Introduction to Qur'anic Studies - 5
July 3, 2013
AMDA, Sterling Heights, MI
الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على سيد المرسلين وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين فَأعُوْذُ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشَيْطَانِ الرَّجِيم بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم
رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي
Continuing with our discussions on introduction of the Qur’an, today’s lecture is the fifth and last in the series of lectures on the subject ‘Introduction to the Qur’an’. Last week, we discussed
Muhkamat & Mutashabihat: The Muhkamat are those ayaat that are clear and precise in meaning while the Mutashabihat are those that are allegorical, i.e., metaphorical.
Asbab al-Nuzul: It is a discipline in which reasons and circumstances which may have led to the revelations of Qur’anic ayaat, and surahs are studied.
Makkan and Madinan Revelations: A knowledge of Makkan and Madinan revelations helps develop an in-depth appreciation of the message of the Qur’anic passages and its application in a particular situation.
Today, in sha Allah, there will be a brief discussion on Usul at-Tafsir or the methodology of Qur’anic explanation.
What is Tafsir? The word tafsir literally denotes ‘explanation’, ‘clarification’, and ‘detailed description’. It is a discipline which deals with all the aspects of the Qur’an in order to explain the divine message. The Qur’an itself uses the word tafsir to refer to explaining something in detail. Allah says,
وَلَا يَأْتُونَكَ بِمَثَلٍ إِلَّا جِئْنَاكَ بِالْحَقِّ وَأَحْسَنَ تَفْسِيرًا
“Every time they raise an objection, We will bring you the truth and the best of explanations” (al-Furqan, 25:33).
Methodologies of the Qur’anic Tafsir
Methodologies of the Qur’anic Tafsir are generally classified into three kinds. They are: (1) Tafsir based on transmission (tafsir bil-ma’thur or tafsir bil-riwayah), (2) tafsir based on opinion (tafsir bil-ra’y), and (3) tafsir based on indication (tafsir bil-isharah). Tafsir bil-ma’thur refers to either the commentary of the Qur’an by the Qur’an itself, or the explanation of the Qur’an by the Sunnah of the Prophet or the explanation of the Qur’an based on what has been transmitted by the companions. Let us understand this through a few examples.
Explanation of the Qur’an by the Qur’an
The first ayah of Surat al-Ma’idah says,
أُحِلَّتْ لَكُم بَهِيمَةُ الْأَنْعَامِ إِلَّا مَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ
“Livestock animals are lawful as food for you, with the exception of what is about to be announced to you” (al-Ma’idah, 5:1).
The explanation of the exceptions is mentioned in the third ayah of the same surah, which says.
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ
“Forbidden to you is that which dies of itself, and blood, and pork, and any flesh over which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked” (al-Ma’idah, 5:3).
Another example is that ayah 37 of Surat al-Baqarah says,
فَتَلَقَّىٰ آدَمُ مِن رَّبِّهِ كَلِمَاتٍ فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ
“Then Adam received some words from his Lord and He accepted his repentance: He is the Ever Returning, the Most Merciful” (al-Baqarah, 2:37).
We are told in Surat al-A’raf what these words were:
رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ قَالَا
“They said, ‘Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves! If You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers” (al-A’raf, 7:23).
We read in Surat al-Fatiha,
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ () صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ
“Guide us to the straight path; the path of those You have blessed” (al-Fatiha, 1:7).
Who are these blessed people is explained by the Qur’an in ayah 69 of Surat al-Nisa’.
وَمَنْ يُطِعِ اللَّهَ وَالرَّسُولَ فَأُولَئِكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ مِنَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَالصِّدِّيقِينَ وَالشُّهَدَاءِ وَالصَّالِحِينَ وَحَسُنَ أُولَئِكَ رَفِيقًا
“Whoever obeys God and the Messenger will be among those He has blessed: the messengers, the truthful, the witnesses, and the righteous. What excellent companions these are!” (al-Nisa’, 4:69).
Explanation of the Qur’an by the Sunnah
Allah had entrusted the job of explaining the Qur’an to the Prophet (SAW). Allah says,
وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“We have sent down the message to you, so that you can explain to people what was sent for them, so that they may reflect” (al-Nahl, 16:44).
The sahaba understood this clearly and always turned to the Prophet (SAW) for clarification whenever they were in doubt about the meaning of any of the Qur’anic passages. In fact, most of the fine details of salah, zakah, sawm, hajj, inheritance laws etc were explained either by the Prophet’s statements called the hadith, or his practical demonstrations and applications called the Sunnah. For instance, when ayah 82 of Surat al-An’am was revealed,
الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَلَمْ يَلْبِسُوا إِيمَانَهُم بِظُلْمٍ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمُ الْأَمْنُ وَهُم مُّهْتَدُونَ
“It is those who have faith, and do not mix their faith with wrongdoing, who will be secure, and it is they who are rightly guided” (al-An’am, 6:82).
People approached the Prophet (SAW) asking him as to who among them did not commit any wrong. The Prophet (SAW) made it clear that zulm here meant associating others with Allah, as is mentioned in Surat Luqman,
إِنَّ الشِّرْكَ لَظُلْمٌ عَظِيمٌ
“Associating others with Allah is a terrible wrong” (Luqman, 31:13).
Referring to the Jews and Christians, when the ayah 31 of Surat al-Tawbah was revealed, which says,
اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ
“They have taken their rabbis and their monks for their lords besides Allah” (al-Tawbah, 9:31).
‘Adi Bin Hatim who was a Christian before his Islam made an observation to the Prophet (SAW) that Christians never worshipped their priests and monks; whereupon the Prophet (SAW) asked him whether they prohibited what Allah had declared lawful, and their followers accepted their decrees. He said, “Yes.’ The Prophet (SAW) said, “This is their worship.”When the ayah,
حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَىٰ وَقُومُوا لِلَّهِ قَانِتِينَ
“Safeguard the salat - especially the middle one. Stand in obedience to Allah” (al-Baqarah, 2:238), was revealed, the Prophet (SAW) explained that the middle prayer was nothing but the ‘Asr prayer.
Explanation of the Qur’an by the Aathar (the sayings of the sahaba)
One of the greatest commentators of the Qur’an, Ibn Kathir, wrote in the preface of his tafsir, “If we are unable to find a suitable tafsir in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah, we go to the opinions of the sahaba, for they knew the Qur’an better than anyone else due to the knowledge of the circumstances of its revelation, their complete and accurate understanding of it, and their righteous deeds. For example, when Ibn ’Abbas was questioned about the verse:
وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا
‘Say to believing women that they should lower their gaze and remain chaste and not to reveal their adornments except what is normally apparent thereof” (al-Nur. 24:31), he replied, “It refers to the face and hands.” On another occasion, after reciting the verse,
وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ
“Those who do not judge by what Allah has sent down are kafirs (disbelievers/deniers of truth)
he replied, “It is a form of kufr less than real kufr.
Tafsir of the Qur’an by Opinion
Free interpretation of the Qur’an based on philosophical, scientific, or sectarian ideas is totally forbidden. The Prophet (SAW) warned his companions and later generations of Muslims about interpretations of the Qur’an based on speculation and unsubstantiated opinions. If free rein was given to any and everyone to interpret the Qur’an as they wished, not only its value would be destroyed, Islam itself would be undermined from its base.
However, if the interpretation of the Qur’an is based on ijtihad (intellectual independent reasoning), without contradicting the earlier steps, then the tafsir is acceptable. But the person or persons engaged in ijtihad should be well qualified to do so.
Tafsir of the Qur’an by Language
With passage of time, words took on new meanings. This natural process necessitated the explanation of some of the Qur’anic words. In cases where words had more than one meaning, then this problem could only be solved by finding some support in the Sunnah. For example, ‘lams’ literally means to touch, but figuratively, it means intimate spousal relationship. The ayah
أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا
“or touched women, and you cannot find any water, then do tayammum with pure earth” (Al-Nisa’, 4:43).
Imams al-Shafei and Malik held that it meant the touch of the hand, though each Imam added certain stipulations to it. On the other hand, Imam Abu Hanifa ruled that it meant cohabitation. However, the Prophet’s wives reported that he kissed them before performing salah, which indicated that touching was not intended by this verse.
Tafsir based on indication (al-tafsir al-ishari)
According to the majority of the scholars, al-tafsir al-ishari is a method of interpretation of the Qur’an disregarding its external meaning. It is also stated that interpretation of the Qur’an is based on indication (ishara) which is perceptible to some knowledgeable and conscientious persons or to the people who possess good behavior and have full control over their nafs. An example is given of the interpretation of Surat al-Nasr by Ibn ‘Abbas who said that this surah indicated the death end of the Prophet’s life on this earth, and his interpretation was endorsed by Umar (RA). There are differences of opinion about this type of tafsir. Some approved it while others did not. We’ll not go into the details of this.
All honest attempts at tafsir must begin with the tafsir of the Qur’an by Qur’an itself. What remains unexplained must then be sought in the Sunnah. If the tafsir still cannot be found, the explanations of the sahaba and their students must then be turned to. That which is left after the preceding steps can be found in the language of the Qur’an.
أَقُولُ قَوْلِي هَذَا وَأَسْتَغْفِرُ اللَّهَ لِي وَلَكُمْ وَلِسَائِرِ المُسْلِمينَ وَالمُسْلِمَاتْ فَاسْتَغْفِرُوهْ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
وصل الله عَلَى خيرِ خَلقه مُحمَّدٍ وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين- بِرَحْمَتِكَ يا أرْحَمَ الرَّاحِمِين
Wassalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.