Because of strong faith, Muslims look at the holy book in one and only one way: that it is the truth, and nothing but the truth. They will provide every explanation to prove a verse is correct, even going so far as to provide the whole context under which it was revealed. They may gloss over or leave out an entire verses that are not clear or may have ambiguous meanings. If there ever is a mistake pointed out, they will blame their own intellect for misunderstanding it rather than claiming that the Qur'an itself is somehow in error.

However, as long as no mistake is pointed out, they will fully trust their own intellect and quickly rule according to what is "clearly written" in the Qur'an.

How, then, can any Muslim be so sure that he has interpreted the Qur'an correctly?

In Islam, many schools strongly encourage Muslims to learn from someone knowledgeable, on the basis that it is too easy to misguide yourself if you try to follow the Qur'an alone. However, my understanding is that if you give the Qur'an to a non-Muslim, he can better interpret it because he has not been influenced by anyone. If he is given the full context of the verse, he can present a more accurate and unbiased analysis thereof.

So my question lies thus: Can a Muslim possibly interpret the Qur'an accurately, when he is so single-minded in his belief that the Qur'an is unquestionably complete and correct?

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    I posted about this question on meta here – muslim1 Jul 14 '12 at 17:36
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    AFAIK a normal person can't interpret qur-an correctly ,thats why we follows the thafseers of great scholors – Tachyons Jul 15 '12 at 3:48
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    @tachyons what I am saying, Tafseer can be wrong too. Those tafseer were written be deeply religious scholars. How can they find mistakes in Quran when their mind is not capable of doing so? – muslim1 Jul 15 '12 at 4:01
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    If you are a muslim , you must belive that quran is error free , We don't have enough brain power to criticize quran . – Tachyons Jul 15 '12 at 4:33
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    @tachyons, that is exactly my question :) – muslim1 Jul 15 '12 at 4:37

You seem to be asking a couple of related questions. Let me attempt to address them individually first, because they interdepend.

How do we Know the Qur'an is Error Free?

As Muslims, we take it for granted that the Qur'an is divinely revealed and preserved, error free, for all time. This is a topic in itself worthy of research. The summary is:

Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur'an and indeed, We will be its guardian.

Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur'an and indeed, We will be its guardian. (Surah Al-Hijr, verse 9)

This is a promise from Allah Himself, the all-knowing, all-powerful, that the Qur'an will be protected for all time. This verse contains at least five forms of emphasis (the particle lam, repetition, the word inna, etc.) to confirm this. It's a very, very strong statement.

If you're interested in more details, you can read about Zaid ibn Thabit, the famous companion who collected the entire Qur'an, twice, from people who heard verses directly from rasulullah. Not only did he compile this once, but twice, from scratch; that is now the famous Uthmanic mushaf we have today. He (radiallahu anhu) said about this task:

If they had asked me to move a mountain, it would have been easier than this task.

This topic is usually studied in the sciences of Qur'an, called "Uloom Al-Quran."

Who is the Best and Most Impartial in Interpreting the Qur'an?

The Qur'an was revealed 1400+ years ago, into an oral society, in the middle of the desert; for some, on the other side of the world -- that's a long distance, physically and culturally. Civilization as we knew it changed dramatically in that timespan. Not to mention the language barrier, both for non-Arabs and (to a lesser extent) Arabs -- the Qur'an is in fusha, classical Arabic.

Which brings us to your second question: sitting here in an air-conditioned home a contintent away, how can we understand the Qur'an correctly? Who, in fact, would be the best and most objective in understanding the Qur'an?

Given the cultural, geological, and socio-political changes, one would conclude that the people who were there when the Qur'an was revealed* would be the best interpreters. They understand the context, the culture, the language, all of it.

Aisha (radiallahu anhaa) said essentially this when asked about rasulullah. She said:

His personality was the Qur'an.

That is: he was a walking, talking, living, breathing embodiment of the Qur'an. He understood it, lived it, and implemented it -- all of it, without exception, as it was revealed to him and preserved throughout time.

What About Other Humans?

The rest of the answer is easy; if you want to understand who is the best to interpret the Qur'an and sunnah, and Islam in general, the answer is the ones who are most knowledgable and closest to it.

Rasulullah died. He's gone. But he did one very important thing before he died: he taught the Qur'an to his companions, both in letter and in interpretation. They, too, died; but they passed this on to the tabi'een, who passed it on, down through the chain of scholarship throughout time until today.

For us, today, scholars are the ones who are the best fit to understand the Qur'an. Many of them spent decades of their lives studying Arabic, studying the life of rasulullah, the biographies of companions and scholars, and the various sciences (more than a dozen!) of the Qur'an -- in an attempt to give you, to the best of their ability, the real, true interpretion of Islam.

This is why rasulullah said:

Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets. [Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasai, and others]

What is it they inherit? Knowledge. Real, true knowledge (which necessitates action).

Yes, difference of opinion exists. It existed in the time of rasulullah (he clarified it), and it existed after him; that doesn't take away from what Islam is.

  • my point is if you read Quran from secular and historical point of view, you can see why each verse was revealed and for what reason. Further more you can say (God forbid) that the science in this verse is wrong, like Earth and haven were created in 7 days, is confusing to an Athiest because there were no days when there was no earth. That would mean earth was created first, so days were established then the entire universe was created. This would be against the science what we know today. And again how long it to took to create earth cannot necessarily be in days. – muslim1 Jul 31 '12 at 16:05
  • I can talk to you about this in chat whenever you and I are available. – muslim1 Jul 31 '12 at 16:05
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    +1 An answer perfect for the one who has his eyes, ear and heart open. For the ones who won't believe, won't believe even if a Prophet comes to them with miracles (Like in the past). – Muhammad Hasan Khan Jul 31 '12 at 16:38
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    @muslim1, It is encouraged to listen to the scholars because it is dangerous to have an opinion before having the knowledge about it. If an ignorant reads the verse about 7 days, he may think that is wrong of course. But, if he knew that enough Qur'an Arabic before reading, he can easily understand what it is said. About the day issue, do you think the Day of Judgement will be 24 hours? The word translated as day is actually a time interval, an era, or a piece or time. If you don't know this, asking anyone possibly knows (a scholar) is better then concluding that it is wrong. – kalahari Mar 10 '15 at 20:53
  • It seems to be a problem here. Scholars are humans, so they are error-prone by definition. If their interpretation is so important, to the point that can make such a difference in meaning (e.g. something as simple as "7 days" becomes something else entirely), then the "word of Allah" becomes error-prone by definition (as we humans are all error-prone by definition). So how can you take life and death decisions based on a human interpretation? – user23793 Aug 8 '17 at 17:42

This is an interesting question. I've always approached it from a philosophical angle, and so I'll answer the question from a philosophical angle as well. There has to be a source of truth to derive all other truths. A common foundation for truth is I think, therefore I am in the sense of not doubting one's own existence. But outside of one's own thoughts and senses, how else do you approach the truth?

Mu'adh ibn Jabal said: "Knowledge and faith will abide until the Day of Resurrection. Whoever seeks them will find them in the Qur'an and Sunnah. Check everything you hear against the Qur'an, but do not check the Qur'an against anything that you hear." For Mu'adh, the Qur'an was the standard against which everything else was to be measured, but it was not to be measured against anything else. This was Mu'adh's method in teaching the Qur'an, which he adhered to until the last moment of his life. ('Umar Ibn Al-Khattab [Radia-Allahu 'Anhu - "May Allah be pleased with him] His Life & Times vol.1 p.366, 367 Dr. 'Ali M. as-Sallabi)

To a Muslim, the Quran is their foundation for truth. As was cited by ashes999, verse 15:19, it is divinely preserved. The Quran is always right. To reject the Quran is to reject being a Muslim, as it is one of the Six Pillars of Iman (faith). It is the manual to existence; how Muslims view the universe.

If one were to find flaws in the Quran, and disbelieve in its total truth, they would no longer be Muslim. Thus, it's to a Muslim's best interest to ignore what they don't understand until later (similar to how a person might ignore a complicated mathematical problem) or interpret it in a way that makes sense.

Interpretation in itself can be false, and even the Prophet's Companions have stated that it's not impossible for learned scholars to misinterpret.

'Umar warned against the mistake of scholars and said: "Islam will be destroyed by the mistakes of scholars, the arguments of the hypocrites who misinterpret the Qur'an to support their views and misleading rulers." ('Umar Ibn Al-Khattab [Radia-Allahu 'Anhu - "May Allah be pleased with him] His Life & Times vol.1 p.333 Dr. 'Ali M. as-Sallabi)

A non-believer's interpretation may be biased, but so would a hypocrite acting as a scholar.

There is a strong faction that believes that only scholars can interpret the Quran:

Muslim scholars and commentator of Quran are unanimous on the view that no one has the right to interpret the ayats of Quran according to ones personal view and opinion. Many traditions are narrated in this regard. We present below a few examples of the same:

  1. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) said: One who interprets the Quran according to personal opinion[77] he makes his place in fire (Hell).

  2. One who interprets the Quran according to his view,[78] even though it may be right, yet he has committed a sin.[79]

http://www.al-islam.org/falsafa/57.htm

On the other hand, there are also many who believe that it is free for all to interpret, provided that they have sufficient theological background:

Allah says: "Do they not then reflect on the Quran? Nay, on the hearts there are locks." (47:24), and: "Do they not then meditate on the Quran? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy." (04:82). We deduce from these two verses that people are obliged to read the Quran and it is their right to understand it, reflect on it, and study the denotations and connotations of the words that formed it.

(...)we believe that every educated person who is well-acquainted with the basic sources of the religious knowledge and who is well-versed in the Arabic language, as well as the entire aspects of the religious knowledge… has the right to interpret the Quran in accordance with his culture, whether he was a Muslim or a non-Muslim, a man of religion or a secularist, because there is no clergy in Islam and the Quran was revealed to all the people. Moreover, the Quran is a Divine text; however, its interpretation is a human act, except if it was the Prophet (p.)'s interpretation or that of whom we believe are infallible. Actually, the Prophet (p.)'s role was not to recite the Quran, but rather to educate people on it, by education we mean explaining the idea and the meaning and not restricting it to the words.

(...)the Prophet (p.) interprets what the Quran did not elaborate on, as well as the points that were not clear, so his (p.) interpretation was Divine, as much as his recitation was Divine(...)

We say that the human Quranic interpretation can be subjected to criticism, debate, and meditation. Therefore, we consider that the Quranic interpretations of the religious scholars do not represent the ultimate truth, for they might misinterpret the text, since interpretation is subjected to the cultural aspect of the interpreter's mentality that is affected by the environment in which he lived.

http://english.bayynat.org.lb/Issues/iss_interpretation%20of%20the%20quran.htm

As the Quran is such a strong source of truth for Muslims, some will interpret it as best they can. Others may misinterpret it for political reasons and even reject valid interpretations by others in order to support their own views.

While this is a bit of a shady conclusion, I've highlighted some major points to think about, and as with any good question, it brings up more questions than answers.

This is the essence of believing, it's a human nature!

It applies to science also, they have a strong belief (with their own proof) that no material object is faster than light, when they made an experiment they mesured the speed of the neutrino and found that it's speed was slightly faster than light!

They repeated the experiment, checked the materials then found the same thing, but still believed that Eistein theory is right.

After several months of tests they found the failure in the experiment. Now Einstein is absolutely right: nothing is faster than light, bingo!

This is an example of the power of believing to seek the truth.

Make analogy with what you said about Quran and muslim's belief :)

Hope this helps.

There is always some people wiser than others. and God is the Wisest. After God, the Muslim who shall be the best interpreter is Muhammad. and a simple Muslim is much more better interpreter than non Muslim Scholar. And this is applicable for the interpretation of all scriptures.

ie. what we are saying that a simple Muslim shall be the better interpreter of the Bible [both old and new testament] than of a Bible scholar. It is because of the prayer of Abraham that granted by the God- “shall instruct them in the Scripture and in wisdom.” -(2:129)

I do not know much Arabic but I can tell you which one is the correct interpretation and which one is wrong and every Muslim can do it. I am a qualified researcher, interpreting language skills, discourse analyses of texts and speeches. I have researched in the truly intended meanings and purpose behind each section and chapter of the Quran. The first rule of language is that the words and ideas are correlated, showing coherence and cohesion and a nice organisation or arrangement of words, sections,and chapters, because only mentally diseased persons talk incoherently and unorganised, and unsuitable words in the context. God has safeguarded the meanings of the Quran with a nicely connected words and meanings put in its Arabic words and its tune of rhythm. So if some word in the translation is unsuitable, unrelated with others and any theme is not developed with arguments and examples, the translation is certainly wrong. One only needs to know basic Arabic grammar, roots of words, their different formations of words and meanings which show an association of meaning with other meaning that can be checked in any dictionary of the Quran such as John Penrice's Lexicon of the Koran or by G A Parwez's dictionary or on searching Quran or Islam 360 in Urdu on the net. I am sure that every Muslim with an open mind and not with preconceived meanings, can find truly intended and saved in the Arabic words and their true concepts in their use in the context. A short exampl is the misunderstanding of the KALIMA TAYYAB. God says," There is no other god( the one who is obeyed) than Allah( God who is the only ruler of the Universe who is obeyed by all, but humans are given a choice to obey God or anyone else like a god". This means that only Allah's instructions and conforming them should be obeyed to achieve success in life of happiness and prosperity here and the hereafter.But unfortunately Muslims instead of obeying the guidance of God through His Messenger in the Quran, they obey instructions by their religious leaders, political leaders,dead Saints,and Satan. Quran says that you can only fight in war in defence but you can't aggressively attack other countries just as the terrorists and theUS govt. is doing by attacking other countries in the false name of defence, their own constitution and the agreed international law.No govt. can be established through attacking other countries or killing lnnocent people but some so called Muslims are doing it.Muslim means obedient to God( the Quran only).If while reading any translation one finds anything unsuible or unconnected, one must be sure that it is wrong. I am on the Facebook to help everyone.

  • Would it be possible to edit to only give the answer to Can any Muslim interpret the Qur'an accurately? and not talk about your research interests, mentally diseased persons, terrorism, the US government, Facebook, etc.? It's hard to find an answer buried in a wall of text. – Rebecca J. Stones Sep 2 '17 at 7:23

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