“Do not Follow that of which you have no Knowledge”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

In surah al-Israa – also sometimes referred to as surah Bani Israa’eel -, Allah commands:

وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ ۚ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَـٰئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولًا

And do not follow that of which you have no knowledge. Certainly the hearing, and the sight, and the heart of each of those you will be questioned. [17:36]

The scholars of tafsir have differed regarding the meaning of this command. Ibn al-Jawzi summarized the different opinions in his book of tafsir by writing:

وللمفسرين في المراد به أربعة أقوال : ـ
أحدها: لا ترم أحدا بما ليس لك به علم، رواه العوفي عن ابن عباس .ـ
والثاني: لا تقل: رأيت، ولم تر، ولا سمعت، ولم تسمع، رواه عثمان بن عطاء، عن أبيه، عن ابن عباس، وبه قال قتادة .ـ
والثالث: لا تشرك بالله شيئا، رواه عطاء أيضا عن ابن عباس .ـ
والرابع: لا تشهد بالزور، قاله محمد بن الحنفية .ـ

There were four different opinions among the mufassiroon as to the intended meaning of this phrase:

1) Do not levy accusations of which you do not have knowledge against anyone. al-‘Awfi transmitted this from ibn ‘Abbaas.

2) Do not say, “I saw such-and-such” when you did not see it, nor say “I heard such-and-such” when you did not hear it. ‘Uthman ibn ‘Ataa’ transmitted this from his father from ibn ‘Abbaas, and Qataadah also mentioned this.

3) Do not associate any partners with Allah. ‘Ataa also narrated this from ibn ‘Abbaas.

4) Do not bear false witness. And this is what Muhammad ibn Haneefiyyah said.

[Zad al-Maseer 5/36]

Imam ibn Jarir al-Tabari also mentioned these different positions in his own tafsir along with their chains of narration. He then concluded with the following reconciliation of those opinions by writing:

وهذان التأويلان متقاربا المعنى، لأن القول بما لا يعلمه القائل يدخل فيه شهادة الزور، ورمي الناس بالباطل، وادّعاء سماع ما لم يسمعه، ورؤية ما لم يره . ـ

And these different interpretations are all closely related in meaning, for speaking about what one does not know is included in bearing false witness, as is levying false accusations against people, as is claiming to have heard something which you did not hear or see something which you did not see.

[Tafsir al-Tabari 17/448]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee also offered a brief explanation of this command which was inclusive of several of the different meanings already mentioned above along with supporting evidences:

قوله تعالى : ولا تقف ما ليس لك به علم إن السمع والبصر والفؤاد كل أولئك كان عنه مسئولا

Allah’s statement:

وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ ۚ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَـٰئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولًا

And do not follow that of which you have no knowledge. Certainly the hearing, and the sight, and the heart of each of those you will be questioned. [17:36]

نهى جل وعلا في هذه الآية الكريمة عن اتباع الإنسان ما ليس له به علم ، ويشمل ذلك قوله : رأيت ، ولم ير . وسمعت ، ولم يسمع ، وعلمت ، ولم يعلم . ويدخل فيه كل قول بلا علم ، وأن يعمل الإنسان بما لا يعلم ، وقد أشار جل وعلا إلى هذا المعنى في آيات أخر ; كقوله : إنما يأمركم بالسوء والفحشاء وأن تقولوا على الله ما لا تعلمون [ ص: 146 ] [ 2 \ 169 ] ، وقوله : قل إنما حرم ربي الفواحش ما ظهر منها وما بطن والإثم والبغي بغير الحق وأن تشركوا بالله ما لم ينزل به سلطانا وأن تقولوا على الله ما لا تعلمون [ 7 \ 33 ] ، وقوله : ياأيها الذين آمنوا اجتنبوا كثيرا من الظن إن بعض الظن إثم الآية [ 49 \ 12 ] ، وقوله : قل آلله أذن لكم أم على الله تفترون [ 10 \ 59 ] ، وقوله : وإن الظن لا يغني من الحق شيئا [ 53 \ 28 ] ، وقوله : ما لهم به من علم إلا اتباع الظن [ 4 \ 157 ] ، والآيات بمثل هذا في ذم اتباع غير العلم المنهي عنه في هذه الآية الكريمة – كثيرة جدا ، وفي الحديث : ” إياكم والظن ، فإن الظن أكذب الحديث ” . ـ

In this noble ayah Allah prohibited any person from following something of which they have no knowledge. This includes one saying, “I saw such-and-such” when he didn’t see it, or “I heard such-and-such” when he didn’t hear that, or “I know such-and-such” when he doesn’t actually know it. And this also includes any statement made without knowledge, or a person acting without knowledge.

Allah has pointed to this meaning in a number of other ayaat, such as His statement:

إِنَّمَا يَأْمُرُكُم بِالسُّوءِ وَالْفَحْشَاءِ وَأَن تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّـهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

The Shaytaan only orders you to evil and immorality and to say about Allah what you do not know. [2:169]

and His statement:

قُلْ إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ رَبِّيَ الْفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ وَالْإِثْمَ وَالْبَغْيَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ وَأَن تُشْرِكُوا بِاللَّـهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا وَأَن تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّـهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

Say, “My Lord has only forbidden immoralities – what is apparent of them and what is concealed – and sin, and oppression without right, and that you associate with Allah that for which He has not sent down authority, and that you say about Allah that which you do not know.” [7:33]

and His statement:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ

O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful. [49:12]

and His statement:

قُلْ آللَّـهُ أَذِنَ لَكُمْ ۖ أَمْ عَلَى اللَّـهِ تَفْتَرُونَ

Say, “Has Allah permitted you, or do you invent something about Allah?” [10:59]

and His statement:

وَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ لَا يُغْنِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ شَيْئًا

and indeed, assumption is of no benefit against the truth at all. [53:28]

and His statement:

مَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلَّا اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ

They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. [4:157]

And there are many other ayaat like these on the subject of the blameworthy nature of following something other than knowledge which has been prohibited in this noble ayah. And there is also the hadeeth, “Beware of suspicion, for indeed suspicion is the falsest form of speech.”

[Adhwaa’ al-Bayaan 3/146-147]

Click these links to learn more about the tafsir works of ibn al-Jawzi, ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee, and others.

See also: “O you who believe, avoid much suspicion…”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: Why Speaking about Allah without Knowledge is more serious than Shrik: Ibn ‘Uthaymeen

See also: “If a Faasiq comes to you with news, verify it…”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee and al-Sa’di

See also: al-Thann in the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di

See also: Those who do not witness al-Zoor: Tafsir al-Tabari

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6 thoughts on ““Do not Follow that of which you have no Knowledge”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

  1. Pingback: “O you who believe, avoid much suspicion…”: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: al-Thann in the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: “O our Lord, do not make us a trial for the wrongdoing people”: Tafsir ibn Kathir | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: Those who do not witness al-Zoor: Tafsir al-Tabari | Tulayhah

  5. Pingback: “If a Faasiq comes to you with news, verify it…”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee and al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  6. Pingback: Applying Allah’s Guidance regarding the News of the Faasiq: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool | Tulayhah

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