Notes on the Book “Safwah al-Tafaasir”: Sheikh Saalih al-Fawzan

In the late 1970s, sheikh Muhammad ‘Ali al-Saabooni, a professor at King ‘Abd al-‘Azeez University and Umm al-Quraa’ University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, published a book of tafsir entitled “Safwah al-Tafaasir“. This book has since spread far and wide and gained popularity, especially because it was primarily written for a common audience. However, a number of scholars have noted issues and problems within it, and have subsequently written detailed corrections and notes regarding the book, as well as other works of al-Saabooni.

What follows is an excerpt from the detailed notes and correction of sheikh Saalih al-Fawzan concerning “Safwah al-Tafaasir“. Sheikh Fawzan is a member of the Council of Senior Scholars of Saudi Arabia, among many other positions, may Allah preserve him.

الحمد لله رب العالمين، والصلاة والسلام على نبينا محمد وآله وصحبه، وبعد‏:‏ فإن المسلمين بحاجة شديدة إلى معرفة معاني كتاب ربهم عز وجل؛ لأن ذلك وسيلة للعمل به والانتفاع بهديه، وقد قام أئمة الإسلام بهذه المهمة خير قيام، ففسروا كتاب الله معتمدين في ذلك على تفسير القرآن بالقرآن، ثم بسنة رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – ثم على أقوال الصحابة والتابعين وأتباعهم من القرون المفضلة، وما تقتضيه اللغة التي أنزل بها، فجاءت تفاسيرهم نقية صافية من التأويلات الباطلة والأهواء المضلة التي غالبا ما تشتمل عليها تفاسير من جاء بعدهم ممن لم يحذ حذوهم‏.‏ ـ

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all creation. Peace and blessings be upon our Prophet, his family and his companions. To proceed:

Indeed, the Muslims are in great need of knowing the meanings of their Lord’s Book, for that is a means to acting in accordance with it and benefiting from its guidance. The scholars of Islam have been attendant to this important matter with the greatest of care, and as such they have explained the Book of Allah and they have made their foundation for that the explanation of the Qur’an by the Qur’an itself, then by the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger, then according to the statements of the Sahabah, the Taabi’oon and those who followed them from the best generations, as well as what the language in which it was sent down in necessitates. And so their explanations have come pure and unsullied by the false interpretations and misguided desires which are so prevalent in the contents of those explanations which came after them from those who did not follow their example.

وقد ظهر أخيرا تفسير للشيخ محمد على الصابوني تحت عنوان‏:‏ ‏”‏ صفوة التفاسير ‏”‏، وهو عنوان يلفت النظر، لأنه يتضمن أن المؤلف أحاط بالتفاسير وانتقى منها صفوتها الصافية المطابقة للتفسير الصحيح لكتاب الله، وأكد ذلك بما كتبه تحت العنوان من قوله‏:‏ ‏”‏ تفسير للقرآن الكريم جامع بين المأثور والمعقول، مستمد من أوثق كتب التفسير ‏”‏، وكنت ممن استهواهم هذا العنوان، فأقبلت على قراءة هذا التفسير، وسرعان ما تبين لي أنه يشتمل على أخطاء في العقيدة مستمدة من كتب ليست هي أوثق التفاسير، وحيث إن الكتاب قد انتشر ووقع بين يدي كثير ممن قد لا يميزون بين الخطإ والصواب، لذا رأيت أن أدون ما رأيته على الكتاب من ملاحظات، وأن أنشرها للقراء إبراء للذمة، ونصيحة لله ولكتابه ولرسوله ولأئمة المسلمين وعامتهم‏.‏ ـ

In recent times a book by Sheikh Muhammad ‘Ali al-Saabooni has been published under the title “Safwah al-Tafaasir” [“The Choice Cuts of the Books of Tafsir”]. And this is a title which attracts attention, for it implies that the author has taken the creme of the crop from the various books of tafsir, corresponding to the correct explanation of the Book of Allah. And he reaffirms this idea with the book’s subtitle, which is, “Tafsir of the Noble Qur’an, Combining both Narration-Based and Insight-Based Explanations, Taken from the Most Trust-worthy Books of Tafsir”. And I was among those who were enticed by this title, so I sat down to read this tafsir, but it quickly became clear to me that it contained a number of mistakes in ‘aqeedah which is taken from books which are not the most trust-worthy of tafsirs. And subsequently this book has been disseminated and found its way into the hands of many who are not able to distinguish between what is correct and what is incorrect. So in light of that, I thought that I should record what I found in need of being noted in this book, and that I should make this available so as to free myself of blame and as an act of naseehah to Allah, His Book , His Messenger, the Muslim leaders and the lay-people.

وهذه الملاحظات تنقسم إلى قسمين‏:‏ ـ
ـ1 – ملاحظات عامة مجملة على الكتاب تعطى فكرة عامة عنه‏.‏ ـ
ـ2 – ملاحظات تفصيلية أبين فيها موضع الخطإ بالجزء والصفحة والسطر، ثم أشخص الخطأ وأرد عليه برد مختصر‏.‏ ـ
هذا وأسال الله لي ولفضيلة الشيخ محمد على الصابوني التوفيق لمعرفة الحق والعمل به، وأسال الله ذلك لجميع المسلمين، وصلى الله وسلم على نبينا محمد وآله وصحبه أجمعين‏.‏ ـ

These notes of mine will be divided into two sections:

1) General and overarching comments which will give you a general idea about the work.

2) Detailed comments in which I explicitly mention the occurrence of the mistakes by volume, page number and line, then I explain the mistakes and provide brief rebuttals of them.

This is what I have done, and I ask Allah to grant me and sheikh Muhammad ‘Ali al-Sabooni the accord to know the truth and to act according to it, and I ask Allah to grant that to all of the Muslims. And may the peace of blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family and all of his companions.

ملاحظات عامة على كتاب ‏”‏ صفوة التفاسير ‏”‏ للصابوني‏:‏

General comments on the book “Safwah al-Tafaasir” by al-Sabooni

ـ 1 – اعتماده على مصادر غير مرغوب فيها ووصفه لها بأنها أوثق كتب التفسير، مثل‏:‏ ‏”‏ تلخيص البيان ‏”‏ للرضي الشيعي الرافضي المعتزلي، و ‏”‏ تفسير الزمخشري ‏”‏ المعتزلي، وعلى تفاسير الأشاعرة كالرازي وأبي السعود والصاوي والبيضاوي، وبعض التفاسير العصرية مثل تفسير سيد قطب والقاسمي، ولا يخفى ما في هذا من التغرير بالقراء الذين لا يعرفون حقيقة هذه الكتب‏.‏ ـ

1) The author’s reliance on unsavory sources throughout his work and his describing them as being the “most trust-worthy books of tafsir”. For example, there is “Talkhees al-Bayaan” of al-Ridhaa, the Raafidhi Mu’tazili Shi’a. And the Mu’taziliTafsir al-Zamakhshari”. And he relies on the books of tafsir of the Ash’aris, such as al-Razi, Abu Sa’ood, al-Saawi, and al-Baydhawi. And also he relies on some of the modernist books of tafsir, such as the tafsir of Syed Qutb or of al-Qaasimi. And there is no hiding the deception involved in this for those who do not know the reality of these books.

ـ 2 – إثبات المجاز والاستعارات في القرآن الكريم مما لا يتناسب مع مكانته الجليلة، وكلام الله يجب حمله على الحقيقة لا على المجاز‏.‏ ـ

2) His affirming metaphoric and figurative language in the Noble Qur’an, which does not befit its majestic station. For the speech of Allah must be taken as literal, not metaphorical.

ـ 3 – حشو الكتاب بما لا يفهمه كثير من القراء من اصطلاحات البلاغيين، مثل‏:‏ الطباق، والجناس، والاشتقاق، والإطناب، والحذف، ويذكر هذه الأشياء بمجرد أسمائها من غير إيضاح لها‏.‏ ـ

3) His filling his book with linguistic terminology which many of his readers cannot understand, such as counterpoint, paronomasia, derivational morphology, hyperbole, and aphaeresis. He mentions only the names of these things without explaining what they are.

ـ 4 – يورد في الكتاب كثيرا من الأحاديث في أسباب النزول، ولا يبين درجتها من الصحة وعدمها‏.‏ ـ

4) His relaying an abundance of hadeeth regarding the reasons for revelation (asbaab al-nuzool) in his book without clarifying their level of authenticity or lack thereof.

ـ 5 – ينقل من كتب المعتزلة والأشاعرة من غير تعليق على ما تشتمل عليه عباراتهم من أغلاط في العقيدة، وهذا فيه تمرير لعقائدهم الباطلة وتغرير بالقارئ المبتدئ‏.‏ ـ

5) His quoting from the books of the Mu’tazilah and the Ash’aris without any follow-up on the contents of these statements and their errors in ‘aqeedah. And this is an instance of passing on their false beliefs and deceiving the uninitiated reader.

ـ 6 – يتهرب من تفسير آيات الصفات بالأحاديث التي جاءت توضحها، كما في آية ‏{‏حَتَّى إِذَا فُزِّعَ عَن قُلُوبِهِمْ‏}‏، وآية‏:‏ ‏{‏هُوَ الأول وَالآخِرُ وَالظَّاهِرُ وَالْبَاطِنُ‏}‏، وآية‏:‏ ‏{‏يَوْمَ يُكْشَفُ عَن سَاقٍ‏}‏، ويفسرها بما فسرها به نفاة الصفات‏.‏ ـ

6) His avoidance of explaining the ayaat al-sifaat (verses regarding Allah’s names and attributes) with the ahaadeeth that clarifying them, such as in the case of “until the fear is removed from their hearts” [34:23], “He is the First and the Last, the Most High and the Most Near” [57:3], and “The day the shin will be uncovered” [68:42], and instead he explains them in a way that negates Allah’s attributes.

ـ 7 – يتمشى على منهج المتكلمين في الاستدلال بالآيات على إثبات توحيد الربوبية ووجود الرب ولا يستدل بها على توحيد الإلهية الذي سيقت من أجله وجاءت لمحاجة المخالفين فيه‏.‏ ـ

7) His traversing the way of the Ahl al-Kalaam in explaining verses in a way that affirms Allah’s Lordship and the existence of a lord, but not explaining them in a way that affirms His right to be worshiped exclusively, which was the purpose behind these verses, and these verses were sent to contend with those who opposed that.

ـ 8 – يتمشى على منهج المرجئة في تفسير الإيمان بالتصديق فقط‏.‏ ـ

8) His traversing the way of the Murji’ah in his explanation of al-eemaan as affirmation only.

ـ 9 – تمر في تفسيره تعبيرات صوفية وقد نبهنا عليها في مواضعها‏.‏ ـ

9) His repeated use of Sufi terminology throughout his tafsir, and we have noticed this in a number of places.

[The Sheikh then proceeded on to his detailed notes, which included roughly 150 points of correction across the three volumes of Safwah al-Tafaasir]

[Bayaan li-Akhtaa’ b’adh al-Kitaab 1/53-55. Originally published on its own as T’aqeebaat wa Mulaahathaat ‘alaa Kitaab Safwah al-Tafaasir]

In 1989, Sheikh Muhammad ‘Ali al-Saabooni responded to the notes of Sheikh Saalih al-Fawzan by publishing a small response entitled Kashf al-Iftiraa’aat – “Unveiling the Fabrications” – in which he addressed some of Sheikh al-Fawzan’s notes and tried to defend his positions. Sheikh al-Fawzan later issued a second edition of the book in which he briefly rebutted the responses of al-Saabooni. He later added a new introduction to the third printing, which has been translated below:

الحمد لله معز من أطاعه واتقاه ، ومذل من خالف أمره وعصاه . والصلاة والسلام على نبينا وعلى آله وصحبه ومن والاه . وبعد فقد اطلعت على مجموعة أوراق سودها الأستاذ محمد بن علي الصابوني يزعم أنه يدافع بها عن كتابه الموسوم (صفوة التفاسير) وما فيه من أخطاء علمية استُدركتْ عليه وكان الأجدر به أن ينظر فيها فيقبل ما فيها من الحق فإن الحق ضالة المؤمن أنى وجد أخذه . وما فيه من خطأ – إن كان – فإنه يبين وجهة نظره فيه بإنصاف ورفق – لكنه على النقيص من ذلك سمى هذه الملاحظات والارشادات افتراءات حيث عنون الأوراف المذكورة بقوله (كشف الإفتراءات) وما تصور هداه الله ما لهذا الكلمة (الإفتراءات) من معنى وخيم رمى به جماعة من طلبة العلم ليس لهم قصد فيما لاحظوه عليه إلا المناصحة له والنصيحة لكتاب الله . ـ

All praise is due to Allah, the One who honors those who obey and exercise taqwa of Him, and who humiliates those who oppose His command and disobey Him. And peace and blessings upon our Prophet, and upon his family, companions and those who align themselves with him. To proceed:

I have come to know of a collection of dirty papers by Professor Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Saabooni which he claims are in defense of his book called “Safwah al-Tafaasir” and the mistakes in terms of religious knowledge which it contains which he has been made aware of. But it would have been more proper for him to look through these corrections and accept whatever truth they contained, for the truth is the lost property of the believer such that he takes it wherever he finds it. And if these corrections contained any errors, then he should have clarified his viewpoint on the issue in a fair and gentle manner. However being lacking in that, he called these notes and corrections “fabrications” in the title of those aforementioned pages by titling them “Unveiling the Fabrications”. This word “fabrications” leads one to envision an unfavorable meaning which he – may Allah guide him – has applied to a group of seekers of knowledge who had no other purpose in making their comments and notes about his work other than sincerely advising him and giving naseehah to the Book of Allah.

إن الافتراء كبيرة من كبائر الذنوب يدل على عدم الإيمان من اتصف به قال الله تعالى : [ إِنَّمَا يَفْتَرِي الْكَذِبَ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّـهِ ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْكَاذِبُونَ ] – إن العلماء ما زالوا يبينون للمخطئ خطأه وما كانوا بذلك مفتربن . بل كانوا مشكورين . ولم ينقص ذلك من قدر المخطئ إذا قبل النصح وصحح خطأه أو بين وجهة نظره بأدب وحسن ظن بمن لاحظوا عليه { وكلكم خطاء وخير الخطائين التوابين } وقد قال إمام دار الهجرة : مالك بن أنس : كلنا راد ومردود عليه إلا صاحب هذا القبر (يعني رسول الله). ـ

Indeed, fabrication is one of the major sins which would indicate a lack of eemaan in whomever was characterized by it. Allah said:

إِنَّمَا يَفْتَرِي الْكَذِبَ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّـهِ ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْكَاذِبُونَ

It is only those who do not believe in the ayaat of Allah who produce fabrications. And those ones are the liars. [16:105]

Indeed the scholars will continue to clarify the mistakes to the one in error, and that does not make them fabricators. Rather, they should be thanked. And errors do not decrease from the worth of the one in error if he accepts the sincere advice and corrects his mistakes or clarifies his point of view with the proper manners and while having good thoughts of the one who made the comments. “All of you continually err, and the best of those who err are those who continually repent.” And the Imam of Dar al-Hijrah, Maalik ibn Anas, said, “All of us can refute or be refuted, except the inhabitant of this grave (meaning Allah’s Messenger).”

  ثم إن الأستاذ الصابوني يطالب على باحترام العلماء – وكأنه بهذا يتصور أن بيان خطأ المخطئ فيه نتقيص العلماء وهذا تصور خاص به – وأيضا هو لم يلتزم بالأدب في رده على مخالفيه حيث وصفهم بالتطاول على الناس وحب الظهور بمظهر العلماء والحسد وحب الشهرة وأشد من ذلك قوله : إنهم هم الذين عناهم رسول الله بقوله { يا معشر من آمن بلسانه ولم يدخل الإيمان قلبه } إلى غير ذلك من جزاف التهم وهُجْر القول –  وما أظن هذا يصدر إلا ممن هذا أوصافه ويظن الناس مثله – لأن المنظار الأسود يصور كل الذي أمامه أسود .  ـ

وقل للعيون الرمد للشمس أعين ***** سواك تراها في مغيب ومطلع

Furthermore, Professor al-Saabooni went after the honor of the scholars. It is as he imagined that clarifying the mistakes of a person in error was a lowering of that person by the scholars, and this is a notion that he is alone in holding. Also, he did not abide by the proper etiquettes in responding to his opponents when he characterized them as being insolent towards people, loving to be as seen as scholars, envious, and lovers of fame. And the most grievous of that was his statement, “Indeed, these are those whom Allah’s Messenger meant when he said, ‘O group of people who believe with their tongues but eemaan has not entered their hearts!'” as well as other such examples of brash and obscene language. And I do not think that this could emanate from anyone except one who himself has such qualities and thinks all people to be like him, for a person with an dark view of the world imagines everyone before him to also be dark.

Say to the sore red eyes who look at the sun
To you it is the same whether hidden or risen begun

إن الأستاذ الصابوني إن خدع نفسه بمثل هذا الأسلوب فلا يمكن أن يخدع القراء الذين يطلبون منه أن يقرع الحجة بالحجة ولا يقرعها بالسبب والشتم لمن خالفه وبين خطأه لكنه لما لم يملك حجة يقارع بها لجأ لمثل هذا الأسلوب الذي لا يعجز عنه أحد . ـ

If Professor al-Saabooni has fooled himself with these types of methods, then he has not managed to fool those readers who call for him to respond to arguments and proofs with arguments and proofs and not to respond with insults and abuse towards whoever differs with him or clarifies his mistakes. However, since he was not able to produce a sound argument or proof, he responded to them in that manner, seeking refuge in such methods which anyone is able to do.

إنه مع هذه المكابرة اعترف بالخطأ حين قال : ضاقت صدور بعض الحاسدين فأخذ يتبع بعض الأخطاء التي لا يسلم منها إنسان ولو كان مخلصا لله في عمله وقصده لكتب إلي سرا لأتدارك تلك الأخطاء – ونحن نقول له أنت قد طبعت كتابك طبعات متتابعة ووزعته على نطاق واسع بأخطائه وهفواته ولم تتوقف عن طباعته وتوزيعه وهو على حال رغم أن هذه الملاحظات قد وصلت إليك عن طريق رئاسة البحوث العلمية والإفتاء والدعوة والإرشاد فلم تعبأ بها بل كتبت إلى كتابا لا أزال محتفظا به عندي تنكر فيه عليّ ما عملته من ملاحظات وبأسلوب بذيئ ولاذع أفترى أن نقف بعد هذا التصرف منك مكتوفي الأيدي ليمر كتابك بسلام . ويغتر به من ليس على مستوى علمي جيد فيظنه سليما . إن هذا من الخداع والخيانة للعلم وعدم النصيحة للأمة . ـ

Then along with this arrogance was his own acknowledgement of the mistakes when he said, “The hearts of some of the envious ones became constricted so they took to following up some of the mistakes which no person can escape even if he were sincere towards Allah in his actions and intentions. If they would have written to me privately, then I would have corrected these mistakes.” We say to you that you have published your book with one printing after another and distributed it far and wide with all its mistakes and errors and you have not ceased publishing and distributing it despite these corrections and notes which have reached you by way of the Presidency of Islamic Research, Fataawaa, Propagation and Guidance. But you did not let this both you, rather you wrote a letter to me which I have kept with me in which you criticized me for the notes and corrections that I made, doing so in an obscene and biting manner. So do you think that we should just let it be after this behavior of yours with our hands tied so that your book would be left un-criticized and those without a good understanding would think it is fine? This would be an example of deception and disloyalty to knowledge as well as a lack of sincere advising to the ummah.

[T’aqeebaat wa Mulaahathaat ‘alaa Kitaab Safwah al-Tafaasir, 3rd edition. pg. 5-6]

For another excerpt from the same work, see: The Importance of Tafsir and its Sources: Sheikh al-Fawzan

See also: Turning Away from the Sources of Tafsir: Ibn Taymiyah

See also: About the Books of Tafsir

See also: Understanding the Ayaat al-Sifaat: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

See also: Mufassir Profile: al-Saabooni

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

See also: The Conditions for Making Tafsir: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

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4 thoughts on “Notes on the Book “Safwah al-Tafaasir”: Sheikh Saalih al-Fawzan

  1. Pingback: The Importance of Tafsir and its Sources: Sheikh al-Fawzan | Tulayhah

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

  3. Pingback: The Need for Teaching Tafsir: Ibn ‘Uthaymeen | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: Turning Away from the Sources of Tafsir: Ibn Taymiyah | Tulayhah

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