Sunday, June 03, 2012

Tafsir of Surat al-Tawba:31 - “Taking Rabbis and Priests as ‘Lords"


 “Taking Rabbis and Priests as ‘Lords’:
Lessons from the Tafsir of Surat al-Tawba:31”

{Allah the exalted says: They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their priests and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only one Allah. There is no Allah save Him. Be He Glorified from all that they ascribe as partner [unto Him!]}
  • Summary statement of Imam al-Baydawi on the verse:
“{They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their priests} because the people obeyed them in their prohibition of what Allah permitted and their permitting what Allah has prohibited or prostrating to them.”[1]
{ ٱتَّخَذُواْ أَحْبَـٰرَهُمْ وَرُهْبَـٰنَهُمْ أَرْبَاباً مّن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ } بأن أطاعوهم في تحريم ما أحل الله وتحليل ما حرم الله أو بالسجود لهم.
  • Imam al-Tabari[2] mentions the following regarding this verse:[3]
“Allah – exalted be His Praise! – says: the Jews took their rabbis as their learned men…
[...]
From al-Dahhak[4] who said that al-Farra’[5]interpreted {They have taken their rabbis and their priests…} as referring to their reciters and scholars.
[...]
…from `Uday b. Hatim who said: I came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) wearing a gold collar around my neck: He said to me: “O `Uday, take it off as it is a pagan thing on your neck”. He said: I took it off and I went to him while he was reciting the chapter of Bara’a and he was reciting the following verse: {They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their priests}. I asked: O Messenger of Allah, we don’t worship them and [The Prophet] replied: “but do they not make impermissible what Allah has made permissible and do they not make permissible what Allah has made impermissible and you do that?” I replied: ‘yes’ and he said: “then that it is [a form] worshipping them”[6] Another version reads: “you have spoken the truth but they would permit for themselves what Allah had prohibited and so they considered it permitted and they would prohibit for themselves what Allah had permitted and so they considered it prohibited.
[...]
…It was asked of Hudhayfa: have you seen the verse of Allah {They have taken rabbis} and he replied: as for [the rabbis and monks] it is not because the people would fast for them or pray for their sake but rather it was because when they permitted something for the people, they then regarded it as lawful and when they prohibited something for the people that Allah had permitted, they regarded it as prohibited. And that is the meaning that they were made ‘lords’.
[...]
…from al-Hasan[7] {They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their priests} means in obedience.
[...]
…from al-Suddi[8] that the verse {They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their priests} was interpreted by `Abd Allah Ibn `Abbas as: ‘they did not command [the people] to prostrate to them but rather they commanded the people to disobey Allah and the people then followed them in that. Thus, Allah characterised them as ‘lords’.
[...]
…from Hudhayfa who said regarding {They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their priest} that it was not because the people used to worship them but it is because they would obey their rabbis and priests in disobedience.
[...]
As for Allah’s saying {when they were bidden to worship only one Allah} it means: those Jews and Christians who took their rabbis and priests as well as the Messiah as lords were commanded to worship only one God and to obey only one Lord without many lords and that is Allah whom everything worships and whom all of creations obeys and is only worthy of judging for all of His creation by His unity and Lordship; there is no deity but He. Allah Most High says: divinity and exaltedness is reserved for none but him Who has ordered his creation to worship Him and has obligated obedience to Him. {Be He Glorified from all that they ascribe as partner [unto Him!]} meaning exalting and purging Allah of polytheism in his obedience and Lordship such as saying `Uzayr[9] is son of Allah or the Messiah is son of Allah as well as taking religious priests and rabbis as lords besides Allah”.[10]
يقول جلّ ثناؤه: اتخذ اليهود أحبارهم، وهم العلماء. وقد بينت تأويل ذلك بشواهده فيما مضى من كتابنا هذا.
حدثنا ابن وكيع، قال: ثنا أبي، عن سلمة، عن الضحاك: {اتَّخَذُوا أحبارَهُمْ وَرُهْبانَهُمْ } قال: قرّاءهم وعلماءهم.
[...]
حدثنا أبو كريب وابن وكيع، قالا: ثنا مالك بن إسماعيل، وحدثنا أحمد بن إسحاق، قال: ثنا أبو أحمد جميعاً عن عبد السلام بن حرب، قال: ثنا غطيف بن أعين، عن مصعب بن سعد، عن عديّ بن حاتم، قال: أتيت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وفي عنقي صليب من ذهب، فقال: ” يا عَدِيّ اطْرَحْ هذا الوَثَنَ مِنْ عُنُقِكَ ” قال: فطرحته وانتهيت إليه وهو يقرأ في سورة براءة، فقرأ هذه الآية: { اتَّخَذُوا أحْبارَهُمْ وَرُهْبانَهُمْ أرْباباً مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ } قال: قلت: يا رسول الله إنا لسنا نعبدهم فقال: ” أليس يَحرّمونَ ما أحَلَّ اللَّهُ فَتُحَرّمُونَهُ، ويُحِلُّونَ ما حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ فَتُحِلُّونَهُ؟ ” قال: قلت: بلى. قال: ” فَتِلكَ عِبادَتُهُمْ ”واللفظ لحديث أبي كريب.
حدثني سعيد بن عمرو السكوني، قال: ثنا بقية عن قيس بن الربيع، عن عبد السلام بن حرب النهدي، عن غطيف، عن مصعب بن سعد، عن عديّ بن حاتم، قال: سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقرأ سورة براءة فلما قرأ: { اتَّخَذُوا أحْبارَهُمْ وَرُهْبانَهُمْ أرْباباً مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ } قلت: يا رسول الله، أما إنهم لم يكونوا يصلون لهم؟ قال: “صَدَقْتَ، ولَكِنْ كانُوا يُحِلُّونَ لَهُمْ ما حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ فَيَسْتَحِلُّونَهُ، ويُحَرِّمُونَ ما أحَلَّ اللَّهُ لَهُمْ فَيُحَرّمُونَهُ”
حدثنا ابن وكيع، قال: ثنا يزيد بن هارون، عن العوّام بن حوشب، عن حبيب، عن أبي البختري قال: قيل لحذيفة: أرأيت قول الله: { اتَّخَذُوا أحْبارَهُمْ }؟ قال: أما إنهم لم يكونوا يصومون لهم، ولا يصلون لهم، ولكنهم كانوا إذا أحلوا لهم شيئاً استحلوه، وإذا حرّموا عليهم شيئاً أحله الله لهم حرّموه، فتلك كانت ربوبيتهم.
حدثنا ابن وكيع، قال: ثنا ابن أبي عديّ، عن أشعث، عن الحسن: { اتَّخَذُوا أحْبارَهُمْ وَرُهْبانَهُمْ أرْباباً } قال: في الطاعة.
حدثني محمد بن الحسين، قال: ثنا أحمد بن المفضل، قال: ثنا أسباط، عن السديّ: { اتَّخَذُوا أحْبارَهُمْ وَرُهْبانَهُمْ أرْباباً مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ } قال عبد الله بن عباس: لم يأمروهم أن يسجدوا لهم، ولكن أمروهم بمعصية الله، فأطاعوهم، فسماهم الله بذلك أرباباً.
حدثني بشر بن سويد، قال: ثنا سفيان، عن عطاء بن السائب، عن أبي البختري، عن حذيفة: { اتَّخَذُوا أحْبارَهُمْ وَرُهْبانَهُمْ أرْباباً مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ } قال: لم يعبدوهم، ولكنهم أطاعوهم في المعاصي.
وأما قوله: { وَما أُمِرُوا إلاَّ لِيَعْبُدُوا إلَهاً وَاحِداً } فإنه يعني به: وما أمر هؤلاء اليهود والنصارى الذين اتخذوا الأحبار والرهبان والمسيح أرباباً إلا أن يعبدوا معبوداً واحداً، وأن يطيعوا إلا ربًّا واحداً دون أرباب شتى وهو الله الذي له عبادة كلّ شيء وطاعة كلّ خلق، المستحقّ على جميع خلقه الدينونة له بالوحدانية والربوبية، لا إله إلا هو. يقول تعالى ذكره: لا تنبغي الألوهة إلا لواحد الذي أمر الخلق بعبادته، ولزمت جميع العباد طاعته. { سُبْحانَهُ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ } يقول: تنزيهاً وتطهيراً لله عما يشرك في طاعته وربوبيته القائلون عزير ابن الله، والقائلون المسيح ابن الله، المتخذون أحبارهم أرباباً من دون الله.
Notes:
  • Some points we can glean from the above tafsir of Imam al-Tabari are the following:
[1] Jews took their rabbis as ‘lords’, i.e. as lawmakers/legislators.[11]
[2] Christians took their priests as ‘lords’, i.e. as lawmakers/legislators.[12]
[3] Some Jews and Christians actually prostrated to their religious clerics.[13]
[4] The religious leaders of Judaism and Christianity would permit what Allah made impermissible and prohibit what Allah made permissible.[14]
[5] To ‘take rabbis and priests as lords’ means: [a] to actually worship them; [b] to take them as legislators of right and wrong and [c] to follow them in plain disobedience to Allah.[15]
  • This therefore implies:
[1] Legislation (tashri`) is exclusively a divine prerogative.[16]
[2] Religious figures such as our noble fuqaha’ are not permitted to legislate what is right and wrong and the People of the Book where castigated for transferring this right into the hands of their religious figures.
[3] The discussion of tawhid and belief in Allah’s divinity, sovereignty and majesty is linked to the act of following human individuals and their predilection over Divine commands.
[4] Legislating is tantamount to encroaching on Divine sovereignty which is one of the most serious human transgressions.
[5] This fear of encroaching on Divine sovereignty is something our earlier legal Scholars feared and were very conscious of.
  • It is reported in the Kitab al-Umm of Imam al-Shafi`i that the scholars of the Hanafi School would retain caution when issuing legal edicts as they did not want to attribute a judgement to God without certainty:
“[...] and Abu Yusuf said: what is more serious than al-Awza`i[17] saying [s: statements like] ‘this is halalaccording to Allah’. I am aware that our teachers of knowledge dislike to say [s: statements to the effect of] ‘this is halal and this is haram’ except if it is clearly stated in the Book of Allah Most High and Mighty without a need to interpret it. Ibn al-Sa’ib related to us from Rabi` b. Khaytham who was one of the most virtuous and notable of the tabi`in that he said: let every person be wary of saying [s: such statements as] ‘Allah Most High and Mighty has made this halal and this haram and is pleased over it or is not pleased over it’ at which Allah will say: ‘I have not made this halal nor am I pleased over it. And neither have I made it haram nor have I disapproved of it. You have lied against me!’
Some of our colleagues have related from Ibrahim al-Nakha`i that he told his companions that when they issue legal rulings on a matter or prohibit something, they should say, ‘this is disapproved of’ or ‘there is no harm in this’ as opposed to saying ‘this is halal’ or ‘this is haram’. And what is of greater import than this…”[18]
 قال أبو يُوسُفَ ما أَعْظَمَ قَوْلَ الْأَوْزَاعِيِّ في قَوْلِهِ هذا حَلَالٌ من اللَّهِ أَدْرَكْت مَشَايِخَنَا من أَهْلِ الْعِلْمِ يَكْرَهُونَ في الْفُتْيَا أَنْ يَقُولُوا هذا حَلَالٌ وَهَذَا حَرَامٌ إلَّا ما كان في كِتَابِ اللَّهِ عز وجل بَيِّنًا بِلَا تَفْسِيرٍ حدثنا بن السَّائِبِ عن رَبِيعِ بنخَيْثَمٍ وكان من أَفْضَلِ التَّابِعِينَ أَنَّهُ قال إيَّاكُمْ أَنْ يَقُولَ الرَّجُلُ إنَّ اللَّهَ أَحَلَّ هذا أو رَضِيَهُ فَيَقُولَ اللَّهُ له لم أُحِلَّ هذا ولم أَرْضَهُ وَيَقُولَ إنَّ اللَّهَ حَرَّمَ هذا فَيَقُولَ اللَّهُ كَذَبْت لم أُحَرِّمْ هذا ولم أَنَّهُ عنه
وَحَدَّثَنَا بَعْضُ أَصْحَابِنَا عن إبْرَاهِيمَ النَّخَعِيِّ أَنَّهُ حَدَّثَ عن أَصْحَابِهِ أَنَّهُمْ كَانُوا إذَا أَفْتَوْا بِشَيْءٍ أو نَهَوْا عنه قالوا هذا مَكْرُوهٌ وَهَذَا لَا بَأْسَ بِهِ فَأَمَّا نَقُولُ هذا حَلَالٌ وَهَذَا حَرَامٌ فما أَعْظَمَ هذا
  • Today: However, we have at present scholars issuing legal verdicts with little fear or acts of piety spouting ‘halal’ and ‘haram’, ‘kufr’, ‘shirk’ and ‘bid`a’ without regard to context, evidence and scrupulosity (wara`). Thus, some scholars permit [1] dealing in usury (riba), [2] voting for non-Muslim parties, [3] permitting Muslims the participation in parliament for legislation, [4] allowing intervention of external western governments in internal Muslim affairs; [5] justifying the silence of the Muslim rulers over neighbouring occupations in Palestine and Iraq; [6] permitting nationalist tendencies and secularism…
  • Some scholars forbid [1] women’s rights given to them by the Shari`a; [2] forbid demonstrations and accounting rulers; [3] forbid formation of Islamic parties and groups; [4] forbid an political articulation of Islam; [5] forbid exposing the foreign policy that is affecting the Muslim lands…etc. and the list regrettably grows longer.
  1. We need to seriously think and contemplate about the aberrations of some of our scholars in their fatwas.
  2. We also need to think what affects their thinking in coming to issue such fatwas.
  3. Such anomalous fatwas serve: [a] to uphold the political status quo whereas change is what is required; [b] they incorrectly represent the Islamic rulings on its related issue and not is strongest and most correct one; [c] they show little understanding of the prevailing political realities affecting the Muslim world and its societies.

And with Allah is all success.
s.z.c.
2009

[1] al-Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil,3:142-143.
[2] For details on al-Tabari’s life and career, see F. Rosenthal’s The History of al-Tabari, I: General Introduction from the Creation to the Flood, pp.5-133 and C. Gilliot, Exégése, Langue, et Théologue en Islam: L’Exégése Coranique de Tabari, 19:68.
[3] al-Tabari, al-Jami` al-Bayan, 14:208-213.
[4] Ibn Muzahim al-Hilali, Abu ’l-Qasim (c. 105/723); one of the earliest Qur’anic commentators and authorities linked to Ibn `Abbas although he never met the latter personally as well as a moral tutor and preacher; Ibn Hibban,Mashahir `Ulama’ al-Amsar, p.308.
[5] Abu Zakariyya Yahya ibn Ziyad al-Farra’ (d. 207/822); the reputed founder of the Kufan school of grammar. He was a famous rhetorician and exegete of the Qur’an; al-Suyuti, Bughyat al-Wu’at, 2:162 and al-Zubaydi, Tabaqat, pp.131-133.
[6] al-Zamakhshari, al-Kashshaf, 1:371.
[7] Abu Sa`id al-Hasan Ibn Abi ’l-Hasan Yasar al-Basri (d. 110/728) an eminent tabi`i, religious scholar and early pietistic figure who legacy is immense especially for Sufism, tafsir and theology; Wafayat al-A`yan (= Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary), trans. M. G. De Slane, 1:371-373.
[8] Isma`il Ibn `Abd al-Rahman b. Abi Karima al-Suddi, Abu Muhammad (d. 127/744-5); an early tabi`i, exegete of the Qur’an and important biographer as well as chronicler of maghazi literature who narrated from many companions and their successors; see Ibn Sa`d, Tabaqat al-Kubra, 6:225 and al-Zirikli, al-A`lam, 1:313.
[9] Early pious figure of Banu Isra’il, often equated with the Biblical Prophet Ezra see M. Ayoub, “`Uzayr in the Qur’an and Muslim Tradition,” in Studies in Islamic and Judaic Traditions, ed. W. M. Brinner and S. D. Ricks, pp.3–18 and J. Walker, “Who Is `Uzair?”, The Moslem World, vol.19, No. 3 (1939), pp.305-306.
[10] al-Tabari, al-Jami` al-Bayan, 14:208-214.
[11] Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Part 10 (ed. M. S. Abdul-Rahman), p.135.
[12] Ibid, pp.135-136.
[13] Ibid, pp.136-137.
[14] Ibid, pp.137-138.
[15] Ibid, p.138.
[16] al-Nabhani, Nizam al-Hukm, pp.40-41 and idem, al-Shakhsiyya al-Islamiyya, 3:14-18.
[17] `Abd al-Rahman `Amr al-Awza`i (d. 157/); the great Syrian jurist and pious traditionist; see Ibn `Asakir, Ta’rikh Madinat Dimashq, 60:196-235 and Steven C. Judd, “Competitive Hagiography in Biographies of al-Awza`i and Sufyan al-Thawri,” JAOS 122 (2002), pp.25-37.
[18] al-Shafi`i, Kitab al-Umm, 7:351.

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