Literal, Allegorical understanding of the Qur’an and the Sunnah

Should we understand the Qur'an and the Sunnah according to the literal or the allegorical meaning?

When Allah said that He is All-Seeing and He is All-hearing, as we know seeing requires eyes and hearing ears. These are not applicable to Allah, it's how we do things. Seeing helps us to know things and hearing about them, seeing and hearing goes back to knowing. Seeing and hearing are only expressions of His knowledge. So according to the Khalaf, seeing and hearing were just allegorical expressions to clarify knowing.

In other words the obvious texts are interpreted allegorically. Sound reasonable. We have to ask the question how we know. If we don’t have a brain, can you know things?  We just cut out seeing and hearing because it had apparatus, but what about knowing, doesn’t it require a brain? How is it that Allah has brain? You need to have apparatus for knowing, if you say that Allah does not know because that requires a brain, then you end up in a whole mess.

So this is what happens with logic and stuff, that is why Mu’tazilite said, ‘Cancel all of them!’ The Asha’ries, who came afterwards, they realized that Mu’tazilite had gone to extremes and they tried to find a middle path, because they accepted hadeeth from Sunnah and there is enough evidence for it in the hadeeth and hence they choose twenty. However the method they chose for selecting only twenty was faulty. Because the same reason you use to exclude all those beyond twenty are applicable to twenty.

The way of the Salaf was to take things literally while applying the principle “laisa ka mithlihi shay” if Allah says He sees, we don’t say He doesn’t see, we say He sees but not as we see. Whatever He said, we accept it, that’s revelation. Revelation clarifies that it is not the way that we do. We don’t say what Allah said is not what He meant. As we said in the very beginning, the Qur'an is Allah speaking to us as we speak to each other. How do we speak to each other? Allegorically?

We talk in literal terms we don’t go to allegory unless the literal becomes impossible. Somebody says I flew over Kuala Lumpur, flapping hands and feet I flew over Kuala Lumpur? No. I sat in a plane, which flew over Kuala Lumpur. Human beings don’t fly. So when we speak, we speak in literal terms.

And we only go to what is allegorical, where literal becomes untenable and not reasonable to be applied. So the early generation, when Allah said, “We are closer to you than your jugular vein,” in Surah Al Kahf,

"And indeed We have created man, and We know what his ownself whispers to him. And We are nearer to him than his jugular vein (by Our Knowledge)." [1]

Literally means inside our jugular vein, which implies He is inside you. That is what the literal meaning implies. We have so many other texts He is above the heavens and the Earth, He is above His creation, He is above the throne. We have so many texts, which says this. We have been forbidden to prostrate and worship each other. This means we should just prostrate and worship you. Shari’ah itself prevents understanding. The texts in the Qur'an and Sunnah also prevent such understanding.

Muawiyah (رضى الله عنه) brought a slave girl and he wanted to free her. Prophet (ﷺ) asked her, “where is Allah?” and she said, “Above the heavens” and then he (ﷺ) asked her, who am I, to which she said, “you are the messenger of Allah (ﷺ), Muawiyah (رضى الله عنه) said, free her because she is a true believer." [2]

These texts contradict each and everyone one of us. So we therefore have to look at the context of the verse came and what did Allah say before the verse and after the verse, this is clarifying Allah’s knowledge or most intimate knowledge of human being. That is what is meant, by referring to, but we have reason for doing that, the other majority of texts indicate the allegorical meaning, just as in our speech it is not that we don’t use allegorical but we do use it.


[1] [Qur’an 50:16]

[2] [Sunan Abi Dawud 3282]

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