Six Basic Guidelines for Understanding the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di authored books in a number of fields, with his book of tafsir, Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman, becoming especially widespread and well-known. In addition to that work, he once mentioned that a number of people had asked him to write an even more condensed and abridged book of tafsir. Although he began this work, it appears that he did not complete it and it was left in manuscript form until only the first few pages of it were published for the first time in a 35 volume collection of the sheikh’s works. The sections published were limited to a short author’s introduction, two pages on important principles for understanding the Qur’an and the first half of surah al-Fatihah. This amounts to less than 5 pages in total, though perhaps further sections of this work will be found in the future. Below you can read Imam al-Sa’di’s brief words of advice for those who desire to correctly understand the Qur’an, advice that he wrote to go accompany that incomplete condensed tafsir.

مقدمة في ضوابط النافعة
Introduction to Some Beneficial Principles

ـ • ينبغي لمن أراد فهم كلام الله فهما صحيحا أن يتدبرا صادقا ويتفهم ما دل عليه من المعاني ويطبقها على الواقع فلا يراعى خصوص الاسباب التي نزلت الايات بسببها أو قيل : إنها نزلت بسببها ، بل يراعى عموم معنى الكلام ويعلم أن السبب إذا ثبت فإنه جزء وفرد من أفراد ذلك المعنى الذي دل عليه الكلام ، وكذلك الأقوال التي يقولها المفسرين إذا تعددت فإن البصير بإمكانه أن يجعل جميعها داخلة في المعنى ومراده منه حيث احتملها اللفظ ولا ينبغي له أن يحملها على التباين والتخالف فكم ذكر في كثير من الآيات أقوال متعددة ومرجعها في الحقيقة كلها إلى المعني العام . ـ

• Whoever wants to understand the Qur’an correctly should earnestly contemplate it, work to comprehend the messages it presents and implement them in his life. He should not become consumed with the specific circumstances under which or because of which the ayaat were revealed or say, “It was revealed due to such-and-such reason”. Rather, he should focus his attention on the general meaning of the ayah and know that the reason for revelation – even if authentic – is just one piece and one portion of the meaning which this ayah conveys.

The situation is the same when there are a number of different explanations from the mufassiroon. The discerning person should, as much as is possible, try to bring them all under one overarching message and meaning, in so much as all those meanings can be supported by the language used. He ought to do this rather than treat the different explanations as being in opposition or conflict. With so many ayaat, there many be a number of different explanations given while they all ultimately go back to one shared general meaning.

ـ • وإذا رتب الله على معنى من المعاني حكما كان ثبوت ذلك الحكم وكماله ونقصه بحسب قيام ذلك المعنى في العامل ، مثال ذلك : الآثار العاجلة والآجلة التي رتبها الله على أوصاف الإيمان أو الاسلام أو الاحسان أو التقوى أو البر أو الصبر أو الخوف أو الرجاء أو الصدق أو الخشوع أو الصلاة أو الصيام أو الانفاق أو غيرها ، إذا كمل قيام العبد بها تم له الثواب ، وإذا نقص نقص . وضد ذلك أوصاف الكفر والنفاق والكذب والخيانة والظلم ونحوها آثارها وعقوباتها بحسب ما قام بالعبد منها . ـ

• When Allah ties some sort of ruling to a message in the Qur’an, then the actualization, completion or deficiency of that ruling is tied how much a person actualizes that message in himself. For example, consider the immediate and delayed effects which Allah has attached to the qualities of eemaan, islam, ihsaan, taqwa, birr, steadfastness, fear, hope, truthfulness, humility, prayer, fasting, charitable giving, etc. If a person perfectly embodies one of these traits, he will receive the full reward for it, while if he falls short of that then his reward will likewise be less. The opposite of this also applies with the qualities of disbelief, hypocrisy, lying, deceitfulness, wrongdoing, etc. Their effects and punishments will likewise be in proportion to the extent that a person embodied them.

ـ • وإذا دخلت (أل) على أسماء الأجناس كالإنسان والانس والجن ونحوها , أو دخلت على الأوصاف كالبر والتقوى والخير والصدق والاحسان والعدل والظلم ونحوها ، فإنها تفيد العموم ؛ عموم الاشخاص أو عموم الأوصاف . ـ

• If the definite article “al” is attached to the name of a class of thing such as al-insan (humans), al-ins (mankind), al-Jinn (Jinn-kind), etc., or attached to a characteristic such as al-birr (righteousness), al-taqwa (fear), al-khair (goodness), al-sidq (truthfulness), al-ihsaan (excellent behavior), al-‘adl (justice), al-thulm (wrongdoing), etc., then this indicates that it is speaking generally about all individuals within that class or about that characteristic in general.[1]

ـ • والمفرد إذا أضيف يفيد العموم كما يفيده الجمع المضاف ، وكذلك النكرات إذا جاءت بعد النفي أو النهي أو الاستفهام أو الشرط . ـ

• If a singular noun is attached to another noun, the first noun conveys the meaning of all items in its class, just as occurs when a plural noun is attached to another noun.[2]

[Translator’s note: Compare bismillah (lit. “in the name of Allah”) to bi asmaa’ Allah (lit. “in the names of Allah”). According to al-Sa’di in his explanation of surah al-Fatihah, this principle applies here and bismillah conveys the meaning of “by all of the names of Allah”.)

Likewise, if a noun without a definite article comes after a negation, or after a prohibition, or after a rhetorical question, or after a conditional statement, then that noun also conveys the meaning of all items within its class.[3]

ـ • إذا أمر الله بشيئ كان أمرا به وبما لا يتم إلا به ، وإذا نهى عن شيئ كان نهيا عن جميع وسائله وتوابعه ، وإذا أخبر بشيئ يستلزم وجوب أسباب ووسائل قبله كان خبرا به ووسائله . ـ

• If Allah commands us to do something, then that command entails both doing that thing and doing whatever is needed in order to accomplish it.

If Allah prohibits us from something, that prohibition also entails a prohibition of all things which lead to or follow from it.

If Allah informs us of something, then that means that the causes and means of that information having taken place and the means leading up to it are also implicitly included in that information.

ـ • فاعتبر هذه الضوابط الجامعة التي لا تخلو كل سورة من القرآن من كثير منها ، واعلم أن المفسرين اصطلحوا على السور التي نزلت – كلها أو معظمها – فبل الهجرة تسمى مكية ، وغالبها في تقرير الأصول ، والسور التي نزلت – كلها أو معظمها – بعد الهجرة تسمى مدنية ، وفيها تقرير الأصول أيضا وكثير من الفروع كما ستراه ، والله أعلم . ـ

• Now pay attention to these general guidelines which can be found in nearly every surah of the Qur’an!

Also, you should know that the mufassiroon have used the term Makki to refer to any surah which was revealed – either entirely or primarily – prior to the Hijrah, and most of these surahs focus on affirming core beliefs and principles, and they have used the term Madani to refer to any surah which was revealed – either entirely or primarily – after the Hijrah. These surahs also affirm core beliefs and principles while containing a great number of matters shooting off from them, as you shall see shortly.

And Allah knows best.

[Majmoo’ al-Mu’allafat al-Sa’di 3/8-9]

[1][2][3] Translator’s Note: Please be aware that these principles involving grammar apply to the Qur’an itself and may not apply to translations of the meanings of the Qur’an as the language of the translation may have different grammatical rules. Note, for instance, that English usually omits the definite article “the” when referring to an entire class or category of something (compare “fish” vs. “the fish”), unlike Arabic.

See also: Understanding the Qur’an: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

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

See also: The Importance of Tafsir and its Sources: Sheikh al-Fawzan

See also: Makki and Madani Series

6 thoughts on “Six Basic Guidelines for Understanding the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di

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

  2. Pingback: Understanding the Qur’an: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: Tafsir of Surah al-Fatihah: Imam al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: The Importance of Tafsir and its Sources: Sheikh al-Fawzan | Tulayhah

  5. Pingback: How The Qur’an Describes Itself: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  6. Pingback: The Place of Asbab al-Nuzool in Understanding an Ayah: Sheikh ‘Abdullah al-Awaaji | Tulayhah

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