A Najib, Contextual Qur'an Interpretation: The Study on the Concept of "Hierarchy of Values" Abdullah Saeed, J. Islamic Studies and Culture, 2016, pp. 89-94 (URL; pdf) writes:

The contextualist, as explained Saeed, are Muslim scholars who believe that the teachings contained in the Qur'an should be applied in different ways according to the context surrounding it. They tend to view the Qur'an as a source of practical guidance to be implicated differently in Conditions and different situations, not a set of rigid law. Muslim scholars who use This contextual approach argue that an interpreter must know the context of the social, political, and cultural time of revelation of the Quran was revealed and also the context of what happened today.

In contrast to the textual groups who base their interpretation to the analysis of language alone, the group contextualist exploration even further by embracing the modern scientific disciplines, such as hermeneutics and literary theory, as well as other disciplines.

I'm interested in understanding more concretely what this means, and how a contextualist viewpoint will differ from a textual viewpoint. I'll start by asking for an illustrative example.

Question: What is an example of how a contextualist scholar applies the Qur'an in different ways according to context?

  • Maybe some of my interpretations here islam.stackexchange.com/questions/31029/… fall under this topic, if I got it right,
    – Medi1Saif
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 1:38
  • See violent verses. Some folks (ISIS) just apply those verses against any non-Muslim. is Allah Omnipresent?. Some folks think Allah has physical presence, has hands, eyes. Some folks think that any sinner is to be punished just as Quran has said. See my answer here but the circumstance of the sinner or important.
    – Thaqalain
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 15:22

1 Answer 1


In the PDF, the steps of interpretation are mentioned as following:

Stage 1st : The encounter with the world of text

Stage 2nd : Critical analysis

  • Linguistic
  • Literary Context
  • Literary Forms
  • Parallel of texts
  • Precedent

Stage 3rd : Meaning for the first recipients

  • Socio Historical context
  • Worlview
  • Nature of the message: Legal, theological, ethical
  • Message: cotextual versus universal
  • Relationship of the message to the overall message of the al-Q ur'an

Stage 4th: Meaning for the present

  • Analysis of present context
  • Present context versus socio historical contest
  • Meaning from first recipients to the present
  • Message: cotextual versus universal
  • Application today

Reading the PDF and analyzing these points mentioned and explained we could draw the conclusion that most cultural and socio-historical parts at the time of the Quran could be reinterpreted to fit our time. This seems to be true to moral and ethical questions, which are not interpreted to be universal as mentioned:

  1. Third Stage, explore how the understanding of the text by the first receiver, with search tools that consider socio historical context, welstanchang, the essence of the message of the text in question (whether including legal texts, theological or ethical), investigating whether the text is universal or local temporal and look for the text relationship with other texts in the Qur’an.

Examples of matters that would be affected and changed by this interpretation

  • The Hijab
    Here huge possibilities would be given of how to interpret the hijab. By analyzing (#1, #2,#3) why the hijab first was adopted by the Muslims, they would clearly use stage #3 to understand it in its context (why was it implemented, what if it just was a temporary solution to protect the women from the hypocrites of that time? was it cultural accepted already?), see the three points in this answer, and then going to stage #4 analyzing the present context (do we got slaves? do people harm people when they notice they have no hijab?). Following these methods its highly likely that they wouldn't applicate it today or at least not saying it is wajib.
    I would argue that even the famous Shabir Ally, would fall into this category, because he very often contextualizes verses and ahadith. This has made him say that the hijab is not wajib, as expressed in this video.
    Abdullah Saeed seems to express this here, while the speech is more related to niqab. Also in part 1, and part 2* he speaks about gender equality.
    In His book "The Qur'an: An Introduction", page 229, he writes about Khaled Abou El Fadl which he seems to address as a ‘contextualist’ scholar:

    He has also argued against the common position among traditionalist scholars regarding the compulsory wearing of the veil (hijab) for women, on the basis that women are not explicitly instructed to do so in the Qur’an. Abou El Fadl also speaks out strongly against all cultural practices that make women occupy subordinate positions in society.

  • Womens inheritance
    Even though there are some (minority) scholars who think that a woman might have the same amount of inheritance as the men, it is clearly that by these steps of interpretation, a woman will have the same amount of inheritance as men.
  • Womens right to travel alone
    We already have opinions that a woman may travel alone if safe. Clearly with these methods, there would be no doubt that a woman may travel completely alone.
  • Eating with right hand
    Now this is not in the Quran, but applying these methods to the ahadith would derive that what hand one eats with, clearly has to do with cultural manners and hygienic circumstances applied in a certain time (stage #3), by the methods at stage #4, one would say that it doesn't matter which hand you eat with today (if its hygienic at least).

This list could go on. But clearly these methods would as most affect the matters regarding fiqh and how to live your life, it seems not to be much related on questions regarding creed or belief.

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