Linguistic Ambiguity and Multiple Meanings of a Qur’anic Ayah: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Allah begins surah al-An’aam by describing Himself in several ayaat, including:

وَهُوَ اللَّـهُ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَفِي الْأَرْضِ يَعْلَمُ سِرَّكُمْ وَجَهْرَكُمْ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا تَكْسِبُونَ

And He is Allah in the heavens and in the earth He knows your secrets and your statements and He knows what you earn. [6:3]

As one can see from the Arabic and may also be able to see from this approximate translation of the meaning, there is some linguistic ambiguity (what linguists would call syntactic or structural ambiguity) to this ayah resulting in multiple plausible interpretations. Specifically, the question relates to where one should pause while reciting this ayah, a field known as al-Waqf w’al-Ibtidaa’ in the Qur’anic sciences. In his well-known book of tafsir, sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee addresses this issue in his explanation of this ayah as follows:

في هذه الآية الكريمة ثلاثة أوجه للعلماء من التفسير وكل واحد منها له مصداق في كتاب الله تعالى : ـ

There are three ways that the scholars have explained this ayah, and each one of these explanations has something to support and substantiate it from within the Qur’an.

الأول : أن المعنى ، وهو الله في السماوات وفي الأرض ، أي وهو الإله المعبود في السماوات والأرض ، لأنه جل وعلا هو المعبود وحده بحق في الأرض والسماء ، وعلى هذا فجملة «يعلم » حال ، أو خبر

1) That the meaning is “And He is Allah in the heavens and the earth”, i.e.: and He is the deity who is worshiped in the heavens and the earth because He is the only one truly deserving of worship in the earth and the sky. Continue reading

The Purpose of Parables in the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

After explaining one of the parables in surah Ibrahim, Imam Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee brought the following discussion regarding the parables and comparisons that Allah uses in the Qur’an:

وبين في موضع آخر أن الحكمة في ضربه للأمثال أن يتفكر الناس فيها فيفهموا الشيء بنظرة ، وهو قوله : وتلك الأمثال نضربها للناس لعلهم يتفكرون [ 59 21 ] ، ونظيره قوله : ويضرب الله الأمثال للناس لعلهم يتذكرون [ 14 25 ] ، ـ

In another part of the Qur’an, Allah clarified that the wisdom in His striking parables is for the people to think over them so that they would understand something by considering the comparison. That comes in is His statement:

وَتِلْكَ الْأَمْثَالُ نَضْرِ‌بُهَا لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُ‌ونَ

And We present these parables to the people that perhaps they will give thought. [59:21]

Another similar statement comes in in His saying:

وَيَضْرِ‌بُ اللَّـهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُ‌ونَ

And Allah presents parables for the people so that perhaps they will be reminded. [14:25]

وبين في موضع آخر أن الأمثال لا يعقلها إلا أهل العلم ، وهو قوله تعالى : وتلك الأمثال نضربها للناس وما يعقلها إلا العالمون [ 29 43 ] ، ـ

And elsewhere He clarified that the parables are only understood by the people of knowledge. This is in His statement:

وَتِلْكَ الْأَمْثَالُ نَضْرِ‌بُهَا لِلنَّاسِ ۖ وَمَا يَعْقِلُهَا إِلَّا الْعَالِمُونَ

And We present these parables to the people, but none will understand them except those of knowledge. [29:43] Continue reading

Introduction to the Parables of the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Allah says in surah al-Kahf:

وَلَقَدْ صَرَّفْنَا فِي هَذَا الْقُرْءَانِ لِلنَّاسِ مِنْ كُلِّ مَثَلٍ وَكَانَ الإِنْسَانُ أَكْثَرَ شَيْءٍ جَدَلا

In this Qur’an, We have certainly put forward every kind of parable for mankind, but man is above all else prone to dispute. [18:54]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee included the following words in his commentary on this ayah:

قوله تعالى : ولقد صرفنا في هذا القرآن للناس من كل مثل وكان الإنسان أكثر شيء جدلا ، قوله : ولقد صرفنا [ 18 \ 54 ] ، أي : رددنا وكثرنا تصريف الأمثال بعبارات مختلفة ، وأساليب متنوعة في هذا القرآن للناس . ليهتدوا إلى الحق ، ويتعظوا . فعارضوا بالجدل والخصومة ، ـ

Allah’s statement:

وَلَقَدْ صَرَّفْنَا فِي هَذَا الْقُرْءَانِ لِلنَّاسِ مِنْ كُلِّ مَثَلٍ وَكَانَ الإِنْسَانُ أَكْثَرَ شَيْءٍ جَدَلا

In this Qur’an, We have certainly put forward every kind of parable for mankind, but man is above all else prone to dispute. [18:54]

Regarding His statement:

وَلَقَدْ صَرَّفْنَا

We have certainly put forward …

i.e. We have repeatedly and frequently presented these parables to the people throughout the Qur’an with a number of different wordings and in various styles. This is done so that they might be guided to the truth and be admonished, but instead they turn away in argumentation and contention. Continue reading

You Will See Them Looking Like One Overcome by Death: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Allah says in surah Muhammad:

وَيَقُولُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَتْ سُورَةٌ ۖ فَإِذَا أُنزِلَتْ سُورَةٌ مُّحْكَمَةٌ وَذُكِرَ فِيهَا الْقِتَالُ ۙ رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَيْكَ نَظَرَ الْمَغْشِيِّ عَلَيْهِ مِنَ الْمَوْتِ

Those who believe say, “Why hasn’t a surah been sent down? But when a precise surah is revealed and fighting is mentioned therein, you see those in whose hearts is an illness looking at you with a look of one overcome by death. [47:20]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee wrote the following in his commentary on this ayah:

ذكر – جل وعلا – في هذه الآية الكريمة أنه إذا أنزل سورة محكمة ، أي متقنة الألفاظ والمعاني ، واضحة الدلالة ، لا نسخ فيها وذكر فيها وجوب قتال الكفار ، تسبب عن ذلك ، كون الذين في قلوبهم مرض أي شك ونفاق ، ينظرون كنظر الإنسان الذي يغشى عليه ; لأنه في سياق الموت ، لأن نظر من كان كذلك تدور فيه عينه ويزيغ بصره . ـ

In this ayah, Allah mentioned that when He sent down a muhkamah surah – that is, one whose wordings and meanings are perfected, with clear instructions and no instances of abrogation – which includes the obligation to fight against the disbelievers. Then, as a result of that, those people with a disease in their hearts – i.e. doubt and nifaaq – will stare with a look of one who is overcome because he is in the midst of dying, because a person in that situation will have his eyes rolling and his vision distorted.

وهذا إنما وقع لهم من شدة الخوف من بأس الكفار المأمور بقتالهم . ـ

And this only happened to them because of their great fear of how the disbelievers that they have been commanded to fight will harm them.

وقد صرح – جل وعلا – بأن ذلك من الخوف المذكور في قوله : فإذا جاء الخوف رأيتهم ينظرون إليك تدور أعينهم كالذي يغشى عليه من الموت [ 33 \ 19 ] . ـ

And Allah has explicitly stated that this condition is a result of this fear when He said: Continue reading

Responding to Doubts About the End of the Hellfire: Imam al-Shinqitee

The great mufassir sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee devoted one of his books, Daf’u Eehaam, entirely to addressing supposed contradictions in the Qur’an. In part of his chapter on surah al-An’aam, Imam al-Shinqitee discussed the apparent contradiction between certain ayaat that could be understood to indicate an end to the punishment of the Hellfire and the many other ayaat which indicate the opposite. The general outline of his discussion proceeded as such:

    1. Presenting the apparent contradiction
    2. Response
      1. Specific response regarding the ayah in surah al-An’aam
      2. General response to the claims that the Hellfire or its inhabitants will come to an end
        1. Five Possible scenarios
          1. Scenario #1 that the Hellfire will come to an end, and response
          2. Scenario #2 that the inhabitants of the Hellfire will die, and response
          3. Scenario #3 that the inhabitants of the Hellfire will be removed from it, and response
          4. Scenario #4 that the punishment of the Hellfire will be decreased, and response
          5. Claim that Allah may choose to not enact His threats of punishment, and response
          6. Scenario #5 that the Hellfire and its punishment will continue forever
          7. Claim that eternal punishment for one lifetime of sins in unfair, and response

For the sake of clarity and reference, we have inserted section headings into the text in brackets.

What follows is the complete text of sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee’s discussion:

[Presenting the apparent contradiction]

قَوْلُهُ تَعَالَى: قَالَ النَّارُ مَثْوَاكُمْ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ الْآيَةَ

Allah’s statement:

قَالَ النَّارُ مَثْوَاكُمْ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّـهُ

He will say, “The Fire is your residence, wherein you will abide eternally, except for what Allah wills.” [6:128]

هَذِهِ الْآيَةُ الْكَرِيمَةُ يُفْهَمُ مِنْهَا كَوْنُ عَذَابِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ غَيْرَ بَاقٍ بَقَاءً لَا انْقِطَاعَ لَهُ أَبَدًا وَنَظِيرُهَا قَوْلُهُ تَعَالَى: فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ شَقُوا فَفِي النَّارِ لَهُمْ فِيهَا زَفِيرٌ وَشَهِيقٌ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا مَا دَامَتِ السَّمَاوَاتُ وَالْأَرْضُ إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ رَبُّكَ [11 106 – 107] ، وَقَوْلُهُ تَعَالَى: لَابِثِينَ فِيهَا أَحْقَابًا [78 23] . ـ

Some have understood from this ayah that the punishment of the people of the Hellfire will not continue eternally without any end. Another ayah to this is Allah’s statement:

فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ شَقُوا فَفِي النَّارِ لَهُمْ فِيهَا زَفِيرٌ وَشَهِيقٌ * خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا مَا دَامَتِ السَّمَاوَاتُ وَالْأَرْضُ إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ رَبُّكَ

As for those who were wretched, they will be in the Fire. For them therein is exhaling and inhaling. * Abiding therein as long as the heavens and the earth endure, except what your Lord should will. [11:106-107]

as well as: Continue reading

Exhortations in the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Allah says in surah al-Nahl:

إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ ۚ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ

Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and He forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He exhorts you that perhaps you will be reminded. [16:90]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee went into some detail on each element of this ayah in his tafsir. What follows is one section of that explanation related to the mention of “exhortation” in the final part of the ayah:

وقوله ، يعظكم لعلكم تذكرون [ 16 \ 90 ] ، الوعظ : : الكلام الذي تلين له القلوب . ـ

Allah’s statement:

يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ

He exhorts you that perhaps you will be reminded

Exhortation – al-wa’th – is speech which serves to soften the heart.

تنبيه : فإن قيل : يكثر في القرآن إطلاق الوعظ على الأوامر والنواهي ; كقوله هنا : يعظكم لعلكم تذكرون [ 16 \ 90 ] ، مع أنه ما ذكر إلا الأمر والنهي في قوله : إن الله يأمر بالعدل ، إلى قوله : وينهى عن الفحشاء . . . الآية [ 16 \ 90 ] ، وكقوله في ( سورة البقرة ) بعد أن ذكر أحكام الطلاق والرجعة : ذلك يوعظ به من كان منكم يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر [ 2 \ 232 ] ، وقوله ( في الطلاق ) في نحو ذلك أيضا : ذلكم يوعظ به من كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر ، وقوله في النهي عن مثل قذف عائشة : يعظكم الله أن تعودوا لمثله أبدا . . . الآية [ 24 \ 17 ] ، مع أن المعروف عند الناس : أن الوعظ يكون بالترغيب والترهيب ونحو ذلك ، لا بالأمر والنهي . ـ

A Point Deserving of Attention:

[Question] One might point out that there are a number of places throughout the Qur’an where the term al-wa’th – exhortation – is applied to commands and prohibitions, such as Allah’s statement: Continue reading

Allusions to the Battle of Badr in the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

The main discussion of the Battle of Badr in the Qur’an occurs throughout surah al-Anfal, to the extent that al-Suyooti mentioned:

وأخرج سعيد بن منصور والبخاري ، وابن المنذر وأبو الشيخ ، وابن مرديه عن سعيد بن جبير قال : قلت لابن عباس : سورة “الأنفال” قال : نزلت في بدر، وفي لفظ : تلك سورة بدر . ـ

Sa’eed ibn Mansoor, al-Bukhari, ibn al-Mundhir, Abu al-Sheikh, and ibn Mardawayh all reported that Sa’eed ibn Jubayr said:

I said to ibn ‘Abbaas, “Surah al-Anfal,” and he said, “It was revealed about the Battle of Badr.”

and in the wording of one narration, he said, “That is the surah of Badr.”

[al-Durr al-Manthoor 7/5]

However, there are a number of places outside of surah al-Anfal that some of the mufassiroon say that this seminal battle has also been mentioned. In a short aside in an excellent discussion of the last ayah in surah al-Furqan, sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee discussed the topic by writing:

وقال جماعة من أهل العلم : إن المراد بالعذاب اللازم لهم المعبر عن لزومه لهم ، بقوله : فسوف يكون لزاما ، أنه ما وقع من العذاب يوم بدر ، لأنهم قتل منهم سبعون وأسر سبعون ، والذين قتلوا منهم أصابهم عذاب القتل ، واتصل به عذاب البرزخ والآخرة فهو ملازم لا يفارقهم بحال ، وكون اللزام المذكور في هذه الآية العذاب الواقع يوم بدر ، نقله ابن كثير عن عبد الله بن مسعود ، وأبي بن كعب ، ومحمد بن كعب القرظي ، ومجاهد ، والضحاك ، وقتادة ، والسدي ، وغيرهم ، ثم قال : وقال الحسن البصري : فسوف يكون لزاما ، أي : يوم القيامة ولا منافاة بينهما ، انتهى من ابن كثير ، ونقله صاحب ” الدر المنثور ” عن أكثر المذكورين وغيرهم . ـ

A number of scholars have said that the punishment attached to the disbelievers – meaning the punishment which has been latched on to them – mentioned in His statement Continue reading

Take the Book with Determination: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Allah says in surah Mayam:

يَا يَحْيَىٰ خُذِ الْكِتَابَ بِقُوَّةٍ

“O Yahya, take the Scripture with determination!” [19:12]

Commenting on this, Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee wrote:

أي : وقلنا له يايحيى خذ الكتاب بقوة ، والكتاب : التوراة ، أي : خذ التوراة بقوة ، أي : بجد واجتهاد ، وذلك بتفهم المعنى أولا حتى يفهمه على الوجه الصحيح ، ثم يعمل به من جميع الجهات ، فيعتقد عقائده ، ويحل حلاله ، ويحرم حرامه ، ويتأدب بآدابه ، ويتعظ بمواعظه ، إلى غير ذلك من جهات العمل به

Meaning: We said to him, “O Yahya, take the Scripture with determination!”, and the Scripture is the Tawrah. So it means, ‘take the Tawrah with determination’ – meaning: with seriousness and striving.

This is done firstly by understanding the meanings such that one understands them in the correct way, then acting based on it from every angle; so one believes in its creed and considers halaal what it makes halaal and haraam what it makes haraam, and is molded by its etiquettes and moved by its admonitions, and so on and so forth with the various ways that one acts in accordance with the scripture. Continue reading

And Tell the Believing Women Not to Show off Their Adornment, Except for What is Apparent: ibn Taymiyah

Allah commands the believing women in surah al-Nur by saying:

وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا

… and tell the believing women not to show off their adornment except for that which is apparent [24:31]

The phrase “except for that which is apparent” has been explained in a number of ways by the salaf. The great scholar Abu’l-Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi summarized the different positions in his tafsir where he wrote:

قوله تعالى: ولا يبدين زينتهن أي: لا يظهرنها لغير محرم . وزينتهن على ضربين، خفية كالسوارين والقرطين والدملج والقلائد ونحو ذلك، وظاهرة وهي المشار إليها بقوله: إلا ما ظهر منها وفيه سبعة أقوال . ـ

Allah’s statement:

وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا

… and tell the believing women not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent [24:31]

meaning, to not display these things to non-mahrams. And there are two types of women’s adornment, or zeenah. There is the hidden zeenah such as ankle bracelets, earrings, bracelets, necklaces and so on, and then there is the apparent zeenah, which is what is being referred to in Allah’s statement here, and there are seven different opinions as to what this means:

أحدهما: أنها الثياب، رواه أبو الأحوص عن ابن مسعود; وفي لفظ آخر قال: هو الرداء . والثاني: أنها الكف والخاتم والوجه . والثالث: الكحل والخاتم، رواهما سعيد بن جبير عن ابن عباس . والرابع: القلبان، وهما السواران والخاتم والكحل، قاله المسور بن مخرمة . والخامس: الكحل والخاتم والخضاب، قاله مجاهد . والسادس: الخاتم والسوار، قاله الحسن . والسابع: الوجه والكفان، قاله الضحاك . ـ

1. Her clothing. Abu al-Ahwas transmitted this explanation from ibn Mas’ood, and in another narration he said that it meant her outer shawl covering.

2. Her hands, ring and face.

3. Her kohol [eye-liner] and ring. Sa’eed ibn Jubayr transmitted both explanations 2 and 3 from ibn ‘Abbaas. Continue reading

The Meanings of the Word Fitnah in the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee wrote the following in part of his explanation of surah al-Nur:

قال مقيده – عفا الله عنه وغفر له – : قد دل استقراء القرآن العظيم أن الفتنة فيه أطلقت على أربعة معان : ـ

The author – may Allah pardon and forgive him – says: An investigation of the Qur’an shows that the word “fitnah” carries four different meanings within it.

الأول : أن يراد بها الإحراق بالنار ; كقوله تعالى : يوم هم على النار يفتنون [ 51 \ 13 ] ، وقوله تعالى : إن الذين فتنوا المؤمنين والمؤمنات الآية [ 85 \ 10 ] ، أي : أحرقوهم بنار الأخدود على القول بذلك . ـ

The first meaning: That it is used to refer to being burned by fire, such as in Allah’s statement:

يَوْمَ هُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ يُفْتَنُونَ

the Day they will be tormented over the Fire [51:13]

as well as His statement:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَتَنُوا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَتُوبُوا فَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ جَهَنَّمَ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ الْحَرِيقِ

Indeed, those who have tortured the believing men and believing women and then have not repented will have the punishment of Hell, and they will have the punishment of the Burning Fire. [85:10]

meaning: they burned them with the fire of the trench, according to this interpretation of the word.

الثاني وهو أشهرها : إطلاق الفتنة على الاختبار ; كقوله تعالى : ونبلوكم بالشر والخير فتنة الآية [ 21 \ 35 ] ، وقوله تعالى : وأن لو استقاموا على الطريقة لأسقيناهم ماء غدقا لنفتنهم فيه [ 72 \ 16 – 17 ] . ـ

The second meaning, which is the most well-known: Using the word “fitnah” to refer to a trial. This is like Allah’s statement:

وَنَبْلُوكُم بِالشَّرِّ وَالْخَيْرِ فِتْنَةً ۖ وَإِلَيْنَا تُرْجَعُونَ

… and We shall make a trial of you with evil and with good, and to Us you will be returned. [21:35]

and His statement:

وَأَن لَّوِ اسْتَقَامُوا عَلَى الطَّرِيقَةِ لَأَسْقَيْنَاهُم مَّاءً غَدَقًا * لِّنَفْتِنَهُمْ فِيهِ

If they had believed in Allah, and went on the Right Way We should surely have bestowed on them water in abundance. * That We might try them thereby. [72:16-17] Continue reading