How the Qur’an Uses Contrasting Pairs and Repetition: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah describes His Book in surah al-Zumar by saying:

اللَّـهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُّتَشَابِهًا مَّثَانِيَ

Allah has sent down the best speech: a mutashaabih and mathaani Book. [39:23]

The word “mathaani” [مَثَانِي] is often translated into English as “oft-repeated” or sometimes as “paired”. Also, when used in conjunction with “mathaani“, the word “mutashaabih” [مُتَشَابِه] is it is often translated as “consistent”. But as often happens in translation, the translated terms do not sufficiently convey the meaning of the original. In what follows, the great scholar of tafsir al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir provides some clarification and examples of these terms which can help the reader to better understand these two recurring features of the Qur’an.

Even before reaching surah al-Zumar, ibn Kathir draws the reader’s attention these features at their first occurrence in the mushaf under his commentary of 2:25 by writing:

لما ذكر تعالى ما أعده لأعدائه من الأشقياء الكافرين به وبرسله من العذاب والنكال ، عطف بذكر حال أوليائه من السعداء المؤمنين به وبرسله ، الذين صدقوا إيمانهم بأعمالهم الصالحة ، وهذا معنى تسمية القرآن مثاني على أصح أقوال العلماء ، كما سنبسطه في موضعه ، وهو أن يذكر الإيمان ويتبعه بذكر الكفر ، أو عكسه ، أو حال السعداء ثم الأشقياء ، أو عكسه . وحاصله ذكر الشيء ومقابله . وأما ذكر الشيء ونظيره فذاك التشابه ، كما سنوضحه إن شاء الله ؛ فلهذا قال تعالى : ( وبشر الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات أن لهم جنات تجري من تحتها الأنهار ) ـ

After having mentioned the pain and punishment that He has promised to those miserable enemies of His who disbelieve in Him and His Messengers, Allah then immediately follows that up by mentioning the condition of His joyful allies who believe in Him and His Messengers – those who actualize their eemaan with righteous good deeds. This is the essence of what the Qur’an refers to as Mathaani according to the strongest position of the scholars, a topic which we will discuss in more detail in its proper place. Essentially, Mathaani is to mention eemaan and then to follow that up by discussing kufr, or vice versa, or to mention the state of the people of ultimate joy and then the people of ultimate misery, or vice versa. In short, it is mentioning one thing and then contrasting it with its opposite.

Now as for mentioning something alongside a close corollary, that would be al-Tashaabah [i.e. their “mutashaabih-ness”], which is another topic that we will clarify in further detail, inshaAllaah.

So that is why [after having finished discussing the punishment of the disbelievers], Allah says: Continue reading

O You Who Have Believed, Look After Your Own Souls: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah says in surah al-Maa’idah:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ لَا يَضُرُّكُم مَّن ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ ۚ إِلَى اللَّـهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

O you who have believed, look after your own souls. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is you return all together; then He will inform you of what you used to do. [5:105]

In his famous book of tafsir, al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir wrote the following:

يقول تعالى آمرا عباده المؤمنين أن يصلحوا أنفسهم ويفعلوا الخير بجهدهم وطاقتهم ، ومخبرا لهم أنه من أصلح أمره لا يضره فساد من فسد من الناس ، سواء كان قريبا منه أو بعيدا . ـ

Allah is commanding His believing slaves to rectify themselves and do the good that is within their ability and capacity, and He is also informing them that whoever rectifies his own matters will not be harmed by the corruption of the corrupted people regardless of whether they are near or far from him. Continue reading

He Gave You Hearing, Sight, and Hearts That You Might Give Thanks: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah says in surah al-Nahl:

وَاللَّـهُ أَخْرَجَكُم مِّن بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمْعَ وَالْأَبْصَارَ وَالْأَفْئِدَةَ ۙ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

And Allah has brought you out from the wombs of your mothers knowing nothing. And He gave you hearing, sight, and hearts that you might give thanks. [16:78]

al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir wrote the following under his commentary of this ayah:

ذكر تعالى منته على عباده ، في إخراجه إياهم من بطون أمهاتهم لا يعلمون شيئا ، ثم بعد هذا يرزقهم تعالى السمع الذي به يدركون الأصوات ، والأبصار اللاتي بها يحسون المرئيات ، والأفئدة – وهي العقول – التي مركزها القلب على الصحيح ، وقيل : الدماغ ، والعقل به يميز بين الأشياء ضارها ونافعها . وهذه القوى والحواس تحصل للإنسان على التدريج قليلا قليلا ، كلما كبر زيد في سمعه وبصره وعقله حتى يبلغ أشده .ـ

Allah mentions how He has blessed His slaves by bringing them out of their mothers’ stomachs when they did not know anything and then after that providing them with the hearing with which they can grasp sounds and the vision with which they can perceive things and the minds (al-af’idah) – i.e. the intellects, which are housed in the heart according to the most correct position, though some say that they are housed in the brain – and intellects by which one can distinguish between harmful and beneficial things. These abilities and senses come to a person in stages bit by bit. As he gets older and older his hearing, vision and intellect continue to improve until he reaches maturity. Continue reading

Three Transgressions which Turn Back on their Perpetrators: Tafsir ibn Kathir

al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel Ibn Kathir mentioned in his famous book of tafsir:

وقد قال محمد بن كعب القرظي : ثلاث من فعلهن لم ينج حتى ينزل به من مكر أو بغي أو نكث ، وتصديقها في كتاب الله : ( وَلَا يَحِيقُ الْمَكْرُ السَّيِّئُ إِلَّا بِأَهْلِهِ ) [ فاطر : 43 ] . ( إِنَّمَا بَغْيُكُمْ عَلَى أَنْفُسِكُمْ ) [ يونس : 23 ] ، ( فَمَنْ نَكَثَ فَإِنَّمَا يَنْكُثُ عَلَى نَفْسِهِ ) [ الفتح : 10 ] . ـ

Muhammad ibn Ka’b al-Qurathi said:

There are three things which, if you do them, will come down on you and you will not be able to escape them: 1) plotting, 2) injustice to others, and 3) breaking your word.

All of these are affirmed in Allah’s Book

وَلَا يَحِيقُ الْمَكْرُ السَّيِّئُ إِلَّا بِأَهْلِهِ

But the evil plot only encompasses its own people [35:43] Continue reading

Allah Presents a Parable From Your Own Selves: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah presents the following parable in surah al-Rum:

ضَرَبَ لَكُم مَّثَلًا مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ ۖ هَل لَّكُم مِّن مَّا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُم مِّن شُرَكَاءَ فِي مَا رَزَقْنَاكُمْ فَأَنتُمْ فِيهِ سَوَاءٌ تَخَافُونَهُمْ كَخِيفَتِكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ

He sets forth a parable for you from your own selves: Do you have any of your slaves as partners with you to share as equals in the wealth We have bestowed on you, fearing them as you fear one another? Thus do We explain the signs in detail to people who have sense. [30:28]

al-Haafidh ibn Kathir began his commentary on this ayah by writing:

هذا مثل ضربه الله تعالى للمشركين به ، العابدين معه غيره ، الجاعلين له شركاء وهم مع ذلك معترفون أن شركاءه من الأصنام والأنداد عبيد له ، ملك له ، كما كانوا في تلبيتهم يقولون : لبيك لا شريك لك ، إلا شريكا هو لك ، تملكه وما ملك . فقال تعالى : ( ضرب لكم مثلا من أنفسكم ) أي : تشهدونه وتفهمونه من أنفسكم ، ( هل لكم من ما ملكت أيمانكم من شركاء في ما رزقناكم فأنتم فيه سواء ) أي : لا يرتضي أحد منكم أن يكون عبده شريكا له في ماله ، فهو وهو فيه على السواء ( تخافونهم كخيفتكم أنفسكم ) أي : تخافون أن يقاسموكم الأموال . والمعنى : أن أحدكم يأنف من ذلك ، فكيف تجعلون لله الأنداد من خلقه ؟! تعالى الله عن ذلك علوا كبيرا . ـ

This is a parable which Allah strikes regarding those who take others as equals with Him, worship them alongside Him, and assign partners to Him. They do all this despite knowing full-well that these idols and peers that they consider as partners with Him are in fact His slaves whom He owns. Take for instance the talbiyah that they used to say:

At your service, and there is no partner for You
Except for the partner that You do have
You own him and whatever he owns

So Allah said: Continue reading

Using a Non-Canonical Recitation as Evidence: Tafsir ibn Kathir

In surah al-Ma’idah, Allah describes the expiation of a broken oath as follows:

 فَكَفَّارَتُهُ إِطْعَامُ عَشَرَةِ مَسَاكِينَ مِنْ أَوْسَطِ مَا تُطْعِمُونَ أَهْلِيكُمْ أَوْ كِسْوَتُهُمْ أَوْ تَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍ ۖ فَمَن لَّمْ يَجِدْ فَصِيَامُ ثَلَاثَةِ أَيَّامٍ

… So its expiation is the feeding of ten needy people from the average of that which you feed your families or clothing them or the freeing of a slave. But whoever does not find the means – then a fast of three days. … [5:89]

al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir addressed the ayah at length in his tafsir. In the midst of his discussion, he turns to a question regarding the fast:

واختلف العلماء : هل يجب فيها التتابع أو يستحب ولا يجب ويجزئ التفريق؟ على قولين : أحدهما أنه لا يجب التتابع ، هذا منصوص الشافعي في كتاب ” الأيمان ” ، وهو قول مالك لإطلاق قوله : ( فصيام ثلاثة أيام ) وهو صادق على المجموعة والمفرقة ، كما في قضاء رمضان ; لقوله : ( فعدة من أيام أخر ) [ البقرة : 184 ] . ـ

The scholars have differed as to whether the days of fasting for this expiation must be done consecutively or if that is only recommended without reaching the level of obligation, thus making it permissible to fast them non-consecutively. They fall into two camps:

The first position holds that it is not required to fast them consecutively. This the opinion of Imam al-Shafi’ee as is mentioned in the book al-Ayman, as well as being the position of Imam Malik. This was based off the general nature of Allah’s statement:

فَصِيَامُ ثَلَاثَةِ أَيَّامٍ

then a fast of three days

which could apply to both fasting them consecutively or non-consecutively, just as is the case when making up any missed days of Ramadan according to Allah’s statement: Continue reading

Tafsir of Ayah al-Kursi: Faisal Aal Mubarak

Due to its significance and importance, much space has been given to discussing ayah al-Kursi in the books of tafsir. Not least among these are the famous books of Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, ibn Kathir and al-Baghawi. All three of these works fall into the category of “narration-based tafsir“, meaning that they based their works on explaining the Qur’an by means of the Qur’an itself, by means of the sunnah of the Prophet, by means of the statements of the Sahabah and through recourse to those who followed them. In an effort to follow this same approach to tafsir while simultaneously providing a service to beginning students, Sheikh Faisal Aal Mubarak (1376Ah/1957CE) penned his own tafsir entitled Tawfeeq al-Rahman which effectively served as a digest of these three most-reliable books of tafsir. What follows below is his explanation of ayah al-Kursi:

قوله عز وجل: {اللهُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ لاَ تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلاَ نَوْمٌ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ مَن ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِنْدَهُ إِلا بِإِذْنِهِ يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلاَ يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلا بِمَا شَاء وَسِعَ كُرْسِيُّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ وَلاَ يَؤُودُهُ حِفْظُهُمَا وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ (255) } . ـ

Allah’s statement:

اللَّـهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ ۚ لَا تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلَا نَوْمٌ ۚ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۗ مَن ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِندَهُ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِهِ ۚ يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ ۖ وَلَا يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلَّا بِمَا شَاءَ ۚ وَسِعَ كُرْسِيُّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ ۖ وَلَا يَئُودُهُ حِفْظُهُمَا ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ

Allah – none has the right be worshiped except Him, al-Hayy al-Qayyoom. Neither tiredness nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Who can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what is ahead of you and what is behind you [OR “He knows what you have already done and what will happen after you”], and they grasp nothing of His knowledge except what He wills. His kursi extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding them. And He is al-‘Alee al-‘Atheem. [2:255]

عن أبي بن كعب: (أن النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – سأله: «أي آية في كتاب الله أعظم» ؟ قال: الله ورسوله أعلم. فرددها مرارًا ثم قال: أبيّ: آية الكرسي. قال: «ليهنك العلم أبا المنذر» . رواه مسلم وغيره. وفي حديث أبي هريرة عند البخاري في قصة الشيطان الذي سرق من الصدقة قال: (فرصدته الثالثة، فجاء يحثو من الطعام، فأخذته، فقلت: لأرفعنك إلى رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم -، وهذا آخر ثلاث مرات إنك تزعم أنك لا تعود ثم تعود، فقال: دعني أعلمك كلمات ينفعك الله بها. قلت: وما هي؟ قال إذا أويت إلى فراشك فاقرأ آية الكرسي: {اللهُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ} حتى تختم الآية، فإنك لن يزال عليك من الله حافظ، ولا يقربك شيطان حتى تصبح، فخليّت سبيله، فأصبحت فقال لي رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – «ما فعل أسيرك البارحة» ؟ قلت: يا رسول الله إنه زعم أنه يعلمني كلمات ينفعني الله بها، فخليت سبيله، قال: «ما هي» ؟ قال: قال لي: إذا أويت إلى فراشك فاقرأ آية الكرسي من أولها حتى تختم الآية: {اللهُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ} وقال لي: لن يزال عليك من الله حافظ ولا يقربك شيطان حتى تصبح. فقال النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم -: «أما إنه صدقك وهو كذوب» . وروى أبو داود وغيره عن أسماء بنت يزيد بن السكن قالت: سمعت رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يقول في هاتين الآيتين: {اللهُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ} و {الم * اللهُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ} : «إن فيها اسم الله الأعظم» . ـ

○ It is narrated from Ubay ibn Ka’b that the Prophet asked him, “Which is the greatest ayah in Allah’s Book?” Ubay replied, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” The Prophet repeated the question a few times and then Ubay said, “Ayah al-Kursi,” to which the Prophet said, “May knowledge be a source of joy for you, O Abu’l-Mundhir!” This was reported by Muslim and others.

And there is also the story of the shaytaan who was stealing from charity that comes in the hadith of Abu Hurayrah in al-Bukhari in which he said: Continue reading

The Arrangement of the Stories in the Qur’an: Ibn Kathir

In his epic book of history, al-haafidh Ismaa’eel Ibn Kathir arranges some of his early chapters in an unexpected way, mentioning the story of Ibrahim with his people, then Lut, then Shu’ayb, and then returning to discuss the offspring of Ibrahim. He explains this arrangement in the book by writing:

قَدْ قَدَّمْنَا قِصَّتَهُ مَعَ قَوْمِهِ، وَمَا كَانَ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ، وَمَا آلَ إِلَيْهِ أَمْرُهُ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ وَالتَّحِيَّةُ وَالْإِكْرَامُ، وَذَكَرْنَا مَا وَقَعَ فِي زَمَانِهِ مِنْ قِصَّةِ قَوْمِ لُوطٍ، وَأَتْبَعْنَا ذَلِكَ بِقِصَّةِ مَدْيَنَ قَوْمِ شُعَيْبٍ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ؛ لِأَنَّهَا قَرِينَتُهَا فِي كِتَابِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ فِي مَوَاضِعَ مُتَعَدِّدَةٍ يَذْكُرُ تَعَالَى بَعْدَ قِصَّةِ قَوْمِ لُوطٍ قِصَّةَ مَدْيَنَ، وَهُمْ أَصْحَابُ الْأَيْكَةِ عَلَى الصَّحِيحِ، كَمَا قَدَّمْنَا فَذَكَرْنَاهَا تَبَعًا لَهَا اقْتِدَاءً بِالْقُرْآنِ الْعَظِيمِ، ثُمَّ نَشْرَعُ الْآنَ فِي الْكَلَامِ عَلَى تَفْصِيلِ ذُرِّيَّةِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ؛ لِأَنَّ اللَّهَ جَعَلَ فِي ذُرِّيَّتِهِ النُّبُوَّةَ وَالْكِتَابَ، فَكُلُّ نَبِيٍّ أُرْسِلَ بَعْدَهُ فَمِنْ وَلَدِهِ

We have already mentioned the story of Ibrahim and his people, how they were, and what happened to him. We have also mentioned the story of the people of Lut which took place during Ibrahim’s time. We then followed that up with the story of Madyan, the people of Shu’ayb. We did that because these stories are often mentioned together in Allah’s Book. In a number of places throughout the Qur’an, after finishing the story of the people of Lut Allah will then mention the story of Madyan, who are the Ashaab al-Aykah according to the correct opinion. So we also decided to mention the story of Madyan after the story of the people of Lut in order to follow the way of the Qur’an. Now we will proceed to speak in detail about the offspring of Ibrahim, as Allah placed prophethood and scripture with some of his offspring and every prophet who was sent after Ibrahim came from his lineage. Continue reading

“His Character was the Qur’an”: Ibn Kathir

In part of his work dedicated to the seerah of the Prophet (ﷺ), the famous historian, mufassir, and muhaddith al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir included the following at the beginning of one chapter:

فصل ـ أخلاقه الطاهرة

Chapter: His Purified Character

وأما أخلاقه الطاهرة، فقد قال الله سبحانه: {ن والقلم وما يسطرون * ما أنت بنعمة ربك بمجنون * وإن لك لأجرا غير ممنون * وإنك لعلى خلق عظيم} ، وفي الصحيح عن عائشة رضي الله عنها أنها قالت: كان خلق رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم القرآن. ـ

As for his purified character, Allah said:

ن ۚ وَالْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُونَ * مَا أَنتَ بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ بِمَجْنُونٍ * وَإِنَّ لَكَ لَأَجْرًا غَيْرَ مَمْنُونٍ * وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ

Noon. By the pen and what they write * By the favor of your Lord you are not a madman * and indeed there will be an uninterrupted reward for you * and you are indeed of great moral character [68:1-4]

And in an authentic hadith, ‘A’ishah said:

The character of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) was the Qur’an. Continue reading

Assorted Qur’an Benefits #21

What follows is a collection of benefits originally posted on our Facebook page and Telegram Channel in the first part of December 2017:

♦ Ibn Kathir’s Approach to the Qiraa’aat in his Tafsir

The great mufassir al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir explained the approach he took in his tafsir towards linguistic discussion and the qiraa’aat by writing:

 وفي جبريل وميكائيل لغات وقراءات ، تذكر في كتب اللغة والقراءات ، ولم نطول كتابنا هذا بسرد ذلك إلا أن يدور فهم المعنى عليه ، أو يرجع الحكم في ذلك إليه ، وبالله الثقة ، وهو المستعان . ـ

Regarding the words “Jibreel” and “Meekaa’eel” [c.f. 2:98], there are a number of linguistic issues and different recitations which are mentioned in the books of language and qiraa’aat. But we will not elongate this book of ours by going through these topics unless the meaning of an ayah centers around that or unless a legal ruling related to an ayah hinges on one of those things. In Allah do we place our trust, and it is from Him that we seek aid.”

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 1/343]

♦ Continuing Rewards

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]

Commenting on these latter two ayaat in his book of tafsir, ibn al-Jawzi wrote:

 وقال النخعي: إذا بلغ المؤمن من الكبر ما يعجز عن العمل كتب له ما كان يعمل، وهو قوله تعالى: فلهم أجر غير ممنون وقال ابن قتيبة: المعنى: إلا الذين آمنوا في وقت القوة والقدرة، فإنهم حال الكبر غير منقوصين وإن عجزوا عن الطاعات، لأن الله تعالى علم أنهم لو لم يسلبهم القوة لم ينقطعوا عن أفعال الخير، فهو يجري لهم أجر ذلك . ـ

Ibrahim al-Nakaa’i said: When a believer reaches old age and is no longer able to perform good deeds, what he used to do will continue to be written for him. This is as Allah says, “For them there is a reward without interruption”. Continue reading