Saturday, May 17, 2008

Q&A: Ayah 3:104 relating to a distinct group?

The following is the translation of a Q&A by Sheikh Ata Abu Rashta (May Allah protect him). Please note that most of it relates to Arabic linguistics which is difficult to translate, some of the points may also be difficult to understand without knowledge of the Arabic language.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Question: While studying the tafseer of the following ayah, I fail to understand that this points to a distinct group?

} ولتكن منكم أمة يدعون إلى الخير ويأمرون بالمعروف وينهون عن المنكر وأولئك هم المفلحون {
“Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islâm), enjoining Al-Ma'rûf (i.e. Islâmic Monotheism and all that Islâm orders one to do) and forbidding Al-Munkar (polytheism and disbelief and all that Islâm has forbidden). And it is they who are the successful.” [TMQ 003:104]

I considered the above ayah with this saying of Allah (swt):
} ويأمرون بالمعروف وينهون عن المنكر{

Indeed this work of enjoining the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar is required of every Muslim; it may be undertaken by individuals just as it may be undertaken by groups. Why then do we say that it necessitates forming a specific structured group or party from among the Muslims to carry out this work (enjoining the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar)?

Further, this categorisation and illustration at times overlaps over each other, haven’t the Arabs used linguistic tools to clearly distinguish between illustrative & selective forms in their language? I request to clarify this matter, may Allah reward you well.


Indeed the word (Min) has various meanings, some of these are:

For categorisation, like in the ayah [ منهم من كلم الله],it means ‘some of them’, or
[ لن تنالوا البر حتى تنفقوا مما تحبون ], it means some of what you like most.

For illustration, like in the ayah: {فاجتنبوا الرجس من الأوثان}

{يحلون فيها من أساور من ذهب}.

Often there is ambiguity between these two aspects i.e. the illustrative and selective aspects of its meaning, but the context of the narrative and the indications thereof clarify the purported meaning.

Now, we consider the ayah:
]ولتكن منكم أمة يدعون إلى الخير ويأمرون بالمعروف وينهون عن المنكر وأولئك هم المفلحون[
“Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islâm), enjoining Al-Ma'rûf (i.e. Islâmic Monotheism and all that Islâm orders one to do) and forbidding Al-Munkar (polytheism and disbelief and all that Islâm has forbidden). And it is they who are the successful.” [TMQ 003:104]

First of all: from the context of the ayah, what precedes it and what follows the word, in the preceding and following ayaat:
Consider these ayaat:

} واعتصموا بحبل الله جميعاً ... ولتكن منكم أمة ... ولا تكونوا كالذين تفرقوا واختلفوا...[
The word with which the address began in the previous ayah, (and hold fast), it is addressed to every one, in the next ayah too it is addressed to everyone, but it the ayah under consideration, the address is singular or specific (ولتكن) and not inclusive as in (ولتكونوا).

Linguistically, if the contexts are thus disparate, where a word once implies plural, then singular and again plural, this would mean that the beginning of the address in its singular form is the intended meaning as against the preceding and following forms.

Now the address in the preceding ayah began in the collective form asking all Muslims to hold fast together, and in the following ayah again it is addressed to all Muslims asking them not to disintegrate, but in between these two, it begins the address to Muslims in singular form, i.e. not all Muslims.

It cannot be said, since (ولتكن) is for the ummah, why we hold the view that (ولتكن) is singular; and that ummah is plural and not individual?

The answer to this would be that we are discussing from a literal point of view which is used to begin the address, and what follows the word, does not affect it, for instance: in an ayah:
﴿ هذا فوجٌ... ﴾ (this army),

The army comprises more than one person, but it does not mean that the word ‘fauj’ is plural, it remains singular though it may imply a group. Similarly, my address to you: “Allah has blessed you to be an eminent scholar”. Here, the word ‘antum’ meaning you is plural though what follows it (eminent scholar) implies singular.

Thus the word (ولتكن) is a singular and hence the ayah:

﴿ ولتكن منكم أمة ...﴾
“Let there arise out of you a group of people [TMQ 003:104]

Also implies singular and not the whole, which would be:
(كونوا أمة)
be a group,

Even its gender will not affect it being singular, since the gender is meant to relate to the word ummah. Thus (ولتكن) it remains singular and not plural as in (ولتكونوا)
We are discussing the literal aspect which is the arrangement of the dialogue. The subject here is the difference in the context of speech with reference to the first three words with which the address begins in each of the three ayaat:

( واعتصموا , ولتكن , ولا تكونوا )

To clearly understand the context of speech, consider the saying of Allah (swt):

} ليس البر أن تولوا وجوهكم قبل المشرق والمغرب ولكن البر من آمن بالله واليوم الآخر ... إلى قوله تعالى والموفون بعهدهم إذا عاهدوا والصابرين في البأساء والضراء وحين البأس...{
“It is not Al-Birr (piety, righteousness, and every act of obedience to Allâh) that you turn your faces towards the east and (or) the west (in prayers); but Al-Birr is (the quality of) the one who believes in Allâh, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets; and gives wealth in spite of love for it, to the kinsfolk, to the orphans, and to Al-Masâkîn (the needy), and to the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; performs As-Salât (the prayers), and gives the Zakât (obligatory charity); and who fulfil their covenant when they make it, and who are patient in extreme poverty and ailment (disease) and at the time of fighting (during the battles).” [TMQ 2:177]

You will observe that the report (لكن) here is nominative, similarly in the word (والموفون); but what follows it in (والصابرين) is subjunctive, this comes to modify the nominative (ولكنَّ) as well as the subject (والموفون). This difference in the order or arrangement of speech means that the subjunctive (والصابرين) is the intended command for them and that they have been chosen for special praise than those before them. This changed arrangement of speech implies that they are the one who are intended or chosen over those before them…This is how the eloquent Arabic language treats every instance where there is a different order or arrangement of speech is found.

Thus what is stated in this ayah with regard to the varying arrangement of speech implies that the address is intended for the middle (singular) rather than what precedes or what follows it. It is mot an address to all the ummah, but rather to a part of it, i.e. the word (min-من) with reference to it’s context is selective rather than illustrative.

Secondly: With regard to the subject of the ayah itself:

It must be noted that the work of amr bil ma’rouf & nahi ‘an il munkar (enjoining the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar) can only be undertaken by those who are capable of accomplishing it and not by everyone. Furthermore, the ayah does not only commands enjoining the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar; for it were so, it could be accomplished by everyone and the address could be general for everyone also; but the ayah also commands along with enjoining the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar, the task of inviting to the khair in addition to enjoining the ma’roof and forbidding the munkar.

The word khair in this ayah implies Islam, because it is not simply khair (nakirah), but with (i.e. the ال), which is comprises Islam in its entirety, which encompasses the ‘ibadaat, the transactions (معاملات), as well as judicial processes (العقوبات والحدود) and the state that dispenses the hudood & punishments. Islam in its entirety includes the state i.e. the Khaleefah in order to implement the commands, and since it is clearly not possible to establish the Khilafah through individual actions, but it can only be established by collective effort. The ayah would therefore enjoin the establishment of a structured group among the ummah, a group that calls for comprehensive Islam by establishing a state, enjoining the ma’roof and desisting munkar.

It is pertinent to mention that the comprehensive Islamic commands cannot be implemented except through a state, because in Islam there are such commands that are undertaken by individuals like the salah and fasting, and then there are those that require the existence of an imam or Khaleefah like the hudood. Therefore the call towards the entire Islam implies establishing the Khilafah and this requires collective effort through a structured group and not individual effort.

It can not be argued that the call to establish the state is not the same as the work to establish the state, indeed the work to establish the state requires a structured group, nut the call to establish the state does not necessarily require a group, it can be undertaken by individuals.

This argument is not correct because the call to establish the state is integral to the work of establishing the state. The Da’wah in Islam is not merely an ideological aspect unconnected to the work. Indeed the da’wah to establish the state mandates the work to establish such a state and is not alien to it. This is how the Prophet (saw) worked, he (saw) called for it, he (saw) worked for it, he (saw) sought assistance (nusrah) for its establishment, and he (saw) accomplished it. In emulating the Prophet (saw), we also call for it and work for it on the same pattern until we succeed in establishing the state by the will of Allah (swt).

Thus the subject of the ayah, i.e. the call towards the entire Islam renders the address of the ayah outside the purview of individual Muslims not part of a structured group, because the work to establish the state can not be accomplished by individuals (not part of group), but it is only their call to work as part of such a group of Muslims that is capable to undertake such a task. Thus the word (من) is selective and not illustrative.

Thirdly: From a linguistic perspective:

Indeed the linguistic scholars have cited certain matters as benchmark to discern the word (من) either as illustrative or otherwise, they have pointed 3 indications for (من) to be illustrative and not selective, these are:

The first indication for (من) to be illustrative is that it should apply to the information (خبر) that follows it rather than that before it, for instance:

]واجتنبوا الرجس من الأوثان[
“So shun the abomination (worshipping) of idol,” [TMQ al-Hajj: 030]
Here the awthan (idols) applies to the rijs (filth), and the ayah says that the idols are filth.

]أساور من ذهب[
“bracelets of gold” [TMQ al-Kahf: 031]
Here the word dhahab (gold) applies to the asaawir (bracelets) and the ayah says: the bracelets are gold.

But these indications are neither found nor applicable to the ayah under discussion (ولتكن منكم أمة). Here what follows the word (مِن) is the pronoun for address (ضميــر) which is "you" (كُمْ), and what precedes it is from the derivatives of (كان) which is (ولتكن). Here the address (kum) does not apply to the previous (kana), rather it applies to it as its noun, i.e. “So that you become the ummah” (لتكن أنتم أمةً). Thus the word (مِن) is not illustrative.
These were the first indicators.

The Second indication:

The word’s (من) governed by a preposition in the present case if it is definite (معرفة مع ال) other wise, if it is indefinite (الwithout نكرة) it will be descriptive.

For instance; Take the expression (أساور من ذهب), here ‘of gold’ (من ذهب) is fit to be descriptive, which would mean that ‘these bracelets are golden’ or similar, because here the asaawir is indefinite (نكرة).

Similarly, in the ayah: (الرجس من الأوثان), the expression ‘of idols’ (من الأوثان) applies to rijs in the present case, because it is definite )ال with معرفــة). So the ayah says: “the idols are filth, and abominable matter. Thus the idols are illustrative of the state of rijs.

It can not be argued that (وثنا) is a fixed word, therefore it apt to be causative; this is not the case since it is a derivative attribute. This can not be said for two reasons:

The first: it is true that it is derivative attribute as in { فخرج منها خائفاً} , {وأرسلناك للناس رسولا}, but sometimes it figures as a fixed word [like in (بعه مداً بدرهم) (he sold the mudd for a dirham)]. Here the ( مداً) is the subject matter. Similarly in (كر زيدٌ أسداً) (Zaid attacked the lion); here (أسداً) si the subject matter…. But it is a derived form.

Similarly the causative appears as a fixed word and is dominating: like in (عشرون درهماً) (20 dirhams); or (رطلاً زيتاً),(a measure of oil)… etc.. But at times and very rarely, it also appears as a derivative; like in: (لله دره فارساً) (his achievement as horse rider, is because of Allah); or (لله دره راكباً) (his achievement as rider, is because of Allah).
This is the first thing, it is not necessarily so, that every fixed form will always be selective or descriptive of the present state/condition.

The second point which is more important is, the descriptive attribute illustrates the condition of the subject i.e. it is one of his (subject’s) conditions and does not discern him from others.

For instance: take the expression (عشرون درهماً) (20 dirhams), here the dirham is selective/discerning, because it does not describe the figure (عشرون) (20), it simply is another matter which discerns 20 from any other figure. Or take the expression (رطلاً زيتاً) (a measure of oil); here the (زيتاً) oil, is discerning the subject because zait is not a condition of the subject (ratal) but it is a different matter separate from ratal, so it discerns ratal from others.

In the ayah pertaining to the idols being filth, the word (وثناً) is to describe the state of rijs, here (وثناً) is not another command separate from& unconnected to rijs; like the dirham as distinct from the figure 20 or the zait as distinct from ratal. This was the second indication.

In the ayah, the expression preceding the word (من) & what governs it is the word (ولتكن), where the pronoun refers to the ummah, i.e. to the indefinite (نكـرة), and (منكم) does not characterise the ummah.

Again it can not be argued that since ummah is a described or attributed indefinite, it becomes definite, because the issue here is not whether ummah is definite or indefinite, what matters is the scope of (من) and its governing preposition that characterises the indefinite article (ummah) or its state if it is considered definite. Further, the word (منكــم) does not apply to ummah’s condition nor it is descriptive of it. Therefore, irrespective of whether Ummah is considered definite or indefinite, (من) & its governing preposition neither describe ummah nor do they state its condition. The issue here is the scope of (من) & its governing preposition, & that they are its state/condition if the ummah is definite or they are descriptive if ummah is indefinite, they neither define ummah nor deny it.

Along with this, since the discussion regarding the attribute which renders the indefinite as definite, is not the actual topic of discussion. But what I would say is that the attribute that renders the indefinite as definite is a specific attribute and not a general one. For instance, if I were to say: “Man who used to announce sale of his goods in the market”. Here the attribute of the man does not render the word ‘man’ to a definite article, in fact it remains indefinite because the attribute is general and applies to every one who announces sale of his goods in the market, and it is not specific to a particular person as such.

Similarly, in the above ayah, the attribute following the word ummah is general, so ummah remains an indefinite article. This is also borne out from the meaning of the ummah in the books of tafseer, where there is a great dissimilarity in its meanings… therefore what is predominantly acceptable about the word ummah is that it is indefinite as distinct from definite. Further, the illustrative indication (من) here, and it’s being definite or indefinite, rather it is its (من) scope and its governing preposition characterises it if were indefinite or describes its condition if it were definite. Further (من) and its preposition do not either characterize it or state its condition, therefore (من) is not descriptive, it is rather selective.

The Third indicator: This is the dominant indicator i.e. if all the other factors between (من) being either descriptive or selective were to be equally balanced, then this indicator if found, weighs in favour of (من) being descriptive because this indicator does not come with (من) unless it is descriptive. This indicator is: if (مــا ) or (مهـمــا) precede it, then they more dominantly render (من) as illustrative. For instance:

]ما يفتح الله للناس من رحمة فلا ممسك لها[
“Whatever of mercy (i.e. of good), Allâh may grant to mankind, none can withhold it;” [TMQ 35:002]

In this ayah, what precedes (من) is (مــا) and thus (من رحمة) is illustrative. Another example would be:

]مهما تأتنا به من آية[،
"Whatever Ayât (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) you may bring to us,” [TMQ 007:132]

In this ayah, (من) is preceded by (مهـمــا) and thus (من آيـة) is illustrative.

Here we have said ‘likely indicator’ because it is not always necessary that (من) is preceded by (مــا ) or (مهـمــا).

In the ayah under discussion, the illustrative & descriptive factors are not equally balanced, but they point to that (من) is selective as borne out by relevant evidences in the context of address, i.e. by the word with which this address began, as also by the relevant subject that calls for an action in the ayah. Further, if for argument sake, even if the two opposing factors were to be equally balanced, and (من) were to be illustrative & not selective, we would rely upon this indicator (ما , مهما), we do not find that it does not precede (منكـم) , both (ما) and (مهما), for it to become dominantly illustrative.

We repeat that this indicator is the dominant one used by the Arabs to distinguish (من) as illustrative or selective in case the other indicators are equally balanced. In case the indicators are not equally balanced, then this indicator is not relied upon as dominant.

Based on these aspects, the word (من) in the ayah:

]ولتكن منكم أمة يدعون إلى الخير ويأمرون بالمعروف وينهون عن المنكر وأولئك هم المفلحون[،
“Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islâm), enjoining Al-Ma'rûf (i.e. Islâmic Monotheism and all that Islâm orders one to do) and forbidding Al-Munkar (polytheism and disbelief and all that Islâm has forbidden). And it is they who are the successful.” [TMQ 003:104]

The word (من) is selective, which implies that some of the Muslims of the ummah (meaning, a structured group) stands up to accomplish the tasks mandated in the ayah.

3rd Rabee’ ul Awwal, 1429 A.H
8th April, 2008 C.E

Arabic Source

1 comment:

Hameed said...

as salamu alaykum,

I noticed that in your translation you state that:


is in subjunctive, don't you mean in accusative, as subjunctive is a mood and accusative is a case...