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Quran and Islamic Jurisprudence – Part 18

By Dr. Maher Hathout


There are three kinds of reasons which are connected with revelation of particular passages from the Quran.

Philology of the Quran

The word muhkamat - (sg. muhkama) is derived from the root uhkima which means to decide between two things. It is a verbal noun in the plural, meaning judgements, decisions and in technical language refers to all clearly decided verses of the Quran, mostly those concerning legal rulings, but also to other clear definitions such as between truth and falsehood etc. This is what is meant by ‘general muhkamat’.

Mutashabihat (sg. mutashabiha) is derived from the root ‘ishtabaha’ meaning ‘to be doubtful’. It is a verbal noun in the plural, meaning the uncertain or doubtful things. In technical language, it refers to those verses of the Quran, the meanings of which are not clear or not completely agreed upon, but open to two or more interpretations. It is allegorical, similar, to look like.

Example of muhkamat:

‘O you who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations, in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties ...’ (Quran 2: 282).

Example of mutashabihat:

‘(God) Most Gracious is firmly established on the throne (of authority)’ (Quran 20: 5).

Note that the words in brackets have been added by the translator in an attempt to interpret this verse.

The Quran on Muhkamat and Mutashabihat

• Surah Fatiha, the first surah because it is called umm-al-kitab, the mother of the book, same description is given to muhkamat, see 3:7, where it states “muhkamatun hunna ummu alkitabi”.

He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:” and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding. (Quran 3:7).
Some scholars claimed that Surah Fatiha is the umm al-Kitab and is muhkam and the rest of the Quran is Mutashabihat, but the verse 3:7 clarified that the muhkam is not just limited to Surah Fatiha and it extends to the other chapters as well.

• There are verses that are Muhkamat and Mutashabihat

• Muhkamat do not take more than one interpretation

- Qul huwa llahu ahad - Allah is One (Quran 112:1)

- yamuru bil adl - Allah commands justice (Quran 16:90); There is an ongoing debate on the kind of justice that Allah refers to in the Quran. There is a room for debate within the muhkam; ruling - is it general or specific, is it reasoned or not tied to a reason; cut off his or her hands for stealing (Quran 5:38) - some say sariq means professional thief and who refuses to repent. After that person repents, whether he should still be punished or not is subject to debate.

Makki Quran and Madinan Quran

The Quran is the revelation from Allah for the guidance of mankind and not poetry or literature. Nevertheless it is expressed verbally and in written form, and hence its literary forms and style may be considered here briefly.

The Makkan Phase

The Makkan phase of the revelation lasted about 13 years, from the first revelation up to the hijra.

A surah is said to be of Makkan origin, when its beginning was revealed in the Makkan phase, even if it contains verses from Madina.

The Madinan Phase

The Madinan phase lasted about ten years, from the hijra to the death of the Prophet (Pbuh).

A surah is said to be of Madinan origin, when its beginning was revealed in the Madinan phase, even if it has verses from the Makkan period in its text.

Makkan and Madinan Surahs

Makkan surahs are usually short, verses are also short. Concise and have rhythm. Juz’ 30 is overwhelmingly Makkan.

Madinan surahs are longer, elaborate. Juz’ 18 is overwhelm-ingly Madinan.
The theme. Among the Makkan themes are tawhid (oneness of God), shirk (equating partners to God), ghayb (knowledge about things beyond human perceptions), day of resurrection, moral corruption, stories of the Prophets. These topics are also found in Madinan surahs, but usually only touched upon briefly. Madinan themes which are not found in Makkan revelations are of social and legal implications, concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance, punishment, etc.

The form of address. Often the address: ‘O ye who believe’, and ‘O people of the book’ indicates a Madinan origin, while the addresses ‘O Mankind’ and ‘O People’ are usually of Makkan origin.

There are 19 surahs with huruf tahajji (mystery letters such as alif , lam , mim , etc . ). All these surahs are Makkan, except Surah al-baqara (2) and Al ‘Imran (3).


Many Surahs of the Quran do contain material from both periods of revelation, and in some cases there exists difference of opinion among scholars concerning the classification of a particular passage. However, on the whole, it is a well-established distinction, fully employed in the science of tafsir and best derived from the internal evidence of the text of the Quran itself.

Asbab al-Nuzul - The reasons of the revelations

In particular, knowledge about the asbab al-nuzul helps one to understand:

• The direct and immediate meaning and implication of verse, as it can be seen within its original context.

• The original intent of the verse.

• Whether the meaning of a verse is specific or of general application, and if so, under which circumstances it is to be applied.

• The historical situation at the time of the Prophet and the development of the early Muslim community.


‘To God belong the East and the West: whithersoever ye turn, there is the presence of God, for God is all-pervading, all-knowing’ (Quran 2:115).

Without knowing the sabab (reason), one might easily conclude that this revelation permits the Muslim to face any direction when performing prayer, while it is well known that to face qibla is one of the conditions without which prayer becomes invalid. The circumstances in which this revelation occurred explain its implications:

A group of Muslims travelled on a dark night and they did not know where the qibla was, so they later realized that they had prayed in the wrong direction. They asked the Prophet about it and he kept silent until the above verse was revealed.

Kinds of Reasons 

There are three kinds of ‘reasons’ which are connected with revelation of particular passages from the Quran:

• Revelation in response to an event or a general situation.

• Revelation in response to a particular question that has been asked by someone.

• Revelation for other reasons, known or not known to us.

(The writer is Sr. Advisor, Muslim Public Affairs Council -MPAC)


Courtesy: Islamic Voice, Bangalore, India

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