Are the mutashabih (ambiguous, allegorical) verses in the Quran not contradictory with the rules of rhetoric?
In the Quran, there are some verses and issues, called mutashabihat, whose real meanings cannot be understood; are theynot contradictory with the rules of rhetoric?
When the word mutashabihat is used, the verses of the Quran that has metaphorical meanings are understood.
In other words, the Quran describes reality though styles, metaphors, examples and similes that people can understand in order to make it easier for people to understand the lofty and profound realities of the Quran. Some mutashabih verses are as follows:
“The hand of Allah is over their hands.” (al-Fath: 10)
The word "yad" in the verse meaning "hand" expresses "Allah's help". People use the word hand to express help; so, in the verse, "Allah's help" is expressed through an analogy that people are familiar with.
Another mutashabih verse is as follows:
“There is not a moving creature, but He hath grasp of its forelock.” (Hud: 56)
In the verse above, the phrase "grasp of forelock" is a figurative expression. The verse does not want to say that Allah has a material hand and that He holds creatures with that hand. Allah is free and away from it. People use grasping the forelock in the sense of making others obey; so, Allah uses this phrase to express that He makes all creatures obey His orders and that He controls all of them.
There are many more mutashabih verses like the ones above in the Quran. Allah expresses many realities through metaphors and similes in the Quran. Let us analyze its reasons and why there are mutashabih verses in the Quran in items:
The Quran is like a teacher sent to the whole mankind to teach them the divine truths. Its students are all human beings.
As it is known, a teacher should explain what he/she teaches in a way that the weakest students in the class can understand. If he/she explains it in a way that only clever students can understand, the other students will be deprived of that knowledge, which is a defect for the teacher.
Likewise, the levels of knowledge and understanding of the students of the Quran are not the same. Since the Quran was sent down for the whole mankind, it is necessary for it to use a style that everybody will understand and sometimes to give examples and to use similes to make the realities it introduces clearer.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a human being in all his actions, conduct, and behavior. He submitted to and complied with the divine laws and commands manifested in creation. He too suffered from the cold, experienced pain, and so on.
His deeds and attributes were not all made out of the ordinary so that he could be the leader of his community through his actions, its guide through his conduct, and instruct it through all his behavior.
If he had been out of the ordinary in all his conduct, he could not himself have been the leader in every respect, the total guide of everyone, the ‘Mercy to all the worlds’ through all his attributes.
In just the same way, the All-Wise Quran is the leader to the aware and the conscious, the guide of jinn and men, the teacher of those attaining to perfection, and instructor of those seeking reality. It is of necessity and of a certainty, therefore, in the same form as man’s conversation and style.
For, men and jinn take their supplications from it and learn their prayers from it; they express their concerns in its language, and learn from it the rules of social behavior, and so on. Everyone has recourse to it. If, therefore, it had been in the form of the divine speech which the Prophet Moses (pbuh) heard on Mount Sinai, man could not have borne listening to it and hearing it, nor made it the point of reference and recourse.
Moses (pbuh), one of the five greatest prophets, endured to hear only a few words.
Due to those reasons, the Quran explains profound realities through figurative expressions, and sometimes through examples and metaphors.
However, one should not believe that these expressions are real; so, he should not attribute body and direction to Allah, which are impossible. These expressions should be seen as means of attaining the reality.
For instance, the quality of the deeds of Allah Almighty in the universe can be described only through the deeds of a sultan on his throne.
Therefore, the following is stated in a verse: “The Most Gracious is firmly established on the Throne (of authority)” (Taha: 5), describing Allah's deeds in the universe through a simile. Since the feelings of the mass of people are thus, it is imperative according to eloquence and guidance that their understanding is taken into account, and their feelings are respected, and their intellects are deferred to, and allowance is made for their ideas.
Someone who speaks with a child has to come down to his level so that he can get the child to understand in a friendly manner. Similarly, the subtle realities of the Quran are explained in accordance with the understanding level of people. This explanation is divine patting aiming to prevent the minds of people from escaping the truths.
For this reason, the styles of the Quran called mutashabihat are like binoculars or prescription glasses for people's eyes to make them see the truths and profound subtleties.
Therefore, the eloquent literati use similes and metaphors to depict subtle meanings or to portray disparate ideas.
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