Reasons Why the Tafsir of the Sahabah Differed: Muhammad Bazmool

Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool, a professor at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca, wrote a brief post accounting for the differences found among the Qur’anic explanations of the Sahabah. We have translated it below:

الاختلاف الواقع بين الصحابة في التفسير هو من اختلاف التنوُّع، ولا يقع بينهم اختلاف من باب التضادِّ، إلا فيما لا يصحُّ عنهم. ـ

The differing that did occur among the Sahabah in the field of tafsir is simply variations on a theme. There was not any differing among them that was actual in opposition or conflict, except for things that cannot actually be authentically attributed to them.

ووجه ما يجيء عنهم من اختلاف في التفسير يعود إلى أمرين: ـ

The reasons why there were some differences among their explanations of the Qur’an all go back to two issues:

الأمر الأوَّل: أن تتعدَّد أسماء الشيء وأوصافُه، وشروطه وأركانه، فتارةً يذكره أحدُهم باسمٍ غير ما يذكره به الآخر، وتارةً يذكره بركن فيه غير ما يذكره الآخر، ولا اختلاف تضاد بينهما، كمن يقول: اركع ركعتين، والآخر يقول: اسجد سجدتين، فالسجود والركوع من أركان الصلاة، ويعبَّر بهما عن الركعة من القيام والقراءة والركوع والرفع منه والسجود والجلوس بين السجدتين والسجود الثاني. ـ

1. A single thing can have multiple names, or multiple characteristics, conditions or key parts. So sometimes one of the Sahabah would call something a certain name while another mentioned it by a different name. In other instances, perhaps one of them would refer to the entire thing by one of its essential components while another mentioned it by a different key part. So there is no conflict or contradiction between the two. This is just like if one person said, “Pray two raka’aat” and another person said, “Pray to sajdahs”, because the sujood and the rukoo’ are both essential pillars of the salaah. So the term rukoo’ can be used to refer to the entire salaah without the need to mention the standing, recitation, bowing, coming back up from bowing, prostrating, sitting between the two prostrations or the second prostration.

الأمر الثاني: أن يكون تفسيرُهم من باب التفسير بالمثال، كأن يقصد تفسير العمل الصالح، فيقول أحدهم: الصلاة. ويقول الآخر: الصدقة. ويقول الآخر: برُّ الوالدين. ويقول الآخر: الجهاد في سبيل الله. فهذه أفراد من العمل الصالح، كلُّها يدخل فيه. ويدخل في ذلك إذا كان اللفظ المراد تفسيره من باب المشترك اللفظي الذي لم يقم ما يمنع من حمله على جميع معانيه، واللفظ المتواطئ. ـ

2. The explanations that they gave were done in the form of examples. For instance, the goal might be to explain the term “righteous good deeds”, so one Companion says “salaah” and another says “charity” and another says “good behavior to one’s parents” and another says “jihaad for the sake of Allah.” Each one of these is a type of righteous good deeds and all of them are part of the meaning. Another thing that also falls into this category is when the word being explained is one of those words that can simultaneously carry multiple meanings.

الأمر الثالث : أن يكون تفسير أحدهم باعتبار قراءة للآية، غير القراءة التي اعتبرها الآخر في تفسيره. وستأتي قاعدة في التنبيه على هذا. وهذا يدخل في التنوع من باب تعدد المسميات للمعنى الواحد. ـ

3. One of them is explaining an ayah according to a certain recitation of that ayah which differs from the recitation that the other person is explaining. And later we will see an important principle related to this. This is a sub-category of the differing that comes from using multiple terms to refer to a single meaning.

الأمر الرابع: أن يكون تفسير أحدهم باعتبار زمن النزول، وتفسير الآخر باعتبار ما يدخل في المعنى ، كاختلافهم في تفسير العاديات ضبحا؛ فإنها نزلت في مكة، فمعناها باعتبار زمن نزولها بالخيل تتجه بالحاج إلى منى وعرفات. ومن فسرها بالخيل تجري في الجهاد وقتال الكفار، أشار إلى أن هذا من معنى الآية، و لا ينافي ما تقدّم. وهذا يدخل في التنوع من باب التفسير بالمثال. ـ

4. One of them is explaining the ayah in reference to the time of its initial revelation while another is explaining it according to the meanings that it contains. Take, for example, the different explanations of the Sahabah regarding the explanation of

وَالْعَادِيَاتِ ضَبْحًا

By the panting racers [100:1]

This was revealed in Mecca, so the meaning of this ayah in respect to the time of its initial revelation was in reference to horses carrying the pilgrims to Mina and ‘Arafah. Meanwhile, those who explained it to mean the horses engaged in jihaad and warfare against the disbelievers were indicating that this is also part of the meaning of the ayah, and there is no conflict between these two positions. This is a sub-category of the variation that comes from explaining by way of examples.

قال ابنُ تيمية -رحمه الله-: “الْخِلَافُ بَيْنَ السَّلَفِ فِي التَّفْسِيرِ قَلِيلٌ، وَخِلَافُهُمْ فِي الْأَحْكَامِ أَكْثَرُ مِنْ خِلَافِهِمْ فِي التَّفْسِيرِ، وَغَالِبُ مَا يَصِحُّ عَنْهُمْ مِنَ الْخِلَافِ يَرْجِعُ إلَى اخْتِلَافِ تَنَوُّعٍ، لَا اخْتِلَافِ تَضَادٍّ…. “اهـ ـ

Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

In the field of tafsir, the differences of opinion among the salaf are quite limited, and they differed more regarding legal rulings than they did in tafsir. Most of the differences that can actually be authentically attributed to them in tafsir are in fact just variations on a theme, not conflicting opinions.

[As posted on the sheikh’s official Facebook account here on June 6th, 2019]

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

For an example of the fourth point, see: And Tell the Believing Women Not to Show off Their Adornment, Except for What is Apparent: ibn Taymiyah

One thought on “Reasons Why the Tafsir of the Sahabah Differed: Muhammad Bazmool

  1. Pingback: Different Categories of Tafsir from the Companions: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh | Tulayhah

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