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This is one of the most important discussions concerning the Holy Quran. It is absolutely prohibited to interpret the verses of Allah’s Book whimsically and as per one’s own opinion. One has to refer to the Ahle Bait (a.s.) to know the exegesis and interpretation of any verse of the Book of Allah.

The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) declared, “Whoever interprets the Holy Quran whimsically will be seated in the hell-fire.[1]

In another tradition, Jaabir Ibn Samurah narrates from the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.), “May Allah curse the disputers concerning Allah’s religion on the tongues of seventy Prophets (a.s.); whoever disputes concerning even one verse of Allah has indeed disbelieved. Allah – Mighty and Majestic be He – says, ‘None dispute concerning the communications of Allah but those who disbelieve, therefore let not their going to and fro in the cities deceive you.[2] Whoever interprets the Holy Quran as per his opinion (i.e. whimsically), then indeed he has attributed a lie against Allah. Whoever issues a decree without knowledge, the angels of the sky and the earth curse him. Every innovation is a deviation and the path of every deviation is towards the hell-fire.

Abd al-Rahmaan Ibn Samurah says, “I asked: O Messenger of Allah! Guide me to salvation.’ He (s.a.w.a.) responded, O son of Samurah! When desires disagree and opinions differ, it is obligatory upon you to fasten to Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.)! For, he is the Imam of my nation, my Caliph upon them after me and the distinguisher (Faarooq) through whom one can distinguish between truth and falsehood. Whoever will ask him, he (Ali) will answer him. Whoever seeks guidance from him, he (Ali) will guide him. Whoever will seek the truth with him will find it. Whoever will request guidance near him will find it. Whoever seeks refuge in him will be safe. Whoever clings unto him, he (Ali) will save him. Whoever will follow him will be guided.

O son of Samurah! Among you he is safe who submits to him (Ali) and accepts his mastership. Destroyed is he who rejects him (Ali) and bears enmity against him. O son of Samurah! Surely Ali is from me; his soul is from my soul and his soil is from my soil. He is my brother and I am his brother. He is the husband of my daughter Fatemah, the Chief of the women of the universe from the beginning till the end. From him are the two Imams of my nation, my two sons and the two chiefs of the youths of paradise viz. Hasan and Husain and the nine Imams from the progeny of Husain. The ninth of them is the Qaem of my nation who will fill the earth with justice and equity as it would be fraught with injustice and oppression.[3]  

Imam Abu Ja’far al-Baqer (a.s.)’s discussion with Qataadah

Zaid al-Shahhaam reports, “When Qataadah Ibn Deaamah[4] came to Imam Abu Ja’far al-Baqer (a.s.), the latter asked, ‘Are you the jurist of the people of Basrah?’ He replied, ‘This is what they think’.

Abu Ja’far (a.s.) inquired ‘I have heard that you interpret the Quran?’

‘Yes’ replied Qataadah.

You interpret it with knowledge or with ignorance?’ questioned Abu Ja’far (a.s.)

‘No, with knowledge’ retorted Qataadah.

 So if you interpret it with knowledge, so you claim to be scholar. Let me ask you a question’ Abu Ja’far (a.s.) told him.

‘Ask’ retorted Qataadah

‘Inform me about the word of Allah – Mighty and Majestic be He – in Surah Sabaa, ‘and We apportioned the journey therein: Travel through them nights and days, secure[5].’

Qataadah answered, ‘This means one who comes out of his house with permissible provision and camel, and permissible rent, intending this House (referring to the Ka’bah) will be safe till he returns to his family.’

Abu Ja’far (a.s.) shot back, ‘O Qataadah! I give you oath of Allah, do you know that a person comes out of his house with permissible provision and camel, and permissible rent, intending this House but is looted on the way due to which he loses all his expenses and sometimes is attacked fatally to even lose his life?

Qataadah acknowledged, ‘Yes’.

Abu Ja’far (a.s.) continued, ‘Woe unto you, O Qataadah, if you interpreted the Quran from your side, indeed you are destroyed and you have destroyed (others). If you take it from the people, then you are destroyed and you have destroyed (others). Woe unto you, O Qataadah, (this verse) talks about the one who comes out of his house with permissible provision, camel and rent, intending this House, cognizant of our right and his heart is inclined towards us. Just as Allah – Mighty and Majestic be He – says ‘…so make the hearts of the people incline towards them[6]. He (Ibraheem) did not mean the House (in towards them) otherwise he should have said ‘towards it’. So, we – by Allah – are the prayer of Ibraheem (a.s.); one whose heart is inclined towards us, his Hajj will be accepted, not otherwise. O Qataadah! When it is so (i.e. he has the love of Ahle Bait a.s. in his heart), he will be safe from the punishment of the Hell on the Day of Judgment.’

Qataadah conceded, ‘Certainly, by Allah, I will interpret it only in this manner’.

Abu Ja’far (a.s.) concluded, ‘Woe unto you – O Qataadah – only he can understand the Quran who is its addressee’.[7]


Important Reminder

Some people try to interpret the Holy Quran by explaining one verse with the help of another. They even cite a tradition to support their approach. But the fact remains that even this approach is the prerogative of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) and none can interpret one verse with another verse except them (a.s.). As the following tradition says in no uncertain terms,

Imam Ja’far al-Sadeq (a.s.) says, “None interprets a part of Quran with another but that he has disbelieved.[8]

The same rule applies for deliberation in the verse of the Holy Quran. That is, one must deliberate and ponder over the verses of the Holy Quran but in the light of the traditions of the infallible Ahle Bait (a.s.) as they have been given the concealed knowledge of Allah’s Book.

[1] Awaali al-La’aali, vol. 4, p. 104, H. 154

[2] Surah Momin (40): Verse 4

[3] Kamaal al-Deen wa Tamaam al-Ne’mah, p. 256, H. 1

[4] Ahmad Ibn Hanbal writes, “Qataadah was the best memorizer amongst the people of Basrah. Along with his knowledge of the tradition, he was also a chief in Arabic, literary terms and Arabian chronology and history of antecedents. He died in Madinah due to plague while he was 56 or 57 years old. – Al-Jarh wa al-Ta’deel, vol. 7, p. 133; al-A’laam of al-Zarkaali, vol. 6, p. 27

[5] Surah Sabaa (34): Verse 18

[6] Surah Ibraheem (14): Verse 37

[7] Al-Kaafi, vol. 8, p. 311, H. 485

[8] Al-Kaafi, vol. 2, p. 462, H. 17