|Fatwas Source :||From the Fatwas Delivered by Shaikhul-Islam Ahmad Ibn Taimiah|
|Fatwa Reference :||Majmu‘ Al-Fatawa, Part 13, Page 363|
What is the best way for explaining the Holy Qur’an?
Shaikh Al-Islam Taqiud-Din Abu Al-‘Abbas Ahmad bin Taymiyah said that the best way for explaining the Holy Qur’an is by employing the Holy Qur’an itself, because what is generalised in one place is detailed in another and what is summed up in one place is elaborated in another. However, if you are unable to explain the Holy Qur’an in this way, you should refer to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) as it is an explanation and a clarification of the Holy Qur’an. Furthermore, Imam Abu ‘Abdul-Allah Muhammad bin Idris Ash-Shafi’i said that all the instructions and the rulings of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) are the sum and the outcome of his understanding of the Holy Qur’an. Allah [Glorified He be] said: “Surely, We have sent down to you (O Muhammad ??? ???? ???? ????) the Book (this Qur’ân) in truth that you might judge between men by that which Allâh has shown you (i.e. has taught you through the Divine Revelation), so be not a pleader for the treacherous” (4:105) In another ayah He [Glorified He be] said: “And We have also sent down to you (O Muhammad ??? ???? ???? ????) the Dhikr [reminder and the advice (i.e. the Qur’ân)], that you may explain clearly to men what is sent down to them, and that they may give thought” (16:44) In a third ayah He [Glorified He be] said: “And We have not sent down the Book (the Qur’ân) to you (O Muhammad ??? ???? ???? ????), except that you may explain clearly unto them these things in which they differ, and (as) a guidance and a mercy for a folk who believe” (16:64) On the other hand, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “I have been given the Holy Qur’an and the like of it with it” Meaning the Sunnah. Narrated by Abu Dawud in the Sunnah Page 4604. At-Tirmidhi narrated it in brief in Al-‘Ilm Page 2664 and Ibn Majah in the Introduction Page 2
In addition, Sunnah was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) just like the Holy Qur’an. The only difference between the Qur’an and the Sunnah is that the Holy Qur’an has the advantage of being recited while the Sunnah does not have this quality. Imam Ash-Shafi’i and other scholars confirmed the authority of the Sunnah by many proofs, which cannot be elaborated in this context.
In short, the Muslim should try to interpret the Holy Qur’an by reference first to the Holy Qur’an itself then to the Sunnah. Upon sending Mu’adh bin Jabal (may Allâh be pleased with him) to Yemen, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) asked him: “What will be your reference for judgement?” Mu’adh said that he would judge according to the Book of Allâh. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) asked him again: “What are you going to do if you do not find the judgement in the Book of Allah?” Mu’adh said that he would judge according to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). The Messenger (peace be upon him) inquired him for the third time: “What if you do not find a judgement in the Book of Allâh or the Sunnah of His Messenger (peace be upon him)?” Thereupon, Mu’adh said that he would consult his own discretion. Afterwards, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) pat Mu’adh on the chest and said: “Praise be to Allah Who has guided the envoy of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) to that which pleases the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) This Hadith is narrated in the Musnads and Sunan (i.e. Books of Hadith) with good chain of transmitters. Narrated by Abu Dawud in Al-Aqdiyah [Lawsuits] pp. 3592- 3593, and by At-Tirmidhi in Al-Ahkam [Judgements] pp. 1327-1328 who said that the chain of transmitters he has about this Hadith is interrupted. See As-Silsilah Ad-Da’ifah Page 881 This hadith was compiled in the Musnads and Sunan with a good chain of transmission
Based on this, we conclude that if we do not find an explanation of certain ayahs of the Holy Qur’an by reference to other locations within the Holy Qur’an itself or by reference to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), we can refer to the sayings of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all). They know better as they witnessed the period of revelation of the Holy Qur’an. Besides they owned unique qualities, had comprehensive understanding of the meanings of the Holy Qur’an, sound knowledge and good deeds, especially, their scholars and Imams, such as the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs as well as the rightly-guided Imams such as ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud.
Imam Abu Ja’far Muhammad bin Jarir At-Tabari narrated from Abu Kuraib from Jabir bin Nuh from Al-A’mash from Abud-Duha from Masruq on the authority of ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: “By Allah, beside Whom there is no other god, there is no single ayah in the Holy Qur’an but I know the occasion and the place of its revelation, and if I know the location of somebody who is more knowledgeable of the Holy Qur’an than me, I will go to him (to learn from him.)”
Al-A’mash also narrated from Abu Wa’il from Ibn Mas’ûd who said: “When anyone of us memorised ten ayahs from the Holy Qur’an he did not use to exceed them until he knew their meanings and acted according to them”.
Among those great companions was the great scholar ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas, the cousin of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and the interpreter of the Holy Qur’an, who attained this position by virtue of the blessing of the supplication of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) for him. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “O Allah teach him [i.e. ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas] the principles of religion and the interpretation of the Holy Qur’an” Al-Bukhari narrated a part of this Hadith in the Chapter of Wudu’ [Ablution]
Ibn Jarir narrated from Muhammad bin Bashar from Waki’ from Sufyan from Al-A’mash from Muslim from Masruq from ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ûd who said: “There is no doubt that Ibn ‘Abbas is the interpreter of the Holy Qur’an”. In another version from Yahyah bin Dawud from Ishaq Al-Azraq from Sufyan from Al-A’mash from Muslim bin Subaih Abu Ad-Duha from Masruq from Ibn Mas’ud who said: “There is no doubt that the interpreter of the Holy Qur’an is ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas”.
It was also narrated from Bindar from Ja’far bin ‘Aun from Al-A’mash as such. So, this is a sound narration from Ibn Mas’ud who said this statement about Ibn ‘Abbas. Ibn Mas’ud died in 33 A.H., according to the correct opinion, while Ibn ‘Abbas lived for 36 years after him. No doubt, Ibn ‘Abbas must have acquired a great deal of knowledge following Ibn Mas’ud’s death.
Al-A’mash narrated from Abu Wa’il that ‘Ali bin Abu Talib appointed ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas as his successor to organise the affairs of pilgrimage. Ibn ‘Abbas delivered a sermon in which he read Surat Al-Baqarah [The Cow] according to one narration or Surat An-Nûr [The Light] according to another narration and explained it in a way that if the Romans, the Turks or the Dailem had heard that sermon, they would have embraced Islam.
That is why Isma’il bin ‘Abdur-Rahman As-Suddi Al-Kabir compiled the majority of the reports in his Tafsir after these two Companions, i.e. ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud and ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas. Sometimes, he cited their narrations after the People of the Scripture, which were approved by the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “Convey knowledge from me even if a single ayah and narrate from the Children of Israel without being afraid of blame and whoever lies to me deliberately, let him prepare his place in the Hell-fire” Narrated by Al-Bukhari in the Chapter of the Stories of the Prophets Narrated by Al-Bukhari from ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr.
On the day of Yarmuk ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr took two sacks full of books related to the People of the Scripture and transmitted extractions from these books to people, directed by the intent of the above-mentioned Hadith. But these Israelite narrations should be mentioned only for citation, not for deducing dogmatic matters. They fall into three types:
First: Reports whose soundness is attested by the Islamic texts.
Second: Reports whose corruption is attested by the Islamic texts.
Third: Reports for which there is no proof, either to support or to invalidate. We should not believe or belie these narrations but it is permissible to narrate them. The majority of this third kind of narrations is of no religious benefits. For this reason, the scholars who study the affairs of the People of the Book, as well as the commentators of the Holy Qur’an differ concerning these reports.
Among these reports are those concerned with the story of the Sleepers of the Cave, such as their names, the colour of their dog, and the description of their luggage, the kind of wood from which Moses’s staff was made, the names of the birds which Allah returned to life at the hands of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him), the part of the body of the cow with which Prophet Moses stroke the killed man, and the kind of tree beside which Allah spoke to him, in addition to other matters that Allah left ambiguous in the Qur’an. They indulged in such minute details that availed them neither in the mundane affairs, nor in those related to the Hereafter.
However, referring to the dispute among the scholars regarding these matters is permissible. Allâh (Glorified He be) said: Some say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; and (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth, – guessing at the unseen; (yet others) say they were seven, the dog being the eighth. Say (O Muhammad (peace be upon him)): “My Lord knows best their number; none knows them but a few.” So debate not (about their number) except with the clear proof (which We have revealed to you). And consult not any of them (People of the Scripture – Jews and Christians) about (the affair of) the people of the Cave.” (18:22)
This ayah contains the proprieties of talking about such subjects and the proper instruction regarding these matters. Allah mentioned three different opinions about the number of the Sleepers of the Cave. He hinted to the weakness of the first two opinions and kept silent regarding the third one which is a proof of its soundness. Had it not been correct, Allah would have pointed to the weakness thereof as is the case with first two opinions.
Furthermore, Allah pointed out that knowing the number of the Sleepers of the Cave does not avail. What should be said in this regard is “Say (O Muhammad (peace be upon him)): “My Lord knows best their number” (18:22) as very few people whom Allah privileged with knowledge knew about this matter. Based on this, Allah said: “So debate not (about their number) except with the clear proof (which We have revealed to you)” (18:22) i.e. do not trouble yourself in discussing what does not avail you and do not ask the People of the Scripture about such matters as they have no knowledge regarding these matters except guessing at the unseen.
The proper conduct in such cases is to comprehend all the related reports, to highlight the valid narrations, to point out the invalid ones, and to mention the motive of dispute and its positive results, so not to extend disputes and useless debates that distract attention from more important issues.
As for the one who states the dispute among the scholars and does not detail the sayings and opinions thereof, then his narration is incomplete because the correct opinion may be in the unmentioned sayings. In the same way, if he does not point out the correct opinion, his narration is also deficient. If he prefers the wrong opinion intentionally, then he is a sinful liar. If he does this out of ignorance, then he is mistaken.
By the same token, the one who raises dispute about a useless matter or elaborates sayings the meaning of which can be stated briefly, is a time-waster and one who feigns a great deal of knowledge, which he does not really have. Allah is the only One Who guides to the right path.
Hence, if you do not find the explanation in the Holy Qur’an or in the Sunnah or even within the sayings of the companions (may Allah be pleased with them all), then consult the sayings of the successors, as many scholars did such as Mujahid bin Jabr who was very skilled in the field of Tafsir. Muhammad bin Ishâq said that Iban bin Salih narrated from Mujahid his saying: “I reviewed the Mushaf with Ibn ‘Abbas three times from Surat Al-Fatihah [The Opening] to An-Nâs [The Mankind]. In every time I used to interrupt him in every ayah and ask him about its exact meaning.
The same opinion was held by At-Tirmidhi who narrated from Al-Husain bin Mahdi Al-Basri from ‘Abdur-Raziq from Mu’ammar from Qatadah who said: “There is no single ayah in the Holy Qur’an but I heard and learnt something about it”.
At-Tirmidhi also narrated from Ibn Abu ‘Amr from Sufyan Ibn ‘Uyainah from Al-A’mash from Mujahid who said: “Had I read the Holy Qur’an according to the method of recitation by Ibn Mas’ud, I would have not asked Ibn ‘Abbas about the Holy Qur’an as I did”.
Ibn Jarir narrated from Kuraib from Talq bin Ghannam from ‘Uthman Al-Makki from Ibn Abu Mulaikah who said: “I saw Mujahid asking Ibn ‘Abbas about the explanation of the Holy Qur’an while carrying his tablets in his hand. Ibn ‘Abbas used to say: “Write from me”. This continued until Mujahid asked Ibn ‘Abbas about the whole Qur’an”. For this reason Sufyan Ath-Thauri used to say: “If you receive the explanation of the Holy Qur’an from Mujahid, it will be enough for you”. Sometimes the person mentions the sayings of the successors like Sa’id bin Jubair, ‘Ikrimah the slave of Ibn ‘Abbas, ‘Ata’ Ibn Rabah, Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Masruq bin Al-Ajda’, Sa’id bin Al-Musayib, Abul ‘Aliyah, Ar-Rabi’ bin Anas, Qatadah, Ad-Dahak bin Muzahim, and others of the following generation and those who followed them. When a person mentioned the sayings of such people and found some differences in the wording, he who has no knowledge thinks they are different and narrates them as different opinions but this way of narration is incorrect. The reason behind this misconception is that some scholars express the meaning of something through its parallel meaning or its denotation and some others mention the thing by name and all of them are the same. So, let the intelligent be aware of this and Allah is the only One Who guides to the straight path.
Shu’bah bin Al-Hajjaj and others said that the sayings of the successors concerning the secondary issues of religion do not constitute a proof. How can they be regarded as a proof with regard to Tafsir? This means that the successors’ sayings did not constitute arguments against their opponents and this is a correct opinion. However, in the cases on which the successors unanimously agreed, their opinion is undoubtedly regarded as a proof. On the other hand, if the successors disagreed regarding a certain issue, then the opinions of some of them should not constitute a proof to be cited against other opposing successors, nor against any opposing scholars who came later. In the instance of difference among successors reference should be made to the tokens of the language of the Holy Qur’an, the Sunnah or to the general peculiarities of the Arabic language and the related sayings of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them).