With complete clarity, the Qur’an introduces itself as the explainer of all things, when it states:
وَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ تِبْيَانًا لِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ
“And We have sent down The Book (Qur’an) upon you (Muhammad) as a clarifier of all things.” (16:89).
If the Qur’an is an explainer of all things, then naturally it stands to reason that it would be an explainer of itself as well. Therefore, if there is some ambiguity in one verse of the Qur’an - and its ambiguity was for a purpose – we can resolve its ambiguity by referring to other verses which were revealed in regards to that same issue.
At this point, we present an example of this concept. In Surah Al-Shu’ara, Allah (awj) states the following in regards to the nation of (prophet) Lut (‘a):
وَ أَمْطَرْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ مَّطَراً فَسَآءَ مَطَرُ الْمُـنْذَرِينَ
“And We rained down upon them a rain, and evil was the rain on those warned.” (26:173).
This verse gives us a glimpse of the sending down of something, however it is not clear what sort of precipitation this was – was it a spatter of water or was it a raining down of stones? Therefore to clear this issue up, another verse of the Qur’an, which removes the ambiguity of the verse quoted above, is referred to in which we are told:
...وَ أَمْطَرْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ حِجَارَةً مِّنْ سِجِّيلٍ...
“…and We rained down upon them stones made from baked clay…” (15:74).
The word “حِجَارَةٌ” (stones) is the word, which clears up the ambiguity in the first verse.
In order for us to truly comprehend this third point, we present another example.
In one instance in the Qur’an, we read the following:
هَلْ يَنْظُرُونَ إِلاَّ أَنْ يَّأْتِـيَهُمُ اللٌّهُ فِي ظُلَلٍ مِّنَ الْغَمَامِ وَالْمَلاَئِكَةُ وَقُضِيَ الأَمْرُ وَإِلـى اللٌّهِ تُرْجَعُ الأُمُورُ
“Will they wait until Allah comes to them in canopies of clouds, with Angels (in His train) and the question is (thus) settled? But to Allah do all affairs go back (for decision).” (2:210).
The apparent reading of this verse shows us that it is not free of ambiguity, since the coming and going of an object are characteristics for a physical entity and we know that the sacred essence of Allah (awj) is free from being a physical body. Thus, we must seek to remove the vagueness, which is contained in this verse through some other means.
One such way is to carefully review other similar verses of the Qur’an which repeat the same or close to the same wordings as this verse.
Such a similar verse is in Surah Al-Nahl, which contains approximately the same wording. This other verse clearly shows us that the meaning of the ‘coming of the Lord’ as actually referring to the coming of ‘the commandments’ of Allah (awj) for the punishment and retribution and (also) the orders and prohibitions from Him:
هَلْ يَنْــظُرُونَ إِلاَّ أَنْ تَأْتِيَهُمُ الْمَلاَئِكَةُ أَوْ يَأْتِيَ أَمْرُ رَبِّكَ كَذٌلِكَ فَعَلَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ وَمَا ظَلَمَهُمُ اللٌّهُ وَلٌكِنْ كَانُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ
“Do they wait until the Angels come to them, or there comes the Command of your Lord (for their doom)? So did those who went before them (also wait). But Allah wronged them not, no, they wronged their own souls!” (16:33).
With complete explicitness, this verse removes any ambiguity present in the first verse, and by adding the word “أمر” (the Command of Allah (awj)) the true subject of the verb ‘come’, is made clear.
This form of explanation (tafsir of one Qur’anic verse by another verse) is a certain and unfailing method, and is the tradition of the Imams of the Shifa and is something which even until now is employed by the erudite commentator of the Qur’an.
The commentary of the Qur’an by the great teacher, Aqa Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i entitled, al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, has been written following this particular method of commentary.
Of course this issue is something different than the issue of ‘looking at the harmony which exists between the verses of the Qur’an’, which we shall cover in detail later on in this discussion.
At this stage, the goal is merely to present the synoptic view of a verse through employing another verse. However at the next level, our goal is something different and thus at that stage, in order to reach to our own deduction of understanding a verse, we must not keep other verses of the Qur’an out of our attention [and only look at one verse without paying attention to other verses on the same topic].
It is incorrect to assume that if a verse’s apparent meaning is devoid of any ambiguity, one can interpret it without taking into regard those verses of the same issue and then attribute that meaning to Allah (awj)!
With that said, the difference between these two forms of commentary of the Qur’an should be clear to the reader.