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Regarding a dubious tafseer that was recently published in America
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Fatwa Number 54875
13/04/2016 Regarding a dubious tafseer that was recently published in America

To the honourable scholars, al-salam ‘alaykum.

Recently, an English translation and commentary of the Quran entitled ‘the Study Quran’, was published. It was undertaken by a group of western academics. The work includes Shia, Sunni, Sufi tafsir, in addition to several essays as appendices. Unfortunately, in spite of some benefits in the work, the authors have, while commentating on certain verses, presented interpretations that accord with the belief in the universal validity of religions. For instance, during the discussion on the tafsir to the verse: Truly the religion in the sight of God is submission (3:20), it says:

Many Muslims say that this verse shows that the only religion acceptable to God is the one revealed to the Prophet of Islam, but the most universal meaning of it, which been emphasised by many Islamic authorities over the ages, is that Islam in this verse refers to submission to God even if it is not in the context of Islam as the specific religion revealed through the Quran ... [p. 135]

The reader is then referred to the essay at the end of the book entitled ‘The Quranic View of Sacred History and of Other Religions’ in which it is argued that previous scriptures and religions are not abrogated by Islam:

The notion that previous scriptures have been abrogated in the sense of being nullified or excessively distorted to such an extent that the message no longer reflects  the particularity of the original teachings, as some Muslims maintain, would seem to be contradicted by verses such as 5:43: And how is it that they come to thee for judgement   It would be contradictory for the Quran to speak of the efficacy of judging by the Torah and the Gospel if it were to also maintain that these Scriptures have been abrogated or excessively distorted … If the previous religions were abrogated by the revelation of the Quran, it will be implausible to tell the Prophet Muhammad to seek their counsel when it says, Ask the people of the Reminder, if you know not. [p. 1767]

Regarding the verse: Whoever seeks a religion other than submission it shall not be accepted of him… (3:85), it says:

However, the idea that 3:85 abrogates 2:62 is connected to the interpretation expressed by some commentators that this verse denies the “acceptability” of any form of religion other than that brought by the Prophet Muhammad. This opinion is not without its inconsistencies, however, since it does not take into account the more general and universal use of Islam and muslim in the Quran to refer to all true, monotheistic religion… [p. 153]

Moreover, regarding the interpretation of the verse on the Christian trinitarian belief: They certainly disbelieve, those who say, “Truly God is the third of three,”… [5: 73], it says:

However, the verse clearly threatens punishment only for those among them who disbelieved, suggesting that it is not for all Christians. Moreover, an interpretation that considers all Christians to be barred from the garden in the next life would openly contradict both v. 69 and 2:62 where Christians and anyone who believes in God and the Last Day and works righteousness shall have the reward with their Lord. No fear shall, upon them, nor shall they grieve, and is not consistent with the description of Christian virtue in vv. 82-85. [p. 316-17]

The same author says in the above-mentioned essay as he speaks about the concept of trinity criticised in the Quran:

And say not “Three.” Refrain! ... (4:171) … They certainly disbelieve, those who say,” Truly God is the third of three…” This, however, is not a direct condemnation of Christian theology, for trinitarian theology does not make God one of three, but rather speaks of the triune God, Who is both one and three in a manner that transcends human understanding. Viewed in this light, 5:73 does not oppose the various forms of orthodox trinitarian doctrine that have prevailed for most of Christian history. Rather, it appears to oppose crude misunderstandings of it that would lead one to believe that there are three gods instead of one. [p. 1779]

Similar notions to the above are frequently found throughout the work.

The author of another essay, also within the work, states the following on the matter of perpetuity of hellfire:

During the early period of Islam, scholars differed about the duration of Hell. The majority of them argued that Hell is perpetual and an actualised state that never ends. But some groups argued otherwise, citing verses that hinted at an end to Hell’s torment and arguing that this was more consistent with God’s saying, ‘My Mercy exceeds My Wrath.’ Thus the scholars fell into three camps. The first believed that although Hell did not end, its punishment and torment did. The proof for this was the verse: Truly Hell lies in ambush, a place unto which the rebellious return, to tarry therein for ages (78:21-23). This was the opinion of Amad ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Qayyim, and Ibn al-ʿArabī; a similar opinion that the majority of Hell’s denizens are ultimately released also appears to have been held by al-Ghazzālī, as is evident in his Fayal al-tafriqah (Decisive Criterion). [p. 1849-50]

The work would probably not have gained much popularity were it not for certain popular Muslim preachers in West who promoted and endorsed the work unconditionally without any caution against its absurd interpretations and false beliefs; one of them went to the extent of describing it as ‘A major victory and a gift from god’, and another said, ‘It is probably the best work in English to date’ and called it ‘A mercy from God.’ This latter individual made the matter worse by allowing the hosting of an event in his Islamic institute in America wherein one of the translators of the work was invited to speak about the book. None of the panel attendees refuted or challenged his claims.  Instead, they encouraged the attendees to purchase a copy of the book at the end of the session and get it signed by the translator.  Since the book has gained much popularity and is increasingly bought we fear that it will pollute the minds of readers and therefore seek your guidance and fatwa in regards to the following questions:

1.      What is the status of those who believe in the validity of all religions other than Islam, claiming that it does not abrogate the previous religions: does it take them out of the pale of Islam even if they an interpretation (ta’wil) for such a belief?

2.    What is the ruling on believing that Hellfire or its torment will eventually extinguish? Is there a valid scholarly disagreement over the issue?

3.    What is the ruling on promoting, endorsing, and encouraging people to buy and read such a work, knowing full well its contents, without cautioning readers against the problematic points?

4.    What is the ruling on laymen reading such a work?

 

Answered by: Dr. Muhammad Tawfiq Ramadan Al-Bouti

In the Name of Allah, the All Merciful, the Most Merciful

        Praise be to Allah, the Unique, the One, the Singular, the Everlasting Sustainer, who has not given birth and was not born, and no one is comparable to Him, and blessings and peace be upon our master Muammad and upon his family, all of his companions and those who follow them on the path of truth until the Day of Repayment. To proceed:

I have looked at the explanation (tafsīr)[1] of certain verses from the Book of Allah which offends what the people of truth are upon and contradicts the Qurʾānic texts with interpretations that are inconsistent with what is correct. I believe that whoever stated them is upon misguidance in his theology and whoever has followed him is obliged to return to the path of truth. If not, then one becomes one of those whom Allah, may His affair be manifest, described by saying:

 Do you, then, believe in one part of the Book and reject the other? What repayment will there be for any of you who do that except disgrace in this world? And on the Day of Standing, they will be returned to the harshest of punishments. Allah is not unaware of what you do. [Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:85]

Indeed the Book of Allah the Exalted has commanded us to debate kindly with the People of the Book[2] whom we differ with regarding what they believe about our master ʿĪsā (Jesus), peace and blessing be upon him or ʿUzayr (Uzair), peace and blessings be upon him. The Book of Allah calls on the People of the Book to have faith in our master Muammad, may Allahs peace and blessings be upon him, and it does not consider those who disbelieve in our master Muammad to be from the people of salvation nor does it consider those who believe Allah to be the third of three or that the Messiah is the son of Allah to be from the people of salvation.[3] Our theology is not taken from those are suspect in their theology nor from those who flatter those who contradict the truth, seeking to ingratiate themselves while having certain interests, or something similar, in mind.

Indeed a tafsīr like this aims to ruin the Muslims and to take them away from the true paths of knowing their religion and their theology. Indeed, treating the People of the Book kindly is one thing and presenting relinquishments to them in violation of our theology and our Revealed Law is something else. The obligation to debate with the People of the book in the kindest of ways is one thing and violating what is clear in the Book of Allah, seeking to ingratiate oneself with them, is something else.

Indeed the belief that the People of the Book, with the beliefs that they currently hold, are not disbelievers contradicts what is clear in the Book of Allah, and the circulation of such publications is one of the waves of misguidance that Muslims are exposed to, in addition to their other afflictions.

Likewise, the belief that the people of the Fire are not in there eternally is inconsistent with the Exalteds statement:

 As for those who disbelieve in Our Signs, We will roast them in a Fire. Every time their skins are burned off We will replace them with new skins so that they can taste the punishment. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. [Sūrat an-Nisāʾ 4:56]

and other verses that clearly show that the people of the Fire are therein eternally and that the people of Paradise are therein eternally, and this is aside from what this tafsīr ignores from the clear, authentic Prophetic adīths on this matter. This shows that the authors of this tafsīr have shunned the Exalteds statement:

And we have sent down the Reminder to you so that you can make clear to mankind what has been sent down to them so that hopefully they will reflect. [Sūrat an-Nal 16:44]

Al-Bukhārī has related on the authority of Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī, may Allah be pleased with him, who said, The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, {Death will come in the form of a black and white ram and then a caller will call out, O people of Paradise, and at that point they will stretch their necks and look. He will say, Do you know what this is? They will respond, Yes. This is death. and all of them will have seen it. Then he will call out, O people of the Fire, at which point they will stretch their necks and look. He will say, Do you know what this is? They will respond, Yes. This is death. and all of them will have seen it. It will thus be slaughtered and then he will say, O people of Paradise, eternity and thus no death, and O people of the Fire, eternity and thus no death.} Then he recited,

 Warn them of the Day of Bitter Regret when the affair will be resolved. But they take no notice [i.e. the people of this worldly life]. They do not believe. [Sūrat Maryam 19:39]

Indeed circulating books like this is to take part in misguiding and in serving the plan to disrupt the thinking of the Ummah away from the right path. And Allah knows best.

 

The servant of knowledge: Muammad Tawfīq Ramaḍān

[Translated by Mahdi Lock]



[1] (tn): because it is not actually possible to fully translate the Qurʾān, and thus any so-called translation is in fact only a conveyance of some of the meanings, and therefore it’s an explanation, or tafsīr

[2] (tn): for instance, see Sūrat an-Naḥl 16:125

[3]  (tn): for instance, see Sūrat al-Māʾidah 5:72-73

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