Matt Simon: Qur’anic Clarity vs. Intertextuality and Context

What strikes me the most about the exegetical significance of context and intertextuality (in this case related to surat al-Rahman) is the immediate conflict this brings to my mind between the complexity of this type of reading with the Qur’an’s claim of clarity. Its own clarity is mentioned in many places in the Qur’an: “Thus does Allah make clear His ordinances” (2:187), “how many a clear revelation We gave them” (2:211), “Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you might use reason” (2:242), “Allah wishes to make clear to you” (4:26), “We have sent down to you a clear light” (4:174), “There has come to you from Allah a light and a clear book” (5:15), etc. However, I do not think that I would be alone in suggesting that requiring interpretation of one verse according to another one and indeed according to entirely different surahs does not in my mind constitute a “clear” book, but instead serves to thoroughly complicate any attempt to understand the Qur’an.

While I acknowledge that some degree of textual clarification, as suggested by Haleem (The Qur’an Explains Itself p. 161), is helpful to understanding the text, it is not necessary to understand the message of a verse or surah. The idea that “many Qur’anic verses/passages can only be properly understood in the light of explanations provided in other verses or suras” (Haleem 160) seems to me a direct contradiction of Qur’anic clarity. Indeed one of the most repeated and insistent (as you have seen) aspects of the Qur’an is its clarity.

The importance of immediate context, however, is much more believably needed, as in Haleem’s example of the interpretation of the verse “The plants and the trees submit [to God’s purpose]” (55:6), which, as he suggests, requires the interpretation of “plants” rather than the alternative meaning of “stars” in order to maintain the structure of duality, here creating a contrast between celestial and earthly objects (Haleem 164). Since the context is immediate to the verse (in the physical sense), it is not unreasonable to expect that the reader who is “certain in faith” (2:118), that is, certain of the perfection of the Qur’an so that they may read it correctly, with interpret the verse in a manner such that the poetic integrity of the surah is preserved.