Posts Tagged ‘tafsir’

On Abu Bakr al-Asamm

March 3, 2013
Bismillah.  Another interesting piece by Arnold Yasin Mol.
The Mu’tazilah Abi Bakr al-‘Asamm (أبي بكر الأصمُّ) was an early scholar and judge (died 220H/843CE), well respected by the then Sunni caliph. As far as I know none of his complete works have survived, but many tafasir/Qur’an commentaries mention his opinions and interpretations in their works, especially Imam al-Razi, al-Tabarsi and al-Tusi. From their works Dr. Hudr Muhammad Nabha has distilled al-‘Asamm’s tafsir into one volume, which I’m researching now. Al-‘Asamm has many interesting opinions that show that to him, reason/’aql has more authority than tradition/naql, a typical early theological Kalam tafsir approach (tafsir al-ra’y/exegesis of opinion) of the Mu’tazilah school.

One of the surprising and rare opinions is on the place of Surah al-Fatiha in the daily salat prayer. As far as I know, all scholars deem it mandatory to recite it in the daily prayers, although they differ if it has to be recited with every raka’ah. This is also how the tafsir of al-‘Asamm begins before the surprising twist:

(في المسائل الفقهية المستنبطة من هذه السورة : أجمع الأكثرون على أن القراءة واجبة في الصلاة، و عن الأصمّ والحسن بن صالح أنها لا تجب.) “On the deduced juristic issue on this chapter: The consensus of the majority on its mandatory recitation in the prayer. And (the opinion) of al-‘Asamm and al-Hasan bin Salah that it (the recitation of al-Fatiha) is not mandatory.”

Al-‘Asmm’s proof (حجّة الأصمّ) is that the Prophet’s saying (صلّوا كما رأيتموني أصلي) “Pray as you’ve seen me pray”, (جعل الصلاة الأشياء المرئية والقراءة ليست بمرئية، فوجب كونها خارجة عن الصلاة) and this makes the prayer of the visual things and recitation is not visual. Thus what is only mandatory is the exterior of the prayer.”

Further on he is quoted as saying: (وهو أن القراءة غير واجبة أصلا) “And the recitation (in prayer) is not a primary obligation.”

His interpretation of the famous Hadith “Pray as you’ve seen me pray” [graded hasan in Bukhari] is unique in that that the term “ra’ytumuni/you’ve seen me” is reduced to visual observation only, and all the things said, every prayer and Qur’an recitation, are thus not part of the mandatory Sunna of prayer. Only the movements are mandatory, but not the spoken contents. There are of course many other Ahadith/Prophetic traditions concerning prayer and al-Fatiha’s place in it, but the above mentioned Hadith belongs to on of the most accepted traditions among the schools, and thus it seems al-‘Asamm took the most used and accepted Hadith on prayer and interpreted it in a way which makes most of the other Ahadith on prayer unauthentic. Was he aware that this opinion would make all the verbal sayings in the prayer, next to Qur’an recitation, not prescribed in a mandatory way? As the Qur’an nowhere clearly mentions how or what to pray (it only gives direction/qibla, timings, general movements, and that the Qur’an is recited in it without specifying what parts), it may explain al-‘Asamm’s reluctance to make anything outside of the Qur’an mandatory practice, but I’ve to research his opinions more to see if he takes similar stances elsewhere. The Mu’tazilah laid great emphasis on the Qur’an as unique revelation, and saw Ahadith not really as secondary revelation. Ahadith were a source of knowledge and were needed to understand the rituals of worship, but they were not as enforcing as the Qur’an or human reason.

Interesting is that this opinion of al-‘Asamm became his most infamous one as he is mentioned in several works on prayer (Fiqh al-‘Ibadat) as ‘the one who alone believes al-Fatiha is not mandatory in prayer’.

[p.31, Tafsīr Abī Bakr al-‘Asamm, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2007, Beirut]


Qur’an 57:25 – benefits and dangers of technology, by Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss)

September 24, 2010

Bismillah. With thanks to Dr. Ameen Kamlana for this.

The mention in verse 25 of “iron” and all that this word implies (see note 2 below) so impressed the contemporaries and successors of the Prophet that this surah (al-Hadid) has always been known as “the surah in which iron is mentioned” (Tabari).

In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace

Indeed, [even aforetime] did We send forth Our apostles with all evidence of [this] truth;

and through them We bestowed revelation from on high,

and [thus gave you] a balance [wherewith to weigh right and wrong],

so that men might behave with equity;

and We bestowed [upon you] from on high [the ability to make use of] iron,

in which there is awesome power [1] as well as [a source of] benefits for man [2]:

and [all this was given to you] so that God might mark out those who would stand up for him and His Apostles,

even though He [Himself] is beyond the reach of human perception.

Verily, God is powerful, almighty! [57:25]



(1) Or: “potential evil”

(2) Side by side with enabling man to discriminate between right and wrong (which is the innermost purpose of all divine revelation), God has endowed him with the ability to convert to his use the natural resources of his earthly environment.

An outstanding symbol of this ability is man’s skill, unique among all animated beings, in making tools; and the primary material for all tool-making – and, indeed, for all human technology – is iron: the one metal which is found abundantly on earth, and which can be utilized for beneficial as well as destructive ends.

The “awesome power” (ba’s shadid) inherent in iron manifests itself not merely in the manufacture of weapons of war but also, more subtly, in man’s ever-growing tendency to foster the development of an increasingly complicated technology which places the machine in the foreground of all human existence and which, by its inherent – almost irresistible – dynamism, gradually estranges man from all inner connection with nature. This process of growing mechanization, so evident in our modern life, jeopardizes the very structure of human society and, thus, contributes to a gradual dissolution of all moral and spiritual perceptions epitomized in the concept of “divine guidance”.

It is to warn man of this danger that the Qur’an stresses – symbolically and metonymically – the potential evil (ba’s) of “iron” if it is put to wrong use: in other words, the danger of man’s allowing his technological ingenuity to run wild and thus to overwhelm his spiritual consciousness and, ultimately, to destroy all possibility of individual and social happiness.

An Introduction to the Qur’an, The Mysterious Letters & Commentary on Selected Texts and Themes

February 9, 2010

Bismillah.  These documents are based on texts originally written for the Scriptural Reasoning website, to support the practice whereby Jews, Christians and Muslims read and discuss their scriptures together.

The versions here are updated and greatly expanded, especially the 10-page section on the “Mysterious Letters” in the Introduction to the Qur’an.

The text on “Wisdom and Folly” includes sections from the Kitab al-Adhkiya’ (“Tales of the Wise”) by Ibn al-Jawzi.

The text on “Repentance” includes hadiths on the subject from Riyad al-Salihin (“Gardens of the Righteous”) by Imam al-Nawawi.

The texts are suitable for interfaith study or as standalone study of Islam.

0 – An Introduction to the Quran

1- COMMON HUMANITY – Islamic Texts

2- REVELATION – Islamic Texts

3- LONGING – Islamic Texts


5- MONEY AND DEBT – Islamic Texts

6- WISDOM AND FOLLY – Islamic Texts

7- REPENTANCE – Islamic Texts

Introduction to Surah 2 – al-Baqarah (The Cow), by Abdullah Yusuf Ali

August 23, 2009

As the Opening Surah sums up in seven beautiful verses the essence of the Qur’an, so this Surah sums up in 286 verses the whole teaching of the Qur’an. It is a closely reasoned argument.

Summary – It begins (verses 1-29) by classifying men into three broad categories, depending on how they receive God’s message.

This leads to the story of the creation of man, the high destiny intended for him, his fall, and the hope held out to him (2:30-39).

Israel’s story is then told according to their own traditions – what privileges they received and how they abused them (2:40-86), thus illustrating again as a parable the general story of man.

In particular, reference is made to Moses and Jesus and their struggles with an unruly people; how people of the Book played false their own lights and in their pride rejected Muhammad, who came in the true line of Prophets (2:87-121). They falsely laid claim to the virtues of Father Abraham: he was indeed a righteous Imam, but he was the progenitor of Ishmael’s line (Arabs) as well as of Israel’s line, and he with Ishmael built the Ka’bah (the House of God in Mecca) and purified it, thus establishing a common religion, of which Islam is the universal exponent (2:122-141).

The Ka’bah was now to be the centre of universal worship and the symbol of Islamic unity (2:142-167).

The Islamic Ummah (brotherhood) having thus been established with its definite centre and symbol, ordinances are laid out for the social life of the community, with the proviso (2:177) that righteousness does not consist in formalities, but in faith, kindness, prayer, charity, probity, and patience under suffering. The ordinances relate to food and drink, bequests, fasts, jihad, wine and gambling, treatment of orphans and women, etc. (2:168-242).

Lest the subject of jihad should be misunderstood, it is taken up again in the story of Saul, Goliath and David, in contrast to the story of Jesus (2:243-253).

And so the lesson is enforced that true virtue lies in practical deeds of manliness, kindness, and good faith (2:254-283), and God’s nature is called to mind in the sublime Ayah al-Kursi, the Verse of the Throne (2:255).

The Surah ends with an exhortation to Faith, Obedience, a sense of Personal Responsibility, and Prayer (2:284-286).

This is the longest Surah of the Qur’an, and in it occurs the longest verse (2:282).

The name of the Surah is from the Parable of the Heifer in 2:67-71, which illustrates the insufficiency of carping obedience. When faith is lost, people put off obedience with various excuses: even when at last they obey in the letter, they fail in the spirit, which means that they get fossilised and their self-sufficiency prevents them from seeing that spiritually they are not alive but dead. For life is movement, activity, striving, fighting against baser things. And this is the burden of the Surah.

Principles of Understanding the Qur’an

June 7, 2009

… by my father, 11 principles given.