Especially in light of the many messages you have sent me regarding the authorative nature and authenticity of Ya’juj and Ma’juj narrations; please find an article filled with knowledge about tafseer narrations by a beloved colleague of mine from America, Dr. Ahmad Abdel-Wahab, who is a specialist in Jurisprudence and Jurisprudence methodology.
All praise is due to Allah, and may His praise and peace be upon His beloved Prophet, his family and companions, and those who follow them in excellence until the Day of Judgement.
By the grace of Allah, the scholars of our ummah had a very meticulous and academic system of criticizing the authenticity of reports (which can be seen in the science of hadeeth), and another very meticulous system of correctly deriving rulings from religious texts (which is studied in the science of Usūl al-Fiqh and the sciences of the Arabic language).
Many of our classical scholars of tafsīr, hadeeth, and history would mention all narrations regarding a subject matter, including weak narrations and isrā’īliyyāt (reports taken from the People of the Book). This was not meant to be something that Muslims follow, believe, or act upon, as Muslims only follow from the narrations what Allah and His Messenger have brought (i.e. the Quran and authentic Sunnah). The scholars have mentioned weak reports so that they may be scrutinized by other specialized scholars, and in the case of reports from the people of the Book, then there was a concession from the Prophet (praise and peace be upon him) to relay them without believing or disbelieving in them.
Imam Ibn Kathīr (may Allah have mercy on him) says in his Tafsīr of Surat Al-A’rāf:
“These āthār (reports from the Companions and Tābi’een) seem to be- and Allah knows best – from the reports of Ahl Al-Kitāb (the People of the Book), and it is authentically reported that Allah’s Messenger (may Allah’s praise and peace be upon him) said, ‘If the People of the Book narrate to you, then do not believe them and do not disbelieve them.’
Their reports are of three types:
Some we know are true due to what is proven in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger.
Some we know are lies, because the Book (of Allah) and the Sunnah prove what is contrary.
Some are maskūtun ‘anhu (not explicitly proven or disproven; for are neither supported nor contradicted by the Quran and Sunnah). This is what has been permitted to narrate, due to his statement, peace be upon him, ‘Relay the reports of the Children of Isrā’īl (i.e. the People of the Book), and there is no problem (in this).’ It is such (reports) which cannot be believed or disbelieved, because he said, “So do not believe them or disbelieve them.’ This athar (referring to a specific narration that was said by a Companion), is it from the second category or the third? It is a matter that must be looked into. As for those who reported it from the Companions or Tābi’een, then they believed it was from the third category. As for us, then we are upon the opinion of Al-Hasan Al-Basrī – may Allah have mercy on him- regarding this, and Allah knows best.” (Tafsīr Ibn Katheer, Surat Al-A’rāf, Āyah 189).
Thus, it is inaccurate and unacademic to say that just because the scholars mention such narrations that they believe in them, act upon them, or call on others to do so.
Rather, some explicitly mention that such reports are weak and cannot be relied upon, and we will mention a few examples.
The point is, the scholars of our ummah have principles that they abide by to academically criticize reports, and then to correctly extract rulings and beliefs from them. Never were such narrations a cause to belittle the scholars or their methodologies, or cast doubt upon tradition.
What we need from scholars and capable students of knowledge of today is to follow the same path of teaching tradition and criticizing reports and opinions within our own traditional and academic framework.
Let’s take a couple of more examples of how this was exemplified by Imam Ibn Kathīr,
the great scholar of Tafsīr. He says, “Ibn Jarīr mentioned here from the authority of Wahb ibn Munabbih a long and strange report regarding the journey of Dhul Qarnayn, his building of the barrier, and the details of what happened to him. It is a lengthy report and has some strange and munkar details regarding their appearance, attributes, height, and the shortness of some of them and their ears. Ibn Abī Hātim also mentioned strange (gharīb) hadeeths regarding this, its chains of narration are not authentic. And Allah knows best.”
In another instance he says, after he mentions a weak opinion which has no supporting proof “and here, it is not allowed to rely upon what is relayed by some of the People of the Book, due to the fabricated reports that they have. And Allah knows best.”
As for the scholars of today, I cannot recall how many times our great scholar of Tafsīr, Shaykh Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al-Amīn Ash-Shanqītī said in his Tafsīr classes in the Prophet’s Masjid: “This report is weak,” “This narration is from the People of the Book. It cannot be relied upon,” and he moves on. Sometimes he would refer us to books that research and scrutinize such reports in detail.
Hadeeth scholars of our time and of the past have entire books dedicated to scrutinizing a specific hadeeth or narration, according to the meticulous science of Hadeeth. They followed traditional scholarship, and criticized narration within a scholarly and traditional framework.
This is what we need to keep doing: offering scholarship and criticism within the framework of our traditional scholars. For those who don’t have that ability, they aren’t required to bear that heavy yet crucial task. They can follow the opinions of trustworthy scholars and schools. I call upon all my Muslim brothers and sisters, starting with myself, to maintain respect for our scholars and their methodologies, and to not speak without knowledge.
May Allah shows us the truth and allow us to follow it, and may he show us falsehood and allow us to avoid it, and grant us sincerity in our hearts, speech, and actions.
And Allah knows best and may His paise and peace be upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad and his followers.
Written by Ahmad Abdel-Wahab
28th of Muharram, 1441 AH
27th of September, 2019 AD
Instructor of Fiqh and Tajwīd at Knowledge International University
PhD Candidate of Fiqh from the Islamic University of Madinah