Muhammad Asad and his translation of the Qur?an (III)

Before accusing Asad of sliding into "rationalist misinterpretation` and even being a `downright` "rationalist, it is ne

Before accusing Asad of sliding into "rationalist misinterpretation` and even being a `downright` "rationalist, it is necessary for the sake of not doing an injustice to divide into three his approach to the Qur?anic verses connected with such subjects as miracles, angels, jinns, shaitan and sorcery:

1. Returning the Qur?anic verses pushed unwarrantedly beyond the field of reason to their appropriate field:

By way of example, we could adduce Verse 73 of Sûrat Al-Baqarah. It is one of the Qur?anic verses that have been pushed out of the field of reason. It was not Asad, as some might suppose, who was first to notice it. Rashid Rıza makes the following statement in Al-Manar: "Several stories are narrated about "dharb" (striking) occurring here. What is meant here by this word is said to be striking the murdered person with the tongue, thigh or tail of the sacrificed cow. They said, `They stroke the children of Israel with a some of the flesh of the sacrificed cow, thereafter the murdered person came back to life and said, "My brother or my nephew or someone else killed me.` How can so many details be made out when the Qur?anic verse under consideration is not even a text dealing with this? As previously pointed out, this event implies a method applied to resolve cases of murders by a person or persons unknown. Accordingly, when a murder is committed, if the murderer cannot be identified and if there is a settlement near to the place where the person murdered is found, whoever of that settlement comes and washes his hands over the sacrificed cow as defined by their laws has not committed that crime. Whoever does not do so proves to be the murderer." (Al-Manar, 1/351)

Yes, Tafsir and Ta?wil is to make clear the "purport" of the triple "word-meaning-purpose" without allowing them to conflict with each other. A comical situation arises when those who see a part of the truth level accusations at those who see all of it. Is it either a duty or obligation upon Muslims to lend a miraculous air even to the most common accounts about the children of Israel? The experts know it well how Judaica [Isra'iliyyat] invaded the science of Tafsir in its first centuries. Moreover, these accounts have reached us not directly from the Torah, but rather from Talmud and other secondary sources, just as it is the case in the above interpretation of the verse. Suppose it was not possible to notice the connection between the Qur?anic verse under consideration, the phrase "ALLÂH Brings the dead to life" occurring at its end, the phrase " there is life in [the law of] just retribution` (2.179) and the phrase "saving a life" (5:32). How about reading at least the relevant part of the Torah (Deuteronomy xxı, 1-9) that clarifies satisfactorily the subject in question? We cannot expect this from first Tafsir authorities because the first known Arabic translation of the Torah belongs to much later centuries. But, we have a right to expect this from today's Tafsir scholars, don?t we?

The same applies to the approach to the phrase "Be (as) apes despicable!" (2.65). This was understood to denote `turning into apes` in physical and bodily sense. This is just an interpretation and furthermore one void of any authentic foundation. That is why Mujahid ibn Jabr understood it as "turning into apes in spiritual and moral sense". However, no accusations of being `rationalist` were levelled at this distinguished student of Ibn Abbas. Then, why is this accusation levelled against the person who, at least to the same extent as the other one, adopts this opinion that serves the purpose of elucidating the `exhortations` of the Divine Revelation, especially in view of its being in harmony with the customary practice?

Similar is the approach to sorcery (see 2:102). The approach to sorcery adopted by the Mu'tazili imams, which represent the rational (not rationalist) vein of Islam, is more exclusionary than that used by Asad. Why is defending the `effect` and respectability of sorcery perceived as an obligation pertaining to Islamic theology [Aqīdah]? No interpretation to be made in this respect can either be ruled out or be used as a basis for accusations. Do those who display a dismissive attitude on this issue know what the Hanafi imams? approach was to this matter?

2. Applying the terms and phrases having multiple meanings (zu-wujuh) and having more than one possible interpretation:

Here belongs the approach applied by Asad to the issue of jinn, which is in a sort again `narrative` rather than `rational`. Traditional Tafsir mainly treats the term "jinn" as if it were a `univocal`. This approach is as misleading as saying that all occurrences of `salah` in the Qur?an denote "prayer", that all occurrences of "sajdah" denote "prostration during the prayer", that all occurrences of "fitnah" signify "trial", and that all occurrences of `dhikr` have the meaning of `remembrance`. Through genuine and strenuous effort, Asad asserted that the term "jinn" has more than one meaning, expounding it in the `appendix` placed at the end of his work. He followed "the method of induction", which commentators certainly need to do. He attempted to arrive at a conclusion by arranging all relevant passages one under the other, establishing differences and similarities between them. Those who ignore his following this method have maintained that he fell into `an extremely subjective interpretation` (Ta?assufi Tafsir) in such incomprehensible fields as jinn, shaitan, etc. and that `he denied `rationalistically` the existence of jinns`.

If our aim is to find the truth, we must take care that we have studied all the statements made by an author on a particular subject so we can form a definitive judgement on what that author thinks about the given subject. In a note written under a Hadith about jinns in Sahih al-Bukhari: The Early Years of Islam, Asad says the following: "An ordinary sceptic is but too ready to deny the existence of anything that is not supported through the instrumentality of his senses and that exceeds his daily experience". Thereafter, he quotes the lines authored by a Western scholar regarding "other bodies and invisible beings, whose existence we cannot feel with our limited senses" in response to `the pseudo-modern attitude towards the invisible objects` (this is the exact wording of Asad, p. 163).

3. Reducing through forced interpretations to the `rational` some miracles, which are `to be narrated` rather than `to be adapted to reason`:

It is in this field that a coherent objection should be raised to some of Asad?s interpretations. Nevertheless, to be equitable, first, it is necessary to divide into three his approach to miracles.