Surat al-Baqara

“Even though you follow your ancestors! A Tafsir of Baqara Verse 170”

“Even though you follow your Ancestors!

A Tafsir of Baqara Verse 170”


Shaykh `Ata’ Ibn Khalil (may Allah protect him) writes regarding verse 170 of surat al-Baqara: {and when it is said to them: ‘follow what Allah has revealed’ they reply: ‘rather, we follow that which we found our forefathers doing’ even though their forefathers understood nothing nor were they guided?}:

“[2.] Then Allah (glorified is He!) mentioned the state of those who follow Satan’s footsteps where if they were ordered to adhere to and follow the laws of Allah they reply by saying that they only follow what they found their ancestors following. Here, Allah is denouncing their affairs and showing disgust at their reply in following their ancestors without any investigation or thought knowing full well that their ancestors were on a false way neither possessing intellect nor being guided. And {even though their ancestors understood nothing nor were they guided?}. The letter “أ” denotes rejection of their state (li’l-istinkar al-hal) as well as disgust followed by astonishment. The letter “و” is circumstantial (al-hal) and so the meaning is that they follow their ancestors in their religion and thus the state of their ancestors is that they adhered to their own customs and beliefs without any understanding or guidance…”[1]

Some points:

[1] Reference:

The pronoun ‘them’ (-hum) in the verse could refer back to:

[A] Those addressed previously in v.168, i.e. ‘mankind’ {O mankind, eat whatever is on earth lawful and pure…} to follow the command of Allah to eat lawful and pure food and not follow Satan in reversing this command;

[B] The Jews who rejected the invitation by the Prophet to follow the new revelation of Islam remaining committed to their ancestral customs and practices and so the pronoun {them} is a metonymical reference (kinaya) for the Jews;[2]

[C] The Arab polytheists as well as the disbelievers of Mecca mentioned in v.165 {and yet among the people there are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]} refused to accept the monotheism brought by the Prophet clinging instead to the practice of their ancestors.[3]

[2] The phrase {what Allah has revealed} depending on what opinion is taken from point [1] above, can respectively refer to:

[A] Making what is lawful unlawful and vice versa;

[B] Islam and

[C] Monotheism (tawhid) and Islam.

[3] Taqlid:[4]

The prohibition of taqlid (directly following someone without evidence) in matters pertaining to the foundations of the creed or for those who can perform ijtihad. Imam al-Baydawi comments: “and this is an evidence for the prohibition of taqlid for whoever is able to reason, research and perform ijtihad.[5] As for following (ittiba`) another person in the religion when knowing the evidence that he is right like in the case of Prophets and mujtahids when it comes to rulings (ahkam), then this in reality is not making taqlid but following what Allah has revealed…”[6]

وهو دليل على المنع من التقليد لمن قدر على النظر والاجتهاد. وأما اتباع الغير في الدين إذا علم بدليل ما أنه محق كالأنبياء والمجتهدين في الأحكام، فهو في الحقيقة ليس بتقليده بل اتباع لما أنزل الله.

[4] Fallacies:[7] The basic reasoning in the verse is as follows:

[P1] X is true based on rational evidences.

[P2] I reject X based on what my ancestors claim.


[C] Therefore, whatever my ancestors claim is true and not X.

Allah scathingly attacks this kind of reasoning. It is fallacious (an error in reasoning) simply because it is appealing to the wrong kind of authority. Allah scornfully remarks how ancestors who were neither intellectual nor guided by revelation be a total and absolute authority over and above rational proofs and revelation.

Imam al-Razi states: “The third discussion: Allah Most High mentioned these verses with the utmost censure in following the footsteps of Satan as well as a stern warning that there is no difference between following Satan’s whisperings and taqlid. In it is the strongest evidence for the obligation of rational inquiry and reasoning as well as abandoning following whatever thought occurs in the mind without evidence or following someone else without evidence…”[8]

المسألة الثالثة: إنما ذكر تعالى هذه الآية عقيب الزجر عن اتباع خطوات الشيطان، تنبيها على أنه لا فرق بين متابعة وساوس الشيطان، وبين متابع التقليد، وفيه أقوى دليل على وجوب النظر والإستدلال، وترك التعويل على ما يقع في الخاطر من غير دليل، أو على ما يقوله الغير من غير دليل.

Imam al-Qurtubi comments: “The fourth discussion: the reality of taqlid according to the scholars is to follow some opinion without evidence so anyone who accepts the statements of the Prophet without reflecting on or reasoning about his miracles is a muqallid but whoever does reflect on and reason about is not. It is said that this [latter] is the sound type of belief…the fifth discussion: taqlid is not a means to knowledge nor is it a foundation for it – whether in the basis or the branches. This is the view of the majority of the intellectuals and scholars except some of the Hashwiyya and Tha`labiyya which claim it is a way to knowledge and mandatory whereas reasoning and investigation are unlawful. Refutations against them are found in the books of Usul [al-Fiqh]…The seventh discussion: Ibn `Atiyya reported that: the entire umma is agreed that taqlid in creed (`aqa’id) is void…”[9]

الرابعة: التقليد عند العلماء حقيقته قبول قول بلا حجة؛ وعلى هذا فَمَن قَبِل قول النبيّ صلى الله عليه وسلم من غير نظر في معجزته يكون مُقَلِّداً؛ وأمّا من نظر فيها فلا يكون مُقَلِّداً. وقيل: هو اعتقاد صحة فُتْيَا مَن لا يعلم صحة قولهالخامسة: التقليد ليس طريقاً للعلم ولا مُوصّلا له، لا في الأصول ولا في الفروع؛ وهو قول جمهور العقلاء والعلماء؛ خلافاً لما يحكى عن جُهّال الحشوية والثّعلبية من أنه طريق إلى معرفة الحق، وأن ذلك هو الواجب، وأن النظر والبحث حرام؛ والاحتجاج عليهم في كتب الأصولالسابعة: قال ٱبن عطية: أجمعت الأمة على إبطال التقليد في العقائد

1. taqlid is not a basis for establishing foundational doctrines. Imitation in belief is therefore an unwarranted mode of evidence or justification for knowledge claims.

2. ancestral practice merely being earlier in time does not automatically make it either sound or correct.


[1] See `Ata’ Ibn Khalil, al-Taysir fi Usul al-Tafsir, pp.198-199.

[2][2] Ibn Kathir, al-Tafsir al-Qur’an al-`Azim, 1:241-242:

يقول تعالى: وإذا قيل لهؤلاء الكفرة من المشركين: اتبعوا ما أنزل الله على رسوله، واتركوا ما أنتم عليه من الضلال والجهل، قالوا في جواب ذلك: بل نتبع ما ألفينا، أي: وجدنا عليه آباءنا، أي: من عبادة الأصنام والأنداد، قال الله تعالى منكراً عليهم: { أَوَلَوْ كَانَ ءَابَاؤُهُمْ } أي: الذين يقتدون بهم، ويقتفون أثرهم { لاَ يَعْقِلُونَ شَيْئًا وَلاَ يَهْتَدُونَ } أي: ليس لهم فهم ولا هداية

“Allah Most High states: if the disbelievers from the polytheists are called to follow what Allah has revealed to His Messenger and abandon the practices of misguidance and ignorance that they were on, they will say: ‘Rather. We shall follow what we found our ancestors following,’ meaning, worshipping the idols and the false deities. Allah criticized their reasoning saying: {Would they do that! even though their fathers}, meaning, those whom they follow and whose practices they imitate {…did not understand anything nor were they guided} meaning, they had no sound understanding or guidance….”

[3] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir fi `ilm al-Tafsir, p.100:

اختلفوا فيمن نزلت على ثلاثة أقوال. أحدها: أنها في الذين قيل لهم: { كلوا مما في الأرض حلالاً طيباً } فعلى هذا تكون الهاء والميم عائدة عليهم، وهذا قول مقاتل. والثاني: أنها نزلت في اليهود، وهي قصة مستأنفة، فتكون الهاء والميم كناية عن غير مذكور، ذكره ابن إسحاق عن ابن عباس. والثالث: في مشركي العرب وكفار قريش، فتكون الهاء والميم عائدة إلى قوله: { ومن الناس من يتخذ من دون الله أنداداً } فعلى القول الأول؛ يكون المراد بالذي أنزل الله: تحليل الحلال، وتحريم الحرام. وعلىالثاني يكون: الإسلام. وعلى الثالث: التوحيد والإسلام. و { ألفيْنا } بمعنى: وجدنا. قوله تعالى: { أوَ لَو كان آباؤهم لا يعقلون شيئاً } من الدين، ولا يهتدون له، أيتبعونهم أيضاً في خطئهم وافترائهم؟!

[4] For more details on taqlid, see al-Nabhani’s al-Shakhsiyya al-Islamiyya, 1:230-248 (= Eng. edn.).

[5] For more in ijtihad, see

[6] al-Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil, 1:100.

[7] For more on fallacies, see the posts

[8] al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 5:7.

[9] al-Qurtubi, al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, 1:324-325.

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