Applying Hadith Criteria to Statements of Tafsir: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh mentioned the following points in his explanation of ibn Taymiyah’s famous introduction to the principles of tafsir:

هاهنا تنبيه مهم وهو أنه ليست قواعد مصطلح الحديث منطبقة دائما على أسانيد المفسرين، لهذا يخطئ كثيرون من المعاصرين في نقدهم لأسانيد التفسير على طريقة نقدهم لأسانيد الحديث؛ بل تجد أحدهم يتعّجب من ابن جرير وابن كثير والبغوي بل ابن أبي حاتم ونحو ذلك من إيرادهم التفاسير عن الصحابة والتابعين بالأسانيد التي هي على طريقة مصطلح الحديث ربما كانت ضعيفة؛ لكنها على طريقة مصطلح الحديث الذي اعتمده المفسرون تكون صحيحة. ـ

Here we must bring your attention to an important point, which is that the principles of hadith classification are not also applied to the chains of narrations of those who explain the Qur’an. Many people in this age have made the mistake of applying the methods of criticism used for the chains of Prophetic hadith narrations to the chains of narration used in tafsir. In fact, you will find such people who are astonished that ibn Jarir and ibn Kathir and al-Baghawi and even ibn Abi Hatim and others of similar caliber would mention explanations of the Qur’an from the Sahabah and Tabi’oon which might be graded as “weak” according to the methods of classification in the hadith sciences. However, according to the methods of classification relied upon by the scholars of tafsir, these same reports would be graded as “authentic”.

مثال ذلك حديث السّدي، السدي صاحب تفسير، له تفسير يفسر باستنباطه ويفسر وينقل عن غيره، يروي التفسير عنه أسباط بن نصر يروي التفسير عنه أسباط بن نصر، السدي فيه ربما كلام، وأسباط بن نصر أيضا فيه كلام ربما ضُعِّف بل جعل ممن اُنتقد على مسلم إيراد حديثه، فيأتي فيقول هذا الإسناد حسن بل ربما يقول هذا ضعيف، وهذا عند العلماء بالتفسير هذا من أجود الأسانيد؛ بل هو أجود أسانيد تفسير السدي، وإن كان أسباط فيه كلام فذلك الكلام فيه في الحديث، أما في العناية بالتفسير فلو به خصوصية خاصة تفسير السدي، وقد نقله عن كتابه وحفظه، ولهذا لما ترجم له العلماء قال راوي تفسير السدي. ـ

One example of that is the narrations of al-Suddi, the one who authored a book of tafsir in which he explained the Qur’an and derived legal rulings and also transmitted explanations of others. Asbat ibn Nasr related some explanations of the Qur’an from al-Suddi. Regarding al-Suddi, perhaps there is some criticism, and perhaps there is also criticism regarding Asbat ibn Nasr; perhaps he is weak. In fact, perhaps a person would be criticized for bringing one of his narrations, such that one might relay it and consider it to be sound when it actually might be weak. But according to the scholars of Tafsir, narrations by this route are some of the best in terms of their chain of narration, or rather the best chain of narration for al-Suddi’s tafsir even though there is some criticism of Asbat. However that criticism is about his narrations of hadith reports, but when it comes to his attention to Tafsir, if Asbat were to have a specialty it would be in the tafsir of al-Suddi for he transmitted it both by a written copy and by memory. That is why when the scholars provide biographical information about him they refer to him as “the transmitter of Tafsir al-Suddi.”

مثل علي بن أبي طلحة عن ابن عباس، يأتي كثيرون يقولون علي بن أبي طلحة لم يدرك ابن عباس، فهذا منقطع فالتفسير ضعيف، وتفسير علي بن أبي طلحة عن ابن عباس هذا الذي اعتمده البخاري فيما يعلقه في التفسير عن ابن عباس في صحيحه، وقد ذكر الحافظ ابن حجر كما ذكرت لكم آنفا أن الواسطة هي مجاهد وهي وجادة يعرف العلماء هذا. ـ

Another example is ‘Ali ibn Abi Talhah transmitting the explanations of ibn ‘Abbaas. Many people have come and said, “‘Ali ibn Abi Talhah never met ibn ‘Abbaas, so there is a break in the chain of transmission, thus making this explanation weak!” However the transmission of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talhah from ibn ‘Abbaas is the route that al-Bukhari relied on in his Saheeh for matters related to the tafsir of ibn ‘Abbaas. And as we have stated before, al-haafidh ibn Hajr mentioned that Mujahid was the intermediary between the two of them, as is known by the scholars.

فليست كل قاعدة عند أهل الحديث تطبق على أسانيد المفسرين بل المفسرون لهم في ذلك خصوصيات يعرفها المتحققون بذلك نعم. ـ

So not every principle of the scholars of hadith is applied to the chains of narration for those who explain the Qur’an. Rather, the scholars of tafsir have their own particularities in this area which are known to the experts.

نعم إن أصول المصطلح -مصطلح الحديث- تنطق على أسانيد المفسرين إلى حد ما؛ لكن ليست على إطلاقها، أحيانا يكون بعض الأسانيد ضعيفة على طريقة المحدثين لكن مروية من جهة [الشرف] ( 1) مثل الإسناد المعروف عن ابن عباس الذي فيه: حدثني أبي عن جدي عن عمه عن أبيه عن جده عن ابن عباس، إسناد يكثر في تفسير ابن جرير، وهذا الإسناد وإن كان ضعيفا من جهة ضعف الرجال لجهالة بعضهم وعدم معرفته؛ لكن اعتمده العلماء لأجل أن الغرض من ذكر هذا جهة [الشرف] . ـ

Yes, the core principles of hadith classification are applied to a certain extent to the chains of narration of those who explain the Qur’an, however they are not applied unreservedly. Sometimes some of the chains might be “weak” according to the methods of hadith scholars, but it might be acceptable due to the way it was narrated in order to honor those in it. Take, for instance, the well-known chain going back to ibn ‘Abbaas which contains the following in it:

My father told me, on the authority of my grandfather, on the authority of his uncle, on the authority of his father, on the authority of his grandfather, on the authority of ibn ‘Abbaas

This chain is frequently mentioned in Tafsir ibn Jarir, and although this chain is “weak” due to its narrators being graded as “weak” due to the fact that some of them are unknown, it is still considered reliable by the scholars due to the fact that its chain was only mentioned this way in order to honor the people in it.

وهذا إلى تفصيل يعني أن يترك الراوي في الرواية عن أبيه وأنهم رووا التفسير دون نظر إلى أنه هل هو ثقة أو غيره فإنهم تلقوا ذلك وتتابعوا عليه. ـ

And this is a subject that would require further explanation – that is, the question of whether a transmitter should be subject to doubts in his veracity for narrating some statements of tafsir from his father without stopping to consider whether his father is reliable or not, so he just accepts the narration and follows it.

[Sharh Muqaddimah Fee Usool al-Tafsir pg 23-24]

See also: Are there Different Standards of Acceptance for Narrations in Tafsir?

See also: Accepting the Expert-Opinions of Weak Narrators in Tafsir [forthcoming, inshaAllah]

See also: Five Distinguishing Features of the Tafsir of the Companions: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

One thought on “Applying Hadith Criteria to Statements of Tafsir: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

  1. Pingback: Are there Different Standards of Acceptance for Narrations in Tafsir? | Tulayhah

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