Asma Barlas on Qur’anic Exegesis

Taken from Believing Women in Islam by Asma Barlas, emphasis mine:

…In a reference to the Book given to Moses, God condemns those
who make ‘‘it into (Separate) sheets for show, While ye conceal much (Of
its contents).” The Qur’ān’s warning against reading it in a
decontextualized, selective, and piecemeal way emerges also from its criticism
of the Israelites who broke their covenant with God: ‘‘They change the
words From their (right) places And forget a good part Of the Message that
was Sent them.”  And, again, they ‘‘change the words From
their (right) times And places.” Revelation, the Qur’ān
emphasizes, is of a continuity and is also internally clear and self-consistent.

The Qur’ān’s internal coherence and consistency do not, however, preclude
us from deriving multiple meanings from it, including ones that may
not be appropriate. Thus, while noting its own polysemy, the Qur’ān also
confirms that some meanings, thus some readings, are better than others.
For instance, it praises ‘‘Those who listen To the Word And follow The best
(meaning) in it,” clearly indicating that we can derive
more than one set of meanings from the Qur’ān, not all of which may be
equally good. Similarly, God tells Moses to ‘‘enjoin Thy people to hold fast
By the best in the precepts [i.e., the Tablets given to him].” (God also tells the Prophet and all believers to reason with unbelievers in the best possible way.)

While it may not be easy to say what would be the best meaning of every Āyah—especially given the (Sufi) view that each verse in the Qur’ān can be read in up to 60,000 ways—in light of our idea of a Just God and of the Qur’ān’s concern for justice, it is reasonable to hold that the best meanings would recover justice (fairness, impartiality) broadly conceived. However, even if one cannot agree on what the best meanings in every case may be, it is less easy to feign ignorance of what is not appropriate inasmuch as the Qur’ān makes this clear in different contexts.

First, as noted, it criticizes readings that are decontextualized and selective.
The Qur’ān’s emphasis on reading it holistically, hence intratextually, also
emerges from its praise for those who say ‘‘ ‘We believe In the Book; the
whole of it Is from our Lord.'”


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