Part 1d


by Averroes

All that should be interpreted can be grasped by philosophy alone. So the duty of the learned person is to interpret, and of the common people to take it literally, both in conception and in verification. The reason for the latter is that they cannot understand more.

A student of law sometimes finds interpretations which have a preference over others, in a general way by verification:[58] that is, the argument is more convincing with the interpretations than with the literal meanings.

These interpretations are common and it is possible for them to be admitted by any whose speculative faculties have been developed in controversy.

Some of the interpretations of the Asharites and the Mutazilites are of this type, though the arguments of the Mutazilites are generally the more weighty.

But it is the duty of the common people who are not capable of understanding more than exhortation to take them exoterically.

It is not proper for them to know the interpretations at all.

Thus there are three groups into which men have been divided: Those who are not included amongst those who should know the interpretations. These are common people who are guided by exhortation alone. They form a vast majority: for there is not a single rational being who cannot accept a result by this method. The second are dogmatic[59] interpreters. These are so, either by their nature only, or both by nature and habit. The third are those who can be definitely called interpreters.

These are the philosophers, both by nature and by philosophical training. This kind of interpretation should not be discussed with the dogmatists, not to speak of the common people. If any of these interpretations are disclosed to those not fit to receive them—especially philosophical interpretations—these being far higher than common knowledge, they may be led to infidelity.

For he wishes to nullify the exoteric meaning and to prove his interpretation. But if the exoteric meaning is shown to be false without the interpretation being established, he falls into infidelity, if this concerns the principles of the Law. So, the interpretations should not be disclosed to the common people, and ought not to be put into exhortative or doctrinal books—that is, books written with an expository purpose in view—as Abu Hamid has done.

Hence, it is necessary that the common people should be told that those things which are exoteric, and yet cannot be understood easily, the interpretations of which it is impossible for them to understand, are parabolical, and that no one knows the interpretation thereof except God. We should stop at the following words of God: “None knoweth the interpretation thereof except God.”[18]

This is also the answer to the question about some of those abstruse problems which the common people cannot understand: “They will ask thee concerning the spirit: answer: The spirit was created at the command of my Lord, but ye have no knowledge given to you, except a little.”[19]

Again, one who interprets these to persons not fit to receive them is an infidel, because he leads others to infidelity, which is quite in opposition to the purpose of the Law. This is especially the case when corrupt interpretations are put on the principles of the Law, as[61] some men of our own times do. We have known many people who think they are philosophers and hence claim to find out strange things through philosophy, which are in every way contrary to religion, and they do not admit of any other interpretation. They think they must disclose these things to the common people. But by the disclosure of wrong notions they lead them to eternal destruction.

The difference between their aim and that of the jurists can be made clear by the following example. Since it is not possible to make every one an expert physician a certain physician laid down some principles for the preservation of health and the prevention of diseases, and he allowed the use of some things but prohibited others. Now a man comes and tells the people that the principles laid down by that physician are not correct and declares them to be false, and they become discredited in the eyes of the people; or says that they[62] are capable of interpretations which they cannot understand and cannot verify by practice.

Do you think that people in these circumstances will ever act upon those things which are useful for their health and for the prevention of diseases or that the man himself will ever be capable of acting on them? No, he will be quite incapable of doing so and thus will lead them all to destruction.

This is the case when those interpretations which they cannot understand are correct, to say nothing of those that are wrong. For they will not believe in health to be preserved, nor disease to be prevented, to say nothing of the things which preserve health or prevent disease. This is the condition of that man who discloses interpretations of the Law to the common people and those not fit to receive them. And hence he is an unbeliever.

The simile which we have described above is a real parallel, and not merely[63] fanciful (as some may think) as it is correct in every respect. For the relation of the medicine to the body is the same as that of the Law to the soul. A physician is one who seeks to preserve the health when he finds it good and tries to restore it when it is missed. In the same way a religious law-giver is one who takes care of the health of souls, which is called piety. The Quran also makes clear its purpose, through religious action, by many verses.

For instance: “O true believers, a fast is ordained unto you as it was ordained those before you, that ye may fear God”[20] and “Their flesh is not accepted of God, neither their blood; but your piety is accepted by Him”[21] and: “For prayer preserveth a man from filthy crimes and from that which is blameable.”[22] There are many other verses of the same nature in the Quran. Thus, we see, a religious law-giver seeks to establish this kind of health by religious knowledge[64] and practice. This is the health upon which depends happiness and in the case of its absence the misery of the next world.

One should not speak of the wrong interpretation. It is improper to put even true ones in the books of the common people.

These correct interpretations are of the faith which man has and of which the whole creation was afraid to bear the burden. The Quran says: “We proposed the faith unto the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains, and they refused to undertake the same, and were afraid thereof, but man undertook it: verily he is unjust to himself and foolish.”[23]

These interpretations and the idea that their discussion is necessary in the Law have given rise to many sects in Islam, so much so that they have denounced one another with infidelity and innovations.[65] This is especially the effect of wrong interpretations.

The Mutazilites interpreted a large number of verses and Traditions and disclosed them to the people. So also did the Asharites, though their interpretations were less in number.

They only succeeded in creating hatred and wars among men, destroying the Law, and disuniting the people completely. To add to this, the method which they have adopted in proving these interpretations is adapted neither to the common people nor to the learned. For if you look closely into it, you will find that it is not correct according to the norms of logic—this anyone who has had any training may see for himself without the least effort. In fact, many of the principles upon which the Asharites build their conclusions are sophistical in their nature.

They deny many fundamentals, like the proof of accidence, the influence of one thing upon another, the necessity of cause and effects, abstract figures and the processes leading[66] to them. Indeed, Asharite Mutakallimun have been in this respects unjust to Mohammadans, for one of their sects has denounced as infidels all those who do not recognise the existence of God by methods which they have devised for the knowledge of Him: but in truth they themselves are in the wrong and are unbelievers.

It is upon this point that the difference of opinion arises. Some say that the first principle is of reason, while others allege that it is of faith. That is to say they have thought that faith, even before knowing the methods common to all and to which the Law has made a call on all, is the only method of arriving at truth. Thus they have mistaken the real purpose of the Law-giver, and being themselves in the wrong they have led others astray.

If it be alleged that the method that the Asharites and other Mutakallimun have devised are not those general methods in the purpose of the Law-giver[67] for the instruction of the common people, and that it is not possible without some method being adopted, then the question arises: What are those methods which are given in the Law? We maintain that these methods are to be found in the Quran alone.

For, if we look closely we shall find that in the Quran all the three kinds of methods are laid down, for the whole of mankind, both for the majority and for the learned few. If we reflect we shall come to see that no better methods can be discovered for the instruction of the common people than those mentioned in the Quran. Anyone who changes them by interpretations which are neither clear in themselves nor clearer than others to the common people, makes null and void their philosophy and their effect, the goal of which is the happiness of mankind.

This is quite evident from the early and the later condition of Islam, for in the early days Muslims sought perfect excellence and piety by acting on those principles without[68] putting any interpretation upon them. And those among them who knew any interpretation did not disclose it. In the later days interpretations were used, and piety decreased, the love for others was lost, and they became divided into schisms and parties.

Hence one who cares to remove this innovation from the Law, should turn to the Book, and should pick up from it the existing arguments for things whose belief is inculcated upon us. Further he should deeply think over the esoteric meanings, as far as possible, without putting interpretations upon them, except when they are not quite clear to all. The assertions of the Book for the instructions of the people, when thought over are things, with whose help we can reach a stage from which none but the learned in logic can differ about the esoteric meaning of that which is not clear. This peculiarity cannot be found in any other assertions but that of the Book.

There are 3 peculiarities[69] in the assertions in the Quran for the common people:

  1. Nothing can be found more convincing and true than these.

  2. They can be accepted by every nature; and they are such that none can know their interpretations, if there be any, except the learned in logic.

  3. They possess a call to the righteous, for correct interpretations.

This is neither to be found in the school of the Asharites nor in that of the Mutazilites i. e. their interpretations are neither generally acceptable, nor do they make any call to the righteous, nor are they right in themselves.

This is why innovation has increased, and it is our desire to write about it, as far as it is possible for us, provided that we get leisure for it, have power to do it, and God gives us a respite in life. It is just possible that this may be a beginning for the coming generation; because the breach of Law, due to evil passions, and changed beliefs is simply[70] aggrieving and saddening.

This is still enhanced by those, who ascribe themselves to philosophy, because an injury from a friend is worse than the injury from an enemy. Philosophy is a companion and a foster-sister to the Law. Hence an injury from this source is the worst kind of injury, even if we neglect the enmity, hatred, and animosity which is created between the two, although they are companions by nature and friends in reality.

It has also been injured by many ignorant friends who ascribe themselves to it. These are the schisms which exist in Islam. May God set all aright, help all to His love, and bring together their hearts for piety, and erase enmity and hatred by his favour and grace.

God has removed much of evil, ignorance and the misleading ways through this strong government. He has led the many to good, especially the people who have walked in the path of scholasticism, and have a liking for the knowledge of the Truth.

Because it has called the people to the knowledge of God by mediate paths, which are higher than the depressions of the blind followers: and lower than that of the high-sounding Mutakallimun; and has called the learned to their duty of considering fully the principles of Law.


[1]A translation of Averroes’ Kitab Fasl a’l Maqal wa Taqrir ma bain’a’l Shariata wa’l Hikmati mina’l Ittisal. Ed. by D. J. Muller, Philosophie und Theologie von Averroes, Munich 1859.

[2]i. e. Shariat. Compare Jewish Torah.

[3]Quran lix, 2.

[4]Quran vii, 184.

[5]Quran vi, 75.

[6]Quran lxxxviii, 17.

[7]Quran iii, 176.

[8]Quran lix, 2.

[9]Quran xvi, 126.

[10]“It is he who hath created you whatsoever is on earth, and that set His mind to the creation of heaven and formed it into seven heavens; he knoweth all thing.” Quran ii, 29. For an interpretation of this see Raji’s Tafsiri Kabir vol. I. p. 249 et seq. Cairo. 1307. A. H. and Tabari’s Commentary vol. I. p. 146 et seq. Cairo. 1902 A. D.

[11]“Verily God comes down every night to the earth” (Nibayah fi Gharibil Hadith by Ibu Athir vol. IV. p. 138 Cairo 1311 A. H.) For an interpretation see the above and Qustatain’s Commentary on Bukari, vol. IX p. 178. Cairo. 1307 A. H.

[12]Quran iii, 5.

[13]Quran iii, 5.

[14]Quran xi, 9.

[15]Quran xiv, 19.

[16]Quran xli, 10.

[17]Quran xxxi, 12.

[18]Quran iii, 5.

[19]Quran xvii, 87.

[20]Quran ii, 79.

[21]Quran xxii, 38.

[22]Quran xxix, 44.

[23]Quran xxxiii, 67.

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