Are there Different Standards of Acceptance for Narrations in Tafsir?

The following question was posed to sheikh ‘Abdullah al-‘Awaaji, a former professor of Tafsir at the Islamic University of al-Madinah, via the Qur’an Consultations account on Twitter on November 8th, 2019:

السلام عليكم. هل الرواية عن الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلم في الحديث تختلف عن الرواية في التفسير، من حيث صحة السند وعدالة الرواة… في قبولها والاستدلال بها؟! ـ

[Question] al-Salaam ‘alaikum. Is there is a difference between the field of Hadeeth and the field of Tafsir in which Prophetic narrations are accepted as authentic or as suitable for deriving rulings when it comes to the veracity of the chain of narration and the uprightness of the transmitters?

وعليكم السلام ورحمة الله وبركاته
يطبق منهج نقد السنة النبوية على روايات التفسير في مجالات منها:ـ
١-الأحاديث المرفوعة إلى النبي صراحة ؛ لأنها أحاديث نبوية .ـ
٢-ما له حكم الرفع من تفسير الصحابة : كأسباب النزول الصريحة ؛ وأخبار المغيبات.ـ
٣-ما كان له حكم الرفع من آثار التابعين ؛ لأنه إذا ثبت عنه فقد يتقوى بعواضد المرسل لأنه إذا تعددت وجوه روايته واختلفت وجوه مخرجه قد يتقوى
٤-التفسير الشاذ عن قول جماعتهم لئلا يعتمد إذا لم يثبت وليثبت بتضعيفه صحة الإجماع
٥-في الترجيح بين روايتي تفسير عن أحدهم متضادتين ليتبين الصحيح عنه

[Response] wa ‘alaikum as-salaam wa rahmatullaah wa barakaatuh

The same method of critical evaluation used for the Prophetic Sunnah is also applied to transmitted statements explaining the Qur’an in many cases; for instance:

1. Narrations explicitly attributed to the Prophet, as these are Prophetic hadeeth narrations.

2. The tafsir statements of the Sahabah which take the same ruling as Prophetic hadeeth narrations, such as reports explicitly stating the Asbab al-Nuzool – circumstances surrounding the revelation – or reports of the Sahabah containing some information about matters of the Unseen.

3. The statements of the Tabi’oon which take the same ruling as Prophetic hadeeth narrations. If a report [about something the Prophet said or did] is authentically attributed to one of the tabi’oon, it could be strengthened by other supporting mursal reports. That could happen when there are a number of different paths and different routes through which the report is transmitted, which would add weight to the veracity of its contents.

4. An explanation of the Qur’an that is quite at odds with the position of the majority, which is therefore not taken as authoritative without an authentic chain of narration. And in fact, the very weakness of such a report would further solidify the veracity of the consensus on the majority position.

5. When it comes to weighing the strengths of two contradicting explanations of the Qur’an in order to clearly know which of them is correct.

أما إذا كان الحديث أوالأثرُ موضوعاً مكذوباً فهو مردود قطعًا ، وهكذا الطُّرق الواهية جداً، مثل رواية محمد بن مروان السٌّدِّي الصغير عن محمد بن السائب الكلبي عن أبي صالح بَاذَام عن ابن عباس؛وتُسَمَّى سِلْسِلَةَ الكذب. ولا تعتبر ولا تعتمد. ـ

However when it comes to fabricated statements falsely attributed to the Prophet or others, then these are categorically rejected. Likewise in the case of very weak chains of transmission, such as the chain of Muhammad ibn Marwan al-Suddi al-Sagheer on the authority of Muhammad ibn al-Saa’ib al-Kalbi on the authority of Abu Saalih Baadhaam on the authority of ibn ‘Abbaas. This chain is known as “the Chain of Lies”, and it is not given any consideration or credence.

ولكن الحديث الضعيف قد يعمل به في بيان المعاني وترجيح بعض الأقوال؛بشرط عدم نكارة متنه،أو مخالفته لظاهر الكتاب والسنة الصحيحة،وظاهر السياق،وقد يترك إذا خالف وجوهاً أخرى للترجيح أقوى منه. ـ

But when it comes to weak hadeeth narrations, these could be used to explain the meanings of the Qur’an or for weighing the strengths of differing explanations. That is of course only if the contents of those narrations are not at odds with or contrary to what is clearly found in the Qur’an and the authentic Sunnah, or at odds with the surrounding context of the passage. So weak hadeeth narrations could be used in some circumstances, or they could be left out of the equation if they fail to fulfill some of the other criteria in place for material used in weighing the strengths of different positions.

والتساهل في قبوله في بيان المعاني، دون العقائد والأحكام،يدل له ظواهر كلام وعمل بعض الأئمة كقول القطان:”تساهلوا في التفسير عن قوم لا يوثقونهم في الحديث”.وقول البيهقي:”وإنما تساهلوا في أخذ التفسير عنهم،لأن مافسروا به ألفاظه تشهد لهم به لغات العرب،وإنما عملهم في ذلك الجمع والتقريب فقط” . وقال الخطيب”العلماء قد احتجوا في التفسير بقوم لم يحتجوا بهم في مسند الأحاديث المتعلقة بالأحكام؛ وذلك لسوء حفظهم الحديث، وشغلهم بالتفسير؛ فهم بمثابة عاصم بن أبي النجود،احتج به في القراءات دون الأحاديث المسندات؛ لغلبة علم القرآن عليه؛ فصرف عنايته إليه. ـ

And there is more lenience in terms of what is acceptable when it comes to clarifying the meanings of the Qur’an than what is acceptable when it comes to ‘aqeedah and legal rulings. This is made clear by the explicit statements and practice of some of the scholars, such as the statement of al-Qattaan:

For explanations of the Qur’an, be lenient with those [narrators] who you do not consider to be strong in the transmission of hadeeth.

al-Bayhaqi said:

We must be lenient when it comes to accepting explanations of the Qur’an from them because the explanations that they give of the Qur’anic wordings and phrases are supported by the study of the Arabic speech and dialects, and their efforts in this area have only been to collect and give approximate meanings.

al-Khateeb said:

It is the practice of the scholars to give weight to the Qur’anic explanation of people whose stance they would not give weight to in the transmission of narrations related to legal rulings. They did not give weight to their transmission of narrations related to legal rulings because of their faulty memorization of hadeeth and their focus on tafsir. A prime example of this is ‘Aasim ibn Abi’l-Nujood. His word was taken as an authority in the qiraa’aat but not in the transmission of hadeeth narrations, for the study of the Qur’an became his fixation to which he turned his attention.

[This Q&A took place on the Qur’anic Consultations Twitter page on November 8th, 2019]

Read more from sheikh ‘Abdullah al-‘Awaaji here

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

See also: Reasons Why the Tafsir of the Sahabah Differed: Muhammad Bazmool

See also: Why Study the Sayings of the Salaf?: Muhammad Bazmool

See also: An Example of Reconciling Different Explanations from the Salaf: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also the discussion of the “rationalist school” in The Types of Tafsir: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

One thought on “Are there Different Standards of Acceptance for Narrations in Tafsir?

  1. Pingback: Applying Hadith Criteria to Statements of Tafsir: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh | Tulayhah

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