Category Archives: Interpretation

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Interpretive Issues in “Solomon and the Queen”

By Sohaib Saeed

Quranica’s feature film Solomon and the Queen is, first and foremost, a showcase of the beauty of the Qur’an’s message and narrative style, through a masterful recitation by the renowned Egyptian qari, Hajjaj Ramadan al-Hindawi. When we gave him the stage on the last day of his Scotland tour in 2006, we did not tell him what to recite. He recited those verses from Surat al-Naml, and the rest is history.

When the time came to edit it to coincide with Quranica’s ten-year anniversary and re-launch, it was clear that the beauty of that original event deserved a fresh approach to editing and production. And so the idea to weave in commentary (as well as providing real-time translation, as we had done in most live events) was born.

Read: The Making of “Solomon and the Queen”

Here I shall provide some insight into the process of research and selection of opinions. I consulted a large number of works of tafsir, as well as a few which fall outside that genre but discussed, for example, female personalities in the Qur’an (including Bilqis). I knew that what we needed in this film was not a full tafsir, but a simple commentary which would aid reflection. Although I needed to answer all the questions in my own mind, I did not wish to impose those answers on the viewers.

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Imam Ghazali on Interpreting According to “Opinion”

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Category : Interpretation

Excerpt from Ādāb Tilāwat al-Qurʾān (Book XIII of the first quarter of Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn)
Translated by Sohaib Saeed

So what of [God’s Messenger (S)] saying, “Whoever explains the Qurʾān by his opinion (raʾy)…” and prohibiting this, and what of the saying of Abū Bakr (R), “Which earth would carry me, and which sky would shade me if I were to speak of the Qurʾān by my opinion” – and similar reports forbidding interpretation of the Qurʾān according to opinion? There are only two possibilities: either these entail a restriction to transmitted narrations without inference and independent understanding, or they mean something other than that.

It is categorically mistaken to conclude from them that none may speak of the Qurʾān with anything other than what has been transmitted, for the following reasons:

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Tafsir and Translation

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By Sohaib Saeed

I was interested to read a paper by Scott Lucas entitled “Is the Qur’an Wise? Is God the Outward? Two Exegetical Debates Lost in English Translations of the Qur’an“, in which the author illustrates the disconnect between the multiplicity of interpretations offered by the tafsir tradition, and what translators end up selecting for a particular verse. The latter may not reflect the predominant view(s) of the commentators, and may – as a collection – ignore and eliminate legitimate meanings.

I touched on this in my article on translator choice and Divergence in Qur’an Translations, saying:

…it is possible that translators tended to see things the same way, or indeed were influenced by each other. Indeed, there might be more diversity if they were to rely more pronouncedly on the books of iʿrāb and tafsīr, which present obscure interpretations alongside the more obvious

Interestingly, Lucas argues that “the Anglophone world would benefit far more from the partial or complete translation of Qur’anic commentaries than it would from yet another translation of the Qur’an itself” (p. 3).

Speaking as a translator of tafsir (presently completing Vol. 1 of Al-Razi’s), I agree in part. One has to consider what would be of most assistance to a modern reader, and perhaps guide him or her to the various possibilities and the reasoning behind them. If by “partial”, he means summarised, then I would tend to agree, as there are many (e.g. grammatical) discussions that would be lost in translation, or if not, then useless to English readers. This has already been done to the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, although the abridgement process has not kept the author’s points clear and intact in all cases, and requires specialisation in tafsir, not Arabic language alone.

Helpful works along the lines of Lucas’ suggestion are those of Helmut Gatje and Mahmoud Ayoub. A more thematic approach has been taken by Hamza, Rizvi and Mayer. It would be wonderful to see a series of books adopting something like the thematic tafsir methodology which can present Qur’anic approaches and draw out subtleties by means of internal Qur’anic reflection.

Thinking again about the modern reader, alternative modes of presentation must be considered. I had pointed out that the Qur’anic Corpus project would be much richer if it could represent the diversity of grammatical analyses and exegetical interpretations. From a recent conversation with its founder, I understand that this is a hope for the future, and thus it could become a most effective tool for the layman and the specialist (including translators).


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Hasan al-Shafi‘i: The Required Response to Feminist Reinterpretations of the Qur’an

The author – Shaykh Dr. Ḥasan Maḥmūd ‘Abd al-Laṭīf al-Shāfi‘ī – is a leading authority on Islamic theology, philosophy and spirituality. He is a lecturer at Dar al-‘Ulūm, University of Cairo, and one of the senior scholars of Al-Azhar. In addition to studies in his native Egypt, he received a doctorate from the University of London in 1977. Among many academic appointments, he served as president of the International Islamic University in Islamabad from 1994-2004. He is a member of numerous bodies including the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo, and has published at least 19 books including translations and critical editions. This paper was published in 2010 in The International Journal for Qur’anic Studies and was originally presented at a conference entitled: The Effect of Contemporary Cultures on the Arabic Language. It was translated by Sohaib Saeed Al-Azhari.

Abstract: The present study addresses the recent cultural and intellectual movement that works to adopt the Western “hermeneutics” methodology and apply it to the Noble Qur’an and Islamic religious texts in general, with complete indifference to the established principles of tafsīr (exegesis), rules of interpretation and related Prophetic clarification from the authenticated Sunnah. It also shows how this movement turns a blind eye to the accumulated experience of Islamic civilisation, based on the claim that the Islamic heritage has been patriarchal and chauvinistic against women. It further brings to light the fact that this movement consists of a number of academics educated in Western paradigms, but almost entirely lacking in authentic training in Islamic culture and religious sciences. Then it discusses the negative consequences of this movement for Muslim societies in terms of their connection with their civilisational heritage, and for the Arabic language, in that it poses a threat to the soundness of the Arab tongue. After this, it outlines the origins of hermeneutics and its development until its present form, as well as its highly subjective and biased approach to Arab and Islamic heritage. It concludes by discussing the requirements of constructing an Islamic hermeneutics that is appropriate to our heritage, language and unique historical experience.

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