Five Distinguishing Features of the Tafsir of the Companions: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

In one section of a lecture entitled, “Introduction to the Fundamentals of al-Tafsir“, sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh mentioned the following points:

ـ 8 – ما تميزت به تفاسير الصحابة ـ
8. What Distinguishes the Companions’ Explanations of the Qur’an?

تميزت تفاسير الصحابة بأمور منها : ـ

There are a number of things which set the Companions’ explanations of the Qur’an apart from that of others. These include:

ـ 1- أنها تفاسير من عَلِمُوا القرآن ، وعَلِمُوا السُّنَّة لأنهم شهدوا التنــزيل ، ويعلمون سنة النبي وهديه – عليه الصلاة والسلام -. ـ

1. Theirs were explanations from those who knew the Qur’an and knew the Sunnah, for they have been witness to the revelation and has learned the Sunnah and guidance of the Prophet (ﷺ).

ـ 2- الميزة الثانية : أنها تفاسير من شاهد التنــزيل وعلم أسباب النــزول ، وقد قال شيخ الإسلام ابن تيمية في معرض كلام له ، ” العلم بالسبب يورث العلم بالمسبَّب ” ([37]) يعني إذا عَلِمْتَ سبب الشيءِ عَرَفْتَ المعنى ، عرفت توجيه الكلام ، عرفت المراد منه ، فعلمهم بأسباب النــزول ومشاهدتهم لأسباب النــزول يحعل تفاسيرهم في الغاية ، لأنهم شاهدوا وعلموا فلن يفسروا القرآن بشيء يخالف أسباب النــزول ، أو يخالف سنة النبي – عليه الصلاة والسلام – . ـ

2. The second distinguishing feature is that their explanations were explanations coming from those who had witnessed the revelation and knew the circumstantial reasons for the revelation (asbaab al-nuzool). In the midst of discussing this topic, sheikh al-Islaam ibn Taymiyah said, “Knowledge of the circumstantial reason behind the revelation produces knowledge of the underlying reason for the revelation,” meaning that if you learn the causal factors behind something that you will realize the meanings, know who is being addressed, and understand what is meant behind it all. So knowledge of the circumstantial reasons for revelation and having been witnesses to these reasons places their explanations in a high station. For they witnessed the revelation and had knowledge of it, so they would never explain the any part of the Qur’an with something that contradicted the reasons for why it was revealed or with anything that contradicted the Prophet’s Sunnah (ﷺ).

ـ 3- الميزة الثالثة : أنها تفاسير مأمونة من جهة اللغة ، لأنهم أهل اللسان ولا خطأ عندهم في اللسان العربي ، فإذا اجتهدوا في تفسير القرآن باللغة فهو اجتهاد العالم البصير بلغة العرب ، لأنه في زمن الصحابة – رضوان الله عليهم أجمعين – لم يكثر اللحن في لغة العرب ، وكان زمنهم زمن الاحتجاج في اللغة ، فلم يظهر اللحن بعد ، ولم يداخل العربُ المولدين من الناس من يمين وشمال ممن أفسدوا لسان العرب ، فالصحابة اجتهادهم في اللغة حجة ومقبول لأنه لم يدخلهم اللحن ، ولا الغَلَطُ في اللغة . ـ

3. The third distinguishing feature is that their explanations were sound and trustworthy as far as the language is concerned since they were native speakers of the Arabic language and free from having any mistakes in it. So if they explained an ayah from their own understanding of its linguistic meanings, this would be the efforts an expert well-versed in the Arabic language. For grammatically-errant speech was not common during the time of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them), so the language of their era is the standard which can be used to judge the soundness of one’s Arabic since grammatical errors had not yet become common. And also, the Arabs hadn’t started mixing with other people from different areas who corrupted the Arabic language. So the linguistic explanations produced by Companions are a proof and should be accepted because the Companions did not have grammatical mistakes or errors in their language.

ـ 4- الميزة الرابعة : أن الصحابي إذا فَسَّرَ في الأمور الغيبية ، أو فَسَّرَ في الأمور العملية فإنه مأمون التفسير من جهة العقيدة ، لأنهم هم قدوتنا ، هم السلف الصالح الذين — رضي الله عنهم – وأمرنا بالترضي عنهم ، ﴿ لَقَدْ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِذْ يُبَايِعُونَكَ تَحْتَ الشَّجَرَةِ ﴾ ([38]) و ﴿ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ ﴾([39]) سبحانه وتعالى ، فتفسيرهم في الاعتقاد ، في توحيد الله – جل وعلا – ، في الأمور الغيبية ، في ذكر الجنة في النار ، في الصفات مأمون ، لأنه لم تنشأ البدع بعد ولا الخرافات ، ولا الْفِرَق ، ولا الْمُحْدَثَات فتفاسيرهم يتلقاها المسلم بطيب نفس واتِّبَاع وأخذ دون تردد فيما فَسَّرَه الصحابة وصح عنهم رضوان الله عليهم . ـ

4. The fourth distinguishing feature is that whenever the Companions would explain some affairs of the Ghaib or explain anything related to acts of worship, then their explanations were sound in terms of ‘aqeedah. This is because they are our role models, they are the pious predecessors (may Allah be pleased with them) who we have been commanded to be pleased with.

لَّقَدْ رَضِيَ اللَّـهُ عَنِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِذْ يُبَايِعُونَكَ تَحْتَ الشَّجَرَةِ

Certainly was Allah pleased with the believers when they pledged allegiance to you, [O Muhammad], under the tree [48:18]

and:

رَّضِيَ اللَّـهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ

… Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him [9:100]

So their explanations regarding issues of ‘aqeedah, tawheed, the affairs of the ghaib, the descriptions of Jannah and the Hellfire, and regarding Allah’s attributes are all sound and trustworthy, because innovations and deviations in the religion had not occurred yet, nor had any sects or newly-invented matters appeared. So the Muslims should take their explanations with peace of mind, follow them, and take them without having any doubts or reservations about what the Companions explained and is authentically attributed to them (may Allah be pleased with them).

ـ 5- الميزة الخامسة : أنها وجيزة الألفاظ كثيرة المعاني ، فإذا تأملت وجدت أن فيها معاني كثيرة يخرج منها العالم بعلم ، يخرج منها المربي بأنواع من التربية والإرشاد ، يخرج منها المتأمل بأنواع من الفوائد ، لهذا قال ابن رجب في ذكر فضل كلام السلف على كلام الخلف قال : ” كلام السلف قليل كثير الفائدة وكلام الخلف كثير قليل الفائدة ” وهذا هو الحال نجد الصحابي أو التابعي يقول كلمتين أو ثلاث لكنها تحرك النفوس ، تُشْعل في القلب الإيمان ، ومحبة الله – جل وعلا – ، ومحبة رسول الله – عليه الصلاة والسلام – ، ومحبة الدين ، تُشْعل في القلب معرفة معاني الكتاب والسنة . ـ

5. The fifth distinguishing feature is that their explanations were succinct in wording but rich in meaning. For if you were to examine them, you would find that they contain treasures of meanings from which a scholar can extract knowledge, a teacher and cultivator can extract various points on character education and guidance, and a thoughtful person can extract numerous benefits. It is in this vein that ibn Rajab mentioned the following while discussing the virtue of the speech of the Salaf over that of the later generations: “The speech of the Salaf was succinct but rich in benefit, while the speech of the later generations is abundant but does not contain much benefit.” And this is just as we find that a Companions or a Taabi’ee might say two or three words or phrases, however these move one’s soul, and they inspire faith and love for Allah, His Messenger and this religion in one’s hearts, and they ignite an understanding of the meanings of the Qur’an and Sunnah in one’s heart.

وأما كلام المتأخرين الخلف من أمثالنا – نسأل الله – جل وعلا – أن يسلك بنا سبيل السابقين الأولين من المهاجرين والأنصار – كلامهم كثير لكن الفائدة منه قليلة ، كلام كثير لكنه قليل الفائدة . ـ

But as for the the speech of the latter generations such as us – and we ask Allah to place us upon the path of the first forerunners such as the Muhaajiroon and Ansaar – then this speech is abundant but the benefit derived from it is minuscule. There is plenty of speech but there is not much benefit.

فهذه مزايا خمس لتفاسير الصحابة تجعلنا نقول : تفاسير الصحابة – رضوان الله عليهم أجمعين – لابد من العناية بها . ـ

So these are five distinguishing features of the explanations of the Companions which should cause us to say, “The explanations of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them) definitely deserve our attention!”

إذن من أصول التفسير أن يفسر القرآن بتفاسير الصحابة – رضوان الله عليهم أجمعين – . ـ

Having understood all of this, it is therefore one of the foundations of al-Tafsir to explain the Qur’an with the explanations of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them).

[Muqaddimah fee Usool al-Tafsir, as transcribed here]

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

See also: How the Prophet Explained the Qur’an: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: Did the Prophet make Tafsir of the Qur’an as it was Being Revealed?: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

See also: Why Study the Sayings of the Salaf?: Muhammad Bazmool

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

See also: The Sahabah and Tabi’oon known for their Tafsir: al-Suyooti

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7 thoughts on “Five Distinguishing Features of the Tafsir of the Companions: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

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