Using Inferences to Understand the Quran

Tree overlooking canyon.

May I infer that you’re shy? My inference is based on your manner, how you speak, and that you started blushing as soon as I asked.

Inferences are special because they let us come to conclusions that aren’t clearly stated. A person doesn’t have to tell you that they’re shy. You can figure that out by using evidence from their behavior. When it comes to reading, inferences help us read more into a phrase than the words actually say. Inferences are how we “read between the lines.”

“It’s Ramadan and the sun is smiling on me.” Is this person just talking about the weather and time of year? Or is she happy and feeling the warmth of the holy month of Ramadan?

Inferences are conclusions we make that are based on clear evidence, but what kinds of evidence can we use? Everything: when and where words are used, symbols, figurative language, dialogue, you name it.

Almost anything can be used as evidence, but there’s a difference between assumptions and conclusions, a weak inference and a strong one. I can assume that my daughter, who’s only allowed two cookies a day, did not eat the entire box of chocolate cookies because she’s “my little angel.” If I stick to this assumption even though she walks past me with her head stuck in an empty box of cookies, then I can be sure I have myself a weak inference. I could also investigate by digging up more evidence of a cookie monster attack, like asking her to smile. Chocolate-smeared teeth make for great supporting evidence. Anyway, assumptions come from quick glances and weakly supported clues that usually ignore evidence contradicting our position. Meanwhile, a strong inference is the opposite. It’s based on many well-connected, solid details that all support the inference in different ways.

Here’s a good observation from the Quran to get us started on making great inferences: in the entire Quran, God swears by the pen but never swears by the sword (68:1). This is very meaningful. You can only appreciate how meaningful it is if you make the inferences, though. So, what do you think? What are your inferences?

To make this inference, take into account the symbols used—something you should always do when reflecting on verses. In this case we have the pen and the sword. What does each symbol stand for? The pen is a symbol of sophistication, education, truth, and etiquette. The sword is a symbol of defense, power, danger, and aggression. From these facts very strong inferences can be made. God swears by the pen instead of the sword because he is teaching us that the pen is more powerful than the sword. We can also infer that God promotes education in Islam first and foremost, not violence, as the misguided assume.

Take a look at the metaphors in this verse:

“And if all trees on earth were pens and the ocean were ink, supported with seven more oceans, God’s words would not be exhausted. God is indeed Mighty, Wise” (31:27).

Well, isn’t the Quran God’s words? It might take just one pint of ink to write all of it—not an ocean’s worth. What’s the inference? Although the ink runs dry after a pint, the meanings contained in the Quran’s verses are infinite, which even oceans of ink could not satisfy. This is beauty atop beauty. Can you infer anything else from these metaphors?

Remember to support the inferences you make with as much evidence as you can. This is what separates a solid inference from a weak one. Here is another verse supporting the idea of infinite meanings in the Quran:

“In this Quran we have provided an example of everything for humanity, but man is quite contentious” (18:54).

How can you have an example of everything in just one book? Easy. Because the Quran applies to everything through its symbols, metaphors, and universal principles. Remember that evidence is the ingredient of great inferences and keep thinking!


Please feel free to share any thoughts.

This is an excerpt of our book “Experience the Symbolic Literature of the Quran” which can be found on


Wonder, Wander

Wandering through Creator's expanse

Through earth’s valleys,
This lowest life,
Its mirage,
Through cacti and prickly pears
Adorned with spikes—
Casting spells
Of fear—
While pointing wanderers to what’s inside:
For the thirst-blistered wanderer,
The wonderer
The lover of God,
Of Goodness,
How sweet is its nectar!
When you wander
Through the world’s parchment
Meeting God
Only when you realize
You were never, ever alone.
With the Creator
Through his beautiful expanse.

The Two Hemispheres of the Quran Part 3—Allowed or Not?

Mountain with "mutashabehat" written beneath

If you’ve read part 1 and part 2 of this blog post, you’ve discovered the balance between the two types of Quranic verses: mutashabehat and muhkamat. You’ve also discovered how beautiful the mutashabehat are. But should we really reflect upon all those beautiful symbols in the Quran? Since the mutashabehat don’t have a clear meaning but can resemble many things, wouldn’t it be better not to reflect upon them and avoid all the uncertainty?1Some take that position and cite the following verse as their motivation:

He is the one who revealed the Book to you. It comprises verses that are unambiguous [muhkamat], they are the foundation of the Book, while others are unclear and allegorical [mutashaabehat]. As for those in whose hearts is deviance, they follow what is unclear and allegorical thereof, seeking discord and its (absolute) interpretation. No one knows its (absolute) interpretation except God. Those firmly grounded in knowledge say, “We believe in it. The whole of (the Book) is from our Lord.” Yet only those possessing intellect understand (3:7).

Is interpreting the symbols really forbidden? Let’s read a little closer. What’s forbidden is the specific context mentioned in the verse: a deviant heart that ignores the muhkamat and interprets the mutahsabehat with the intention to do harm. These people seek an interpretation that causes disunity & disharmony.

How can an interpretation of a symbolic verse lead to disharmony? One way is that the interpretation is itself not in harmony with the rest of the Quran—and nature. It must be consistent with the whole book. For example, in part 1 of this blog post we discussed the “garment of God-consciousness” and how it connects to Adam and Eve’s nakedness when they ate of the tree. This interpretation is in harmony with the rest of the Quran (in fact, the verses mentioning the garment and Adam and Eve becoming naked are just a few verses apart: 7:22 & 7:26).

If someone interpreted that the “garment of God-consciousness” is what blades of grass wear every night, then this would be an interpretation that’s not in harmony with the rest of the Quran. Any interpretations in disharmony with the Quran will also lead to discord beyond it.

Another part of verse 3:7 is that no one knows the absolute meaning of the symbols in the Quran. Only God does. Only God holds the keys to the mysteries of the Universe. That doesn’t preclude our striving and searching for answers. We can gain a piece of the answer but will never know it in its entirety. No one knows the absolute truth about anything.2 We can study the physics of space but the more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. By us not knowing and striving for answers, the Creator sets the stage for a beautiful student/teacher relationship!

Remember verse 59:21, mentioned in the previous post. This verse acknowledges the mutashabehat and tells us that their purpose is for us to reflect and engage our minds:

Had We sent down this Quran upon a mountain, you would have seen it humble itself and split apart from fear of God. Thus do We provide examples to mankind so they may reflect (59:21).

Thinking about the Quran’s symbols and allegories, seeking their deeper meaning, allows us to experience the Quran’s beauty for ourselves—each of us individually. It engages our minds and sparks our imaginations. Imagine the magnificence of a mountain whose peaks are so grand that they pierce the highest clouds. Yet even these dominant structures split apart and crumble from their humility and fear of God. Now contrast this with the hearts of some people that are so hardened and sick with arrogance that no amount of truth penetrates.

Everything in our existence is connected. When you see how the many symbols in the Quran are in harmony with each other and how they’re in harmony with nature, you begin to breathe an awareness of the beauty that surrounds us.

Reflecting on the mutashabehat is not only allowed, but it’s commanded. What’s not allowed is going to extremes, like only following one type of verse and ignoring the other, especially with the intention of being dishonest and doing wrong.



1. Mutashabehat most literally means things which “resemble each other.” In terms of the Quran, it refers to verses that are symbolic and allegorical, as the meaning of one concept resembles meanings of another.

2. No person’s knowledge of anything is complete, since we are not God. This verse explains it best, “[…] Above every possessor of knowledge is a one (more) knowledgeable” (12:76). If a person’s knowledge were complete, then they wouldn’t need the Creator.We are all inherently dependent and always in need of God, The Independent.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

The Two Hemispheres of the Quran Part 1 7

Brain top view copyright

Have you ever thought of the Quran as an allegory of the human mind? We know that the Quran is made for the human brain, but did you know that the human brain is also made for the Quran? Let’s clear this up. The brain has two hemispheres, right? Well, so does the Quran. It has two types of verses:

He is the one who revealed the Book to you. It contains verses that are clear [muhkamat], they are the foundation of the Book, while others are unclear and allegorical [mutashabehat] [. . .] (3:7)

The verses called the muhkamat are about laws and religious duties, like prayer and fasting, while the other verses, called the mutashabehat, are figurative and symbolic. (We’ll discuss the rest of this verse 3:7 in Part 3 of this blog post).

If we look at how the brain deals with language, notice that the left hemisphere recognizes the grammar and laws of arranging words while the right hemisphere mostly senses the emotional meaning of language through the rhythm of sounds.1

Isn’t this duality simply astounding? Not only do the brain and the Quran have two parts to their setup, but their functions mirror each other!2 The muhkamat deal with laws just like the left hemisphere, while the mutashabehat deal with abstract things like allegories and figurative language, much like the more abstract concept of emotion that the right hemisphere helps with.

Here’s an example of a mutashabehat verse. Do you remember the verse about the “garment of God-consciousness” being the best clothes we could ever wear?

O Children of Adam! We have given you garments to cover your shame and as an adornment. But the garment of God-consciousness [taqwa]—that is best. These are among the Signs of God so people may benefit (7:26).3

Being conscious of God/taqwa is a state of mind, but it isn’t clothes that we wear like a garment. So what could this mean? How could we wear taqwa? This verse is figurative 🙂

Let’s reflect on this a little to figure out what it means. What do we use clothes for? Clothes protect us from the heat and the cold, they beautify our appearance, and they cover our shame. Now think about being aware of God. What a beautiful and powerful state of mind. The garment of taqwa protects us and beautifies us like no other garment ever could!

Isn’t it interesting that Adam and Eve, peace be upon them, became naked when they ate the fruit of the tree?

Then [Satan] misled them through deceit. When (Adam & Eve) tasted (the fruit) of the tree, their shame became apparent to them and they began covering themselves with leaves in the Garden (7:22).

Did you notice something? What garment did Adam and Eve lose that exposed their nakedness? They lost their garment of taqwa! This is what left Adam and Eve naked and vulnerable, exposing their shame.4

Adam and Eve’s nakedness via the “original sin” of eating from the tree is in the Bible too, but the deeper understanding we have comes from the symbols placed so conveniently side by side in the Quran: 7:22 mentions their nakedness and 7:26 mentions the garment of taqwa! Adam and Eve didn’t just become naked as some people often think. They became naked because they lost their garment of God consciousness! This is indeed the worst kind of nakedness.

God is certainly our Master Teacher!

Let this beautiful symbolism be a divine warning. Do not let the embodiment of evil, Satan, strip us of our garment of God-consciousness, leaving us naked, vulnerable, and exposed to our lower nature, but let our garments be a source of protection and beauty.

Wow! The Quran is marvelous indeed, and we better understood its beauty by reflecting on its symbols, the mutashabehat. When you have two things residing in the same place, you must end up with balance. There’s a balance in our anatomy between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and there should just as importantly be a balance in how we read the Quran. Let’s appreciate both types of its verses: the muhkamaat and the mutashabehaat. We are a “community of the middle way” after all (see 2:143).

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post discussing the beauty of the Quran’s symbols and the divine command to reflect upon them 🙂



1. Carl Zimmer, “The Big Similarities & Quirky Differences Between Our Left and Right Brains,” Discover Magazine, April 2009, accessed March 14, 2015.

2. At least in terms of how the brain deals with language.

3. Taqwa is the Arabic word for being aware and mindful of God, so the word “God-consciousness” is often used as its translation.

4. A friend mentioned this beautiful connection to me. Its credit is due to the deep-sighted Imam Warith Deen Muhammad.


Please feel free to comment.