When the Prophet lived, the Qur’an was not a “read text”; it was a prophetic “recitation” only directly accessible through him. This is why the Qur’an itself (verses 2:151, also 62:2, 3:164), when seen as a witness to history, declares that Prophet Muhammad “recites to you Our Signs, purifies you (yuzakkikum), teaches you (yu‘allimukum) the Book (al-kitab) and Wisdom (al-hikmah), and teaches you that which you do not know.
Sufis believe that Quran's initial letters (Muqatta'at) conceal mysteries that can not be fully expressed in words and should be understood by means of mystic experiences.In Sufi commentaries of the Quran, Sufism concepts are commonly related such as the hierarchical levels of realities in human experience (human, supra-sensible, and Divine levels), the various states of consciousness such as passing away in God (fana) and subsisting through God (baqa).
According to Sufi's, the Qur’an is a ” book ” but a living book in which each “word” is as a “living cell”. In other words, the Qur’an should be considered a “living organic system of words“, a living Book---- this means the Qur’an, due to its formless Arabic language and its complex text , both combine to always give new answers to new circumstances, and contains an occult Batin which only opens its doors to the select few with a pure heart.
Baatin of Quran: Is Quran open to Interpretation?One area of disagreement for Muslim interpreters and exegetes of the Qur’an is whether the Qur’an has an esoteric, hidden or spiritual meaning that goes beyond the literal and surface meaning of the Arabic words. In pre-modern times, most Qur’anic exegetes from the Mu‘tazilis, Ash‘aris, Twelver Shi‘as, Sufis, Philosophers and Isma‘ili Shi‘as maintained that the Qur’an does indeed have hidden (batini) spiritual meanings and esoteric interpretations (ta’wil).
Only the literalists and the Hanbalis disagreed with this.
Today, however, many interpretations of the Qur’an, including those of the fundamentalists, literalists, ( Wahabi)and even mainstream translations---funded by wahabi's---- are impoverished because they remain at the literal and surface meaning of the Qur’an.
Such a state of affairs was predicted by the Prophet Muhammad himself when he said:
There will come a time for my people when there will remain nothing of the Qur’an except its outward form and nothing of Islam except its name and they will call themselves by this name even though they are the people furthest from it. Their mosques will be full of people but they will be empty of right guidance.
.The Qur’an confirms that it has an esoteric and spiritual interpretation called “ta’wil”:
It is He who has sent down to you [O’ Muhammad] the Book; in it are clear (muhkamat) verses – they are the mother of the Book. And others are ambiguous (mutashabihat). As for those in whose hearts is deviation, they follow what is ambiguous from it, seeking discord and seeking its ta’wil (esoteric interpretation). But no one knows its ta’wil except God and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge (rasikhun fi’l-‘ilm), saying (yaquluna): ‘
According to this verse, the people of Muttaqin are those who hold on to Spiritual Self-Discipline at the highest level of spiritual development. Because, they believe and have faith in the Unknown World. Thus, by not being mentioned specifically, in detail or extensively in the Qur’an, this does not imply that some of those unknown realities do not, in fact, exist.
We believe in it. All is from our Lord.’ And no one will be reminded except the possessors of inner understanding (ulu’l-albab).
– Holy Qur’an 3:7
Certainly, did God confer a great favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting His Signs, and purifying them, and teaching them the Book and the Wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.
– Holy Qur’an 3:164 (see also 62:2, 2:129, 2:151)
According to Sufi Philosphers, God is both the outward (Al-zahir) and the inward (Al-batin) and His favours are given in both Zahir and Batin; thus, the Qur’an, as God’s revelation and His supreme favour, likewise has a batin (hidden) meaning revealed through esoteric interpretation (ta’wil).
He is the First and the Last, the Zahir (outward) and the Batin (inward), and He is, of all things, Knowing
– Holy Qur’an 57:3
And We have sent down unto you (also) the Reminder; that you may explain clearly (li-tubayyina) to mankind what was sent down for them, and that they reflect.
– Holy Qur’an 16:44 (see also 16:64, 14:4)
The believers are told to refer any questions and disagreements to God and His Messenger in order to obtain the ta’wil:
On the Day of Judgment, the ta’wil of all of God’s messages revealed through the Prophets will be shown to the people, including disbelievers, and they will all recognize this ta’wil and realize the inner truth of God’s revelations:
Do they await anything except for its ta’wil?
The Day its ta’wil comes those who had ignored it before will say: “The Messengers of our Lord had come with the truth (bi’l-haqq), so are there now any intercessors to intercede for us or could we be sent back to do other than what we used to do?” They will have lost themselves, and lost from them is what they used to invent.
– Holy Qur’an 7:53
All of the above verses testify that the ta’wil of the Qur’an exists and Prophets and servants of God in the past were aware of the ta’wil – including the Prophet Yusuf, Hazrat Khidr, and Prophet Muhammad – and that in the present time, a special group called rasikhun fi’l-‘ilm are the possessors of the ta’wil of the Qur’an.The Qur’an contains verses with words and expressions such that a deeper esoteric meaning (Baatin) is required for the message in the verse to be true.
Are you not aware that God has made subservient to you whatever is in the heaven and whatever is in the earth, and has bestowed His favours upon you both in zahir and in batin.
– Holy Qur’an 31:20
There are also valuable works of ta’wil in the Sufi traditions of Islam. The various Sufi mystics and saints (awliya’) have produced works that disclose the ta’wil of the Qur’an in Sufi metaphysical frameworks and poetry. The Sufis have been responsible for transmitting some of the esoteric teachings that go back to the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq.
There is a statement made by the Imam, Jafar Sadiq (d. 765 CE):
"The book of God comprises four things: the statement set down, the allusions, the hidden meanings relating to the supra-sensible world, and the exalted spiritual doctrines. The literal statement is for the ordinary believers. The allusions are the concern of the elite. The hidden meanings pertain to the friends of God. The exalted spiritual doctrines are the province of the prophets."
The mystical Qur’an commentary attributed by the Sufis to Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (d. 148/765) constitutes arguably the earliest extant mystical commentary on the Qur’an. It was preserved and transmitted by the Sufís of the early centuries of Islam, and it excerpts were found in the 4th-5th/ 10th-11th-century compendium compiled by M. b. al-Husayn al-Sulamí (d. 412/1021), and other Sufi exgesis of his students.
Attar of Nishapur, the 12th-century mystical poet, gives a mystical interpretation of the Quranic story of the descent of Adam and Eve from Paradise to Earth. According to Attar, "the man whose mind and vision are ensnared by heaven's grace must forfeit that same grace, for only then can he direct his face To his true Lord."
In Sufi terminology, the esoteric interpretation of the Qur’an [what Sufi call ta’wil] is often called ta’bir (literally: “to cross over”), isharat (allusions) and rumuz (secrets). Sufi Tawil is allegorical and symbolic, rather than the meaning of words, the atmosphere of a surah and its spiritual essence is given precedence.Occasionally a verse may be interpreted in a sense very different from its conventional meaning.
Listen to a lecture about the Master Sufi Qushayri to understand muhkam and mutashabih (clear and ambiguous) Qur’an verses, naskh (abrogation), the ascension narrative (Q. 53.1-18) comparing al-Qushayri’s Kitab al-Mi’raj and the Lata’if, the disconnected letters in the Qur’an (al-huruf al-muqatta’a), the narrative of Job, anthropomorphism, and the Master and aspirant (Shaykh and murid) relationship.
For example, Hamadani in his book Tamheedat ('Preludes') interprets 104:6–7 ("It is a fierce fire created by God, to penetrate into the hearts.") which conventionally refers to the punishment in hell, as passion of divine love. Hamadani interprets 14:48 ("On the Day when the earth is changed into another earth, and the heavens, and they will emerge before God"), which conventionally describes the day of judgment as a description of the moment of spiritual awakening or enlightenment.
Some examples of Sufi esoteric interpretation of the Qur’an are found in the ( I have tried to link to online translations for the seeker's convenience)
- Tafsir of Sahl al-Tustari
- Lata’if al-Isharat of Abu’l-Qasim al-Qushayri
- Meccan Openings (Futuhat al-Makkiyyah)
- Spiritual Gems by Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq
- Kashf al-Asrar by Maybudi
- Bezels of Wisdom (Fusus al-Hikam) of Ibn al-‘Arabi
- The Sublime Quran by Dr Laleh Baktiar
Numerological Interpretation (Ta'wil) of Quran
One branch of Sufi's interested in deciphering Quranic Baatin, were the Harufi; students of Kabbalah and Greek philosophy used numbers to divine the meaning of every Quranic surat. They believed Allah had revealed the Maktoob in numbers through Quran. Many eminent Islamic philosophers and mathematicians like Omar Khayyam and AlBeiruni were adherents.Why, it was asked, were letters of the alphabet written beneath the headings of some surahs (scriptures), in a half-opened manner, like senseless scribbles.
Eminent Islamic scholars who were engaged with “hurufi”, such as Mansur Al Hallaj (858-922), Ibn Al Nadim, Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) were always at the forefront to provide an exegesis of “Holy Texts”. Hallaj Mansur was the first Islamic Lettrist to discuss the secret content of letters and numbers in his tract “Kitab al-Tavasin” and his divan.
The 'science of letters'had nothing to do with divination or magic; it is merely a path to the discovery of the truths hidden behind the symbols.
Muhyiddin Ibn-i Arabi demonstrated (point by point), vast numbers of Lettrist abstractions in his seminal text “El Fütuhat El Mekkiye” (The Meccan Illuminations)Ibn 'Arabī explains how, guided by the First Intellect, he visited this manzil which contains five chambers (buyūt). In each of these chambers chests (khazā'in) are shut away. Each chest has locks (aqfāl) each lock has keys (mafātih) and each key has to be turned a specific number of times (harakāt).
In his work Kitab khawass al-huruf (Book of the Characteristics of Letters), Ibn Masarra appears as an esoteric (batini) philosopher investigating the esoteric meanings of the nuraniya, the fourteen separate letters which introduce certain surahs of the Qur'an, basically following the tradition of Islamic gnosis.
The mysterious letters, according to the harufinschool, represented the universe so that its entirety is a book whose letters are God's words. In this he was inspired by the work of Sahl al-Tustari (d. ah 283/ad 896), the author of a similar work on the science of letters.
According to these sufi's---- reflections (i'tibar) allows us to decipher the principles of all beings. The basic idea is to show that the different degrees that constitute beings, in general, correspond to the surah's fawatih (opening letters) as well as to the order of being. The letters are twenty-eight in number, equal to the length of the lunar phases. So these 28 arabic letters are used by Allah to express the essence of creation and Quran is a secret code to the mysteries of universe which can only be opened when this secret code with numbers is used.
Fourteen are exoteric and the remaining fourteen are esoteric. These are used by God to manifest his knowledge: their secret meanings have been bestowed upon the Prophet Muhammad as expressed in the Qur'an, and consequently, the Qur'an is the source of all knowledge, old and new. The steps leading to paradise and salvation are equal in number to the Qur'anic verses and to the number of God's beautiful names, excepting the great name of Allah
.If for example, the names of the five letters constituting the name “Allāh” in Arabic script are written out in full, the total is fourteen, as is the case with the five letters that make up the name “Moḥammad;” the two names together thus have a numerical value of twenty-eight. Since these two names are pivotal to the creed (šahāda), it will be appropriate to add to them the four letters constituting ašhadu (“I bear witness”), leading to a grand total of thirty-two.
The numerological tafsir of Quran can be found in many Sufi Tafsir and demands re-engagement; it opens up the brain to think in ways about the universe that a literal tafsir does not; any true seeker would find these readings invigorating. Quran contains great mysteries of the message of peace and mercy within it and yet----there are those who use its words to justify the murder of innocents and enslavement of women in sexual slavery ( ISIS).