Qur'an / Surat al-Baqara / Tafsir

“What’s in a Word…” Tafsir of Baqara Verse 104

Tafsir of Surat al-Baqara:104

by Shaykh `Ata’ Ibn Khalil

“O Believers, don’t say to the Messenger of Allah ‘ra`ina’…”

Allah says in the Noble Qur’an: {O you who believe! Don’t say [to the Messenger, Peace be upon him] ‘ra`ina’ but say ‘unzurna’ (i.e. ‘do make us understand’) and listen. And for the disbelievers there is a painful torment. Those who disbelieved from the people of the Book and the polytheists did not like that there should be sent down to you any good from your Lord. But Allah chooses for His Mercy whom He wills. And Allah is the Owner of Great Bounty}.

  • Shaykh `Ata’ ibn Khalil (Allah protect him) comments on this verse: “Allah explains in these two verses the following:

[1] when a word acquires a technical sense (madlul), i.e. a literal common technical meaning (haqiqa `urfiyya khassa)[1] and its use becomes established in reality, then a ruling will be given according to this [new] technical meaning and not according to the lexical [or prior] linguistic meaning. So, the word {ra`ina/راعنا} is an Arabic word which means ‘to look closely at us’ and ‘give us time’ and has the same meaning as the word {unzurna/انظُرْنَا}.[2] The Jews used the word {ra`ina} with the intention of cursing, attacking and reviling [s: the Prophet] and capitalised on the fact that the Muslims too began using this word when addressing the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and so they too were indirectly cursing, attacking and vilifying the Messenger of Allah. Allah then revealed this verse to prohibit the Muslims from using this word because it had acquired a new technical meaning – i.e. its literal common technical meaning (haqiqa `urfiyya khassa). Thus, the ruling on words of this kind is given according to the technical meaning acquired and not the linguistic meaning.[3]

[2] Then He – Glorified is He! – said in the verse: {and listen…} meaning to listen well to the Messenger of Allah and draw close to him so that you do not make yourselves repeatedly question what the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) tells you. Listen with an obedience and acceptance to what he (Allah bless him and grant him peace) commands you. Allah ends the verse by saying {And for the disbelievers there is a painful torment}. And article {al-/the} denotes familiarity (al-`ahd)[4] meaning {the disbelievers} who were uttering the word ra`ina in order to curse the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and they were the Jews and so they will suffer a strict penalty.

[3] Allah Glorified is He! – informs us that the People of the Book and the Polytheists did not like the revelation coming down from Allah to anyone else other than them. They saw themselves alone as deserving of revelation so they used to show jealousy and bear enmity if another were to be chosen for receiving His revelation and Mercy. This also indicates how they would think the final Prophet would come from their people – i.e. the Jews – but when it came from other than them, they showed jealousy and bore hatred and enmity.

            Allah ends the verse mentioning how He grants Prophethood to whoever He wants and that granting revelation is the greatest bounty. {Those who disbelieved from the people of the Book and the polytheists…}. Here the preposition “min/من” is for explication (li’l-bayan) in that the People of the Book and the Polytheists are non-believers. {of any good/min khayrin}. Here the preposition “min/من” is superfluous (za’ida) indicating all and every type of good (istighraq al-khayr), i.e. immense good (khayr `azim). And {from your Lord} where the preposition “min/من” is for beginning a specific aim (li-ibtida’ al-ghaya) means Allah beginning to send revelation down to you…”[5]

  • Shaykh `Ata’ continues on points about technical meanings:

“So, as an example, if we were to ask about what the Islamic ruling on the word “Socialism” (ishtirakiyya) would be, we would not look to the lexical meaning such as ‘ishtaraka’ or ‘shuraka’’ or ‘shirka’ and then give a judgment on it; rather we would look to the technical meaning of the word ‘ishtirakiyya’ and if we do we will find that the people who coined this term take it to mean a specific ideology that rejects an Eternal Creator of all matter who legislates rulings that stem from this ideology. They also hold to the idea of evolutionary materialism, prevention of private ownership and types of equality all stemming from the system. Hence, we say that socialism is a system of kufr because of the available texts that indicate the technical meaning…”[6]

Notes:

  • The meanings of words can change if a people appropriate a new meaning.
  • Words can be ascribed new technical meanings that take precedence over lexical meanings.
  • Allah prohibited use of a word because of the new meaning or connotation it had acquired.
  • New words that have political or philosophical connotations will be judged according to their technically assigned meanings.
  • Adopting and appropriating words that might seem relatively harmless or widespread have to be examined in case its technical meaning contradicts Islamic precepts.

s.z.c.

London, 2010.


[1] For an explanation of the different types of Arabic words, refer to the shaykh’s discussion in the introduction to his tafsir of surat al-Baqara, al-Taysir fi Usul al-Tafsir, p.16.

[2] Imam al-Mawardi states: “{Instead, say ‘please make us understand’…}. This has three interpretations: [1] one of them is it means, ‘make us understand’ or ‘clarify for us’. This was the opinion of Mujahid; [2] The second is that it means, ‘give us some time’ and [3] The third is that it means ‘turn towards us’ and ‘look at us’. {And listen} means listen to what you have been commanded…” al-Nukat wa ’l-`Uyun, vol.1, p.169:

{ وَقُولُوا انظُرْنَا } فيه ثلاثة تأويلات: أحدها: معناه أَفْهِمْنَا وبين لنا، وهذا قول مجاهد. والثاني: معناه أَمْهِلْنا.والثالث: معناه أَقْبِلْ علينا وانظر إلينا. { وَاسْمَعُوا } يعني ما تؤمرون به.

Imam Ibn al-Jawzi comments: “the meaning of {unzurna} is intazirna (‘wait for us’). Mujahid said: unzurna means isma`na (‘listen to us’). Ibn Zayd said it means: la taj`alna (‘do not rush us’)…” See Zad al-Masir, vol.1, p.126:

{ انظرنا } بمعنى: انتظرنا، وقال مجاهد: انظرنا: اسمع منا، وقال ابن زيد: لا تعجل علينا.

[3] Imam Ibn Kathir in his commentary on this verse states: “Allah Most High prohibited His believing servants to imitate the non-believers in what they do and say. The Jews used to use devious words to hide the evil they really intended – Allah curse them. When they intended to say, ‘listen to us’, they would say “ra`ina” [s: which is a term of insult in Hebrew but in Arabic means ‘listen to us’]…” Tafsir al-Qur’an al-`Azim, vol.1, p.197:

نهى الله تعالى عباده المؤمنين أن يتشبهوا بالكافرين في مقالهم وفعالهم، وذلك أن اليهود كانوا يعانون من الكلام ما فيه تورية؛ لما يقصدونه من التنقيص، عليهم لعائن الله، فإذا أرادوا أن يقولوا: اسمع لنا، يقولون: راعنا، ويورون بالرعونة

Imam al-Mawardi states: “Allah’s saying {O believers to do not ra`ina…} has two interpretations: the first is ‘don’t say it’ which is the view of `Ata’. The second interpretation is that the phrase ar`ina sam`ak means ‘listen to us’ or ‘listen to what we have to say’. This is the opinion of Ibn `Abbas and Mujahid. The scholars differed as to why the Muslims were prohibited from saying that which has three interpretations: [1] one is because the Jews would use this word for the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in order to mock him and insult him like how they used to say, ‘we listen and we disobey’ […]; [2] that a specific Jew, Rifa`a b. Zayd, used to say this word and so Allah prohibited the Muslims from imitating him and [3] third, it was a word used by the Ansar in the days of jahiliyya and when they became Muslim, Allah prohibited them from using that…” al-Nukat wa’l-`Uyun, vol.1, p.169:

قوله تعالى: { يأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ لاَ تَقُولُواْ رَاعِنَا } فيه تأويلان: أحدهما: معناه لا تقولوا… وهو قول عطاء. والثاني: يعني ارعنا سمعك، أي اسمع منا ونسمع منك، وهذا قول ابن عباس، ومجاهد. واختلفوا لِمَ نُهِي المسلمون عن ذلك؟ على ثلاثة أقاويل: أحدها: أنها كلمة كانت اليهود تقولها لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم على وجه الاستهزاء والسب؛ كما قالوا سمعنا وعصينا، واسمع غير مسمع، وراعنا ليّاً بألسنتهم فَنُهِيَ المسلمون عن قولها، وهذا قول ابن عباس وقتادة. والثاني: أن القائل لها، كان رجلاً من اليهود دون غيره، يقال له رفاعة بن زيد، فَنُهِيَ المسلمون عن ذلك، وهذا قول السدي. والثالث: أنها كلمة، كانت الأنصار في الجاهلية تقولها، فنهاهم الله في الإسلام عنها…

[4] This meaning of al- is that which is connected to previous knowledge and is of three types according to Ibn Hisham in Mughni al-Labib, vol.1, p.50f: [1] ma`hudan dhikriyyan (known through prior mention); [2] ma`hudan dhihniyyan (known by the speaker alone) and [3] ma`hudan huduriyyan (known through presence).

[5] Sh. `Ata’ b. Khalil, al-Taysir fi Usul al-Tafsir, pp.123-124.

[6] Ibid, p.124.

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