By Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

The most tangible of miracles left by the Prophet Muhammad (‘s) is the Qur’an. Al-Qur’an is the Divine revelation, which descended upon the Prophet’s blessed soul in a span of twenty-two years and few months.

Muslims consider the Qur’an as the most important document for their faith. They have given extreme importance to preserve, recite, memorize, and study the Qur’an.

Gradually, different subjects emerged with the purpose of facilitating the process of studying the Qur’an:‘Ilm al-Tajwid was devised to learn the proper recitation of the Qur’an; Hifz was invented as an art of committing the Qur’an to memory; and ’’Ilm al-Tafsir emerged as the science of exegesis of the Qur’an. Among these relevant subjects, Ulum al-Qur’an flowered as a science dealing with the Qur’an itself:the revelation and its reality; how, when and where it was revealed; how it transformed from an oral tradition to the written form; the issue of abrogation, its meaning and reality; its textual integrity and its protection from alteration; how was it complied, by whom and when. These are questions that are discussed in Ulum al-Qur’an; and as such, it is the foundation of sciences dealing with the Qur’an.

This brief treatise deals with an important question in Ulumul Qur’an:the rules governing the interpretation of the Qur’an. It comes from the pen of Ayatullah Shaykh Ja’far Subhani, a leading Shi’i scholar of Qum, who is well-known for his expertise in Qur’anic studies and for writing a thematic exegesis of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an is indeed a guide for mankind, but its true interpretation depends on conditions that must be adhered to. The Qur’an itself says that some of its verses are of an allegorical nature while others are decisive; those who intend to create confusion and mischief among the Muslims use the allegorical verses:

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ. فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَآءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَآءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ. وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللٌّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِنْ عِنْدِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلاَّ أُوْلُوا الأَلْبَابِ

“He (Allah) it is Who has sent down to you the Book. In it, are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is a perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge. They say: ‘We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord.’ And none will grasp the Message except the people of understanding.” (3:7).

Again, it warns and says that if people do not approach the Qur’an with an open heart, then they may be misguided by some of its contents:

إِنَّ اللٌّهَ لاَ يَسْتَحْيِي أَنْ يَضْرِبَ مَثَلاً مَا بَعُوضَةً فَمَا فَوْقَهَا. فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا فَيَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ وَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَيَقُولُونَ مَاذَا أَرَادَ اللٌّهُ بِهٌذَا مَثَلاً. يُضِلُّ بِهِ كَــثِيرًا وَيَهْدِي بِهِ كَـثِيرًا وَمَا يُضِلُّ بِهِ إِلاَّ الْفَاسِقِينَ

“Allah does not disdain from the use of the similitude of things, lowest as well as highest. Those who believe know that it is the truth from their Lord; but those who reject faith say: ‘What does Allah mean by this similitude?’ By it He causes many to stray, and many He leads into the right path; but He causes not to stray, except those who forsake (the path).” (2:26).

Ayatullah Subhani has enumerated fourteen conditions for the correct interpretation of the Qur’anic verses. The understanding and interpretation is permissible provided it is approached with the conditions mentioned in this treatise otherwise one will be guilty of imposing one’s personal opinions on the Qur’an.


An example of absurd interpretation is Rashad Khalifa’s self-styled “Authorized English Version” of the Qur’an that totally ignores the context in which the Qur’an was revealed as well as the teachings and interpretation given by the Prophet (‘s) who was the recipient, teacher, and the living embodiment of the Qur’an.

While commenting on verse 3 of Surah Al-Maidah (5) of the Qur’an (dealing with prohibition of certain animal products such as “the meat of pigs”) which reads:

حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْــتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنْـزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللٌّهِ بِهِ وَالْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَالْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَالْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَالنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَا أَكَلَ السَّبُعُ إِلاَّ مَا ذَكَّيْـتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِـحَ عَلَى النُّصُبِ وَأَنْ تَسْتَقْسِمُوا بِالأَزْلاَمِ ذٌلِكُمْ فِسْقٌ…

“Forbidden to you (for food) are:dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine and that on which has been invoked the name of other than Allah; that which has been killed by strangling, a violent blow, a headlong fall or by being gored to death; that which has been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless you are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows:that is impiety…”(5:3).

Khalifa writes that Allah (awj) has only prohibited “the meat – lahm” of the pigs and not “the fat,” and so usage of lard should be permissible. Khalifa has insisted on the literal meaning of “lahm” to exclude the fat of the pig from this prohibition, and has totally disregarded the teaching of the recipient of the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad (‘s), as accepted by Muslims for the last fourteen centuries!

Rashad Khalifa seemed to ignore the fact that the Qur’an is not a butcher’s manual where all items are spelled out precisely, for example, “lean ground beef” without the fat as opposed to “regular ground beef” with the fat!

The Qur’an has used the term “meat/lahm” in chapter 5, verse 3 in a general sense and not as a butcher’s jargon, and it applies to any edible part of a pig.

If he had read verse 259 of Surah Al-Baqarah (2), Khalifa would have seen that the term “lahm” has been used in the Qur’an also in a meaning that includes the meat and the fat together. Describing His power of resurrection, Almighty Allah (awj) demonstrates the resurrection of a donkey that had died for a century:

...وَانْــظُرْ إِلــى الْعِظَامِ كَيْفَ نُنْشِزُهَا ثُمَّ نَكْسُوهَا لَحْمًا...

“…Look at the bones and see how We construct them, and cover them with flesh (lahm)” (2:259).

Surely Almighty Allah (awj) did not cover the donkey’s bones with “lean” flesh without the fat, skin, etc! The word “lahm” here applies to everything that was placed on the bones.


I commend Shaykh Saleem Bhimji for translating this Introduction to the Tafsir of the Qur’an, and strongly recommend it to all those who pursue the study of the Qur’an with the intention of following its message and living by it.

9th July 2005
Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi