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Archive for February, 2007

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani was asked,

What one Arabic tafsir would you recommend that a person read at least once in a life time? What four Arabic Tafsirs would you recommend for a student of knowledge to have? And could you list them in order of priority. And if there is one or two more that you would please list.

And he replied:

Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

(1) I asked a number of leading Damascene scholars–including Shaykh Abd al-Halim Abu Sha`r and Shaykh Abd al-Rahman Kharsa–regarding a tafsir they’d recommend a seeker of knowledge to read cover to cover. They all recommended Imam Sawi’s Hashiya `ala al-Jalalayn, a supercommentary on Tafsir al-Jalalayn in 5 volumes.

This is summarized from Imam Jamal’s supercommentary on the same work, Hashiyat al-Jamal `ala al-Jalalayn. This work is twice the size, but also highly recommended–many scholars, including Shaykh Nuh Keller and Shaykh Adib Kallas, consider it an indespensible reference.

(2) Imam Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri mentions in his work on the principles of tafsir that there are four Qur’anic exegeses (tafasir, tafsir) that a serious researcher simply needs:

(a) In tafsir by transmission (tafsir bi’l ma’thur), Tafsir Ibn Kathir.

(b) In tafsir focussing on legal and religious deduction (tafsir ahkam al-Qur’an), Tafsir al-Qurtubi.

(c) In tafsir with focus on rational and theological discourse (tafsir fi’l ma`qulat wa’l kalam), al-Tafsir al-Kabir of Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.

(d) In interpretatrive and linguistic tafsir, Tafsir Abi’l Su`ud of Shaykh al-Islam Abu Su`ud al-Imadi, arguably the greatest scholar of the Ottoman Khilafa;

(e) As an encyclopedic tafsir that excels in all the above, and also contains deep spiritual allusions throughout, Tafsir Ruh al-Ma`ani of Imam Alusi, a great 19th Century jurist, theologian, and master of Qur’anic exegesis from Baghdad (Iraq). There are all reference works, however.

In the first steps of one’s path of knowledge, one would benefit by studying shorter works first (and referring to some of the above consistently, as one’s language and understanding of the Sacred sciences deepens).

These short works would include:

(a) Safwat al-Tafasir by Shaykh Sabuni. This is a three-volume contemporary tafsir based on the major classical tafsir works, and is highly recommended by traditional ulema.

(b) Tafsir al-Nasafi of Hafidh al-Din al-Nasafi. Also in three volumes.

(c) The abovementioned Hashiyat al-Sawi `ala al-Jalalayn.

(d) The Tafsir of Ibn Juzayy of al-Andalus. And Allah alone gives success.

Wassalam, Faraz Rabbani

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Imam Nawawi on Dancing

Imam Nawawi says:

Dancing is not unlawful, unless it is languid, like the movements of the effeminate. And it is permissible to speak and to sing poetry, unless it satirizes someone, is obscene, or alludes to a particular woman” (Minhaj al-talibin wa ‘umdat al-muttaqin. Cairo 1338/1920. Reprint. Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, n.d., 152).

And proof is as follows:

Shaykh Nuh Keller said,

“As for dancing, Imam Ahmad relates from Anas (Allah be well pleased with him), with a chain of transmission all of whose narrators are those of Bukhari except Hammad ibn Salama, who is one of the narrators of Muslim, that

The Ethiopians danced in front of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace); dancing and saying [in their language], “Muhammad is a righteous servant.” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “What are they saying?” And they said, “‘Muhammad is a righteous servant’” (Musnad al-Imam Ahmad. 6 vols. Cairo 1313/1895. Reprint. Beirut: Dar Sadir, n.d., 3.152).

Other versions of the hadith clarify that this took place in the mosque in Medina, though in any case, the fact that dancing was done before the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) establishes that it is mubah or “permissible” in the shari‘a, for if it had been otherwise, he would have been obliged to condemn it.”

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The Ash’ari and the Maturidi Schools

By Nuh Keller

The tenets of faith of Ahl Al Sunna orthodoxy are given here in the same order as they appear in traditional Ash’ari references such as the Matn al-Sanusiyya and others.  For more than a thousand years, such works have been learned at an early age by virtually all Maliki and Shafi’I scholars, by many Hanafis, particularly in the Near East, and by some Hanbalis – all of whom were taught that attainment of this knowledge was personally obligatory upon every Muslim, and who knew it simply as Islam, not Ash’arism.

The Maturidis mostly followed the Hanafi school of law and predominated in the lands beyond the Oxus in central Asia.  Their tenets have not been given a separate treatment because according to Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki, they do not differ from the Ash’aris except on six questions, which excluding merely verbal differences are;

(1)    Ash’aris believe that if God willed He could in principle punish the obedient and reward the disobedient, since He is free do anything, however He has promised though revelation to reward the obedient and punish the disobedient; while the Maturidis believe that he must in principles reward the obedient and punish the disobedient, and that His doing the opposite is absurd;

(2)    Ash’aris believe that man is responsible to believe in God because of revelation, not merely because he is endowed with human reason, and that he has no responsibility prior to revelation, while Maturidis believe that man is responsible to believe in God even before revelation, by the mere fact of having reason;

(3)    Ash’aris believe that divine attributes of agency such as creation, giviging life, giving death, resurrection the dead and so forth, are temporal; while the Maturidis believe they all are manifestations of a single beginnglessly eternal attribute termed “existentiation” (takwin);

(4)    Ash’aris believe that God’s own beginninglessly eternal speech may be heard, while the Maturidis believe it may not;

(5)    Most Ash’aris believe that in principle God may impose moral obligations that man cannot endure, while Maturidies believe this impossible; though both agree that in practice He never does;

(6)    Ash’aris hold two views about the possibility of prophets committing lesser sins that are not sordid: the first being that they are possiblie for them to absentmindedly commit, while the second it that they are not.  The Maturidis say this is impossible, and that they are divinely protected from both enormities and lesser sins, a position that Taj al-Subki concurs with (Tabaqat al Shafi’iyya al kubra, 3.386-388)

Whoever reflects on these questions can see they are relatively speculative and minor, and they mainly serve to underscore the broader agreement of the two schools on more central issues.  This is why the Imams of Ahl al-Sunna consider both schools together to represent Sunni orthodoxy.  As religious historian R.M. Speight of the Harvard Theological Seminary has noted: “as Sunni theology matured after the tenth century, scholars freely appropriated elements of thought from Maturidi and Ash’ari alike.  No clear-cut lines of distinction between the Ash’ariyya and the Maturidiyya can be discerned in the later history of Muslim thought” (The Encyclopedia of Religion, 9.286)

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