In one of his articles, Mr Jochen Katz has pointed out a contradiction in the following two verses
of the Qur’ān
And We know
that they are saying that a person has taught this [Qur’ān] to him. The language
of him, to whom they falsely ascribe it, is non-Arabic, while this is a clear
Arabic dialect. (16:103)
It is He,
Who has revealed this book on you [O Prophet], in which there are concise
verses, which form the foundation of the book and there are others, which are
analogous [in nature]. As for those, whose hearts are perverse, they are after
the analogous among these verses, seeking discord and seeking their reality. But
[the fact is that] no one knows about their reality, except God. And the firm in
knowledge say: ‘We believe in it. All these [verses] are from our Lord’. And no
one shall be reminded [of the truth] except men of understanding. (3:7)
Mr Katz writes:
states that the Qur’ān is ‘clear Arabic speech’. If it were really clear, why is
this explanation even necessary? But it doesn’t seem to be so clear after all
when we read:
At this point, Mr Katz has given A. Yusuf Ali’s
translation of 3: 7, which reads as:
He it is Who
has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of
established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are analogous.
But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is
analogous, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one
knows its hidden meanings except Allah.
who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: ‘We believe in the Book; the whole of
it is from our Lord’, and none will grasp the Message except men of
Mr. Katz further writes:
In the same
verse, it says that ONLY Allah knows the meaning of these difficult allegorical
verses in the Qur’ān ... and then it goes on to tell that ‘men of understanding’
can grasp it. Is that a contradiction or do we want to resolve it with the
concept of ‘incarnation’ [God becoming man] which is so much looked down upon by
Muslims? But Christianity believes God became man only once. The Qur’ān talks
about men in the plural...
Arberry translates ‘... desiring its interpretation; and none knows its
interpretation, save only Allah’. It does not talk about having a plain clear
meaning and also a hidden meaning, but that there are verses which none know at
all what they mean, even though they desire its explanation or interpretation.
In the above paragraphs, Mr. Katz has pointed out two
contradictions. The first contradiction is with reference to 16:103 (which
states that the Qur’ān is in clear Arabic) and 3:7 (which states that the
meaning of the analogous verses is known only to God). While the second
contradiction is within 3:7 (which first states that the meaning of the
analogous verses is known only to God and then states that men of understanding
do grasp it).
As far as the first criticism is concerned, it is based on
an incorrect premise that clarity in language necessarily results in ease of
comprehension. This, as the readers will agree, is not always the case. A
message may be written in a clear and a pure dialect, yet it may not be easily
However, one may ask that if it is only God, who knows the
reality of the analogous verses, then why are such verses given in the Qur’ān.
What, after all, is the utility of including such verses in the Qur’ān, the true
meaning and implication of which are known only to God?
comprehend the stated issue, it is important to understand that, besides other
things, the Qur’ān has informed man about a yet non-existent world – the
Hereafter. However, because the Qur’ān wants to urge man to work for the rewards
of the Hereafter and to warn him against the severe punishment thereof, it has,
therefore, given a broad concept of the rewards and punishments of the
Hereafter. Nevertheless, due to an inherent weakness in human language and
comprehension, the Qur’ān has referred to the rewards and punishments in a way
which would give an overall picture of these concepts.
In one of my earlier articles, I had explained the referred inherent weakness of human language and
comprehension in the following words:
understand and develop physical concepts about things primarily in two ways.
Firstly, if something comes within the scope of man’s sense of touch or his
sense of sight; and secondly, by comparison to things that come within the scope
of man’s senses.
example of the words ‘light bulb’. As soon as I speak the words ‘light bulb’, I
get a picture of a round or a pear-shaped glass container for the filament of an
electric light. The reason for such spontaneous physical imaging of the words
‘light bulb’ is that whatever we call a ‘light bulb’ in the English language is
something that is within the scope of our sense of touch and our sense of sight.
In other words, because we have already developed a physical image of a ‘light
bulb’ through our sight or our touch, we can easily recall the already developed
image as soon as the words ‘light bulb’ are uttered in front of us. The same is
the case with most of the words of our languages that connote physical entities.
The words man, woman, child, horse, donkey, cat etc. all belong to the same
related to this category of words depicting physical concepts is another
category, which connotes imaginary physical entities. For instance, the word
‘unicorn’ connotes an animal, which although does not exist in reality, yet its
image can be developed by explaining it. However, to develop effective images of
such imaginary physical entities, it is extremely important that they be
explained with reference to those physical entities that we are already exposed
to. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Encyclopedic Dictionary describes the word
‘unicorn’ as: ‘A mythical animal resembling a horse, with a single straight horn
projecting from its forehead.’
explanation, if correctly understood, would help in developing a physical image
of a non-existent entity. However, it is important to note that to be
comprehendible the explanation had to resort to words, which already had their
respective physical images in our minds. Note the words ‘animal’, ‘horse’,
‘single’, ‘straight’, ‘horn’ and ‘forehead’. All these words have their
respective physical or abstract images in our minds. It is only on the basis of
these already existing images, that we can now form a new physical image of a
non-existent physical entity.
above explanation, it should also be clear that human languages, normally, are a
collection of words connoting such physical or abstract entities, which the
particular group of human beings has either been exposed to or has a clear
concept of. Thus, it is obvious, that centuries ago, none of the human languages
could have contained the word ‘airplane’ or ‘computer’. These words were coined
only after the entities that they connote became clear in the minds of the
speakers of that language – even if such entities were only conceptual and not
physical in the beginning. Now suppose, someone living about fifteen hundred
years ago, somehow, had a visualization of an airplane and wanted to explain to
the people living around him that hundreds of years down the road, people would
use high speed airplanes for traveling long distances. How would he do that?
Simple!! He would say: ‘People would start using airplanes for traveling’. Well,
not so simple after all. We forgot that the word ‘airplane’ would be
non-existent. What then would he say? Keeping in mind the limitations of human
languages mentioned above, it is obvious that whatever the person says, would
likely be within the frame of reference of his own times. He may say: soon there
will be a time when people start using ‘flying horses’ or ‘huge birds’ or ‘big
mechanical birds’ etc. for travelling from one place to another. This
explanation, however unclear it may seem, is probably the closest that a person
living fifteen hundred years ago is likely to able to give and his listeners
able to comprehend (even if such comprehension is not likely to be very
In the above
example of communicating the ‘visualization’, we see, once again, that a
relatively unknown concept (whether physical or abstract) can only be
communicated in human languages by using references from what those human beings
are aware of.
summarize the preceding discussion, a person can comprehend a physical or an
abstract concept if:
physical or abstract concept enters the scope of man’s senses; or
physical or abstract concept is explained to man with reference to what has
already entered the scope of his senses. However, this is only possible if the
concept is explainable by referring to any existing concepts or if the
listener is aware of the concepts to which reference is being made. Thus, a
‘unicorn’ is only explainable if the listener is aware of what the words
‘animal’, ‘horse’, ‘single’, ‘straight’, ‘horn’ and ‘forehead’ imply.
Thus, the Qur’ān has referred to fire and boiling water and
the tree of Zaqqūm to communicate the severity of the punishment in the
Hereafter and has referred to fruits and rivers of honey and perfected partners
to give an idea of the rewards of the Hereafter. All these references are
actually to communicate the concept of the reward and punishment that man shall
be subjected to in the Hereafter and because the human languages do not have
words to communicate the reality of these concepts, the Qur’ān has, therefore,
introduced them by drawing analogy with things, which man is aware of.
The concepts communicated through analogous verses, even
though they are in pure and clear Arabic, are understandably slightly vague,
only conveying the general idea of the concepts thus communicated. The reality
and the details of these concepts are known only to God till the time that man
comes face to face with these concepts, on the Day of Judgment.
As far as the second criticism is concerned, it is a
classical example of the fact that because most of the modern day critics of the
Qur’ān are absolutely ignorant of the Arabic language, they have to completely
rely on the various translations of the Qur’ān. It is due to this reason that
most of the times their criticism is actually on the translation, rather than
the Qur’ān itself.
This should also remind my readers of the vulnerability of
the books of which the original text is no longer available. If the original
text of a book is no longer existent and only translations thereof are
available, then all we have left is one or more interpretations of the book,
which – in all fairness – cannot be considered as the book itself.
Nevertheless, I congratulate Mr Katz on having very
successfully criticized Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation of 3:7. However, as far
as the verses of the Qur’ān are concerned, because we still have their original
text, we can easily check to see whether the stated criticism applies to them or
Mr Katz writes:
states that the Qur’ān is ‘clear Arabic speech’. If it were really clear, why is
this explanation even necessary?
Mr Katz should take another look at 16:103 and see that in
this verse, the Qur’ān has, in fact, not ‘explained’ that it is in ‘Clear
Arabic’; on the contrary, it has actually referred to this fact to refute an
unfounded claim of its rejecters, who used to say that the Qur’ān is not
revealed by God, but is actually dictated to Mohammed (sws) by a foreigner. To
refute this point, the verse has pointed toward the quality of the Qur’ānic
language, stating that how can these rejecters make such an unfounded
allegation. Do these people not see that this Book is in a dialect, which is so
pure and clear that it is impossible even for the proud Arabs to produce
anything like it, and yet these fools want people to believe that it has been
dictated by a foreigner.
Mr Katz further writes:
In the same
verse (3:7), it says that ONLY Allah knows the meaning of these difficult
analogous verses in the Qur’ān... and then it goes on to tell that ‘men of
understanding’ can grasp it.
Those who know the Arabic language, can easily see that the
stated objection does not even remotely apply to the text of the Qur’ān. The
verse does not say that men of understanding can grasp ‘it’. On the contrary,
the verse ends with the words: ‘only men of understanding shall take
admonition/be reminded’. It is clear that Mr Katz has based his objection on the
translation of Yusuf Ali, who has translated the related part of the verse as:
‘and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding’. Mr Katz has
mistakenly taken the phrase ‘the Message’ to refer to the unknown reality of the
analogous verses, while, it seems that Yusuf Ali had intended these words to
imply the overall message of the Qur’ān. Whatever the case, the point remains
that the text of the Qur’ān cannot, in any way, be interpreted to imply that
‘men of understanding do understand the reality of the stated analogous verses’.
Courtesy: Understanding Islam (http://www.understanding-islam.com/articles/responses/itqcoi.htm)