Tafseer of the Qur’an (Ep.-2)
The Qur’an is the word of Allah ‘azza wa jal-it is from Allah the Almighty. Nothing in it, not even a single letter is from other than Allah the Almighty. Now, for us to understand the Qur’an, it is not something we can do without thoroughly pondering upon it. Allah ‘azza wa jal says in the Qur’an, “This is a book which We have sent down to you, full of blessings, that they may ponder over its verses and that men of understanding may remember.” So, we know that it is blessed, and blessing comes only from Allah ‘azza wa jal. He is the source of blessings. And this book is blessed because it is from Allah and the blessing is displayed when you recite it. You can see the blessings in your life; you can see the blessings in the tranquility you find in your heart, you can see the blessings of the Qur’an and the peace you enjoy in life.
However, it was revealed so that men would ponder upon these verses. And how would I ponder? Well, this is the essence of the science called ‘At-Tafseer’. Tafseer al-Qur’an means, in simple English-explaining the Quran. One would say, “Do I have to have someone explain the Qur’an to me?” The answer is yes, because it is from Allah the Almighty. However, in general terms, everyone can understand it. So verses like “Do not approach fornication”, when I tell this to anyone on the street, he would say, “Ok, illegal, sexual acts are forbidden in Islam.” When Allah says that “Gambling, intoxicants, etc. are all the works of Shaitan, so stay away, refrain from them”, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand this-anyone in the streets, an illiterate, a layman, will listen and say, “Ok, it is prohibited for Muslims to gamble and to consume intoxicants.” When Allah says worship Him and do not worship others with Him, anyone can understand that if you say that Jesus is the son of God or that he is one of three, then this is associating others with God, that this is Shirk.
So, we believe in the Quran. However, there are some technical aspects that need Scholars to explain them and that is why Allah ‘azza wa jal says, “ask those of remembrance (those of knowledge) if you do not know.” Therefore, you have to ask. The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam told us in so many places that we have to ask. Therefore, the science of Tafseer is one of the greatest sciences of Islam. The sciences of Islam are divided into 2 types. The first are the types that are known as the ‘sciences of the tools or the equipment’-meaning, to understand Islam, there are auxiliary or supplementary sciences that are not studied for their own sake to draw you closer to Allah ‘azza wa jal; rather, they are studied to understand that which draws you closer to Allah ‘azza wa jal. For example, the Arabic language-if a student studies Arabic, is he studying something that is leading him to Jannah? The answer is no. We have Jews and Christians studying Arabic. It would certainly not lead them to Jannah. If you study the science of Tajweed, of how to recite the Qur’an, the ‘ghunnah’, the ‘ikhfah’, the different aspects of Tajweed, this is again not meant for itself but it helps to perfect your recitation of the Qur’an. The grammatical and the linguistic aspects of Arabic help too, but again, it is not something that is studied for itself.
However, the Tafseer, the commentary, the explanation of the Qur’an-this is meant for itself. It is a science which leads you straight to Allah ‘azza wa jal). Why?-because it studies the meanings of the Quran, what is not so clear to the people and what is the meaning behind the verses. It studies the rulings of the Quran; what is Halaal and what is Haraam. It explains what happened to the previous generations and it gives you the glad tidings of what awaits you in Paradise. And it threatens the Disbelievers of what awaits them in Hellfire. It is a description of Allah the Almighty. How would we know Allah Almighty if it weren’t for this book, the Noble Quran? Allah azza wa jal describes Himself to us in the Qur’an. So we know that He is Glorified, the Almighty, that He is Praiseworthy, that He is All-Seeing, All-Hearing. We know that He is over His Throne on the seventh Heaven over Paradise. We know that He is the Most High, the Exalted, that nothing is over Him, the Almighty. We know that He is so Powerful and so Great. We find all of this in the Qur’an.
Therefore, the science of Tafseer is the most elevated in priority among all the sciences. Allah ‘azza wa jal has told us that He has revealed the Qur’an for us to ponder upon the verses. So, our first priority is to know what the Qur’an is. And it also gives us a lot of confidence, when we recite the Qur’an and try to implement it; because simply reciting the Qur’an and pondering upon it alone is not something to be praised, if you don’t implement it. So, someone who recites the Qur’an, understands it, and knows the Tafseer of each and every ayah but is still involved in Riba, uses interest money (usury), fornicates, consumes intoxicants, lies, cheats, backbites, and does cruel and evil things, then this is not sufficient.
So, the science of Tafseer gives you the meanings, it leads you to the way, but you have to walk the talk; you have to implement this in your life. That is why the Companions of the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, as was narrated by their students, said that they, as the Companions of the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, used to learn 10 verses of the Qur’an. And they would not go to the following 10 until they understood the meaning of these 10 verses, implemented them in their lives, and had gained a strong conviction in them. Then they would move on to learning the next 10 verses. And that is why it was reported that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar radi Allahu ‘anhu, one of the great Scholars of the Companions, memorized and perfected chapter 2, Surat al-Baqarah, in 8 years. This is astonishing! Because people can memorize this Surah in a couple of weeks, but he took 8 years because he pondered upon each and every verse. And he implemented that in his life. Therefore, it is not only the knowledge that is sufficient, but it is what you do with that knowledge because this is what you will be held accountable for on the Day of Judgment.
‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood radi Allahu ‘anhu said to one of his companions, “Today, you are among a lot of knowledgeable people and few that recite the Qur’an (few Qaris) but you will soon see a time where you have few knowledgeable people (few scholars) and plenty of Qaris.” And this is a fact. If you look at what we have today, we have few scholars and many Qaris; beautiful recitations, beautiful ways of leading the Taraweeh, etc. However, when you take a long, hard look at them, you will find that they are not implementing it; they are not walking the talk. One minute, he is a beautiful Qari, reciting the Qur’an, and the next minute, he is with a musical band, singing and chanting. What kind of Qur’an is this that he carries in his chest? Hence, what ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood radi Allahu ‘anhu said is totally correct, and we have to go back to square one in order for us to get the maximum benefit out of this Beautiful and Glorious Quran.
When we look at the different Ahadeeth, the different narrations, we get an understanding of what we should do. A man once said to ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood radi Allahu ‘anhu, “I recite al-Mufassal in one Rak’ah.” So ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood radi Allahu ‘anhu said, “You do this, as if you are reading poetry? No, this is not the way it should be done.” The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam has warned us about people reciting the Qur’an but it does not exceed their throats. So, what is beneficial from reciting the Qur’an is what remains in the heart and what one takes benefit from.
Going back to the previous issue, what is more important, to recite as many verses as you can from the Qur’an, or to ponder upon the verses? Well, Allah ‘azza wa jal has revealed the Qur’an to be pondered upon, yet reciting it, without pondering upon it, also merits reward. However, Scholars have made a comparison; they said that if you ponder upon the Qur’an, it is as if you have a precious jewel and you give it for the sake of Allah ‘azza wa jal. On the other hand, if you recite many verses without pondering upon them, it is as if you have some silver and gold coins and you give them for the sake of Allah ‘azza wa jal. So, the coins are a lot, but the single jewel is more precious and more valuable.
That is why we have to try to combine the two. We have to try to recite as much as we can, but still have few verses to ponder upon. By the way, we always mention ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood radi Allahu ‘anhu when we talk about this subject simply because he was known to be among the four that the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam instructed us to take the Quran from. One of the other three is ‘Ubay ibn Ka’b. And the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam called ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood “Ibn umm ‘abd”. He was one of the most knowledgeable people of the Qur’an, to the extent that no matter where or when a verse was revealed to the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood radi Allahu ‘anhu would know about it. He said, “I took so many verses straight from the mouth of the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, I took so many Surahs, and there is no single ayah in the Qur’an that was revealed except that I know when it was revealed and for what reason it was revealed.” This is why his knowledge of the Qur’an is so great. May Allah be pleased with him.
So, ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood said, “Do not recite and spread the Qur’an as you do with the bad dates”. Meaning, when you have good dates and bad dates, you usually spread them around so that you could collect the good ones and leave the bad ones. He says do not do this with the Qur’an. You have to avoid reciting it as you recite poetry. You have to stop chanting as if you are reading poetry, without pondering upon it. You have to ponder upon its miracles. You have to move peoples’ hearts with the Quran. And you should not just care about the last part of the Surah. For example, if the imam says in the beginning, “Wassamaai wattariq”, then I know which Surah this is, so I know exactly when it is going to end and I know whether the Salah is going to be long or short. This means that I am not concentrating on the Salah; rather I am anticipating when it is going to be over. This shows that such a person does not have any taste for the Qur’an; there is no pondering upon the verses. What should happen is, we should concentrate and focus on every single verse, so that our hearts would benefit from it. Moreover, when I hear the Fatiha being recited, I benefit from it: “Alhamdulillahi Rabbil ‘Aalameen”, when I hear this, I know that “All Praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Dominion.” So my heart is filled with it, and I am not rushing through the prayer just to get it over with.
The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam has warned us not to be like the Khawarij. The Kharijites, or the Khawarij as they are known, are a sect, a cult, who pretend to be Muslims. They pretend to have good intentions, but they do devastating things that are totally against Islam. Nowadays, we know the Khawarij to be the extremists, the terrorists groups that blow up people, overthrow governments, and give Takfeer to anyone who does not follow their methodology. The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam told us that they would come at the end of time, and that they would recite the Qur’an but it would not exceed their throats; so they would not benefit from it. It is just sounds and mumbling that they are doing that has no benefits or value for them or for the people. And the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam told us that they leave Islam as fast as an arrow penetrates a game or a prey and goes away from it. They kill the people of Islam and they leave the idol worshippers. They claim to be Muslims, but they are killing Muslims. So, their claim is greatly challenged. That is why reciting the Qur’an by itself is not sufficient. You have to ponder. You have to know what your Lord wants from you, so that you would benefit the most and implement what Allah ‘azza wa jal tells you to do.
If you look at how the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam used to recite the Qur’an, you would understand. The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam’s moral conduct was the Qur’an, as Mother ‘Aisha radi Allahu ‘anha tells us. This means that he pondered upon every single ayah and he is the only one who understood exactly what Allah ‘azza wa jal meant by each and every ayah, as it was revealed to him. Hudaifah ibn al-Yamaan, May Allah be pleased with him and his father, said, “I saw the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam once and he wanted to pray the night prayer. So I stood next to him and said to myself that I will pray the night prayer with him. He (the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) began to recite from chapter-2, al-Baqarah (and this is the longest Surah in the Qur’an). So I said to myself that he is going to recite 100 verses from it and then that would be a Rak’ah (a unit).” But the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam continued until he finished the Surah. Then he began with Surat an-Nisa, chapter-4. He finished it and began reciting chapter-3, Surat Ale ‘Imran and he finished it as well-three of the longest Surahs of the Qur’an in one Rak’ah! Not only that, Hudaifah radi Allahu ‘anhu also said that the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam was slow in reciting these Surahs with tranquility, pondering upon them. And whenever he passed by a verse that has Praising and Glorification of Allah, he would glorify Allah. And whenever he passed by a verse that encouraged people to ask Allah for His Grace, Favor and Mercy, he would ask Allah for His Paradise and His Mercy. And whenever he passed an ayah of torment and punishment, he would seek refuge with Allah ‘azza wa jal from such torment and punishment. This is how the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam used to deal with the Word of Allah ‘azza wa jal. And this is logical; meaning, if you have a book of medicine or engineering, you would definitely expect the professor to explain it to you because not everyone is capable of going through it and understanding it cover to cover. And that is why the role of the Scholars is to explain, interpret and comment on these Beautiful Verses of the Glorious Qur’an so that they would draw the people closer to Allah ‘azza wa jal and to explain what is not understood by the general masses and to make the verses clear.
Someone might come and say, “Why do we need Scholars to explain the Qur’an to us if it was revealed for all humanity?” Well, this is a good question. We need this because Allah ‘azza wa jal has created people differently in their intellect and in their understanding. You would not expect a rocket scientist to be a neurosurgeon, because he has his field and that person has his own field. Similarly, you cannot expect a dentist to be an expert in car-repairs, or a mechanic to be an expert in dentistry. Allah ‘azza wa jal has given each person the knowledge that is suitable for his intellect and understanding. That is why this Noble Qur’an, this Glorious Qur’an, has to be studied thoroughly, has to be made easy for people to understand and to ponder upon it. And it should be the number one priority on the list of any Student of Knowledge. It would be unfortunate to see a Student of Knowledge who is knowledgeable about Ahadeeth, knowledgeable about Fiqh, and knowledgeable in different sciences of Islam but when it comes to Tafseer, when it comes to explaining the verses of the Qur’an, he has zero knowledge. You cannot get closer to Allah ‘azza wa jal without understanding His Book. And the more you study it, the more you ponder upon it, the more you devote time to it, the more Allah ‘azza wa jal will open doors, closed doors, for you that you thought would never be opened. A lot of knowledge in the other sciences; in Arabic, in Fiqh, in ‘Aqeedah, in Usool; in every single part of the different Islamic sciences, all originates from and all goes back to this Noble and Glorious Quran.
Now, this is what we will do, in sha Allah, in future episodes of this program; we will try our level best to have an understanding of the Noble Quran. Yet it is not going to be easy and I don’t claim to be qualified to do this. But I will try my level best so that we would try and strive to get closer to Allah ‘azza wa jal and by doing this, we may, with His Grace and Mercy, be entitled to be admitted to Paradise.
Quotations from the Qur’an and Hadiths in this Article are a rough translation of the meanings of the original text!