6-The Quran is not literal

And the Messenger said, “O my Lord, indeed my people have rendered this Quran a thing abandoned.

Quran 25:30

Is the Quran meant to be read literally?

Most Muslims follow a literal and historical translation of the Quran. When a verse was revealed, before or after the hijra, and why it was revealed, circumstances surrounding the prophet’s life. This, when and why, do not come from the Quran, they come from stories in tradition, the hadith books.

A literal interpretation diverts from the deeper meaning, and reduces the Quran to one dimensional words on a page out of history. This contradicts the 1600 plus times that It addresses the rational mind to comprehend Its message.

A literal and historical approach suspends the Quran in time and renders it stagnant. Hence the verse of 25:30.

The context of this verse is a future time (“the day of judgement”), when the “wrongdoers” will be questioned and the prophet will testify that his people have abandoned “this Quran.” Thus, abandoning Its message and guidance.

The root word used in 25:30 is هجر, meaning to cut off from, neglect, abandon and cease in speaking or associating with someone. There are a few implications from this definition (Lane’s Lexicon page 2879).

The first implication: People turn to hadith books for explanations, thus abandoning, cutting off, association with the words of Quran. The prophet’s hadith and his seerah (events of his life) have been indoctrinated and engraved into the hearts and minds of Muslims. By reading through the lens of hadith, the Quran’s words, Its message, is neglected; such as 6:114 Then is it other than Allah I seek as judge, while He is the one who revealed to you, The Book explained in detail?

  • In other words, do not go to another source, because The Book is explained in detail. If it’s not in Quran, then it’s not part of His message. The prophet would have only followed the Quran, he would not have added details, as suggested by the hadith books.
  • 7:2-3 This is a Book that has been sent down to you, so let there not be any burden in your chest from it, that you may warn with it; and a reminder to the believers. Follow what was sent down to you from your Lord, and do not follow besides Him any supporters. Little do you remember!  Verses 7:203-204 reiterate the same message (explained below)

The second implication: By reading Quran through interpretations from hadith, you are not actually reading Quran; you are reading hadith. And by assigning a historical timeline to the Quran, the timeless and universal message is cut off, abandoned, neglected. Resulting in a Book about a particular people, in a particular time. This explains the internal struggle of the Muslim world to modernize and acclimate to changes in society, an undeniably natural evolution.

Muslims are looking for answers from a Book, which has been frozen in time by hadith, and a literal translation. In other words, Muslims today are driving forward, while looking through the rearview mirror, putting everyone on the road in danger. They cannot navigate the road, they will crash. Muslims have cut off, abandoned, the timeless and universal message of the Quran, by literally binding it to the history of a particular people from 1400 years ago.

The dangers of a literal and historical reading:

Combining a historical setting, as in the various wars explained in hadith, with the literal word does not perpetuate guidance, it propagates a dangerous ideology. Here are only a few examples from traditional translations:

Do not to make friendship with Jews and Christians (5:51), fight them until they are subdued and pay the jizya (9:29)

Kill the disbelievers/ polytheists wherever you find them (2:191, 9:5)

Non-believers will go to hell and will drink boiling water (14:17)

Kill, crucify, or cut the hands and feet of the unbelievers, that they be expelled from the land with disgrace and that they shall have a great punishment in the hereafter (5:34, 47:4)

Allah says he will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers and has ordered to “smite above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them” (8:12).

Allah says to fight for His cause and if you kill or are killed, you will return to Paradise (9:111), where you can eat, drink, and recline in pavilions and be coupled with beautiful, pure mates that no man or jinn have ever touched (56:67-71)

Women are seen inferior to men, and can be subjected to physical punishment if they are disobedient to their husbands, men have an advantage over women (4:34, 38:44, 66:19, 2:228)

When these same verses are taken out of historical and literal context, and read through an understanding of the root word and allegory, it drastically changes the meaning. I will expand on these verses in future posts, since each word must be examined through it’s root definition. Click here to see how the words nisa and rijal are explained through their root definitions; thus, changing the context of the verses entirely.

The Impact of Allegories, symbols, and metaphors:

Allegories, symbols, and metaphors are figures of speech that use a material object or characters in a story, to represent an abstract, philosophical idea.

Plato brilliantly illustrates the sun and cave (material objects) as symbols of truth and ignorance (abstract ideas) in Book IV of The Republic, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. This is one of the most important stories about the path of enlightenment, and echos the verses in Quran; from darkness to light 2:257, 5:15, 6:122. /the-allegory-of-the-cave

In The Allegory of the Chariot, from The Phaedrus, Plato explains the three parts of the soul (reason, appetite, spirit) using a chariot rider and horses as symbols. The chariot rider (reason/logic) must control the horses (the appetite and spirit) for a balanced ride (a balanced soul). /The allegory of the chariot/

Another example is Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. A timeless story which reflects the wisdom of perseverance. Here animals are used to visualize the virtues of hard work and humility versus boastfulness and arrogance.

And because these stories were written allegorically, their message is as valid today as it was almost 3000 years ago. Allegories engage the mind and bring perception and depth to a story.

Allegory in Quran:

The Quran uses allegories and metaphors, to give abstract ideas, such as truth and justice, a concrete form. Words in Quran, like earth, sky, face, city, paradise, house, etc. are not meant to be taken literally.

The key in Quran, lies with the rationale behind the root word. This is the abstract idea, the conceptual definition, behind the literal word. It gives the literal word a multidimensional, deeper meaning. It endorses a logical process by engaging the cognitive faculties of the mind and critical thinking.

For example: The literal words hear and listen, evolved from the essence of its root word, سمع ; to hearken and listen intentionally to understand the meaning of a person’s speech. In other words; it is the abstract, philosophical definition, which gives the literal word, hear, cognitive depth.

7:203-204 And when you do not bring them a sign (ayat), they say “why have you not obtained it?”, say “I only follow what is revealed to me from my Lord.” This (Quran) is enlightenment form your Lord and guidance and mercy for a people who believe. And when Quran is recited, then listen to it, and pay attention, so that you may receive mercy.

Here Quran is saying to listen with your mind, engage your intellect and reason, to comprehend the meaning, not a literal listen with your ears.

To conclude:

An allegory is always directional, leading to a moral, a truth, a virtue. It is a valuable literary tool that uses metaphors and symbols to convey a concept, a realization, a perception.

Recognizing allegories and understanding the intrinsic nature of the root word, ensures the Quran’s timeless and universal message. Thereby, transcending the temporal, historical, and cultural boundaries imposed by a literal reading. Resulting in a reading which exalts the literal words on the page to a higher meaning; ascending the mind into the world of ideas, knowledge, and wisdom.

4 thoughts on “6-The Quran is not literal

  1. Your posts are very interesting, keep on going.

    Also, according to your interpretation of the Quran, who do you think will attain heaven?

    For example do you think ALL good people who do good acts more than bad will be in heaven?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. The heaven we know today is a man made place. The heaven in Quran is an ideological concept, one which we strive to achieve. As per the verse, justice is found in the Samaa. This means we must always strive to achieve Justice. I do not know what will happen to us after death but word is not an actual physical place in Quran.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For the people in this life who achieve justice and the people in this life who do a great deal of injustice, what will happen to them after they die (afterlife/last day)?
        Thank you

        Liked by 1 person

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