The Traditionalist Position: The Quran tells us that the messenger explains The Quran. This is in Quran 16/44:
..and We have sent down unto you the Reminder; that you may explain clearly to the people what is sent for them…
Therefore, we need Hadith and Sunnah to tell us how the messenger explained The Quran.
The Quranist Response:
First and foremost, the above verse was not quoted in full. The full verse reads:
With clarifications and Scriptures; and We have sent down unto you the Reminder; that you may explain clearly to the people what is sent for them, and that they may give thought (16/44)
A. The first thing to notice is that the the phrase (with clear signs). All messengers came with clarifications. Where may we find these clarifications? As always, Quran does not leave us guessing:
98:1 Those who rejected among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, were not going to depart until there should come to them a clarification,
98:2 A messenger from Allah, rehearsing pages kept pure
98:3 Wherein are writs right and straight
98:4 Nor did those given the book make schisms, until after there came to them the clarification
From the above passage, a ‘clarification’ comes from a messenger who reheares from the purified pages. This is linked to writs within these pages which are upright and straight. Hence, these clarifications must come from Quran itself. Two parties of people here are even mentioned as related to the book (the people of the book in 98/1 and 98/4)
B. What is the word ‘clarify’ used in relation to? In the Quran, concepts are often placed opposite each other in order to enlighten us further as to what they mean. In the case of ‘clarification’, it would be good for us to see 3/187 :
3:187 And remember Allah took a covenant from the People of the Book, to make it clear to mankind, and not to hide it; but they threw it away behind their backs, and purchased with it some miserable gain! And vile was the bargain they made
The phrase ‘to make it clear to mankind’ (litubayyinahu lin naas) is exactly the same word as in 16/44 above but it is used as opposite to ‘and not to hide it’ (wa laa taktumoonahu). Furthermore, ‘throwing away behind their backs’ show actually hiding something. Hence a ‘clarification’ is best rendered as ‘making something clear’
C. The end phrase in 16/44. The end phrase reads ‘that they may think’ (la’allakum yatafakkaroon). This shows that it cannot be a clarification in the explanatory sense of the word. If it were explanatory, there would be no need for them to keep thinking but rather to apply it.
D. How does Allah clarify things? Quran actually tells us what clarification is and Allah does so Himself to us:
Like so Allah makes clear His Signs to you: In order that you may think (2/242)
‘Like so’ here applies to the preceding passage from 2/215-241 which is an unprecedented 26 consecutive verses solely on law. Here it is enough for Allah to simply state His laws in order to make it clear to us. The last phrase shows that even so, we must still think on how to apply it.
E. Quran 16/64 tells us what actually is doing the clarifying:
16:64 And We sent down the Book on you for the express purpose, that you make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe
Here the book is mentioned as what the Reader should make clear in whatever the differ. Some people say that it is the Reader who actually makes clear but the end of this verse is emphatic on the book itself as ‘guide and mercy’.
F. Quran calls the book a ‘detailing of every thing’ in 16/89:
One day We shall raise from all Peoples a witness against them, from amongst themselves: and We shall bring you as a witness against these and We have sent down to you the Book explaining all things, a Guide, a Mercy, and Glad Tidings to Muslims
Here it is abundantly clear that ‘the book’ explains all things. If this is true, then how is it possible that it needs another source to explain it?