The Straight Path Leads to Allah: Tafsir ibn Kathir

In the beginning of surah al-Nahl (16), Allah devotes several ayaat to the blessings which He has created for mankind, and in particular He mentions certain livestock and riding animals, before saying:

وَالْخَيْلَ وَالْبِغَالَ وَالْحَمِيرَ لِتَرْكَبُوهَا وَزِينَةً ۚ وَيَخْلُقُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ * وَعَلَى اللَّـهِ قَصْدُ السَّبِيلِ وَمِنْهَا جَائِرٌ ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ لَهَدَاكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

And [He created] the horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and as adornment. And He creates that which you do not know. * The straight path leads to Allah, but among the various paths are those which deviate. And if He willed, He could have guided you all. [16:8-9]

Commenting on this second ayah and the switch in content between the two, al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir wrote the following in his tafsir:

لما ذكر تعالى من الحيوانات ما يسار عليه في السبل الحسية ، نبه على الطرق المعنوية الدينية ، وكثيرا ما يقع في القرآن العبور من الأمور الحسية إلى الأمور المعنوية النافعة الدينية ، كما قال تعالى : ( وتزودوا فإن خير الزاد التقوى ) [ البقرة : 197 ] وقال : ( يا بني آدم قد أنزلنا عليكم لباسا يواري سوآتكم وريشا ولباس التقوى ذلك خير ) [ الأعراف : 26 ] . ـ

After making mention of the riding animals which are used to traverse the physical paths, Allah draws our attention to the figurative religious pathways. And this type of shifting from concrete matters to abstract religiously beneficial matters occurs frequently in the Qur’an. For instance, see Allah’s statement:

وَتَزَوَّدُوا فَإِنَّ خَيْرَ الزَّادِ التَّقْوَىٰ

And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is al-taqwa [2:197]

or His statement: Continue reading

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Benefits of the Multiple Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti

In his famous handbook on the Qur’anic sciences, Jalal al-Deen al-Suyooti devoted a section to issues related to the qiraa’aat [modes of recitation] of the Qur’an. For an introduction to the qiraa’aat, please see here or here. What follows is one excerpt from that section discussing the benefits that come from the differences in the qiraa’aat:

وقال بعض المتأخرين : لاختلاف القراءات وتنوعها فوائد : ـ

One of the latter-day scholars said that there are a number of benefits that come from the differences and variations in the qiraa’aat:

منها التهوين والتسهيل والتخفيف على الأمة . ـ

○ One benefit is that this makes reciting the Qur’an easier, simpler, and less onerous for this ummah.

ـ [ ص: 275 ] ومنها إظهار فضلها وشرفها على سائر الأمم ، إذ لم ينزل كتاب غيرهم إلا على وجه واحد . ـ

○ Another benefit is clearly demonstrating the virtue and honor of this ummah above other nations, for the scriptures of those nations were only revealed in one way.

ومنها : إعظام أجرها ، من حيث إنهم يفرغون جهدهم في تحقيق ذلك وضبطه لفظة لفظة ، حتى مقادير المدات وتفاوت الإمالات ، ثم في تتبع معاني ذلك واستنباط الحكم والأحكام من دلالة كل لفظ ، وإمعانهم الكشف عن التوجيه والتعليل والترجيح . ـ

○ Another benefit is the increased reward, since one could devote their efforts to perfecting their recitation and getting each word exactly correct, and even going into the lengths of the mudood and difference in the imaalaat.

Furthermore, there is the opportunity to look into the meanings of these different recitations and to derive benefits and legal rulings from what each wording indicates. Delving into these differences and examining them reveals what the ayah actually indicates, the reasoning for a ruling, and assists in weighing the merits of different interpretations.
Continue reading

Reciting the Qur’an in English?: Sheikh bin Baaz

Sheikh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz bin Baaz, the former mufti of Saudi Arabia, received and answered the following question:

هل القرآن الكريم قراءته بغير لسان عربي في ذلك إثم؛ لأنني أقرأ وأترجم من كتاب التفسير لابن كثير لإخوتي في الله من غير العرب باللغة الإنجليزية؟ آمل أن يأتيني منكم الرد سريعاً، جزاكم الله خيراً؟. ـ

Question: Is there any sin in reciting the Qur’an in some language other than Arabic? I ask because I read and translate some parts of the tafsir of ibn Kathir into English for some of my non-Arab sisters in faith. I hope that you could respond to us soon! May Allah reward you with good!

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله ، وصلى الله وسلم على رسول الله ، وعلى آله وأصحابه ومن اهتدى بهداه : ـ

Response: In the name of Allah, al-Rahman, al-Raheem. All praise is due to Allah, and may Allah bestow His peace and blessings upon the Messenger of Allah, and upon his family, his companions, and whoever follows his guidance.

أما بعد: فإن الله – عز وجل – أنزل كتابه الكريم باللغة العربية ، وهو قرآن عربي فلا يجوز أن يقرأ بغير العربية ، وإنما تترجم معانيه إلى اللغات الأخرى لتفهيم المعنى وتعليم المعنى حتى يتعلم أصحاب اللغات غير العربية معاني كلام الله – عز وجل – وحتى يستفيدوا من أحكام كتابه – سبحانه وتعالى – ، ولكن عليهم أن يتعلموا لفظ القرآن حتى يقرءوا به في الصلاة وخارج الصلاة باللغة العربية ، ـ

To proceed: Allah sent down His Book in the Arabic language and it is an Arabic Qur’an, so it is not allowed to recite it in any other language. And you are only translating its meanings into another language, in order to teach its meanings and help others understand them so that these non-Arabic speakers could learn the meanings of Allah’s speech and so that they can grasp some of the rulings mentioned in His book. Continue reading

The Dots and Tashkeel in the Mushaf: ibn Taymiyah

Sheikh al-Islaam ibn Taymiyah wrote:

المصاحف التي كتبها الصحابة لم يشكلوا حروفا ولم ينقطوها ; فإنهم كانوا عربا لا يلحنون ثم بعد ذلك في أواخر عصر الصحابة لما نشأ اللحن صاروا ينقطون المصاحف ويشكلونها وذلك جائز عند أكثر العلماء وهو إحدى الروايتين عن أحمد وكرهه بعضهم والصحيح أنه لا يكره ; لأن الحاجة داعية إلى ذلك ولا نزاع بين العلماء أن [ حكم ] الشكل والنقط حكم الحروف المكتوبة فإن النقط تميز بين الحروف والشكل يبين الإعراب لأنه كلام من تمام الكلام . ويروى عن أبي بكر وعمر أنهما قالا : ” إعراب القرآن أحب إلينا من حفظ بعض حروفه ” فإذا قرأ القارئ { الحمد لله رب العالمين } كانت الضمة والفتحة والكسرة من تمام لفظ القرآن . ـ

The mushafs which the Sahabah wrote did not have any tashkeel [vowel marking] or dots on its letters, for the Sahabah were native Arabic speakers who did not make grammatical mistakes. But later during the end of the era of the Sahabah, they added the dots and tashkeel to the mushafs due to the errors in grammar that arose [i.e. among all the non-Arabic speaking people who entered into Islam].

And that is something permissible according to most scholars, and it was one of two positions reported from Imam Ahmad, though some scholars disliked this. However the correct position is that it not something to be disliked since there is a need which calls for it. Continue reading

A Reward Without Interruption: Tafsir al-Tabari

Allah says in surah al-Tin:

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ * ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ * إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ غَيْرُ مَمْنُونٍ

We have certainly created man in the best form * then we return him to the lowest of the low * Except for those who believe and do righteous good deeds – for them there is a reward without interruption [95:4-6]

The great mufassir Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari discussed these ayaat at length. What follows is one section of that discussion:

حدثنا ابن حميد ، قال : ثنا حكام ، عن سعيد بن سابق ، عن عاصم الأحول ، [ ص: 511 ] عن عكرمة ، قال : من قرأ القرآن لم يرد إلى أرذل العمر ، ثم قرأ : ( لقد خلقنا الإنسان في أحسن تقويم ثم رددناه أسفل سافلين إلا الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات ) قال : لا يكون حتى لا يعلم من بعد علم شيئا . ـ

… ‘Ikrimah said, “Whoever recites the Qur’an will not be sent reverted back into the lowliest age,” and then he recited:

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ * ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ * إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ

We have certainly created man in the best form * then we return him to the lowest of the low * Except for those who believe and do righteous good deeds

and he said, “It won’t happen that he is reverted back to not knowing anything that he had known before.”

فعلى هذا التأويل قوله : ( ثم رددناه أسفل سافلين ) لخاص من الناس غير داخل فيهم الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات ؛ لأنه مستثنى منهم . ـ

So according to this interpretation, then the ayah: Continue reading

A Veil Between the Disbelievers and the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Sa’di

In surah al-Israa’, Allah addresses the Prophet Muhammad by saying:

وَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ جَعَلْنَا بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ حِجَابًا مَّسْتُورًا * وَجَعَلْنَا عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ أَكِنَّةً أَن يَفْقَهُوهُ وَفِي آذَانِهِمْ وَقْرًا ۚ وَإِذَا ذَكَرْتَ رَبَّكَ فِي الْقُرْآنِ وَحْدَهُ وَلَّوْا عَلَىٰ أَدْبَارِهِمْ نُفُورًا * نَّحْنُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يَسْتَمِعُونَ بِهِ إِذْ يَسْتَمِعُونَ إِلَيْكَ وَإِذْ هُمْ نَجْوَىٰ إِذْ يَقُولُ الظَّالِمُونَ إِن تَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا رَجُلًا مَّسْحُورًا * انظُرْ كَيْفَ ضَرَبُوا لَكَ الْأَمْثَالَ فَضَلُّوا فَلَا يَسْتَطِيعُونَ سَبِيلًا

And when you recite the Qur’an, We place a concealing barrier between you and those who do not believe in the hereafter. * And We have placed a covering over their hearts so that they do not understand it, and deafness in their ears. And when you mention your Lord alone in the Qur’an, they turn away in aversion. * We are most knowing of what they listen to when they listen to you, and We are most knowing that when they discuss privately, then the wrongdoers say, “You are only following a bewitched man.” * Look at the comparisons they strike of you. So they are misguided, and they are not able to find a way. [17:45-48]

In his valuable commentary on the Qur’an, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di wrote the following on these ayaat:

ـ(45 ) يخبر تعالى عن عقوبته للمكذبين بالحق الذين ردوه وأعرضوا عنه أنه يحول بينهم وبين الإيمان، فقال:ـ وإذا قرأت القرآن الذي فيه الوعظ والتذكير والهدى والإيمان والخير والعلم الكثير؛ جعلنا بينك وبين الذين لا يؤمنون بالآخرة حجابا مستورا يسترهم عن فهمه حقيقة وعن التحقق بحقائقه والانقياد إلى ما يدعو إليه من الخير. ـ

Allah is informing us of His punishment for those who deny the truth, those who reject it and turn away from it. He is informing us that He will come between them and eemaan, for He said:

وَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ

And when you recite the Qur’an …

that Qur’an which contains abundant admonitions, reminders, guidance, eemaan, goodness, and knowledge

جَعَلْنَا بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ حِجَابًا مَّسْتُورًا 

… We place a concealing barrier between you and those who do not believe in the hereafter.

which shields them from understanding its truth, from grasping its true nature, and from complying with the good that it calls to. Continue reading

Five Distinguishing Features of the Tafsir of the Companions: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

In one section of a lecture entitled, “Introduction to the Fundamentals of al-Tafsir“, sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh mentioned the following points:

ـ 8 – ما تميزت به تفاسير الصحابة ـ
8. What Distinguishes the Companions’ Explanations of the Qur’an?

تميزت تفاسير الصحابة بأمور منها : ـ

There are a number of things which set the Companions’ explanations of the Qur’an apart from that of others. These include:

ـ 1- أنها تفاسير من عَلِمُوا القرآن ، وعَلِمُوا السُّنَّة لأنهم شهدوا التنــزيل ، ويعلمون سنة النبي وهديه – عليه الصلاة والسلام -. ـ

1. Theirs were explanations from those who knew the Qur’an and knew the Sunnah, for they have been witness to the revelation and has learned the Sunnah and guidance of the Prophet (ﷺ).

ـ 2- الميزة الثانية : أنها تفاسير من شاهد التنــزيل وعلم أسباب النــزول ، وقد قال شيخ الإسلام ابن تيمية في معرض كلام له ، ” العلم بالسبب يورث العلم بالمسبَّب ” ([37]) يعني إذا عَلِمْتَ سبب الشيءِ عَرَفْتَ المعنى ، عرفت توجيه الكلام ، عرفت المراد منه ، فعلمهم بأسباب النــزول ومشاهدتهم لأسباب النــزول يحعل تفاسيرهم في الغاية ، لأنهم شاهدوا وعلموا فلن يفسروا القرآن بشيء يخالف أسباب النــزول ، أو يخالف سنة النبي – عليه الصلاة والسلام – . ـ

2. The second distinguishing feature is that their explanations were explanations coming from those who had witnessed the revelation and knew the circumstantial reasons for the revelation (asbaab al-nuzool). In the midst of discussing this topic, sheikh al-Islaam ibn Taymiyah said, “Knowledge of the circumstantial reason behind the revelation produces knowledge of the underlying reason for the revelation,” meaning that if you learn the causal factors behind something that you will realize the meanings, know who is being addressed, and understand what is meant behind it all. So knowledge of the circumstantial reasons for revelation and having been witnesses to these reasons places their explanations in a high station. For they witnessed the revelation and had knowledge of it, so they would never explain the any part of the Qur’an with something that contradicted the reasons for why it was revealed or with anything that contradicted the Prophet’s Sunnah (ﷺ). Continue reading

Assorted Qur’an Benefits #2

What follows are a collection of assorted benefits originally posted on our social media page in June, July and August of 2014:

♦ It is part of Allah’s kindness that He warns His slaves of Himself

Allah mentions in surah Aali ‘Imran:

 وَيُحَذِّرُكُمُ اللَّهُ نَفْسَهُ وَاللَّهُ رَءُوفٌ بِالْعِبَادِ

And Allah warns you about Himself. And Allah is kind to His slaves. [al-Qur’an 3:38]

Imam ibn Kathir writes about this ayah:

[قال الحسن البصري : من رأفته بهم حذرهم نفسه . وقال غيره : أي رحيم بخلقه ، يحب لهم أن يستقيموا على صراطه المستقيم ودينه القويم ، وأن يتبعوا رسوله الكريم .]

al-Hasan al-Basri said, “Part of His kindness to them is that He warns them of Himself.” And others said: it means that He is Merciful to His creation. He loves for them to be firmly established on the Straight Path and Upright Deen, and for them to follow His noble Messenger. “

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 2/32]


♦ The Meaning of al-Dhikr

Sa’eed ibn Jubayr said:

الذكر طاعة الله ، فمن لم يطعه لم يذكره وإن أكثر التسبيح والتهليل وقراءة القرآن

al-Dhikr is obeying Allah, so whoever does not obey Him has not made dhikr of Him, even if he engages in an abundance of tasbeeh*, tahleel* and recitation of the Qur’an.

[Jaam’i li-Ahkam al-Qur’an 2/161]

*Translator’s note: ‘Tasbeeh’ refers to saying, “subhanAllaah”, and ‘Tahleel’ refers to saying, “laa ilaaha illallah.”


♦ The Muttaqoon Continue reading

If They Incline Towards Peace, then Incline Towards it: Tafsir ibn Kathir

In surah al-Anfaal, Allah provides the following instructions to the Believers regarding their interactions with the disbelievers:

وَإِن جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

But if they incline to peace, then incline to it as well. And place your trust in Allah. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower. [8:61]

Commenting on this in his famous books of tafsir, al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir wrote:

يقول تعالى : إذا خفت من قوم خيانة فانبذ إليهم عهدهم على سواء ، فإن استمروا على حربك ومنابذتك فقاتلهم ، ( وإن جنحوا ) أي : مالوا ( للسلم ) أي المسالمة والمصالحة والمهادنة ، ( فاجنح لها ) أي : فمل إليها ، واقبل منهم ذلك ؛ ولهذا لما طلب المشركون عام الحديبية الصلح ووضع الحرب بينهم وبين رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – تسع سنين ؛ أجابهم إلى ذلك مع ما اشترطوا من الشروط الأخر . ـ

Allah is saying: If you fear betrayal from a certain people, then break the peace treaty with them, so that you are both on equal terms [c.f. 8:58]. If they continue being hostile and opposing you, then fight then [c.f. 8:60].

وَإِن جَنَحُوا

but if they incline …

meaning: lean towards

لِلسَّلْمِ

towards peace

meaning: towards ceasing hostilities, forming a treaty, and making peace

فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا

then incline to it as well

meaning: lean towards it and accept that from them. It was in line with this that when the Mushrikoon sought a peace treaty and to pause hostilities between them and Allah’s Messenger for a period of nine years during the Year of al-Hudaybiyyah, the Prophet accepted that while also stipulating a few other conditions. Continue reading

The Early History of the Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti

In his famous handbook to the Qur’anic sciences, al-Itqaan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an, Jalal al-Deen al-Suyooti included the following discussion in his chapter, “Knowing the Memorizers and Transmitters of the Qur’an”. In this excerpt, al-Suyooti gives a brief history of how the qiraa’aat that are widely-used today were meticulously passed down from teacher to student with chains of transmission going back to the Prophet until they became the list of the seven well-known qiraa’aat around the beginning of the fourth century after the Hijrah:

المشتهرون بإقراء القرآن من الصحابة سبعة : عثمان ، وعلي ، وأبي ، وزيد بن ثابت ، وابن مسعود ، وأبو الدرداء ، وأبو موسى الأشعري . كذا ذكرهم الذهبي في طبقات القراء . قال : وقد قرأ على أبي جماعة من الصحابة منهم أبو هريرة ، وابن عباس ، وعبد الله بن السائب وأخذ ابن عباس عن زيد أيضا وأخذ عنهم خلق من التابعين . ـ

The Sahabah most well-known for reciting the Qur’an were seven:

  • ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan
  • ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib
  • Ubay ibn Ka’b
  • Zayd ibn Thabit
  • ibn Mas’ood
  • Abu al-Dardaa’
  • Abu Moosaa al-Ash’ari

al-Dhahabi also mentioned these seven in his book, Tabaqaat al-Qurraa’.* He further said:

A number of the Sahabah also learned from Ubay, including Abu Hurayrah, ibn ‘Abbaas, and ‘Abdullah ibn al-Saa’ib. Ibn ‘Abbaas also learned from Zayd, and then a number of the Taabi’oon also learned from them.

فممن كان بالمدينة : ابن المسيب وعروة وسالم وعمر بن عبد العزيز وسليمان وعطاء بن يسار ، ومعاذ بن الحارث المعروف بمعاذ القارئ ، وعبد الرحمن بن هرمز الأعرج ، وابن شهاب الزهري ، ومسلم بن جندب ، وزيد بن أسلم . ـ

○ In al-Madinah, these Taabi’oon included: ibn al-Musayyib, ‘Urwah, Saalim, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, the brothers Sulayman and ‘Ataa’ ibn Yasaar, Mu’adh ibn al-Haarith – more commonly known as Mu’adh the reciter -, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Hurmuz al-A’raj, ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Muslim ibn Jundub, and Zayd ibn Aslam.

وبمكة : عبيد بن عمير ، وعطاء بن أبي رباح ، وطاوس ، ومجاهد ، وعكرمة ، وابن أبي مليكة . ـ

○ In Mecca: ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Umayr, ‘Ataa; ibn Abi Rabaah, Taawoos, Mujahid, ‘Ikrimah, and ibn Abi Mulaykah. Continue reading