Muhkam and Mutashabihah

Chapter No.: 

Knowledge of Muhkam and Mutashabiha is another very vast field for the learners and scholars of the Qur’an.

Literal meaning of Muhkam (Un-ambiguous): It is that thing having established meaning, to stop (from falsehood, disruption or discontinuity). If it is read as ‘Hikam’, then it has many meanings like justice, knowledge, sobriety, Prophet-hood, Qur’an etc.

Literal meaning of Mutashabiha (Ambiguous): It means resemblance; one thing resembles to other thing so much so that one is mistaken for the other.

As Al-Qur’an says:

إِنَّ الْبَقَرَ تَشَابَهَ عَلَيْنَا

“Verily, to us are all heifers alike” (2:70)

Technical meaning:

Ulema are having different opinions regarding the technical meaning of these two words viz., Muhkam and Mutashabiha. Al-Qur’an also uses two words in different meanings. Al-Qur’an says:

كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آيَاتُهُ

“(This is) a book with verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning)” (11:1)

As per this Ayat the whole Qur’an is having well established meaning, is well organised and there is no chance for any discontinuity or contradiction in it.

Al-Qur’an further says:

اللَّهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُتَشَابِهًا

“Allah has revealed from time to time the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with itself.” (39:23)

In this verse the whole Qur’an has been called Mutashabih, meaning – ‘consistent with itself’. Al-Qur’an further says:

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ

“It is He, Who has sent down to thee the Book in it are verses, basic or fundamental, clear (in meaning). They are the foundation of the Book; others are not entirely clear.” (3:7)

In this verse the Qur’an says that there are some verses in the Qur’an which are Muhkam and others are Mutashabih.

Different Opinions of Ulema about the Meaning of Muhkam and Mutashabih:

1. Muhkam means one that has a clear-cut meaning and argument and in which Naskh (abrogation) is not possible. It is also taken as opposite of Naskh.

Mutashabih means one whose meaning has been kept hidden and one can neither know it by logic nor through narrations, like the Day of Judgement, particular letters in the beginning of some Surahs, appearance of Dajjal etc,.

2. Muhkam is that which can have only one interpretation whereas Mutashabih can be interpreted in different ways. This opinion has been attributed to Ibne Abbas, and most of the people agree with it.

3. Muhkam is that which is self explanatory unlike Mutashabih which needs some explanation. This opinion is put forward by Imam Ahmad.

4. Muhkam is straight in meaning and sequence and in Mutashabih one cannot rely only upon the literal meaning but needs some other clues to understand it clearly. This opinion is attributed to Imam-al-Harmain.

5. Muhkam verses are those which are related with deeds, and Mutashabih are those which are about the beliefs and are to be believed whether one understands them or not. Alama Suyuti (RA) has quoted this view from Ikramah and Qataadah. (Manaahil-ul-Irfan)

Types of Mutashabih:

1. Whose understanding is impossible for man - like the Essence of Allah, the Day of Judgement etc. Allah has kept these things hidden.

2. Which can be understood by the learned scholars of Islam only and not by common people. This is evident by a dua of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) about Hadhrat Ibne Abass (RA) in which he said: “Oh, Allah bestow him (Ibne Abbas) with special understanding of Deen and teach him interpretation (of the Qur’an).” (Mufradut-ul-Qur’an by Alama Raagib Asfahani)

Purpose of Mutashabih:

1. It is mercy and benevolence of Allah that He has kept such things hidden. How can a man tolerate the Tajalliyat of Rabb-ul-Alameen? In keeping secret the Day of Judgement, there are again so many benefits for man.

2. To test Iman-bil-Gaib: Mutashabih also helps to differentiate between true believer and a false believer. False believer questions the Mutashabih whereas true believer believes these things quietly and honestly.

3. Imam Raazi (RA) says that since Al-Qur’an is both for common man as well as scholars, former remain contented with simple and straight commandments like Muhkam whereas the scholars, want to do research and think-deeply, so for them there is enough material in the Qur’an in the form of Mutashabih.

4. Establishing supremacy of the Qur’an: These Mutashabih make great scholars also helpless and finally they resign by saying that Allah alone knows their meaning. (Manaahi-ul-Irfan)

Some examples of Mutashabihhat:

الرَّحْمَنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَى

“The most gracious is firmly established on the Throne” (20:5)

وَيَبْقَى وَجْهُ رَبِّكَ

“But will abide (for ever) the Face of Thy Lord” (55:27)

يَدُ اللَّهِ فَوْقَ أَيْدِيهِمْ

“The hand of Allah is over their hands”. (48:10)

وَالسَّمَوَاتُ مَطْوِيَّاتٌ بِيَمِينِهِ

“And the Heavens will be rolled up in His right hand.” (39:67)

Ideal Attitude Towards Mutashabihat:

Imam Maalik (RA) was asked about the Ayat of Istawa, present in the Qur’an:

الرَّحْمَنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَى

He replied

الاستواء معلوم و الكيف مجهول و السوال عن هذا بدعه

“Istawa is known, its nature (i.e., in what way) is unknown and to ask question about it is a bida’t (innovation). Same answer is also reported from Hadhrat Ummi Salma (RA) but she also added that to have Iman on this is obligatory.

Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) said:

“The Qur’an has not been revealed in such a way that one part of it will prove the other part wrong, whatever you understand from it, act as per that and what ever is Mutashabih, have Iman (belief) in that.” (Manaahil-ul-Irfan)