A Note on Differing Reports in Tafsir: Ibn Taymiyah

In his book “Introduction to Tafsir”, Sheikh al-Islaam ibn Taymiyah included the following points of benefit in a larger discussion of the use of Israa’eeliyaat (Biblical) narratives in tafsir. He mentioned that in cases where there is no conclusive evidence as to whether the Israa’eeliyaat narratives are true or not, there is often little benefit that comes from mentioning these different reports. He then listed a number of examples of these reports, such as those concerning what type of wood the staff of Moosaa was made of, the types of birds Ibrahim slaughtered, the names of the inhabitants of the cave, etc. Immediately following this list of examples, he wrote:

ـ … إِلَى غَيْرِ ذَلِكَ ممَّا أَبْهَمَهُ اللهُ تَعَالَى فِي القُرْآنِ مِمَّا لاَ فَائِدَةَ فِي تَعْيِينِهِ تَعُودُ عَلَى الْمُكَلَّفِينَ فِي دُنْيَاهُمْ وَلاَ فِي دِينِهِمْ . وَلَكِنَّ نَقْلَ الْخِلاَفِ عَنْهُمْ فِي ذَلِكَ جَائِزٌ . ـ

… and the list goes on of those things which Allah has left uncertain in the Qur’an in which there is no benefit returning back to those charged with enacting Allah’s commands in specifying them, neither in respects to his worldly life nor in respect to his religion. However, transmitting the differences of opinion regarding these issues is permissible.

كَمَا قَالَ تَعَالَى : {سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلاثَةٌ رَّابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْمًا بِالْغَيْبِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ قُل رَّبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم مَّا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلاَّ قَلِيلٌ فَلاَ تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلاَّ مِرَآءً ظَاهِرًا وَلاَ تَسْتَفْتِ فِيهِم مِّنْهُمْ أَحَدًا } [سُورَةُ الْكَهْفِ :22] فَقَد اشْتَمَلَتْ هَذِهِ الآيَةُ الكريمةُ عَلَى الأَدَبِ فِي هَذَا المُقَامِ ، وَتَعْلِيمِ مَا يَنْبَغِي فِي مِثْلِ هَذَا ، فَإِنَّهُ تَعَالَى أَخْبَرَ عَنْهُمْ في ثَلاَثَةِ أَقْوَالٍ ، { وَ } ضَعَّفَ القَوْلَيْنِ الأَوَّلَيْنِ ، وَسَكَتَ عَن الثَّالثِ ، فَدَلَّ عَلَى صِحَّتِهِ ، إذْ لَوْ كَانَ بَاطِلاً لَرَدَّهُ كَمَا رَدَّهُمَا ، ثمَّ أَرْشَدَ إِلَى أَنَّ الاطِّلاَعَ عَلَى عِدَّتِهِم لاَ طَائِلَ تَحْتَهُ ، فيُقالُ في مِثْلِ هَذَا : { قُل رَّبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم } ؛ فَإنَّهُ لا يَعْلَمُ بِذَلِكَ إِلاَّ قَلِيلٌ مِن النَّاسِ مِمَّنْ أَطْلَعَهُ اللهُ عَلَيْهِ ، فَلِهَذَا قَالَ : { فَلاَ تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلاَّ مِرَآءً ظَاهِرًا } أَيْ : لاَ تُجْهِدْ نَفْسَكَ فِيمَا لاَ طَائِلَ تَحْتَهُ ، وَلاَ تَسْأَلْهُمْ عَنْ ذَلِكَ فَإِنَّهُمْ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ إِلاَّ رَجْمَ الْغَيْبِ . ـ

This is as Allah said:

سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلاثَةٌ رَّابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْمًا بِالْغَيْبِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ قُل رَّبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم مَّا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلاَّ قَلِيلٌ فَلاَ تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلاَّ مِرَآءً ظَاهِرًا وَلاَ تَسْتَفْتِ فِيهِم مِّنْهُمْ أَحَدًا

They will say there were three, the fourth of them being their dog; and they will say there were five, the sixth of them being their dog – guessing at the unseen; and they will say there were seven, and the eighth of them was their dog. Say, [O Muhammad], “My Lord is most knowing of their number. None knows them except a few. So do not argue about them except with a clear proof and do not inquire about them among [the speculators] from anyone.” [18:22]

for this noble ayah includes the proper etiquette in this circumstance, and it teaches us what is befitting in the likes of this instance. For Allah informed us that there are three opinions regarding them; He described the first two positions as weak and was silent concerning the third, thus demonstrating its validity. For if it had been false then He would have rebutted it just as He had rebutted the other two positions. Then Allah provides guidance that digging into their number is not a beneficial endeavor. So in this circumstance one should say:

قُل رَّبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم

Say, “My Lord is most knowing of their number…”

For none know this matter except for a small number of people whom Allah has allowed to know it. So for this reason He said:

فَلاَ تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلاَّ مِرَآءً ظَاهِرًا

So do not argue about them except with a clear proof

– meaning: do not exert yourself in that which is not beneficial and do not ask others about it for they do not know anything about it except for conjecture about the unseen.

فَهَذَا أَحْسَنُ مَا يَكُونُ فِي حِكَايَاتِ الْخِِلافِ أنْ تُستَوعَبَ الأقوالُ في ذَلِكَ المُقَامِ ، وَأَنْ يُنَبَّهَ عَلَى الصَّحيحِ مِنْهَا ، وَيُبْطَلَ البَاطِلُ ، وَتُذْكَرَ فَائِدَةُ الْخِلاَفِ وَثَمَرَتُهُ ؛ لِئَلاَ يَطُولَ النِّزاعُ وَالخِلاَفُ فِيمَا لاَ فَائِدَةَ تَحْتَهُ فيُشتَغَلَ بِهِ عَن الأَهَمِّ . ـ

So this the best case scenario of what can happen when transmitting these differing reports: that one gathers all the different position regarding that issue, and that he informs the audience of which of them is correct and invalidates the false positions, and that the benefits of the differing reports are mentioned – all of this so that the conflict and differing would not linger in matters in which there is no benefit and which consequently distract people from more important matters.

فَأَمَّا مَنْ حَكَى خِلافًا فِي مَسْأَلَةٍ وَلَمْ يَسْتَوْعِبْ أَقْوَالَ النَّاسِ فِيهَا فَهُوَ نَاقِصٌ ؛ إِذْ قَدْ يَكُونُ الصَّوابُ فِي الَّذِي تَرَكَهُ ، أَوْ يَحْكِي الْخِلاَفَ وَيُطْلِقُهُ وَلاَ يُنَبِّهُ عَلَى الصَّحيحِ مِن الأقْوالِ ، فَهُوَ ناقصٌ أَيْضًا ، فَإِنْ صَحَّحَ غيرَ الصَّحيحِ عَامِدًا فَقَدْ تَعَمَّدَ الكَذِبَ ، أَوْ جَاهِلاً فَقَدْ أَخْطَأَ . ـ

But as for the one who transmits differing reports regarding an issue but does not gather all of the positions regarding that issue, then this person is not doing an adequate job. It is possible that the correct position may be among those which he excluded, or that he relates the differing reports without any explanation and without informing the audience of which of the positions is correct. So the one who does this is also not doing a adequate job. And if he intentionally declares something to be correct which is not in fact correct, then he has intentionally lied. Or if he is ignorant then he has made a mistake.

كَذَلِكَ مَنْ نَصَبَ الخِلاَفَ فِيمَا لاَ فَائِدَةَ تَحْتَهُ أَوْ حَكَى أَقْوَالاً مُتَعَدِّدَةً لَفْظًا ، وَيَرْجِعُ حَاصِلُهَا إِلَى قَوْلٍ أَوْ قَوْلَيْنِ مَعْنىً، فَقَدْ ضَيَّعَ الزَّمَانَ ، وَتَكَثَّرَ بِمَا لَيْسَ بِصَحِيحٍ ، فَهُوَ كَلاَبِسِ ثَوْبَي زُورٍ . وَاللهُ الْمُوَفِّقُ لِلصَّوابِ . ـ

Likewise for the one who goes on about differing reports in which there is no benefit or the one who reports statements with numerous different wordings that are all ultimately just conveying one meaning or two meanings, then this person is just wasting time and going on and on about that which is not correct. So this person is putting on false airs. And Allah is the granter of success.

[Sharh Muqaddimah al-Tafsir li-Jam’ min al-‘Ulamaa’ pg. 270-271]

See also: The Disconnected Letters: Sheikh Saalih al-Fawzan

See also: Technical wordings for Asbaab al-Nuzool: Ibn ‘Uthaymeen

See also: Do not delve deeply into the affairs of the Unseen: Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali

See also: Ibn Taymiyah on the Books of Tafsir

See also: Understanding the Qur’an: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: Statements of the Scholars regarding the Books of Tafsir

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6 thoughts on “A Note on Differing Reports in Tafsir: Ibn Taymiyah

  1. Pingback: Technical wordings for Asbaab al-Nuzool: Ibn ‘Uthaymeen | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: Do not delve deeply into the affairs of the Unseen: Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: Ibn Taymiyah on the Books of Tafsir | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: The Disconnected Letters: Sheikh Saalih al-Fawzan | Tulayhah

  5. Pingback: Understanding the Qur’an: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool | Tulayhah

  6. Pingback: A Point on Numbering in the Qur’an: Ibn ‘Uthaymeen | Tulayhah

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