An Example of Reconciling Multiple Reports on the Reasons for Revelation: al-Suyooti

In many of the books of tafsir, a single ayah might come with several different narrations about its sabab al-nuzool – “the reason for revelation” – or the event or question that led to this ayah being revealed. To many readers, this can be confusing. In the midst of a larger discussion about how to approach and deal with these different reports, Imam Jalal al-Deen al-Suyooti provides the following example of how to use the science of hadith grading to determine which reports can be relied upon.

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. …

ومن أمثلته – أيضا : – ما أخرجه ابن جرير وابن أبي حاتم ، من طريق علي بن أبي طلحة ، عن ابن عباس أن رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – لما هاجر إلى المدينة ، أمره الله أن يستقبل بيت المقدس ففرحت اليهود ، فاستقبله بضعة عشر شهرا – وكان يحب قبلة إبراهيم – فكان يدعو الله وينظر إلى السماء ، فأنزل الله : فولوا وجوهكم شطره [ البقرة : 150 ] فارتاب من ذلك اليهود ، وقالوا ( ما ولاهم عن قبلتهم التي كانوا عليها ) ! فأنزل الله : قل لله المشرق والمغرب [ البقرة : 115 ] وقال : فأينما تولوا فثم وجه الله . [ البقرة : 115 ] ـ

… Another example of this is

(1) what ibn Jarir and ibn Abi Hatim reported through the route of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talhah from ibn ‘Abbaas that

when Allah’s Messenger migrated to al-Madinah Allah commanded him to face Jerusalem, which was something that pleased the Jews. So he prayed facing Jerusalem for somewhere between ten and twenty months – although he used to love the qiblah of Ibrahim – while he was asking Allah and looking towards the sky. So then Allah revealed

فَوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ

so turn your face towards it [2:150]

This raised some misgivings among the Jews, who said, “What caused them to turn away from the qiblah that they used to follow?” So then Allah revealed

وَلِلَّـهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ

And to Allah belongs the east and the west. [2:115]

and He said

فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّـهِ

So wherever you turn there is the face of Allah [2:115]

وأخرج الحاكم وغيره ، عن ابن عمر ، قال : نزلت فأينما تولوا فثم وجه الله أن تصلي حيثما توجهت بك راحلتك في التطوع . ـ

(2) al-Hakim and other reported that ibn ‘Umar said:

فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّـهِ

So wherever you turn there is the face of Allah [2:115]

was revealed so that you would pray towards whichever direction your riding animal had you facing for the optional prayers.

وأخرج الترمذي – وضعفه – من حديث عامر بن ربيعة قال : كنا في سفر في ليلة مظلمة فلم ندر أين القبلة ؟ فصلى كل رجل منا على حياله فلما أصبحنا ذكرنا ذلك لرسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – فنزلت . [ ص: 130 ] وأخرج الدارقطني نحوه من حديث جابر ، بسند ضعيف أيضا . ـ

(3) al-Tirmidhi reported a hadith which he graded as weak that ‘Aamir ibn Rabee’ah said:

We were on a trip during a dark night and so we did not know which direction the qiblah was. So, each one of us prayed in his own direction and when we woke in the morning we mentioned this to Allah’s Messenger and then this ayah was revealed.

al-Daraqutni reported something similar from the hadith of Jabir, and its chain of narration was also weak.

وأخرج ابن جرير : عن مجاهد ، قال : لما نزلت ادعوني أستجب لكم [ غافر : 60 ] قالوا : إلى أين ؟ فنزلت . مرسل . ـ

(4) ibn Jarir reported that Mujahid said:

When the ayah

ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ

Call on Me; I will respond to you [40:60]

was revealed, the people asked, “In which direction” and so that ayah was revealed.

This report is missing a link at the level of the Sahabah.

وأخرج عن قتادة : أن النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – قال : إن أخا لكم قد مات فصلوا عليه فقالوا : إنه كان لا يصلي إلى القبلة ، فنزلت . معضل غريب جدا . ـ

(5) Ibn Jarir also reported that Qatadah said

The Prophet said, “A brother of yours has passed away so perform the funeral prayer for him.” The people said, “He used to not pray towards the qiblah,” and then this ayah was revealed.

This narration is missing multiple links from its chain and has a very odd chain of narration.

فهذه خمسة أسباب مختلفة ، وأضعفها الأخير لإعضاله ، ثم ما قبله لإرساله ، ثم ما قبله لضعف رواته ، والثاني صحيح ، لكنه قال : قد أنزلت في كذا ولم يصرح بالسبب ، والأول صحيح الإسناد ، وصرح فيه بذكر السبب ، فهو المعتمد . ـ

So these are five different reported reasons for the revelation.

  • The last one (5) is weak due to the multiple missing links in its chain.
  • The one before that (4) is weak due to the missing link at the level of the Sahabah.
  • The one before that (3) is weak due to the weakness of its transmitters.
  • The second one (2) was authentic, however it said, “It was revealed about such-and-such” without explicitly mentioning the reason for the revelation.
  • The first one (1) had an authentic chain of narration and contained an explicit mention of the reason for the revelation, so that is what is taken to be the reason for the revelation.

[al-Itqan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an 1/129-130]

See also: What to do when Multiple “Reasons for Revelation” are Mentioned for the Same Ayah?: 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

4 thoughts on “An Example of Reconciling Multiple Reports on the Reasons for Revelation: 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: What to do when Multiple “Reasons for Revelation” are Mentioned for the Same Ayah?: al-Suyooti | Tulayhah

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