The Bani Isra’il and the Muslim Ummah
[Lecture on the Occasion of Eid at Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama rendered by Hadhrat Maulana Muhammad Manzoor Nu’mani (rahimahullah)]
Translated by Maulana Zaheer Ishaq
My respected brothers and elders, on this occasion I want to make mention of something which I feel is of utmost importance. Therefore, listen attentively.
Those of you who are briefly acquainted with the subject matter of Qur’an either by studying the translation or by participating in the gatherings of tafsir of the Qur’an will know that from time to time, mention is made of the Bani Israil. The Qur’an Majeed is not a book of history, neither is it a story book, but rather it is a book of guidance. Making mention of the incident of the Bani Israil so often is also for this very purpose.
Who were the Bani Israil? Understand it in this manner that they were the Muslims of that era, who not only believed in the Ambiya (alayhimus salaam), but were of their progeny as well. Hadhrat Ibrahim (alayhis salaam) had a son, Hadhrat Ishaq (alayhis salaam), and Hadhrat Ishaq (alayhis salaam) had a son, Hadhrat Yaqub (alayhis salaam) whose title was Isra’il. Yaqub (alayhis salaam)’s progeny are therefore called the Bani Isra’il (Children of Isra’il).
There were a people who believed in the Ambiya (alayhimus salaam). They believed in Ibrahim (alayhis salaam), Ishaq (alayhis salaam), Yaqub (alayhis salaam). During the time of Nabi ﷺ the Bani Isra’il were divided into two groups, those who did not believe in ‘Isa (alayhis salaam), but opposed him although they believed in the Prophets before him. The second group were those who believed in ‘Isa (alayhis salaam). When the Qur’an speaks of Bani Isra’il, reference is made to both these groups. In reality there were of one lineage. Understand their condition that they were like today’s Muslims. We know today’s Muslims accept the Qur’an as Allah’s book and Nabi ﷺ as the final Prophet. Similarly the Bani Isra’il used to believe in the divine book of their time, and in the Prophets of their time. However their condition deteriorated more or less like how we Muslims have deteriorated today.
This was their general condition – as is our general condition. It was not such that during the time of Nabi ﷺ, not even one person amongst them was not on the straight path. In many places in the Qur’an it has been mentioned clearly that amongst the People of the book – the Bani Israil also there were many pious and upright individuals also, as it appears in the Qur’an:
That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud. And when they listen to what has been revealed to the Messenger (Nabi ﷺ) you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of the truth they have recognised. They say, “Our Lord! We believe, so write us down among the witnesses”. [Surah Maidah: 82-83]
In this ayah, mention has been made regarding the Christians of Ethiopia that amongst them there were such upright scholars and pious people in whom there was no pride. Furthermore, Allah Ta’ala mentions their condition that when they listen to the ayat of the Qur’an, they immediately recognize the truth and tears flow from their eyes and they supplicate to Allah Ta’ala saying: “O our Lord! We bring Iman, therefore count us amongst those who testify to the truth.”
Nevertheless, from amongst the People of the book – Bani Israil there were also such individuals who were pious, sincere and brought true Iman but as far as the general masses are concerned, there condition was just as I have mentioned.
In a Hadith, Nabi ﷺ mentioned:
The gist of this hadith is that before the advent of Nabi ﷺ, Allah Ta’ala looked at the entire creation from east to west, north to south, Arab to Non-Arab. Everyone’s lives were totally disliked by Allah Ta’ala, hence making them deserving of Allah’s anger except for the few individuals from the people of the book – Bani Isra’il who were good, upright people, whom Allah Ta’ala was pleased with.
At another juncture in the Qur’an, Allah Ta’ala says:
And (remember) when we took a covenant from the Bani Israil, (saying): Worship none but Allah (alone) and be dutiful and good to parents, and to relatives, and ro orphans and the poor, and speak good to people, and perform Salah and give Zakah. Then you turned away, except a few of you, while you showing aversion. [Surah Baqarah: 83]
In this ayah, Allah Ta’ala makes mention of those major commands which He commanded the Bani Israil with, such as Tawhid (the belief in the Oneness of Allah Ta’ala), to be kind to parents, relatives, orphans, to fulfil the rights of the needy. He also told them to talk kindly to all human kind without exception, to establish Salah (prayer) and to give Zakah.
As you may have already realized, these are the fundamental principles and teachings on which emphasis was placed in the teachings of every Nabi and divine book of Allah Ta’ala. The fundamental teachimgs of the Qur’an and the Shari’ah which Nabi ﷺ brought are the very same. The Bani Israil also received these basic teachings, but what happened thereafter?? Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala says:
Thereafter (after a few days) you turned away from these fundamental teachings except for a few individuals from amongst you. [Surah Baqarah: 83]
The Qur’an did not say that you, in general rejected and became renegades (to leave your religion and opt for another), but the Qur’an mentions that your general condition became such that you had no connection left with these teachings whilst you did not verbally falsify or reject. This was the condition of your general masses, though amongst you there were few individuals who were not involved in this general deterioration.
The Qur’an has also emphasised, along with these fundamental principles, that the Bani Israil should not kill one another unjustly, nor should they exile one another from their homes without a good reason. Thereafter the Qur’an clearly mentions that just as they turned away from the fundamental principles, they in exactly the same manner turned away from the other special commands from Allah Ta’ala. However, they practiced on a small portion of the special commands of Allah Ta’ala, in which they saw some personal or national benefit and overlooked the vast majority of Allah’s commands. The Qur’an has drawn a picture of this misconduct of theirs in the following words:
Has your condition become such that you obey some of Allah’s commands and reject others. [Surah Baqarah: 85]
In other words, you treat some commands of Allah Ta’ala as a Mu’min (believer) would treat them and with others you treat the commands as a Kafir (disbeliever) would treat them.
You and I should ponder deeply. Allah Ta’ala regards those commands which are practiced upon as ‘Iman’ (belief) and those commands which are not practiced as Kufr (disbelief). In other words, not practicing upon Allah’s commands is tantamount to Kufr (disbelief) even though a person verbally says he believes. From this we understand what the real Iman is upon in which Allah Ta’ala’s promises are based and what is that actually Kufr upon which Allah Ta’ala severe punishment are based in this world and the hereafter.
The Qur’an informs the Bani Israil of the severe punishment of this behaviour of theirs. Allah Azza Wa Jal says:
Then what is the recompense of those who do among you, except disgrace in the life of this world and on the day of resurrection they shall be condemned to the most grievous torment. And Allah Ta’ala is not unaware of what you do. [Surah Baqarah:85]
That nation whose condition is such that majority of its followers practice on some commands of Allah Ta’ala and breaks most commands, what can its end result be except that in this world it will be afflicted with perpetual disgrace. Thereafter, their matter will not be completed but rather on the Day of Resurrection they will face an extremely severe punishment.
Now I wish to tell you that after mentioning the condition of Bani Israil and being informed of their history, in reality a mirror has been placed in front of us and as if we have been told that keep on assessing your condition in this mirror and understand well that before you there was a nation who like you were the Muslims of their era and believed in the Ambiya (alayhimus salaam). For a few days they thread on the correct path and Allah’s mercies and blessings enshrouded them.
However, gradually their condition became such that the majority practically turned away from most of the commands of Allah Ta’ala. As a result according to the law of Allah Ta’ala all mercies and blessings were snatched away and disgrace and humiliation took their place.
Therefore understand this well that the day your general condition becomes like the Bani Israil, your end result will be exactly the same as theirs. What was the Bani Israil’s end result? At other junctures in the Qur’an much more details are mentioned. At one place Allah Ta’ala says:
So, when the promise came of the first of the two, we sent against you slaves of Ours given to terrible warfare. They entered the very innermost part of your homes. And it was a promise fulfilled.
In this Ayah, Allah Ta’ala clearly states that when the Bani Israil violated the commandments of Allah Ta’ala and chose the path of evil and corruption, we placed over them some of our powerful slaves. Who were these powerful slaves? They were not some pious, Allah fearing people but rather the worst of the disbelievers and arrogant people. However sometimes when a person wants to punish and diagrace someone, then the bhangis (scavengers) are called to beat him up, in order to disgrace him.
The Qur’an tells us that when the Bani Israil, who were the children of the Ambiya (alayhimus salaam) broke the commands of Allah Ta’ala and started living according to their desires and passions, Allah placed such disbelievers over them, who were oppressive, unjust, hard hearted and merciless. What did these unjust disbelievers do to the Bani Israil? The Qur’an tells us that city after city, village after village and town after town was completely and totally destroyed. They looted houses, set fire to them, killed, murdered and butchered people. Not only that but it is also recorded in the history of the Bani Israil that the oppressors took the copies of the book of Allah (Taurat) and burnt it in front of their eyes. So besides losing wealth and property, their Deen and spirituality was also destroyed.
My respected elders and brothers! Just as was mentioned, you and I need to assess ourselves in front of this mirror of the Bani Israil and take stock of our lives. By means of the final book, the Qur’an and the final Prophet, Nabi ﷺ, those guidlines and commands which we have been given are the very same guidline and commands which the previous nations used to receive by means of every Nabi, among which the very first is Tauhid. What is Tauhid? Tauhid is not only reciting the kalimah with our tongues. Tauhid is actually a reality; a condition and conviction of the heart. Conviction that Allah Ta’ala, who is alone and has no partners, is the only deity and owner of everything and to worship him alone, to have hope only in Him and to fear only Him. To have firm belief that in this entire system of the universe, only Allah’s commands makes everything happen and nothing happens without His command. Death is only in his hands. Life is only in His hands. Sickness is only in His hands. Honour and disgrace is also only in His hands. Hence worship and submission is only for Him and Du’a is to be made only unto him. To submit only to Him and to love only Him. This is Tauhid. To deviate even a little from this cannot be rolerated by Allah Ta’ala. In fact, to turn our attention even for one moment away from Allah to some other being will never be tolerated by Allah. Let alone thinking that some pious living saint or some saint who has left this world can help in any way, whether it will be in that barakah (blessings) will be received through him in my business, or a court case would be won, or I will receive children. So I swear by Allah Azza Wa Jal, this is clear and open shirk (ascribing partners) with Allah Ta’ala.
After Tauhid the most emphasised commands of Allah are Salah and Zakah. Those people who know and understand the tone and language of the Qur’an and know the status these actions hold which Rasulullah explained to the Sahabah (radhiyallahu anhum) and which they understood, they will know that without Salah and Zakah a person cannot be a true believer. With whatever amount of sincerity and importance a Muslim will practice on these two commands, accordingly the light of Iman will enter his hearts and effect of Islam will enter his actions. Regarding Salah, understand this also that just to perform Salah and only read it is insufficient. Rather it is also necessary that the effort should be made to perform the best Salah. The inner and outer aspects of our Salah should gain some similarity with the Salah of Nabi. We should find out from the Ulama in our towns how Nabi ﷺ performed Salah, how his ruku, sajdah, qirat was etc. What was the condition of his heart, on what should we contemplate whilst recting Surah Fatihah or whilst reciting tasbeeh in ruku’ or sajdah?
My dear brothers and elders! To make this effort concerning Salah is Fard (compulsory) upon us. If whilst endeavouring to perform Salah correctly and perfectly we pass away then whatever deficiency remains in our Salah, Allah Ta’ala will forgive us. If there is no effort at all to correct and perfect our Salah then we will have to suffer a great loss.
Concerning Zakah, Nabi ﷺ took an oath and said that Zakah will never ever decrease a person’s wealth. Now, on the one hand is the word of Rasulullah ﷺ and on the other hand is Shaytan’s evil whispering to us that if you give Zakah you will be losing so much wealth. Now let us think for ourselves; do we have more conviction in the words of Rasulullah ﷺ or in our greatest enemy Shaytan’s lies and deception.
Therefore respected friends, inform those ulama’ who are close to you regarding your financial condition and ask them whether Zakah is fard (obligatory) on you or not.
Besides Tauhid, Salah and Zakah, there are many other actions which Allah Ta’ala has commanded us to fulfil such as fasting, pilgrimage etc and there are many qualities which Allah Ta’ala has made incumbent upon us to inculcate into our lives such as honesty, self-sacrifice, kindness, advising politely etc. Similarly, there are many evil actions and qualities which we have been commanded to refrain from. To have concern and to make effort to save oneself from these evil actions and qualities is also necessary. In fact at times these become priority. Due to these evil actions and evil qualities, such rust and dirt become comes on the heart of a person that due to it whatever a good actions a person does, it does not have an effect on his heart and soul.
When one does plating of an old utensil, firstly one cleans off the dirt and rust, otherwise the plating will not remain intact. That is why I mentioned that to make an effort to abstain from those actions due to which rust comes on the heart is sometimes even more important.
Before me there are thousands of youth sitting. I appeal to you, O Youth! O reciters of the kalimah of Muhammad ﷺ! The root of all evils in today’s times is the cinema, T.V and V.C.R. Every form of sin is promoted on it and every evil stems from it. For Allah’s sake, make a resolution to specially shun these evils. I say again, O my beloved youth! I appeal to you, take pity on yourselves, today is a blessed day (day of ‘Id). Today, in fact now, make a pact with yourself that you will not even go near these most terrible forms of evil and filth which not only destroys our wealth but also destroys our health and worse than that destroys our spirituality and our Deen.
Believe me, I take an oath and say that when you go towards the T.V., V.C.R or cinema, Allah Ta’ala becomes angry with you, Angels curse you, Nabi’s ﷺ pure soul becomes restless when he receives news about it, that my ummati (my follower) who takes my name, where is he going to!?
Listen to this also my beloved youth! Whatever sins you have committed, have total regret and ask Allah Ta’ala sincerily to forgive you but do not lose hope. Allah Ta’ala is most Merciful, Most Forgiving. Allah Ta’ala’s Mercy overpowers His anger. Never mind forgiving years of sin, a person may be an idolator and disbeliever all his life, yet Allah Ta’ala forgives him also if he sincerily repents. When a servant of Allah Ta’ala commits a sin and asks Allah Ta’ala to forgive him, Allah Ta’ala forgives him. If he repeatedly commits sins and repeatedly asks Allah Ta’ala sincerely to forgive him, Allah Ta’ala forgives him. Allah doesn’t say: “O my slave! You have disobeyed me for too long, now I will not forgive you”. Allah continues forgiving as long as we continue asking sincerely for forgiveness, and not only does Allah forgive but He loves the one who seeks repentance.
Allamah Ibnul Qayyim has given a beautiful example to illustrate this. After explaining Allah Azza Wa Jal’s quality of Mercy and His Compassion and His Kindness with his slaves, he mentioned an incident of a person who was totally deviated, doing all sorts of evil. He once passed a street where a mother had opened the door and kicked her child out of the house. When the child was out of the house, the mother closed the door from inside. The child, crying and sobbing, carried on walking quite far. Then after reaching a certain point, stopped and thought to himself, where do I go from here, who will care for me, who will look after me lile my mother? With these thoughts in mind, with a broken heart, he returned to his own house. The door was closed. He placed his head on the doorstep and laid down till he fell asleep. The mother came, opened the door, and seeing her beloved child asleep in this condition, took pity on him. Her motherly love overpowered her and she started crying. She picked him up and hugged him, carressed him, kissed him and told him: “O son! You have seen now, who is there for you besides me? You hurt me when you chose to lead a life of evil and disobedience. You angered me against my nature. Now listen! You are mine and I am yours. Whatever I have in my possession is only for you.”
My brothers! This eye opening incident which Allamah Ibnul Qayyim has mentioned is not only a lesson for that one person but it is a great lesson for me, you and all the sinners living in the world. The amount of love and compassion a mother has in her bosom for her children, I swear by Allah Ta’ala, Allah has more love and mercy for His bondsmen than that mother.
Therefore I say, don’t become despondent of Allah’s Mercy. Repent to Allah for all the sins we have committed, show regret, but don’t lose hope of receiving Allah’s mercy. Return towards Allah, lower your head at His doorstep and cry over your sins like how a baby cries. Then see how Allah’s doors of mercy open upon us, then see how Allah enshrouds us in His compassion, how He gives us courage and expands our hearts, how He guides us, how He shows us the correct path, in fact He holds our hands and takes us, how Allah delivers us from a life of total disobedience and negligence to salvation.
My respected elders and friends! We should learn a lesson from from the incidents of the Bani Israil which Allah Ta’ala has mentioned to us in the Qur’an Majeed. As long as the Bani Israil fulfilled the commandments of Allah, He kept them with prosperity, peace, tranquility, happiness and honour and he made them examples for others, but when the majority started breaking most of the divine commands, Allah put a merciless and oppressive enemy to rule over them who appallingly disgraced them.
Now, we should reflect upon our condition in this mirror. Is our condition not exactly the same!? Isn’t there corruption? Isn’t our wealth being usurped and looted? Aren’t our homes, shops, Masajids being set alight? This is all a punishment from Allah Ta’ala, because our majority and in general the Ummah is violating most of the commands of Allah Ta’ala. Allah did not have any relationship with the Bani Israil who were the progeny of the Ambiya (alayhimus salaam) nor has Allah Ta’ala any relationship with us – the Ummah of the seal of all Prophets, Nabi ﷺ. What really matters to Allah Ta’ala is our actions and ways and that obedience and worship of ours which is in accordance to the way shown to us by Nabi ﷺ. Is it not true that most of our brothers have violated and disobeyed most of the commands of Allah Ta’ala. If it is true and definitely it is true, then ponder, what should we do to rectify our present condition?
Whatever happens in the world, ponder, can it happen without the command of Allah? Can anything happen in this world because of somebody’s control, somebody’s power or someone’s intention besides Allah’s? Thereafter ponder over the fact that if Allah Ta’ala decides something, is there anyone who can change that decision? No! Never!
Nobody can change the decision made by Allah Ta’ala, nor can anyone even challenge it. May Allah bestow us with true Iman upon this reality that whatever happens to individuals or nations only happens by the decision of Allah, Allah’s treatment neither with individuals nor with nations is without a system. Any nation who obeys the commands of Allah Ta’ala and follows the way of life which is beloved to Allah Ta’ala will be deserving of Allah’s excellent treatment in this world and in the hereafter.
Therefore friends! Today, during this blessed day, make this decision, make this promise to Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, that Insha Allah, I will inculcate every command of Allah in my life and I will make a concerted effort to revive and establish every command of Allah in the entire Ummah.
I do not want to go into intricacies. The basic commands which were given to the Bani Israil are the foundation of that way of life which is pleasing to Allah. Tauhid, Salah, Zakah, kindness to parents, relatives, orphans and the needy and speaking kindly and being kind to all humankind, these are the basic commands which, if practised upon, the temperment of practicing on the whole of Deen will be inculcated. Therefore make a firm intention to fulfill these commands and make an effort and give sacrifice to establish the entire Deen in the entire ummah using this umumi (general) effort.
Alhamdulillah, we are in a time when this umumi (general) effort is taking place in the entire world. If it is done in the correct way, according to the proper principles, keeping in mind the importance of Du’a, then Insha Allah, by means of this effort once again, the direction of the minds, hearts and temperament of this Ummah will be rectified and the inclination to discard Allah’s commands will be terminated. Then Allah Ta’ala will make the decisions of good conditions prevailing and then whatever effort will be made, its results will turn out positive and effective.
My brothers! What I intended to say, Allah Ta’ala made me say. May Allah make me, you and all the Muslims to practice, so that on the day of Qiyamah, I am not taken to task due to the sin of not practicing on what I preach and so that you do not become from amongst those who who will be taken to task for listening to the talks of Deen, yet not changing our lives.
Now, let us from our hearts, turn our attention to Allah Ta’ala, and make Du’a with this firm conviction that Allah is All-Seeing and Omnipresent. Allah Ta’ala countless angels are present. The Masjid’s atmosphere is filled with these angels. We would be able to see them if we possessed ‘real eyes’. Now in the presence of these angels, make them bear witness that we are making a pact we Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala.
O Allah! We are Your slaves, present in front of You. We bear witness with our hearts and tongues that there is none worthy of worship besides You, everything is only in Your hands and we bear witness that Muhammad ﷺ is your true Nabi. We have accepted his Deen. We believe in You and in Your Nabi. O Allah! Enlighten our hearts with the Nur (light) of Iman. Do not deprieve anyone of us. O Allah! Grant all those present here the reality of Imaan, these elders, these youth, these beloved ones, these brothers. Bless each one of us with perfect Imaan. O Allah! We confess that our lives until now, most of it has passed in disobeying your commandments. From head to toe, outwardly and inwardly, our entire bodies were used in disobeying your commands. O Allah! We are seeking forgiveness, forgive us, we are repenting, accept our repentance.
On this auspicious day, in this auspicious gathering we all make a firm intention to shun sin and not to disobey You anymore. O Allah! Accept our intentions, and make it firm and sincere. Shaytan and our carnal desires and the ones who drive us to sin. Help us against these two enemies. Without Your help we cannot overpower the. O Allah! Make Deen prevalent. Whoever is involved in the efforts of Deen in whichever way, they are concerned about Deen, O Allah!, accept their efforts and concern. O Allah! Help them and enable them to work in the correct way, protect them from all types of trails, and protect them from Shaytan and their carnal desires.
O Allah! Take pity on us, make a decision of mercy to descend upon us, nobody can alter Your decision. Save us from the Firs of Jahannum and merely out of Your kindness grant us Jannah (Paradise). O Allah! Protect us from negligence. Make us not unmindful of our Aakhirah, Jannah, Jahannam (hell), the grave, the day of resurrection. Have mercy upon us during every stage of the Hereafter.
O Allah! Do not deal with us according to what we deserve according to our evil actions. O Allah! Deal with us according to Your kindness and Mercy.
Levels of understanding Qur’ān
To recite Qur’ān without knowing its meaning. Since Qur’ān is kalāmUllah, they will get the nūr through recitation even if they don’t understand it. To know the translation. They understand the vocabulary and know what the Arabic words mean. To have a deep understanding. They know the context in which the surahs were revealed, their connection, relevance, and interpretations over time etc. To have the feelings of Qur’ān. On top of their deep understanding, they also have an emotional connection with it. There are some people who do not understand Qur’ān but they keep crying while reciting it. While there are also some people who know the meanings but they cannot feel it. For example, we all know the meaning of Surah al-Fātiḥah, but how many of us truly feel it during salah?
Allah (swt) says that it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you [Q. 2,216]. We can use our mind to come up with different interpretation for this. But Imām Ghazālī (rah) writes that sometimes a person commits a sin and he dislikes the sin so much that he repents and becomes even closer to Allah (swt).
How can the average man get guidance through Qur’ān?
There are many people in ummah who are illiterate. Then some people can understand it only on the surface-level. The question here is that there are so many people who do not academically study Qur’ān so how then can guidance be provided to the average man?
Our scholars have divided Qur’ān in different topics such as taqwā, haya, sila reḥmī, etc. Different relevant verses are collected on a topic and they are explained in simple terms so people can get the gist of it.
In Christian communities they sometimes have a bible-reading group. People form a circle – then the average man is asked to read and give meanings to words of bible. So these people explain whatever they can understand from their own minds. None of these people are scholars, they do not even know the original language of the bible.
When Muslims use this approach, the problem is that they have no knowledge or amal. And they have a very high chance of failing in doing the right tafsīr.
For Islamic scholarship a person should have mastered several different subjects before getting into tafsīr or translation of Qur’ān.
Ḥadrat Shāh WalīUllah Dehelvī (rah) was a big scholar of subcontinent. Ḥadīth sciences have reached us through him. He states that there are three levels for understanding Qur’ān .
Level of the general public – to know the core teachings for example the basics of beliefs Level of the scholars – they have an academic approach towards Qur’ān and they will understand it on a scholarly level Level of the Awliyā – their understanding is such that they feel the feeling of every word in Qur’ān Difference between Makkī and Madnī Surahs
The ones before hijrah are Makkī and after hijrah are Madnī. There are certain differences in Makkī and Madnī:
The style of explaining words is different. Makkī Surahs are smaller and have more rhyme and they appear clipped – in parts. The audience is different. Makkī is by and large mukhātib (addressing) to kuffār. In Madnī the audience are Muslims. Subject matter is different. Makkī has more ayahs about Day of Judgement, Jannah and Jahannum. They also talk about the historical incidents of previous nations at length. Madnī ayahs are more about aḥkām (laws) like ṭalāq, and ikhlāqiyat e.g. do not raise your voice in front of Rusūl Allah (sws) [Q. 49,2]. Sources of understanding Qur’ān
To understand Qur’ān through Qur’ān. For example Surah al-Fātiḥah says guide us on the path whom You have blessed [Q. 1,7], while another ayah explains that these blessed people are siddiqeen, shuhuda, saliheen… [Q. 4,69] To understand Qur’ān through Sunnah. Rusūl Allah (sws) was asked to recite the ayahs and then to explain them as well. This is waḥī-ghayr matlū (from tilāwah; waḥī that is not recited, that did not become a part of Qur’ān). It means they were not the exact words of Allah (swt) but the meanings were from Allah (swt) and Rusūl Allah (sws) would state it in his own words. This is ḥadīth. In addition to ḥadīth (verbal) the actions, forbidding of actions or permissibility of actions by Rusūl Allah (sws) all fall in sunnah category. This is also used to understand Qur’ān. To understand Qur’ān through Aqwāl (quotes) of Ṣahāba (ra). All Ṣahāba (ra) received the knowledge of Islam on a kāmil (perfect/complete) level through Rusūl Allah (sws). Some of them were more involved in administrative tasks (like Ḥadrat Umar (ra)) while some were more involved in learning and transmission of knowledge (like Ḥadrat Abū Huraira (ra)), but they all had the complete guidance. To understand Qur’ān through history. Scholars will verify the sources of history. Not every history will be considered valid. Scholars do not derive rulings from this method but they can use history to explain certain stories or incidents. Also, these historical facts are not necessary for guidance of people, but just to develop their understanding of a particular time period. Q. If an ayah was revealed regarding some kafir or munafiq, will that apply to us today in this day and age?
Every ayah of the Qur’ān has a general meaning, even though it might be specifically related to a certain person or a historical event. It will not just be for that specific time – Qur’ān is not time-bound. It will have a generic meaning and it will be applicable even in this day and age.
Knowledge based approach: To have an in-depth knowledge of Qur’ān, ḥadīth and related sciences and coming to a conclusion on the basis of that deep knowledge.
Pull quote journalism: To have a pre-conceived notion and then to look for ayahs or ḥadīth to support that point of view.
Muḥkamāt: Certain ayahs of Qur’ān are clear to understand. There is no room for any other meaning. Muḥkamāt means something that has a clear meaning. Qur’ān says that in it are muḥkamāt (verses with precise meanings) — they are the foundation of the book — and others mutashābihāt (unspecific) [Q. 3,7]
Mutashābihāt: It does not mean doubt. It means that it can hold different meanings and each meaning will be closely associated to one another and you would not know which meaning is the intended one on the surface-level.
For example: Allah (swt) is istawa (over) the Throne [Q. 32,4]. We do not know what this means because we cannot fully grasp the greatness of Allah (swt). Some say it means Allah’s qudrat is over the Throne, etc. But at the end they do say that only Allah (swt) knows best the real meaning behind this verse.
But the person who has a khot (fault) in their hearts will go after such ayahs. They might say that Allah (swt) has a physicality like the creation. While what they should have said was: Amanna bih (we believe in this).
Why has Allah (swt) told us of these mutashābihāt? Qur’ān is Umm al-Kitāb. It has mostly muḥkamāt that holds guidance for us. Sifat (attribute) of īmān requires it to be bil ghayb (on blind faith). In Qur’ān at times Allah (swt) will point towards this sifat and what we have to say is that whatever it is, we believe in it. Deviant people will try to interpret it from their intellect. Because they think our intellect has the ability to understand everything.
One of the reasons people leave Islam is because such interpretations confuses them. This problem is becoming more common now. A woman once went to a cafe in Lahore and saw a group of children discussing how to tell their parents that they had become atheists.
One philosophical assumption is that intellectually we are progressing and the human mind has reached the epitome of rationality in the evolutionary timeline and now there is nothing that we cannot understand intellectually. While Islamic understanding is that we have a rūh and our rūh also has a heart and that heart also has an intellect. Recent research also shows that our heart communicates with our brain that significantly effects how we perceive and react to the world.
Tafsīr has different types:
Some ayahs are very obvious to understand. People who know Arabic language can understand them just by reading. Some ayahs cannot be understood just by reading, but to know their meaning is necessary for everyone. Some ayahs hold meanings that are not necessary for everyone to know and only scholars would need to know them. Some ayahs hold meanings only known to Allah (swt). Such as ayat–i–mutashābihāt. The beginning of tafsīr sciences
When Qur’ān was revealed, Rusūl Allah (sws) would tell Ṣahāba (ra) its meaning, then Ṣahāba (ra) would memorize those ayahs and apply them in their lives. Some ayahs would be revealed in response to particular situations. Qur’ān was explained in detail to Ṣahāba (ra).
If a person has a good command on Arabic language, they can understand Qur’ān to a certain extent, but there is also a part that cannot be understood just with language. This is something said by Ḥadrat Ibn Abbās (ra) who was himself a great scholar.
For example, to set limit for fasting, Allah (swt) said that you should eat and drink at night until you can differentiate between the white and black threads [Q. 2:187]. A Ṣahābī (ra) literally took two threads, one black and the other white, and waited till he could tell the difference between the two. When he told Rusūl Allah (sws) about this, he (sws) replied that by black and white thread the night sky and the light on the sky was meant.
Reasons of Prophethood
To recite Qur’ān To purify people (Ṣahāba (ra)) and the teachings of this purification would be taught generation after generation To explain the Qur’ān To teach wisdom through ḥadīth Rusūl Allah (sws) told us the meanings and explanations of Qur’ān.
Scope of Tafsīr
Q. Why do we need contemporary tafsīr if the meanings and explanation was given by Rusūl Allah (sws)?
All the Ṣahāba (ra) had the knowledge of Qur’ān but some of them had more knowledge, because some spent more time with Rusūl Allah (sws) or dedicated their lives to ʾilm. Ḥadrat Ibn Masood (ra) said that there is no ayah of Qur’ān that anyone knows more than I do. If I would know of anyone who knew something that I did not, I would go and get that knowledge from them.
Why did he say that, isn’t that ujub? Because when Rusūl Allah (sws) left, a lot of people entered Islam. Now people could have doubted that since Rusūl Allah (sws) has left, perhaps the knowledge has also left. Ṣahāba (ra) made this claim to let people know that we have preserved the knowledge so do not have doubt that the guidance has left us.
Scholars are the inheritors of Rusūl Allah (sws). It means that guidance and knowledge is still here. And scholars did not just get the knowledge, but also the feelings/kaifiyāt.
Rusūl Allah (sws) made duʾā for Ḥadrat Ibn Abbās (ra) that O Allah give him understanding of deen and teach him interpretation of Qur’ān. This opens the door to interpretation. The meaning of this duʾā is that interpretation is there. But it also does not mean everyone can now interpret.
There are two extremes.
Some say there should be no tafsīr, because even if you do it you are still wrong.
Mere Personal Opinion (IMO)
The other extreme is the Qur’ān reading-group where lay people interpret knowledge. Even people with surfacy knowledge should not be doing this, let alone people who do not even understand Arabic. Ye jo “apka khyal” hai na this is swimming in dangerous waters.
Some people do convert after just reading the translation. But to interpret Qur’ān one needs to have a lot of knowledge. In personal opinion then we have things like I’m always connected to Allah (swt) so I do not need salah, etc. Interpretation strictly on basis of opinion is forbidden. [ref?] They will end up ruining their own beliefs and that of others.
Well Founded Knowledge (WFK)
This is the in-depth knowledge of Qur’ānic sciences on the basis of which interpretation is done.
History and Development of Tafsīr
At the time of Ṣahāba (ra) there were some writings, but most of the preservation was done through memorization (Arabs had a very sharp memory). The Qur’ān that had been written was compiled after the passing away of Rusūl Allah (sws).
Tabiʾīn were teaching Taba-Tabiʾīn. They were also compiling tafsīr work. Some great scholars from the time of Ṣahāba (ra) had some great students. These Taba-Tabiʾīn started writing down the teachings of their teachers. There’s a sequence of sources that takes precedence in Qur’ānic sciences:
For WFK, first and foremost Qur’ān Then its explanation through Rusūl Allah (sws) himself The explanation of Ṣahāba (ra) Sayings of Tabiʾīn Sayings of Taba-Tabiʾīn The tafsīr and aqwāl of pious predecessors Then on that scholars can build up their interpretation. They cannot say out of the blue that all these people have said this, but in my opinion this is what it means (as opposed to the accepted interpretation). This is what happens in scientific community as well. The greatest of scientists admit that they are standing on the shoulders of giants.
Ṣahāba (ra) had traveled to spread out the knowledge and therefore different groups were formed in different regions.
Makkan Group: Ḥadrat Ibn Abbās (ra) and his students — ʾAtā Ibn Abi Razā and Ikramah (rah), etc.
Madian Group: Ḥadrat Ubay Ibn ka’ab (ra) and his students Abū Āliya and Zaid Ibn Aslam (rah), etc.
Kufī Group: Ḥadrat Ḥasan Basrī (rah), etc.
We are never taught these things in our Islamic studies which is why students have a lot of doubts in their minds later on.
Naqlī ulūm: To quote the aqwāl of Ṣahāba (ra), Tabiʾīn (rah) etc.
Aqlī ulūm: To interpret on the basis of WFK. Not everyone can do it. According to one source you need to know 300 different ulūm before even qualifying for getting into this; in depth knowledge Arabic language, qirat, Qur’ān related knowledge — like knowledge of nasikh and mansūkh, in depth knowledge of fiqh, and those ayahs which ʿulamā have an ijmāʿ on, seerah, etc., etc. Tafsīr is an amānah and demands a high level of responsibility from the scholar.