Critical Analysis: Unclear Qur'an
The Quran claims to be clear:
[2.118] And those who have no knowledge say: Why does not Allah speak to us or a sign come to us? Even thus said those before them, the like of what they say; their hearts are all alike. Indeed We have made the communications clear for a people who are sure.
[2.187] ...Thus does Allah make clear His communications for men that they may guard (against evil).
[2.219] ...Thus does Allah make clear to you the communications, that you may ponder.
[2.221] ... and makes clear His communications to men, that they may be mindful.
[2.242] Allah thus makes clear to you His communications that you may understand.
[2.266] ...thus Allah makes the communications clear to you, that you may reflect.
[3.103] ... thus does Allah make clear to you His communications that you may follow the right way.[3.138] This is a clear statement for men, and a guidance and an admonition to those who guard (against evil).
When it comes to theological issues, there are so many scholars (Secular, Christian, Sunni, Shiite, etc.). It is up to one's own mind to determine, which if any of the scholars to believe. Muslims believe that Allah completely and clearly understands the Quran. Do you believe that some Muslims completely and clearly understand the Quran in the same way that Allah does? If so, which Muslims?
Complexities of understanding the Quran
Grammar vs. Reason--Is it more accurate to read the Quran and Hadith by being as faithful to grammar as humanly possible or is it more accurate to study disciplines such as science, logic, history and ethics and then impose such views on to the Quran and Hadith even if grammatically such interpretations are weaker?
Imposing values onto the text--Literally following the Quran, without one's own values is very difficult. (We all impose our own values onto the text). For example, 24:31 does not provide loopholes to non-family members. Hence, if a Muslimah cannot escape a fire with her hair being covered, should she escape and risk being seen uncovered? Imposing my values, I feel she should escape to save her life. But, if one chooses to just follow the text, then she should not escape. And if there are scholars that quote traditions that she should escape, then perhaps they are imposing their values onto the text. Further, arguably traditions that contradict the Quran should be ignored.
Authority-- Some people rely on authority figures to interpret the Quran and Hadith. This begs the question of how to determine who is an authority. It also raises the question of whether it is more difficult to misinterpret the Quran or to misinterpret an authority. In addition, should we accept authorities that rely on reason, grammar or tradition?
Extrapolation—The Quran does not address every potential case, so one must extrapolate (guess) how a verse would apply in all kinds of situations.
Speculating which verses are abrogated—
Ibn Warraq p73 of What the Koran really says quotes Robinson's Discovering the Quran
The Quran is obviously somewhat unclear. Many Muslims believe that Quranic translations are often inaccurate. There are different sects in Islam which gives credence to the view that one cannot prove that their interpretation is correct. I fail to see the extreme importance of believing. For example, suppose I don’t believe that Moses or Abraham existed. Such a belief would go against the Quran, but does such a belief, even if false merit hell? And if the Quran is unclear and I misinterpret the Quran, what is the point of believing in something that would be wrong? And why would God so adamantly expect us to believe in something without any doubt, if we can never prove it to be true?
Futility of Understanding a Text
- The world is not one-dimensional, it is multi-dimensional. So when the Quran discusses witnesses, does it apply to someone that only witnessed part of an event, had an unclear understanding of an event, or witnessed an event but forgot much of what happened? Or when the Quran discusses unbelievers, suppose a person believes in some but not all of Islam?
- Arabic has varied over the centuries and varies by region, so how can we know the precise language of the Quran?
- There are theories that the Quran contains some words in foreign languages like Syriac and to a lesser extent Hebrew which makes it harder to interpret as one must guess the correct language.
- Which Ahadith, if any, are supposed to be followed? And how are those laws extrapolated?
- Allah or Satan can cause people to err. Hence, I cannot know whether my understanding of a text is correct. If I rely on others then perhaps they were mislead by Allah or Satan.
- Since the Quran alludes to Biblical and extra-biblical material, to what extent should we rely on such texts to increase our understanding of the Quran?
- It is unclear how the number of times a phrase or verse is repeated should influence its meaning.
- There are many different interpretations of the Quran. How can one be expected to know which one, if any, is correct?
Does the Quran apply to all times and all places?
[33.53] O you who believe! do not enter the houses of the Prophet unless permission is given to you for a meal…[9.5] So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
12:2 implies that the Quran was written for men that speak Quranic Arabic. Similarly, 33:53 was written for those living in the time of the Prophet. I would hope 9:5 just applied to the 7th century. It requires mindreading to know which verses are meant for which times and places.
Based on 4:34, husbands under certain conditions are allowed to beat their wives. As the verse is somewhat vague, and as humans have imperfect understandings, a diversity of interpretations of this verse (as well as other verses) exists. A Muslim may give 4:34 the benefit of the doubt and give it a compassionate interpretation. However, some men are violent, mentally ill, or evil. 4:34 can be interpreted by them that women need to obey them or they get to beat them.
Similarly, evil dictators can interpret 5:33 to justify torturing innocent people. Jihadists can violently interpret the laws of war. Hence, Muslims that try hard to interpret Islam compassionately, end up supporting a book/movement that potentially is interpreted by evil dictators, Jihadists or violent husbands.
- [24.31] And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful.
- [4.34] Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great
- [5.33] The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement,