kitāb mutashābih mathāniya in the Qur’an

A decree of paired comparison

This article is from The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation.

kitāb mutashābih mathāniya – a decree of paired comparison

This convention occurs only once. The broad array of translators, frankly, have no idea what it means and their attempts to render it in English differ wildly. Most of their problems stem from their assumption that kitāb (at least by default) means book.

Here is our staple Traditionalist’s attempt at 39:23 with the operative phrase underlined:

Allāh has sent down the best statement: a consistent Book wherein is reiteration. The skins shiver therefrom of those who fear their Lord; then their skins and their hearts relax at the remembrance [i.e., mention] of Allāh. That is the guidance of Allāh by which He guides whom He wills. And one whom Allāh leaves astray – for him there is no guide. (39:23)
[Saheeh International]

We know the following:

  • kitāb is a decree
  • mathāniya is something twofold, paired
  • mutashābih means known by analogy, allegory or comparison

With these points in mind it makes sense to look in the immediate vicinity for anything which bears any of the characteristics listed.

Interestingly, that is exactly what we find at 39:23-35. Here is a summary:

  • 39:23. Statement of kitāb mutashābih mathāniya. Such is God’s guidance. God sends astray whom he wills (decree; paired: guidance and straying)
  • 39:24. Implied contradistinction between one who finds himself on the wrong side of the Day of Resurrection and one who is on the right side of it, along with payment for wrongdoing (paired)
  • 39:25. Those who denied: overtaken by retribution whence they knew not (decree)
  • 39:26. Some made to taste degradation in this world while the retribution in the life to come is greater (paired; two sides in eternity)
  • 39:27. Qur’an given so we should receive admonition; and 39:28: so that we should be in prudent fear (together forming a pair)
  • 39:29. Parable: two types of men (pair)
  • 39:30. Thou wilt die and they will die (decree, twofold / paired)
  • 39:31. Dispute to happen on the Day of Resurrection (decree)
  • 39:32. One who lies against God and one who denies the truth compared (twofold / paired)
  • 39:32. Home of rejecters in Hell (decree)
  • 39:33. Those who brought the truth and confirmed it – these are those of prudent fear (twofold / paired)
  • 39:34. They shall have what they will of the Lord’s bounty. That is the reward of the doers of good (decree; twofold)
  • 39:35. God will remit from them the worst of what they did and pay them for reward the best of what they did (twofold / paired; decree)

It’s difficult to imagine a small section of text so densely packed with exactly the characteristics which the title kitāb mutashābih mathāniya suggests.

For this reason, it is my considered opinion that kitāb mutashābih mathāniya indicates that portion of the Quran which falls within 39:23-35.

The instance in the text is footnoted.



About the Author Sam Gerrans

Sam Gerrans is an English writer and speaker with professional backgrounds in media, strategic communications, and technologies. He is driven by commitment to ultimate meaning, and focused on authentic approaches to revelation and Realpolitik. He is founder of and author of The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation where his consistent, Qur'an-centric hermeneutical methodology is applied to the text of the Qur’an in its entirety. Read more...

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