Methodological Approaches and Implications In Dealing with the Qur’an

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Dr Alhagie Manta Drammeh Founder and Managing Director of Timbuktu Islamic Research Centre

By Dr Alhagie Manta Drammeh

This paper provides a critique of both traditionalist and Orientalist approaches to the Islamic core sources namely, the Qur’an.  The thrust of the paper will be to examine the different methods used to understand and deal with the Qur’an and how those methods are reflected in the understanding or misunderstanding of the source itself.   Thus, methodological issues with both traditionalist and Orientalist approaches will be examined.  I may claim that while the primary sources are eternal, their interpretations are not eternal or unchanging.  The interpretations are meant to address specific needs and problems within certain historical and social circumstances and therefore the emergence of Ijtihad.

Also, to be examined is the relationship between reason and revelation in light of the Quran, as it is unduly misrepresented that Islamic methodology does not give much weight to reason.  I will argue here that reason is the locus of responsibility (manāt   altaklīf).  It is therefore difficult to understand revelation as a whole without the involvement of human mind in grasping, assimilating, synthesising and applying it.

Key Words:  Qur’an, Maqasid, , shra’, wahy, surah, Orientalism, ‘Aql, tafsir, reason, revelation, manzur, maqru’, tawhid, turath, nass, murad, traditionalist  , ijtihad, zani, qat‘I , ma’thur, tanjim.

This paper highlights important methodological approaches to the understanding and the application of the Qur’ān. Thus, I will explore to understand the nature of the Qur’ān as the core Islamic source.  Also, to be examined is the relationship between reason and the understanding of the Qur’ān.  It will be argued here that reason is the locus of responsibility (manat altaklif).  It is therefore difficult to understand revelation as a whole without the involvement of  human mind in grasping, assimilating and applying it.  Fathi Osman argues that the miracle of the Qur’an is constant and renewed through the dynamism of the human mind that goes to the furthest depths in order to comprehend the essence of God’s message. As Muslims believe that Qur’an is fundamentally the main source of guidance, an exclusive interpretation therefore can be historically countered if not contested.  The Qur’an does not lend itself to being controlled at an epistemological and philosophical level. I will also focus on the Orientalist and traditionalist discourses in light of dealing with Qur’an.

What is the  Qur’an all about ?

At this juncture, it is essential to bring to light some elements of the Qur’an as I was thrilled by a comment/question of a scholar I had met a  couple of years ago.  The question was related to the angels and how the Qur’an has dealt with it.  To my understanding, it was not a terribly important question that the Muslims and scholars have to indulge in beyond what is given in the primary sources and other books of revelation as far as the world of unseen (ghayb) is concerned.  Nevertheless, it is an integral part of the Muslim belief, and as in other divine religions, it is dealt with in the creed (aqidha) the belief system of Muslims.  The question indeed struck my mind, because I thought it emanated from the lack of knowing the approaches that are inherent in understanding not only the meanings and interpretations of the primary sources, but they are also fundamental to knowing and comprehending the purposes that lie behind the letters of the text.

Qur’an as the Book of Guidance

It is therefore important to note that the Qur’an is not a book of political science or science for that matter, but it has laid down the general notions and principles of polity and governance in order to dispense justice and equality and respect of rights and freedoms.  Equally, it has stipulated guidelines for social stability and cohesion and principles  of establishing economic prosperity and how to discard economic inequities and disequilibrium.

It is worth-noting that while the primary sources are eternal, their interpretations are not eternal or unchanging.  The interpretations are meant to address specific needs and problems within certain historical and social circumstances.  This may b noted in order to indicate the dynamic nature of Qur’anic discourses, as they  encourage the seeking of knowledge related to science and technology, while developing a proper methodology in dealing with it and identifying the philosophical underpinnings that may be identified with it.  This methodology involves dealing with social, political and economic events, discovering social laws (sunan) and the purposes of the texts (maqasid).

The late Muhammad al-Ghazzali talks about the need to break the unwarranted psychological barriers in understanding the Qur’an. This articulates the notion of how the Qur’an challenges all times the human intellect to objectively study it on its own merit.  The Qur’an wants its readers to engage with it by reading it profoundly in order to understand the reality.  Thus, the scholars emphasise the need to not only to understand the text, but also to understand the reality and the implementation of the text. This understanding of the reality requires in essence an interdisciplinary approach to the reality itself from theological, political, historical and sociological perspectives.

This prompted Taha Jabir al-Alwani to contend that there are two elements to the revelation: The recited (maqru’) and the observed/seen (manzur).  That is to say an understanding of the Qur’ān necessitates a proper reading of the laws of the universe and socio-political, economic, cultural and complex psychological de-codification of that message inherent in it.  That is to emphasise the futility a unitary reading.  Al-Alwani claims that the combination of the two readings (jam’ al-Qira’atayn) links the human understanding to the sublime and the transcendental based  on monotheism (tawhid), development (umran) and purification (tazkiyah).  Thus, there is a balance created between the mind, the soul, the belief, the sense and the emotions as well.

Indeed, the Quran is a revealed book according to Muslims that aims at delivering humanity from error to guidance and prosperity.  The Quran explains “Alif. Lam. Mim. (1) This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, guidance to those who are God-conscious (mutaqqin)(2)”. Implicitly from the above Quranic passages, it is understood that the guidance is for those who have that consciousness of God wherever they are and in whatever condition they may.  However, it is important to note that the Quran has different levels of discourse. In many cases, the discourse is addressed to the entire humanity without any separation. In that light the Quran has invited humanity in its entirety to ponder on its content, language, style, rhetoric (balaghah) and message as in “Will they then not meditate on the Qur’an, or are there locks on the hearts?”.

Similarly, the Quran emphasises as in “Will they not then ponder on the Qur’an? If it had been from other than Allah they would have found therein much incongruity”. From the above Quranic verses, the Quran has stressed vehemently the centrality of reflection and pondering over its as it provides foundations for human prosperity. This is an allusion to the centrality of human reason as I have discussed in other parts of the paper.

Key Characteristics of the Qur’an

Quran like other scriptures is a normative text or scripture of Muslims as a source of guidance for their lives.  Therefore according to Martin it is important to bear in mind how a particular scripture is related to those for whom it is more than a document.  He in fact argues that relational definition of scripture is needed in order to understand different facets of religious life.  Thus, the word Qur’ān etymologically is from the root qara’ to read and recite.  But other names associated with Qur’an are dhikr which means remembrance and furqan criterion. Qur’an is meant to be recited, memorised, reflected upon, internalised and externalised. Moreover, it must be underscored here that the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic.

Furthermore, the fact that the Qur’an is in Arabic necessitates the inescapable Ned to consider this language in order to understand the different layers of meaning (referred to as al-Tafsir bi al ma’thūr).  This is particularly relevant when dealing with some of the verses that have not been abundantly explained through the system of transmission and narration.  The Qur’an  thus states clearly that is revealed in Arabic , “Verily, We have revealed it, in Arabic that you may understand”.  Therefore the Arabic language is alluded to as Qur’anic Arabic because of the close relationship between the Arabic language and the Qur’an in light of the interpretation of the meanings of the words.

The Qur’an has a lot of characteristics.

  1. The phenomenon of gradualism (tanjim) in its legislation
  2. Its division into Makkan  period and Madinan period
  3. The language of Arabic in which the Qur’an is revealed is significant in its different manifestations
  4. But  one of the most important ones are the attributes related to the division of Qur’anic  legislation into qat‘iyy  (definitive and clear in meaning) and zani  (hypothetical/speculative  in meaning)

A ruling of the Qur’an may be conveyed in a text which is both unequivocal and clear, or that is open to different interpretations.  It therefore has only one meaning and admits no other interpretations. On the contrary, the speculative zani verse of the Qur’an is open to interpretation and ijtihad.  The best interpretation is that which can be obtained from the Qur’an itself by finding the necessary elaboration.

“the extract is from an academic paper. Dr Alhagie Manta’s work is phenomenal in terms of the command of the subject matter and simplifying the complex nature of the Quran. I highly recommend those searching for ways to comprehend the Quran, adopting it in modern contemporary times read the article fully.”  Suntou Touray

….for a complete access to the article, follow the link to the publishers, The article is a detailed and serious intellectual analysis in dealing with Quran.

Bio of Dr Alhagie Manta Drammeh: Founder and Managing Director of Timbuktu International Research Centre

Alhagi Manta Drammeh is originally from the Gambia but left there in the 1980s in search of knowledge in many countries.  He has gone  through both formal education and classical Islamic education since he was young from a renowned Muslim  while attending mode.  This has allowed him to have grounding in both Islamic primary sources, their interpretations, as well as humanities. He briefly learnt from his father a Muslim religious leader in the Gambia  then  had most of his studies from  with  Shaikh Ahmad (known as Alhaji Banding) who established the famous Islamic Institute in the Gambia in 1978and whom he refers to as his mentor.

Alhagi obtained a PhD  in 2005 at Muslim College, London affiliated with University of Al-Azhar (under the     supervision of the late Sheikh Professor Zaki Badawi )  and  completed doctoral taught programme (without thesis )  in 2001 in International Relations and Diplomacy at American Graduate School of International Relations and Diplomacy, Paris, France.

He embarked upon the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PGCerTHE) from 2006 to 2008 at the University of Dundee, UK.

Upon the successful completion of this programme (PGCerTHE) he became    recognised as Fellow of Higher Education Academy (FHEA UK).  

Earlier, Alhagi obtained a BA honours in Political Science and an MA in  Islamic theology, Comparative Religion and Philosophy at International Islamic University, Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Malaysia from 1992 to 1998



Alhagi has nearly  20 years  of experience in teaching, research and administration in the broad field   of Islamic studies. He started his academic career at the acclaimed International Islamic University in Malaysia in 1996. Later he taught at the Al-Maktoum College and became its first Head of the Department of the Study of Islam and Muslims.  At the above College he taught from 2004 to 2014.

He has recently founded the Timbuktu International Research Centre in Scotland . The Centre   is aimed at promoting cultural engagement and community education amongst Muslim communities in the UK generally and Scotland specifically.

He also taught briefly  Arabic language and Islamic Studies at Muslim High School of the Gambiafrom 19919 t0 1992. While in Malyasia, he was a weekl;y guets speaker Islamic Outreach, ABIM, Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 1995 to 1999. He was also the Founding President of Postgraduate Student Society of the International Islamic University Malaysia in 1996.  

He was Visiting Fellow Ripon College, Oxford where I had interesting dialogues with Christian theologians on interfaith and civilsational studies.

Conferences and Seminar Papers

He has  attended and presented papers in many academic international conferences in different parts of the world, including  the Qur’anic Discourse on Peace and Plurality at International Quran Conference, organised by Centre for Quranic Research, University Malaya, Malaysia, March 2013, Ahl al-Kitab and its Contemporary Relevance at  International Symposium on Rethinking Quran, Organised by Research  Institute of Philosophical Foundations of Disciplines in Ankara, May 2014, Teacher-Student Relationships  in the processes of Teaching and learning, at the International Exhibition and Forum for Education,  Organised by the Saudi Ministry of Education in Riyadh, 13-17 February, 2012-

and  ‘Reason and Revelation according to Ibn Rushd  (Averose)’ 1996 published in IIIT Newsletter 1996, IIUM Malaysia

  • Research Publications
  • Reflecting on Democratic Values and Principles of Gevernance in Islam’ in International  Journal of Muslim Unity, Kuala Lumpur, International Islamic University, Vol. 4, No. 1, August, 2006, pp. 11-44.


  • .   ‘Challenges of Islamicjerusalem’ in Journal of Middle Eastern Geopolitic, Rome, Globe Research and publishing Srl, Vol. II, January – March, 2007, pp. 9-22.


  • The Fallacy of the Inevitablity of Clash of Civilisations: A Common ground for Mutual Understanding and Co-Existence. Published by IIUM Press, International Ilsmaic University, Kuala Lumour, Malaysia, 2009 ((ISBN 978-983-3855-73-5)


  • Islam and Human Dignity: Insights into Muslim Ethico-Philosophical Thinking in Cheikh Mbacke Gueye (ed.) Ethical Personalism, , Ontos Verlag (in Frankfurt am Main) pp. 69-81


  • ‘Methodological  Approaches and Implications  in Dealing with Qur’an’ in Al-Bayan, Brill, volume 12/Issue1/2014
  • Ethics of Peace and Pluralism in the Qur’anic Discourse, in International Journal of Muslim Unity, Kuala Lumpur, Volume 10/ Number1/2 2012
  • Currently working on a book project:  The Arab Spring between Islamism and secularism
  • Ahl al-Kitab and its Contemporary Relevance (accepted as a conference paper)

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