Principles and Examples of Analyzing the Themes of a Surah: al-Shatibi

In part of a longer discussion of understanding the context of the Qur’an and its intended meaning, Imam ِAbu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Shatibi provided some beneficial words regarding how to analyze the theme of a surah and an enlightening example of this process in action regarding surah al-Mu’minoon (23):

فالذي يكون على بال من المستمع والمتفهم والالتفات إلى أول الكلام وآخره بحسب القضية وما اقتضاه الحال فيها لا ينظر في أولها دون آخرها ولا في آخرها دون أولها فإن القضية وإن اشتملت على جمل فبعضها متعلق بالبعض لأنها قضية واحدة نازلة فى شيء واحد فلا محيص للمتفهم عن رد آخر الكلام على أوله وأوله على آخره وإذ ذاك يحصل مقصود الشارع فى فهم المكلف

The through-line of an address from its beginning to its end through all of its different topics is a central concern of anyone listening and trying to understand. One does not look at the beginning of a text while ignoring the end or at the end while ignoring the beginning, for even if the topic includes many different sections, each section is connected to the others since there is one central topic throughout. So anyone trying to understand a text cannot avoid referring the end of a text back to the beginning and connecting the beginning to the end. If one follows the through-line, he will grasp the meaning that Allah intended for the recipients to understand.

فإن فرق النظر فى أجزائه فلا يتوصل به إلى مراده فلا يصح الاقتصار في النظر على بعض أجزاء الكلام دون بعض إلا في موطن واحد وهو النظر في فهم الظاهر بحسب اللسان العربي وما يقتضيه لا بحسب مقصود المتكلم

If one analyzes the different sections in isolation, he will not be able to grasp the overall meaning. That is why it is not a sound approach to limit one’s analysis to one part of a text to the exclusion of the rest. There is only one exception to that rule, which is when analyzing the surface-level meaning from a linguistic perspective and what that conveys, not when one is searching for the overarching meaning intended by the speaker.

وقد يعينه على هذا المقصد النظر فى أسباب التنزيل فإنها تبين كثيرا من المواضع التي يختلف مغزاها على الناظر

Also, considering the circumstances surrounding the revelation may help one to understand the through-line, for that will clarify many instances in which the intended meaning is confusing to the reader. Continue reading

The Attention that the Salaf Gave to the Context of an Ayah

In the midst of discussing some of the narrations that show the attention that the salaf gave to understanding the themes of surahs, sheikh Muhammad al-Rabee’ah (a professor at Umm al-Qura University, formerly at Qassim University) arranged the following points together:

ـ (الثالث) ما ورد عنهم من الأمر بمراعاة المقصود من كلام الله بالنظر لموضع الآية وسياقها. ـ
Third: The reports which indicate the importance that the salaf gave to the placement and context of an ayah in relation to understanding its meaning

ورد عن بعض السلف تأكيد على مراعاة الغرض المقصود من كلام الله تعالى بالنظر إلى الموضع الذي وردت فيه الآية وسياقها . ـ

It has been reported from some of the salaf that they emphasized paying attention to the intended purpose and meaning of Allah’s speech by considering the placement and context in which an ayah is located.

قال عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه: “إن هذا القرآن كلام الله عز وجل، فضعوه على مواضعه، ولا تتبعوا فيه أهواءكم” ))) . ـ

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “This Qur’an is the speech of Allah, so put things in their proper places and don’t follow your own whims regarding it.”

وقال ابن مسعود رضي الله عنه: “إذا سأل أحدكم صاحبه كيف يقرأ آية كذا وكذا، فليسله عما قبلها ” ))) . ـ

Ibn Mas’ood said, “If one of you asks his companion how he recites such-and-such ayah, he should ask him about what comes before it.”

Continue reading

The Difference Between Humiliating Punishment and Great Punishment in the Qur’an: ibn Taymiyah

In one of his writings, ibn Taymiyah discusses a subtle difference between the use of the phrase “a humiliating punishment” [عَذَابُ مُهِين] and “a great punishment” [عَذَابُ عَظِيم] throughout the Qur’an, illustrating that “a humiliating punishment” is reserved for the disbelievers” while “a great punishment” could be applied to the disbelievers or believers:

قال إن الذين يؤذون الله ورسوله لعنهم الله في الدنيا والآخرة وأعد لهم عذابا مهينا ولم يجيء إعداد العذاب المهين في القرآن إلا في حق الكفار كقوله الذين يبخلون ويأمرون الناس بالبخل ويكتمون ما آتاهم الله من فضله وأعتدنا للكافرين عذابا مهينا وقوله وخذوا حذركم إن الله أعد للكافرين عذابا مهينا ـ

Allah said:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَعَنَهُمُ اللَّهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ عَذَابًا مُّهِينًا

Verily, those who affront Allah and His Messenger, Allah has cursed them in this world, and in the Hereafter, and has prepared a humiliating punishment for them. [33:57]

and preparing a humiliating punishment is only mentioned in the Qur’an in relation to the disbelievers. Take, for example, Allah’s statement:

الَّذِينَ يَبْخَلُونَ وَيَأْمُرُونَ النَّاسَ بِالْبُخْلِ وَيَكْتُمُونَ مَا آتَاهُمُ اللَّهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ ۗ وَأَعْتَدْنَا لِلْكَافِرِينَ عَذَابًا مُّهِينًا

Those who are miserly and enjoin miserliness on other men and hide what Allah has bestowed upon them of His Bounties. And We have prepared a humiliating punishment for the disbelievers. [4:37]

and His statement:

وَخُذُوا حِذْرَكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ أَعَدَّ لِلْكَافِرِينَ عَذَابًا مُّهِينًا ‎

but take every precaution for yourselves. Verily, Allah has prepared a humiliating punishment for the disbelievers. [4:102]

وقوله فباؤوا بغضب على غضب وللكافرين عذاب مهين إنما نملي لهم ليزدادوا إثما ولهم عذاب مهين والذين كفروا وكذبوا بآياتنا فأولئك لهم عذاب مهين وإذا علم من آياتنا شيئا اتخذها هزوا أولئك لهم عذاب مهين وقد أنزلنا آيات بينات وللكافرين عذاب مهين اتخذا أيمانهم جنة فصدوا عن سبيل الله فلهم عذاب مهين ـ

And His statements:

فَبَاءُوا بِغَضَبٍ عَلَىٰ غَضَبٍ ۚ وَلِلْكَافِرِينَ عَذَابٌ مُّهِينٌ

So they have drawn on themselves wrath upon wrath. And for the disbelievers, there is a humiliating punishment. [2:90] Continue reading

“Niyyah” in the Qur’an: ibn Rajab

In part of his celebrated and exhaustive commentary on al-Arba’een al-Nawawi, al-haafidh ibn Rajab al-Hanbali mentioned the following important points regarding the one’s intention for worship and how this is discussed in the Qur’an:

واعلم أن النية في اللغة نوع من القصد والإرادة وإن كان قد فرق بين هذه الألفاظ بما ليس هذا موضع ذكره. ـ

You should know that the word “niyyah” linguistically refers to a type of intention or desire even if one could further delineate these terms, but now is not the time to go into that.

والنية في كلام العلماء تقع بمعنيين: ـ

When the scholars talk about niyyah it can have one of two meanings:

أحدهما: تمييز العبادات بعضها عن بعض كتمييز صلاة الظهر من صلاة العصر مثلًا وتمييز رمضان من صيام غيره أو تمييز العبادات من العادات كتمييز الغسل من الجنابة من غسل التبرد والتنظيف ونحو ذلك وهذه النية هي التي توجد كثيرًا في كلام الفقهاء في كتبهم. ـ

First: Distinguishing different acts of worship from one another, such as differentiating between the Thuhr prayer and the ‘Asr prayer or between fasting during Ramadan and fasting outside of it, or distinguishing an act of worship from an act of habit such as differentiating between a ghusl one takes to remove ritual impurity verses a bath one takes to cool off or wash up or the likes. It is this usage of the word “niyyah” that you will find most commonly in the speech and writings of the scholars of fiqh.

والمعنى الثاني: بمعنى تمييز المقصود بالعمل وهل هو لله وحده لا شريك له أم غيره أم لله وغيره وهذه هي النية التي يتكلم فيها العارفون في كتبهم في كلامهم على الإخلاص وتوابعه وهي التي توجد كثيرًا في كلام السلف المتقدمين . ـ

Second: That it comes with the meaning of distinguishing the intention behind one’s action: is it for Allah alone with not partners, or is it someone other than Allah, or for Allah and someone else simultaneously? This is the niyyah that those devoted to worship speak about in their writings and speeches, referring to ikhlaas and what accompanies that, and this is the usage of the word that you will find most commonly in the speech of the early generations of the salaf.

وقد صنف أبو بكر بن أبي الدنيا مصنفًا سماه كتاب الإخلاص والنية وإنما أراد هذه النية وهي النية التي يتكرر ذكرها في كلام النبي ﷺ تارة بلفظ النية وتارة بلفظ الإرادة وتارة بلفظ مقارب لذلك. ـ

Abu Bakr ibn Abi’l-Dunya wrote a book entitled Kitaab al-Ikhlaas wa’l-Niyyah which is strictly dealing with this second meaning of the word “niyyah“. This is the niyyah that is frequently referred to in the sayings of the Prophet, sometimes being referred to by the word “niyyah” itself, other times being referred to by the word “al-iraadah” – “want/desire” – and other times with other words of close meaning.

وقد جاء ذكرها كثيرًا في كتاب الله عز وجل بغير لفظ النية أيضًا من الألفاظ المقاربة لها… ـ

And this second meaning is also frequently mentioned in the Qur’an but without using the word “niyyah” itself and instead using other closely-related words …

Continue reading

Links Between Surah Yunus and Surah Hud: Sheikh Muhammad al-Rabee’ah

Sheikh Muhammad al-Rabee’ah, a professor in the College of Shree’ah at al-Qasim University, devoted one of his books to the study of themes of surahs. In one section on the link between a surah‘s name and its theme, the sheikh gave the following example:

وفي سورة يونس تركيز على الموعظة والدعوة بالترغيب ولذلك افتتحت بالتذكير بآيات الله تعالى وحال المكذبين بها، وتخلل ذلك عرض للطف الله تعالى بأوليائه، وعباده المؤمنين والتائبين، وتضمنت الموعظة بالقرآن كما قال تعالى (يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَتْكُم مَّوْعِظَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَشِفَاءٌ لِّمَا فِي الصُّدُورِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ ) ]يونس: 57 [، ولذلك تضمنت قصة قوم يونس الذين آمنوا بعد ما دعاهم يونس وهددهم بالعذاب فكشف الله عنهم العذاب، فهذه القصة هي النموذج الإيجابي للغرض الذي تركز عليه السورة. ـ

Surah Yunus contains a focus on exhortations and calling the people to Islam through glad tidings and inspiring hope. That is why it begins with a reminder of Allah’s signs and how those who deny them respond to them. This is interspersed with mentions of Allah’s kindness towards His close ones and repentant believing slaves. And exhortations are a part of the Qur’an, as Allah said:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَتْكُم مَّوْعِظَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَشِفَاءٌ لِّمَا فِي الصُّدُورِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

O mankind, an exhortation has come to you from your Lord, and a healing for what it is the chests, and a guidance and a mercy for the believers. [10:57]

That is why this surah includes the story of the people of Yunus who believed after Yunus had supplicated for their punishment and informed them of it, and then Allah lifted the punishment from them. So this story is a positive example of the central theme of this surah. Continue reading

The Qur’anic Arguments Against the Mushrikoon

In his book of Usool al-Tafsir, sheikh Shah Waliullah al-Dehlawi included the following brief discussion:

الجدل القرآني مع المشتركين: ـ
The Qur’anic Arguments Against the Mushrikoon

لقد رد الله – تعالى – على المشركين ومعتقداتهم الباطلة بشتى الطرق، وبيانها كما يلي: ـ

Allah has refuted the Mushrikoon and their false beliefs through a number of different methods, as we shall illustrate presently:

أولا : مطالبتهم بالدليل على ما يزعمون، ونقض تمسكهم بتقليد آبائهم. ـ

First: Demanding that they produce some proof for their claims and denouncing how they cling to blindly-following their forefathers.

ثانيا : إثبات أن لا تساوي بين الرب والعباد وأن الرب تعالى مختص باستحقاق العبادة أقصى غاية التعظيم ، بخلاف جميع عباده وجميع مخلوقاته . ـ

Second: Making it clear that there is no similarity between the Lord and the slaves, and that it is only the Lord who deserves to be worshiped with the utmost level of veneration, in contrast to all of His slaves and creations who do not have any right to that. Continue reading

Regarding Scientific Miracles in the Qur’an: Sheikh ‘Abdullah al-‘Awaaji

The follow was posed to sheikh ‘Abdullah al-‘Awaaji, a former professor of Tafsir at the Islamic University of al-Madinah:

س/ هل يوجد الإعجاز العلمي في القرآن الكريم (كما زعم بعض الناس)؟ أليس هذا يخالف فهم الصحابة للقرآن لأن العلوم والتكنولوجيا غير معروفة عندهم؟ ـ

Question: Are there scientific miracles in the Qur’an as some people claim? Doesn’t this go against the Sahabah’s understanding of the Qur’an since the physical sciences and technology weren’t known to them?

ج/ تفسير القرآن بغير علم محرم، لقوله تعالى ﴿قل إنما حرم ربي الفواحش ما ظهر منها وما بطن والإثم والبغي بغير الحق وأن تشركوا بالله ما لم ينزل به سلطانا وأن تقولوا على الله ما لا تعلمون﴾ وقوله ﴿ولاتقف ما ليس لك به علم إن السمع والبصر والفؤاد كل أولئك كان عنه مسئولا﴾ ـ

Response: Explaining the Qur’an without knowledge is forbidden according to Allah’s statement:

قُلْ إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ رَبِّيَ الْفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ وَالْإِثْمَ وَالْبَغْيَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ وَأَن تُشْرِكُوا بِاللَّـهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا وَأَن تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّـهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

Say, “My Lord has only forbidden immoralities – what is apparent of them and what is concealed – and sin, and oppression without right, and that you associate with Allah that for which He has not sent down authority, and that you say about Allah that which you do not know.” [7:33]

and His statement:

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]

وقد روي حديثان ضعيفان في الترهيب من القول في تفسير القرآن بلا علم: ١-حديثُ ابن عباس قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : “من قال في القرآن بغير علم، فليتبوأ مقعده من النار”. ٢-حديث جُنْدُب قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : “من قال في القرآن برأيه فأصاب فقد أخطأ”. ـ

And there are two weak hadith narrations that have been passed down which warn against explaining the Qur’an without knowledge: Continue reading

Three Central Themes of the Qur’an: al-Shawkaani

In addition to his famous works in the fields of tafsir and fiqh, sheikh Muhammad al-Shawkani also wrote a number of smaller works, one of which was entitled Irshad al-Thiqat ilaa Ittifaq al-Shara’ia’ ‘alaa al-Tawheed w’al-Ma’ad w’al-Nubuwwat, or “Trustworthy Guidance that All of the Divinely Legislated Systems Affirmed Tawheed, the Ultimate Return, and Prophethood”. After some brief initial remarks, al-Shawkani introduced this book and summarized its main topics by writing:

فإن القرآن العظيم قد اشتمل على الكثير الطيب من مصالح المعاش والمعاد وأحاط بمنافع الدنيا والدين تارة إجمالا وتارة تفصيلا وتارة عموما وتارة خصوصا ولهذا يقول سبحانه ما فرطنا في الكتاب من شيء ويقول تعالى وكل شيء أحصيناه في إمام مبين ويقول تبارك وتعالى ونزلنا عليك الكتاب تبيانا لكل شيء ونحو ذلك من الآيات الدالة على هذا المعنى

The Qur’an includes so much good in terms of bettering one’s life and one’s hereafter, and it encompasses so many beneficial things for both this worldly life and for one’s religious life. Sometimes these things are mentioned in a general manner and other times in a detailed manner. Sometimes they are mentioned with broad wordings and other times in very specific terms. That is why Allah says:

مَّا فَرَّطْنَا فِي الْكِتَابِ مِن شَيْءٍ

We have not neglected anything in the Book [6:38]

وَكُلَّ شَيْءٍ أَحْصَيْنَاهُ فِي إِمَامٍ مُّبِينٍ

And We have counted all things in a clear register [36:12]

وَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ تِبْيَانًا لِّكُلِّ شَيْءٍ

And We have sent the Book down to you as clarification for all things [16:89]

and other similar ayaat which point to this same idea.

وأما مقاصد القرآن الكريم التي يكررها ويورد الأدلة الحسية والعقلية عليها ويشير إليها في جميع سوره وفي غالب قصصه وأمثاله فهي ثلاثة مقاصد يعرف ذلك من له كمال فهم وحسن تدبر وجودة تصور وفضل تفكر

As for the central themes of the Qur’an which are frequently repeated, and for which it provides both instinctual and intellectual proofs, and which are mentioned in every surah and in most of the stories and parables of the Qur’an, then there are three central themes. These central themes are known to those with complete understanding, good contemplation, excellent mental organization, and through much consideration. Continue reading

Commands at the End of Makki Surahs

I, Abu’l-Yaman Khalil, asked the following question to Sheikh Muhammad al-Rabee’ah, a professor of the Qur’anic Sciences at al-Qassim University, via Twitter:

س – لاحظت ان غير واحد من السور المكية ختمت بالأوامر مثل الأمر بالتسبيح او بالصبر او بالصلاة -إما في ختامها كسورة العلق والطور مثلا وإما قبيل النهاية بيسير كسورة ق والانسان مثلا. هل هذا صحيح وما الحكمة في ذلك؟ هل عند العلماء كلام في هذا؟

Question: I’ve noticed that more than one of the Makki surahs ends with commands, such as a command to make tasbeeh or to have sabr or to pray. This comes either at the very end of the surah, such as with surah al-‘Alaq and al-Toor for instance, or shortly before the end, such as with surah Qaaf and al-Insaan for instance. Is this accurate, and what is the wisdom behind this? Have some of the scholars spoken about this? Continue reading

“For You is Your Religion and for Me is My Religion”: Sheikh Saalih al-Fawzan

In a series of lessons on the Mufassal surahs conducted in one of the mosques in Riyadh, sheikh Saalih al-Fawzan concluded his explanation of surah al-Kafiroon [109] with the following words:

وهذه السورة فيها : البراءة التامة من دين المشركين ، وفيها : الإعلان لهذه البراءة ، فينبغي على المسلم أن يعلن أنه بريء من دين المشركين ، كما أن المشركين بريئون من دين الله ، وليس كما يفهم بعض الجهلة ، أو أهل الضلال الذين ينادون بعدم الإنكار على المشركين ، مستشهدين بقوله : [لكم دينكم ولي دين] فلا تنكروا على المشركين ، وينادون بحرية الأديان . ـ

This surah contains a complete disavowal of the religion of the mushrikoon. It also contains an open declaration of this disavowal, so Muslims ought to openly declare that they are free of the religion of the mushirkoon, just as the mushrikoon are not connected to Allah’s religion.

And it is not as some ignorant or misguided people think, those who advocate that we should not criticize or voice disapproval of the mushrikoon, using Allah’s statement:

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

For you is your religion and for me is my religion [109:6]

as evidence. So they say that you should not criticize the mushrikoon and they call for religious freedom.

فهذا من باب البراءة ، وليس من باب التراضي بيننا وبين الكفار والمشركين ، وليس من باب التسوية ، وإنما هذه الآية براءة من دين المشركين وإن كانوا يعبدون الله ببعض أنواع العبادات ، فهذه العبادات لا تنفع ، ولا تزيدهم شيئا ، لأن العبادة إذا خالطها الشرك بطلت ، كما أن الحدث والنجاسة إذا خالطت الطهارة بطلت . ـ

But this ayah is a statement of disavowal, not a statement of mutual acceptance between the Muslims and the disbelievers and mushrukoon, nor is it a statement of equality between them. This ayah is plainly a disavowal of the religion of the mushrikoon, even if they do direct some acts of worship towards Allah. But these acts of worship do not benefit them, nor do they bring them any good. That is because if worship is mixed with shirk it becomes invalid, just as if filth and uncleanliness is mixed with ritual purity then the purity is spoiled. Continue reading