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What is the Quran

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Have you ever wondered what is the Quran and why is it so important? With all the violence and negative propagation that is going on against Islam, is it not important for everyone – Muslims and non-Muslims alike- to know what the teachings of the Quran really are? For a deeper understanding we will also need to discuss the history of this Holy Book in order to have a better grasp at its origin and divinity.

In this article we will have a discourse on these matters plus facts and interpretations regarding the Holy Quran:


In order to answer the above questions, we first need to understand what the Quran truly is. The initial fact that needs to be established is that the Holy Quran is revelation without any alterations and surplusage. Revelation, which is referred to as “wah’i” (وحی) in the Quran, is something that is revealed unto a prophet by an angel directly from God.

Revelation is not a concept coined by Islam and has goes back to the first man who was created and chosen as prophet, Prophet Adam (peace be upon him). Subsequent prophets who came after Adam received revelation from God as well, the most prominent of which are Judaism and Christianity.

Allah (swt) revealed the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel as the final and most complete Holy Scripture imparted on to His last messenger. The Quran is comprised of 114 chapters known as “surah” and each surah is made of a number of verses, from 3 up to 286, referred to as “ayah”.


At the time of its revelation, the Arabs, from amongst which Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him was chosen to guide people, denied the Quran’s divinity and accused the Messenger of composing the Book himself. This matter leads to the best introduction and description of the Quran being the Holy Book’s own words and its verses being the best answer to the question of what is the Quran. The first statement that we may find in the Holy Book regarding the question of what is the Quran is in Surah Al-Baqarah, verse two where Allah reveals:

ذلک الکتاب لا ریب فیه هدی للمتقین

This is the Book in which there is no doubt, guidance for the God-wary.

As we can see, the first definition that Allah presents us with in regard to His Holy Book is that it is guidance and by doing so He also defines its purpose.


Another matter that Allah (swt) points out is the Quran’s miraculous, unchallengeable and unmatched nature. A brief look in history will tell us that though illiterate, the Arabs of that time were known for their eloquence and great use of literature, therefore Allah challenges the doubtful ones from among them to come up with verses similar to that of the Quran to prove true their claim regarding the Quran being composed by Prophet Muhammad. Allah says:

قُلْ لَئِنِ اجْتَمَعَتِ الْإِنْسُ وَ الْجِنُّ عَلى‏ أَنْ یَأْتُوا بِمِثْلِ هذَا الْقُرْآنِ لا یَأْتُونَ بِمِثْلِهِ وَ لَوْ کانَ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ ظَهِیراً

Say, ‘Should all humans and jinn rally to bring the like of this Quran, they will not bring its like, even if they assisted one another.’ 1

A matter we need to understand about the word miracle, or better yet, its equivalent in Arabic which is ‘i’jaaz’ (اعجاز) is that it means something absolutely unparalleled in its existence that the likes of which no one can ever create. In other words, the Quran was not only unparalleled during the time of its advent but also remains to be so in today’s time considering all the advances that have occurred in technology and even further in the future when the world will witness more developments. The other matter is that Quran is not only miraculous in its eloquence and literature but also in its science and knowledge.

Though Allah calls His book ‘Hikmah’ (حکمة) meaning wisdom in a few instances, the Quran is a book of guidance rather than a scientific book. If there are any scientific arguments and facts within its verses, it is because they are meant to be used as a means for contemplation and awakening for those who recite them.

What is the Quran’s View regarding Astronomy?

There are mentions of the rotation of planets and celestial objects in specific orbits in the Quran that raised many questions and awareness some 1400 years ago in the Arabic peninsula and led people into conducting research and encouraged their acquirement for knowledge at a time that so many churches would band and prosecute scientists who were eager to prove such facts and teach them to the masses.

وَهُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ اللَّيْلَ وَالنَّهَارَ وَالشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَۖ كُلٌّ فِي فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ

It is He who created the night and the day, the sun and the moon, each swimming in an orbit. 2

Now one may ask that how can that be a miracle and what is the Quran’s distinction when it was revealed during a time when not only the Arabs but all nations lacked the proper equipment to gather such information, unlike today when so many accurate instruments are at hand? One might also argue that had the Quran been revealed today, such knowledge would no longer be considered as astonishing. The answer is that the point is not the knowledge – as we mentioned before, the Quran is not a book of science- rather the Quran’s capability to do such a thing. Had it been revealed today it would still bear information unknown to modern science and would require more advancement in methods for its knowledge to be discovered.

Numerous other verses in the Quran can be possible suggestions to astronomical facts that took thousands of years to be discovered such as:

  • The primary state of the universe in the form of a mass:

أَوَلَمْ يَرَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَنَّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ كَانَتَا رَتْقًا فَفَتَقْنَاهُمَا

Have the faithless not regarded that the heavens and the earth were interwoven and We unraveled them. 3

  • The constant expansion of the cosmos:

وَالسَّمَاءَ بَنَيْنَاهَا بِأَيْدٍ وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ

We have built the Heaven with might and indeed it is We who expand them. 4

These verses do not only prove that the Quran could not have possibly been composed by an unlearned man such as Prophet Muhammad, due to the fact that he had access to the same methods and tools that the people of his time did, but it also shows that in addition to being the book of a religion based on knowledge, there can be countless other facts in the Quran that we have yet to discover. All of this verifies the miracle of Quran being its timelessness above all else.

Cure and Mercy

In addition to being guidance and advice, another prospect that we are provided with in regard to what the Quran is, is how it heals the hearts of the believers and is a mercy for them:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءتْكُم مَّوْعِظَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَشِفَاء لِّمَا فِي الصُّدُورِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

O mankind! There has certainly come to you an advice from your Lord, and a cure for what is in the chests, and a guidance and mercy for the faithful. 5

What this verse means by cure and mercy is that through the teachings of the Quran, the believers are able to rid themselves of spiritual and even physical ailments. If we look at immorality, corruption and low desires as defects of the soul, then it is clear that a book sent for guidance, filled with advice and instructions on how to practice virtuous traits will be able to heal those illnesses from the hearts of those who wish to be healed. On the other hand, since the purpose of Islam is to guide all of mankind towards its ultimate objective, the guidebook to this religion would naturally be the instrument to do so. Therefore the reason why the Quran is known as mercy is its role in uplifting the ones who have cleansed their heart and soul from impurities to higher degrees of humanity.


What is the Quran’s view regarding the other religions and Holy Books?

There is no doubt that the Quran is not the first Holy Scripture to be revealed on to a prophet by God. Many Abrahamic religions came before Islam and a number of them had Holy Books by which the prophets preached and guided their people, the most prominent of them being the Torah, known as Prophet Musa’s Holy Book and the Bible which was revealed to Prophet Isa –peace be upon them all-. One of the most salient attributes of the Quran is that it verifies and testifies to not only the religions and prophets but also the Holy Books that God had sent before it. In the Quran we read:

نَزَّلَ عَلَیكَ الْكِتابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقاً لِما بَینَ یدَیهِ وَ أَنْزَلَ التَّوْراةَ وَ الْإِنْجیل

He has sent down to you the Book with the truth, confirming what was [revealed] before it, and He had sent down the Torah and the Bible. 6

By doing so, not only does it become clear that the Quran is not the first of its kind in terms of being a revelation from God unto a chosen and worthy human, but it also acts as proof for those who doubt its authenticity and validity as a book that confirms those that came before it and is verified and promised by them as well.

Why is the Quran so Important?

Once we have a proper understanding of the objective of the Quran and the reason for its revelation then its importance will become clear as well. As stated above, the Quran has been revealed to God’s last Messenger as guidance for mankind and a means through which mankind can reach the objective of its existence. Allah has communicated His commands and instructions through this Holy Book placing it as a sort of manual to help us navigate through life and find our way towards the truth.

To learn about what is the Quran’s view regarding a person’s life and affairs; let’s study the verses and the categories they are divided into. According to the teachings of Islam and the Quran, a person’s affairs can be categorized into three groups:


Obligatory Duties

The relation one has with God is defined through verses of worship in the Quran such as those which forbid ascribing a partner to God:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَنْ يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَلِكَ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ وَمَنْ يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ افْتَرَى إِثْمًا عَظِيمًا

Indeed Allah does not forgive that partners should be ascribed to Him, but He forgives anything besides that to whomever He wishes. Whoever ascribes partners to Allah has indeed fabricated [a lie] in great sinfulness. 7

Subsequent to such verses, we find those which inculcate a person’s daily and practical duties in regard to worship. Such verses discuss matters like prayer, charity referred to in the Quran as Zakat, Hajj, fasting and so on. In relation to these topics, we see that Allah instructs us regarding prayer times by saying:

أَقِمِ الصَّلاَةَ لِدُلُوكِ الشَّمْسِ إِلَى غَسَقِ اللَّيْلِ وَقُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ

Maintain the prayer [during the period] from the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night, and [observe particularly] the dawn recital. 8

Or in another the verse where the Lord says:

وَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ قَبْلَ طُلُوعِ الشَّمْسِ وَقَبْلَ غُرُوبِهَا وَمِنْ آنَاء اللَّيْلِ فَسَبِّحْ وَأَطْرَافَ النَّهَارِ لَعَلَّكَ تَرْضَى

And praise your Lord before the rising of the sun and before the sunset, and glorify Him in watches of the night and at the day’s ends, that you may be pleased. 9

Other ahkam have been mentioned regarding different acts of worship such as fasting where God has said:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ ايَّامًا مَعْدُودَاتٍ فَمَنْ كَانَ مِنْكُمْ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ

O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be Godwary. That for known days. But should any of you be sick or on a journey, let it be a [similar] number of other days. 10

Or in another verse where the obligation of charity is mentioned:

انما الصدقات للفقراء والمساکین والعاملین علیها والمؤلفة قلوبهم وفی الرقاب والغارمین وفی سبیل الله وابن السبیل فریضة من الله والله علیم حکیم

The charities are only for the poor and the needy, and those employed to collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for [the freedom of] the slaves and the debtors, and in the way of Allah, and for the traveler. [This is] an ordinance from Allah, and Allah is all-knowing, all-wise. 11

Without such commands religion could be deemed as redundant for it would no longer serve the objective of guiding mankind towards the proximity and satisfaction of God.

What is the Quran Reminding Us Of?

In addition to instructional verses regarding worship, the Quran reminds the people of other matters that can bring them closer to God.

وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

We have sent down the reminder to you so that you may clarify for the people that which has been sent down to them, so that they may reflect. 12

In such a case the word ‘remind’ is mentioned because as stated in the Holy Book, human beings have been created upon a God seeking nature and the Quran is here to revive that spirit and bring them back to the origin of their essence. The Quran states:

فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ

The original nature endowed by Allah according to which He originated mankind, there is no altering Allah’s creation; that is the upright religion. 13

Quran as a Sign

In order to create this awakening and to remind people of their true objective the Quran mentions signs that can lead those who reflect and contemplate upon them to the Creator of the universe.

وَ اخْتِلافِ اللَّیْلِ وَ النَّهارِ وَ ما أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ مِنَ السَّماءِ مِنْ رِزْقٍ فَأَحْیا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِها وَ تَصْریفِ الرِّیاحِ آیاتٌ لِقَوْمٍ یَعْقِلُونَ

There are signs for people who exercise their reason in the alternation of night and day, in the provision that Allah sends down from the sky, with which He revives the earth after its death, and in the changing of the winds. 14

Social Transactions

Does the Quran mention man’s social’s transactions? What is the Quran’s view in this regard?

We can find countless verses in the Quran regarding other acts of worship and how a person is meant to interact with God. In addition to such verses, there exist those which instruct humans on how to interact with each other in affairs such as:


ذلک بانهم قالوا انما البیع مثل الربوا واحل الله البیع وحرم الربوا

That is because they say, ‘Trade is just like usury.’ While Allah has allowed trade and forbidden usury. 15


وَ إِذَا طَلَّقْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَبَلَغْنَ أَجَلَهُنَّ فَلَا تَعْضُلُوهُنَّ أَن یَنکِحْنَ أَزْوَاجَهُنَّ إِذَا تَرَاضَوْاْ

When you divorce women and they complete their term, do not hinder them from [re]marrying their husbands, when they honorably reach mutual consent. 16


يُوصِيكُمُ اللّهُ فِي أَوْلاَدِكُمْ لِلذَّكَرِ مِثْلُ حَظِّ الأُنثَيَيْنِ فَإِن كُنَّ نِسَاء فَوْقَ اثْنَتَيْنِ فَلَهُنَّ ثُلُثَا مَا تَرَكَ وَ إِن كَانَتْ وَاحِدَةً فَلَهَا النِّصْفُ وَلأَبَوَيْهِ لِكُلِّ وَاحِدٍ مِّنْهُمَا السُّدُسُ مِمَّا تَرَكَ إِن كَانَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ فَإِن لَّمْ يَكُن لَّهُ وَلَدٌ وَ وَرِثَهُ أَبَوَاهُ فَلأُمِّهِ الثُّلُثُ فَإِن كَانَ لَهُ إِخْوَةٌ فَلأُمِّهِ السُّدُسُ مِن بَعْدِ وَصِيَّةٍ يُوصِي بِهَا أَوْ دَيْنٍ آبَآؤُكُمْ وَ أَبناؤُكُمْ لاَتَدْرُونَ أَيُّهُمْ أَقْرَبُ لَكُمْ نَفْعاً فَرِيضَةً مِّنَ اللّهِ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلِيما حَكِيمً

Allah enjoins you concerning your children: for the male shall be the like of the share of two females, and if there be [two or] more than two females, then for them shall be two-thirds of what he leaves; but if she be alone, then for her shall be a half; and for each of his parents a sixth of what he leaves, if he has children; but if he has no children, and his parents are his [sole] heirs, then it shall be a third for his mother; but if he has brothers, then a sixth for his mother, after [paying off] any bequest he may have made or any debt [he may have incurred]. Your parents and your children—you do not know which of them is likelier to be beneficial for you. This is an ordinance from Allah. Indeed Allah is all-knowing, all-wise. 17


و ما کان لمؤمن ان یقتل مؤمنا الا خطا و من قتل مؤمنا خطا فتحریر رقبة مؤمنة و دیة مسلمة الی اهله الا ان یصدقوا

A believer may not kill another believer, unless it is by mistake. Anyone who kills a believer by mistake should set free a believing slave, and pay blood-money to his family, unless they remit it in charity. 18


اُذِنَ لِلَّذِینَ یُقَاتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى نَصْرِهِمْ لَقَدِیرٌ

Those who are fought against are permitted [to fight] because they have been wronged, and Allah is indeed able to help them. 19


یا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا تَدَايَنتُم بِدَيْنٍ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى فَاكْتُبُوهُ وَلْيَكْتُب بَّيْنَكُمْ كَاتِبٌ بِالْعَدْلِ ۚ

O you who have faith! When you contract a loan for a specified term, write it down. 20

And Most Importantly Ethics

الذین یلمزون المطوعین من المؤمنین فی الصدقات و الذین لا یجدون الا جهدهم فیسخرون منهم سخر الله منهم و لهم عذاب الیم

Those who blame the voluntary donors from among the faithful concerning the charities—and as for those who do not find [anything] except [what] their means [permit], they ridicule them—Allah shall put them to ridicule, and there is a painful punishment for them. 21

What is the Quran’s relationship with Ethics?

The Quran sets guidelines to what people can and cannot do in the social and personal domain in order to create balance and peace in the human life; a balance and peace through which they can find God.

Individual Growth

What is the Quran referring to in regards to the individual’s spirituality?
In the realm of a person’s relationship with their own selves and what the Quran instructs in regard to the human state on an individual level, the verses that are usually considered are those which speak of the Quran and the rise of prophets as means for knowledge and self-refinement.

The Quran suggests that the first step towards becoming a person with any degree of piety and knowledge of God is being educated by the teachings of the prophets and complying with the commands of the Holy Book through self-refinement. The Quran states:

هُوَ الَّذِی بَعَثَ فِی الأمِّیینَ رَسُولا مِنْهُمْ یتْلُو عَلَیهِمْ آیاتِهِ وَیزَکیهِمْ وَیعَلِّمُهُمُ الْکتَابَ وَالْحِکمَةَ وَإِنْ کانُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ لَفِی ضَلالٍ مُبِینٍ

It is He who sent to the unlettered [people] an apostle from among themselves, to recite to them His signs, to purify them, and to teach them the Book and wisdom, and earlier they had indeed been in manifest error. 22

However, there is no doubt that a correlation exists within all three categories and what a person achieves in each realm can have evident impact on the other.

What is the Quran’s History?

On which Night was the Quran First Revealed?

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ

We sent it down on a blessed night… [44:3] 23

The Quran was revealed in two ways:

  • Gradually: over a time period of 23 years to the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him and his household), depending on the different events and circumstances that were occurring at the time or whenever God it was appropriate for those verses to be revealed to the people.
  • All-at-once: On the Night of Destiny (Qadr) to the Prophet:

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ

Surely We revealed it on the Grand Night [97:1] 24

The Night of Destiny is one of the three nights of the 19th, 21st and 23rd of the Holy month of Ramadan (the 9th month of the lunar Islamic calendar). It is a night that is …better than a thousand months [97:3] 25 and one in which, according to the Muslims’ belief, the destiny of the following year is decreed for all human beings.

How was the Quran Revealed

What is the Quran’s narration regarding types of Revelation? The Quran states:

وَ مَا كاَنَ لِبَشَرٍ أَن يُكلَّمَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَّا وَحْيًا أَوْ مِن وَرَاى حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولًا فَيُوحِىَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَاءُ

It is not [possible] for any human that Allah should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a veil, or send a messenger who reveals by His permission whatever He wishes [42:51]. 26

According to this verse, there are 3 types of revelation:

  • Direct revelation where there is no mediation between God and a prophet.
  • God’s words spoken from behind a veil, like the tree that God spoke through to Moses
  • God’s message brought by an angel to a prophet.

The Quran, according to the witness of the verses, was revealed to the Prophet either directly or through the archangel Gabriel. 27

Arrangement of the Chapters of the Quran and their Names

Considering that various verses were re-revealed at different points in the life of the Prophet, is the current order and arrangement of the verses in their chapters also something that he decreed, i.e. Tawqifi (توقیفی)? Or did the believers after him decide upon it? What is the Quran’s arrangement based upon?

There are a couple of contrasting views in this regard:

1. A Group of scholars believe that the Prophet did not decide the current arrangement of the verses of the Quran and that it was a decision made by the rulers and Muslims after him; however, this view and the other that says that some of the arrangement of the Quran was by the Prophet and the rest was by the companions is unfounded.

2.However, Allamah Tabatabai and other important Shi‘a scholars, relying upon authentic historical accounts and narrations, believe that the Quran was written at the time of the prophet upon his orders whenever a verse or chapter was revealed and he would guide the “scribes of revelation” on where and in which order to place each verse.

Another discussion is regarding the names of the chapters. The names of the chapters were also decreed and bestowed during the lifetime of the Prophet through Divine revelation. 28

A point to note, however, is that the arrangement of the chapters themselves in the order they are today was not decreed by the Prophet or Divine command and was chosen by the companions. 29

What is the Quran’s Division Like?

The Quran is divided into Makki (مکی), i.e. associated with Makka and Madani (مدنی), i.e. associated with Madina, chapters and verses.

There are 3 views regarding the criteria for considering a chapter to be Makki or Madani:

1. Makki refers to verses and chapters revealed in Makka after the migration of the Prophet; while Madani refers to verses and chapters revealed in Madina.

2. Makki refers to verses and chapters revealed that address the people of Makka; while Madani refers to those that address the people of Madina

3. Makki refers to the verses and chapter revealed before the migration of the Prophet to Madina even though their actual place of revelation may not have been Makka; while Madani refers to those that were revealed after his migration to Madina, even though they may have been revealed in Makka.

The third criterion and definition seems to be the most popular, feasible and inclusive one and most scholars intend and choose this one in describing Makkan and Medinite chapters and verses. 30

Who wrote the Quran?

From the time that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet, he would dictate it to specific people known as the “Scribes of Revelation.”

• The first person in Makka who recorded the verses of the Quran in writing was Ali bin Abi Taleb (peace be upon him) and he continued this task till the end of his life and the Prophet was adamant about the fact that he write and record the verses of the Quran so that nothing of the Quran and Divine revelation remain hidden from him.
• Ubay bin Ka‘b was another important personality in recording the verses of the Quran and was the first person in Madina who was appointed for this task.
• Zayd bin Thabit was the Prophet’s neighbor in Madina and whenever he needed a scribe and Ubay was not present, he would send for Zayd.

Therefore these three personalities were the first level scribes and other personalities who shouldered this important task, were second or lower level scribes. 31

What is the Quran’s Compilation History?

One point to keep in mind is that while the Quran was written and arranged according to Divine will and at the Prophet’s instruction; however, it was not compiled in a book form, since the Prophet was always waiting for the next verse (s) to be revealed. 32

The compilation of the Quran was a process that was completed in the following stages:

Stage One: During the Reign of the First Caliph

At the time of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, the Quran was compiled in a book form while preserving the arrangement of verses in the chapter that the Prophet had assigned during his lifetime. This event took place in 12 AH, after an event in which 70 of the memorizers of the Quran had been martyred. He formed a group of 25 Ansars to help Zayd bin Thabit in performing this task.

Stage Two: From the Time of the First Caliph till the Reign of the Third Caliph

From the time of the passing away of the Prophet until the early years of Uthman’s Caliphate, a number of other companions also compiled the Quran; these Qurans were popular in different parts of the Muslim world at that time depending on the social and local standing of those personalities.

For example, the Syrians favored Ubay Ibn Ka‘b’s copy, The Kufis preferred that of Abdullah bin Mas‘oud, etc. Whenever they had any difficulties or doubts regarding the recitation of a word or passage, they would refer to that main copy that they favored.

Note: Ali ibn Abi Taleb also compiled the Quran after the death of the Prophet and as advised by him to do so after his passing; however, the Quran he compiled was in accordance with the order of revelation.

Stage Three: Unity of Copies of the Quran

The third compilation of the Quran was more of a unity of the different copies and took place in 25 AH. Even though the citizens of the different cities followed one of the version of Quran written by either Ubayy bin Ka‘b, Abdullah bin Mas‘oud or Abu Musa Ash‘ari, in those same cities different copies of the Quran were transcribed with the passing of time and in to preserve the recitation of the Quran. In its initial stages, it was impossible to read the Quran without having memorized it previously since the writing of the time had no dots, vowels or signs and therefore, though the compilation in Abu Bakr’s time was an important step in preserving and protecting the Quran, the emergence of differences in recitation was inevitable.

Uthman, on the suggestion of Huzayfah bin Yamani, took measures to unite the copies of the Quran and to do so he gathered the companions who had copies of the Quran in order to take their advice and they all agreed upon on the importance of the task. The first thing they did was to send for the copy that was in Hafsa (the wife of the Prophet)’s possession with the promise that they would return it to her when the task was complete.

A group of 4 people was initially formed, and some more joined to make a final group of 12 people. Uthman also ordered that all the copies of the Quran from all parts of the Islamic world be gathered and burnt or put into boiling water. The next step was to transcribe a single version of the Quran and multiple copies of it were written and sent into the Islamic world and a person was also sent with each copy to recite the Quran for the people in different areas and from then on everyone was responsible for reading it in that form. 33

It must be noted that the Quran that was written in these various stages was accepted by Ali ibn Abi Taleb and the later Imams and they had no objection or opposition to it, even though they had not included Ali (peace be upon him) in any of the stages of the writing of the Quran and he had, in fact, written a version different to theirs, i.e. one based on the order of revelation. 34

What is the Quran’s Tafsir?

What does the word Tafsir (تفسیر) mean?

According to Allamah Tabatabai, Tafsir or exegesis is to clarify the concepts and meanings of Quranic verses and lifting the veil from their intent and purpose. 35

What does Ta’wil (تأویل) refer to?

According to Allamah, Ta’wil refers to an external reality on which Quranic statements, including the laws, advices and wisdoms mentioned in it are based on. 36

What is the difference between Tafsir and Ta’wil?

According to Ayatollah Ma‘refat, Tafsir is when a meaning is ambiguous and inexpressive due to obscurity and complexity of words; however, Ta’wil is used when the word or action is apparently doubtful in a way that it results in the complexity of the reality of meaning and the true intent of the speaker.

Allamah Tabatabai believes Ta’wil to be related to the external reality of the Quran, in contrast to Tafsir, which he holds to be of the category of words and concepts. 37 He believes that the content and knowledge in the Quran is rooted in a reality which is associated with another realm and the words of the Quran are a lower form of that reality. 38

He believes that Ta’wil it is like the relationship between a likeness and the object of likeness; however, Tafsir refers to meaning as derived from the words and apparent aspect of the Quran. 39

What is the Quran’s View Regarding Ta’wil?

According to the Quran, the word Ta’wil refers to three meanings:

  1. Justifying an apparently analogous word or action
  2. Interpretation of dreams
  3. The conclusion or result of actions

Another meaning that scholars attribute to Ta’wil is abstracting a general and wide concept from a verse that has been revealed in a particular instance. Ta’wil in this meaning is sometimes referred to as the hidden layer, i.e. a secondary and hidden meaning that is not understood from the apparent aspect of the verse, in contrast to the apparent and manifest, i.e. the primary meaning that the apparent aspects of the verse communicates through its configuration and usage.

In this regard the Prophet (peace be upon him and his household) has narrated that there is verse except that it has a hidden and apparent meaning. 40

Examples of Tafsir and Ta’wil

حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّـهِ بِهِ وَالْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَالْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَالْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ

You are prohibited carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, and what has been offered to other than Allah, and the animal strangled or beaten to death, and that which dies by falling [5:3]. 41

Regarding the esoteric interpretation or Ta’wil of this verse, Abdul Karim Qushayri in Lataif al-Isharat, after the apparent exegesis of the verse, states that just as the meat slaughtered with other than God’s name is prohibited, a person who puts his heart for other than God has polluted it; and just as an animal killed by a dog is unlawful, the heart that is killed by the dogs of the world and who have got their claws into his heart is also not pure.

This interpretation seeks to explain that if the effects and consequences of an action lead to its departure from the natural cycle, a heart that achieves such states also comes out of its natural cycle. 42

الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا وَ لَمْ يَلْبِسُواْ إِيمَانَهُم بِظُلْمٍ أُوْلَئكَ لهَمُ الْأَمْنُ وَ هُم مُّهْتَدُون

Those who have faith and do not taint their faith with wrongdoing… [6:82]. 43

When this verse was revealed, people came to the Prophet and said: O Prophet of God! Which one of us does not wrong his own self? He replied that it is not as you imagine. Have you not heard that a good man said to his son: “O my son! Do not ascribe any partners to Allah. Polytheism is indeed a great injustice.” [31:13]. 44

This is an example of exegesis or Tafsir of one verse by referring to another one. 45

Types of Tafsir

There are various approaches and types in the Tafsir of the Quran
Some approaches that the scholars of Tafsir use are the following: philosophical, theological, moral, literary, mystical, etc.

Some of the methods that have been utilized in doing Tafsir are:

  1. Tafsir of the Quran through the Quran: in this method the exegete, interprets verses of the Quran using other verses; a method Allamah Tabatabai’s al-Mizan is most famous for
  2. .A second way of interpreting the Quran is through narrations of the Prophet and Infallibles (peace be upon them); for example Tafsir al-Qummi and Tafsir Nur al-Thaqalayn.
  3. Exegesis of the Quran through intellect
  4. Personal interpretation; which has been prohibited. 46

History of Tafsir

Tafsir had different stages, some of which are the following:

• The Prophet himself explained the verses of the Quran during his lifetime and this was one of his responsibilities, i.e. apart from communicating the verses of the Quran to the people, to also provide an exegesis.
• After the Prophet, the 12 Imams and leaders were responsible for the exegesis of the Quran
• The companions of the Prophet also provided exegeses of the Quran.
• After the companions of the Prophet, the companions of the companions also continued with this task.
• Up until the 2nd century AH, exegesis was transferred from generation to generation and by word of mouth, but from the 2nd century onwards, it was recorded in writing.
• From the 3rd century onwards, exegesis found many forms, like philosophical, theological, mystical, literary, etc. 47
• This continued until the 13th century when the exegesis stopped and was mostly in the form of summarization, explanation or annotation of previous commentaries and exegeses and were not new or innovative commentaries themselves
• From the 14th century, with the changing needs of the society to achieve spirituality and happiness, changing of lifestyles, seeking religion’s answers to the needs of man in all ages, a new era in exegesis began which saw overall and great changes in the methods and styles of exegesis. 48


  1. 17:88
  2. 21:34
  3. 21:30
  4. 51:47
  5. 10:57
  6. 3:3
  7. 4:48
  8. 17:78
  9. 20:130
  10. 2:153-154
  11. 9:60
  12. 16:44
  13. 30:30
  14. 45:5
  15. 2:275
  16. 2:232
  17. 4:11
  18. 4:92
  19. 22:39
  20. 2:282
  21. 9:79
  22. 62:2
  23. Qarai translation
  24. Shakir translation
  25. Ibid
  26. Qarai translation
  27. Javan Arasteh, H. (1343 AP). Darsname-i Ulum-i Qurani. Qom: Bustan-i Ketab. Pp. 67-68. See: [42: 52] & [26:194].
  28. Maaref Journal. (1387 AP). No. 62, p. 18: Aya Tartib-i Sure-ha-i Quran Tawqifi ast ya Bar Asas-i Ijtihad-i Sahaba mibashad
  29. Javan Arasteh, H. Ibid. p. 211
  30. Zarqani, M. A. A. (1385 AP). Tarjume-i Manahil al-Irfan fi Ulum al-Quran. Tehran: Humanities and Cultural Studies Research Center. Pp. 222 & 224.
  31. Ma‘refat, M. H. (1381 AP). Ulum-i Qurani. Qom: Al-Tamhid Cultural Publication Institute. Pp. 43-44.
  32. Subhi Saleh, Ibid, p. 108.
  33. Javan Arasteh, H. Ibid. Pp. 175-205.
  34. Ibid. p. 212.
  35. Fath-hullahi, I. & Zulfeqari, S. (1339 AP). Tarikh-i Tafsir-i Quran. Qom: Usweh Publications. P. 21.
  36. Ibid. p. 34
  37. Ibid. p. 39
  38. Hasanzadeh, S. & Jafari, A. (2015). The Reality of Hermeneutic Interpretation of Quran (Ta’vil) From Allameh Tabatabai’s Viewpoint. Andisheh Allameh. Vol. 1, issue 1, p. 48.
  39. Fath-hullahi, I. & Zulfeqari, S. Ibid. p. 39.
  40. Ibid. pp. 35-36
  41. Qarai translation
  42. Ayazi, M. A. (1386 AP). Gerayish-i Erfani dar Tafsir-i Quran-i Majid: Dar Amadi bar Shenakht Shenasi-i Erfan-i Islami (a mystical approach to exegesis of the Quran: an introduction to the epistemology of Islamic Mysticism). Pp. 174-175.
  43. Qarai translation
  44. Qarai translation
  45. Tabarsi, F. (1360 AP). Tafsir Majma‘ al-Bayan. Translated by a group of translators. Tehran: Farahani Publications. VOL. 8, p. 166.
  46. Ibid. p. 116
  47. Ibid. pp. 45, 53, 71, 95, 109
  48. Hosseini Zadeh, A. R. (1390 AP). Tafsir/Tarikh-i Tafsir: Sarguzash-i Tafsir-i Quran va Tafasir-i aan va Barrasi-i Tahavollat va Pishraft-i aan Do (a history of exegesis: a history of the commentary of the Quran and its commentaries and a study of the changes and progression of both).
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