Taking Verses Out of Context

One of the major crimes of Israelites was that they used to play with the words or phrases of Allaah’s revelations so that they could draw the meanings they wanted. This crime of theirs has been mentioned at places such as the following:

...A party from them used to hear the Word of Allaah, then knowingly distort it after they had understood it? Al-Baqarah 2:75

Some of those who have become Jews change words out of their places... An-Nisaa 4:46

...They change words out of their places and have forgotten a portion of what they were advised... Al-Maaidah 5:13

...They take the words out of their context after it has been established... Al-Maaidah 5:41

The key Arabic word used in all these verses is the verb derived from “Tahreef”, which literally means changing the directions to the wrong side. When used for narrations, it means changing the words or message of the words to convey meanings different from what was intended by the speaker or writer. This change or distortion may take many forms. Some forms consist of corrupting the word or phrase while others consist of distorting the meaning without making physical changes to the words.

The following are a few examples of different forms of corrupting words or phrases:
  1. Mispronouncing or misspelling words to misrepresent the intent. For example, changing “Marwah” (a hillock beside Holy Ka‘bah) into “Moriah”{footnote}"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori'ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." Gen. 22:2

    {/footnote} to confuse its identity. Or Greek Periklytos (the admirable) into Parakletos (advocate) to hide Jesus’ prophecy about the advent of Muhammad (the admirable) in John 14:16, 17 and John 16:13, 14.

  2. Making slight additions/deletions in the text to confuse the subject matter. Inserting “Isaac” after your only son, who in reality being the second son was never an only son. It was Ishmael who was the only son for 14 years{footnote}Genesis 16:16 and 21:5


  3. Making substantial changes to the text. An example from the Old Testament is the whole episode of Abraham’s time away from Sarah, his living with Haajirah and Ismaa’eel in Makkah and his construction of the Holy Ka‘bah which has been grossly changed or eliminated. Examples of substantial changes in the New Testament are the subsequent insertion of verses 16:9-19 in Luke or verses 7:53 to 8:11 in John.

Different ways of distorting the meanings without changing the words:

  1. Intentionally misinterpreting the words or message to make it different from what was intended. For example, Ishmael who was duly recognized as the elder son in Genesis, has been misinterpreted as not being a genuine son just to discredit him in favour of Isaac, although the Torah itself does not support it{footnote}Duet. 15:17{/footnote}. Or misinterpreting figurative terms of son and father used in the New Testament to describe closeness of relationship as if it was a biological (begotten or sired) relationship.
  2. Not disclosing all relevant facts but hiding or disclosing selectively to draw a misleading conclusion.
  3. Interpreting a multiple-meaning word by using a meaning that does not fit in the context.
  4. Taking a phrase out of its context and giving it a meaning irrelevant, inconsistent or incompatible with its context.

The above mentioned examples indicate some of the ways they distorted and corrupted their own religious books and religious teachings. At the time of the Prophet, the Jews and hypocrites used the last four techniques to distort Islamic teachings and the words of the Prophet so that they could give Islam a bad name and impede its spread. With this foul play they were able to fool or confuse a few people for some time, but by the grace of Allaah, they did not have lasting success. The true teachings of Islam were made known to the public and people continued to discover the truth of Islam and the beauty of its teachings.

Unfortunately, the use of these techniques to distort the message of Islam continues to this day by many non-Muslims and so-called Muslims. It varies from person to person where and how they commit those distortions. As far as the Qur-aan is concerned, Allaah has personally taken the responsibility to protect it from corruption of its words and text. Hence, it is the only religious book in the world that is perfectly preserved as it was revealed. Not only are its words preserved, their exact pronunciation modulations and accents as uttered by the Prophet are also preserved. And its meanings are also preserved in the sense that anyone who wants to find out what the meaning of a certain word was at the time of the Prophet, it is all documented and evidenced. However, that does not stop unscrupulous people from trying to change the meanings of the words. Thus, some people still make an effort to distort the message of the Qur-aan using the last four techniques. Any such attempts in the past have resulted in the creation of some misguided cults without impacting the mainstream understanding of the Islamic teachings. Some of the most flagrant examples of distortions come from those who claim to be the “people of the Qur-aan” who reject the traditional sources of knowledge of Islam under the pretext of understanding the Qur-aan “purely and directly”. The real reason of their discarding the knowledge handed down from the Prophet and his companions becomes evident once their interpretations are evaluated. It becomes clear that if they do not disregard the authentic sources of Islamic knowledge, they cannot take the liberties they take in misconstruing the meanings of the verses nor make the distortions they are bent on making. Currently, the two most active groups in this regard are the followers of Ghulam Ahmad Perwaiz and Rashad Khalifa (such as the group called the Submitters). Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani uses the same four types of distortions to support his false claims but does not reject altogether the original sources of Islamic knowledge. That, however, does not make his distortions any less heinous.

However, there has been an increasing trend among Muslims to take liberty with the verses of the Qur-aan without regard to the context of a verse or a part of a verse. In fact, this kind of distortion, referred to as number 7 in the above list, has spread like an epidemic. Many well-meaning Muslims and even some “scholars” take the verses or phrases out of context and ascribe such meaning to them that are totally irrelevant, inconsistent or incompatible with the context of that verse or phrase. They need to realize that Allaah SWT ordained a certain order of the verses and soorahs and thus established their context, not without any reason, purpose or wisdom. If the context was not important, there was no need for Allaah to dictate the ordering of the verses. He created the context to be respected, not to be disregarded.

This problem has become worse since the indexes of the words of the Qur-aan are now easily available, many “scholars” or “researchers” pick up the verses that contain the words they are looking for and start deducing meaning from those verses without regard to the context of those verses. Often, the meanings they derive are invalid if reviewed within the context of those verses. Needless to say, they arrive at the wrong conclusions from such exercises while assuming that they have done wonderful work. Little do they realize that they are committing the same crime of taking the verses out of their context for which the Israelites were cursed. They need to reflect on the following:

...They take the words out of their context after it has been established... Al-Maaidah 5:41

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