Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"The word tawil is derived from the same root as the word awwal (first), which is also a name of God. The word tawil means to return, to cause to return, to reduce to, to find that to which a thing can be reduced. Since God is the First in relation to all things, many authorities understand the term tawil to signify taking a thing back to the First, demonstrating a thing's relationship with the First, trying things back to God. It is said awallah alaika zalutak means may God cause it to return thee. The word tawil is used 18 times in the Koran.

Its verb ta'awwala originally means to apply a verse to a given situation. Tawil also means the final end (aqibah) of a matter, as the Koran says: "On a day when its (the Koran) tawil (fulfillment) shall come" (7:53, also refer 10:39). Zamakashi defines tawil as the act of "referring a verse back to whatever meanings it can bear" (2:148). Tawil is a science of elucidating the general as well as particular meaning of the Koranic words. Muqatil bin Suleman (d. 150/767) relates the Prophet as saying: "He who recites the Koran and does not know the tawil of it is an illiterate" (Tafsir Khams Mi'at Aya, 1:26). Thus, the tawil is an act of referring a verse back to its root meaning. The hidden treasure locked in the literal words of the Koran, being filled with unfathomable truth and unutterable mysteries, and it is only the agency of tawil to fathom the truth.

The Arabic word tawil contains etymologically the meaning of the process involved. It means literally to take something back to its beginning or origin. To penetrate into the inner mysteries of the Koran is precisely to reach back to its origin because the Koran is the most inward, and the revelation or manifestation of the sacred text is at once a descent and an exteriorization of it. Everything actually comes from within to the outside, from the interior (batin) to the exterior (zahir) and we who live "in the exterior" must return to the interior if we are to reach the origin. The tawil is to go from the zahir to the batin. The idea of penetrating into the inner meaning of things is to be seen everywhere in Islam. To demonstrate the traditional basis of this important doctrine, we would quote a tradition transmitted by Ibn Abbas: One day while standing on Mount Arfat, he made an allusion to the verse