A Note on Differing Reports in Tafsir: Ibn Taymiyah

In his book “Introduction to Tafsir”, Sheikh al-Islaam ibn Taymiyah included the following points of benefit in a larger discussion of the use of Israa’eeliyaat (Biblical) narratives in tafsir. He mentioned that in cases where there is no conclusive evidence as to whether the Israa’eeliyaat narratives are true or not, there is often little benefit that comes from mentioning these different reports. He then listed a number of examples of these reports, such as those concerning what type of wood the staff of Moosaa was made of, the types of birds Ibrahim slaughtered, the names of the inhabitants of the cave, etc. Immediately following this list of examples, he wrote:

ـ … إِلَى غَيْرِ ذَلِكَ ممَّا أَبْهَمَهُ اللهُ تَعَالَى فِي القُرْآنِ مِمَّا لاَ فَائِدَةَ فِي تَعْيِينِهِ تَعُودُ عَلَى الْمُكَلَّفِينَ فِي دُنْيَاهُمْ وَلاَ فِي دِينِهِمْ . وَلَكِنَّ نَقْلَ الْخِلاَفِ عَنْهُمْ فِي ذَلِكَ جَائِزٌ . ـ

… and the list goes on of those things which Allah has left uncertain in the Qur’an in which there is no benefit returning back to those charged with enacting Allah’s commands in specifying them, neither in respects to his worldly life nor in respect to his religion. However, transmitting the differences of opinion regarding these issues is permissible.

كَمَا قَالَ تَعَالَى : {سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلاثَةٌ رَّابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْمًا بِالْغَيْبِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ قُل رَّبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم مَّا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلاَّ قَلِيلٌ فَلاَ تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلاَّ مِرَآءً ظَاهِرًا وَلاَ تَسْتَفْتِ فِيهِم مِّنْهُمْ أَحَدًا } [سُورَةُ الْكَهْفِ :22] فَقَد اشْتَمَلَتْ هَذِهِ الآيَةُ الكريمةُ عَلَى الأَدَبِ فِي هَذَا المُقَامِ ، وَتَعْلِيمِ مَا يَنْبَغِي فِي مِثْلِ هَذَا ، فَإِنَّهُ تَعَالَى أَخْبَرَ عَنْهُمْ في ثَلاَثَةِ أَقْوَالٍ ، { وَ } ضَعَّفَ القَوْلَيْنِ الأَوَّلَيْنِ ، وَسَكَتَ عَن الثَّالثِ ، فَدَلَّ عَلَى صِحَّتِهِ ، إذْ لَوْ كَانَ بَاطِلاً لَرَدَّهُ كَمَا رَدَّهُمَا ، ثمَّ أَرْشَدَ إِلَى أَنَّ الاطِّلاَعَ عَلَى عِدَّتِهِم لاَ طَائِلَ تَحْتَهُ ، فيُقالُ في مِثْلِ هَذَا : { قُل رَّبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم } ؛ فَإنَّهُ لا يَعْلَمُ بِذَلِكَ إِلاَّ قَلِيلٌ مِن النَّاسِ مِمَّنْ أَطْلَعَهُ اللهُ عَلَيْهِ ، فَلِهَذَا قَالَ : { فَلاَ تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلاَّ مِرَآءً ظَاهِرًا } أَيْ : لاَ تُجْهِدْ نَفْسَكَ فِيمَا لاَ طَائِلَ تَحْتَهُ ، وَلاَ تَسْأَلْهُمْ عَنْ ذَلِكَ فَإِنَّهُمْ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ إِلاَّ رَجْمَ الْغَيْبِ . ـ

This is as Allah said:

سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلاثَةٌ رَّابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْمًا بِالْغَيْبِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ قُل رَّبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم مَّا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلاَّ قَلِيلٌ فَلاَ تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلاَّ مِرَآءً ظَاهِرًا وَلاَ تَسْتَفْتِ فِيهِم مِّنْهُمْ أَحَدًا

They will say there were three, the fourth of them being their dog; and they will say there were five, the sixth of them being their dog – guessing at the unseen; and they will say there were seven, and the eighth of them was their dog. Say, [O Muhammad], “My Lord is most knowing of their number. None knows them except a few. So do not argue about them except with a clear proof and do not inquire about them among [the speculators] from anyone.” [18:22]

for this noble ayah includes the proper etiquette in this circumstance, and it teaches us what is befitting in the likes of this instance. For Allah informed us that there are three opinions regarding them; He described the first two positions as weak and was silent concerning the third, thus demonstrating its validity. For if it had been false then He would have rebutted it just as He had rebutted the other two positions. Then Allah provides guidance that digging into their number is not a beneficial endeavor. So in this circumstance one should say: Continue reading

Does the Qur’an use metaphorical language? – Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee wrote the following discussion in part of his tafsir of surah al-Kahf:

قوله تعالى : فوجدا فيها جدارا يريد أن ينقض فأقامه

Allah’s statement:

فَوَجَدَا فِيهَا جِدَارً‌ا يُرِ‌يدُ أَن يَنقَضَّ فَأَقَامَهُ

Then they found therein a wall that wanted to collapse, so he (al-Khadr) set it up straight [18:77]

، هذه الآية الكريمة من أكبر الأدلة التي يستدل بها القائلون : بأن المجاز في القرآن زاعمين أن إرادة الجدار الانقضاض لا يمكن أن تكون حقيقة ، وإنما هي مجاز ، وقد دلت آيات من كتاب الله على أنه لا مانع من كون إرادة الجدار حقيقة ; لأن الله تعالى يعلم للجمادات إرادات وأفعالا وأقوالا لا يدركها الخلق كما صرح تعالى بأنه يعلم من ذلك ما لا يعلمه خلقه في قوله جل وعلا : وإن من شيء إلا يسبح بحمده ولكن لا تفقهون تسبيحهم [ 17 \ 44 ] ، فصرح بأننا لا نفقه تسبيحهم ، وتسبيحهم واقع عن إرادة لهم يعلمها هو جل وعلا ونحن لا نعلمها ، وأمثال ذلك كثيرة في القرآن والسنة . ـ

This noble ayah is one of the greatest evidences employed by those who say that there is metaphorical language in the Qur’an, asserting that is it not possible to take the will of the wall to collapse literally and that it is only figurative. But many ayaat from the Book of Allah have demonstrated that there is nothing preventing the wall’s will from being taken literally, for Allah knows the will, actions and statements of inanimate objects which created beings do not perceive, as He clarified the fact that He knows what His creation does not know, according to His statement:

وَإِن مِّن شَيْءٍ إِلَّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِهِ وَلَـٰكِن لَّا تَفْقَهُونَ تَسْبِيحَهُمْ

And there is not a thing except that it exalts [Allah] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting [17:44]

So He clarified that we do not understand their way of making exaltation, and that their exaltation is real according to a will of theirs which Allah knows but we do not know. And the likes of that are numerous in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Continue reading

Benefits from the story of Moosaa and al-Khadr: Imam al-Sa’di

In his book of thematic tafsir, Imam ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di devoted a section to briefly providing some context for the story of Moosaa and al-Khadr which occurs in surah al-Kahf and he then brought a full 32 unique points of benefit extracted from those ayaat

قصة الخضر مع موسى ومحلها في أثناء قصص موسى

The story of al-Khadr with Moosaa and its placement among the stories of Moosaa

وذلك أن موسى صلى الله عليه وسلم قام ذات يوم في بني إسرائيل مقاما عظيما، علَّمهم فيه علوما جَمَّة، وأعجب الناس بكمال علمه، فقال له قائل: يا نبي الله، هل يوجد، أو هل تعلم في الأرض أحدا أعلم منك؟ فقال: لا، بناء على ما يعرفه، وترغيبا لهم في الأخذ عنه، فأخبره الله أن له عبدا في مجمع البحرين عنده علوم ليست عند موسى، وإلهامات خارجة عن الطور المعهود، فاشتاق موسى إلى لقياه رغبة في الازدياد من العلم، فطلب من الله أن يأذن له في ذلك، وأخبره بموضعه وتزودا حوتا وقيل له: إذا فقدت الحوت فهو في ذلك المكان، فذهب فوجده، وكان ما قص الله من نبأهما في الكهف: {وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِفَتَاهُ لَا أَبْرَحُ حَتَّى أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُبًا} [الكهف: 60] إلى قوله : {ذَلِكَ تَأْوِيلُ مَا لَمْ تَسْطِعْ عَلَيْهِ صَبْرًا} [الكهف: 82] . ـ

Its placement is that one day Moosaa (ﷺ) stood among the Banu Israa’eel with a great standing, during which he taught them a great amount of knowledge and amazed the people with the completeness of his own knowledge. So one person said to him, “O prophet of Allah! Is there anyone – or do you know of anyone – on the earth who is more knowledgeable than you?” So he replied, “No,” based on what he was aware of, and out of wanting to encourage them to take knowledge from him. So Allah informed Moosaa that He had a slave at a place of the meeting of two oceans who had knowledge which Moosaa did not possess, as well as intuition beyond ordinary bounds. So Moosaa yearned to meet this person out of a desire to increase in knowledge, so he besought Allah to allow him to do so and Allah informed him of that person’s location and to take fish as provisions. So it was said to him, “when you cease to have the fish, then he is in that place.” So he went and he found him, and that event is that which Allah informed us of their news in surah al-Kahf:

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِفَتَاهُ لَا أَبْرَحُ حَتَّى أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُبًا

And (remember) when Moosaa said to his boy-servant: “I will not give up (traveling) until I reach the junction of the two seas or (until) I spend years and years in traveling.” [18:60]

until His statement:

ذَلِكَ تَأْوِيلُ مَا لَمْ تَسْطِعْ عَلَيْهِ صَبْرًا

That is the interpretation of those (things) over which you could not hold patience [18:82]

وفي هذه القصة من الفوائد والأحكام والقواعد شيء كثير ننبه على بعضه بعون الله، ونذكر المهمّ منه

And in this story there is something amazing in terms of benefits, legal rulings, foundational principles – some of which have been brought to our awareness by the aid of Allah, and we will mention the most important of them

فمنها: ما اشتملت عليه القصة من فضيلة العلم وشرفه، ومشروعية الرحلة في طلبه، وأنه أهم الأمور؛ فإن موسى رحل في طلبه مسافة طويلة، ولقي في ذلك النصب، وترك الإقامة عند بني إسرائيل لتعليمهم وإرشادهم، واختار السفر لزيادة العلم على ذلك. ـ

So from the benefits are: What the story contains regarding the excellence and honor of knowledge, as well as the lawfulness of traveling in search of it, and that it is the most important of issues. For Moosaa traveled a far distance in search of knowledge and he encountered exhaustion and fatigue in doing so; he left his position of teaching and guiding the Banu Israa’eel and chose to travel in order to increase in knowledge for the purpose of teaching and guiding them. Continue reading

“When he reached the setting place of the sun…” : Tafsir ibn Kathir, al-Shinqitee & al-Qurtubi

Allah mentions the story of Dhu’l-Qarnain in surah al-Kahf and brings the following ayah therein:

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغْرِ‌بَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُ‌بُ فِي عَيْنٍ حَمِئَةٍ

Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a murky spring. [18:86]

al-Haafidh Abu’l-Fidaa’ Ismaa’eel Ibn Kathir (d. 774 AH) commented on this ayah by writing:

وقوله : ( وجدها تغرب في عين حمئة ) أي : رأى الشمس في منظره تغرب في البحر المحيط ، وهذا شأن كل من انتهى إلى ساحله ، يراها كأنها تغرب فيه ، وهي لا تفارق الفلك الرابع الذي هي مثبتة فيه لا تفارقه

His statement “and he found it setting in a murky spring” meaning, he saw the sun from his viewpoint setting in the expansive ocean. This is something which everyone who goes to the coast can see; it looks as if the sun is setting into it [the ocean] but it never leaves its path in which it is fixed.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 5/192]

Imam Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee (d. 1393 AH) quoted this statement from ibn Kathir in his own tafsir on this ayah and then went on to explain: Continue reading

Whoever wills, let him believe; and whoever wills, let him disbelieve – Tafsir al-Sa’di & Tafsir al-Shinqeeti

Allah says in surah al-Kahf:

وَقُلِ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّ‌بِّكُمْ ۖ فَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيُؤْمِن وَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيَكْفُرْ‌ ۚ إِنَّا أَعْتَدْنَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ نَارً‌ا أَحَاطَ بِهِمْ سُرَ‌ادِقُهَا ۚ وَإِن يَسْتَغِيثُوا يُغَاثُوا بِمَاءٍ كَالْمُهْلِ يَشْوِي الْوُجُوهَ ۚ بِئْسَ الشَّرَ‌ابُ وَسَاءَتْ مُرْ‌تَفَقًا

And say, “The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.” Indeed, We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire whose walls will surround them. And if they call for relief, they will be relieved with water like murky oil, which scalds [their] faces. Wretched is the drink, and evil is the resting place. [18:29]

Imam ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di commented on this ayah by writing:

 أي: قل للناس يا محمد: هو الحق من ربكم أي: قد تبين الهدى من الضلال، والرشد من الغي، وصفات أهل السعادة، وصفات أهل الشقاوة، وذلك بما بينه الله على لسان رسوله، فإذا بان واتضح، ولم يبق فيه شبهة. ـ

It means: Say to the people, O Muhammad: this is the truth from your Lord. Meaning: Guidance has been clearly distinguished from misguidance, as well as direction from misdirection, as well as the characteristics of the people of ultimate joy and the characteristics of the people of ultimate sorrow. That is what has been clarified by Allah on the tongue of His messenger. So when something has been clarified and has become clear, then no doubt remains concerning it.

ـ { فَمَنْ شَاءَ فَلْيُؤْمِنْ وَمَنْ شَاءَ فَلْيَكْفُرْ } أي: لم يبق إلا سلوك أحد الطريقين، بحسب توفيق العبد، وعدم توفيقه، وقد أعطاه الله مشيئة بها يقدر على الإيمان والكفر، والخير والشر، فمن آمن فقد وفق للصواب، ومن كفر فقد قامت عليه الحجة، وليس بمكره على الإيمان، كما قال تعالى { لا إكراه في الدين قد تبين الرشد من الغي } وليس في قوله: { فمن شاء فليؤمن ومن شاء فليكفر } الإذن في كلا الأمرين، وإنما ذلك تهديد ووعيد لمن اختار الكفر بعد البيان التام، كما ليس فيها ترك قتال الكافرين. ثم ذكر تعالى مآل الفريقين … ـ

Continue reading

Never say, “Verily I will do that tomorrow”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah commands His messenger and by extension all Muslims until the end of time with the following command in surah al-Kahf:

وَلَا تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنِّي فَاعِلٌ ذَٰلِكَ غَدًا  إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّـهُ ۚ وَاذْكُر‌ رَّ‌بَّكَ إِذَا نَسِيتَ وَقُلْ عَسَىٰ أَن يَهْدِيَنِ رَ‌بِّي لِأَقْرَ‌بَ مِنْ هَـٰذَا رَ‌شَدًا

“And never say of anything, ‘Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,’ Except [when adding], ‘If Allah wills.’ And remember your Lord when you forget, and say, ‘Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct.'” [18:23-24]

Imam al-Sa’di, in his book of tafsir, wrote the following commentary on these ayaat:

هذا النهي كغيره، وإن كان لسبب خاص وموجها للرسول صل الله عليه وسلم، فإن الخطاب عام للمكلفين، فنهى الله أن يقول العبد في الأمور المستقبلة، ‏{‏إني فاعل ذلك‏}‏ من دون أن يقرنه بمشيئة الله، وذلك لما فيه من المحذور، وهو‏:‏ الكلام على الغيب المستقبل، الذي لا يدري، هل يفعله أم لا‏؟‏ وهل تكون أم لا‏؟‏

This is a prohibition like other prohibitions, albeit for a specific reason and directed to the Messenger (ﷺ), however the address is general to all those who are legally capable. For Allah prohibits that the slave should say about future affairs, “Indeed I will do that tomorrow” without pairing that with the (mention of) will of Allah. And that is because one should beware of what that entails, and that is: speaking about the unknown future events, which one does not know – will he do them or not? Will they occur or not? Continue reading