Question on the conciseness and clarity of the Qur’anic language

It is asked that, even though the Qur’an may be concise in its wording, is not the fact that there are so many interpretations, many times clashing with each other, proof that there is something weak in the clarity of the language of the Qur’an, something which has led to needless intra-Muslim argumentation, warfare, and many other problems?

Answered by Sharif Randhawa (Researcher at Bayyinah Institute, owner of Qur’anic Musings blog), with slight modifications

In many cases, the many interpretations arise from the fact that the Qur’anic statements are meant to be open-ended as to allow plenty of room for reflection.  For example, one person reflecting on “wa ’l-‘aṣr” may think of what he did or did not accomplish by the day’s end; a mortician might think of how people die; a historian might think of the rise and fall of civilizations; a physicist might think of how the universe is heading to an end.  Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan had a good video on this, which may be shared later on.  With other, more meaningful examples of difference of opinion (e.g. the meaning of miṣran in 2:61; whether the three hundred years in 18:25 is stating how long the youth actually slept, or if it is quoting some Christians), I often find that the variety of opinions is due to a failure to study the text from a literary and naẓm perspective—a trend that I will admit does manifest itself in our Tafsīr tradition.

Moving on to how the conciseness is intertwined with the clarity of the language, I think Muslim heresiologists and ‘Aqīdah specialists have documented and argued very persuasively that most heresies are a result of the person or party in question either taking a certain text out of its context, inventing a view without any basis in the texts at all, or reinterpreting a text without any credible warrant.  This applies with some of the violent events in early Muslim history such as the advent of the Khawarij or the Mu‘tazilite Inquisition.  On the other hand, other political conflicts such as the Fitnah of the Sahabah did not have anything to do with variant interpretations of the text.  I don’t think blaming these conflicts or polemics on the Qur’an’s alleged lack of clarity is a very credible excuse for most of these issues.  As for some things that are left ambiguous, like some precise details of Fiqh (Jurisprudence), ambiguity of language is only one cause.  In cases where ambiguity of language is the cause of Ikhtilāf (differences), scholars have recognized that if God had wanted to make the issue at Muḥkam and Qaṭ‘ī (i.e. absolutely certain) He could have done so, but the fact that He did not shows that He does not take the community to account for different interpretations they may deduce, and hence these interpretations should not be a cause of conflict.    

 

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