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The Meaning of a passage from the Qur'an

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Apr 20, 2001, 7:29:58 AM4/20/01

Geoff writes...

>There are many passages in the Qur'an which I find very difficult to
>understand. Sura XVIII (Kahf) is a good example. Or to select two of many
>verses in the Sura:
>'60. Behold, Moses said to his attendant, "I will not give up until I reach
>the junction of the two seas or (until) I spend years and years in travel.
>61. But when they reached the Junction, they forgot (about) their Fish,
>which took its course through the sea (straight) as in a tunnel'

As far as I can tell this story anticipates the encounter of Moses with the
angel Khidr. The fish, which were presumably dead, are miraculously raised
life and flap/jump/swim into the river. Moses takes this miracle as a sign
heads back to the place where it happened, and discovers Khidr.
The story of the encounter with Khidr should be taken as an allegory
Moses was actually free of sin.

Best Regards,

Matt Menge

Apr 21, 2001, 3:51:50 PM4/21/01

The Surih of Kaf, or Qahf, the Cave, Eighteenth Surih of the Qur'an
according to traditional numbering( not chronological ordering) contains
many allegorical or parabolic passages which were, some of them,
explained or commented upon by the Holy Imams, particularly 'Ali.

However, even most Muslims have no certain understanding of this Surih,
which contains the telling of three stories or legends, the first
referred to by Baha'u'llah in either the Seven or Four Valleys, and
known in Christian lore as the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

The second, to which you refer, is the story of Moses's training by the
Holy Spirit personified by Khidr or Green, sometimes identified with
various Prophets, such as Elijah, the Return of Whom is the Bab.

The third is the story told of one known as Dhu'l Qarnain,Lord of the
Horns, whose identity is likewise not known by the Muslims and who is
thought by many to be Alexander the Great.Looking at the Sermon by 'Ali
referring to this( I forget which one) it is apparent that this was not
the case.

In this connection, on the Baha'i Academics resource library, there are
translations ( provisional) made of three sermons given by Imam 'Ali,
one called the sermon of the Two Gulfs, or Khutbiy-i-Tutunjiyyih, and
two others, all quoted by Baha'u;'llah, which allude to this Surih among

There may be also Baha'i Writings that illuminate the meanings of these
passages, such as the one in Seven or Four Valleys( I think Four) where
Baha'u'llah says that the passage concerning the Companions of the Cave(
seven sleepers of Ephesus) is indicative of firmess in the Covenant.

Baha'u'llah in the same Volume also refers to the episode of Moses and
Khidr, by quoting a Persian mystic poem in reference to that part of the
Surih, which may prove enlightening and bears on the Theme of the
transcendent wisdom of God,and that 'He doeth whatsoever He willeth.'

You ask what the meaning of the particular passage to which you refer
is.The meanings of such Passages are infinite, and only the
Manifestations of God and Their Chosen Ones can reveal them, in any
certain way.

One can however, take them in context of the Qur'an as a whole,and also
in context of the sermons of 'Ali, and letters and other commentaries
and prayers of the Imams, which are many of them available in English on
the Internet and in books.

Then one can search the Baha'i Writings for interpretations of these and
other such passages, note them down and cross reference them, and then
prayerfully meditate on theeir significance in an effort to better
understand them.Baha'u'llah, the Bab and 'Abdu'l-Baha revealed a certain
amount of Qur'an commentary.Most is as yet untranslated.

One can pray to be illumined with the light of knowledge and
understanding of these Verses.

One can speak with Baha'i scholars of the Qur'an about them as well.Or
one might ask the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice
about these things.

That's about as far as one can go with it.Imam 'Ali said that the two
gulfs or the two seas, are the gulf of Prophethood and the Gulf of
Guardianship( Vilayat).

It could then be seen, in the light of 'Ali's infallible interpretation,
as an allegorical reference to the continuation of Divine guidance
through the Twelve Imams.

Muhammad appears to have emphasized aspects of Moses' story and life and
teachings in the Qur'an to refer to His Own Mission, as a warning.

It may be that the Surih of Kahf, or the Cave ,is about future
happenings in the History of the Covenant of God, after the passing of

This in light of statements made by 'Ali in these sermons, and the faxt
that Baha'u'llah spoke of firmness in the Covenant evinced by the
Companions of the Cave, and 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote the phrase the 'Cave of
the Covenant' in a Tablet about Local Spiritual Assemblies.

My best guess, and guess it is.Other than what the Writings of Islam(
Qur'an) and Sermons of the Imama, and Baha'i Writings state,we cannot
say with certainty what any such Verses mean.

As with allegorical Passages in our own Writings, we cannot say outside
of authorized interpretations, what those mean, but are free to share
our own understandings as long as we make it clear they are in no wise

John Versteeg

Roy Hilbinger

Apr 21, 2001, 4:01:02 PM4/21/01

Hi Geoff!

You wrote:
>There are many passages in the Qur'an which I find very difficult to
>understand. Sura XVIII (Kahf) is a good example. Or to select two of many
>verses in the Sura:
>'60. Behold, Moses said to his attendant, "I will not give up until I reach
>the junction of the two seas or (until) I spend years and years in travel.
>61. But when they reached the Junction, they forgot (about) their Fish,

>which took its course through the sea (straight) as in a tunnel' Allama
>Abdullah Yusuf Ali, 1957, The Illustrious Quran, SH. Muhammad Ashraf,
>Lahore, p. 179. And the following verses which continue this episode.
>Does anyone know of any references in the Bahai writtings to this, or can
>suggest any clues to its meaning.

Matt's right, the Yusuf 'Ali translation can be tough to get through.
Here's the Rashad Khalifa translation, which is a little easier on
the eyes and on English grammar:

60. Moses said to his servant, "I will not rest until I reach the
point where the two rivers meet, no matter how long it takes."
61. When they reached the point where they met, they forgot their
fish, and it found its way back to the river, sneakily.
62. After they passed that point, he said to his servant, "Let us
have lunch. All this traveling has thoroughly exhausted us."
63.He said, "Remember when we sat by the rock back there? I paid no
attention to the fish. It was the devil who made me forget it, and
it found its way back to the river, strangely."
64. (Moses) said, "That was the place we were looking for." They
traced their steps back.
65. They found one of our servants, whom we blessed with mercy, and
bestowed upon him from our own knowledge.
66. Moses said to him, "Can I follow you, that you may teach me some
of the knowledge and the guidance bestowed upon you?"

In this translation, it becomes clearer that losing the fish Moses
and his companion had brought along for lunch was a sign that their
destination had been reached. And sure enough, when they retraced
their steps to the place where they lost the fish, there was an angel
or somebody like that waiting for them, and Moses asks to be taken as
a pupil. After that comes a string of events which show how
short-sighted we are when we question God's actions - in the long run
God always acts out of mercy.

You can gain a lot of insight into stories like this from the Qur'an
by reading Baha'u'llah's "Kitab-i-Iqan" and "The Seven Valleys and
the Four Valleys". In these books Baha'u'llah uses stories and
passages from the Qur'an and Sufi tales to illustrate His points. It
becomes easier to understand because He's in full "instructive" mode
in these Writings, often repeating a point from several angles until
He's sure His reader has gotten it. And once you've gotten used to
the kind of thought process it takes to understand the examples
Baha'u'llah uses in these books, it becomes possible to apply that
process to the rest of the Qur'an, so that you can read it with

Of course, it also helps if you can take some classes on
understanding Islam. I don't know if anybody's doing that on an
organized basis these days, although I imagine the schools like Green
Acre and Louhelen probably have a program or two like that on a
regular basis. I know I'm eternally indebted to Green Acre for having
run a class on understanding Islam and an afternoon seminar on the
Kitab-i-Iqan by the same teacher, Saieed Khadivian, back in the
summer of 1982. A lot of things I'd been confused about clicked into
place between those two classes.

I hope this helps you!

Warm regards,

Roy Hilbinger

John Haukness

Apr 22, 2001, 9:42:03 PM4/22/01
> Dear Friends: Thanks to John Versteeg's approach to scholarship. It is so
> refreshing to break away from the norm of scholarly approaches which
> that everything fit into a catagory. Is the Holy Trinity this or that as
> there is just one answer.
> You study William Shakspeare in college and go through the English
> Departments reference library and you see the long historical debate over
> Falstaff's relationship, over Hamlet's true intent and motives and you
> the author is dead, and even if the author is living, many times the
> will tell you, I didn't spell that out because I wanted the reader to
> what they brought to the story rather than tell the reader what to bring
> the story. Same goes over the relationship Plato and Socrates had, it
> doesn't fit into a neat catagory, it's inductive not deductive reasoning
> play here, I believe the over play of behaviorism is greatly diminishing
> today's true scholarship.
> au revoir j

John Haukness

Apr 22, 2001, 9:44:49 PM4/22/01

Apr 23, 2001, 7:39:53 AM4/23/01

John Haukness writes:'It is so refreshing to break away from the norm of
scholarly approaches which demand that everything fit into a category.
Is the Holy Spirit this or that as though there is just one answer."

Thank you John,whenever I approach any subject from a Baha'i
standpoint,the first thing to do, for me, is to pray about it.

Next I search the Baha'i Writings, including the Writings of
Baha'u'llah, the Bab, 'Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal
House of Justice, available, including first authroized, and maybe later
what provisionals I can access.

In addition I check to see what the other Bahai Institutions directly
under the supervision of the Universal House of Justice have put out on

Then I check the standard works by the Hands of the Cause, other well
known Baha'i scholars of East or West,had to say or have to say.Those
whose selfless love and servitude for and to Baha'u'llah has been
demonstrated beyod the shadow of a doubt, and who do not merely utter
words but live the life as well.

Bearing in mind their fallibillity, as mine.:-)

Then I check the Qur'an,the Imams, and the commentaries on them if
available, to see what they say.

Then I may check the Scriptures of earlier Dispensations bearing in mind
their partial inauthenticity, greater or lesser.

Then I may check works of mankind of secular nature for scientific or
historical comment, realizing they may be as wrong as can be.:-).

But all is weighed by the Divine Standard.

First thing to check, for me, is the Kitab-i-Aqas, meaning not only the
central Text but all available supplementary ones.Look there and in the
other Writings for Mother Statements, which are absolutely key to
understanding a particular subject.Baha'u'llah Himself states in
Lawh-i-Maqsud that for every field of human endeavor He has revealed
such a statement or Verse.Also in other Tablets like Lawh-i-Hikmat this
is referred to..

Next thing to remember in Covenant-centered study, is that the Writings
of the Universal House of Justice while applicable, and they say when
they will be and when they wil not be, have the same authority as the
Text of the Aqdas Itself, according to the statement of 'Abdu'l-Baha.

So too do the Statements of the Guardian and the Master before him which
in a sense are the extension of the Book.

Then we must realize our own weakness and fallibillity, and have a sense
of humor about it as well..

Anyone who attempts to do any kind of Baha'i scholarship, at any level,
must realize that we must take the faith very seriously, and ourselves
and our endeavors not so seriously.

Next, we must finally realize that if we do by the grace of God
confirming any effort we may make, make any discovery, or manage to
achieve by His aid any work of service to humanity,we have not exhausted
the mine of the Word of God.

We have not even scratched the surface.Baha'u'llah quotes the Islamic
hadith, 'the Word of God has one and seventy meanings. Each one of these
meanings we are able to explain."

'Abdu'l-Baha interprets further that each Word has many meanings, each
one a thousand or more.

Thus how are we feeble mortals to completely understand or fully
comprehend these Words, each one of which has a thousand or more
meanings.Distinct meanings which only the Manifestations of God and
Their Chosen Ones are able to explain in any authoritative sense.

When we read even the interpretations of the Imams of Islam, after
reading the Qur'an, and find out some of what They explained, and know
that never, in a million million years would any human being ever have
known anything of what is explained, short of Divine infallible
guidance, one beins to perhaps get a glimmer of the intellectual
honesty and humility reqired of a Baha'i who wishes to fathom what
depths they can of the Revelation of God in this Age.

Then when one studies or atttempts to, the Baha'i revelation, and the
interpretations of 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian, and the elucidations
of the Unviersal House of Justice emanating from their
Divinely-conferred powers of legislation and infallibillity,the clarity
and sheer amount of guidance and interprettion and elucidation available
not only pertining toall important questions of this Revelation and this
Age, but of previous and future ones as well,makes one realize that they
are a drop falling into the ocean as Adib Taherzadeh has recounted.

Then maybe,having to some small extent understood our own importance:-)
or lack thereof in the scheme of things, we are in position for study
and application of the teachings.

What is the greatest danger is self and desire for anything but God and
His Will.All being human, all are in danger, and those who attain an
eminent position in any field of human endeavor, Baha'i or non-Baha'i,
tend to be in the greatest danger, if they do not learn through prayer,
meditation and daily use of the Writings and Most Great Name, obedience
to the Laws, and struggle, as Shoghi Effendi somewhere says words to the
effect of.

Whatever it is we try or want to do, the form of service we may attempt
to arise to render, never forget this, always remember the Spirit of
'Abdu'l-Baha.As He is our Perfect Exemplar,this is the best and safest
route I know.

And pray.

Best comment I got at this time.

John Versteeg

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