How the Seven Reciters were Chosen: al-Zarkashi

In part of his discussion on the history of the Qiraa’aat (recitations of the Qur’an) in his famous manual of the Qur’anic sciences, Sheikh Badr al-Deen Muhammad al-Zarkashi mentioned the following:

قال مكي : والسبب في اشتهار هؤلاء السبعة دون غيرهم أن عثمان – رضي الله عنه – لما كتب المصاحف ، ووجهها إلى الأمصار ، وكان القراء في العصر الثاني والثالث كثيري العدد ، فأراد الناس أن يقتصروا في العصر الرابع على ما وافق المصحف ، فنظروا إلى إمام مشهور بالفقه ، والأمانة في النقل ، وحسن الدين ، وكمال العلم ، قد طال عمره ، واشتهر أمره ، وأجمع أهل مصر على عدالته ، فأفردوا من كل مصر وجه إليه عثمان مصحفا إماما هذه صفة قراءته على مصحف ذلك المصر ، فكان أبو عمرو من أهل البصرة ، وحمزة وعاصم من أهل الكوفة وسوادها ، والكسائي من العراق ، وابن كثير من أهل مكة ، وابن عامر من أهل الشام ، ونافع من أهل المدينة ، كلهم ممن اشتهرت إمامتهم ، وطال عمرهم في الإقراء ، وارتحل الناس إليهم من البلدان . ـ

Makki [ibn Abi Taalib] said:

The reason that these particular seven recitations became so well-known rather than others is that ‘Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) had the official copies of the Qur’an written and sent to the various cities, and there were many reciters during the second and third centuries, so then in the fourth century the people wanted to restrict the recitation only to what corresponded to the official ‘Uthmani mushaf. So, they looked for leading reciters who were known for their understanding of the religion, their trustworthiness in transmission, having sound religion, well-rounded knowledge, who had reached old age and had been well-known during their lifetimes, and who were held to be upright by all of the people of their respective locations. So, for each city to which ‘Uthman had sent a mushaf they selected one person matching this description whose recitation aligned with the mushaf of that city to serve as an exemplar:

There was

      • Abu ‘Amr from the people of al-Basra
      • Hamza and ‘Aasim from the people of al-Kufah and its surroundings
      • al-Kisaa’i from ‘Iraq
      • ibn Kathir from the people of Mecca
      • ibn ‘Aamir from the people of greater Syria
      • Naafi’ from the people of al-Madinah

All of them were figures whose role as a leader in the field of recitation was well-known, who had spent a lifetime teaching recitation to others, and a teacher to whom people would travel from their own lands to study under.

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The Distinction Between Narration-Based Tafsir and Opinion-Based Tafsir: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool, a professor at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca, shared the following brief but beneficial distinction:

التفسير بالمأثور سمي مأثوراً لأن المفسر لا يأتي بمعنى الآية من عند نفسه، إنما يأخذه من آية أخرى أو من حديث أو من قول صحابي أو مما أجمع عليه التابعون. ـ

Narration-Based Tafsir is called “Narration-Based” because the mufassir doesn’t just produce an explanation for the ayah from his own mind. Rather, he takes the explanation from another ayah, or from a hadith, or from the statement of one of the Sahabah, or from what the Tabi’oon agreed on.

والتفسير بالرأي سمي بذلك، لأن المفسر يأتي بمعنى للآية من عند نفسه بمقتضى اللغة والعقل. ولا يقبل إلا بشروط : الشرط ألأول : أن لا يخالف التفسير بالمأثور مخالفة تضاد. الشرط الثاني : أن يكون المعنى متناسبا مع سياق الآية سباقا ولحاقا. الشرط الثالث : أن لا يخرج بألفاظ الآية عن معانيها في اللغة. الشرط الرابع : أن لا يخرج عن معاني الشريعة. الشرط الخامس : أن لا ينصر بقوله مقالات أهل البدع. وبالله التوفيق . ـ

And Opinion-Based Tafsir is called that because the mufassir does bring an explanation of his own based on linguistics and reasoning. But such an explanation is only accepted if it meets the following conditions:

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Benefits of Knowing the Makki and Madani Surahs: ibn ‘Uthaymeen

In part of his introductory primer on the fundamentals of tafsir, sheikh Muhammad ibn Salih al-‘Uthaymeen wrote the following regarding the benefits of knowing the Makki and Madani surahs:

معرفة المكي والمدني نوع من أنواع علوم القرآن المهمة، وذلك لأن فيها فوائد منها: ـ

Knowing which surahs are Makki and which are Madani is one important category of the Qur’anic sciences. That is because it contains a number of benefits including:

ـ1- ظهور بلاغة القران في أعلى مراتبها، حيث يخاطب كل قوم بما تقتضيه حالهم من قوة وشدة، أو لين وسهولة. ـ

First: Recognizing that the eloquence of the Qur’an is at the highest level of eloquence, for the Qur’an addresses each people in a manner appropriate to their condition and circumstances, whether that be with a powerful and stern address or a gentle and easy address.

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The Weight of the Statements of the Sahabah: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool, a professor at Umm al-Qura in Mecca, wrote:

آثار الصحابة على نوعين: النوع الأول: أثر عن الصحابي له حكم الرفع، فهو وإن كان موقوفًا على الصحابي سندًا إلا أنَّه مرفوع حكمًا، إمَّا لكونه مما لا مجال للرأي والاجتهاد فيه. وإمَّا لكونه في قضية من قضايا التعبد، وإمَّا لكونه مما لم يأتِ خلافه عن الصحابة، إمَّا لكونه قد انعقد الإجماع عليه، وإمَّا لكونه في تفسير آية، وإمَّا لكونه جاء على هيئة قراءة تخالف الرسم وهي المسماة عند علماء القراءات القراءة الشاذة عند بعضهم، وإمَّا لكونه في بيان سبب النزول؛ فهذه آثار الصحابة لها حكم الرفع، إهمالها إهمال جزء من أحاديث الرسول -صلى الله عليه وسلم-. ـ

The statements of the Sahabah can be divided into two types:

The first type is a statement of one of the Sahabah that is treated as if it were a statement of the Prophet. So even though its chain of narration ends at the companion, it is still treated is if it were relayed from the Prophet.

This is either because the topic of the statement is one which does not allow for any personal opinion or independent scholarly declarations.

Or because it is dealing with an issue of worship.

Or because there is no statement to the contrary on this topic from any of the Sahabah.

Or because this is a topic which the Sahabah held consensus on.

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Parsing Out Multiple Explanations for a Single Ayah: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool, a professor at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca, wrote the following on one of his social media accounts:

قال : في تفسير هذه الآية عشرون قولا. ـ

Someone might say: There are twenty different explanations of this particular ayah.

قلت : وظيفتك أمام ذلك تتلخص في النقاط الآتية: ـ

I would say: When faced with this, your task is to simplify it through the following steps:

أولا: استبعاد الأقوال التي لا اعتبار لها. ـ

First: Remove any explanations that do not carry any weight.

ثانيا : الجمع بين الأقوال المتداخلة، فلو استبعدت الأقوال التي لا اعتبار لها، وبقي من العشرين مثلا: خمسة عشر قولا، انظر في هذه الأقوال ، وادمج الأقوال المتداخلة، فقد تنتهي إلى سبعة أقوال فقط. ـ

Second: Consolidate the overlapping explanations.

If you were to remove the explanations which did not carry any weight, then out of the original twenty, perhaps fifteen would still remain. So consider these remaining explanations and consolidate the overlapping explanation, at which point you might end up with only seven explanations.

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Supposed Disagreements in the Tafsir of the Sahabah: al-Zarkashi

While discussing the place of the statements of the sahabah and tabi’oon in understanding the Qur’an in his famous handbook to the Qur’anic sciences, the great scholar Badr al-Deen al-Zarkashi paused to alert his readers the following important point:

يكثر في معنى الآية أقوالهم واختلافهم ، ويحكيه المصنفون للتفسير بعبارات متباينة الألفاظ ، ويظن من لا فهم عنده أن في ذلك اختلافا فيحكيه أقوالا ، وليس كذلك ، بل يكون كل واحد منهم ذكر معنى ظهر من الآية ، وإنما اقتصر عليه لأنه أظهر عند ذلك القائل ، أو لكونه أليق بحال السائل . وقد يكون بعضهم يخبر عن الشيء بلازمه ونظيره ، والآخر بمقصوده وثمرته ، والكل يؤول إلى معنى واحد غالبا ، والمراد الجميع ، فليتفطن لذلك ؛ ولا يفهم من اختلاف العبارات اختلاف المرادات ، كما قيل : عباراتنا شتى وحسنك واحد وكل إلى ذاك الجمال يشير

There may be several different statements from the sahabah regarding the meaning of a single ayah and the authors of the books of tafsir may relay them with various different wordings. Someone without understanding might think that there were conflicting opinions and so the author has relayed the various positions, but that is not actually the case.

Actually, each one of these statements may mention a particular meaning present in the ayah, and the speaker only limited himself to the particular meaning he mentioned because it was the clearest or most immediate meaning to him or perhaps because that meaning was most fitting in relation to whomever inquired about the meaning.

It is also possible that one of the sahabah spoke about an implication or corollary meaning of an ayah while another spoke about its core message or its fruits.

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Transmitted Explanations and Linguistic Explanations of the Qur’an: ibn Hajr

In his chapter on Tafsir in his famous Saheeh collection, Imam al-Bukhari brought the following three hadith narrations in the following order in his section on the tafsir of surah al-Kawthar:

حَدَّثَنَا آدَمُ، حَدَّثَنَا شَيْبَانُ، حَدَّثَنَا قَتَادَةُ، عَنْ أَنَسٍ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ لَمَّا عُرِجَ بِالنَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِلَى السَّمَاءِ قَالَ ‏ “‏ أَتَيْتُ عَلَى نَهَرٍ حَافَتَاهُ قِبَابُ اللُّؤْلُؤِ مُجَوَّفًا فَقُلْتُ مَا هَذَا يَا جِبْرِيلُ قَالَ هَذَا الْكَوْثَرُ ‏”‏‏.‏ ـ

Anas reported that after the Prophet was taken up to the heavens, he said, “I came upon a river the banks of which were made of tents of hollow pearls. I asked Jibril. ‘What is this? He replied, ‘This is al-Kawthar.'”

حَدَّثَنَا خَالِدُ بْنُ يَزِيدَ الْكَاهِلِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا إِسْرَائِيلُ، عَنْ أَبِي إِسْحَاقَ، عَنْ أَبِي عُبَيْدَةَ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ ـ رضى الله عنها ـ قَالَ سَأَلْتُهَا عَنْ قَوْلِهِ تَعَالَى ‏{‏إِنَّا أَعْطَيْنَاكَ الْكَوْثَرَ‏}‏ قَالَتْ نَهَرٌ أُعْطِيَهُ نَبِيُّكُمْ صلى الله عليه وسلم شَاطِئَاهُ عَلَيْهِ دُرٌّ مُجَوَّفٌ آنِيَتُهُ كَعَدَدِ النُّجُومِ‏.‏ رَوَاهُ زَكَرِيَّاءُ وَأَبُو الأَحْوَصِ وَمُطَرِّفٌ عَنْ أَبِي إِسْحَاقَ‏.‏ ـ

Abu ‘Ubaydah said: I asked A’ishah about Allah’s statement

‏إِنَّا أَعْطَيْنَاكَ الْكَوْثَرَ

Indeed, We have given you al-Kawthar [108:1]

She replied, ” It is a river which has been given to your Prophet on the banks of which there are hollow pearls and its vessels are as numberless as the stars.” Continue reading

The Place of Asbab al-Nuzool in Understanding an Ayah: Sheikh ‘Abdullah al-Awaaji

The following question was posed to sheikh ‘Abdullah al-‘Awaaji, former professor of Tafsir at the Islamic University of al-Madinah:

س/ أريد حفظ القرآن. ما أفضل كتاب تفسير يجمع بين فهم المعاني ومعرفة سبب النزول ومعرفة الألفاظ الغريبة؟ ـ

Question: I would like to memorize the Qur’an; what is the best book of tafsir which includes an understanding of the messages, information about the asbab al-nuzool – circumstances surrounding the revelation – and teaching the unfamiliar vocabulary?

ج/ أما الأسباب فليس كلها يحتاج إليه في فهم المعنى؛ والصحيح الصريح الذي في حكم المرفوع منها نادر أصلاً ؛ نعم قد يحتاج اليها فيما وراء ذلك، ولا ننكر أن عدداً قليلاً جدا من أسباب النزول ضروري لفهم المعنى لكن صحيحه الصريح الحجة الضروري لفهم المعنى لا يتجاوز عشرة أسباب . ـ

Response: Regarding asbab al-nuzool, not everything in that vein is necessary for understanding the meaning of an ayah.

For starters, the authentically transmitted and explicit narrations regarding asbab al-nuzool which hold the same weight as a Prophetic hadith are very rare. Of course other reports that do not meet those standards may still be needed.

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Who named the Surahs?: 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:

السؤال الثاني: من هو الذي سمى سور القرآن الكريم هل هو الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلم أم ماذا؟ ـ

Question 2: Who was it that named the surahs of the Qur’an – was it the Messenger (ﷺ) or others?

الحمد لله وحده ، والصلاة والسلام على رسوله وآله وصحبه ، وبعد: ـ
الجواب: لا نعلم نصا عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يدل على تسمية السور جميعها ، ولكن ورد في بعض الأحاديث الصحيحة تسمية بعضها من النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم كالبقرة وآل عمران ، أما بقية السور فالأظهر أن تسميتها وقعت من الصحابة رضي الله عنهم . ـ
وبالله التوفيق وصلى الله على نبينا محمد وآله وصحبه وسلم . ـ

All praise belongs to Allah alone, and may peace and blessings be upon His Messenger, as well as the Messenger’s family and companions.

Response: We do not know of any text from Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) indicating that he named all of the surahs, however there are a number of authentic narrations in which names of certain surahs are transmitted from the Prophet (ﷺ), such as al-Baqarah and Aal ‘Imraan. As for the rest of the surahs whose names cannot be traced back to the Prophet, what seems to be the case is that their names came from the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them). Continue reading

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