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

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

The Duty of the Scholars to Prohibit and Warn Against Evil: al-Shawkaani & al-Sa’di

In part of surah al-Maa’idah Allah criticizes a number of characteristics of the Jews, and then says:

لَوْلَا يَنْهَاهُمُ الرَّبَّانِيُّونَ وَالْأَحْبَارُ عَن قَوْلِهِمُ الْإِثْمَ وَأَكْلِهِمُ السُّحْتَ ۚ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ

Why don’t the rabbis and religious scholars forbid them from saying what is sinful and devouring what is unlawful? How wretched is what they have been making. [5:63]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Shawkaani comments on this in his tafsir by writing:

 ثم وبخ علماءهم في تركهم لنهيهم فقال : لبئس ما كانوا يصنعون وهذا فيه زيادة على قوله : ( لبئس ما كانوا يعملون ) ؛ لأن العمل لا يبلغ درجة الصنع حتى يتدرب فيه صاحبه ، ولهذا تقول العرب : سيف صنيع إذا جود عامله عمله ، فالصنع هو العمل الجيد لا مطلق العمل  ـ

So Allah rebukes their scholars for neglecting their duty to forbid their people from sins.

Then Allah says:

لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ

How wretched is what they have been yasna’oon [making]

and this is something more emphatic than if He had said

لبئس ما كان يعملون

How wretched is what they have been y’amaloon [doing]

because mere “doing” does not reach the level of “making” until the person involved has received a sufficient level of training and expertise. This is why in the Arabic language, one says

سيف صنيع

sanee’ [finely-crafted] sword

when its maker has embellished his work. So the word sana’ [making] is well-done work; it cannot be used to describe just any work.

فوبخ سبحانه الخاصة ، وهم العلماء التاركون للأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر بما هو أغلظ وأشد من توبيخ فاعل المعاصي

So Allah is reprimanding one group in particular – that is, the scholars who have abandoned their duty to command the good and forbid evil. And here Allah is reprimanding them in a harsher and more severe manner than the reprimand given to one who commits acts of disobedience himself. Continue reading

The Arrangement of the First Five Surahs of the Qur’an: al-Suyooti

In part of his discussion the munasabat – the connections between ayaat and surahs – in his famous handbook on the Qur’anic sciences, Imam Jalal al-Deen al-Suyooti included the following passage. It mentions the links between the first five surahs of the Qur’an as well as some of the main themes found in each:

ـ [ ص: 226 ] قال بعض الأئمة : وسورة الفاتحة تضمنت الإقرار بالربوبية والالتجاء إليه في دين الإسلام ، والصيانة عن دين اليهودية والنصرانية . ـ

○ Some scholars have said: Surah al-Fatihah is comprised of 1) affirming Allah’s lordship, 2) seeking refuge with Him in the religion of Islam, and 3) protection against the Jewish and Christian religions.*

وسورة البقرة : تضمنت قواعد الدين . ـ

Surah al-Baqarah is comprised of the foundations of this religion.

وآل عمران : مكملة لمقصودها ، فالبقرة بمنزلة إقامة الدليل على الحكم وآل عمران بمنزلة الجواب عن شبهات الخصوم ، ولهذا ورد فيها ذكر المتشابه لما تمسك به النصارى ، وأوجب الحج في آل عمران ، وأما في البقرة فذكر أنه مشروع وأمر بإتمامه بعد الشروع فيه . ـ

○ Aal ‘Imran is the completion of al-Baqarah‘s aim. al-Baqarah was like the a presentation of the evidence for a ruling while Aal ‘Imran is like a response to the doubts brought up by a contentious listener. It is for this reason that Aal ‘Imran mentioned many doubtful matters that the Christians cling to. Also, the Hajj was made mandatory in Aal ‘Imran [c.f. 3:97] while in al-Baqarah it was only mentioned as being legislated. So He commanded them to perform it in a complete way after they had embarked upon it. Continue reading

“O you who have believed, look after your own souls”: Tafsir al-Sa’di & al-Shinqitee

In surah al-Maa’idah, Allah commands the believers by saying:

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 book of tafsir, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di commented on this ayah by writing:

يقول تعالى: { يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْفُسَكُمْ } أي: اجتهدوا في إصلاحها وكمالها وإلزامها سلوك الصراط المستقيم، فإنكم إذا صلحتم لا يضركم من ضل عن الصراط المستقيم، ولم يهتد إلى الدين القويم، وإنما يضر نفسه. ـ

Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ

O you who have believed, look after your own souls.

meaning: exert yourselves in their rectification, their perfection, and making them steadfast in traversing the Straight Path. For once you have rectified yourselves, then those who have strayed from the Straight Path and are not guided to the upright religion will not harm you; it is only themselves that they harm.

ولا يدل هذا على أن الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر، لا يضر العبدَ تركُهما وإهمالُهما، فإنه لا يتم هداه, إلا بالإتيان بما يجب عليه من الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر. نعم، إذا كان عاجزا عن إنكار المنكر بيده ولسانه وأنكره بقلبه، فإنه لا يضره ضلال غيره. ـ

However this does not mean that slacking off in commanding the good and forbidding the evil or abandoning it completely is something that does not negatively affect a slave. For the fact of the matter is that being guided is not complete unless one follows through with the commanding of good and forbidding of evil which that guidance demands of him. Yes, even if he is not able to take action against wrongdoing by means of his hands or his tongue and is only able to disapprove of them in his heart, then still the misguidance of others will not harm him.

وقوله: { إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا } أي: مآلكم يوم القيامة، واجتماعكم بين يدي الله تعالى. { فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ } من خير وشر. ـ

And Allah’s statement: Continue reading

The Qur’an Addresses Multiple Christian Creeds: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah says in part of surah al-Nisaa’:

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّـهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ ۚ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّـهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ ۖ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرُسُلِهِ ۖ وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ ۚ انتَهُوا خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا اللَّـهُ إِلَـٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ ۘ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۗ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّـهِ وَكِيلًا

O People of the Book, do not go to extremes in your religion! And do not say anything about Allah other than the truth! The Messiah, ‘Eesaa the son of Maryam is nothing other than a Messenger of Allah, and a word of His which He sent to Maryam, and a soul from Him. So believe in Allah and in His Messengers. And do not say “three”. Stop! That is better for you! Allah is only one god; exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. And Allah is sufficient as a disposer of affairs [4:171]

In his famous book of commentary on the Qur’an, al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir mentioned the following words in the midst of his explanation of this ayah. These words should serve to rebut the notion spread by some Christians that the Qur’an is confused about Christian beliefs. On the contrary, this passage demonstrates that the Qur’an addresses different beliefs of different Christian sects in different places:

وقوله : ( فآمنوا بالله ورسله ) أي : فصدقوا بأن الله واحد أحد ، لا صاحبة له ولا ولد ، واعلموا وتيقنوا بأن عيسى عبد الله ورسوله ; ولهذا قال : ( ولا تقولوا ثلاثة ) أي : لا تجعلوا عيسى وأمه مع الله شريكين ، تعالى الله عن ذلك علوا كبيرا . ـ

Allah’s statement:

فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرُسُلِهِ

So have eemaan in Allah and His messengers

meaning: believe that Allah is One, singular with neither partner nor offspring, and know and have certainty that ‘Eesaa is a slave of Allah and His messenger. And so Allah says:

وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ

And do not say “three”

meaning: Do not make ‘Eesaa and his mother as two partners alongside Allah – high and exalted is Allah above such a thing. Continue reading

The Meanings of Kufr, Thulm, and Fisq: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

In surah al-Maa’idah, Allah repeats a similar phrase three times:

وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then they are the kaafiroon (disbelievers) [5:44]

وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then they are the thaalimoon (wrong-doers) [5:45]

وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then they are the faasiqoon (rebellious, disobedient ones) [5:47]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee devoted extensive space in his book of tafsir to discussing these and the surrounding ayaat in detail. In the last part of his discussion he condensed some of his main points, which we have translated below:

قوله تعالى : ومن لم يحكم بما أنزل الله فأولئك هم الفاسقون قد قدمنا أن هذه الآية في النصارى ، والتي قبلها في اليهود ، والتي قبل تلك في المسلمين ، كما يقتضيه ظاهر القرآن . ـ

Allah’s statement:

وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, then they are the faasiqoon (rebellious, disobedient ones) [5:47]

we have already mentioned that this ayah is referring to the Christians, the one before it is referring to the Jews, and the one before that is referring to the Muslims, as follows from the outward meanings of the ayaat. Continue reading

Know that Allah is Severe in Punishment and that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah says in surah al-Maa’idah:

اعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّـهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ وَأَنَّ اللَّـهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

Know that Allah is severe in punishment and that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful [5:98]

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di commented on this in his tafsir by writing:

أي: ليكن هذان العلمان موجودين في قلوبكم على وجه الجزم واليقين، تعلمون أنه شديد العقاب العاجل والآجل على من عصاه، وأنه غفور رحيم لمن تاب إليه وأطاعه. فيثمر لكم هذا العلمُ الخوفَ من عقابه، والرجاءَ لمغفرته وثوابه، وتعملون على ما يقتضيه الخوف والرجاء.ـ

meaning: Let these two pieces of information be present in your hearts with certainty and assurance – that you know that He is severe in punishment – whether it be immediate or delayed – towards those who disobey Him, and that He is forgiving and merciful towards whoever repents to Him and obeys Him.

So this knowledge should produce a fear of His punishment and a hope for His forgiveness and reward in you, and you should behave in a way that reflects that fear and that hope.

[Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman pg. 271]

See also: Follow Allah’s Path, and Do Not Follow Other Paths: Sheikh Saalih al-Fawzan

See also: Imam al-Nawawi on Hope and Fear

A Frightening Ayah for the Leaders and Scholars: Tafsir al-Tabari

In part of surah al-Maa’idah Allah criticizes a number of characteristics of the Jews, and then says:

لَوْلَا يَنْهَاهُمُ الرَّبَّانِيُّونَ وَالْأَحْبَارُ عَن قَوْلِهِمُ الْإِثْمَ وَأَكْلِهِمُ السُّحْتَ ۚ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ

Why don’t the rabbaaniyoon and ahbar forbid them from saying ithm and devouring suht? How wretched is what they have done! [5:63]

In his explanation of this ayah, the great mufassir Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari wrote:

قال أبو جعفر : يقول تعالى ذكره : هلا ينهى هؤلاء الذين يسارعون في الإثم والعدوان وأكل الرشى في الحكم ، من اليهود من بني إسرائيل ، ربانيوهم وهم أئمتهم المؤمنون ، وساستهم العلماء بسياستهم ، وأحبارهم وهم علماؤهم وقوادهم “عن قولهم الإثم ” يعني : عن قول الكذب والزور ، وذلك أنهم كانوا يحكمون فيهم بغير حكم الله ، ويكتبون كتبا بأيديهم ثم يقولون : “هذا من حكم الله ، وهذا من كتبه” . يقول الله : ( فويل لهم مما كتبت أيديهم وويل لهم مما يكسبون ) [ سورة البقرة : 79 ] . ـ

I, Abu Ja’far, say: Allah is saying: Why don’t they prohibit these people who rush to commit sin and oppression and those in authority who take bribes? Why those Jews from the Children of Israa’eel do this? The rabbaaniyoon are their commanders, their political leaders and those experts in political matters, and the ahbar are their religious scholars and moral role models. Why don’t they prevent those from saying ‘ithm, meaning: saying lies and deceptive things. That is because the rulings that these leaders made for their people were not according to Allah’s rulings; they wrote scriptures with their own hands and then said, “This is a ruling from Allah, this is part of His Book.” Allah says:

فَوَيْلٌ لَّهُم مِّمَّا كَتَبَتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَوَيْلٌ لَّهُم مِّمَّا يَكْسِبُونَ

Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for that they earn thereby. [2:79]

وأما قوله : ” وأكلهم السحت ” ، فإنه يعني به الرشوة التي كانوا يأخذونها على حكمهم بغير كتاب الله لمن حكموا له به . ـ

As for Allah’s statement:

وَأَكْلِهِمُ السُّحْتَ

and eating suht

Then this is referring to bribes which these rulers used to take for issuing judgements and rulings contrary to Allah’s Book. Continue reading

Allah Knows what the Chests Contain: Tafsir al-Sa’di

In the beginning of surah al-Maa’idah, Allah addresses the believers by saying:

وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَمِيثَاقَهُ الَّذِي وَاثَقَكُم بِهِ إِذْ قُلْتُمْ سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ

And remember the favor of Allah upon you and His covenant with which He bound you when you said, “We hear and we obey”; and have taqwa of Allah. Indeed, Allah is the All-Knower of what is within the chests. [5:7]

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di wrote the following in his commentary of this ayah:

يأمر تعالى عباده بذكر نعمه الدينية والدنيوية، بقلوبهم وألسنتهم. فإن في استدامة ذكرها داعيا لشكر الله تعالى ومحبته، وامتلاء القلب من إحسانه. ـ

Allah commands His slaves to remember His blessings – both those related to the deen and those related to this worldly life – with their hearts and with their tongues, for being continuously in remembrance of them leads one to be grateful to Allah and to love Him and to have a heart filled with His goodness.

وفيه زوال للعجب من النفس بالنعم الدينية، وزيادة لفضل الله وإحسانه. و { مِيثَاقَهُْ} أي: واذكروا ميثاقه { الَّذِي وَاثَقَكُمْ بِهِ ْ} أي: عهده الذي أخذه عليكم. ـ

This would also lead to a removal of self-amazement at the blessings of this worldly life, and an increase of the bounties of goodness of Allah.

And Continue reading