‘Ilm al-Munasabat and its Proper Place: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh, current minister of Islamic Affairs for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, mentioned what follows in part of a lecture entitled discussing thematic tafsir of the Qur’an:

فما المقصود بعلم مقاصد السور؟ معلوم أن الله جل جلاله هو الذي تكلم بهذا القرآن وأن القرآن كلامه ﴿وَإِنْ أَحَدٌ مِنْ الْمُشْرِكِينَ اسْتَجَارَكَ فَأَجِرْهُ حَتَّى يَسْمَعَ كَلَامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ أَبْلِغْهُ مَأْمَنَهُ﴾ فالقرآن كلام الرب جل جلاله، ومقاصد السور يُعنى بها عند أهل هذا العلم: الموضوعات التي تدور عليها آيات سورة ما. يعني أن سورة من السور التي في القرآن أو أن معظم السور أو كل السور لها موضوع تدور عليه الآيات والمعاني التي في هذه السورة، إذا عُلم هذا المقصد؛ يعني هذا الغرض هذا الموضوع، فإن فهم التفسير سيكون سهلا، بل سيفهم المرء كلام الأولين، وسيفهم كلام المحققين بأكثر مما إذا أخذ الآيات مجردة عن موضوع السورة كما سيأتي في مثال نستعرضه إن شاء الله تعالى. ـ

What do we mean by “the study of the themes of surahs”? We all know that Allah is the One who spoke this Qur’an and that the Qur’an is His speech:

وَإِنْ أَحَدٌ مِنْ الْمُشْرِكِينَ اسْتَجَارَكَ فَأَجِرْهُ حَتَّى يَسْمَعَ كَلَامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ أَبْلِغْهُ مَأْمَنَهُ

And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety [9:6]

So the Qur’an is the speech of the Lord, and according to experts in this field, what is meant by the “major themes of the surahs” are the topics and subjects which the ayaat are centered around. Meaning, at least one of the Qur’anic surahs, or most of them, or even all of them have certain topics which their ayaat are centered around and certain meanings which the surah contains. So if this theme or this objective or this point is known, then understanding the meanings of the surah becomes easy. Even more than that, a person will be much better able to understand the statements of the early generations as well as those of the later-day scholars who weigh the various opinions compared to if he had just looked at the individual ayaat themselves without knowing the larger theme of the surah, as we will see by looking at some examples, inshaAllaah.*

وأصلا في بحث مقاصد السور لم يكن بحثه في تاريخ العلم مبكرا، فإنما بحث قبله بُحث يسمى المناسبات، والعلماء اختلفوا في موضوع المناسبات، ويعنون بها مناسبات الآي؛ هل الآية هذه جاءت بعد الآية لمناسبة؟ هل بين الآية الأولى والثانية رابط؟ والثانية والثالثة بينها مناسبة؟ هل هذه الآيات في نظامها بينها وبين موضوع السورة اتصال؟ هذا يبحث في علم التفسير ويبحث في إعجاز القرآن، ولهذا عد طائفة من العلماء أن من وجوه إعجاز القرآن، وهو المنزل آية وبرهان ومعجز للخلق أجمعين، أنّ من وجوه الإعجاز أن يكون للسورة موضوع تدور عليه، وأن يكون بين الآيات ترابط هذه الآية بعد تلك، هذه القصة بعد تلك لغرض معلوم. ـ

The start of investigating the maqaasid al-suwar [themes/objectives of surahs] did not begin at the earliest stages of Islamic scholarship. The research in this area that preceded this was known as “al-munasabat” [relationships, links, connections], and there are different views among the scholars regarding the subject of munasabat.

And when one talks about the munasabat of some ayaat, what they mean is: did this ayah come after that ayah for a certain reason? Is there a link between the first ayah and the second one? Or a relationship between the second and the third? Is there some sort of connection between the ordering of these ayaat and the theme of the surah as a whole? Continue reading

A Frightening Ayah for the Leaders and Scholars: Tafsir al-Tabari

In part of surah al-Maa’idah Allah criticizes a number of characteristics of the Jews, and then says:

لَوْلَا يَنْهَاهُمُ الرَّبَّانِيُّونَ وَالْأَحْبَارُ عَن قَوْلِهِمُ الْإِثْمَ وَأَكْلِهِمُ السُّحْتَ ۚ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ

Why don’t the rabbaaniyoon and ahbar forbid them from saying ithm and devouring suht? How wretched is what they have done! [5:63]

In his explanation of this ayah, the great mufassir Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari wrote:

قال أبو جعفر : يقول تعالى ذكره : هلا ينهى هؤلاء الذين يسارعون في الإثم والعدوان وأكل الرشى في الحكم ، من اليهود من بني إسرائيل ، ربانيوهم وهم أئمتهم المؤمنون ، وساستهم العلماء بسياستهم ، وأحبارهم وهم علماؤهم وقوادهم “عن قولهم الإثم ” يعني : عن قول الكذب والزور ، وذلك أنهم كانوا يحكمون فيهم بغير حكم الله ، ويكتبون كتبا بأيديهم ثم يقولون : “هذا من حكم الله ، وهذا من كتبه” . يقول الله : ( فويل لهم مما كتبت أيديهم وويل لهم مما يكسبون ) [ سورة البقرة : 79 ] . ـ

I, Abu Ja’far, say: Allah is saying: Why don’t they prohibit these people who rush to commit sin and oppression and those in authority who take bribes? Why those Jews from the Children of Israa’eel do this? The rabbaaniyoon are their commanders, their political leaders and those experts in political matters, and the ahbar are their religious scholars and moral role models. Why don’t they prevent those from saying ‘ithm, meaning: saying lies and deceptive things. That is because the rulings that these leaders made for their people were not according to Allah’s rulings; they wrote scriptures with their own hands and then said, “This is a ruling from Allah, this is part of His Book.” Allah says:

فَوَيْلٌ لَّهُم مِّمَّا كَتَبَتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَوَيْلٌ لَّهُم مِّمَّا يَكْسِبُونَ

Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for that they earn thereby. [2:79]

وأما قوله : ” وأكلهم السحت ” ، فإنه يعني به الرشوة التي كانوا يأخذونها على حكمهم بغير كتاب الله لمن حكموا له به . ـ

As for Allah’s statement:

وَأَكْلِهِمُ السُّحْتَ

and eating suht

Then this is referring to bribes which these rulers used to take for issuing judgements and rulings contrary to Allah’s Book. Continue reading

Assorted Qur’an Benefits #3

What follows are a collection of assorted benefits originally posted on our social media page in September and October of 2014:

♦ Who are the Mukhlisoon

Imam al-Qurtubi describes the mukhlisoon in his tafsir by writing:

 أي الذين أخلصوا لك العبادة من فساد أو رياء . حكى أبو ثمامة أن الحواريين سألوا عيسى – عليه السلام – عن المخلصين لله فقال : ( الذي يعمل ولا يحب أن يحمده الناس ) . ـ

Meaning – Those who purify their worship towards You [i.e. Allah] from corruption or the desire to be seen by others.

Abu Thumamah narrated that the Hawaariyoon asked ‘Eesaa (‘alaihis salaam) about those who are mukhlisoon towards Allah, so he said, ‘Those who perform good deeds and do not like for the people to praise him.'”

[Jaami’ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an 10/27]


♦ Acting on what you know

Sufyan al-Thawri is reported to have said:

قال سفيان: من لا يعمل بما يعلم لا يكون عالما

“He who does not act according to what he knows is not actually knowledgeable.”

[Tafsir al-Baghawi 4/260]


♦ The Effects of the Qur’an Should be Seen on its Readers Continue reading

The Straight Path Leads to Allah: Tafsir ibn Kathir

In the beginning of surah al-Nahl (16), Allah devotes several ayaat to the blessings which He has created for mankind, and in particular He mentions certain livestock and riding animals, before saying:

وَالْخَيْلَ وَالْبِغَالَ وَالْحَمِيرَ لِتَرْكَبُوهَا وَزِينَةً ۚ وَيَخْلُقُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ * وَعَلَى اللَّـهِ قَصْدُ السَّبِيلِ وَمِنْهَا جَائِرٌ ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ لَهَدَاكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

And [He created] the horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and as adornment. And He creates that which you do not know. * The straight path leads to Allah, but among the various paths are those which deviate. And if He willed, He could have guided you all. [16:8-9]

Commenting on this second ayah and the switch in content between the two, al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir wrote the following in his tafsir:

لما ذكر تعالى من الحيوانات ما يسار عليه في السبل الحسية ، نبه على الطرق المعنوية الدينية ، وكثيرا ما يقع في القرآن العبور من الأمور الحسية إلى الأمور المعنوية النافعة الدينية ، كما قال تعالى : ( وتزودوا فإن خير الزاد التقوى ) [ البقرة : 197 ] وقال : ( يا بني آدم قد أنزلنا عليكم لباسا يواري سوآتكم وريشا ولباس التقوى ذلك خير ) [ الأعراف : 26 ] . ـ

After making mention of the riding animals which are used to traverse the physical paths, Allah draws our attention to the figurative religious pathways. And this type of shifting from concrete matters to abstract religiously beneficial matters occurs frequently in the Qur’an. For instance, see Allah’s statement:

وَتَزَوَّدُوا فَإِنَّ خَيْرَ الزَّادِ التَّقْوَىٰ

And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is al-taqwa [2:197]

or His statement: Continue reading

Benefits of the Multiple Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti

In his famous handbook on the Qur’anic sciences, Jalal al-Deen al-Suyooti devoted a section to issues related to the qiraa’aat [modes of recitation] of the Qur’an. For an introduction to the qiraa’aat, please see here or here. What follows is one excerpt from that section discussing the benefits that come from the differences in the qiraa’aat:

وقال بعض المتأخرين : لاختلاف القراءات وتنوعها فوائد : ـ

One of the latter-day scholars said that there are a number of benefits that come from the differences and variations in the qiraa’aat:

منها التهوين والتسهيل والتخفيف على الأمة . ـ

○ One benefit is that this makes reciting the Qur’an easier, simpler, and less onerous for this ummah.

ـ [ ص: 275 ] ومنها إظهار فضلها وشرفها على سائر الأمم ، إذ لم ينزل كتاب غيرهم إلا على وجه واحد . ـ

○ Another benefit is clearly demonstrating the virtue and honor of this ummah above other nations, for the scriptures of those nations were only revealed in one way.

ومنها : إعظام أجرها ، من حيث إنهم يفرغون جهدهم في تحقيق ذلك وضبطه لفظة لفظة ، حتى مقادير المدات وتفاوت الإمالات ، ثم في تتبع معاني ذلك واستنباط الحكم والأحكام من دلالة كل لفظ ، وإمعانهم الكشف عن التوجيه والتعليل والترجيح . ـ

○ Another benefit is the increased reward, since one could devote their efforts to perfecting their recitation and getting each word exactly correct, and even going into the lengths of the mudood and difference in the imaalaat.

Furthermore, there is the opportunity to look into the meanings of these different recitations and to derive benefits and legal rulings from what each wording indicates. Delving into these differences and examining them reveals what the ayah actually indicates, the reasoning for a ruling, and assists in weighing the merits of different interpretations.
Continue reading

Reciting the Qur’an in English?: Sheikh bin Baaz

Sheikh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz bin Baaz, the former mufti of Saudi Arabia, received and answered the following question:

هل القرآن الكريم قراءته بغير لسان عربي في ذلك إثم؛ لأنني أقرأ وأترجم من كتاب التفسير لابن كثير لإخوتي في الله من غير العرب باللغة الإنجليزية؟ آمل أن يأتيني منكم الرد سريعاً، جزاكم الله خيراً؟. ـ

Question: Is there any sin in reciting the Qur’an in some language other than Arabic? I ask because I read and translate some parts of the tafsir of ibn Kathir into English for some of my non-Arab sisters in faith. I hope that you could respond to us soon! May Allah reward you with good!

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله ، وصلى الله وسلم على رسول الله ، وعلى آله وأصحابه ومن اهتدى بهداه : ـ

Response: In the name of Allah, al-Rahman, al-Raheem. All praise is due to Allah, and may Allah bestow His peace and blessings upon the Messenger of Allah, and upon his family, his companions, and whoever follows his guidance.

أما بعد: فإن الله – عز وجل – أنزل كتابه الكريم باللغة العربية ، وهو قرآن عربي فلا يجوز أن يقرأ بغير العربية ، وإنما تترجم معانيه إلى اللغات الأخرى لتفهيم المعنى وتعليم المعنى حتى يتعلم أصحاب اللغات غير العربية معاني كلام الله – عز وجل – وحتى يستفيدوا من أحكام كتابه – سبحانه وتعالى – ، ولكن عليهم أن يتعلموا لفظ القرآن حتى يقرءوا به في الصلاة وخارج الصلاة باللغة العربية ، ـ

To proceed: Allah sent down His Book in the Arabic language and it is an Arabic Qur’an, so it is not allowed to recite it in any other language. And you are only translating its meanings into another language, in order to teach its meanings and help others understand them so that these non-Arabic speakers could learn the meanings of Allah’s speech and so that they can grasp some of the rulings mentioned in His book. Continue reading

The Dots and Tashkeel in the Mushaf: ibn Taymiyah

Sheikh al-Islaam ibn Taymiyah wrote:

المصاحف التي كتبها الصحابة لم يشكلوا حروفا ولم ينقطوها ; فإنهم كانوا عربا لا يلحنون ثم بعد ذلك في أواخر عصر الصحابة لما نشأ اللحن صاروا ينقطون المصاحف ويشكلونها وذلك جائز عند أكثر العلماء وهو إحدى الروايتين عن أحمد وكرهه بعضهم والصحيح أنه لا يكره ; لأن الحاجة داعية إلى ذلك ولا نزاع بين العلماء أن [ حكم ] الشكل والنقط حكم الحروف المكتوبة فإن النقط تميز بين الحروف والشكل يبين الإعراب لأنه كلام من تمام الكلام . ويروى عن أبي بكر وعمر أنهما قالا : ” إعراب القرآن أحب إلينا من حفظ بعض حروفه ” فإذا قرأ القارئ { الحمد لله رب العالمين } كانت الضمة والفتحة والكسرة من تمام لفظ القرآن . ـ

The mushafs which the Sahabah wrote did not have any tashkeel [vowel marking] or dots on its letters, for the Sahabah were native Arabic speakers who did not make grammatical mistakes. But later during the end of the era of the Sahabah, they added the dots and tashkeel to the mushafs due to the errors in grammar that arose [i.e. among all the non-Arabic speaking people who entered into Islam].

And that is something permissible according to most scholars, and it was one of two positions reported from Imam Ahmad, though some scholars disliked this. However the correct position is that it not something to be disliked since there is a need which calls for it. Continue reading

A Reward Without Interruption: Tafsir al-Tabari

Allah says in surah al-Tin:

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ * ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ * إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ غَيْرُ مَمْنُونٍ

We have certainly created man in the best form * then we return him to the lowest of the low * Except for those who believe and do righteous good deeds – for them there is a reward without interruption [95:4-6]

The great mufassir Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari discussed these ayaat at length. What follows is one section of that discussion:

حدثنا ابن حميد ، قال : ثنا حكام ، عن سعيد بن سابق ، عن عاصم الأحول ، [ ص: 511 ] عن عكرمة ، قال : من قرأ القرآن لم يرد إلى أرذل العمر ، ثم قرأ : ( لقد خلقنا الإنسان في أحسن تقويم ثم رددناه أسفل سافلين إلا الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات ) قال : لا يكون حتى لا يعلم من بعد علم شيئا . ـ

… ‘Ikrimah said, “Whoever recites the Qur’an will not be sent reverted back into the lowliest age,” and then he recited:

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ * ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ * إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ

We have certainly created man in the best form * then we return him to the lowest of the low * Except for those who believe and do righteous good deeds

and he said, “It won’t happen that he is reverted back to not knowing anything that he had known before.”

فعلى هذا التأويل قوله : ( ثم رددناه أسفل سافلين ) لخاص من الناس غير داخل فيهم الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات ؛ لأنه مستثنى منهم . ـ

So according to this interpretation, then the ayah: Continue reading