Some of the verses of the Qur`an pertain to Islamic law and jurisprudence. They talk about the acts and deeds of those obligated to observe the Islamic laws and explain their rulings.
The number of such verses in the Qur`an are not few and some scholars enumerate such verses as being around five hundred! Although the actual number of such verses is fewer than this, however benefiting from them, without referring to the relevant authentic Islamic traditions is incorrect.
This is because a majority of these are either general guidelines whose conditions and restrictions have been mentioned in the traditions of the Noble Prophet (‘s) and his Infallible Successors (‘a) or are universal laws whose exceptions were later explained by the sunnah of the Noble Prophet (‘s). It goes without saying that establishing a law by the absoluteness of the absolute form or the universality of the universal without referring to the limitations and exceptions is incorrect.
In order for this issue to be clear in the minds of the readers, we present the following examples.
1. There are issues in the Noble Qur`an, for which there can be found no explanation save in the Islamic ahadith and the conduct of the early Muslims. For example, the Qur`an has made salat, sawm, zakat, khums, and hajj obligatory, while it has given no details about them. Thus, we have no choice but to seek the details of these general acts from the Islamic ahadith and the conduct of the early Muslims. Hence without referring to these sources, any other kind of commentary and explanation about them would be equal to aspiring for the impossible. In explaining such verses, the method adopted by all the Muslims of the world from the early days of Islam until today has been the same [i.e. referring to the relevant authentic ahadith and the way of life of the Muslims].
2. In the Noble Qur`an there are general and absolute laws whose exceptions and limitations appear only in the sunnah of the Prophet (‘s) and the traditions of the Infallible Imams (‘a).
This custom of not incorporating notes alongside laws is not restricted to the Qur`an. Rather, even legislative bodies of the world follow the same method: over a period of time in implementing the laws of a country, points of enlightenment and exceptions are incorporated into the laws. The difference however between the Qur`an and man made laws is that whereas the reason in separating the points of enlightenment from the original law in the case of the latter is the limitation of human awareness which requires annotations, exceptions and additions over time. In the Divine legal system, such limitation does not arise, and all the details of a law - whether those which are to be outdated or added in the future - are clear for a Law Maker like Allah (awj). Nevertheless sometimes social interests necessitate that the specifics of the laws be expounded gradually, and not all at one place.
For example, the Qur`an has prohibited the taking of interest and has stated:
.وَ حَرَّمَ الرِّبٌوا...
“And He (Allah) has prohibited interest.”1
However, in the ahadith, we observe that in some circumstances, interest is permissible. For example: interest between a father and son or a husband and wife, and the benefits of such exceptions are completely clear, for in these examples, due to the uniformity of the kitty and the close relationship of both parties, interest does not bear an oppressive color and has thus been designated as lawful.
According to the verse of the Qur`an which reads:
وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانْـتَهُوا
“…whatever the Prophet gives to you, take it; and whatever he forbids you from, stay away from it…”2
we Muslims must adopt all the commandments which have come from the Messenger of Allah (‘s) and distance ourselves from all the things which he has forbidden us from doing.
Thus, if a commentator of the Qur`an wants to explain such verses of the Qur`an – whose number is not small – and was to rely solely on the verses of the Qur`an, and was to abstain from referring to the ahadith, then he would have acted against the verse of the Qur`an quoted above and in essence, would have neglected this verse of the Qur`an!
The need to explain and elucidate some of the verses of the Qur`an which deal with the practical laws of Islam (whether the general import of their meanings such as salat, zakat, etc. or exceptions and limitations, i.e. the points of enlightenment and exceptions in law) by way of the sunnah and ahadith, led the Fuqaha (Jurisprudents) to expound such verses separately, and write books that specifically concern such kind of verses. The best works and exegeses of this nature on the ayat al-ahkam are of al-Jassas, Fadil al-Miqdad, Muhaqqiq Ardibili and al-Jazairi.
In order for the esteemed reader to develop a greater understanding of this kind of exegesis, we present two other examples:
3. The Qur`an unconditionally permits any form of transaction and respects all forms of contracts, promises and pacts and considers it mandatory to act according to them. However, the sunnah of the Prophet (‘s) and the ahadith – which are respected by all Muslims – proclaim some kinds of transactions as incorrect. For example, the buying and selling of instruments of gambling and intoxicant liquids, sales in transactions of munabadhah3 and the like, of which, all their details have been mentioned in the ahadith.
Therefore, expounding the verse of the Qur`an which reads:
وَأَحَلَّ اللٌّهُ الْبَــيْعَ...
“…And Allah has made business transactions permissible...”4
Without referring to these traditions would be incorrect and baseless.
Likewise is the case with the verse that reads:
“…Be truthful to all of your promises.”5
Without referring to the ahadith which proclaim some conditions and pacts as futile and invalid, it would be incorrect to explain the verse.
For example the phrase of the ahadith which states:
إِلاَّ شَرْطاً أَحَلَّ حَرَاماً وَحَرَّمَ حَلاَلاً.
“(Respect all conditions) except a condition which makes a forbidden act lawful and a lawful act impermissible.”
No longer allows us to adhere to the absolute meaning of the verse.
The issue which has just been mentioned is a tangible reality which every exegete of the Qur`an is able to appreciate from up close. In addition, it satisfies every realistic person as well. Besides, the Qur`an clearly bears witness that it requires the exposition of the Noble Prophet (‘s), who apart from reading it to the people, is also obliged to expound its meanings.
At this point, we bring forth some examples from the Qur`an, but will not go into detail in explaining them:
1. The first example is seen in the following verse:
وَأَنْـزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“And We have sent down to you (Muhammad) The Reminder so that you may explain to mankind that which has been sent to them so that perhaps they may ponder and think upon it.”6
This verse can only imply what we are trying to establish when we understand that the Prophet’s (‘s) duty has been expounded by the words “لِتُبَيِّنَ” (so that you may expound) which is different from the phrase “لِتَقْرَأَ” (so that you may recite).
In other words the Prophet (‘s) was commissioned to undertake two responsibilities:
a. Recitation of the verses of the Qur`an;
b. Explaining the verses of the Qur`an and elucidating its meanings. It should be known that this verse and its likes do not pertain to all the verses of the Qur`an, but verses whose meaning and details are impossible to know without an exposition from the Noble Prophet (‘s) and his successors. Examples of these are the ambiguous verses of Islamic law or verses that require enlightenment and exceptions.
2. The second example is seen in the following verse:
لاَ تُـــحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَـكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِ ٭ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْأَنَهُ ٭ فَإِذَا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْأَنَهُ ٭ ثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ
“Do not move your tongue (Muhammad) to make haste with it (the recitation of the Qur`an). Surely upon Us lies the responsibility of collecting it and the reciting of it (the Qur`an). Therefore, when We have recited it, follow its recitation. Again on Us (devolves) the explaining of it (the Qur`an).”7
In this verse of the Qur`an, we see that Allah (awj) has taken three responsibilities upon Himself:
a. Recitation of the Qur`an;
b. Collection of the verses of the Qur`an;
c. Explanation of the meaning of the verses of the Qur`an. It goes without saying that expounding the meaning of the Qur`an to the Prophet (‘s) is only possible through Divine Revelation (Wahi) whereas the people are never directly addressed by Divine Revelation. The Divine Revelation on the Prophet (‘s) is either depicted in the Qur`an or the sunnah of the Noble Prophet (‘s).
Therefore, in explaining the meanings of the verses of the Qur`an, one must refer to both of these sources (the Qur`an and the ahadith of the Prophet (‘s) and his successors (‘a)) and we must never suffice with just one of them.
In other words: In this verse, Allah (awj) prohibits the Prophet (‘s) from hasty recitation; thereafter He takes the responsibility from the Prophet (‘s) for the acts of collecting and reciting the verses and orders the Prophet (‘s) to follow the Angel in recitation. Finally He (also) takes the responsibility of expounding and elucidating the contents, as the following phrase of the verse clearly reveals:
ثُمَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ
“Again on Us (devolves) the explaining of it (the Qur`an).”
Here, what is the actual meaning of the exposition that Allah (awj) takes responsibility of? We should not conjecture that it refers to the exposition of defining the words of the verses, for this has already been mentioned previously in the phrase:
إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْأَنَهُ
“Surely upon Us is the responsibility of collecting it and the reciting of it (the Qur`an).”
Hence, there is no need for repetition of the same. Certainly, it refers to the exposition of those verses that require exposition from Allah (awj), and His Messenger (‘s) and his true successors, after having received the same through Revelation (Wahi) which they then hand over to the nation.
It should be known however that the aim is not that every verse of the Noble Qur`an needs exposition so that someone should say that the following verse too needs exposition:
إِنَّ اللٌّهَ عَلَــى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
“Surely Allah has power over all things.”
Rather, the purpose is that in order to be generally acquainted with the meaning of the Qur`an, we need an exposition of the Revelation. However at the moment, our discussion does not concern the quantitative dimension of such necessity.
Obviously, just as we had mentioned in regards to referring to the occasion of the revelation of the verses, one must not undertake to explain the Qur`an with any report or hadith. Rather, each tradition must be carefully reviewed from the point of view of its chain of narrators and contents, and (only) after ascertaining that it contains all the necessary conditions of reliability, can one seek assistance from it.
- 1. Suratul Baqarah (2), Verse 275
- 2. Suratul Hashr (59), Verse 7
- 3. The following is an example of a munabadhah transaction: The buyer agrees with the seller: (in nabadhtahu ilayya, faqad ishtaraytuhu bikdha (If you throw the commodity to me, it means that I have already bought it for such and such amount.) (al-’Allamah al-Hilli, Tahrir al-Ahkam, v.2, p. 256). We must realize that according to some experts in Islamic law, not all kinds of transactions which taken place in this form are invalid. There are some specific extensions, which come under the valid transactions. (Ed.)
- 4. Suratul Baqarah (2), Verse 275
- 5. Suratul Ma`idah (5), Verse 1
- 6. Suratul Nahl (16), Verse 44
- 7. Suratul Qiyamat (75), Verses 16 to 19