The Death of the Scholars: Tafsir al-Baghawi & al-Qurtubi

Allah says in surah al-Ra’d:

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا أَنَّا نَأْتِي الْأَرْضَ نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا ۚ وَاللَّـهُ يَحْكُمُ لَا مُعَقِّبَ لِحُكْمِهِ ۚ وَهُوَ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

Have they not seen that We set upon the land, reducing it from its borders? And Allah decides; there is no adjuster of His decision. And He is swift in account. [13:41]

Commenting on this, Imam al-Baghawi wrote:

قوله تعالى ( أولم يروا ) يعني : أهل مكة ، الذين يسألون محمدا صلى الله عليه وسلم الآيات ( أنا نأتي الأرض ننقصها من أطرافها ) أكثر المفسرين على أن المراد منه فتح ديار الشرك ، فإن ما زاد في ديار الإسلام فقد نقص من ديار الشرك ، يقول : ( أولم يروا أنا نأتي الأرض ننقصها من أطرافها ) فنفتحها لمحمد أرضا بعد أرض حوالي أرضهم ، أفلا يعتبرون ؟ هذا قول ابن عباس ، وقتادة ، وجماعة . ـ

Allah’s statement:

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا

Have they not seen …

i.e. Haven’t the people of Mecca, those who ask Muhammad for miracles, seen

أَنَّا نَأْتِي الْأَرْضَ نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا

… that We set upon the land, reducing it from its borders?

Most of the mufassiroon held that the intended meaning here is Islamic conquests of the non-Muslim lands, for the increases of the Muslim lands took away from the non-Muslim lands.

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا أَنَّا نَأْتِي الْأَرْضَ نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا

Have they not seen that We set upon the land, reducing it from its borders?

Allah is saying: For We have opened up land after land surrounding your city for Muhammad, so won’t you take heed? This was the explanation of ibn ‘Abbaas, Qatadah, and a number of others.

وقال قوم : هو خراب الأرض ، معناه : أو لم يروا أنا نأتي الأرض فنخربها ، ونهلك أهلها ، أفلا يخافون أن نفعل بهم ذلك ؟ وقال مجاهد : هو خراب الأرض وقبض أهلها . وعن عكرمة قال : قبض الناس . وعن الشعبي مثله . ـ

But others said that this was referring to devastating destruction occurring on the earth. In other words: Have they not seen that We sent upon the land, ravaging it and destroying its people, so won’t they feel any fear that We would do the same to them?

Mujahid said, “This is referring to the ravaging of the earth and seizing its people.”

‘Ikrimah said, “Seizing the people in punishment.”

And al-Sha’bi mentioned a similar explanation.

وقال عطاء ، وجماعة : نقصانها موت العلماء ، وذهاب الفقهاء . أخبرنا عبد الواحد بن أحمد المليحي ، أنبأنا أحمد بن عبد الله النعيمي ، أنبأنا محمد بن يوسف ، حدثنا محمد بن إسماعيل ، حدثنا إسماعيل بن أبي أويس حدثني مالك ، عن هشام بن عروة ، عن أبيه ، عن عبد الله بن عمرو بن العاص رضي الله عنه قال : سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول : ” إن الله لا يقبض العلم انتزاعا ينتزعه من العباد ولكن يقبض العلم بقبض العلماء ، حتى إذا لم يبق عالما اتخذ الناس رؤساء جهالا فسئلوا فأفتوا بغير علم فضلوا وأضلوا ” . ـ

Meanwhile, ‘Ataa and a number of others explained this by saying, “This loss is the death of the scholars and those with understanding.”

… ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As said: I heard Allah’s Messenger saying:

Allah does not take away knowledge by seizing it from the hearts of the people; rather He takes away knowledge by the death of scholars. This will continue until when there are no scholars left and the people will take ignorant ones as their leaders. The people will ask them their questions and they will deliver verdicts without having any knowledge, so they are misguided and they misguide others.

وقال الحسن : قال عبد الله بن مسعود : موت العالم ثلمة في الإسلام لا يسدها شيء ما اختلف الليل والنهار . وقال ابن مسعود رضي الله عنه : عليكم بالعلم قبل أن يقبض وقبضه ذهاب أهله . وقال علي رضي الله عنه : إنما مثل الفقهاء كمثل الأكف إذا قطعت كف لم تعد . وقال سليمان : لا يزال الناس بخير ما بقي الأول حتى يتعلم الآخر ، فإذا هلك الأول قبل أن يتعلم الآخر هلك الناس . وقيل لسعيد بن جبير : ما علامة هلاك الناس ؟ قال : هلاك علمائهم . ـ

al-Hasan al-Basri said: ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood said:

The death of a scholar is a crack in Islam which nothing can repair regardless of how much time passes.

Ibn Mas’ood said:

You must seek knowledge before it is taken away from you, and it is taken away from you by the departure of its people.

‘Ali said:

The people of understanding are like hands; if a hand is cut off it will not grow back.

Sulayman said:

The people will continue to be in a good condition so long as the elders remain so that the younger ones can learn from them. But when the elders perish before the younger ones learn from them, the people as a whole will perish.

Someone asked Sa’eed ibn Jubayr, “What sign portends the people’s end?” to which he replied, “The end of their scholars.”

ـ ( والله يحكم لا معقب لحكمه ) لا راد لقضائه ، ولا ناقض لحكمه ( وهو سريع الحساب ) . ـ

وَاللَّـهُ يَحْكُمُ لَا مُعَقِّبَ لِحُكْمِهِ

there is no adjuster of His decision.

There is none who can turn back His decree or contradict His authority.

وَهُوَ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

And He is swift in account.

[Tafsir al-Baghawi 4/327-329]

Imam al-Qurtubi discussed the validity of this explanation of ‘Ataa by saying:

ننقصها من أطرافها اختلف فيه ; فقال ابن عباس ومجاهد : ننقصها من أطرافها موت علمائها وصلحائها قال القشيري : وعلى هذا فالأطراف الأشراف ; وقد قال ابن الأعرابي : الطَّرَفُ وَالطَّرْفُ الرجل الكريم ; ولكن هذا القول بعيد ، لأن مقصود الآية : أنا أريناهم النقصان في أمورهم ، ليعلموا أن تأخير العقاب عنهم ليس عن عجز ; إلا أن يحمل قول ابن عباس على موت أحبار اليهود والنصارى .ـ

نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا

… reducing it from its atraafihaa

There are some differing opinions as to the intended meaning here.

Ibn ‘Abbaas and Mujahid explained this phrase to mean the death of their scholars and righteous people.

al-Qushayri said: According to this meaning, the word “atraafihaa” means “noble ones”. And ibn al-‘Arabi said, “The words “al-taraf” and “al-tarf” both refer to a noble man. However this explanation is far-afield as the intended meaning of this ayah is: We afflict them with loss in different areas of their lives so that they might know that the delay in punishment is not a sign of inability. So that explanation is a stretch, unless we interpret ibn ‘Abbaas’ statement to be referring to the deaths of the Jewish and Christian scholars.

وقال مجاهد أيضا وقتادة والحسن : هو ما يغلب عليه المسلمون مما في أيدي المشركين ; وروي ذلك عن ابن عباس ، وعنه أيضا هو خراب الأرض حتى يكون العمران في ناحية منها ; وعن مجاهد : نقصانها خرابها وموت أهلها .ـ

Mujahid, along with Qatadah and al-Hasan al-Basri, also explained this ayah as referring to the lands which the Muslims had taken over from the hands of the disbelievers. This was also transmitted from ibn ‘Abbaas, who also explained the ayah to mean: the ravaging of the lands, until civilization is pushed to one side of it. Mujahid also explained it as the destruction of the lands and the death of their people.

  وذكر وكيع بن الجراح [ ص: 292 ] عن طلحة بن عمير عن عطاء بن أبي رباح في قول الله تعالى : أولم يروا أنا نأتي الأرض ننقصها من أطرافها قال : ذهاب فقهائها وخيار أهلها . قال أبو عمر بن عبد البر : قول عطاء في تأويل الآية حسن جدا ; تلقاه أهل العلم بالقبول . قلت : وحكاه المهدوي عن مجاهد وابن عمر ، وهذا نص القول الأول نفسه ، روى سفيان عن منصور عن مجاهد ، ننقصها من أطرافها قال : موت الفقهاء والعلماء ; ومعروف في اللغة أن الطرف الكريم من كل شيء . ـ

Wakee’ ibn al-Jarrah transmitted from Talhah ibn ‘Umayr who transmitted that ‘Ataa’ ibn Abi Rabah explained this as, “The loss of a land’s scholars and good people.”

Abu ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Barr said, “This explanation of ‘Ataa’ is a very good derived benefit from this ayah and the scholars have accepted it as valid.”

I [al-Qurtubi] say:  al-Mahdawi also transmitted this explanation from Mujahid and ibn ‘Umar, which is actually the very first explanation that we mentioned above. Sufyan transmitted from Mansoor who transmitted that Mujahid explained this phrase by saying, “The death of the scholars and people of understanding,” and it is common knowledge that the word al-taraf means “extremely noble”.

[Tafsir al-Qurtubi 9/292-293]

See also: The Threat for Explaining the Qur’an Without Knowledge: Tafsir al-Baghawi

See also: Did Fir’awn claim divinity, or worship other gods?: al-Shawkaani, al-Qurtubi, & al-Baghawi

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

2 thoughts on “The Death of the Scholars: Tafsir al-Baghawi & al-Qurtubi

  1. Pingback: The Threat for Explaining the Qur’an Without Knowledge: Tafsir al-Baghawi | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: A Point on Promises in the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Shawkaani, al-Qurtubi & al-Baghawi | Tulayhah

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