We can’t be truly omniscient, for how do we know if we know everything? Something exists, but is often ignored. Take the Milky Way as an example. Now we know that the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, and so on… We don’t know quite a lot of this galaxy because of the dust blocking our views. But how did we know what we know about our galaxy? We view photographs of the galaxy in different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, showing different events going on (see the picture). Even if we get to take pictures about everything of the Milky Way, we’re still far from knowing everything about it. The Milky Way is perceived differently in different cultures, and in a single region, people’s perception of the Milky Way has changed over time. And some scholars are studying the history of the development of perceptions on the Milky Way, and the views of those scholars also change with time, forming another “discipline” called the history of the history of the Milky Way. How is the Milky Way represented in art, and the history of such representation? How does the Milky Way influence different species? And etc.
Of the innumerable different aspects of things, not all are very useful, but often we can’t predict whether something is indeed useful. For instance, how the person living downstairs perceives the Milky Way may seem very useless, but some day it might be useful when an artistic representation of the Milky Way relieved his illness after contracting some kind of disease.
This is a blog about the Quran, so what do different aspects of things relate to the Quran? Some people claim that the Quran is neither clear nor detailed at all, as it claims itself, because many passages are very repetitive, and there aren’t bullet points specifying rituals and beliefs. But those people failed to see the aspects of Quranic verses besides those that look like bullet points, and how the seemingly repetitive passages differ from each other. For instance, the scene of messengers getting rejected is very repetitive, but Chapter 26 is mostly about what happened before God’s punishment, while Chapter 37 has more emphasis on the aftermath. Those people also failed to see how various aspects can link different concepts. For instance, 5:106 is a bit abrupt in Chapter 5, yet it doesn’t destroy the coherence of text, because it connects to both the overall theme of Chapter 5 of upholding God’s law objectively (see the last sentence of this verse), and the individual’s responsibility to his own deeds in 5:105 (by death). So think about various aspects of verses, such as context and function in the context, can be helpful to dig up what’s never been pondered upon (I don’t mean always helpful).
Also relevant to aspects is level of thinking. Few people go beyond the level of verses. Still remember the example of “history of history” in the Milky Way paragraph? This example has gone beyond phenomena of the Milky Way itself, to the meta level, a level of “about” what’s discussed. Similarly, there is meta language, something about language, and meta logic, something about logic. The Quran has many “mata-verses”—verses about verses, such as those initiating the Ha Meem series (Chapters 40-46). So why not think in the meta level? Another example of levels is holistic versus reductionist approach. An example in science is thermodynamics versus quantum mechanics. The former considers how particles act together, while the latter considers individual particles. So what about how verses act together forming concepts and how concepts act together forming more concepts? This is the hallmark of my approach. A further example of the levels is christened by me “law of law.” We may begin with bullet point decrees, and then find some patterns in them, such as how God’s decrees are related to God’s characteristics. In this case, God’s characteristics can be said to rule on bullet point decrees, or as the law of laws. But the decrees may also shape God’s characteristics as presented in the Quran. So the two levels of laws rule each other in this case, though mutual rule doesn’t have to be present in “law of law.” I’m by no means exhausting all examples of levels of thinking; other examples include “relationship between,” “change with respect to,” and etc., with overlapping among different examples.
Sounds weird? This weird phenomenon of self-reference in the previous paragraph is called “strange loop,” where the basics that gives rise to something is in turn influenced by what it gives rise to. (See God and the New Physics by Paul Davies for a more detailed account, especially on the strange loops in the human mind and quantum mechanics.) An example in science not present in God and the New Physics is that DNA codes for histone, yet histone affects the expression of DNA. Quran exegesis is indeed a strange loop. From the Quran, we learn how to understand the Quran by the “meta-verses,” mentalities of rejecters, and many other passages (according to Farouk A. Peru, Chapter 41, and Siraj Islam, Chapter 17) and this in turn affects how we understand the Quran, including the lengthy passages that taught us how to understand the Quran. This is what makes this Scripture so special. I haven’t found strange loops in the Bible, at least not such an intense form, as the Bible is mostly historical narratives, even with internal inconsistencies on characteristics of God that can’t really be reconciled. But strange loop, so what? Perhaps with each reading of the Quran, we get closer to God’s laws, just like in mathematical induction, we get closer to the solution each time we reiterate (just an suggestion, not tested yet).
I’m sure that to many Quranists, the translations of some verses are kind of baffling, not sounding consistent with Islam as a whole. I wish that this article can inspire better exegesis and theology, to get beyond taken-for-granted assumptions, to inspire thoughts never thought about, and to rediscover true Islam.
Acknowledgement: Sincere thanks to Farouk A. Peru and Siraj Islam.