The Proper Place of Asbaab al-Nuzool in Understanding the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di included the following point on asbaab al-nuzool (the reasons for revelation) in his short book of miscellaneous Qur’anic benefits:

الإتيان باللفظ العام في قوله : { وَلَا يَأْتَلِ أُولُو الْفَضْلِ مِنكُمْ وَالسَّعَةِ أَن يُؤْتُوا أُولِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَالْمُهَاجِرِينَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۖ وَلْيَعْفُوا وَلْيَصْفَحُوا ۗ أَلَا تُحِبُّونَ أَن يَغْفِرَ اللَّـهُ لَكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ } [ النور 22 ] مع أنه نزلت في شأن أبي بكر الصديق رضي الله عنه ، حين تألى أن لا ينفق على مسطح حين شايع أهل الإفك ، مما يحقق أن القرآن العظيم نزل هداية عامة ، وأنه يتناول : من لم ينزل عليهم من الأمة ، ومن نزلت وهم موجودون ، ومن كان له سبب بنزولها وغيره ، وهكذا يقال في جميع الآيات التي نزلت في قضايا جزئية خاصة ولفظها يتناول القضايا الكلية العامة  ـ

Allah’s statement:

وَلَا يَأْتَلِ أُولُو الْفَضْلِ مِنكُمْ وَالسَّعَةِ أَن يُؤْتُوا أُولِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَالْمُهَاجِرِينَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۖ وَلْيَعْفُوا وَلْيَصْفَحُوا ۗ أَلَا تُحِبُّونَ أَن يَغْفِرَ اللَّـهُ لَكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

And let not those of virtue and wealth among you swear not to give to their relatives and the needy and the emigrants for the cause of Allah. Let them pardon and overlook. Wouldn’t you like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. [24:22]

This ayah contains language of a general nature despite having been revealed concerning the incident of Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq when he swore not to spend any more money on [his cousin] Mistah after Mistah had sided with the people who slandered Aa’ishah.

So this is one of the things that confirms that the Qur’an was revealed as a guidance for all people, and that it deals with all of the following categories of people: the people of this ummah who were not directly connected to its revelation, those who were connected to its revelation by being present when it was occurring, those who were directly involved in the causes behind certain parts of it revealed, and others as well. And this can be said of all the ayaat which were revealed in connection with a particular and specific circumstance but whose wording conveys a general and universal application.

 وبهذا ونحوه تعرف أن معرفة أسباب نزول الآيات وإن كان نافعا فغيره أنفع وأهم منها ؛ فتدبر الألفاظ العامة والخاص ، والتأمل في سياق الكلام ، والاهتمام بمعرفة مراد الله بكلامه ، وتنزيله على الأمور ؛ وكلها هو الأمر الأهم ، وهو المقصود ، وهو الذي تعبد الله العباد به ، وهو الذي يحصل به العلم والإيمان

So through this ayah and those like it you can know that even though knowing the asbaab al-nuzool (the reasons for the revelation) of an ayah is something beneficial, there are other issues which are more beneficial and more important than that. So one should ponder over the wordings used – whether they be general in nature or specific -, consider the context of the words, and place his concern in knowing what Allah intended by His speech and His sending down revelation in these instances. All of these issues are what is really important. Knowing these things is the goal, and it is in this manner that the slaves engage in devotedly worshiping Allah and attaining knowledge and eemaan.

ومما يدل على أن معرفة أسباب النزول ليس كمعرفة معنى ما أراد الله بكلامه ، أنه لا يتوقف معرفة معاني القرآن على معرفتها ؛ ولذلك تجد المفسرين يذكرون في أسباب النزول أقوالا كثيرة مختلفة ، لا يهتدي الإنسان  إلى معرفة الصحيح منها في الغالب ، وكذلك المعنتين بها تضعف معرفتهم بتفسير القرآن كما ينبغي

And this is something which demonstrates that knowing the asbaab al-nuzool is not the same thing as knowing the meaning that Allah has intended with His words. Knowing the meanings of the Qur’an is not built on knowing the asbaab al-nuzool. In this vein, you can see that the mufassiroon mentioned many different statements about the reasons for the revelation of an ayah, but in most cases this does not guide the people to the correct understanding of the ayah. Similarly, those who pay undue attention to the asbaab al-nuzool have a weaker understanding of the tafsir of the Qur’an than they should.

ولست أقول : إن الاعتناء بأسباب النزول ليس بنافع ! بل هو نافع ، وقد يتوقف فهم كمال المعنى عليه ! وإنما قولي : إن الاعتناء بتدبر الألفاظ والمقاصد هو الأهم

And I am not saying that paying attention to the asbaab al-nuzool isn’t of any benefit. It certainly is beneficial, and in some cases a full understanding an ayah‘s meaning might be dependent on that very issue. What I am saying is only that paying attention to contemplating the wordings and the intended purposes behind them is what is of the utmost importance.

     ومع ذلك فإذا عرض للإنسان سبب نزول بعض الآيات ببعض الواقعات فلا يذهب وهمه إليه وحده ، بل يكون مرجعه إلى هذا الأصل الكبير ، فيعرف أن القضية الجزئية التي نزلت الآية فيها ، فيها بعض المعنى وفرد من أفراده ؛ فالمعنى قاعدة كلية يدخل فيها أفراد كثيرة ، ومن جملة تلك الأفراد تلك الصورة ، والله المستعان في جميع الأمور ، المرجو لتسهيل كل صعب ، والإعانة على كل شديد . ـ

With that in mind, if a person comes to know that the cause of the revelation of some ayaat is a certain event or situation, then he should not make this his only concern. Rather, his point of reference should be this important principle: he should know that a specific situation regarding which an ayah was revealed contains only some of the meaning of the ayah and is only one applicable situation out of many, for the meaning of an ayah is a general principle which can apply to many different situations, and that particular instance is just one of them.

Allah’s is the One whose aid is sought in all matters, the One to whom we direct our hope for the easing of every difficulty, and the One from whom we seek aid in the face of every hardship.

[al-Mawaahib al-Rabbaaniyyah pg. 47-48]

See also: Sabab al-Nuzool – its Definition and Wordings: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: Describing specific events with general wordings: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: What to do when Multiple “Reasons for Revelation” are Mentioned for the Same Ayah?: al-Suyooti

See also: An Example of Reconciling Multiple Reports on the Reasons for Revelation: al-Suyooti

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

See also: The Importance of Tafsir and its Sources: Sheikh al-Fawzan

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

See also: ‘Ilm al-Munasabat and its proper place: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

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12 thoughts on “The Proper Place of Asbaab al-Nuzool in Understanding the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di

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