The Meanings of Muhkam, Mutashaabih, and Ta’weel: al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah

The Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Fataawaa of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia received the following question. In their collected statements, they placed this question and answer as the first entry in their section of tafsir-related questions:

س: ما هو المقصود بالمحكم والمتشابه في آيات القرآن الكريم؟ وكيف ندفع الإِشكال الذي يورده البعض من أنه إذا كان القرآن الكريم تبيانًا لكل شيء وهدى للعالمين؟ فما هو وجه التوفيق بين ذلك وبين قوله تعالى: وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلا اللَّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ ؟ وما المقصود بالراسخين في العلم؟ وما الفرق بين تأويل القرآن وتفسيره؟ ـ

Question: What is the intended meaning of the terms Muhkam and Mutashaabih when they come in the Qur’anic verses? And how can we rebut the problem which some people raise that since the Qur’an is a clarification of everything and a guidance for mankind, then how do we reconcile that with Allah’s statement:

وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّـهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ

And no one knows its ta’weel except Allah, and those firm in knowledge [3:7]

And what is the intended meaning of those firm in knowledge? And what is the difference between the ta’weel of the Qur’an and the tafsir of the Qur’an?

ج: أولاً: يطلق الإِحكام بمعنى: الإِتقان، فإحكام الكلام: إتقانه ووضوح معناه فيتميز به الصدق من الكذب في الأخبار، والرشد من الغي في الأوامر، والقرآن كله محكم بهذا المعنى، واضح لا التباس فيه على أحد، قال الله تعالى: كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آيَاتُهُ ثُمَّ فُصِّلَتْ مِنْ لَدُنْ حَكِيمٍ خَبِيرٍ ، وقال سبحانه: تِلْكَ آيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ الْحَكِيمِ . ـ

Answer:

○ First: the term muhkam is applied to the meaning of al-itqaan (excellent proficiency), so muhkam speech  would mean proficiency of speech and clarity of meaning such that it distinguishes the truth from falsehood in terms of information and guidance from misguidance in respect to commands. And according to this usage, the entire Qur’an is muhkam; it is clear without any confusion whatsoever. Allah said:

كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آيَاتُهُ ثُمَّ فُصِّلَتْ مِن لَّدُنْ حَكِيمٍ خَبِيرٍ

a Book whose verses are perfected and then presented in detail from the Wise and Acquainted. [11:1]

and He said: Continue reading

The Meaning of the Title “al-Maseeh”

In his book of tafsir, Imam al-Shawkaani brought the following discussion about the meaning of the term al-Maseeh (the Messiah). Imam al-Shawkaani generally borrowed heavily – even word for word – from Imam al-Qurtubi’s linguistic discussions, often summarizing and simplifying them into a list format. Some supplementary notes from al-Qurtubi will be mentioned here in brackets [] for the sake of clarity:

[والمسيح لقب لعيسى ومعناه الصديق ; قاله إبراهيم النخعي . ـ]

[al-Maseeh is a title for ‘Eesaa (Jesus) and its meaning is al-Siddeeq (“the truthful one”) – this is what Ibrahim al-Nakha’ee said.]

والمسيح اختلف فيه مماذا أخذ ؟ فقيل : من المسح ; لأنه مسح الأرض ; أي : ذهب فيها فلم يستكن بكن ، وقيل : إنه كان لا يمسح ذا عاهة إلا برئ ، فسمي مسيحا ، فهو على هذين فعيل بمعنى فاعل ، ـ

al-Maseeh – there is differing as to where it was derived. So it is said: (it was derived) from al-mash (wiping), for he swept over the earth, meaning he traversed over it and did not take residence in any dwelling place.

And it is said: It was the case that he would not touch someone with an infirmity except that they would be cured, so he was called Maseeh.

So according to these two meaning, it takes the form of an adjective with the meaning of an active participle. Continue reading

Prophets with multiple names and the meaning of “Israa’eel”: Tafsir al-Qurtubi

Imam al-Qurtubi wrote the following under his tafsir of surah al-Baqarah (2:40):

وإسرائيل هو يعقوب بن إسحاق بن إبراهيم عليهم السلام قال أبو الفرج الجوزي ، وليس في الأنبياء من له اسمان غيره إلا نبينا محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم فإن له أسماء كثيرة ذكره في كتاب ” فهوم الآثار ” له . ـ

“Israa’eel” is Ya’qub ibn Ishaaq ibn Ibrahim (‘alaihim al-salaam), as Abu’l-Faraj al-Jawzi said. [And he also said:] “And other than him, there are no prophets which have two names other than our prophet, Muhammad (ﷺ)”, for indeed he had many names which he mentioned in the book “Fuhoom al-Aathaar“.

قلت : وقد قيل في المسيح إنه اسم علم لعيسى عليه السلام غير مشتق وقد سماه الله روحا وكلمة ، وكانوا يسمونه أبيل الأبيلين ذكره الجوهري في الصحاح . ـ

I [Imam al-Qurtubi] say: It has been said that al-Maseeh (the Messiah) is a proper name for ‘Eesaa (Jesus) (‘alaihi al-salaam) which is not derived. And Allah has named him as “Rooh” and “Kalimah“. And al-Jawhari mentioned in “al-Sihhaah” that Abeel (Abel) was named “Abeeleen”.

وذكر البيهقي في ” دلائل النبوة ” عن الخليل بن أحمد : خمسة من الأنبياء ذوو اسمين محمد وأحمد نبينا صلى الله عليه وسلم وعيسى والمسيح وإسرائيل ويعقوب ويونس وذو النون وإلياس وذو الكفل صلى الله عليهم وسلم . ـ

And al-Bayhaqi mention in “Dalaa’il al-Nubuwwah” on the authority of al-Khaleel ibn Ahmad, “Out of the Prophets, there are five who possess two names: Muhammad and Ahmad – our prophet (ﷺ); ‘Eesaa and al-Maseeh; Israa’eel and Ya’qub; Yunus and Dhu’l-Noon; and Ilyaas and Dhu’l-Kifl.” Continue reading

Those Messengers whom Allah Raised in Degree: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Towards the end of surah al-Baqarah, Allah informs us:

تِلْكَ الرُّ‌سُلُ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ ۘ مِّنْهُم مَّن كَلَّمَ اللَّـهُ ۖ وَرَ‌فَعَ بَعْضَهُمْ دَرَ‌جَاتٍ

Those Messengers! We preferred some to others. Among them were those to whom Allah spoke, and He raised some of them in degree [2:253]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee commented at length on the contents of this ayah in his book of tafsir. In the first of the three sections, he discussed those messengers to whom Allah spoke. What follows is the second section of his tafsir of this ayah where al-Shinqitee discusses those messengers whom Allah raised in degree:

وقوله تعالى : ورفع بعضهم درجات ، أشار في مواضع أخر إلى أن منهم محمدا – صلى الله عليه وسلم – كقوله : عسى أن يبعثك ربك مقاما محمودا [ 17 \ 79 ] ، أو قوله : وما أرسلناك إلا كافة للناس الآية [ 34 \ 28 ] ، وقوله : إني رسول الله إليكم جميعا [ 7 \ 158 ] ، وقوله : تبارك الذي نزل الفرقان على عبده ليكون للعالمين نذيرا [ 25 ] ، وأشار في مواضع أخر إلى أن منهم إبراهيم كقوله : واتخذ الله إبراهيم خليلا [ 4 \ 125 ] ، وقوله : إني جاعلك للناس إماما [ 2 \ 124 ] ، إلى غير ذلك من الآيات . ـ

And Allah’s statement:

وَرَ‌فَعَ بَعْضَهُمْ دَرَ‌جَاتٍ

 and He raised some of them in degree [2:253]

He indicated elsewhere that Muhammad (ﷺ) is one of them, such as His statement:

عَسَىٰ أَن يَبْعَثَكَ رَ‌بُّكَ مَقَامًا مَّحْمُودًا

It may be that your Lord will raise you to a praised station [17:79]

Or His statement:

وَمَا أَرْ‌سَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا كَافَّةً لِّلنَّاسِ

And We have not sent you except comprehensively to mankind [34:28]

until the end of the ayah. And His statement:

إِنِّي رَ‌سُولُ اللَّـهِ إِلَيْكُمْ جَمِيعًا

indeed I am the Messenger of Allah to you all [7:158]

And His statement:

تَبَارَ‌كَ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ الْفُرْ‌قَانَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ لِيَكُونَ لِلْعَالَمِينَ نَذِيرً‌ا

Blessed is He who sent down the Criterion upon His Servant that he may be a warner to call the creation [25:1]

He indicated elsewhere that Ibrahim was one of them, such as His statement: Continue reading

Moosaa, Muhammad & Adam – the Messengers to whom Allah spoke: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

In the latter part of surah al-Baqarah, Allah informs us:

تِلْكَ الرُّ‌سُلُ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ ۘ مِّنْهُم مَّن كَلَّمَ اللَّـهُ ۖ وَرَ‌فَعَ بَعْضَهُمْ دَرَ‌جَاتٍ

Those Messengers! We preferred some to others. Among them were those to whom Allah spoke, and He raised some of them in degree [2:253]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee commented at length on the contents of this ayah in his book of tafsir. What follows is the first of three sections in which he discussed the messengers to whom He spoke:

قوله تعالى : تلك الرسل فضلنا بعضهم على بعض منهم من كلم الله ورفع بعضهم درجات ، لم يبين هنا هذا الذي كلمه الله منهم وقد بين أن منهم موسى عليه وعلى نبينا الصلاة والسلام بقوله : وكلم الله موسى تكليما [ 4 \ 164 ] ، وقوله : إني اصطفيتك على الناس برسالاتي وبكلامي [ 7 \ 144 ] . ـ

Allah’s statement:

تِلْكَ الرُّ‌سُلُ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ ۘ مِّنْهُم مَّن كَلَّمَ اللَّـهُ ۖ وَرَ‌فَعَ بَعْضَهُمْ دَرَ‌جَاتٍ

Those Messengers! We preferred some to others. Among them were those to whom Allah spoke, and He raised some of them in degree [2:253]

Allah does not clarify here those of them to whom He spoke, but He did explain that among them was Moosaa (peace and blessings upon him and upon our prophet) by means of His statement:

وَكَلَّمَ اللَّـهُ مُوسَىٰ تَكْلِيمًا

And Allah spoke to Moses with [direct] speech. [4:164]

And His statement [to Moosaa]:

إِنِّي اصْطَفَيْتُكَ عَلَى النَّاسِ بِرِ‌سَالَاتِي وَبِكَلَامِي

I have chosen you over the people with My messages and My words [to you]. [7:144]

قال ابن كثير : منهم من كلم الله ، يعني موسى ومحمدا صلى الله عليهما وسلم ، وكذلك آدم كما ورد في الحديث المروي في ” صحيح ابن حبان ” عن أبي ذر رضي الله عنه . ـ

Ibn Kathir said: Continue reading

A Principle to Dispel Specious Arguments and Doubts: Imam al-Sa’di

In surah Aali ‘Imran, Allah devotes some eighty-odd ayaat to addressing the Christians, disproving their ways, and calling them to the truth. In part of this section He says:

إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّـهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَ‌ابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ * الْحَقُّ مِن رَّ‌بِّكَ فَلَا تَكُن مِّنَ الْمُمْتَرِ‌ينَ

Indeed, the example of  ‘Eesaa (Jesus) to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was. * The truth is from your Lord, so do not be among the doubters. [3:59-60]

Commenting on this in his famous book tafsir, Imam ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di wrote:

يخبر تعالى محتجا على النصارى الزاعمين بعيسى عليه السلام ما ليس له بحق، بغير برهان ولا شبهة، بل بزعمهم أنه ليس له والد استحق بذلك أن يكون ابن الله أو شريكا لله في الربوبية، وهذا ليس بشبهة فضلا أن يكون حجة، لأن خلقه كذلك من آيات الله الدالة على تفرد الله بالخلق والتدبير وأن جميع الأسباب طوع مشيئته وتبع لإرادته، فهو على نقيض قولهم أدل، وعلى أن أحدا لا يستحق المشاركة لله بوجه من الوجوه أولى، ـ

Allah informs us by way of objecting to the Christians who make claims – with neither conclusive proofs nor (even) substantial doubts – about ‘Eesaa (‘alaihi al-salaam) which contain no truth. Rather, according to their assertion, because of the fact that he does not have a father, then this requires that he is the son of Allah or a partner with Allah in terms of lordship. But this is not a substantial doubt – much less a conclusive proof – because his being created in that way is one of the demonstrative signs of Allah’s exclusive role in creation and administration and that all of the causative factors are subject to His will and submissive to His wishes. So this is fully exposing the deficiency of their claim and proving that no one is deserving of partnership with Allah in any way at all. Continue reading

“Those of determination among the messengers”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Imam Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee wrote the following in his tafsir:

قوله – تعالى – : فاصبر كما صبر أولوا العزم من الرسل . اختلف العلماء في المراد بأولي العزم من الرسل في هذه الآية الكريمة اختلافا كثيرا . ـ

Allah said:

فَاصْبِرْ‌ كَمَا صَبَرَ‌ أُولُو الْعَزْمِ مِنَ الرُّ‌سُلِ

So exercise sabr, (O Muhammad), as did those of determination among the messengers [46:35]

The scholars have differed greatly concerning the intended meaning of ‘those of determination’ [uloo al-‘azm] among the messengers in this noble ayah.

وأشهر الأقوال في ذلك أنهم خمسة ، وهم الذين قدمنا ذكرهم في ” الأحزاب ” و ” الشورى ” ، وهم نوح وإبراهيم وموسى وعيسى ومحمد – عليهم الصلاة والسلام – . ـ

And the most well-known position in this matter is that they are five, and they are those who were previously mentioned in surah al-Ahzab [33:7] and surah al-Shooraa [42:13], who are Nuh, Ibrahim, Moosaa, ‘Eesaa and Muhammad (‘alaihim al-salaatu wa’l-salaam).

وعلى هذا القول فالرسل الذين أمر رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – أن يصبر كما صبروا – أربعة ، فصار هو – صلى الله عليه وسلم – خامسهم . ـ

So according to this position, then the messengers which the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was commanded to exercise sabr as they has exercised sabr were four, so he (ﷺ) became their fifth. Continue reading

Four categories of parentage and four categories of offspring: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah mentions in surah al-Shooraa:

لِّلَّـهِ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْ‌ضِ ۚ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ يَهَبُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ إِنَاثًا وَيَهَبُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ الذُّكُورَ‌ * أَوْ يُزَوِّجُهُمْ ذُكْرَ‌انًا وَإِنَاثًا ۖ وَيَجْعَلُ مَن يَشَاءُ عَقِيمًا ۚ إِنَّهُ عَلِيمٌ قَدِيرٌ

To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; He creates what he wills. He gives to whom He wills female [children], and He gives to whom He wills males.  Or He pairs them with males and females, and He renders whom He wills barren. Indeed, He is Knowing and Powerful.  [42:49-50]‌

Commenting on this in his book of tafsir, Imam Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir wrote the following:

 يخبر تعالى أنه خالق السموات والأرض ومالكهما والمتصرف فيهما ، وأنه ما شاء كان ، وما لم يشأ لم يكن ، وأنه يعطي من يشاء ، ويمنع من يشاء ، ولا مانع لما أعطى ، ولا معطي لما منع ، وأنه يخلق ما يشاء ، و ( يهب لمن يشاء إناثا ) أي : يرزقه البنات فقط – قال البغوي : ومنهم لوط ، عليه السلام ( ويهب لمن يشاء الذكور ) أي : يرزقه البنين فقط . قال البغوي : كإبراهيم الخليل ، عليه السلام – لم يولد له أنثى ، . ( أو يزوجهم ذكرانا وإناثا ) أي : ويعطي من يشاء من الناس الزوجين الذكر والأنثى ، أي : من هذا وهذا . قال البغوي : كمحمد ، عليه الصلاة والسلام ( ويجعل من يشاء عقيما ) أي : لا يولد له . قال البغوي : كيحيى وعيسى ، عليهما السلام  ـ

 Allah informs us that He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and the owner of them both, and the controller of what is in them. And He informs us that whatever He wills is, and whatever He does not will is not, and that He grants what He wills and prevents what He wills, and there is none who can prevent what He grants nor is there anyone who can grant what He prevents. And He informs us that He creates what He wills, and: 

يَهَبُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ إِنَاثًا

He gives to whom He wills female [children]

– meaning, He provides one with only daughters . Al-Baghawi said, “Included in this category is Loot (‘alaihi al-salaam).”

وَيَهَبُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ الذُّكُورَ‌

and He gives to whom He wills males

– meaning, He provides one with only sons. Al-Baghawi said, “Such as Ibrahim al-Khaleel (‘alaihi al-salaam) – no females were born to him. Continue reading

Allah invites the disbelievers to repent: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Allah says in surah al-Maa’idah:

لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ‌ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّـهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلَاثَةٍ ۘ وَمَا مِنْ إِلَـٰهٍ إِلَّا إِلَـٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۚ وَإِن لَّمْ يَنتَهُوا عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ لَيَمَسَّنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُ‌وا مِنْهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ * أَفَلَا يَتُوبُونَ إِلَى اللَّـهِ وَيَسْتَغْفِرُ‌ونَهُ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ غَفُورٌ‌ رَّ‌حِيمٌ

They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the third of three.” And there is no deity worthy of worship except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment. * So will they not repent to Allah and seek His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. [5:73-74]

Commenting briefly on the latter ayah, Imam Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee wrote: Continue reading

The Qur’an, the Tawrah and the Injeel: Tafsir ibn Kathir

The great mufassir Abu’l-Fidaa’ Ismaa’eel Ibn Kathir gave brief but clarifying definitions of some of the divinely-revealed scriptures in his famous tafsir when he wrote:

وكثيرا ما يقرن الله بين التوراة والقرآن ، كما في قوله تعالى ( قل من أنزل الكتاب الذي جاء به موسى نورا وهدى للناس ) إلى أن قال : ( وهذا كتاب أنزلناه مبارك ) [ الأنعام : 91 ، 92 ] ، ـ

Often times, Allah pairs (mention of) the Tawrah and the Qur’an, just as in His statement:

قُلْ مَنْ أَنزَلَ الْكِتَابَ الَّذِي جَاءَ بِهِ مُوسَىٰ نُورً‌ا وَهُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ ۖ تَجْعَلُونَهُ قَرَ‌اطِيسَ تُبْدُونَهَا وَتُخْفُونَ كَثِيرً‌ا ۖ وَعُلِّمْتُم مَّا لَمْ تَعْلَمُوا أَنتُمْ وَلَا آبَاؤُكُمْ ۖ قُلِ اللَّـهُ ۖ ثُمَّ ذَرْ‌هُمْ فِي خَوْضِهِمْ يَلْعَبُونَ * وَهَـٰذَا كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ مُبَارَ‌كٌ

Say, “Who revealed the Scripture that Moosaa brought as light and guidance to the people? You [Jews] make it into pages, disclosing [some of] it and concealing much. And you were taught that which you knew not – neither you nor your fathers.” Say, “Allah [revealed it].” Then leave them in their [empty] discourse, amusing themselves. * And this is a Book which We have sent down, blessed… [6:91-92] 

وقال في آخر السورة : ( ثم آتينا موسى الكتاب تماما على الذي أحسن ) ، إلى أن قال : ( وهذا كتاب أنزلناه مبارك فاتبعوه واتقوا لعلكم ترحمون ) [ الأنعام : 155 ] ، وقالت الجن : ( إنا سمعنا كتابا أنزل من بعد موسى [ مصدقا لما بين يديه ] ) [ الأحقاف : 30 ] وقال ورقة بن نوفل : هذا الناموس الذي أنزل [ الله ] على موسى . ـ

And in another surah: Continue reading