Causes of Obscurity of the Correct View
What I have mentioned regarding the views of the scholars in the preceding chapters makes it clear that my view is not novel. However, some aspects of this approach have not been open to the earlier scholars. They did not stick to it fully, letting it off their hands on one occasion, and mixing it with other theses at another. I will now proceed to explain the causes of their failure to understand and adhere to it fully, so that their excuses can be identified.
First, at many places, the muqsam bihī by nature is a glorious thing. The Qur’ān, the Mount Ṭūr, the city of Makkah, the sun, moon, stars, time, night and day, all have some aspects of glory. In such cases, the earlier scholars did not need to explain that the oaths are argumentative in nature. They considered taking an oath by the glorified and dignified things as common practice. Whenever they found a muqsam bihī containing various significations, they attached to it the meaning corresponding to glory. This kept them from further study and thus they failed to find the correct view and remained content with the most ordinary and common interpretation. Water continues to flow to the downside until it is hampered.
Second, our scholars generally adopt universally applicable approaches. They are seldom attracted to an approach that cannot be applied to even a certain part of the phenomenon. The argumentative nature of the oaths of the Qur’ān, despite being so pronounced in some cases, is less clear in others. When they did not find this aspect of the oaths clear in all cases, they concluded that it would be wrong to interpret the oaths as argumentative in nature. It would be better if they had confessed their inability and referred the issue to Almighty God, but they seldom show humility and rarely confess their shortcomings. This is exactly what happened with their attitude towards the question of coherence in the Qur’ān. The coherence in the Qur’ān is obvious and palpable in most cases. Only a few places offer difficulties. Had they again here confessed their lack of knowledge as some of them have done, it would be more befitting to them. But we see that they did not mean to hold the view that the coherence is absent from the Qur’ān, but rather they meant that it was not applicable to the whole of the Qur’ān as a general principle. This led many people to believe that coherence is absent from the Book altogether and that all is disjointed and confused discourse.
The correct approach is to prefer and stick to views corroborated by evidence and established by proofs. This is what the Qur’ān directs us to do:
Those who listen to a command and then follow the best of it. These are they whom God has guided and who are men of understanding. (Q 39:18)
We ought to ascribe any difficulty we face in understanding the oaths of the Qur’ān to a lack of knowledge on our part. We should hope that God will create ease for us after we have experienced difficulties. He will strengthen us after we have broken apart. Disciplines always keep growing. God leads to the truth whomever He wills. Mere dimness of the argumentative aspect of some of the oaths should not lead us to adopt a wrong and absurd interpretation. The verses containing plain arguments themselves are not always so clear as to not require any analysis at all. The Qur’ān has certified this and has called us to pondering it and to exert our efforts to understand it. It is only men of understanding and the pious that may get guidance from it, as has been repeatedly asserted in the Qur’ān and the Divine Scriptures. Yet, no believer denies certitude and unassailability of the Qur’ānic arguments. Desire to know the truth is the first step towards the path of pondering over the Qur’ān. One must continue applying his mind to appreciate the Qur’ānic arguments until difficulties are solved, heart is satisfied and sure knowledge is obtained.
I, by the grace of God, have obtained satisfaction on this view after I have pondered all of the Qur’ānic oaths. I have come to understand that these oaths are argumentative in nature. It is only the Qur’ān which has guided me to this view through various indications, as have been discussed above.
Third, when the scholars, especially the earliest ones, noticed that oaths are mostly sworn by Almighty God or His sha‘ā’ir, they were led to assume that it was the essence and crux of the oaths. Having formed this view, when they embarked upon interpreting other kinds of oaths, they interpreted them in accordance with their view and considered them as allegorical use of oaths. They adopted the view that wherever the actual meaning was not possible to defend in an oath, one should rely on allegorical interpretation. We believe that both of these claims are wrong. If a particular aspect of oaths was used more often than other aspects, it did not necessarily mean that the dominant use formed the crux of the practice. Nor should the allegorical interpretation be adopted only when we cannot find the literal meaning probable in a context. The correct view is that one has to accept such interpretations that are more in accord with, and that more beautifully fit in the context. Moreover, the chosen usage must be corroborated by and established in the classical Arabic literature.
When these people put the branch at the stead of the root, the true aspect of the oaths, their argumentative nature, was lost upon them. They were only forced to admit the argumentative nature of some oaths because this aspect was very much obvious and clear in those places. The Qur’ān has, by such clear examples, called them to the correct view very openly and attracted them strongly to it. They still persisted on their earlier assumptions. Thus, the true nature of the Qur’ānic oaths was not screened by the Qur’ān, but by the assumptions of the interpreters. May God forgive them!
Fourth, most referents of the muqsam bihī in the Qur’ānic oaths have multiple aspects. However, only a single particular aspect is prominent. Take, for example, the story of destruction of Pharaoh and his people. Most famously they were destroyed by water. People did not see the role of winds in this process whereas the truth of the matter is that whole phenomenon involved one of the uses of the wind by order of its Lord. Similar is the case with the Noachian flood, as we have explained in our commentary on Sūrah al-Dhāriyāt (Q. 51). Wherever the relationship between the muqsam bihī and the muqsam ‘alayhi was dependent on any of such aspects, the argumentative nature of the oaths was lost upon those who could not discover the correct sort of relationship between the muqsam bihī and muqsam ‘alayhi. Since the detail of such punishment stories was not helpful in understanding the principle beliefs and major directives, our scholars did not find it very demanding to fully discuss them.
Fifth, (this cause is apparently similar to the previous one) our scholars have always cherished rational and historical disciplines and have attached less importance to more excellent branches of knowledge in tafsīr, including the language of the Qur’ān and of the earlier Scriptures, the history of the Semitic nations, their disciplines and their culture. Since this problem does not have a direct bearing specifically upon the Qur’ānic oaths, we do not go into detailed discussion in this regard. Indeed I do not find it necessary to cover all the causes of failure to understand the true nature of such oaths. Therefore, I conclude this discussion at this point. I believe this short exposure to the issue is sufficient.
(Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)