AI 54: For the Love of God and His Prophet

Change your lens, change your interpretation

Filed under: Uncategorized March 14, 2014 @ 10:56 pm


“The Quran possesses an external appearance and a hidden depth, an exoteric meaning and an esoteric meaning. This esoteric meaning in turn conceals an esoteric meaning (this depth possesses a depth, after the image of the celestial Spheres, which are enclosed within each other). So it goes on for seven esoteric meanings (seven depths of hidden depth).”

— Henry Corbin, author Histoire de la philosophie islamique (1964)


I have chosen to represent the notion that there are multiple interpretations of the Qu’ran through a collage of the Qu’ran and glasses. The Qu’ran, which Muslims consider to be the book of revelation is considered to be a text of guidance. However, following the death of the Prophet in 632 CE and crystallization of the originally oral script, distinct Muslim groups have put forth varied interpretations of the text.


Tafsir is one of the earliest disciplines of the Qu’ran , referring to the “exoteric” or external dimension of the text. Tafsir literally means the “science of exegesis” or of the commentaries of the Qu’ran, which exist to explain literary aspects of the verses, its background, and to interpret multiple verses comparably. Ta’wil on the other hand, refers to the esoteric, or internal dimension of the text, which explains allegorical, obscure verses, that only certain people have the knowledge to discern. The scholars who study ta’wil are referred to as the Shii Imam and Suffi, who interpret the “true meaning” of the text through their knowledge of Ta’wil or batin. They believe the Qu’ran is not limited to the physical aspect, but as Henry Corbin states in hadith, (quote above) there is also an internal dimension. Thus, it becomes clear that those who interpret the Qu’ran through tafsir, or zahir, which are the Sunni Ulama scholars, have different notions of what the Qu’ran indicates in comparison to the Shii Imam and Suffi who analyze a “hidden” meaning of the text.


Understanding that the Qu’ran has multiple dimensions, both external and internal, as well as varied interpretations, is essential to acquiring a full comprehension of Islam. As we have discussed in lecture, referring to Islam is no longer accurate, one must specify “who’s Islam”, as Professor Asani says, since there are subgroups within the religion that practice the religion differently in line with their unique interpretations. For example, some Muslims believe there are 5 pillars of Islam, and others believe there are six, with the addition of the jihad. The Shii Imam, actually believe there are Twelve Pillars, and arguably, this could be a result of their understanding of the “inner meaning” of the Qu’ran. Thus, I have chosen a metaphor of glasses and the Qu’ran to represent this. Glasses are instruments used to see clearly. Much like one’s vision of the world changes based on how one looks at it, practically speaking, whether one is wearing glasses or not, one’s view of the Qu’ran also changes depending on what interpretation you are using. Thus, the glasses represent an interpretation, which could be either Tafsir or Ta’wil, as is written on the frames. The glasses change how you look at the Qu’ran. Without the glasses, there is just the Qu’ran in its simplest form, but in reality, each practitioner wears their own, unique glasses to interpret this text. It is the glasses that change the way the Qu’ran is viewed, and it is the glasses (multiple interpretations) that give rise to the varied practices within the Islamic religion.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>