How the Believers Respond to the Qur’an: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah says in surah al-Zumar:

اللَّـهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُّتَشَابِهًا مَّثَانِيَ تَقْشَعِرُّ مِنْهُ جُلُودُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ ثُمَّ تَلِينُ جُلُودُهُمْ وَقُلُوبُهُمْ إِلَىٰ ذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُدَى اللَّـهِ يَهْدِي بِهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُضْلِلِ اللَّـهُ فَمَا لَهُ مِنْ هَادٍ

Allah has sent down the best speech: a consistent and reiterating Book. The skins of those who fear their Lord shiver from it, then their skins and hearts soften to the remembrance of Allah. That is Allah’s guidance, through which He guides whom He wills. And whomever Allah leads astray, then there is no one to guide him. [39:23]

In part of his commentary on this ayah, al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir wrote:

وقوله : { تقشعر منه جلود الذين يخشون ربهم ثم تلين جلودهم وقلوبهم إلى ذكر الله } أي هذه صفة الأبرار ، عند سماع كلام الجبار ، المهيمن العزيز الغفار ، لما يفهمون منه من الوعد والوعيد . والتخويف والتهديد ، تقشعر منه جلودهم من الخشية والخوف ، { ثم تلين جلودهم وقلوبهم إلى ذكر الله } لما يرجون ويؤملون من رحمته ولطفه ، فهم مخالفون لغيرهم من الكفار من وجوه : ـ

Allah’s statement:

تَقْشَعِرُّ مِنْهُ جُلُودُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ ثُمَّ تَلِينُ جُلُودُهُمْ وَقُلُوبُهُمْ إِلَىٰ ذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ

The skins of those who fear their Lord shiver from it, then their skins and hearts soften to the remembrance of Allah.

this is a characteristic of the righteous ones upon hearing the words of the Almighty, the Preserver, the All-Powerful, Oft-Forgiving. As a result of the promises, threats, and intimidation that they find in the Qur’an, their skins shiver over out reverence and fear.

ثُمَّ تَلِينُ جُلُودُهُمْ وَقُلُوبُهُمْ إِلَىٰ ذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ

then their skins and hearts soften to the remembrance of Allah

due to the mercy and kindness of Allah that they hope and wish for. So they are distinct from from the disbelievers in a number of ways:

أحدها : أن سماع هؤلاء هو تلاوة الآيات ، وسماع أولئك نغمات لأبيات ، من أصوات القينات . ـ

Firstly: The believers listen to the recitation of these ayaat, while those disbelievers listen to the tunes of poetry by female singers. Continue reading

Allah Has Sent Down the Best Speech: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah says al-Zumar:

اللَّـهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُّتَشَابِهًا مَّثَانِيَ تَقْشَعِرُّ مِنْهُ جُلُودُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ ثُمَّ تَلِينُ جُلُودُهُمْ وَقُلُوبُهُمْ إِلَىٰ ذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُدَى اللَّـهِ يَهْدِي بِهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُضْلِلِ اللَّـهُ فَمَا لَهُ مِنْ هَادٍ

Allah has sent down the best speech: a consistent and reiterating Book. The skins of those who fear their Lord shiver from it, then their skins and hearts soften to the remembrance of Allah. That is Allah’s guidance; He guides by it whom He wills. And whomever Allah leads astray, then there is no one to guide him. [39:23]

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote the following commentary on this ayah:

يخبر تعالى عن كتابه الذي نزله أنه { أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ } على الإطلاق، فأحسن الحديث كلام اللّه، وأحسن الكتب المنزلة من كلام اللّه هذا القرآن، وإذا كان هو الأحسن، علم أن ألفاظه أفصح الألفاظ وأوضحها، وأن معانيه، أجل المعاني، لأنه أحسن الحديث في لفظه ومعناه، متشابها في الحسن والائتلاف وعدم الاختلاف، بوجه من الوجوه. حتى إنه كلما تدبره المتدبر، وتفكر فيه المتفكر، رأى من اتفاقه، حتى في معانيه الغامضة، ما يبهر الناظرين، ويجزم بأنه لا يصدر إلا من حكيم عليم، هذا المراد بالتشابه في هذا الموضع. ـ

Allah informs us that His Book which He sent down is

أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ

the best speech

bar none, for the best speech is the speech of Allah, and the best revealed scripture made of Allah’s speech is the Qur’an. So since it is the best, then it is clear that its wordings are most eloquent and clearest wordings and that its meanings are the most sublime meanings, for it is the best of speech in terms of its wordings and meanings. It is

مُّتَشَابِهًا

mutashabih

consistent

in its beauty and unified nature and lack of contradiction. This is one of the meanings of the term mutashabih. The Qur’an’s unified nature and lack of contradiction is such that whenever a person contemplates and ponders it, he sees that it is consistent. This is even the case with its ambiguous messages which puzzle readers. So one will become certain that this could only come from the All-Wise, All-Knowing. That is the meaning of al-mutashabih in this context.

Continue reading

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

A Parable of Two Slaves: Ibn al-Qayyim

Allah strikes the following parable in surah al-Zumar:

ضَرَبَ اللَّـهُ مَثَلًا رَّجُلًا فِيهِ شُرَكَاءُ مُتَشَاكِسُونَ وَرَجُلًا سَلَمًا لِّرَجُلٍ هَلْ يَسْتَوِيَانِ مَثَلًا ۚ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ ۚ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Allah presents an example of one man owned by quarreling partners and another man belonging exclusively to a single man – are they equal in comparison? Praise be to Allah! But most of them do not know. [39:29]

The great scholar Ibn al-Qayyim commented on this ayah by writing:

هذا مثل ضربه الله سبحانه للمشرك والموحد فالمشرك بمنزلة عبد يملكه جماعة متنازعون مختلفون متشاحون والرجل المتشاكس الضيق الخلق فالمشرك لما كان يعبد آلهة شتى شبه بعبد يملكه جماعة متنافسون في خدمته لا يمكنه أن يبلغ رضاهم أجمعين . ـ

Allah has made this parable about one person who associates others with Allah and another person who singles Him out for worship. The one who associates partners with Allah is like a slave owned by a group of clashing, conflicting, and quarreling people. The word mutashaakis used in this ayah means one who has stiff and inflexible character. Similarly, when a person tries to worship multiple deities, he is like a slave owned by a group of people all competing with one another for his service, thus preventing him from being able to please them.

والموحد لما كان يعبد الله وحده فمثله كمثل عبد لرجل واحد قد سلم له وعلم مقاصده وعرف الطريق إلى رضاه فهو في راحة من تشاحن الخلطاء فيه بل هو سالم لمالكه من غير تنازع فيه مع رأفة مالكه به ورحمته له وشفقته عليه وإحسانه إليه وتوليه لمصالحه فهل يستوي هذان العبدان . ـ

On the other hand, when a person worships Allah exclusively, then he is like a slave with a single master. Such a person is completely at the service of his master and knows what his master wants and how to please Him. He is free from any joint-owners quarreling over him and is instead entirely in the service of his owner without any others clashing over him. At the same time, he enjoys the care, mercy, kindness, and goodness that his owner has towards him, and the fact that his owner considers his best interests. Continue reading

The Story of Yunus: Tafsir al-Sa’di

In his book of thematic tafsir, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di detailed a number of the stories of the Prophets along with mentioning various benefits derived from each of them. He would compile the details as they appeared in various places in the Qur’an to provide a straight-forward narrative of each story, and then list some extracted benefits from the story. What follows is his brief explanation of the story of the Prophet Yunus:

قصة يونس صلى الله عليه وسلم وهو من أنبياء بني إسرائيل العظام، بعثه الله إلى أهل نينوى – من أرض الموصل – فدعاهم إلى الله تعالى فأبوا عليه، ثم كرر عليهم الدعوة فأبوا، فوعدهم العذاب وخرج من بين أظهرهم، ولم يصبر الصبر الذي ينبغي، ولكنه أَبَقَ مغاضبا لهم، وهم لما ذهب نبيهم ألقي في قلوبهم التوبة إلى الله والإنابة بعدما شاهدوا مقدمات العذاب، فكشف الله عنهم العذاب. ـ

This is the story of Yunus (ﷺ), who was one of the great prophets of the Banu Israa’eel. Allah sent him to the people of Nineveh – in the area of Mosul [Iraq] – and he called them to Allah but they refused his call. He then repeated his call to them but they refused, so he promised them an impending punishment and left from their midst, and he did not exercise the steadfast patience which he ought to have exercised. On the contrary, he fled from them while in a state of anger. But after their prophet had left them, repentance and returning to Allah were placed in their hearts after witnessing an approaching punishment, and so Allah removed the punishment from them.

والظاهر أن يونس علم انكشاف العذاب عنهم، واستمر في ذهابه عنهم، ولهذا قال تعالى: {وَذَا النُّونِ إِذْ ذَهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا} [الأنبياء: 87] وقال تعالى: {إِذْ أَبَقَ إِلَى الْفُلْكِ الْمَشْحُونِ} [الصافات: 140] ـ

It appears that Yunus knew that the punishment would be lifted from them but still decided to leave them. This is according to Allah’s statement:

وَذَا النُّونِ إِذ ذَّهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا

And mention Dhu’l-noon, when he went off in anger… [21:87]

as well as His statement: Continue reading

He is upon a Light from His Lord: Tafsir al-Tabari

Allah asks the question in part of surah al-Zumar:

أَفَمَن شَرَحَ اللَّـهُ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ فَهُوَ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ مِّن رَّبِّهِ ۚ فَوَيْلٌ لِّلْقَاسِيَةِ قُلُوبُهُم مِّن ذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ

So is one whose breast Allah has opened to Islam and he is upon a light from his Lord [like one whose heart rejects it]? So woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah. Those are in manifest error. [39:22]

The great mufassir Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari began his commentary of this ayah by writing:

يقول – تعالى ذكره – : أفمن فسح الله قلبه لمعرفته ، والإقرار بوحدانيته ، والإذعان لربوبيته ، والخضوع لطاعته ( فهو على نور من ربه ) يقول : فهو على بصيرة مما هو عليه ويقين ، بتنوير الحق في قلبه ، فهو لذلك لأمر الله متبع ، وعما نهاه عنه منته فيما يرضيه ، كمن أقسى الله قلبه ، وأخلاه من ذكره ، وضيقه عن استماع الحق ، واتباع الهدى ، والعمل بالصواب . وترك ذكر الذي أقسى الله قلبه ، وجواب الاستفهام ؛ اجتزاء بمعرفة السامعين المراد من الكلام ، إذ ذكر أحد الصنفين ، وجعل مكان ذكر الصنف الآخر الخبر عنه بقوله : ( فويل للقاسية قلوبهم من ذكر الله ) . ـ

Allah says: Is the one whom Allah makes a space in his heart for knowing Him, for affirming His unrivaled divinity, for completely submitting to His Lordship, for yielding to His obedience

فَهُوَ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ مِّن رَّبِّهِ

… and he is upon a light from his Lord

Allah is saying: so this person has clarity and certainty regarding what he is upon due to the light of truth in his heart, and because of that he is characterized by following Allah’s commands and turning away from whatever Allah has prohibited for him which he would otherwise like to do.

Is this person like the one whom Allah has hardened his heart, has made it devoid of His remembrance, has restricted it from heeding the truth, from following the guidance, and from doing what is right?!

Continue reading

Using the Past Tense to Refer to the Future: Tafsir ibn ‘Uthaymeen

In part of surah al-Saffaat, Allah describes the events of the Day of Recompense by saying:

وَقَالُوا يَا وَيْلَنَا هَـٰذَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ

This can be literally translated as:

And they said: Woe to us! This is the Day of Reckoning! (37:20)

In his explanation of this surah, sheikh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen said:

وقوله تعالى (وَقَالُوا يَا وَيْلَنَا هَـٰذَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ ) قالوا أتى بفعل الماضى مع أنه القول المستقبل ، لتحقق وقوعه ، وهذا كثير في اللغة العربية ، والقرآن الكريم يعبر عن المستقبل بالماضي لتحقق وقوعه ومثاله قوله تعالى(أتى أمر الله)فإن أمر الله لم يأت بدليل قوله تعالى(فلا تستعجلوه)لكن أتى هنا بمعنى يأتي وعبر عن المستقبل بالماضي لتحقق وقوعه

Allah’s statement:

وَقَالُوا يَا وَيْلَنَا هَـٰذَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ

And they said: Woe to us! This is the Day of Reckoning!

the word “they said” comes as a past tense verb despite the fact that it is a future statement. This is done to affirm that this definitely will take place. This is a common practice in the Arabic language, and the Qur’an will refer to a future event by using the past tense in order to affirm that it certainly will come to pass. An example of this is Allah’s statement: Continue reading

Choosing the Best Over What is Merely Good: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

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

الَّذِينَ يَسْتَمِعُونَ الْقَوْلَ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ أَحْسَنَهُ ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ هَدَاهُمُ اللَّـهُ ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمْ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ

Those who listen to speech and follow the best of it. Those are the ones Allah has guided, and those are people of understanding. [39:18]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee included the following valuable discussion inside his tafsir of surah al-Zumar. We have added section headings inside brackets for the sake of clarity and ease of navigation:

قوله تعالى : الذين يستمعون القول فيتبعون أحسنه . أظهر الأقوال في الآية الكريمة ، أن المراد بالقول ، ما جاء به النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ، من وحي الكتاب والسنة ، ومن إطلاق القول على القرآن قوله تعالى : أفلم يدبروا القول الآية [ 23 \ 68 ] . وقوله تعالى : إنه لقول فصل وما هو بالهزل [ 86 \ 13 – 14 ] . وقوله تعالى في هذه الآية الكريمة : فيتبعون أحسنه [ 39 \ 18 ] أي : يقدمون الأحسن ، الذي هو أشد حسنا ، على الأحسن الذي هو دونه في الحسن ، ويقدمون الأحسن مطلقا على الحسن . ويدل لهذا آيات من كتاب الله . ـ

[Explanation of Vocabulary and General Meaning]

Allah’s statement:

الَّذِينَ يَسْتَمِعُونَ الْقَوْلَ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ أَحْسَنَهُ

Those who listen to speech and follow the best of it [39:18]

Out of the various opinions regarding this noble ayah, the most apparent is that the intended meaning of the word “speech” in it is the divine inspiration of the Qur’an and the Sunnah which the Prophet (ﷺ) brought. One example of the word “speech” being used to refer to the Qur’an is Allah’s statement:

أَفَلَمْ يَدَّبَّرُوا الْقَوْلَ

Then have they not reflected over the speech… [23:86]

or His statement:

إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلٌ فَصْلٌ * وَمَا هُوَ بِالْهَزْلِ

Indeed, it is a decisive speech * And it is not amusement [86:13-14]

As to Allah’s statement in this noble ayah:

 فَيَتَّبِعُونَ أَحْسَنَهُ

… and follow the best of it [39:18]

meaning: they give precedence to the best – that which is the greatest good – over other forms of good which are lesser in goodness; they give precedence to the absolute best over just plain good. And there are a number of ayaat in Allah’s book which support this interpretation. Continue reading

Differing Levels of Merits for Certain Surahs and Ayaat: al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah

The Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Fataawaa of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia [al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah] received the following question:

سؤال : هل صحيح أن قراءة وتلاوة بعض سور القرآن وتدبرها لها أجر وفضل كثير ومميزات عن السور الأخرى، كسورة يس؟ وما هي هذه الفضائل؟ ـ

Question: Is it true that some surahs of the Qur’an, such as surah Yaasin, have greater reward and more merits and distinction for reading, reciting, and contemplating them than others? And what are these virtues?

 جواب : التفاضل بين آيات القرآن الكريم وسوره ثابت في السنة المطهرة، كفضل الفاتحة وآية الكرسي وسورة الإخلاص وغيرها، مع اعتقاد أن الجميع كلام الله حقيقة، وهذا التفاضل لما تشتمل عليه بعض السور والآيات من المعاني التي اختصت بها، ومع ورود السنة أيضًا ببيان هذه الأفضلية، فإن هذا التفضيل سبيله التوقيف ولا مجال فيه للاجتهاد، وأما سورة ( يس ) على الخصوص فلا نعلم حديثًا صحيحًا عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يخصها بشيء من الفضائل. والله أعلم. وبالله التوفيق، وصلى الله على نبينا محمد وآله وصحبه وسلم. ـ

Response: Differing levels of virtues among the ayaat and surahs of the Qur’an is something authentically verified in the pure Sunnah, such as the merits of surah al-Fatihah, ayah al-Kursi, surah al-Ikhlaas, and others, while still believing that all of it is the literal speech of Allah.  Continue reading

What is the wisdom of abrogating a command before it can be acted on?: Imam al-Shinqitee

In a session of tafsir delivered at his home which was recorded by his son and subsequently transribed, Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee discussed the following question:

هل يجوز النسخ قبل التمكن من الفعل أو لا يجوز ؟ والجماهير من العلماء على أنه جائز وواقع ، ومن أمثلته نسخ خمس وأربعين صلاة ليلية الإسراء بعد أن فرضت خسمسين ، ونُسخ منها خمس وأربعين بينما أُقرت خمساً ، ومن أمثلته قوله جل وعلا في قصة ذبح إبراهيم لولده : <  وَفَدَيْنَاهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيمٍ > [الصفات 108] ؛ لأنه أمره أن يذبح ولده ، ونسخ هذا الأمر قبل التمكن من الفعل ، والتحقيق أن هذا جائز وواقع ، ولا شك أن فيه سؤالاً معروفاً وهو أن يقول طالب العلم : إذا كان الحكم يشرع ويُنسخ قبل العمل فما الحكمة في تشريعه الأول إذا كان ينسخ قبل العمل به ؟  ـ

Is the abrogation of a command before it is able to be carried out possible or impossible? The majority of the scholars hold the position that it is possible and that it actually happens, and one of the examples of this is the abrogation of forty-five prayers on the night of the Night Journey after fifty had been made obligatory and forty-five of them were abrogated, leaving only five remaining. And another example of this is Allah’s statement regarding the story of Ibrahim’s sacrificing his son:

وَفَدَيْنَاهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيمٍ

And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice [37:107]

For Allah commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, but He abrogated this command before Ibrahim was able to enact it. So the conclusion is that this is both possible and it occurs. And undoubtedly there is a well-known question regarding this, which is that the student of knowledge asks, “If a ruling is legislated and then abrogated before being acted upon, then what is the reasoning in its being legislated in the first place if it is abrogated prior to being carried out?” Continue reading