts. Combined with the natural growth of our intellect, it should also let us realize that there is no need for differentiation between slave and free women, and that since the head covering was that mark, there is no need for it. Almost every single verse of legislation can be examined in this light, in order to attain the ease that Allah has promised us. The aim for every Muslim should be to contemplate the language of the Qur'an, using the ahadith, after clear examination, only to elucidate rather than give new meanings to the Qur'an. In this case, there will be no abundance of the divisive plurality of interpretations that we see.
Posted April 5, 1999