Understanding the Qur’an without Asbab an-Nuzul

“Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding.” Qur’an 39:18)

This entry is written to discuss the popular view that ‘without ‘Asbab an-Nuzul’ you will never be able to ‘properly understand the Qur’an’.

It is one of the things that traditionalists like to use as a litmus test, or measuring stick on rather or not one is proficient enough to be able to be guided by their Lord from reading the Qur’an on its own. Let me also say that I believe the science of ‘Asbab an-Nuzul’ is helpful in understanding the context of various verses of the Qur’an.  However, I believe there is a misunderstanding or miscommunication which says that the Qur’an cannot be understood without this science. 

 

My critique of this position will be based upon the writings contained in the following book:

An Introduction To The Sciences of the Qur’an” by Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi.

This book itself is a summary compilation, of various books, that were researched by the respected author.

*do take note*  I have changed the transliteration of Arabic into English from that used by the respected author, Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi, to confirm with more common usage of transliterated Arabic to English.

I define asbab an-nuzul as ‘the means of the descent’ or ‘the occasion of the descent’ and it is generally understood as the ‘occasion or cause for the revelation’.   As the  Qur’an, it was revealed at various stages throughout the life of the  Blessed Messenger (saw). It would also appear that specific verses were revealed to address individuals, as well as to address specific circumstances.

Though I may agree with this premise I do not agree that without this knowledge one is unable to receive guidance from the Qur’an; and thus their knowledge of the sacred text would be woefully inadequate.

However, in the book mentioned above, we find this very revealing opening paragraph.

“The verses revealed without a sabab an-nuzul. Most of the verses of the Qur’an were revealed without a particular incident occurring before their revelation. The primary purpose for the revelation of the Qur’an was to <<guide mankind out of the darkness into the light>> (14:1)”

Source: (An Introduction To The Sciences of the Qur’an” page 107)

As well as this interesting comment:

“Also excluded from the sabab an-nuzul are the histories of the various nations, and the knowledge of the unseen.”   Source: (An Introduction To The Sciences of the Qur’an” page 108)

Now do be careful when engaging the sectarians on this point.  They will often acknowledge this very obvious point. That when the Qur’an discusses historical narratives it is not the subject of the occasion for the revelation to descend down.  Thus, they may quickly follow up with ‘but this is not the case with the life of the Prophet’.

However, we are going to find that is assertion is patently false.

The first book to have been written on the topic of Asbab an-Nuzul

“There have been many books written specifically on the topic of asbab an-nuzul. The first person to write a book exclusively on this topic was Ali ibn Al-Madani (d. 234.), the teacher of Imam Al Bukhari.”

“Unfortunately, this work has been lost, and it is only known through later references to it. See the masters dissertation entitled Imam ‘Ali Al Madini wa Manhajuhu Fi Naqd ar-Rijal by Ikraam Allah al-Haqq, Umm al Qurra University, Makkah, 1984, p.220″

Source: (An Introduction To The Sciences of the Qur’an” page 109)

According to the respected author, the benefits of ‘asbab an-nuzul’ are as follows:

“To arrive at a proper understanding of the verse, and remove any misinterpretations or doubts concerning the verse’s meaning.”

“This by far is the primary purpose of the knowledge of the asbab an-nuzul. concerning this topic, Al-Wāhidī (d. 487 A.H.) said, ‘It is impossible to properly interpret a verse without reflecting over its sabab an-nuzul.'”

Source: (An Introduction To The Sciences of the Qur’an” page 119)

Yet, this seems to flatly contradict what the respected author says at the introduction of this chapter, namely: “Most of the verses of the Qur’an were revealed without a particular incident occurring before their revelation” (please see above for reference)

So to say that: “it is impossible to properly interpret a verse without reflecting over its sabab an-nuzul”  seems to be a bit of an overstatement indeed.

Here is a classic example that you, the seeker of truth, the defender of Islamic secondary sources, the traditionalist can look into yourself.

“That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of  Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor put him to death on a cross-like structure, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not…”  (Qur’an 4:157)

Now go ask your Shaykh, your scholar, or your Imam,  “What is the asbab an-nuzul of this verse”?  I mean it only concerns 1.7 billion Christians!

There is no asbab an-nuzull for Chapter 4 verse 157 of the  Qur’an.

This alone is sufficient to dispel the statement of the respected Shaykh ‘Alī ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi, and anyone who is aligned with this thinking.

The respected Shaykh Ali Ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi was the earliest scholar of the branch of the ‘Qur’an sciences’ known as Asbāb al-Nuzūl.

Here is also another revealing piece of information gleaned from the book mentioned above.

“The majority of scholars hold the view that the rulings from such verses are applied to every case that the wording of the verse covers. In other words, the ruling is not restricted to the asbab an-nuzul, but rather to every case that comes under the wording of the verse. In fact, one of the popular legal maxims in fiqh is, “The consideration for a ruling comes from the generality of the wording and not the specificity of its circumstance of revelation.”

Source: (An Introduction To The Sciences of the Qur’an” pages 117 & 118)

If you understand what is being said in that paragraph than the question is, why the fuss? Why make a big to-do about asbab an nuzul when “The consideration for a ruling comes from the generality of the wording and not the specificity of its circumstance of revelation” 

Allah (swt) has given us very clear principles in understanding the Qur’an.

“Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding.”  (Qur’an 39:18)

“Allah has revealed (from time to time) the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with itself, (yet) repeating (it’s teaching in various aspects): the skins of those who fear their Lord tremble thereat; then their skins and their hearts do soften to the celebration of Allah’s praises. Such is the guidance of Allah: He guides therewith whom He pleases, but such as Allah leaves to stray, can have none to guide.” (Qur’an 39:23)

The respected author quotes an example In which he pleas with us that without an understanding of the asbab an nuzul it would be impossible to understand!

An example is the first twenty verses of Surah An-Nur. These verses were revealed to clear ‘Aishah of the false charges that were used to disparage her honor. If the asbab an-nuzul of these verses wear unknown, it would be impossible to understand what the verses were referring to

Source: (An Introduction To The Sciences of the Qur’an” page 121)

I’m asking you the reader to please read the first 20 verses of Surah An-Nur here:

http://quran.com/24

*note* The author is very careful to say, “it would be impossible to understand what the verses were referring to.”

So in this sense, he would be right if it was in reference to an incident and we didn’t have a report telling us about the incident, we would have no idea whom it would be in reference to.  However, if he is saying without knowledge of this incident we wouldn’t be able to understand the teachings and implementation of the law, Allah (swt) himself clearly refutes such a notion here:

“A sura which We have sent down and which We have ordained in  it have We sent down clear verses, in order that you may receive admonition.” (Qur’an 24:1)

So Allah (swt) tells us that what he is about to inform us about is clear.

The respected author than says,

” << Verily those who accuse chaste women…are cursed in this life and the Hereafter…>> [24:23]  This verse did not allow any repentance for those who accused Aishah; however, repentance is still accepted from those who accuse other women.”

Source: (An Introduction To The Sciences of the Qur’an” page 122)

This is a pure machination on the part of the respected author and all who like him believe such things.

Again, go here: http://quran.com/24  read verses 1-24 for yourself, and may Allah (swt) open your heart and pour in the guidance and light!

See if you found the same verses that I am quoting now:

“And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and  produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations),- flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors” (Quran 24:4)

Does that verse say only Aisha or chaste women?

Unless they repent thereafter and mend (their conduct); for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 24:5)

Does this verse say that those who utter such statements are condemned forever, with no chance or reprieve, or does it say Allah is Oft-Forgiving and Most Merciful?

“Allah doth admonish you, that you may never repeat such  (conduct), if you are (true) Believers.” (Qur’an 24:17)

Does Allah say our fate is sealed or does Allah use strong language and tell us not to repeat such atrocious behavior?

“And Allah makes the verses clear for you: for Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom” (Qur’an 24:18)

This is self-explanatory is it not?

“Let not those among you who are endued with grace and amplitude of means resolve by oath against helping their kinsmen, those in want, and those who have left their homes in Allah’s cause: let them forgive and overlook, do you not wish that Allah should forgive you? For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an 24:22)

Why would Allah (swt) ask us to forgive and overlook mistakes if he was not ready to forgive and overlook mistakes?  Again, Allah (swt) threatens with severe punishment but is ever ready to forgive and be merciful.

“Those who slander chaste women, indiscreet but believing, are cursed in this life and in the Hereafter: for them is a grievous Penalty..”  (Qur’an 24:23)

Again read all the verses in context and see if this verse when read in conjunction with others says your fate is sealed.  Also, does this verse say ‘Aisha alone’ or chaste women?

So let us look at what the author says again.

“This verse did not allow any repentance for those who accused Aishah; however, repentance is still accepted from those who accuse other women.”

(Source: “An Introduction To The Sciences of the Qur’an” page 122)

Is that what the verse says?   Is that clearly what is says?  Does that even make sense that it only applies to Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) and not all honorable women?

Does that verse even mean people who do such without seeking repentance will most definitely end up doomed; especially read in context?

I think that I have more than established the case that we do not need knowledge of the ‘asbab an-nuzul’ for the purpose of understanding and implementation of the  Qur’an in our daily life.

I feel the position of the sectarians is inconsistent and ultimately indefensible.

I leave you with the words of our Creator

The words of your Lord are complete in its truth and justice. Nothing can change His words – He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. If you obeyed most of those on earth, they would lead you away from the path of Allah. They follow nothing but speculation – they are merely guessing.” (Qur’an 6:115-116

Final Thoughts: As I relied heavily upon Shaykh Yasir Qadhi’s work for the critique of this position you should yourself have a copy of this text.  It was certainly a much-needed update to Ahmed Von Denfer’s book. 

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