“If it had been good, they would not have preceded us to it”: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah says in surah al-Ahqaaf:

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَوْ كَانَ خَيْرًا مَّا سَبَقُونَا إِلَيْهِ ۚ وَإِذْ لَمْ يَهْتَدُوا بِهِ فَسَيَقُولُونَ هَـٰذَا إِفْكٌ قَدِيمٌ

And those who disbelieve say of those who believe, “If it had been good, they would not have preceded us to it.” And when they are not guided by it, they will say, “This is an ancient falsehood.” [46:11]

In his famous commentary on the Qur’an, Abu’l-Fidaa’ Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir wrote the following words regarding this ayah:

وقوله تعالى : ( وقال الذين كفروا للذين آمنوا لو كان خيرا ما سبقونا إليه ) أي : قالوا عن المؤمنين بالقرآن : لو كان القرآن خيرا ما سبقنا هؤلاء إليه . يعنون بلالا وعمارا وصهيبا وخبابا وأشباههم وأقرانهم من المستضعفين والعبيد والإماء ، وما ذاك إلا لأنهم عند أنفسهم يعتقدون أن لهم عند الله وجاهة وله بهم عناية . وقد غلطوا في ذلك غلطا فاحشا ، وأخطئوا خطأ بينا ، كما قال تعالى : ( وكذلك فتنا بعضهم ببعض ليقولوا أهؤلاء من الله عليهم من بيننا ) [ الأنعام : 53 ] أي : يتعجبون : كيف اهتدى هؤلاء دوننا ; ولهذا قالوا : ( لو كان خيرا ما سبقونا إليه ) وأما أهل السنة والجماعة فيقولون في كل فعل وقول لم يثبت عن الصحابة : هو بدعة ; لأنه لو كان خيرا لسبقونا إليه ؛ لأنهم [ ص: 279 ] لم يتركوا خصلة من خصال الخير إلا وقد بادروا إليها . ـ

Allah’s statement:

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَوْ كَانَ خَيْرًا مَّا سَبَقُونَا إِلَيْهِ

And those who disbelieve say of those who believe, “If it had been good, they would not have preceded us to it.”

meaning: they remark regarding those who are believers in the Qur’an, “if the Qur’an were any good, then these people would not have beaten us to it.” And they were referring to Bilal, ‘Ammaar, Suhaib, Khubaab and other such weak ones and slaves. And they only did this because they held themselves to have a certain standing and importance with Allah, however they were severely mistaken and in clear error regarding this assessment. This is like what Allah said:

وَكَذَٰلِكَ فَتَنَّا بَعْضَهُم بِبَعْضٍ لِّيَقُولُوا أَهَـٰؤُلَاءِ مَنَّ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْهِم مِّن بَيْنِنَا

And thus We have tried some of them through others that the disbelievers might say, “Is it these whom Allah has favored among us?” [6:53]

meaning: they are amazed, “how is it that these ones who are beneath us have been guided?!” And so, they said:

 لَوْ كَانَ خَيْرًا مَّا سَبَقُونَا إِلَيْهِ

 “If it had been good, they would not have preceded us to it.”

But as for Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah, then for every action or statement not authentically attributed to the Sahabah, they say, “this is an innovation, for if it were something good, then they would have preceded us in doing it”, for they did not leave any good quality without taking it up.

وقوله : ( وإذ لم يهتدوا به ) أي : بالقرآن ( فسيقولون هذا إفك ) أي : كذب ) قديم ) أي : مأثور عن الأقدمين ، فينتقصون القرآن وأهله ، وهذا هو الكبر الذي قال رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : ” بطر الحق ، وغمط الناس ” . ـ

And Allah’s statement:

وَإِذْ لَمْ يَهْتَدُوا بِهِ

And when they are not guided by it…

meaning: by the Qur’an

فَسَيَقُولُونَ هَـٰذَا إِفْكٌ قَدِيمٌ

… they will say, “This is an ancient falsehood.”

meaning: a relic of falsehood from the previous peoples. So they belittled the Qur’an and its people, and this is prideful arrogance, which the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) defined as, “rejecting the truth and belittling people.”

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 7/279-280]

See also: Beware of Opposing the Prophet’s Command: Tafsir ibn Kathir

See also: A Comprehensive Statement regarding Bid’ah: Imam al-Sa’di

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