What is ta’wil?


Question: Some people make ta’wil of âyât and ahadith with clear meanings in a way that is not written in any of the Islamic books. Is it not contrary to Islam? What does ta’wil mean? Who has the authority to perform it?
Ta’wil means choosing, from among the several meanings of a word, the one that is compatible with Islam. Not everybody can perform it. Only profound Ahl as-Sunnah scholars called Ulama-i rasikhin can perform it. Correctness of ta’wils is assessed by measuring them with tafsirs. If a ta’wil contradicts a tafsir, then it is discarded.

The knowledge of ta’wil is high knowledge. If everybody attempts to perform ta’wils, it will give rise to the emergence of innovations and superstitions. If everybody had the ability to make ta’wils, our master the Prophet would not have prayed as follows for Hadrat Ibn Abbas:
(O my Rabb! Render Ibn Abbas a faqih [an expert in Islamic Law] and teach him the knowledge of ta’wil of the Qur’an.) [Bukhari]

Today unqualified people’s making ta’wil of âyât and ahadith according to their own personal opinions is contrary to our religion. By doing so, they are denying âyât and ahadith.

It is very dangerous to attempt to make ta’wil of the nass (general term for âyât and ahadith) that early Muslims did not make ta’wil of. Ignorant people who are unaware of the knowledge of ta’wil put forth opinions in the name of ta’wil that are incompatible with consensus (ijma). It is written in Islamic books that these acts of theirs cause disbelief (kufr). As a matter of fact, a hadith-i sharif says:
(The most dangerous person to my Ummah will be the one who makes ta’wil of the Qur’an al-karim unnecessarily.) [Tabarani]

A person who goes out of Islam because of giving wrong meanings by way of ta’wil to âyât and ahadith with clear and categorical meanings, that is, a person with a corrupt faith, is called a mulhid. (Radd-ul-mukhtar)

Followers of the sect of Batiniyya do not believe the explicit meanings of the Qur’an al-karim, and they draw different meanings from them according to their own understanding. They say, “The Qur’an has a batini [secret, interior] meaning as well as a zahiri [overt] meaning. Its batini meaning is necessary. What is useful is not a walnut’s shell, but its kernel.” This is disbelief, going out of Islam, and deviating from the right way. They disbelieve the words of the Islamic scholars. (Milal-nihal)

Let us list some examples of the unnecessary ta’wils made by unqualified people:

1. They strived to reject such invisible beings as angels, genies, and the Devil by way of ta’wil. They interpreted angels as wind and natural forces.

They said, “Jabrail is not an angel, but the name of a program.”

They rejected even Paradise and Hell by way of ta’wil and said, “Paradise and Hell are in this world.”

Some of them said that Paradise would not be eternal.

Of them, those la-madhhabi (people who do not follow any of the four madhahib) people who drew from the Qur’an conclusions that were against our religion said, “The salat that appears in the Qur’an does not refer to namaz, but refers to supplication. As for performing the salat in a mosque, it means supplication in the mosque of the heart.”

Some people appeared who made ta’wil of the miracle of Mi’raj, saying, “It is either a dream or a spiritual event.” However, one who does not believe that the Messenger of Allah was taken from Mekka to Jerusalem will be a disbeliever. One who does not believe that he was taken to the heavens and to unknown places will be a heretic. (Bahr)

7. There were also those who said, “Dabba-tul-ard is not a beast, but it refers to the disease of AIDS or a telephone.”

Abduh does not believe the existence of such beings as the Devil and genies. According to him, miracles (mu’jizat) are a disgrace to Islam. For example, he interpreted Hadrat Musa’s miracle of cleaving the sea in two as tides. (Din Tahripçileri [Destroyers of the Religion], p. 82)

In addition, Abduh made ta’wil of the birds that are mentioned in the Fil Sura as mosquitoes and the stones they threw as microbes, thus trying to exclude it from the category of miracles.

10. There were also those who said, “Shaqqul-qamar (the splitting of the Moon) did not really happen. The Prophet formed such an imaginary picture; that is, because an earthquake took place then, it was seen as if it split in two.”

Generally, la-madhhabi people make ta’wil of miracles (mu’jizat). That is the reason why they make ta’wil of the signs of Doomsday. But the truth is that when ta’wil is done with regard to a mu’jiza, it is not a mu’jiza anymore. It becomes like a simple event.

Hadrat Imam-i Rabbani states:
Mu’jiza means that which happens at one time and bears a great value because it cannot be done by most people of that time and which it is unanimously admitted will not be surpassed by human power and which could be surpassed, if ever, only by a person who is believed to manage it by Allahu ta’ala’s Will. Something without these qualities cannot be called a mu’jiza. (Ithbat-un-Nubuwwa)

The âyât and ahadith for which Ahl as-Sunnah scholars stated that ta’wil had to be made are mostly the ones related to Allahu ta’ala’s Dhat [Person, Essence]. To make ta’wil of the ones with explicit meanings are another way of rejecting them. Such people try to demolish Islam with such ta’wils.


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