100 Years Ago… – 11 principles for understanding the Holy Quran


Al Fazl, 25 November 1920

A non-Ahmadi Muslim wrote a letter to Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra and sought guidance about the principles and methods for the interpretation and understanding of the Holy Quran.

In reply, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra said:

I am very delighted to learn that you wish to know the principles for understanding the Holy Quran. If it was possible to lay down such principles that after them, there remains no room for any doubt and all differences disappear, then the Companions [of the Holy Prophetsa] would not have disagreed on the meanings of various verses of the Holy Quran and the imams of Islam would not have differed from each other as well.

However, if you want to know such principles by the help of which a sincere and well-intentioned person becomes acquainted with the fundamental doctrines of the Holy Quran and also stands at a place with respect to the peripheral religious tenets that after reaching it, there remains no such doubt in his mind which will create a defect in his faith or prevent him from attaining nearness to God Almighty, then such principles are certainly present and proven from the Holy Quran.

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The first and second principles that we learn from the Holy Quran are that the Holy Quran was revealed in Arabic. Therefore, while explaining the meanings of the Holy Quran, it should be kept in mind that the lexicon and idiom should be in accordance with Arabic. If the meanings are against the lexicon or the Arabic idiom, then such meanings cannot be correct.

Hence, the two primary principles that come to our knowledge are that firstly, the meanings of the Holy Quran should not be against the lexicon and secondly, they should not be against the idioms of the Arabs.

The third principle that we learn from the Holy Quran as to how we should carry out its interpretation is that we know for sure that Allah the Almighty does not do anything in vain. [As God says]:

وَ مَا خَلَقۡنَا السَّمَآءَ وَ الۡاَرۡضَ وَ مَا بَیۡنَہُمَا لٰعِبِیۡنَ

[And We created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between the two in play. (Surah al-Anbiya, Ch.21: V.17)]

وَ مَا خَلَقۡنَا السَّمَآءَ وَالۡاَرۡضَ وَ مَا بَیۡنَہُمَا بَاطِلًا

[And We have not created the heaven and the earth and all that is between them in vain. (Surah Saad, Ch.38: V.28)]

Hence, neither a single word, nor any kind of arrangement of the words of the Holy Quran, is devoid of meaning. A person who considers any word of the Holy Quran to be extra or declares any of its syntax to be incorrect, then they are certainly far from the truth and cannot understand the true meaning of the Holy Quran.

Fourthly, we learn from the Holy Quran that there is no contradiction in the Holy Quran.

The ill-informed people say out of ignorance that at the very least, there should not be ikhtilaf-e-kasir [much disagreements] in the Holy Quran of God Almighty. However, this is a misconception and it is unacceptable for the divine words of Allah the Almighty to have even the slightest contradiction. These people make this mistake because of the word ikhtilaf-e-kasir. [They should bear in mind that] Allah the Almighty also states:

وَ مَا رَبُّکَ بِظَلَّامٍ لِّلۡعَبِیۡدِ

[And thy Lord is not at all unjust to His servants (Surah Ha Mim al-Sajdah, Ch.41: V.47)].

Hence, God Almighty is not at all unjust to His creation.

The fifth principle that we learn from the Holy Quran is that Allah the Almighty is an omnipotent being and not a machine, as philosophers have believed. All His attributes must be kept in mind while trying to grasp the knowledge of His actions.

When explaining the meaning of the Holy Quran, if all His attributes are not taken into account as a whole and their mutual agreement is not considered, then the meaning of the Holy Quran would be misunderstood.

The sixth principle explained by the Holy Quran is that some of its parts are muhkamat [decisive and clear] and some are mutashabihat [ambiguous and open to more than one interpretation]. The mutashabihat should be brought under the muhkamat. People have fallen into confusion while defining the terms muhkam and mutashabih.

In my view, muhkam refers to those verses, the meanings of which are confirmed by other verses. Moreover, altering [the meaning] of these [verses] leads to inconsistencies in the fundamental principles of Islam. Hence, there can be only one meaning of these [verses].

The word “one” does not mean that there can be no other meanings, but it signifies that all the meanings of these [verse] should be similar in nature. On the other hand, mutashabih refers to those verses that can give two meanings. Moreover, both of their meanings contradict each other and thus cannot not be accepted at the same time. In such a case, it is instructed that the verses that are open to more than one interpretation and thus cannot be accepted simultaneously, should be explained by combining them with such verses that possess the same subject and have only one meaning.

The seventh principle we learn from the Holy Quran is that it was revealed under a specially organised order. Hence, it is important while explaining its meaning to look at the context and subject that precede and follow the verses.

The eighth principle is that the meaning which is presented by the Holy Quran itself will have preference over all other. At some places, the Holy Quran has itself explained the meaning.

The ninth principle elucidated by the Holy Quran is that one of the works of the Holy Prophetsa was:

وَ یُعَلِّمُہُمُ الۡکِتٰبَ

“[He will] teach them the Book.”

Hence, the explanations given by the Holy Prophetsa will take precedence over other meanings.

The tenth principle that we come to know from the Holy Quran is that following the early Companions of the Holy Prophetsa is considered incumbent upon other Muslims. Hence, their sayings will be given more importance than the words of other people.

The eleventh principle is that Allah the Almighty has stated in the Holy Quran that every particle of the universe is His creation and that the Holy Quran is His divine word. There should not be any contradiction between His word and any of His actions.

Hence, the meanings that are against the actions of Allah the Almighty will not be considered correct; rather, only those meanings that are in accordance with God’s action will be correct.

This subject is very broad but I think that the above mentioned points are quite enough for a wise person.”

Originally transcribed by Muhammad Ismail (Maulvi Fazil), Acting Postal Officer, Qadian

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