By Khalid Baig
April 21, 2017
THE Holy Qur’an is the living miracle of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). From beginning till end it contains nothing but the Word of Allah as revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) through Jibreel (Gabriel) Alaihis-salam. It tells us where we are coming from and where we are going. It tells us what will happen after death. It shows the Straight Path that will lead to the place of eternal bliss called Paradise. And it warns us about following the crooked paths that lead to the place of eternal doom called Hell. It gives moral code for individuals as well as states. It gives the Law or Shariah for them as well. It addresses both the heart and the intellect. It educates; it inspires; it heals. It shows the Path and it gives us the energy and motivation to follow it. No one can go wrong who makes it his guide. No one can succeed who ignores its guidance.
Interpreting the Quran requires expertise in several areas. First, one must have a firm command over classical Arabic language including its vocabulary, grammar, metaphors, and idioms. Second, one must know the history of the Quran including where and when a verse was revealed; what other verses deal with the same subject; which of those, if any, supersede others. We must remember that the Quran is the first resource for its own interpretation. Third, one must have good command over the Hadith literature, as it was the Prophet’s job to explain the Quran to us and no other interpretation of a Quranic verse is acceptable in the presence of an authentic Hadith that explains it. Fourth, one must have knowledge of the comments of the Companions and their successors. After Quran and Hadith, they are the third most important resource in interpreting the Quran. Fifth, one must have knowledge of the rich Tafseer literature produced by the most reputed scholars of this Ummah.
We cannot just open the Quran and start interpreting it. Anyone taking this road must be reminded of this grave warning:
Sayyidna Abdullah bin Abbas (RA), reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Whoever says something in interpreting the Quran based on his own opinion should find his place in the Fire.” [Tirmidhi Hadith No. 4023] Unfortunately, today a lot of well meaning people are doing just this. They start, say, a Quranic study group, and start giving lectures on Quran. If the person is a good speaker, he might also get warm reception from an audience that confuses eloquence with scholarship. Soon, they start giving expert opinions about Shariah and Qur’an without having even the minimum qualification for it. Many a time, the audience participates equally excitedly, discussing the Words of Allah and delicate issues of Shariah with the same assumed expertise that is normally reserved for discussion of latest current affairs.
This casual attitude must be contrasted with that of the Companions. They not only knew the language of the Quran better than anyone else, they were witnesses to its very revelation. Yet, they did not dare interpret it without first learning it, verse by verse, from the Prophet (PBUH) himself. And even then they exercised extreme caution in making comments about the Quran. Sayyidna Abu Bakr (RA), said:”Which land will give me protection and which sky will give me cover if I say something in interpreting the Quran without knowledge.” Similarly, Yazid bin Yazid reports: ”We used to ask Sayyidna Saeed bin Al-Musayeb (RA), regarding Halal and Haram. And he was the most knowledgeable person regarding it. But whenever we asked him to give Tafsir for a verse he would keep quite as if he had not heard us.”
They knew that Qur’an declares that is has been made easy for remembrance, but they did not misinterpret it as a license to give personal opinions in areas of belief or law. Their caution stemmed from their realisation that to say that a verse means such and such, is to attribute a statement to Allah! It is our duty to study the Quran. But the only proper way of doing it is by seeking a reliable Tafsir and/or a qualified teacher.