The Thematic Interpretation of Quran

Main Concepts in the Quran

We are going to talk about the theme of concepts (mafaheem). It’s a major theme in the Quran. It’s a major concept on its right because it’s tied to what the Quran calls “the names” or “the words”.

Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:

Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “If the ocean were ink for ˹writing˺ the Words of my Lord, it would certainly run out before the Words of my Lord were finished, even if We refilled it with its equal.” (18:109)

So, we see in this example in the Quran, if the oceans are ink for writing the words of Allah, the ocean will not be enough to write them.

And Allah taught Adam all the names.

The names in the Quran or the words that are revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) have particular meanings, and particular authority.

For every word in the Quran, for everything that Allah said in the Arabic language that He revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), there is an authority. An authority of meaning, an authority of implication, an authority of what the word translates to.

When you translate it to a system of society or whatever it is, the word itself defines what the system is going to be.

Main Concepts in Al-Fatihah

When you read the Quran, every word has a meaning. From the beginning, “Bismillah” (in the name of Allah) is the first name of Allah talks about whether you read from Al-Fatihah or you read from Al-Alaq.

So the name of Allah is the first concept that is introduced in the Quran in whatever order you read the Quran with.

Then “Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem” (The Most Merciful) two other names that deal with the value of mercy.

Alhamdulillah Rabbi Al Alameen” that is a concept to thank and praise Allah.

“The Lord of the worlds” the world is a concept, and the “worlds” is another concept. And linguistically speaking, that is tied to knowledge.

Maliki yawmi deen” (the King of the Day of Judgment). “Deen” is a major concept in the Quran and “yawmu deen” is one of the sub-concepts of that where there is the Hereafter or the day of balance, the day of rectification.

“You we worship and seek help.”: Worship is a major concept, seeking help and tawakkul is another major concept.

“Guide us to the Straight Path”: Guidance to the straight path is a concept that has to do with worshipping Allah.

Surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him ˹alone˺. This is the Straight Path.” (3:51)

“The path of those who You have blessed”: Blessing is a concept.

“Not of those who You have evoked anger”: Wrath that Allah had upon those who do not believe in Him or spread corruption on earth.

“Or of those who go astray.”

From Concepts to Conceptual Framework

Every word that your read in the Quran is going to introduce to you a concept. And as we mentioned about the objectives, the concepts for a highly connected web of meanings that if we connect and we start to look at the central concepts, then we start to frame a conceptual framework in the believer’s mind.

That is the objective of the concepts: to form this framework. And that framework defines the worldview of the believer. The believer looks at the universe, at life in a particular way because of the conceptual framework, or concepts that the Quran teaches the believer.

The Quran defines the words and everything in it in a different way, and it is quite revolutionary. It defines health and sickness in a different way; it defines richness and poverty in a different way.

Richness and poverty in the Quran are moral richness and moral poverty. And health and sickness are faith and lack of faith… Therefore, it builds a framework through which you look at the universe that is different and that is unique.

The War on Concepts

These days we have a war on concepts, and everybody is trying to be hegemonic in a particular way, economic, political, social, cultural… They invade the conceptual framework of cultures in general and Islam in particular.

As Muslims, we have to defend our conceptual framework and our concepts of the Quran that is a major theme. We define family in a particular way in Islam and we are fixed with that, we are constant with that.

We’re not going to change the definition of family because of people’s whims that they would like to apply to the world and change the very concept of family that is defined through the concept of marriage and the concept of adultery.

Marriage is marriage and adultery is adultery, we should not mix these things in a way that defies the Islamic concepts. That is something to defend, because that is the Muslim identity and the family identity.

Financial Concepts

We have a particular definition of usury in Islam.

Anything that goes in addition to a capital that is not due to a particular risk, or at least observing equity in a particular way, is usury in Islam, whether small or big, whether with a bank or individually between people.

That is a particular concept of usury that we have to defend. And based upon that, there is a whole economic system that Islam proposes that is based on charity or waqf or tasbeel (make it in the way of Allah).

Endowment (waqf) is a particular concept, a pattern upon which you build the whole economic system, a system in which most of the transactions are protected by the waqf and most of the institutions like educational and health institutions.

We have a problem today with our Islamic institutions because they are not based on waqf, not based on the Islamic concept of charity. They are based on all sorts of business and trade and ‘social responsibility’… that corrupted the Islamic institutions in the sense of not protecting them.

Now that we have an economic crisis, the Islamic institutions are suffering because the concepts upon which we built the Islamic institutions of learning, of charity work, of research, education… in a business model rather than a waqf model that gives them stability.

So the concepts here are very serious. The concept of marriage, the concept of awqaf, the concept of knowledge is a comprehensive concept in Islam. It’s not just science, it’s not just academia. ‘ilm is a whole range of information that has to do with knowledge.

Not just the material knowledge and not just something that you can prove by the five senses, but also the knowledge that is revealed to the Prophets about things we don’t have proof for. But they are truth because they are part of that conceptual framework.

Protecting Our Identity

It is very important that we protect the intellectual identity of the believers by referring to the concepts as the major theme in the Quran and giving these concepts the authority that Allah gave them and not apologize for the ‘invading concepts’.

You’re talking about development, how do you define development? And is it really compatible with the Islamic concepts of success (falah) or the human welfare?

How do you define human rights? Are they compatible with the Islamic concepts of rights?

When talking about any system that is based on words or concepts, you have to have authority from the revelation for these words. Otherwise we will have to critique these

words and understand them in a way that agrees with what they agree with in terms of the Islamic concepts and disagrees with what they disagree with when it comes to the Islamic concepts.

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About Dr. Jasser Auda
Jasser Auda is a Professor and Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies at the International Peace College South Africa, the Executive Director of the Maqasid Institute, a global think tank based in London, and a Visiting Professor of Islamic Law at Carleton University in Canada. He is a Founding and Board Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, Fellow of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India, and General Secretary of Yaqazat Feker, a popular youth organization in Egypt. He has a PhD in the philosophy of Islamic law from University of Wales in the UK, and a PhD in systems analysis from University of Waterloo in Canada. Early in his life, he memorized the Quran and studied Fiqh, Usul and Hadith in the halaqas of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. He previously worked as: Founding Director of the Maqasid Center in the Philosophy of Islamic Law in London; Founding Deputy Director of the Center for Islamic Ethics in Doha; professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Alexandria University in Egypt, Islamic University of Novi Pazar in Sanjaq, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, and the American University of Sharjah. He lectured and trained on Islam, its law, spirituality and ethics in dozens of other universities and organizations around the world. He wrote 25 books in Arabic and English, some of which were translated to 25 languages.