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Spiritual Meditations ( 26 May 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Apply Occam's Razor And Avoid Over-Interpretation

By Sumit Paul, New Age Islam

26 May 2022

In Their Over-Enthusiastic, Adolescent Zeal to Explain Scriptural Fiddlesticks, They Go Overboard and End Up Smearing Egg on Their Faces


Last night, I was poring over the profoundly delightful correspondence between Dr Muhammad Iqbal and the legendary Cambridge University Professor of Persian and Arabic, Sir Reynold A Nicholson. It was in a pedantic, but a trifle highfalutin Persian with the great Englishman affectionately correcting Allama Iqbal's Persian!

The crux of the Persian correspondence between the two stalwarts was, Professor Nicholson advising Iqbal not to become an over-eager exegete on scriptural issues and avoid OVER-INTERPRETATION. Sir Nicholson used a word ' Dahagh ' from classical Persian of the 8th century, which I hardly came across in Persian literature. Anyway, this is inconsequential.

What's most important is to avoid ' Dahagh ' or Over-Interpretation/Circumlocution, esp. of religious and scriptural issues/texts. The problem with the followers of all man-made faiths is that there're self-styled scriptural interpreters in all religions, who suffer from Whimsatt and Beardsley's proverbial Intentional and Affective Fallacy and tend to see things which never existed. These people fabricate their own meanings that suit their whims, fancies and egoistic selves.

These monomaniacs forget that a scriptural text has an ontology of its own. It's not only an autonomous object but also 'complete' in itself. In their over-enthusiastic, adolescent zeal to explain scriptural fiddlesticks, they go overboard and end up smearing egg on their faces. Their ' noble ' attempt to explain certain sutras, Shlokas, verses and hymns, is often no less than cerebral acrobatics, called Dravidi Pranayaam in Sanskrit.

These people try to read between the lines and concoct such weird theories that even the finest brains put together cannot decipher them. This happens frequently in the sphere of scriptural interpretations. Do you know, there're more than three thousand conflicting explanations and interpretations of the simple AGAPE (Christian divine love, pronounced as A-g-a-p-a-y) and nearly six thousand Bhaashya (Tafseer or Vyakhya) on Adi Shankar's Monism in Hinduism.

All indolent, lotus-eating ' scholars' of religious texts make the simple theories unnecessarily intricate, doing a humongous disservice to their respective religions. Urdu poet-lyricist Shakeel Badayuni aptly wrote a couplet that also applies to such overzealous zealots:

Mera Azm Itna Buland Hai Ke Paraye Sholon Ka Dar Nahin

Mujhe Khauf Aatish-E-Gul Se Hai Ye Kahin Chaman Ko Jala Na De

(My determination is so firm and unflinching that I'm not scared of the sparks and embers from outside/ Rather, I'm scared of the fire of the flowers or seemingly innocuous objects, which can incinerate the garden).

The learned readers have got the insinuation. Don't we say in Persian, Aqlamandan ra Ishara Kaafi Ast (a hint is enough for an intelligent person).

So, shun the habit of over-interpretation and apply Occam's razor instead (cutting down to the bare minimum and accepting what appears to be the most acceptable and reasonable).


An occasional columnist for New Age Islam, Sumit Paul is a researcher in comparative religions, with special reference to Islam. He has contributed articles to world's premier publications in several languages including Persian. 


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