“Those messengers, We have given precedence to some over others”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

In the latter part of surah al-Baqarah, Allah informs us:

تِلْكَ الرُّ‌سُلُ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ ۘ مِّنْهُم مَّن كَلَّمَ اللَّـهُ ۖ وَرَ‌فَعَ بَعْضَهُمْ دَرَ‌جَاتٍ

Those Messengers! We have given precedence to some over others. Among them were those to whom Allah spoke, and He raised some of them in degree [2:253]

Commenting on this ayah and its contents in his book of tafsir, Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee first covered the issues of those to whom Allah spoke and then those whom He raised in degree, before proceeding to discuss the issue of some messenger being favored by Allah over others:

تنبيه . في هذه الآية الكريمة ، أعني قوله تعالى : تلك الرسل فضلنا بعضهم على بعض الآية ، إشكال قوي معروف . ووجهه : أنه ثبت في حديث أبي هريرة المتفق عليه أنه – صلى الله عليه وسلم – قال : ” لا تخيروني على موسى ; فإن الناس يصعقون يوم القيامة فأكون أول من يفيق ، فإذا موسى باطش بجانب العرش ، فلا أدري أفاق قبلي أم كان ممن استثنى الله ” ، وثبت أيضا في حديث أبي سعيد المتفق عليه : ” لا تخيروا بين الأنبياء ; فإن الناس يصعقون يوم القيامة ” الحديث ، وفي رواية : ” لا تفضلوا بين أنبياء الله ” ، وفي رواية : ” لا تخيروني من بين الأنبياء ” . ـ

An issue: In this noble ayah, i.e. Allah’s statement:

تِلْكَ الرُّ‌سُلُ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ ۘ مِّنْهُم

Those Messengers! We have given precedence to some over others… [2:253]

until the end of the ayah. This is a difficult and well-known issues, which is that it is confirmed in the authentic hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:

Don’t assign me superiority over Moosaa, for the people will fall unconscious on the Day of Resurrection and I will be the first to gain consciousness, and behold! Moosaa will be there holding the side of Allah’s Throne. I will not know whether Moosaa has been among those people who have become unconscious and then has regained consciousness before me, or has been among those exempted by Allah from falling unconscious.

And it is also confirmed in the authentic hadeeth of Abu Sa’eed, “Do not give one prophet superiority over another, for on the Day of Resurrection all the people will fall unconscious” until the end of the hadeeth. And in another narration, “Do not give preference to one of the prophets of Allah over the others,” and in another narration, “Do not give me superiority over the prophets.”

وقال القرطبي في تفسير هذه الآية ما نصه : وهذه الآية مشكلة ، والأحاديث ثابتة بأن النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – قال : ” لا تخيروا بين الأنبياء ولا تفضلوا بين أنبياء الله ” ، رواها الأئمة الثقات ، أي : لا تقولوا فلان خير من فلان ، ولا فلان أفضل من فلان ، اهـ . ـ

And al-Qurtubi said under the tafsir of this ayah what is mentioned:

“And this ayah is problematic, for there are authentic ahaadeeth that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘Do not assign superiority to one prophet above the others and no do not give preference to one prophet of Allah over the others,’ narrated by the most reliable of narrators. Meaning, do not say so-and-so is better than so-and-so, or that so-and-so and more virtuous than so-and-so.” End quote.

قال ابن كثير في الجواب عن هذا الإشكال ما نصه : والجواب من وجوه : أحدها : أن هذا كان قبل أن يعلم بالتفضيل ، وفي هذا نظر . الثاني : أن هذا قاله من باب الهضم والتواضع . الثالث : أن هذا نهي عن التفضيل في مثل هذا الحال التي تحاكموا فيها عند التخاصم والتشاجر . الرابع : لا تفضلوا بمجرد الآراء والعصبية . الخامس : ليس مقام التفضيل إليكم ، وإنما هو إلى الله عز وجل ، وعليكم الانقياد والتسليم له والإيمان به ، اهـ منه بلفظه . ـ

Ibn Kathir wrote in response to this issue:

“The response comes from multiple angles.

The first of them: That this [hadeeth] was said prior to him knowing of the precedence (of some over others), and regarding this there are different views.

The second: That this statement of his was made out of reaction and humility.

The third: That this was a prohibition of assigning precedence among them in a similar situation to the one which he adjudicated here in which there was quarreling and ill-will.

The fourth: Do not assign precedence merely according to one’s opinions or nationalistic pride.

The fifth: The position of assigning precedence is not up to them; it is only up to Allah, and it is incumbent upon them to comply and submit to it and to have eemaan in it.”

End quote here of his text.

وذكر القرطبي في ” تفسيره ” أجوبة كثيرة عن هذا الإشكال ، واختار أن منع التفضيل في خصوص النبوة ، وجوازه في غيرها من زيادة الأحوال ، والخصوص ، والكرامات فقد قال ما نصه : قلت : وأحسن من هذا قول من قال : إن المنع من التفضيل إنما هو من جهة النبوة هو التي هي خصلة واحدة لا تفاضل فيها ، وإنما التفضيل [ ص: 157 ] في زيادة الأحوال والخصوص ، والكرامات ، والألطاف ، والمعجزات المتباينات . وأما النبوة في نفسها فلا تتفاضل ، وإنما تتفاضل بأمور أخر زائدة عليها ، ولذلك منهم رسل وأولو عزم ، ومنهم من اتخذ خليلا ، ومنهم من كلم الله ورفع بعضهم درجات . قال الله تعالى : ولقد فضلنا بعض النبيين على بعض وآتينا داود زبورا [ 17 ]  ـ

And in his tafsir, al-Qurtubi mentioned many responses to this issue, and he selected that the prohibition of assigning precedence was specifically in regards to the office of prophethood, but that assigning precedence was allowed for other than that such as in relation to the extraneous conditions, unique qualities, and miracles given to followers. al-Qurtubi wrote:

I say: The best of these positions is the one that says, ‘Indeed, the prohibition of assigning precedence is only in regards to the station of prophethood which is the one characteristic which it is not allowed to assign precedence therein. Assigning precedence is only to be done in regards to extraneous conditions, unique qualities, miracles given to the followers, subtle points, and clear prophetic miraculous works.

“But as for the station of prophethood in and of itself, then there is no assigning of precedence; the assigning of precedence is only for other matters outside of that. So therefore among the prophets there are the Messengers of firm determination, and among them is the one whom He took as a Khaleel, and among them are those to whom He spoke directly and whom He raised some of them in degree. Allah said:

وَلَقَدْ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَ النَّبِيِّينَ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ ۖ وَآتَيْنَا دَاوُودَ زَبُورً‌ا

And indeed, We have preferred some of the Prophets above others, and to Dawood We gave the Zaboor. [17:55]”

 قلت : وهذا قول حسن ، فإنه جمع بين الآي والأحاديث من غير نسخ ، والقول بتفضيل بعضهم على بعض ، إنما هو بما منح من الفضائل وأعطى من الوسائل ، وقد أشار ابن عباس إلى هذا فقال : إن الله فضل محمدا – صلى الله عليه وسلم – على الأنبياء وعلى أهل السماء ، فقالوا : بم يا ابن عباس فضله على أهل السماء ؟ فقال : إن الله تعالى قال : ومن يقل منهم إني إله من دونه فذلك نجزيه جهنم كذلك نجزي الظالمين [ 21 \ 29 ] ، وقال لمحمد صلى الله عليه وسلم : إنا فتحنا لك فتحا مبينا ليغفر لك الله ما تقدم من ذنبك وما تأخر [ 48 ] ، قالوا : فما فضله على الأنبياء ؟ قال : قال الله تعالى : وما أرسلنا من رسول إلا بلسان قومه ليبين لهم [ 14 \ 4 ] ، وقال الله – عز وجل – لمحمد صلى الله عليه وسلم : وما أرسلناك إلا كافة للناس [ 34 \ 28 ] ، فأرسله إلى الجن والإنس ، ذكره أبو محمد الدارمي في ” مسنده ” ، وقال أبو هريرة : خير بني آدم نوح وإبراهيم وموسى ومحمد – صلى الله عليه وسلم – وهم أولو العزم من الرسل ، وهذا نص من ابن عباس وأبي هريرة في التعيين ، ومعلوم أن من أرسل أفضل ممن لم يرسل ; فإن من أرسل فضل على غيره بالرسالة ، واستووا في النبوة إلى ما يلقاه الرسل من تكذيب أممهم وقتلهم إياهم ، وهذا مما لا خفاء به . اهـ محل الغرض منه بلفظه . ـ

I [al-Qurtubi] say: And this is a good statement, for indeed it reconciles between the ayaat and the ahaadeeth without the need for abrogation, and the statement of assigning precedence to some of them above others is only in regards to what Allah conferred of virtues and what He bestowed of means.

And ibn ‘Abbaas indicated to this when he said:

‘Indeed Allah favored Muhammad (ﷺ) over the prophets and over the inhabitants of the heavens.’ So they said, ‘O ibn ‘Abbaas, how did He favor him over the inhabitants of the heavens?’ So he replied, ‘Indeed Allah said [to the angels]:

وَمَن يَقُلْ مِنْهُمْ إِنِّي إِلَـٰهٌ مِّن دُونِهِ فَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِيهِ جَهَنَّمَ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الظَّالِمِينَ

And whoever of them should say, “Indeed, I am a god besides Him”- that one We would recompense with Hell. Thus do We recompense the wrongdoers. [21:29]

But He said to Muhammad (ﷺ):

إِنَّا فَتَحْنَا لَكَ فَتْحًا مُّبِينًا * لِّيَغْفِرَ‌ لَكَ اللَّـهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِن ذَنبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ

Indeed, We have given you, [O Muhammad], a clear victory * That Allah may forgive for you what preceded of your sin and what will follow [48:1-2]

So they said, ‘And then how did He favor him over the prophets?’ He replied, ‘Allah said:

وَمَا أَرْ‌سَلْنَا مِن رَّ‌سُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ

And We did not send any messenger except [speaking] in the language of his people to state clearly for them [14:4]

But Allah said to Muhammad (ﷺ):

وَمَا أَرْ‌سَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا كَافَّةً لِّلنَّاسِ

And We have not sent you except comprehensively to mankind [34:28]

So He sent him to (both) the Jinn and mankind.’

Abu Muhammad al-Daarimi mentioned this in his musnad, and Abu Hurayrah said, ‘The best of mankind are Nooh, Ibrahim, Moosaa and Muhammad (ﷺ), and they are the possessors of strong determination among the messengers.’ And this is narrated from ibn ‘Abbaas and Abu Hurayrah in particular, and it is known that the one who is sent (as a messenger) is more virtuous than the one who is not sent; for indeed the one who is sent is favored over others by virtue of his messengership, and likewise in regards to prophethood except for what the messengers encounter of denial by their nations and [the prophets] being killed by them. And that is something which there is no hiding.”

End quote [of al-Qurtubi] of the position that he wanted to convey on this subject.

واختار ابن عطية كما نقله عنه القرطبي أن وجه الجمع جواز التفضيل إجمالا كقوله صلى الله عليه وسلم : ” أنا سيد ولد آدم ولا فخر ” ، ولم يعين ومنع التفضيل على طريق الخصوص كقوله : ” لا تفضلوني على موسى ” ، وقوله : ” لا ينبغي لأحد أن يقول أنا خير من يونس بن متى ” ، ونحو ذلك ، والعلم عند الله تعالى . ـ

And ibn ‘Atiyyah selected a similar position, which al-Qurtubi related from him, that there is an angle of the permissibility of assigning precedence in a general way without any specification, such as his statement (ﷺ), “I am the master of the children of Adam and I am not boasting“, but a prohibition of assigning preference in a specific manner, such as his statement, “Do not assign preference to me over Moosaa” and his statement, “It is not proper for anyone to say, ‘I am better than Yunus ibn Matta“, and the likes of that. And the knowledge is with Allah.

[Adhwaa’ al-Bayaan 1/156-158]

For the first part of Imam al-Shinqitee’s tafsir on this ayah, see also: Moosaa, Muhammad & Adam – the Messengers to whom Allah spoke: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

For the second part of his tafsir on this ayah, see also: Those Messengers whom Allah Raised in Degree: Tafsit al-Shinqitee

See also: “Those of determination among the messengers”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

See also: The Difference between a Prophet and a Messenger: Imam al-Shinqitee

See also: Ibn Taymiyah on the difference between a prophet and a messenger [forthcoming, inshaAllaah]

See also: Belief in the Messengers in brief: Tafsir al-Sa’di

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3 thoughts on ““Those messengers, We have given precedence to some over others”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

  1. Pingback: Those Messengers whom Allah Raised in Degree: Tafsir al-Shinqitee | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: Moosaa, Muhammad & Adam – the Messengers to whom Allah spoke: Tafsir al-Shinqitee | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: “Those of determination among the messengers”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee | Tulayhah

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