This essay is a critique towards the Lingocentric Quranists (LQs). Before I proceed, I must state that the work LQs has contributed represent a significant aspect of quranist discourse today. I have personally benefitted from the linguistic research of G.A. Parwez which liberated me from the religious paradigm of Sunni thought. However, I did not detect in Mr Parwez’s work any semblance of a claim to authority. I cannot discern his stance on linguistic authority so I will take it as it is – useful up to a point.
However, with the present day LQs, the case is wholly different. While they present essentially the same sources as Mr Parwez, they project the authority of those sources as absolute. The following numbered points represents aspects of LQs thinking and my responses to them.
1. They consider views which aren’t literally copy paste from online dictionaries as ‘opinions’ while their view is ‘Quranic’.
This is nothing less than a equivocation between dictionaries and Quran itself! How on earth does one ensure this? There is no other way unless dictionaries were themselves revelation! No LQ would admit this, of course.
The fact is, a dictionary is a compilation of meanings of various words by individuals. Who those individuals were or what their biases were or even their motives for authoring their works, we can never tell. How is it possible that they can have such authority over our interpretation?
2.. Dictionaries and grammar are true sources while hadith and religious literature are false sources.
While I do not support the use of hadith and other Islamic literature as an authoritative means for understanding Quran, it would be unfair of me to exclude them simply on the basis that I reject the claim they came from the Prophet. In other words, even if they didn’t come from the Prophet, they are still Arabs using Arabic to talk about Quran. Lets look at this hadith:
Narrated ‘Aisha: the mother of believers: Allah enjoined the prayer when He enjoined it, it was two Rakat only (in every prayer) both when in residence or on journey. Then the prayers offered on journey remained the same, but (the Rakat of) the prayers for non-travellers were increased
Here we can see that prayers involves rakaat (units) and lends itself to a ritualistic meaning. Some LQs reject this and hence tend to move away from that meaning. I have the same position but my reasons are different – I reject this meaning simply because it does not my fit my reading of Quran. Quran would have explicated such a ritual if it was truly in its agenda. It would be unfair for me to reject this meaning simply because it came from a book called ‘Jamia Sahih’ by Al-Bukhari (The compilation of authentic traditions of Al-Bukhari). Should I accept it because it is called ‘Qamoos Al-Bukhari’ (the dictionary of al-bukhari)? That would be a very superficial difference.
What then makes a dictionary authoritative? If we reject the authority of muhadditheen (hadith narrators) why do we accept the authority of the lexicographers? Ibn Mansur, the author of the oldest extant dictionary, lists prayer related meanings in his ‘salah’ entry. Isn’t is possible that he got these meanings by discerning the usage of the same people Bukhari acquired his traditions from?
3. Dictionaries and grammar books are needed to understand Quran.
This is again a nonsensical claim. If one were to ask western educated Arab, if he understands the Quran, in my experience he would say ‘yes except for some words’. This is because words from the Quran have largely been kept in use. Words like ‘deen’ , ‘salah’ , ‘zakah’ , ‘kalam’ and many more have found their way into modern Arabic. Arabs who have never studied dictionaries or grammar can easily understand Quran albeit perhaps less deeply. The reason is enculturation. When you speak the language as a daily practice, you get a sense of the word. Islamicate cultures such as my own Malay culture also picked up many of these words and thus makes learning Arabic easier in a sense.
These are three of the arguments by the LQs which I have problems with. I am hoping, in the course of time, to publish a theory of Quranic language. I believe that Quran did not leave its reader without independence to find the meanings it intended.