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2. Ismaili Beliefs, Prayers and Practices

Esotericism in the Ismaili Tradition Part IV: “Tawil” in the Quran

In the last of our series of episodes on esotericism, we will analyze the mentions of the word taʾwīl in the Qur’ān and explore the exegesis and tafsīr of these verses, and look at how bāṭenists have been promoting their false interpretations.

The word taʾwīl means: to return, or to revert. The allusion is those who seek to give a twist to difficult passages and expressions in the Qur’ān to support their particular views, such as the Christian apologists’ twisting the expression, “a word from God” and “a spirit from Him” for attributing divinity to ‘Isa (pbuh). The right course always to understand the difficult passage in the light of the clear and specific statements, such as: “There is no God except Allāh” and that “He creates any way He wills.”  (Reference: Interpretation of Qur’ān by Muhammad Mohar Ali, page 156).

Ismāʿīlī missionaries have been promoting false bāṭeni interpretations of Qur’ānic verses which are clear and were explained and followed by the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions, including ʿAlī (ra). Here are examples of some verses which are misinterpreted by bāṭenists. The Qur’ān itself is witness to the false interpretation of the bāṭeni interpretation.

The word taʾwīl appears in the Qur’ān in the following verses:

  1. Surah Aal-e-Imran, Chapter 3, Verse 7
  2. Sūrah al-A’raaf, Chapter 7, Verse 53
  3. Sūrah al-Yunus, Chapter 10, Verse 39 and Surah al-Isra’, Chapter 17, Verse 25
  4. Sūrah Al Kahf, Chapter 18, Verse 82
  5. Sūrah Yusuf (12) verses: 06, 21, 36, 37, 44, 45, 100 and 101

Let us analyze these occurrences one-by-one:

1. Taʾwīl in the Qur’ān: Surah Aal-e-Imran, Chapter 3, Verse 7

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ ۖ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ ۗ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّـهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا ۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ


He it is Who hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture wherein are clear revelations – they are the substance of the Book – and others (which are) allegorical. But those in whose hearts is doubt pursue, forsooth, that which is allegorical seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking to explain it. None knoweth its explanation save Allah. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord; but only men of understanding really heed.

(Surah Aal-e-Imran, Chapter 3, Verse 7)

This is a very important verse of the Holy and Magnificent Qur’ān with deep Guidance/ Hidāyah.  There are four words and their terminology must be understood otherwise we can be victim of misguidance and can be diverted away from the Sirat e Mustaqeem. These terms are muĥkamāt, mutashābihāt, zayghun and ta’wīl.

Muĥkamāt (مُّحْكَمَاتٌ)

Muĥkamāt are those verses of the Qur’ān whose language is simple, plain, clear, precise, exact, specific and whose meaning can be determined without any difficulty. Allāh says that these very clear verses are ‘The essence of the Book’, for they alone fulfil the aim and objective for which the Qur’ān was revealed. They invite the world to ʾIslām, and they teach morals and give warnings; they refute the wrong beliefs and practices and lay down, the right way of life; they expound the fundamentals and practices of religion and state beliefs and practices, morals and duties, commandments and prohibitions. This includes the whole Islamic law or the sharīʿah.

Mutashābihāt (مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ)

At the same time Allāh blessed the humanity with some understanding by similes; and tashābihāt — meaning some limited understanding by illustrations, parables and figurative presentation. By this we can have the glimpse of that which is ghayb. These are not realities but we can acquire the required understanding. Let me site an example: If we see a photo of the American President, we say that he is such and such person, but it is just a piece of paper, the real person is in Washington in the White House. This means the piece of paper picture is tashābihā only. Similarly Heaven and Hell are in ghayb for us but we can have some glimpse by the revealed verses in the Qur’ān which are tashābihāt. By these verses we do have some understanding but we can feel neither the pleasantry and bliss of Heaven, not the or torment and torture of the Hellfire. These verses are very important to style our life by conducting as per orders and commandments as specified and codified by Allāh in the Qurʾān. If we obey these commands then we can expect the eternal bliss of Heaven otherwise we are to be condemned to the eternal torment and torture and this the reality of the tashābihāt verses. Similarly the Self and attributes are tashābihāt for us. We can experience some of the attributes of Allāh such as his beneficence or raĥmā but we cannot experience the vast ocean of the his real beneficence.

Moreover, in the Qur’ān one word can have different meanings. The applicable meaning can be understood from the rabt (reference to context). This is very important to understand the mutashābihā verses. A very few commentators have taken the meaning as: these mutashābihā verses are ambiguous in meaning or not clear and some doubt, they have secret meanings and needs a divinely guided person for explanation. These and similar views are erroneous, misguiding divert us from the sirat al-mustaqim. There can never be any doubt in the verses of Qur’ān as these verses are revealed by Allāh and all the verses are easy to understand. This is repeated five times in sūrah al-Qamar that Qur’ān is kitab-e-mubin, also explained by similes, explained in detail and repeated many a times where necessary.

There are no secret in verses in the Qur’ān, but esotericists emphasize that the mutashābihāt verses have secret meaning and needs a divine person to explain this. This is total deviation and diversion from the sirat al-mustaqim. We shall discuss this point in the discussion of the succeeding word Zay-gun.

Zayghun (زَيْغٌ)

Zayghun means dissension, diversion, deviation and deflection. The Arabic language is very rich, fine and specific, therefore, there are many words for one word and one word can have different meanings, this makes the language very specific. For example, there are scores of names for the horse and camel. Similarly, kufra, taʾwīl, ayat have different meaning as per reference to context. This makes Arabic language very specific by rabt or by reference to context.

For example, the word yadullah (hand of Allāh) and wajh-Allāh (face of Allāh): these words are used for to elucidate specific meanings but never in human sense. But the esotericists are suffering from the disease of zaygin their heart have argued that these words indicate human hand and human face and this is how Allāh is humanized. Therefore this coined out entity is divine. This divinized human personality is addressed as the divine Imām and he knows the secrets and secret meanings of mutashābihāt.

This invented malevolent logic is total dissension, total deviation, total divergence and total deflection from Islam and the sirat al-mustaqim.

In Surah al-Ikhlās, there is clear guidance by Allāh that each and every human has taken birth from its parents Allāh has not been begotten and none is begotten from Allāh. Therefore, no human being is incarnated as god, nor the divinity of Allāh can be manifested in any person, nor the attributes can be manifested.

This is how the diversion takes place and one qualifies for the tortures torments of hell is the net result on the day of reckoning.  Therefore, we should never go after mutashābihāt and totally surrender and obey to themuĥkamāt of the Qur’ān which are clear commands, this is the only way to salvation. We should be always be satisfied with the limited knowledge Allāh has blessed us in regards to mutashābihāt and never to go aftermutashābihāt. This is the gist of 3:7.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّـهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ ۖ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّـهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا


O you who believe, obey Allāh and obey the Messenger, and those in authority from among you. Then if you dispute about anything refer to Allāh and the Messenger if you are believing in Allāh and the Last Day. This is the best and fairest as a solution.

(Surah An-Nisa, Chapter 4, Verse 59)

In this verse containing the word taʾwīl there is one more word ul-il-amr, is very important to comprehend. Ul-il-amr means any person in authority like the head of the family, head of the tribe, any governmental and administrative authority lower as well higher level, head of any group.

But the persons with ulterior motives and intention have twisted the simple meaning so as to interpret as the Imām-e-zaman by using the tool of taʾwīl. Let it be as it may be. Let us see what is the field of operation by these persons bestowed with authority and the rights of the persons are under their authority. This authority consists of implementing the sharīʿah  i.e. law and jurisprudence contained the Qur’ān, the Code of Conduct and Sunnah the Procedural Code. Every person under the authority of the ul-il-amr has right to dispute with the authority. This dispute is to be settled strictly under the Hidāyah/guidance revealed in Qur’ān and Sunnah if one has faith in Allāh and the Hereafter, this results into the best of the solution and ends in the Bliss of Allāh. This is taʾwīl of the verse.


2. Taʾwīl in the Qur’ān: Surah al-A’raaf, Chapter 7, Verse 53


هَلْ يَنظُرُ‌ونَ إِلَّا تَأْوِيلَهُ ۚ يَوْمَ يَأْتِي تَأْوِيلُهُ يَقُولُ الَّذِينَ نَسُوهُ مِن قَبْلُ قَدْ جَاءَتْ رُ‌سُلُ رَ‌بِّنَا بِالْحَقِّ فَهَل لَّنَا مِن شُفَعَاءَ فَيَشْفَعُوا لَنَا أَوْ نُرَ‌دُّ فَنَعْمَلَ غَيْرَ‌ الَّذِي كُنَّا نَعْمَلُ ۚ قَدْ خَسِرُ‌وا أَنفُسَهُمْ وَضَلَّ عَنْهُم مَّا كَانُوا يَفْتَرُ‌ونَ


Do they await except its result (taʾwīl)? The Day its result (taʾwīl) comes those who had ignored it before will say, “The messengers of our Lord had come with the truth, so are there [now] any intercessors to intercede for us or could we be sent back to do other than we used to do?” They will have lost themselves, and lost from them is what they used to invent.

(Surah Al-A’raaf, Chapter 7, Verse 53)

Here, ta’wil means interpretation or bringing out the truth and significance of something which has been said. Here, it means fulfilment of the warning of punishment and of the day of the Judgement contained in the Qur’ān. The meaning is clear when read with reference to the context of the verse and the preceding and succeeding verses.

3. Surah al-Yunus, Chapter 10, Verse 39 and Surah al-Isra’, Chapter 17, Verse 25

بَلْ كَذَّبُوا بِمَا لَمْ يُحِيطُوا بِعِلْمِهِ وَلَمَّا يَأْتِهِمْ تَأْوِيلُهُ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ كَذَّبَ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ ۖ فَانظُرْ‌ كَيْفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الظَّالِمِينَ


Rather, they have denied that which they encompass not in knowledge and whose interpretation has not yet come to them. Thus did those before them deny. Then observe how was the end of the wrongdoers.

(Surah al-Yunus, Chapter 10, Verse 39)


وَأَوْفُوا الْكَيْلَ إِذَا كِلْتُمْ وَزِنُوا بِالْقِسْطَاسِ الْمُسْتَقِيمِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ‌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا


And give full measure when you measure, and weigh with an even balance. That is the best [way] and best in result.

(Surah al-Isra’, Chapter 17, Verse 35)

Here the word taʾwīl can be easily interpreted as the end result, ultimate result and eventual outcome. Bāṭenists would never quote this verse since they find it difficult to twist the meaning of the word taʾwīl in this verse.

4. Surah al-Kahf, Chapter 18, Verse 78

قَالَ هَـٰذَا فِرَ‌اقُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنِكَ ۚ سَأُنَبِّئُكَ بِتَأْوِيلِ مَا لَمْ تَسْتَطِع عَّلَيْهِ صَبْرً‌ا


[Al-Khidr] said, “This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.

(Surah al-Kahf, Chapter 18, Verse 78)

Here too, the word taʾwīl can be explained as: final sequel, end result, ultimate result. This means the final sequel of the three episodes in which al-Khiḍr explained to Hazrat Moosa, what was the final sequel of the three actions.

4. Surah al-Kahf, Chapter 18, Verse 82

Wa ammal-jidaru faka-na li gulamayni yateemayni fil-Madeenti wa kana tahatahou kanzul-lahuma wa kana abouhuma salihan fa-arada Rabbuka any-yabluga ashuddahuma wa yastakhrija kanzahuma rahamatam-mir-Rabbik. Wa ma fa-altuhou an amree. Zalika ta’weelu ma lam tas-ti-alayhi sabra.

Surah Al Kahf (18) verse 82.

And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was under it a treasure for them and their father was a righteous person. Hence your Lord willed that they attain their majority and bring out their treasure as a mercy from your Lord; and I did not do it on my own accord. This is the interpretation/taʾwīl of what were not able to have patience over. Reference: Surah Al Kahf (18) verse 82.

5. Sūrah Yusuf (12) verses: 06, 21, 36, 37, 44, 45, 100 and 101

The word Ta’wil is used for eight times in this Sūrah. Each and everywhere it is used for the interpretation of dreams. Every person is not capable to interpret the dreams. This knowledge, how to interpret the dreams is granted to His messengers by Allāh. Therefore, the dreams interpreted by messengers are correct and applicable as Hidāyah/guidance for the Ummah.  Other people’s dream, can be true and can be realized. Therefore that is applicable to the person concerned, then, it is called a basharat (plural mubasharat) if it has happy ending. These days great exploitation has taken place by unscrupulous persons and their tool is Istekharah. But we are not concerned here.

Now, here we are at the conclusion stage of this article. I have shared my views with you that Ta’wil does not mean the secret meaning of the Shari‘at-e-Islam consisting of the Qur’ān the divine code of conduct for each and every individual who seeks benefits in the Akhirat/hereafter. The procedure, how to act and adopt the principles laid down in the Qur’ān is the example i.e. /Sunnah of the Prophet Rasool Allāh (saw). There is not any shortcut to this.

All the persons who claim that they know or have any authority or secret knowledge of the verses of the Qur’ān or any part of the Shari’at; and all the persons who follow them are far away from the Hidāyah/guidance, blessed by Allāh to the humanity.

6. Surah al-Hadid: Chapter 57, Verse 13: Bāṭen and Ẓâhir

هُوَ الْأَوَّلُ وَالْآخِرُ وَالظَّاهِرُ وَالْبَاطِنُ ۖ وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ


He is the first and the Last and the All-Manifest and All –Intrinsic, and He is of everything All-Knowing. (Sūrah Al-Hadid 57:3)

Sūrah Al-Hadid, Chapter 57, Verse 13

يَوْمَ يَقُولُ الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالْمُنَافِقَاتُ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا انْظُرُونَا نَقْتَبِسْ مِنْ نُورِكُمْ قِيلَ ارْجِعُوا وَرَاءَكُمْ فَالْتَمِسُوا نُورًا فَضُرِبَ بَيْنَهُمْ بِسُورٍ لَهُ بَابٌ بَاطِنُهُ فِيهِ الرَّحْمَةُ وَظَاهِرُهُ مِنْ قِبَلِهِ الْعَذَابُ


On the Day the hypocrite men and hypocrite women will say to those who believed, “Wait for us that we may acquire some of your light.” It will be said, “Go back behind you and seek light.” And a wall will be placed between them with a door, its interior containing mercy, but on the outside of it is torment.

(Chapter 6, Verse 120)


There is no concept of divine Imām/leader in the Qur’ān nor any priesthood. In Islam there is no priesthood of any type; as it is so is the case in Judaism Rabbi, Chazzan, Gabbai, Kohein, Levy, Rebbe and Traddik, in Christianity: Pope, Patriarchs, Archbishops, Cardinals, Primates, Vicars/Deans, Priests/Pastors, Diaconate, and Laity. And In Hinduism Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.  In Christianity the hierarchy differs.

In Islam attempts have been made in the form of Imām, various Sufi Hierarchies and some Cults. But its application is not universal and these are considered as diversions.

The doctrine of Imāmate has been developed by the intelligent esotericist missionaries with evil genius, borrowing from the philosophy of Plato, Plotinus and Aristotle and twisted this philosophy to develop their desired point to suit their evil and malevolent designs. Their tool is taʾwīl to attribute divinity to a particular person, the imām.

I have placed before you the various verses of the Qur’ān where the word taʾwīl, ẓâhir and bāṭen. No where there is any mention of “secret” meaning of the verses of the Qur’ān.

Also there is not a single word in the Qur’ān indicating the possibility of the bāṭeni interpretation of universal soul, universal intellect and hereditary imāms.

The only human authority on Earth, is no one but the final messenger of Allāh who is mentioned in the Qur’ān as follows:

Say “I have no power to do to myself any benefit or any harm except as Allāh wills. And had I been in the know of the unseen I would have asked for a lot of wealth’ and there could not have touched me any evil. I am naught but a warner and giver of good tidings for people who believe.”  (7:188)

Say: “no power I have to do myself any harm nor any benefit except what Allāh will. For every people there is an appointed time. When their time comes they cannot delay  [it] an hour nor they can advance.” (10:49)

Their messengers said to them: “we are not but human beings like you but Allāh bestows grace upon whomsoever He will of His servants; and it is not for us that we can bring you any authority except by the will of Allāh. And upon Allāh should rely the believers.” (14:11)

Say “I am but a human being like you. It is communicated to me that your god is but God the One. So whoever is want to look forward to meeting his Lord, let do the right deeds and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone.” (18:110)

“And We have sent you not but as a mercy for all beings.”  (21:107)

“And We have sent you not but universally for mankind, as a giver of good tidings and as a warner; but most men do not know.”  (34:28)

All these verses indicate that there is no secrecy of any type in understanding the Qur’ān. It is made easy to understand. It is explained by illustrations and similes. But, whose hearts are diseased do not want to understand this True Furqan, for their malevolent aims they are misguided and misguide others.


About Akbar Khoja

Giving out free #LessonsInIsmailism.


One thought on “Esotericism in the Ismaili Tradition Part IV: “Tawil” in the Quran

  1. Reblogged this on Ismaili to Islam | i2i.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Akbar Khoja | May 2, 2016, 2:09 pm

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