The Prophet is Closer to the Believers than Their Own Selves: Tafsir al-Qurtubi

Allah informs us of the following in the beginning of surah al-Ahzab:

النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَىٰ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ ۖ وَأَزْوَاجُهُ أُمَّهَاتُهُمْ

The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers [33:6]

Imam al-Qurtubi opens his discussion of this ayah by writing:

قوله تعالى : النبي أولى بالمؤمنين من أنفسهم هذه الآية أزال الله تعالى بها أحكاما كانت في صدر الإسلام ; منها : أنه صلى الله عليه وسلم كان لا يصلي على ميت عليه دين ، فلما فتح الله عليه الفتوح قال : أنا أولى بالمؤمنين من أنفسهم ; فمن توفي وعليه دين فعلي قضاؤه ، ومن ترك مالا فلورثته أخرجه الصحيحان . وفيهما أيضا فأيكم ترك دينا أو ضياعا فأنا مولاه . قال ابن العربي : فانقلبت الآن الحال بالذنوب ، فإن تركوا مالا ضويق العصبة فيه ، وإن تركوا ضياعا أسلموا إليه ; فهذا تفسير الولاية المذكورة في هذه الآية بتفسير النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وتنبيهه ; ولا عطر بعد عروس . قال ابن عطية : وقال بعض العلماء العارفين : هو أولى بهم من أنفسهم ; لأن أنفسهم تدعوهم إلى الهلاك ، وهو يدعوهم إلى النجاة . قال ابن عطية : ويؤيد هذا قوله عليه الصلاة والسلام : أنا آخذ بحجزكم عن النار وأنتم تقتحمون فيها تقحم الفراش . ـ

Allah’s statement:

النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَىٰ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ

The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves …

Allah eliminated some rulings that had been in place at the beginning of Islam with this ayah. One of those earlier rulings was that the Prophet used to not offer the funeral prayer for someone who died while still owing a debt.

… But then when Allah gave the Prophet some victories on his expeditions he said, “I am closer to the believers than their own selves. So whoever dies while still owing a debt, then the debt is on me and I will pay it. And whoever leaves any wealth, then that is for his inheritors.”

al-Bukhari and Muslim both reported this hadith, as well as the hadith:

Any one of you who dies and leaves behind a debt or a needy dependent, then I am his close one.

Ibn al-‘Arabi said, “Due to sins, the situation today is the complete opposite. If someone leaves behind wealth, then his people come after it, but if he leaves a needy dependent behind they wash their hands of him.”

So the explanation of the “closeness” mentioned in this ayah is the explanation that the Prophet gave and alerted us to, and there is nothing that can come later to surpass this. That being said, ibn ‘Atiyyah mentioned the following:

Some of the incisive scholars have said: He is closer to them than their own selves because their own selves call them to ruin and destruction while he calls them to safety and salvation.

Ibn ‘Atiyyah further said:

This understanding is supported by the Prophet’s statement:

“I am holding you back from the fire by your belts while you are plunging yourselves into it like the moths throw themselves into a fire.”

قلت : هذا قول حسن في معنى الآية وتفسيرها ، والحديث الذي ذكر أخرجه مسلم في صحيحه عن أبي هريرة قال : قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : إنما مثلي ومثل أمتي كمثل رجل استوقد نارا فجعلت الدواب والفراش يقعن فيه وأنا آخذ بحجزكم وأنتم تقحمون فيه . وعن جابر مثله ; وقال : وأنتم تفلتون من يدي . قال العلماء : الحجزة للسراويل ، والمعقد للإزار ; فإذا أراد الرجل إمساك من يخاف سقوطه أخذ بذلك الموضع منه . وهذا مثل لاجتهاد نبينا عليه الصلاة والسلام في نجاتنا ، وحرصه على تخلصنا من الهلكات التي بين أيدينا ; فهو أولى بنا من أنفسنا ; ولجهلنا بقدر ذلك وغلبة شهواتنا علينا وظفر عدونا اللعين بنا صرنا أحقر من الفراش [ ص: 115 ] وأذل من الفراش ، ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بالله العلي العظيم ! وقيل : أولى بهم أي أنه إذا أمر بشيء ودعت النفس إلى غيره كان أمر النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أولى . وقيل أولى بهم أي هو أولى بأن يحكم على المؤمنين فينفذ حكمه في أنفسهم ; أي فيما يحكمون به لأنفسهم مما يخالف حكمه . ـ

I say: This opinion mentioned by ibn ‘Atiyyah is a sound explanation for the meaning of this ayah and the hadith that he mentioned in reported by Muslim in his Saheeh on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that Allah’s Messenger said:

My relationship to my Ummah is like that of a man who kindled a fire and then creatures and moths came and fell into it. I am holding you back by your belts but you are throwing yourselves into it.

And Jaabir also reported this with the wording:

… but you are slipping out of my hand.

The scholars have explained that the hujzah [as used in this hadith] is a belt for one’s pants while a ma’qid is used for one’s izar, so if you wanted to keep a man from falling down you would grab him by that area. And this is like the great efforts that our Prophet made to save us and the great care that he had to protect us from the various means of destruction which confront us. In this way, he is closer to us than our own selves. So the more ignorant we are and the more than we allow our lowly desires to overwhelm us or for our accursed enemy to gain victory over us then the more that we become even worse and lowly than those moths – and we seek Allah’s aid in the face of our own weakness and powerlessness.

And some have said that the Prophet is closer to them in the sense that if he commands us to do one thing while our own selves call us to do something else, then the Prophet’s command should take precedence.

Still others have said that he is closer to them in the sense that he issues the ruling for the believers and then his ruling is implemented in them – i.e. that they take his ruling and make it the final word for themselves even when their own decision was something else.

[Jaami’ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an 14/114-115]

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

See also: “His Character was the Qur’an”: Ibn Kathir

See also: “Say, ‘If you love Allah, then follow me’”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: The command to extol the Prophet, and the punishment for harming him or the believers: Tafsir al-Sa’di

2 thoughts on “The Prophet is Closer to the Believers than Their Own Selves: Tafsir al-Qurtubi

  1. Pingback: “Say, ‘If you love Allah, then follow me’”: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: “His Character was the Qur’an”: Ibn Kathir | Tulayhah

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