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

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

A Central Theme of Surah al-An’aam: Tafsir al-Qurtubi

After discussing a number of statements from the salaf regarding the revelation and themes of surah al-An’aam, Imam al-Qurtubi then wrote:

تنبيه : قال العلماء : هذه السورة أصل في محاجة المشركين وغيرهم من المبتدعين ومن كذب بالبعث والنشور وهذا يقتضي إنزالها جملة واحدة لأنها في معنى واحد من الحجة وإن تصرف ذلك بوجوه كثيرة . ـ

A Note: the scholars have said that this surah is the foundation for arguing against the Mushrikoon, as well as others such as innovators and anyone who denies the resurrection and gathering of the dead. That is why this surah was revealed all at once, because it all centers around one message of making an argument, even if the surah pursues that goal in a number of different ways. 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

“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

How to Identify the Theme of a Surah: Sheikh Musa’id al-Tayyar

In part of a larger discussion on the themes of surahs, sheikh Musa’id al-Tayyar (professor of Qur’anic Studies at King Saud University in Riyadh and active researcher, teacher, and author on the Qur’anic sciences) wrote the following pieces of guidance regarding how to identify the themes of a surah:

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته ، أما بعد : فإن هذا الموضوع ( مقاصد السور ) من الموضوعات التي يَرِدُها العقل ، فيستنبط منها ما شاء الله ، ويفتح الله لمن شاء فيه ما شاء . وهو مرتبط بدرجة كبيرة ببعض الموضوعات الأخرى المتعلقة بالسورة ، مثل : ـ

al-Salam ‘alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh.

To proceed: This topic of the “themes of the surahs” is one of those topics which goes back to the intellect, so one derives whatever Allah allows in this topic, and Allah enables whomever He wills to do whatever He wills in this arena. And there is a significant connection between this topic and a number of other topics related to the surah, such as:

ـ 1 ـ اسم السورة ، أو أسماؤها إن كان لها أكثر من اسم ثابت ، ويُحرص على الاسم الوارد عن النبي ، فإنه ـ بلا شكَّ ـ ما سمَّى السورة إلا لحكمة ،وقد تكون هذه الحكمة في التسمية مرتبطة بمقصد السورة . ـ

1. The name of the surah, or names if it has more than one authentically attributed name. We should strive to find the name that the Prophet used for it, for there is no question that he gave it that name for a reason, and the reason for giving it that name may be connected to the theme of the surah.

ـ 2 ـ موضوعات السورة ، وقد حرص بعض المعاصرين على بيانها مثل الطاهر بن عاشور في تفسيره . ـ

2. The contents of the surah. Some contemporary scholars, such as al-Tahir ibn ‘Aashoor in his book of tafsir, have expended considerable effort in elucidating the contents of each surah. Continue reading

What is Meant by “The Themes of the Qur’an”: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool, a professor at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca, wrote the following brief discussion related to the topic of maqasid al-Qur’an or “themes of the Qur’an”:

مقاصد القرآن يراد بها

What is Meant by “The Themes of the Qur’an”

تارة المقاصد الكلية للقرآن، وهي ترجع إلى ثلاثة محاور وهي الآتية: = تقرير معرفة الله بتوحيد الربوبية والألوهية والأسماء والصفات. = تقرير الأوامر والنوهي والأحكام الشرعية. = بيان حال الناس من دعوة الأنبياء في الأمم السابقة وأمة نبينا محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم. ويشير إلى هذا حديث : “قل هو الله أحد تعدل ثلث القرآن”. وبعض أهل العلم يذكر عشرة مقاصد عامة كما صنع ابن القيم، وبعضهم خمسة كما صنع ولي الله الدهلوي وبعضهم ثمانية كما صنع ابن عاشور، رحم الله الجميع، وكلها ترجع إلى هذه المحاور. ـ

Sometimes people use this term to refer to the overarching themes of the entire Qur’an, which go back to pivotal topics, which are:

Instilling knowledge of Allah through knowing His exclusive Lordship, His exclusive right to be worshiped, and His Names and Attributes

Setting forth the commands, prohibitions and legal rulings

Clearly communicating the people’s stances towards the call of the prophets of the previous nations and in Muhammad’s nation.

This is indicated by the hadeeth:

“Say: He is Allah, One” is equal to one third of the Qur’an.

And some of the scholars such as ibn al-Qayyim mention 10 overarching themes, while others such as Waliullah al-Dehlawi mention 5, and still others such as ibn ‘Aashoor mention 8 – may Allah have mercy on all of them. And all of these go back to these three topics. Continue reading

A Central Theme of Surah al-Baqarah: Sheikh Muhammad al-Rabee’ah

In the midst of discussing the differences between the contents of a surah and the theme of a surah, Sheikh Muhammad al-Rabee’ah, a professor of the Qur’an and its sciences at Qassim University, mentioned the following points:

قال شيخ الإسلام ابن تيمية رحمه الله: ” وقد ذكرت في مواضع ما اشتملت عليه سورة البقرة من تقرير ألصول العلم وقواعد الدين . ” ـ

Sheikh al-Islam ibn Taymiyah said:

I have mentioned in more than one place how surah al-Baqarah is comprised of establishing the foundations of religious knowledge and the cornerstones of the religion.

وبالتأمل الثاقب للسورة كلها ومقاطعها نجدها تعرضت لغير الأحكام التشريعية ومن ذلك القسم الأول من السورة حيث عرض فيه قصة آدم وقصة بني إسرائيل وقصة إبراهيم وبناء البيت، وقصة تحويل القبلة، وقصة طالوت، وآية الكرسي وما تبعها من قصص، وهذا يمثل أكثر من نصف السورة. وبالتأمل فإنه يمكن أن نربط بين هذه الموضعات من الأحكام والقصص بالغرض الذي يجمعها كلها وهو ما يمكن أن نعبر عنه بأنه (( إعداد الأمة لتلقي الشريعة وامتثالها وتبليغها)). فالسورة تركز على تربية الأمة وإعدادها لتلقي شريعة الله تعالى وامتثالها، ولذلك جاءت قصة بني إسرائيل وفيها قصة البقرة تحذير للمؤمنين من مشابهتهم، وإشعار بنقل الخلافة من بني إسرائيل إلى هذه الأمة وإليها إشارت قصة إبراهيم وقصة تحويل القبلة. ـ

By some perceptive contemplation of this surah as a whole and its different sections, we find that it presents more than just legal rulings. For instance, there is its first section where it presents the story of Adam and that of Banu Israa’eel and that of Ibrahim constructing the Ka’bah, as well as the changing of the qiblah, story of Talut, ayah al-Kursi and the stories that come shortly after it. All of this comprises more than half of the surah. Continue reading

al-Tawheed in Surah al-Burooj: ibn al-Qayyim

In part of his work dedicated to discussing the oaths is the Qur’an, ibn al-Qayyim wrote the highlighted the following point in part of his treatment of surah al-Burooj:

وقد اشتملت هذه السورة على اختصارها من التوحيد

Despite its short size, this surah – surah a-Burooj (85)contains numerous proofs for al-Tawheed:

على وصفه سبحانه بالعزة المتضمنة للقدرة والقوة وعدم النظير

It characterizes Allah as Mighty, a term which encompasses complete ability, power and the absence of any peer. [see 85:8]

والحمد المتضمن لصفات الكمال والتنزيه عن أضدادها مع محبته وإلهيته

It describes Him as being Praiseworthy, which entails attributes of completion and negates any opposite deficient qualities. This also points to His qualities of love and His divine nature. [see 85:8]

وملكه السموات والأرض المتضمن لكمال غناه وسعة ملكه

It mentions His ownership of the heavens and the earth, which indicates a complete lack of need for anyone or anything else, as well as pointing to the expansiveness of His ownership. [see 85:9] Continue reading