You know when I was thinking about and pondering a spiritual interpretation of the Qu'ran, I forgot about the Islamic mystics...the Sufi. They have been interpreting the Qu'ran spiritually for centuries. The following excerpt from an article I read discussing the spiritual or esoteric interpretation of the Qu'ran....
An esoteric interpretation of the Qur'an is an interpretation of the Qur’an which includes attribution of esoteric or mystic meanings to the text by the interpreter. In this respect, its method is different from the conventional exegesis of the Qur’an, called tafsir. Esoteric interpretations do not usually contradict the conventional (in this context called exoteric) interpretations; instead, they discuss the inner levels of meaning of the Qur'an. A hadith from Prophet Muhammad which states that the Qur’an has an inner meaning, and that this inner meaning conceals a yet deeper inner meaning, and so on (up to seven levels of meaning), has sometimes been used in support of this view. Some Islamic sects impose strict limitations on esoteric interpretations.
Yeah' well, there are many Christian sects that impose strict limitations on esoteric interpretation, too.
The video by John Dominic Crossan that I mentioned in my last post talked about the difference between literalism and fundamentalism. Literalism is taking everything that can possibly be taken literally...literally. The Islamic equivalent is called Tafsir...and does not allow for esoteric or mystical (spiritual) interpretations of the text. It is akin to "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."
It is a surface view rendition...no symbolism (or very little) and it is what it is. This is the interpretation method of choice for radical Muslims....those who spur on the islamic nut cases who fly planes into towers and hide bombs in their tighty whities. It is not the literal interpretation by itself that causes violence, but rather when it slips into fundamentalism. Fundamentalism (in Islam or in Christianity...or any religion for that matter) says that not only do I believe that a literal interpretation is the ONLY possible way to interpret scripture but that that I have the ONLY possible correct interpretation...and (this is when it slips into fundamentalism) YOU have to believe it too. And I will do anything in my power to convince you to see it that way using a vast array of methods, employing varying degrees of violence. (all the way from shunning to bombings)
Yet not all Muslims (contrary to popular opinion) take the Qu'ran at an entry level interpretation.
In Arabic, batin refers to the inner or esoteric meaning of a sacred text, and zahir to the apparent or exoteric meaning. Batin is defined as the interior or hidden meaning of the Quran. This is in contrast to the Quran's exterior or apparent meaning (the Zahir). Some Muslim groups believe that the Batin can only be fully understood and interpreted by a figure with esoteric knowledge, who for Shi'a Muslims is the Imam of the Time.
So then "Tafsir" is the Arabic word for exegesis or commentary, usually of the Qur'an. It does not include esoteric or mystical interpretations. And the word for the esoteric, metaphysical, spiritual, mystical interpretation? Ta'wil
Esoteric and mystical interpretations are often referred to as ta' wil. They rely on distinguishing between the surface meaning (zahir) and the deeper sense (batin)
Some have held ta'wil to mean the finding of a second meaning for the text which is called its inward or esoteric sense (batn) as opposed to its apparent and literal meaning (zahr).The Qur'an itself speaks about the necessity of ta'wil and so have the Imams, the Companions and Qur'anic scholars of later eras.
More on this in my next post.