Ramadan Day 9: Tafseer Benefits: The Scholars are Authority Figures!

In the Name of Allaah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful…

In a response to a recent exposition of the Almaghrib Institute and their direction, one of our visitors who has (apparently) been influenced by their teachings requested us to reflect on the Verse of the Quran:

يا أيها الذين آمنوا أطيعوا الله وأطيعوا الرسول وأولي الأمر منكم وإن تنازعتم في شيء فردوه إلى الله والرسول إن كنتم تؤمنون بالله واليوم الآخر ذلك خير وأحسن تأويلا
“O you who believe! Obey Allah, obey His Messenger, and (obey) those of you who are in authority. If you differ in anything, refer it back to Allah and the Messenger, if you truly believe in Allah and in the Last Day. That is better and a more suitable outcome.” [4:59]

The confused advisor assumed that -based on his misunderstanding of the Verse- Muslims are required to return the affairs they disagree about back to the Book and the Sunnah, and not to the scholars of Islaam, and that is one more reason to avoid “blindly following” the scholars. (While blind-following was never endorsed or encouraged in any of our writings in the first place!)

This is one of the common effects of the Almaghrib scheme – that people understand any connection to the scholars as “blindly following” them. As a result, people actually believe that removing the scholars from their lives is better and even supported in the Quran!

Response to This Point of Confusion

Yes indeed, we refer back to Allaah and His Messenger (may Allaah raise his rank and grant him peace). But without the scholars? How could we come to this conclusion?

We do not take one Verse and ignore other Verses! Allaah has made returning back to the scholars an obligation:

فاسألوا أهل الذكر إن كنتم لا تعلمون
“And ask the people of knowledge when you do not know.” [16:43]

ولو ردوه إلى الرسول وإلى أولي الأمر منهم لعلمه الذين يستنبطونه منهم
“Had they only referred it back to the Messenger and back to those in authority among them, so that those of them who know how to extract it (the ruling) would have known it…” [4:83]

And Allaah has even made it an obligation to OBEY the scholars in many matters, saying:

يا أيها الذين آمنوا أطيعوا الله وأطيعوا الرسول وأولي الأمر منكم
“O you who believe! Obey Allaah, and obey the Messenger, and (also obey) all those in authority [the scholars and the rulers] amongst you…” [the first part of the Verse quoted: 4:59]

This person quoted the second part of the Verse in an attempt to discount the importance of the scholars. Yet the first part of the same Verse commands us to obey them!

أفتؤمنون ببعض الكتاب وتكفرون ببعض
“Do you believe in part of the Book and disbelieve in other parts?” [2:85]

May Allaah excuse us! Quoting a Quranic Verse which commands us to obey the scholars, thinking it frees us from any obligation to follow them! Such people are clearly confused in their Religion, and obviously incapable of deriving the intended rulings from the Quran themselves.

In essence, this commenter has given us a very poignant example of exactly why we need our scholars, perhaps more effectively than my original article attempts to do, and for that we thank him.

And tanaazulan (for the sake of argument), if there is no need for the scholars (as some may assume), then there would certainly be no need for the fake ones at Almaghrib Institue either, and certainly no need for people to fork over large amounts of cash for their seminars!

The Meaning of “Those in Authority” in the Verse

Some people may assume we have incorrectly explained the meaning of the Verse, and that “the people of authority” are not the scholars, but only the Muslim rulers. Let us look to two of the most important books in Quranic Exegesis (Tafseer): Tafseer at-Tabaree and Tafseer Ibn Katheer.

Tafseer at-Tabaree

Imaam Muhammad ibn Jareer at-Tabaree (d.310) mentions a number of opinions about the Verse, that “those in authority” in the Verse are:

(1) The Muslim rulers
(2) The scholars
(3) The Companions in general
(4) Aboo Bakr and ‘Umar specifically

He mentions which scholars expressed which opinions. In that discussion, he brings a number of narrations from Ibn ‘Abbaas, Mujaahid, ‘Ataa’, al-Hasan al-Basree, and others saying that “the people in authority among you” (referred to in the Verse) are the scholars. He ends by preferring the first position: the Muslim rulers.

Tafseer Ibn Katheer

Imaam Ibn Katheer (d.774) mentions that some scholars understood the people of authority to be the rulers, while others understood them to be the scholars. He concludes:

والظاهر -والله أعلم-أن الآية في جميع أولي الأمر من الأمراء والعلماء، كما تقدم. وقد قال تعالى: {لولا ينهاهم الربانيون والأحبار عن قولهم الإثم وأكلهم السحت} [المائدة:63] وقال تعالى: {فاسألوا أهل الذكر إن كنتم لا تعلمون} [النحل:43] وفي الحديث الصحيح المتفق عليه، عن أبي هريرة، عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أنه قال: “من أطاعني فقد أطاع الله، ومن عصاني فقد عصا الله، ومن أطاع أميري فقد أطاعني، ومن عصا أميري فقد عصاني”. فهذه أوامر بطاعة العلماء والأمراء
What seems apparent -and Allaah knows best- is that the Verse refers to all authorities, both the rulers and the scholars, as has preceded. Allaah has said [what means]: “Why do the firmly-grounded scholars and priests not forbid them from their sinful statements and their devouring of evil things (immoral transactions, oppressive earnings).” [5:62] And Allaah has said [what means]: “Then ask the people of knowledge when you do not know.” [16:43] And in the authentic hadeeth which is agreed upon, from the narration of Aboo Hurayrah, who related that the Messenger of Allaah -may Allaah raise his rank and grant him peace- said [what means]: “Whoever obeys me has obeyed Allaah, and whoever disobeys me has disobeyed Allaah. Whoever obeys my ameer (appointed leader) has obeyed me, and whoever disobeys my ameer has disobeyed me.” These are orders to obey both the scholars and the rulers.

These are two of the most important staple books of Quranic Interpretation. Of course, this same discussion can be found in the many other books of Tafseer as well.

A Clear Verse in Support of the Scholars Being Authority Figures

The Statement of Allaah describing “the people of authority” can be used to help understand that indeed the scholars are people of authority:

ولو ردوه إلى الرسول وإلى أولي الأمر منهم لعلمه الذين يستنبطونه منهم
“Had they only returned it (the affair) back to the Messenger and back to those in authority among them, those of them who could derive rulings about it would know it (what is correct)…” [4:83]

Those in authority: according to this Verse are those who are capable of making istinbaat (extracting the correct rulings from texts and principles to apply to a certain situation or issue), i.e. the scholars. This was a specific connection between the two Verses made by Abul-’Aaliyah, one of the leading students of Ibn ‘Abbaas, as collected by At-Tabaree.

From the Principles of Quranic Explanation

One of the most important principles in Tafseer, as explained by the scholars, is not to dismiss the explanations of the early scholars from the Companions and Taabi’oon, unless their understanding is clearly wrong, in contradiction to clear evidences. Rather, we are to consider Verses to carry the meanings they understood, so long as they are not contradictory. We do not believe that there must only be one single understanding of a given Quranic Verse. It is the Speech of Allaah, miraculous and divine in its expressions and meanings. So instead of viewing the opinions in this case as a case of problematic discord in need of a solution, we can accept them as harmonious, as demonstrated by Imaam Ibn Katheer above. The “people of authority” mentioned in Allaah’s Book are the scholars and the rulers.

Based on this, “the people of authority” also include the Companions in general, as well as Aboo Bakr and ‘Umar specifically, since all of them were people of knowledge and authority in their own right. So then all four opinions mentioned by Imaam At-Tabaree are correct and harmonious. We should not understand his personal preference (based on the specific reason for the Verse’s revelation) to be a rejection of the other meanings expressed by the Companions and Taabi’oon.

That Which Aids the Almaghrib Agenda

To keep people disconnected from the scholars of Islaam, we find people dismissing the conclusion of Ibn Katheer and even discounting the possibility of the Tafseer of the Companions and Taabi’oon, that the scholars of Islaam have any authority in our lives. This is to avoid allowing the people to recognize the status of the scholars, regain an attachment to them, and eventually slip away from the Almaghrib scheme.

However [Plan B], if the people are able to recognize the importance of the scholars, they simply redefine the word “scholar” to essentially mean: Almaghrib instructors, as previously explained. And Allaah knows best.

Written by: Moosaa Richardson

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Jazaakumullaahu khayraan –