The Great Status of Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari: al-Dhahabi

In his massive biographical encyclopedia, Imam al-Dhahabi mentioned the following quote in his entry on the great commentator on the Qur’an, Muhammad ibn Jareer al-Tabari:

وقال الخطيب محمد بن جرير بن يزيد بن كثير بن غالب : كان أحد أئمة العلماء ، يحكم بقوله ، ويرجع إلى رأيه لمعرفته وفضله ، وكان قد جمع من العلوم ما لم يشاركه فيه أحد من أهل عصره ، فكان حافظا لكتاب الله ، عارفا بالقراءات ، بصيرا بالمعاني ، فقيها في أحكام القرآن ، عالما بالسنن وطرقها ، صحيحها وسقيمها ، وناسخها ومنسوخها ، عارفا بأقوال الصحابة والتابعين ، عارفا بأيام الناس وأخبارهم ، وله الكتاب المشهور في [ ص: 270 ] ” أخبار الأمم وتاريخهم ” ، وله كتاب : ” التفسير ” لم يصنف مثله ، وكتاب سماه : ” تهذيب الآثار ” لم أر سواه في معناه ، لكن لم يتمه ، وله في أصول الفقه وفروعه كتب كثيرة واختيار من أقاويل الفقهاء ، وتفرد بمسائل حفظت عنه .ـ

al-Khateeb said:

Muhammad ibn Jareer ibn Yazeed ibn Katheer ibn Ghaalib – He was one of the leaders of the scholars. His position carried authority, and his opinions were referred back to due to his knowledge and virtue.

He has amassed such a great amount of knowledge that none of his contemporaries matched him in that, for he had memorized the Qur’an, was well-acquainted with its various recitations, insightful into its meanings, expertly versed in the legal rulings of the Qur’an, knowledgeable of the sunnah and their chains of narration – whether they be authentic or otherwise, abrogating or abrogated -, familiar with the positions of the Sahabah and the Tabi’oon, and well-informed of historical facts and biographies. Continue reading

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A Frightening Ayah for the Leaders and Scholars: Tafsir al-Tabari

In part of surah al-Maa’idah Allah criticizes a number of characteristics of the Jews, and then says:

لَوْلَا يَنْهَاهُمُ الرَّبَّانِيُّونَ وَالْأَحْبَارُ عَن قَوْلِهِمُ الْإِثْمَ وَأَكْلِهِمُ السُّحْتَ ۚ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ

Why don’t the rabbaaniyoon and ahbar forbid them from saying ithm and devouring suht? How wretched is what they have done! [5:63]

In his explanation of this ayah, the great mufassir Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari wrote:

قال أبو جعفر : يقول تعالى ذكره : هلا ينهى هؤلاء الذين يسارعون في الإثم والعدوان وأكل الرشى في الحكم ، من اليهود من بني إسرائيل ، ربانيوهم وهم أئمتهم المؤمنون ، وساستهم العلماء بسياستهم ، وأحبارهم وهم علماؤهم وقوادهم “عن قولهم الإثم ” يعني : عن قول الكذب والزور ، وذلك أنهم كانوا يحكمون فيهم بغير حكم الله ، ويكتبون كتبا بأيديهم ثم يقولون : “هذا من حكم الله ، وهذا من كتبه” . يقول الله : ( فويل لهم مما كتبت أيديهم وويل لهم مما يكسبون ) [ سورة البقرة : 79 ] . ـ

I, Abu Ja’far, say: Allah is saying: Why don’t they prohibit these people who rush to commit sin and oppression and those in authority who take bribes? Why those Jews from the Children of Israa’eel do this? The rabbaaniyoon are their commanders, their political leaders and those experts in political matters, and the ahbar are their religious scholars and moral role models. Why don’t they prevent those from saying ‘ithm, meaning: saying lies and deceptive things. That is because the rulings that these leaders made for their people were not according to Allah’s rulings; they wrote scriptures with their own hands and then said, “This is a ruling from Allah, this is part of His Book.” Allah says:

فَوَيْلٌ لَّهُم مِّمَّا كَتَبَتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَوَيْلٌ لَّهُم مِّمَّا يَكْسِبُونَ

Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for that they earn thereby. [2:79]

وأما قوله : ” وأكلهم السحت ” ، فإنه يعني به الرشوة التي كانوا يأخذونها على حكمهم بغير كتاب الله لمن حكموا له به . ـ

As for Allah’s statement:

وَأَكْلِهِمُ السُّحْتَ

and eating suht

Then this is referring to bribes which these rulers used to take for issuing judgements and rulings contrary to Allah’s Book. Continue reading

A Reward Without Interruption: Tafsir al-Tabari

Allah says in surah al-Tin:

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ * ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ * إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ غَيْرُ مَمْنُونٍ

We have certainly created man in the best form * then we return him to the lowest of the low * Except for those who believe and do righteous good deeds – for them there is a reward without interruption [95:4-6]

The great mufassir Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari discussed these ayaat at length. What follows is one section of that discussion:

حدثنا ابن حميد ، قال : ثنا حكام ، عن سعيد بن سابق ، عن عاصم الأحول ، [ ص: 511 ] عن عكرمة ، قال : من قرأ القرآن لم يرد إلى أرذل العمر ، ثم قرأ : ( لقد خلقنا الإنسان في أحسن تقويم ثم رددناه أسفل سافلين إلا الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات ) قال : لا يكون حتى لا يعلم من بعد علم شيئا . ـ

… ‘Ikrimah said, “Whoever recites the Qur’an will not be sent reverted back into the lowliest age,” and then he recited:

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ * ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ * إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ

We have certainly created man in the best form * then we return him to the lowest of the low * Except for those who believe and do righteous good deeds

and he said, “It won’t happen that he is reverted back to not knowing anything that he had known before.”

فعلى هذا التأويل قوله : ( ثم رددناه أسفل سافلين ) لخاص من الناس غير داخل فيهم الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات ؛ لأنه مستثنى منهم . ـ

So according to this interpretation, then the ayah: Continue reading

We made the way easy for him: Tafsir al-Tabari & Tafsir ibn Kathir

In surah ‘Abasa, Allah mentions the following passage:

قُتِلَ الْإِنسَانُ مَا أَكْفَرَهُ * مِنْ أَيِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ * مِن نُّطْفَةٍ خَلَقَهُ فَقَدَّرَهُ * ثُمَّ السَّبِيلَ يَسَّرَهُ * ثُمَّ أَمَاتَهُ فَأَقْبَرَهُ * ثُمَّ إِذَا شَاءَ أَنشَرَهُ * كَلَّا لَمَّا يَقْضِ مَا أَمَرَهُ

Cursed is man, how he disbelieves! * What did Allah create him from? He created him from a sperm-drop, and then apportioned him * Then He made the way easy for him * then He causes him to die and makes a grave for him * then, when He wills, He will raise him up * No! Man has not yet accomplished what Allah has command of him [80:17-23]

The salaf and the mufassiroon differed as to the meaning of the ayah:

ثُمَّ السَّبِيلَ يَسَّرَهُ

Then He made the way easy for him

al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir summarized the two opinions of the salaf and later scholars by writing:

ـ ( ثم السبيل يسره ) قال العوفي عن ابن عباس ثم يسر عليه خروجه من بطن أمه وكذا قال عكرمة والضحاك وأبو صالح وقتادة والسدي واختاره ابن جرير . ـ

ثُمَّ السَّبِيلَ يَسَّرَهُ

Then He made the way easy for him

al-‘Awfi relayed that ibn ‘Abbaas explained it as: then Allah made man’s exit from his mother’s womb easy for him.

This is just as ‘Ikrimah, al-Dhahhaak, Abu Saalih, Qataadah, and al-Suddi said. And this was the preferred position of ibn Jariri [al-Tabari]. Continue reading

“Only those who hear will respond”: Tafsir al-Tabari and Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah says in surah al-An’aam:

إِنَّمَا يَسْتَجِيبُ الَّذِينَ يَسْمَعُونَ ۘ وَالْمَوْتَىٰ يَبْعَثُهُمُ اللَّـهُ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ يُرْجَعُونَ

Only those who hear will respond. But the dead – Allah will resurrect them; then to Him they will be returned. [6:36]

In his famous book of tafsir, Imam Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari commented on this ayah by writing:

 قال أبو جعفر : يقول – تعالى ذكره – لنبيه محمد – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : لا يكبرن عليك إعراض هؤلاء المعرضين عنك ، وعن الاستجابة لدعائك إذا دعوتهم إلى توحيد ربهم والإقرار بنبوتك ، فإنه لا يستجيب لدعائك – إلى ما تدعوه إليه من ذلك – إلا الذين فتح الله أسماعهم للإصغاء إلى الحق ، وسهل لهم اتباع الرشد ، دون من ختم الله على سمعه ، فلا يفقه من دعائك إياه إلى الله وإلى اتباع الحق إلا ما تفقه الأنعام من أصوات رعاتها ، فهم كما وصفهم به الله – تعالى ذكره – : صم بكم عمي فهم لا يعقلون [ سورة البقرة : 171 ] ـ

I, Abu Ja’far, say: Allah is addressing His Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) by saying: Do not be distressed by the rejection of these ones who turn away from you and from responding to your call when you call them to singling out their Lord in worship and affirming your prophet-hood. For none will respond to your call – that is, those things which you are calling to – except for those whom Allah has opened their hearing to listen to the truth and then made it easy for them to follow the correct guidance. This is to the exclusion of those whom Allah has placed a seal over their hearing, so they do not understand this call to worship Allah and to follow the truth, this call of yours which is directed to them. They do not understand it any more than cattle understand the voice of their herder. So they are like those whom Allah described in this way:

وَمَثَلُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا كَمَثَلِ الَّذِي يَنْعِقُ بِمَا لَا يَسْمَعُ إِلَّا دُعَاءً وَنِدَاءً ۚ صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ

And the example of those who disbelieve, is as that of him who shouts to those that that hear nothing but calls and cries. (They are) deaf, dumb and blind. So they do not understand. [2:171]

ـ” والموتى يبعثهم الله ” يقول : والكفار يبعثهم الله مع الموتى ، فجعلهم – تعالى ذكره – في عداد الموتى الذين لا يسمعون صوتا ، ولا يعقلون دعاء ، ولا يفقهون قولا إذ كانوا لا يتدبرون حجج الله ، ولا يعتبرون آياته ، ولا يتذكرون فينزجرون عما هم عليه من تكذيب رسل الله وخلافهم . ـ

وَالْمَوْتَىٰ يَبْعَثُهُمُ اللَّـهُ

But the dead – Allah will resurrect them Continue reading

The Enduring Good Deeds: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Allah says in surah al-Kahf:

الْمَالُ وَالْبَنُونَ زِينَةُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَالْبَاقِيَاتُ الصَّالِحَاتُ خَيْرٌ عِندَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًا وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلًا

Wealth and children are the adornment of the life of this world. But al-baaqiyaat al-saalihaat (the enduring good deeds) are better with your Lord for rewards and better in respect of hope. [18:46]

Commenting on this in his book of tafsir, sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee wrote:

ذكر جل وعلا في هذه الآية الكريمة أن المال والبنين زينة الحياة الدنيا ، وأن الباقيات الصالحات خير عند الله ثوابا وخير أملا . ـ

In this noble ayah, Allah mentions that wealth and children are the beautification of this worldly life, and that al-baaqiyaat al-saalihaat (the enduring good deeds) are better with Allah for rewards and better for one’s hopes.

والمراد من الآية الكريمة تنبيه الناس للعمل الصالح ; لئلا يشتغلوا بزينة الحياة الدنيا [ ص: 281 ] من المال والبنين عما ينفعهم في الآخرة عند الله من الأعمال الباقيات الصالحات ، وهذا المعنى الذي أشار له هنا جاء مبينا في آيات أخر ، كقوله تعالى : زين للناس حب الشهوات من النساء والبنين والقناطير المقنطرة من الذهب والفضة والخيل المسومة والأنعام والحرث ذلك متاع الحياة الدنيا والله عنده حسن المآب قل أؤنبئكم بخير من ذلكم للذين اتقوا عند ربهم جنات تجري من تحتها الأنهار خالدين فيها وأزواج مطهرة الآية [ 3 \ 14 – 15 ] ، وقولـه : ياأيها الذين آمنوا لا تلهكم أموالكم ولا أولادكم عن ذكر الله ومن يفعل ذلك فأولئك هم الخاسرون [ 63 \ 9 ] ، وقولـه : إنما أموالكم وأولادكم فتنة والله عنده أجر عظيم [ 64 \ 15 ] ، وقولـه : وما أموالكم ولا أولادكم بالتي تقربكم عندنا زلفى إلا من آمن وعمل صالحا الآية [ 34 \ 37 ] ، وقولـه : يوم لا ينفع مال ولا بنون إلا من أتى الله بقلب سليم [ 26 \ 88 ] ، إلى غير ذلك من الآيات الدالة على أن الإنسان لا ينبغي له الاشتغال بزينة الحياة الدنيا عما ينفعه في آخرته ، وأقوال العلماء في الباقيات الصالحات كلها راجعة إلى شيء واحد ، وهو الأعمال التي ترضي الله ، سواء قلنا : إنها الصلوات الخمس ، كما هو مروي عن جماعة من السلف : منهم ابن عباس ، وسعيد بن جبير ، وأبو ميسرة ، وعمرو بن شرحبيل ، أو أنها : سبحان الله والحمد لله ولا إله إلا الله والله أكبر ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بالله العلي العظيم ، وعلى هذا القول جمهور العلماء ، وجاءت دالة عليه أحاديث مرفوعة عن أبي سعيد الخدري ، وأبي الدرداء ، وأبي هريرة ، والنعمان بن بشير ، وعائشة رضي الله عنهم . ـ

The intended meaning of this noble ayah is to draw people’s attention to righteous deeds so that they are not busied with the adornments of the life of this world such as wealth and children, distracted and diverted away from the enduring good deeds which will benefit them in the hereafter with Allah.

This meaning which has been indicated here has also come clearly in a number of other ayaat, such as Allah’s statement: Continue reading

Those who do not witness al-Zoor: Tafsir al-Tabari

In surah al-Furqaan, Allah devotes a number of ayaat to describing the characteristics of the ‘ibaad al-Rahman (the slaves of the Most Merciful). Among these descriptions is His statement:

وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَشْهَدُونَ الزُّورَ وَإِذَا مَرُّوا بِاللَّغْوِ مَرُّوا كِرَامًا

And they are those who do not witness al-zoor, and if they pass by some ill talk, they pass by it with dignity. [25:72]

al-Haafidh ibn Kathir clarified the meaning of “those who do not witness” briefly in his tafsir by writing:

 والأظهر من السياق أن المراد : لا يشهدون الزور ، أي : لا يحضرونه; ولهذا قال : ( وإذا مروا باللغو مروا كراما ) أي : لا يحضرون الزور ، وإذا اتفق مرورهم به مروا ، ولم يتدنسوا منه بشيء ; ولهذا قال : ( مروا كراما ) . ـ

From the context, it appears that the intended meaning of “they do not witness al-zoor” is that they are not present for it or in attendance when it is happening. In line with this, Allah said:

وَإِذَا مَرُّوا بِاللَّغْوِ مَرُّوا كِرَامًا

and if they pass by some ill talk, they pass by it with dignity.

meaning: they are not in attendance when al-zoor occurs, and if they do happen to pass by it, then they do not let it sully them in the least. In this vein, Allah said:

مَرُّوا كِرَامًا

they pass by it with dignity.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 6/132]

There were a number of different interpretations of the meaning of al-zoor among the salaf. Sheikh ibn al-Jawzi summarizes these different opinions as follows: Continue reading

“Do not Follow that of which you have no Knowledge”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

In surah al-Israa – also sometimes referred to as surah Bani Israa’eel -, Allah commands:

وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ ۚ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَـٰئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولًا

And do not follow that of which you have no knowledge. Certainly the hearing, and the sight, and the heart of each of those you will be questioned. [17:36]

The scholars of tafsir have differed regarding the meaning of this command. Ibn al-Jawzi summarized the different opinions in his book of tafsir by writing:

وللمفسرين في المراد به أربعة أقوال : ـ
أحدها: لا ترم أحدا بما ليس لك به علم، رواه العوفي عن ابن عباس .ـ
والثاني: لا تقل: رأيت، ولم تر، ولا سمعت، ولم تسمع، رواه عثمان بن عطاء، عن أبيه، عن ابن عباس، وبه قال قتادة .ـ
والثالث: لا تشرك بالله شيئا، رواه عطاء أيضا عن ابن عباس .ـ
والرابع: لا تشهد بالزور، قاله محمد بن الحنفية .ـ

There were four different opinions among the mufassiroon as to the intended meaning of this phrase:

1) Do not levy accusations of which you do not have knowledge against anyone. al-‘Awfi transmitted this from ibn ‘Abbaas.

2) Do not say, “I saw such-and-such” when you did not see it, nor say “I heard such-and-such” when you did not hear it. ‘Uthman ibn ‘Ataa’ transmitted this from his father from ibn ‘Abbaas, and Qataadah also mentioned this.

3) Do not associate any partners with Allah. ‘Ataa also narrated this from ibn ‘Abbaas.

4) Do not bear false witness. And this is what Muhammad ibn Haneefiyyah said.

[Zad al-Maseer 5/36]

Imam ibn Jarir al-Tabari also mentioned these different positions in his own tafsir along with their chains of narration. He then concluded with the following reconciliation of those opinions by writing: Continue reading

An Example of Added Meaning from the Different Qiraa’aat

The different qiraa’aat (recitations) of the Qur’an are an important part of tafsir and the sciences of the Qur’an, but a subject which does not receive much discussion in the English language. We have translated a brief introduction to this matter from sheikh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez bin Baaz, which we would recommending reading as a primer before proceeding with this article.

What follows is a simple and – inshaAllaah – easy-to-understand example of how the differences in the transmitted recitations can add to the meaning of an ayah, as illustrated in these excerpts from the tafsirs of sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee and imam Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari. Please note that some level of familiarity with Arabic will greatly facilitate understanding this example.

In part of his explanation of surah Maryam, sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee wrote the following:

قوله تعالى : واذكر في الكتاب موسى إنه كان مخلصا وكان رسولا نبيا ، اعلم أن في قوله ” مخلصا ” قراءتين سبعيتين : قرأه عاصم وحمزة والكسائي بفتح اللام بصيغة اسم المفعول ، والمعنى على هذه القراءة أن الله استخلصه واصطفاه : ويشهد لهذا المعنى قوله تعالى : قال ياموسى إني اصطفيتك على الناس برسالاتي وبكلامي الآية [ 7 \ 144 ] ، ومما يماثل هذه القراءة في القرآن قوله تعالى : إنا أخلصناهم بخالصة ذكرى الدار [ 38 \ 46 ] ، فالذين أخلصهم الله هم المخلصون بفتح اللام . ـ

Allah’s statement:

وَاذْكُرْ‌ فِي الْكِتَابِ مُوسَىٰ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ مُخْلَصًا وَكَانَ رَ‌سُولًا نَّبِيًّا

And mention in the Book, Moosaa. Indeed, he was mukhlasan, and he was a messenger and a prophet. [19:51]

You should know that there are two different readings of the word mukhlasan that are present in the seven well-known recitations. ‘Aasim, Hamzah, and al-Kasaa’ee recited it with a fathah on the letter laam, which makes it take the form of ism al-maf’ool (direct object). According to this recitation, the meaning is that Allah selected and chose him. And this meaning is attested to by Allah’s statement:

قَالَ يَا مُوسَىٰ إِنِّي اصْطَفَيْتُكَ عَلَى النَّاسِ بِرِ‌سَالَاتِي وَبِكَلَامِي

[Allah] said, “O Moosaa, I have chosen you over the people with My messages and My words…” [7:144]

And among the wordings in the Qur’an which resemble this reading is Allah’s statement:

إِنَّا أَخْلَصْنَاهُم بِخَالِصَةٍ ذِكْرَ‌ى الدَّارِ‌

Indeed, We chose them for an exclusive quality: remembrance of the home (of the Hereafter) [38:46]

For those whom Allah has chosen are the mukhlasoon, with a fathah on the letter laam. Continue reading