3.2 Verses which are allegorical
Let us now look at the verses which are allegorical. The word ‘allegorical’ means describing one subject under the guise of another. In the present context this word applies to subjects of which we have no knowledge at present and therefore cannot explain their real meaning. People who have knowledge, accept their own limitations and say that, with the state of knowledge as it exists today, it is not possible to explain such verses. However, it does not mean that the verses will remain allegorical forever, because if that were so, there would be no point in their revelation. What it means is that, as our knowledge of the universe expands through scientific research, more and more verses will be understood in their true light. There are many examples to support this point.2
To understand these verses from the Qur’an a thorough linguistic knowledge, in itself, is not sufficient. What is needed, along with such a linguistic grounding, is a highly diversified knowledge of science. I am not suggesting for a moment that everybody should start studying all the various branches of science in order to understand the Qur’an. What I am saying is that with the progress of science nothing in the Qur’an will remain allegorical – or hidden – forever. The only thing we should be wary of, is people trying to mislead by seeking to force their own interpretations. Dr. Maurice Bucaille, in his book The Bible, The Qur’an and Science quotes many examples of verses which had been previously mistranslated due to lack of scientific knowledge. Let me give a few examples from his book:
He translates verse 55:33 as: “O assembly of Jinns and Men, if you can penetrate regions of the heavens and the earth, then penetrate them! You will not penetrate them save with power”.3
The verse is talking about the conquest of space, which although at its infancy, has become a reality now because of the powers of intelligence and ingenuity given to man. The verse also talks of the exploration of the depth of the earth.
The traditional interpretation of this verse is a purely mystic one that some people have postulated quite wrongly.
Two other verses describe the peculiar human reaction to space travel: confused sight as in drunkenness, and the feeling of being bewitched,– and this is exactly what astronauts have experienced. The translation of the verses is as follows:
(15:14,15) Even if We opened unto them a gate to Heaven and they were to continue ascending therein, they would say: our sight is confused as in drunkenness. Nay we are people bewitched.4
A very good example of allegorical verses is the verses which give the description of Paradise and Hell. The Qur’an — notwithstanding very vivid physical imagery — warns us that they are to be taken as analogies and parables.
One must remember that whereas the straightforward verses constitute a code to be practised in actual life, the allegorical verses will only open up their real meaning with the progress of scientific research as it continues to help us unravel the mysteries of Allah’s creation. The Qur’an, in many of its verses, encourages research into Nature, in which there are great benefits for mankind.However, the benefits can only be obtained through hard work.
Finally, it is essential to note that Allah says in several verses that He has made the Qur’an easy to remember, and this is proved by the fact that countless people in the past, as well as at present, have memorised the whole of the Qur’an. As far as the fundamental verses are concerned, they are easy to understand, and these are the verses which should guide one’s life in the real world, so that strife and division in human beings can be eliminated. Sadly our ways of living do not reflect these teachings, and we suffer as a consequence.
- Exposition of the Qur’an, by Gulam Ahmed Parwez. Tolu-E-Islam Trust (Regd) 25B Gulberg, Lahore-11, Pakistan. Verse (3:7).
- The Bible The Qur’an and Science, by Dr. Maurice Bucaille. Publisher Seghers, 6 Place Saint-Sulpice 75006 Paris. p. 134-234.
- Ibid., p. 174.
- Ibid., p. 175.