This article is based on a lecture by Jamal Zarabozo on the topic of “Usool at-Tafseer” or “Principles of Quranic Interpretation” (1/12).
In his tafseer, Al-Qurtubee brings notice to those people who use conjecture when reading the Quran, and say things such as “my heart tells me,” or “what comes to mind,” and so forth. He cautions that in such cases, people are speaking about Allah without knowledge (‘ilm), which is one of the greatest sins that one could commit.
When one attempts to explain a verse from the Quran without having the proper knowledge or methodology, one might be actually following ones hawaa (desires), might be following an inspiration from the Shaytaan, or might be following dhann (conjecture). Rarely, one might
actually be following some kind of inspiration from Allah (SWT) (and only Allah subhanaho wa ta’ala (SWT) knows best.)
So, saying that Allah (SWT) probably means such and such in a specific verse is akin to speaking or saying something on behalf of Allah (SWT), and such opinions based on superficial knowledge (‘ilm) are one of the greatest sins that one could commit. Ibn Al-Qayyim mentions in his book “Madaarij As- Saalikeen” (1:372-3) that speaking about Allah (SWT) without `ilm is the greatest sin that one could commit. He bases this on the following verse from the Quran:
“Say: The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are al-Fawaahish (great evil sins, every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse, etc.), whether committed openly or secretly, sins (of all kinds), unrighteous oppression, joining partners (in worship) with Allah for which He has given no authority and saying things about Allah of
which you have no knowledge.” [Surah Al-A’raaf: 33]
In discussing this verse, he reminds the readers of the concepts of haraam li-dhaatihi (forbidden due to their own evil nature), and haraam li ghairihi (forbidden because they lead to some evil or have some evil in them.) Regarding the above verse, he notes that the four issues
mentioned in the verse are haraam li dhaatihi (haraam in their own essence), because of the evil in them. For example, he explains that Allah (SWT) first mentions al- fawaahish, which is the least of the four mentioned in the verse. Next, Allah (SWT) mentions the sins of trespassing against the truth; which is a greater sin than the previous one.
Then, Allah (SWT) mentions the act of shirk, and finally the issue of saying things about Allah (SWT) without knowledge is mentioned. The last one is worse because it involves acts that are worse than committing shirk . For example, it
involves: Ascribing something falsely to Allah (SWT). Changing or altering the religion of Allah (SWT). Denying what He has confirmed or confirming what He has denied, Affirming something as false or declaring something false as true, and it also includes supporting something that Allah (SWT) dislikes or opposes,
Supporting something that Allah (SWT) dislikes
or opposes, and liking something that Allah
In other words, when one speaks without ‘ilm, in matters of the religion, then one is in fact changing the religion of Allah (SWT). Ibn Al-Qayyim further mentions that speaking without `ilm about Allah or the Quran is the real source of all kufr and shirk. Ibn Al-Qayyim highlights an example of the polytheists who in the times of the prophet (s.a.w.s) claimed that their acts of worshiping things other than Allah (SWT) were in reality meant to take them closer to Allah (SWT). So, their act of shirk was saying something about Allah (SWT) without `ilm, and something they did not know about Allah (SWT).
Ibn Al-Qayyim also mentioned that every bid’aah
(innovation) has its roots in making statements that have no support from the Quran and Sunnah, or in other words every bid`aah is based on some statement that is falsely attributed to Allah without evidence or knowledge (`ilm.)
We observe from the Islamic history that even the companions of the prophet (s.a.w.s) who lived their lives alongside the prophet and witnessed the revelation of the Quran and were firsthand familiar with the events, refrained from opining anything about the Quran, Allah, or His prophet (s.a.w.s). Instead, one observes that they
regarded such careless acts of attributing things to Allah and His Messenger (s.a.w.s) as absolutely forbidden.
For example, Abu Bakr one time said, “What earth would give me place to live and what sky
would shade me if I should speak about the Quran with my opinion or by something I do not know.”
And `Umar Ibnul Khattaab, he also said, “Beware of using your opinion in religious matters.”
And Ibn `Abbaas, the one who the Prophet (SAW) made du`aa for him to understand the Quran, to get the understanding of the Deen, and to be given by Allah (SWT) the ta`weel or the understanding of the Quran, he also said,
“All that there is to follow and obey is the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger. Whoever makes any statement after these two according to his opinion, then I do not know if you’ll find among his good deeds or among his sins.”
Ibn `Abbaas made other such statements where he noted that even if what one did seems good and looks good, but one will discover such acts as sins on the Day of Judgment.
The companions, therefore, were quite stringent about not attributing anything to Allah and His messenger and about matters of haram and halal.
Let us ensure that we don’t fall into such traps and correct others who may be careless about such issues.
Audio lecture on “Usool at-Tafseer” (1/12)