Different Categories of Tafsir from the Companions: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh mentioned the following points in one of his lectures on the fundamentals of Qur’anic explanation:

 ــ 9 – أنواع تفاسير الصحابة
Part 9: Different Categories of Tafsir from the Companions

الصحابة في تفاسيرهم على أنحاء : الناحية الأولى : أن يُجْمِعُوا على تفسير ، فإذا أجمعوا على تفسير لم يَحِلَّ لأحد ممن بعدهم أن يخالفهم في التفسير ، لِمَ ؟ ـ

The Qur’anic explanations of the Companions come in a few different ways.

The first way: that they were united in one explanation. So if they were unanimous in one explanation, then it is not permissible for anyone who came after them to put forth a different explanation that conflicts with or contradicts that one. Why is that?

لأنه لا يمكن أن يُحْجَبُ الصواب في التفسير عن الصحابة – رضوان الله عليهم أجمعين – ثم يدركه من بعدهم ، لأن العلم بالقرآن لابد أن يكون موجودًا في كل طبقة من طبقات الأمة ، فإذا أجمع الصحابة – رضوان الله عليهم أجمعين – على تفسير آية ، ثم حدث خلاف بعد ذلك في زمن التابعين أو بعد ذلك ، فنعلم أنه خلاف بعد انعقاد الإجماع ، ومعنى هذا الخلاف أن هذا القول إذا قلنا بصوابه فإنه يعني أن الصحابة – رضوان الله عليهم أجمعين – لم يعرفوا هذا القول ، ومعنى ذلك أن جملة الصحابة – رضوان الله عليهم أجمعين -لم يدركوا التفسير الصحيح لهذه الآية . ـ

That is because it is not possible that the correct explanation was hidden from the Companions but then someone who came after them was able to apprehend it, for knowledge of the Qur’an must be present in every generation of this Ummah. So if the Companions were in agreement about the explanation of an ayah, but then some differing as to the correct understanding of that ayah occurred later during the time of the Taabi’oon or after that, then know that this is a conflicting position after unanimous agreement had already been established. If we were to say that the more recently introduced position which conflicts with the earlier consensus was accurate, then that would mean that the Companions did not know this position. And that would mean that none of the Companions were able to grasp the correct explanation of this ayah.

وهذا لا شك أنه ظن سوء بخيرة خلق الله بعد رسله وهم صحابة رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – . فهذه الدرجة الأولى أو الناحية الأولى . ـ

So there is no doubt that this amounts to having a bad opinion of the Companions of Allah’s Messenger, who were the best of Allah’s creation after the messengers.

So this is the first level or the first type of explanations from the Companions.

الثانية : أن يختلف الصحابة – رضوان الله عليهم أجمعين – في التفسير ، فإذا اختلفوا في التفسير فيكون القول لمن ؟ ـ

Secondly, there is the case that the Companions differed in their explanations. So if they differed in their explanations, who should we listen to?

هنا ننظر إلى تفاسير الصحابة ، فإذا وجدنا أن التفاسير متفقة في الدلالة لكن مختلفة في اللفظ ، فتحمل بعضها على بعض ، فمثلاً في تفسير قوله تعالى : ﴿ اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ ﴾ ([40]) فَسَّرَها بعضهم أنه القرآن ، فَسَّرَها بعضهم بالسنة ، الصراط المستقيم محمد – صلى الله عليه وسلم – ، الصراط المستقيم الإسلام ، هذه كلها وإن اختلفت فهذه كلها دلالاتها واحدة ، لأن من استمسك بالإسلام فقد استمسك بالقرآن ، ومن استمسك بالقرآن فقد استمسك بالسنة ، وهكذا . ـ

In this case, we look at the explanations of the Companions. If we find that the various explanations are all pointing to the same thing but differ in how they are worded, then we can reconcile them and take them all together. For example, looks at the explanations of Allah’s statement:

اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ

Guide us to the Straight Path [1:6]

So some of the Companions explained this to mean the Qur’an, while other explained it to be the Sunnah, or that “the straight path” is Muhammad, or that it is Islam. But each one of these – even though they are different – are all pointing to one and the same thing, because if one holds fast to Islam, then he is holding fast to the Qur’an, and if he is holding fast to the Qur’an, then he is holding fast to the Sunnah, and so on.

فإذًا تارة يختلف الصحابة – رضوان الله عليهم أجمعين – في التفسير لكن الناظر فيه يحمل بعض التفاسير على بعض وهذا على القاعدة المعروفة عند أهل العلم بالتفسير أنه يُحْمَلُ كثير من اختلاف الصحابة بل الأكثر على اختلاف التنوع لا اختلاف التضاد ، يعني أنها تنوعت عباراتهم ومرادهم شيء واحد بعضها يؤول إلى بعض ، لا خلاف بينهم في ذلك . ـ

So, sometimes the Companions may differ in their explanations, however by looking into it, it is possible to reconcile the different explanations with one another. This is in line with the principle well-known among the scholars of Tafsir that much – or indeed most – of the differences in the explanations of the Companions can be classified as variations on a theme, not conflicting or contradictory differences. Meaning, the wordings and phrases that they used may have been varied, but the intended meanings were one, with all of them explaining each other and there being no conflict between them.

وتارة يختلفون ويكون الاختلاف – وهو قليل – اختلاف تضاد يعني هذا في جهة ، وذاك في جهة ، فلا يمكن أن نقول هذا يحمل على هذا ، فإذا وجد هذا الاختلاف اختلاف التضاد فينظر فيه على النحو التالي : ـ

However sometimes – and this was rare – when they differed, these differences would in fact conflict. Meaning, this one would be from this position, while that one is from that position, so it would not be possible to say that this situation can be reconciled in that way. When we see this type of differing that actually does conflict, we must look into it in the following ways:

أولاً : ينظر هل صح هذا التفسير عن الصحابي أم لا ؟ فنبحث في صحة التفسير عن الصحابي ، قد لا يكون صحيحًا فعندئذ يسقط الاختلاف ، فلا يكون ثَمَّ خلاف في التفسير أو معارضة بين قول وقول . ـ

First: One looks to see whether this explanation actually has a sound chain of transmission back to the Companion that it is attributed to or not. So we look at the authenticity of this explanation attributed to the Companions: it could be that it is not authentic, in which case the differing has been removed. In that case, there would no longer be any difference of opinion regarding the explanation, nor any conflict between this statement and that one.

فمثلاً في تفسير ابن جرير الطبري ، أو في تفسير ابن أبي حاتم ، أو في تفسير عبد الرازق تفاسير منقولة بالأسانيد ، فننظر تفسير الصحابي هل هو صحيح ويكون ذلك بدراسة الإسناد على طريقة أهل التفسير هل هو صحيح أم لا يصح ؟ فإذا لم يكن صحيحًا الحمد لله استراح الباحث ، وقال : القول في تفسير الآية لا خلاف فيه – يعني – أن المخالف لم يصح عنه ذلك التفسير . ـ

For example, in the Tafsir of ibn Jarir al-Tabari, or the Tafsir of ibn Abi Haatim, or the Tafsir of ‘Abd al-Razzaaq there are statements of explanation transmitted with their chains of narration, so we look at the explanation of a Companion to see if it is authentically attributed to him, which is done by studying the chain of narration according to the methods of the scholars to Tafsir to see whether it is authentic or not. If it is not authentic, then alhamdulillaah we can end our search and say, “There is no differing regarding the explanation of this ayah” – meaning that the differing opinion is not actually valid or authentic.

الحالة الثانية : أن تكون التفاسير صحيحة ، هذا صحيح وهذا صحيح ، كيف نرجح ؟ ـ

The other scenario though is that there are multiple differing opinions which are all authentically transmitted. So this one is authentic and that one is also authentic, so how can we weigh them in order to give one precedence over the other?

ننظر إلى الترجيح بالكثرة ، فما فَسَّرَه الأكثرون من الصحابة فهو أولى من تفسير الأقل ، هذا وجه . ـ

We might consider giving one opinion precedence due to it having a majority. So the position which most of the Companions held in explaining an ayah is more likely to be correct than the position held by a minority. That is one method.

الوجه الثاني من أوجه الترجيح – وأوجه الترجيح كثيرة جدًا وثَمَّ كتب وبحوث معاصرة جيدة في هذا الموضوع – : إذا وجدنا أن الحالة الأولى – يعني – الترجيح بالعدد غير ممكن ، أو أن المفسر صاحب جلالة وقدر مثل ابن مسعود – رضي الله عنه – ، فَسَّرَها علي – رضي الله عنه – ، فَسَّرَها ابن عباس – رضي الله عنه – فماذا نقول في ذلك ؟ ـ

A second method to weigh the different opinions – and you should know that there are great number of methods to weigh various opinions, as well as a number of excellent books and theses on this topic – is that if we find that the first situation – i.e. giving precedence based on the number of reports – is not possible, or that the one who gave this explanation is someone of great standings, such as ibn Mas’ood, ‘Ali, or ibn ‘Abbaas, then what should we do in this case?

هنا ننظر إذا كان يمكن أن يصحح كل من القولين فيصحح ، فنقول ثَمَّ خلاف في الآية ، فبعض أهل العلم فَسَّرَها كذا – يعنى – بعض الصحابة ، وبعضهم فَسَّرَها كذا ، فإذا أتى المجتهد في التفسير ورَجَّحَ فيُرَجِّحُ بأمور كثيرة ، تارة بالقراءات ، تارة بدلالة اللغة ، تارة بالسياق ، تارة بالأصول ، أصول الفقه مثلاً بحمل المشترك على المعنيين جميعًا إذا كان اللفظ مشتركًا ، أو ببقاء العام على عمومه ، يعني في أنحاء يطول الكلام على تفصيلها في أوجه الترجيح عند خلاف المفسرين . ـ

In this case, we should look to see if it is possible to verify the authenticity of both reported positions. If so, then we hold them both to be authentic and we would therefore say that there is differing regarding the explanation of this ayah: some of the people of knowledge – that is, the Companions – explain it this way and some of them explained it that way.

Then, a skilled expert in the field of al-Tafsir might come and weighs the different positions in order to arrive at a conclusion. And this weighing can be done in a number of ways. Sometimes it is done through the qiraa’aat, other times through linguistic analysis, sometimes in light of the context, sometimes through recourse to the some fundamental principles or fundamentals of fiqh such as a phrase carrying both meanings at once in cases where the wording can take multiple meanings, or by letting a wording which is general retain its general meaning without further elaboration. All of this is to say that there are a number of different methods to weigh the different opinions when differences of opinion do take place among the mufassiroon and a listing and delineation of these different methods would take quite a while.

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

See also: Narration-based Tafsir before Opinion-based Tafsir: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

See also: Transmitted Explanations of the Qur’an: al-Zarkashi

See also: An Example of Reconciling Different Explanations from the Salaf: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: An Example of Reconciling Conflicting Tafsir from the Sahabah: ibn Taymiyah [forthcoming, inshaAllaah]

See also: Tafsir of the Qur’an and its Connection to the Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti

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

6 thoughts on “Different Categories of Tafsir from the Companions: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

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