Islamic Studies

Seven Rules for Understanding Sacred Texts

From the book Dawabi fe fahm al-Nusus

Translated by Suhaib Webb

The First Rule: Reconciling between the explicit and the implied when interpreting sacred texts.

1. Explicit means anything related to the realm of language regardless of whether the text is general or specific, universal or restricted, an order or a prohibition, or literal or figurative. In short, explicit is what is understood through the mechanism of language.

2. The implied is what relates to what the texts directs us to or signifies. Thus, it is associated with the reasons behind the text’s revelation, the objectives of the speaker, its likenesses and similarities in relations to other texts, the benefits behind obeying it or the harms incurred if one opposes it.

Being just in reconciling between the explicit and implied meanings of texts means that “one does not restrict the explicit meaning of a text until the implied meaning is neglected, nor does one delve deep into the implied meaning until the explicit is abolished.”

This method represents the balanced method in understanding and applying texts and is the way of the majority of scholars. Commenting on this al-Imam al-Shatibi [may Allah have mercy upon him] said, “It is said that [one should] consider both issues [both type of texts] together [arriving] upon a way in which the implied is not abolished by the explicit nor the opposite. [Honoring this rule] will cause the rulings of Shari’ah to flow in an organized fashion without contradictions. This was the way taken by the majority of the scholars, and it is a reliable rule which reveals the objective of the Lawgiver.” (Al-muwafaqat vol. 2 pg. 393)

Commenting on this Ibn al-Qayyim wrote, “What is an obligation, in what the Lawgiver has attached to phrases [here he means the explicit] and the implied, [is] that the explicit and implied should not exceed each other, nor should [either of them] be dismissed [in favor of the other]. The explicit should be given its right and the implied should be given its right.” (Ilam al-Muwaq’in ‘an rab al-‘Alamin vol. 1 pg. 225)

Allah [The Most Exalted] says, “If they had only referred it to the Messenger or to those charged with authority among them, those who [had the ability to] deduce its [true meaning] from them would have known it.” (Surah al-Nisa, verse 83)

Ibn al-Qayyim wrote: “This verse was sent to debase those who, upon hearing some information, chose to follow an explicit interpretation; calling to it and spreading it amongst the people without affirming it implications or understanding its objectives. On the other hand, Allah praised the men of knowledge who did not stop at the mere explicit meaning of the text, but extended its meaning to understand the objective of the text.” (‘Ilam al-Muwaq’in ‘an rab al-‘Alamin vol. 1 pg. 225)


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  • Salam,

    I pray your ramadan is going well shaykh. I need your help on something. I know you are very busy in this month, but I would be very grateful if you could drop me an e-mail and ia we’ll communicate.

    Your broher
    Abdullah al-Hasan

  • […] to a community of people gathering around a fire, drawing on the energies of the flames. …Seven Rules for Understanding Sacred Texts Suhaib Webb …The First Rule: Reconciling between the explicit and the implied when interpreting sacred texts. 1. […]

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