What to do when Multiple “Reasons for Revelation” are Mentioned for the Same Ayah?: al-Suyooti

In his famous manual of the Qur’anic science, Imam Jalal al-Deen al-Suyooti included a chapter dealing with the sub-field of the Asbab al-Nuzool or the “Reasons for Revelation”. He dedicated one part of that chapter to how describing how to approach multiple differing reports of the reasons for revelation about a single ayah, providing copious examples. Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool condensed this section to its core contents, which we have translated below:

المسألة الخامسة‏ [إذا تعددت أسباب النزول] : ـ

The Fifth Issue: What to do When Multiple “Reasons for Revelation” are Mentioned?

كثيرا ما يذكر المفسرون لنزول الآية أسبابا متعددة ، وطريق الاعتماد في ذلك أن ينظر إلى العبارة الواقعة : ـ

It frequently happens that the mufassiroon will mention multiple reasons for the revelation of a single ayah. A reliable way to approach such a situation is to look at the wording used:

فإن عبر أحدهم بقوله : نزلت في كذا ، والآخر : نزلت في كذا ، وذكر أمرا آخر ، فقد تقدم أن هذا يراد به التفسير لا ذكر سبب النزول ، فلا منافاة بين قوليهما إذا كان اللفظ يتناولهما . ـ

○ If one person used the phrase, “It was revealed about such-and-such” and another said, “It was revealed about such-and-such” while mentioning another situation, then we have already explained that the intended meaning of this phrase is an explanation of the ayah, not mentioning the reason for its revelation. Therefore there is no conflict between the two statements if they both used this wording.

وإن عبر واحد بقوله : نزلت في كذا ، وصرح الآخر بذكر سبب خلافه فهو المعتمد وذاك استنباط . ـ

○ If one person used the phrase, “It was revealed about such-and-such” while another person explicitly mentioned a reason for revelation contrary to that, then the explicit statement should be taken to be the reason for revelation while the other one is just someone deriving a point or benefit related to the ayah.

وإن ذكر واحد سببا وآخر سببا غيره ، فإن كان إسناد أحدهما صحيحا دون الآخر فالصحيح المعتمد . ـ

○ If one person mentions one reason for revelation and another person mentions a different reason for revelation, if the chain of narration for one of these reports is authentic while the other is not, then the one with the authentic chain is taken to be the reason for revelation.

الحال الرابع : أن يستوي الإسنادان في الصحة ، فيرجح أحدهما بكون راويه حاضر القصة ، أو نحو ذلك ـ

○ A fourth scenario: If both of the chains of narration are equally authentic[1], then one could give more weight to one of them on the basis of its narrator having been present at the event mentioned or by using some other similar type of method.[2]

الحال الخامس : أن يمكن نزولها عقيب السببين أو الأسباب المذكورة ، بألا تكون معلومة التباعد . فيحمل على ذلك [إذ] لا مانع من تعدد الاسباب . ـ

○ A fifth scenario: It is possible that the ayah was revealed due to two or even more of the reasons for revelation mentioned so long as there is nothing to preclude that. So it could be understood in this way so long as there is nothing to preclude the possibility that there were multiple reasons for revelation.

الحال السادس : أن لا يمكن ذلك [حمله على تعدد الأسباب] فيحمل على تعدد النزول وتكرره . ـ

○ A sixth scenario: That is is not possible for there to have been multiple reasons for revelation and so we must understand it as an instance in which an ayah was sent down more than once and repeated.

تنبيه : قد يكون في إحدى القصتين : ( فتلا ) فيهم الراوي ، فيقول : ( فنزل ) . مثاله : ما أخرجه الترمذي – وصححه – عن ابن عباس ، قال : مر يهودي بالنبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – فقال : كيف تقول يا أبا القاسم ، إذا وضع الله السماوات على ذه ، والأرضين على ذه ، والماء على ذه ، والجبال على ذه ، وسائر الخلق على ذه ؟ فأنزل الله وما قدروا الله حق قدره الآية . والحديث في الصحيح بلفظ : فتلا رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – . . . . وهو الصواب ; فإن الآية مكية . ـ

A note: It could be the case that in one report of a reason for revelation the phrase “… so he recited …” was mentioned but one of the narrators thought that he heard “… so it was revealed …”. An example of this comes in al-Tirmidhi – and he graded it as authentic – from ibn ‘Abbaas, that he said:

A Jew came to the Prophet and said, “O Abu’l-Qasim, what will you say when Allah places the heavens on one finger, the earths on another finger, the water on another finger, the mountains on another finger, and the rest of creation on another?” Then Allah sent down:

وَمَا قَدَرُوا اللَّـهَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِ وَالْأَرْضُ جَمِيعًا قَبْضَتُهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَالسَّمَاوَاتُ مَطْوِيَّاتٌ بِيَمِينِهِ ۚ سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ

They have not appraised Allah with true appraisal, while the earth entirely will be [within] His grip on the Day of Resurrection, and the heavens will be folded in His right hand. Exalted is He and high above what they associate with Him. [39:67]

But this hadeeth is mentioned in Saheeh al-Bukhari as, “Then Allah’s Messenger recited …” and that is what is correct, as this ayah is a Makki ayah.

تنبيه : عكس ما تقدم : أن يذكر سبب واحد في نزول الآيات المتفرقة ، ولا إشكال في ذلك فقد ينزل في الوقعة الواحدة آيات عديدة في سور شتى . ـ

A note: There could be the opposite of what we have previously mentioned, that a single reason for revelation could be mentioned for the revelation of a number of different ayaat, and there is no problem with that as a number of ayaat belonging to multiple different surahs could be sent down regarding a single event.

مثاله : ما أخرجه الترمذي والحاكم : عن أم سلمة ، أنها قالت : يا رسول الله ، لا أسمع الله ذكر النساء في الهجرة بشيء ؟ ! فأنزل الله : فاستجاب لهم ربهم أني لا أضيع [ آل عمران : 195 ] إلى آخر الآية . ـ

An example of this is what al-Tirmidhi and al-Hakim reported from Umm Salamah, that she said, “O Messenger of Allah, I did not hear Allah mention anything about women and hijrah.” So then Allah revealed:

فَاسْتَجَابَ لَهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ أَنِّي لَا أُضِيعُ

And their Lord responded to them, “Never will I allow to be lost …” [3:195]

until the end of the ayah.

وأخرج الحاكم عنها – أيضا – قالت : قلت : يا رسول الله تذكر الرجال ولا تذكر النساء ؟ ! فأنزلت إن المسلمين والمسلمات [ الأحزاب : 35 ] وأنزلت أني لا أضيع عمل عامل منكم من ذكر أو أنثى . ـ

al-Hakim also brought the following report from her, that she said, “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, the men are mentioned but not the women?’ So then

إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ

Indeed, the Muslim men and the Muslim women … [33:35]

was revealed, and

أَنِّي لَا أُضِيعُ عَمَلَ عَامِلٍ مِّنكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ

… Never will I allow the work of any worker among you to be lost, whether male or female … [3:195]

was revealed.

وأخرج – أيضا – عنها أنها قالت : تغزو الرجال ولا تغزو النساء ، وإنما لنا نصف الميراث ؟ ! فأنزل الله : ولا تتمنوا ما فضل الله به بعضكم على بعض وأنزل : إن المسلمين والمسلمات . ـ

And he also brought the following report from her, that she said, “The men go out to battle and the women do not go out to battle, and we only receive half of the inheritance?” So then Allah revealed:

وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوْا مَا فَضَّلَ اللَّـهُ بِهِ بَعْضَكُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ

And do not wish for that by which Allah has made some of you exceed others. [4:32]

and He revealed:

إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ

Indeed, the Muslim men and the Muslim women … [33:35]

[Tahdheeb wa Tarteeb al-Itqan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an pg 140-142]

[1] Footnote of sheikh Muhammad Bazmool:

يعني مع صراحة تعبيرهما في ذكر سبب النزول ، ومع عدم إمكان حملهما على تعدد الاسباب ، أو على تعدد النزول . ـ

Meaning: If both of the reports explicitly state that this was the reason for the revelation and if it is not possible to interpret both of them to have been cases of multiple reasons for revelation or cases of repeated revelation of the same ayah.

[2] Footnote of sheikh Muhammad Bazmool:

والذي بظهر – والله أعلم – أنه لا مكان للترجيح هنا ، إنما يقال : إن عرف المتقدم ؛ فيكون هو سبب النزول ، والمتأخر يُجعل من باب التفسير أو تعدد النزول . ـ

What seems to be the case – and Allah knows best – is that it is not yet the time to use scholarly reasoning to give one more weight than the other. This could only be done if we know that one reported reason for revelation occurred earlier in the timeline. In that case, that earlier report would be the reason for revelation and the later event would be treated as an explanation of the ayah or an instance of a single ayah being revealed multiple times.

For more details from the same section of al-Suyooti’s work, see also: An Example of Reconciling Multiple Reports on the Reason for Revelation: al-Suyooti

See also: Sabab al-Nuzool – its Definition and Wordings: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

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

See also: Technical wordings for Asbaab al-Nuzool: Ibn ‘Uthaymeen

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4 thoughts on “What to do when Multiple “Reasons for Revelation” are Mentioned for the Same Ayah?: al-Suyooti

  1. Pingback: Sabab al-Nuzool – its Definition and Wordings: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: The Proper Place of Asbaab al-Nuzool in Understanding the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: Technical wordings for Asbaab al-Nuzool: Ibn ‘Uthaymeen | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: An Example of Reconciling Multiple Reports on the Reasons for Revelation: al-Suyooti | Tulayhah

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