Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Batin or the Origin of al-Fatiha.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr addresses the inner meaning of the Divine Revelation in his chapter entitled "The Quran - the Word of God, the source of knowledge and action." It is instructive to note that any profound understanding of al-Fatiha and hence any translation will depend on the spiritual capacity of the translator(s):

"It is essential to realize that we cannot reach the inner meaning of the Quran until we ourselves have penetrated into the deeper dimensions of our being and also by the grace of heaven. If we approach the Quran superficially and are ourselves superficial beings floating on the surface of our existence and unaware of our profound roots, then the Quran appears to us also as having only a surface meaning. It hides its mysteries from us and we are not able to penetrate it. It is by spiritual travail that man is able to penetrate into the inner meaning of the sacred text, by that process which is called ta'wil or symbolic and hermeneutic interpretation, just as tafsir is the explanation of the external aspect of the book.

The Arabic term ta'wil contains etymologically the meaning of the process involved. It means literally to take something back to its beginning or origin. To penetrate into the inner mysteries of the Quran is precisely to reach back to its Origin because the Origin is the most inward, and the revelation or manifestation of the sacred text is at once a descent and an exteriorization of it. Everything actually comes from within to the outside, from the interior to the exterior and we who live 'in the exterior' must return to the interior if we are to reach the Origin. Everything has an interior (batin) and an exterior (zahir), and ta'wil is to go from the zahir to the batin, from the external to the inner meaning. The word phenomenon itself brings up the question 'of what.' which implies the existence of a noumenon. Evn Kant conceded the necessity of noumena but because he limited the intellect to reason he denied the possibility of our coming to know them. But when intellectual intuition is present and under the guidance of revelation one can penetrate the appearance to that reality of which the appearance is an appearance; one can journey from the exterior to the interior by this process of ta'wil, which in the case of the Quran means coming to understand its inner message.

The idea of penetrating into the inner meaning of things is to be seen everywhere in Islam, in religion, philosophy, science and art. But it is particularly in the case of the Quran that ta'wil is applied especially by the Sufis and the Shi'ah. To demonstrate the traditional basis of this important doctrine we quote two traditions, one from a Sunni and the other from a Shi'ite source. There is a famous tradition of the sixth Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq as follows: 'The Book of God contains four things: the announced expression ('ibarah), the allusion (isharah), the hidden meaning related to the suprasensible worlds (lata'if), and the spiritual truths (haqa'iq). The literary expression is for the common people ('awamm); the allusion is for the elite (khawass); the hidden meaning is for the friends of God (or saints) (awliya'); and the spiritual truths are for the prophets (anbiya').

There is also a Hadith of the Prophet as transmitted by Ibn 'Abbas, one of the most respected transmitters of Hadith in Sunni sources, as follows: One day while standing on Mt. 'Arafat he made an allusion to the verse 'Allah it is who hath created seven heavens, and of the earth the like thereof.' (LVX, 12) and turned to the people saying 'O men! if I were to comment before you this verse as I heard it commented upon by the Prophet himself you would stone me.' What does this statement mean but that there is an inner meaning to the Quran not meant for anyone except those who are qualified to hear and understand." (Ideals and Realities of Islam, 1967, pp. 58-59).

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