Today we’re having more fun with Bahá’u’lláh’s Book of Certitude …
Bahá’u’lláh cites verse 3.7 (3.6 according to some) of the Qur’án twice in his Book of Certitude. Here’s how Shoghi Effendi (the second successor of Bahá’u’lláh) translated the passage (he translates each citation differently):
None knoweth the interpretation thereof but God and they that are well-grounded in knowledge.
None knoweth the meaning thereof except God and them that are well-grounded in knowledge.
This seems to be saying “no one knows except those who know.” How absurdly circular! But in defense of the Qur’án, every broadly-recognized English translation of that book makes it quite clear that this is not what the Qur’án is saying.
None knoweth its explanation save Allah. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord;…
no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:”
none knoweth its interpretation but God. And the stable in knowledge say, ‘We believe in it: it is all from our Lord.’
It turns out, though, that all these translations represent the dominant Sunni point of view, that the ultimate meaning of the Qur’án is known only to God. The Shí’a read it differently, as exemplified by Maulana Muhammad `Alí’s Ahmadiyyah translation:
And none knows its interpretation save Alláh, and those firmly rooted in knowledge.
The Shí’a reading, that “only the knowers know” turns out to be the scriptural foundation for the idolatrous Shí’ah doctrine of ta’wil.
What’s so idolatrous about it? First, if men can achieve perfect, divine, knowledge, then men can become equals—or at least partners—of God. They can become infallible, as the Twelver Shí’a regard their “14 infallibles”. By the same reasoning, it is also an elitist doctrine, thereby contrary to what many Muslims consider to be the egalitarian spirit of Islám. Second, if the Qur’án is the perfect word of God and it can be understood perfectly, then the Qur’án itself is an idol; a divine image.
Ok, so it’s idolatrous, but what’s wrong with a little divine imagery? Here’s what’s wrong with it. If a man makes an idol of an image, he becomes enslaved to that image. If a man makes an idol of an idea, he becomes enslaved to that idea. If a man makes an idol of another man, he becomes enslaved to that man.
The whole thrust of Islam is against this kind of enslavement to anyone or anything but God, yet it is a hard lesson to learn. Even though the Qur’án makes it clear that Muhammad was a man who could err and be scolded by God, most Muslims have made Muhammad superhuman, and the Shí’a—particularly the Baháí—have made him an image of God.
We should not be surprised that Bahá’u’lláh, himself a Shí’a, puts such emphasis on the Shí’a interpretation of an ambiguous verse:
And yet, they themselves testify to this verse: “None knoweth the interpretation thereof but God and they that are well-grounded in knowledge.” And when He Who is well-grounded in all knowledge, He Who is the Mother, the Soul, the Secret, and the Essence thereof, revealeth that which is the least contrary to their desire, they bitterly oppose Him and shamelessly deny Him. —Kitáb-i-Íqán
Even as He saith: “None knoweth the meaning thereof except God and them that are well-grounded in knowledge.” And yet, they have sought the interpretation of the Book from those that are wrapt in veils, and have refused to seek enlightenment from the fountain-head of knowledge. —Kitáb-i-Íqán
So let’s not blame the translator, even though he cannot decide between the words “they” and “them” (who can blame him?).