Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Exegesis: Deena Zaki

    It is important to remember that exegesis is a critical explanation and interpretation of a text understood by a scholar and it is not Divine explanation. The Qur’an says, “It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise – they are the foundation of the Book – and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah . But those firm in knowledge say, “We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord.” And no one will be reminded except those of understanding.” (3:7) I think this verse allows an exegesis to be reminded that interpretation should not be extreme, because a foundation has already been laid out by the Divine. 

     Sayyid Qutb is the start of the broad spectrum of exegesis views, his being very fundamentalist. Qutb follows the idea that implementation should occur as the prophet Muhammad implemented them. Therefore, Hadith and the Qur’an are to be taken as true to there roots as possible and I think this verse relies heavily on this fundamentalist approach. This means following Muhammad’s principles and authority exactly as he did.  Not only does this type of fundamentalism uphold the belief of literal interpretation of scripture, but also holds firm to the belief of preservation. The body of law, prophetic tradition, and moral foundation must be preserved in this fundamentalism. The traditionalist approach is less focused on the sharia and more focused on a holistic understanding that combines reasoning and law. 

     Hossin Nasr also agrees that the body of religious law should be preserved, however, reason should be the source of law and the implementations of the prophet Muhammad are less emphasized. The modernist approach of Mohammad Shahrur includes reason to be the most important source of law, like traditionalism, but also that there should be a balance in regulations or implementations. This approach is known as his Range or Balance Theory which defies traditional exegesis. The traditional exegesis standpoint is that any rule with a strict interpretation will cancel a lenient one. Shahrur argues that regulations should be much more flexible and depend on the capacity of a person. For example, a debatable topic in the Islamic world is dress code and the hijab. Shahrur’s standpoint is that one can still be modest but not have to wear the head scarf. This theory allows for a broader range of possibilities for modernity and also realizes the cultural differences in certain Islamic countries. 

     The Utopian Reformist stance is based on an Ideal Islam or a free Islam, that is based on three equalities: “economic equality… political equality or democracy… and social equality”(Kurzman) This reformist stance also calls for a temporary need for the use of force, this would be the lowest level of society, where enforcement of the Islamic law would be placed on the society. Fazlur Rahman advocates for a non-essentialist approach. This means that implementations and laws of the Qur’an are subject to change due to the time and condition of Islam as well as the geography. So where the capacity of a society is high, that law is expected to fill up to that capacity and be strenuous. 

     The final form of exegesis is the feminist view of the Qur’an. Riffat Hassan explains three major misconceptions of the Qur’an: 1. First human creation is male 2. Women: Cause of man’s fall from paradise 3. Women created for men. This feminist theory is good for community building because it recognizes that men and women are equals under God and that they should have each other’s best interests. The Qur’an says, “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (9:71)


Malhatti, M. Jafar. Powerpoint Week 10 B – 12. 2018.


Rahman, Fazlur. Major themes of the Qur-an. Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1999.


Charles Kurzman, Liberal Islam a Sourcebook (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011). Page 280.

Qur’an Surahs

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