Tafsir of Surah al-Falaq by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah – Lecture 3

We were discussing whether Surah al-Falaq & al-Naas are part of the Qur’an, and we went over what is attributed to Abdullah bin Mas’ud. We also mentioned three opinions towards this attribution amongst scholars, namely those who accept this attribution without any justification, those who completely deny Ibn Mas’ud to have held such a view, and the third opinion is the acceptance of this attribution to Ibn Mas’ud, but with justifications.

Third view: Accepting the attribution to Ibn Mas’ud, but with a justification

There are about 5 justifications and explanations that different scholars have given for this. For example Suyuti and Ibn Hajar accept this attribution to Ibn Mas’ud’s but bring explanations for it. Let us now go through the five explanations which have been given for this incident:

Explanation 1: He was merely giving long and thorough consideration to the matter

These scholars say that Ibn Mas’ud did not reject these two chapters to be from the Qur’an, or that they were from Allah (swt), neither did he reject them to be divine revelation. Ibn Mas’ud was simply deliberating over the matter, and once he had given thought to it, he concluded that they were part of the Qur’an. Subsequently, he added them to his codex and the recitations that are connected to him, all have these two chapters in them.

These scholars argue that all previously mentioned narrations all allude to this.

Response: If we look at the narrations which talk about this attribution to Ibn Mas’ud, he clearly says that he is erasing them because he believed they are not part of the Qur’an. He further claims that one should not mix words of the Qur’an with non-Qur’anic text. This does not sound like the words of someone who was unsure. If he was unsure we should have seen other words.

Explanation 2: Ibn Qutaybah and some others have said, the reason why Ibn Mas’ud removed these two chapters can be understood when we determine why all other chapters of the Qur’an – which are initially orally transmitted – were written down and recorded in the first place. Qur’anic chapters were written down in individual codices so that the individual would not forget them, lest their memory fails them.

As for Surah al-Fatiha, al-Falaq and al-Naas, they were famous and extremely well known chapters, therefore Ibn Mas’ud did not write them down in his codex.

Response: This explanation contradicts the explicit statement of Ibn Mas’ud, where he is saying: These two chapters are not from the Qur’an. What does this mean? It doesn’t mean that I am not putting them in my codex because these chapters will not be forgotten. Or his statement: Do not mix the Qur’an with anything other than it. Does this statement really imply that al-Mu’awwidhataan were from the Qur’an according to Ibn Mas’ud?

These sort of explanations have always been an issue. Explanations which really cannot be understood from the text which we have regarding any given topic. Furthermore, in the report where Ubay bin Ka’b is questioned about Ibn Mas’ud’s view, there is no mention of such an explanation. If Ibn Mas’ud did this because he was simply not adding certain chapters because there was no fear of their loss, naturally their would have been something about it that would have come down to us in history.

Thirdly, if this was the goal of Ibn Mas’ud, then it would have been more appropriate to remove Surah al-Ikhlas as it had more fame. We have other shorter chapters, which are recited all the time in prayers on a daily basis, yet he seems to have recorded all of them.

Finally, let us just accept for a moment that Ibn Mas’ud indeed removed these two chapters from the Qur’an because he didn’t fear their loss, then why did he erase them? Erasing something implies he had originally written them down. Why did he write them down to begin with?

This explanation is really weak and does not fit well with all the evidence we have at our disposal.

Explanation 3: The names of the chapters were removed, not their content

Some of these explanations are made up simply because some scholars do not want to even consider critiquing and rejecting these narrations. Some scholars have argued that Ibn Mas’ud did not erase the verses of the chapter, rather he erased the gap which differentiates between one chapter from another. In most cases this is by a Basmalah or with the name of the chapter – this was the case in old Qur’anic codices as well.

Response: This is similar to the previous explanation, only difference is that the scholars argues it was the names of the chapter that were erased. The evidence which we have explicitly indicates that Ibn Mas’ud didn’t believe these two chapters to be from the Qur’an. Furthermore, these distances or gaps that are placed between two chapters don’t just merely exist between al-Falaq and al-Nass, rather they exist between all chapters of the Qur’an. Why didn’t he erase them between any other chapter?

Secondly, when we look at the narration where Ubay bin Ka’b is asked about Ibn Mas’ud’s opinion, he says the Prophet (s) says: They have been revealed to me, and I have recited them. These words of the Prophet (s) don’t mean that the names of the chapter were revealed to him and then he recited those names.

We have already mentioned previously that many of the names of the chapters were made up by the companions after the demise of the Prophet (s). For the most part, there were no names of chapters to begin with.

Explanation 4: There is a difference between not deeming something to be the Qur’an and not wanting them in a codex

This view is attributed to Qadhi ‘Ayyadh and Baqilani and other Ash’ari scholars. This is one of the more famous opinions even today. What they say is that rejecting the mushafiyyah (the notion that a chapter should be written down in a codex) of a chapter is other than rejecting their Qur’aniyyah (that they are part of the Qur’an).

The chapters were revealed to the Prophet and this is what we refer to as the Qur’an, even while it is not written down in an actual book. Generally they would wait for the permission and order of the Prophet (s) before writing down a chapter or verses. In essence they are arguing that there was a phase called the revelation of the Qur’an, and a phase called the writing down of the Qur’an – and these are two different matters. Just because something was revealed as Qur’an, does not mean it must be written down. It is only after the permission of the Prophet (s) that it would be written down and it is possible that the Prophet (s) did not give permission to write down these two chapters.

Ibn Mas’ud erased the two chapters, not because they were not the Qur’an, rather because it was not allowed for them to be written in a codex.

Response: There doesn’t exist any historical evidence for this claim, and seems like another baseless justification in order to justify the actions of Ibn Mas’ud. It doesn’t sit well with what we have in the reports attributed to Ibn Mas’ud’s view.

Ibn Mas’ud’s statements are explicit. He says they are both not from the book of Allah (swt), or do not mix non-Qur’anic text with the Qur’an. These words do not sound like words of a person who was suggesting they should not be written down, yet they are still the Qur’an.

Secondly, let us suppose that this explanation is correct. How do we respond to the narration of Ubay bin Ka’b? Does the Prophet’s (s) response make any sense if we accept this explanation? We also do not have any reliable evidence that permission was sought before writing down the Qur’an. Neither do we see any evidence from the companions that Ibn Mas’ud held such a view.

Explanation 5: Ibn Mas’ud did not reject them to be the Qur’an or Divine, but he chose to keep them aside to use as an incantation

Response: Once again this does not fit well with any of the evidence we have on this attribution to Ibn Mas’ud. Even if these two chapters were revealed as incantations or if he wanted to use them as such, why would he write them down first in his codex and then erase them?

In conclusion, we say that these five explanations were weak and absurd, in fact some of them are extremely absurd. All of them do not fit-well with the textual evidence we have on this topic and by which the actual attribution is given to Ibn Mas’ud.

If we were to accept these reports (mentioned in previous two lessons), and accept this attribution to Ibn Mas’ud, all we can say is that he would have identified their miraculous nature, he would have identified they were divinely revealed, yet he simply didn’t deem them to be Qur’anic chapters. We mentioned before that not every thing divinely revealed and miraculous has to be Qur’an.

Perhaps due to his opinion that they were revealed for Imam Hasan & Husayn caused him to believe that they were not chapters. Therefore, at one point he assumed them not to be chapters from the Qur’an, but later on it became clear to him that they were and he added them to his codex and the recitations that have been attributed to him (for example: Kisayee, Khalaf, ‘Asim) all have these two chapters as well.

These reports also do not cause any problem when it comes to establishing tawatur of the Qur’an. If you have a hundred reports about something, and one weak report contradicting it, it essentially has no effect on the tawatur. This whole attribution goes back to two primary chains (as we mentioned in our previous lesson) which would deem this to be a solitary report.

View of the Ahl ul-Bayt

We have strong emphasis in reports from the Ahl ul-Bayt on the Qur’aniyyah of al-Mu’awwidhataan, and their recommendation recitation in the prayers. As for al-Fatiha there is no dispute that it is from the Qur’an, and we mentioned before that we have serious doubt whether such an attribution to Ibn Mas’ud is even true.

In one of the reports from the Ahl al-Bayt, where the opinion of Ibn Mas’ud was mentioned, they say that he made a mistake.[1] We also have many reports that indicate al-Mu’awwidhataan are chapters, even in our primary books such as Usul al-Kafi. Therefore, you will find all Shi’i jurists have given verdicts that these two chapters are from the Qur’an, and that it is permissible to recite them in the prayers. Till today you will find this matter in some books of practical law, such as ‘Urwah al-Wuthqa, where it says that these two chapters are from the Qur’an.

Yes we previously mentioned that we do have one report attributed to Imam al-Ridha which suggests that these two are not from the Qur’an, and that report exists in the book Fiqh Imam al-Ridha. We have many scholars who have rejected the complete attribution of this book to the Imam for many reasons, and in fact one of the reasons is this very report it self.

Alteration in the Qur’an and Issue of Excommunication

Scholars have a different of opinion on the state of someone who denies the Qur’aniyyah of a chapter or verse from the Qur’an. Is such a person rendered a disbeliever or not. Some have said very explicitly that such a person is a disbeliever, while others have said this does not make them a disbeliever, particularly if they deny al-Mu’awwidhataan due to what we have on this issue and its attribution to Ibn Mas’ud.

Some have said, if one denies a verse or a chapter – which necessitates that they believe the existing Qur’an has additions in it – they are disbelievers and they are not allowed to use the narrations regarding Ibn Mas’ud as evidence. Why? Because these reports describing Ibn Mas’ud’s doubts are all during the early Islamic era, and are not the same as reports describing later events. Initially not everything was so clear and evident for everyone, therefore a doubt would be normal. However, after the Prophet (s) all the companions and scholars had a consensus that whatever is in the Qur’an is indeed all of the Qur’an. Therefore, who ever denies a verse or chapter after such a consensus, then they are disbelievers.

What these latter jurists have essentially done is exclude Ibn Mas’ud from their excommunication as his opinion (read: doubt) on this matter (as it would be argued) was before such a consensus was formed.

I (Hobbollah) do not want to get into this too much, but will say some passing remarks. What these jurists are essentially saying that if someone believes in additions to the Qur’an (because they deny for example the Qur’aniyyah of al-Falaq and al-Naas) it is due to a doubt. Whether this doubt is earlier in time or appears later in time, has no importance.

Ibn Mas’ud’s doubt was due to a mistake and confusion. Likewise, someone can have a doubt due to a mistake and confusion today as well – what does it have to do with having this doubt before or after a certain period of time. If we ask someone who believes in the alteration of the Qur’an through addition, whether they have any evidence or reason to hold such a belief, and they reply in the affirmative, giving us certain proofs, but we know that they are mistaken, confused or misinformed, we cannot deem them guilty. Their situation is exactly like that of Ibn Mas’ud’s in this scenario. Just because all Muslims have a consensus on something, does that a doubt can never exist for a person?

So many issues have consensus or is the view of the vast majority, yet at times someone can have doubt regarding it – even scholars. This situation is not any different. A person who has doubt due to some reports and proofs that exist, we cannot judge them as guilty. We have to inform them and bring to their attention their mistake, misinformation and clarify their confusion. However, of course if someone claims alteration in the Qur’an through addition, yet they do not have any thing to back themselves up, then we have the right to convict them as guilty. Please note the usage of the term guilty and not excommunication – because the latter is a whole different issue and it has its own specific principles.

Thus, if it was allowed for Ibn Mas’ud to be mistaken in his judgement and conclude that these two chapters were not from the Qur’an, yet they are not excommunicated or deemed guilty of a crime, it is okay for a person who sincerely researches thinks that these two chapters are not from the Qur’an, yet they are mistaken, cannot be excommunicated or deemed guilty.

In conclusion, if a person holds such a view, and they have evidence that are sufficient to cast doubt in a certain belief (we are not saying they should be enough to prove the claim), albeit due to their lack of research, or weakness in methodology, they are excused even though they are mistaken. All we can say to them is that they are mistaken, but we cannot deem them disbelievers, especially when it is an academic discussion.

Of course, if we know that an individual has ulterior motives, is a spy or there is some other conspiracy, then we have every right to charge them with the appropriate crime.

Verse 1: قُلْ أَعُوذُ بِرَبِّ الْفَلَقِ  – Say: I seek the protection of the Lord of the daybreak

The major theme in this chapter is seeking Allah’s protection, and it incorporates discussion on magic, envy and evil-eye. We will discuss these in further detail later on.

Regarding the command tense قُلْ (Say), we have already discussed this in our sessions on Surah al-Kafirun and won’t be going into it again.

The next word is the verb أَعُوذُ – We will mention a few points about the concept of isti’adha (استعاذة).

What does it mean linguistically?

Isti’adha, Ta’awwudh (تعوّذ), ‘Iyadh (عياذ)and Ma’adh (معاذ)all mean one thing: seeking protection (اِعْتِصام), seeking cover (الاحتماء), and requesting someone gives or does something (اِرْتَجَى).

So when in verse 23 of Surah Yusuf, it says قَالَ مَعَاذَ اللَّهِ – generally translated as God forbid, literally speaking it would mean: I seek protection in the refuge of Allah where the verb “I seek protection” has been omitted.

This is also why an incantation is called تعویذ because it protects and assists an individual. From this paradigm we have the word al-Mu’awwidhataan. Why are the al-Falaq and al-Naas called al-Mu’awwidhataan? It is because they protect and assist an individual who recites them from different types of harm and evil.

So when you simply say I seek the protection of Allah, it implies you are seeking protection from all possible evil and harm.

The Qur’anic Usage of the Word استعاذة

We see that the Qur’an limits seeking protection only to Allah (swt) and it condemns those who seek protection of anyone other than Him (swt). The Qur’an calls one to seek Allah’s protection, but condemns and discredits anyone who seeks anyone else’s Allah.

The only place in the Qur’an which condemns those who seek protection from someone other than Allah (swt), is verse 6 of Surah al-Jinn.

وَأَنَّهُ كَانَ رِجَالٌ مِّنَ الْإِنسِ يَعُوذُونَ بِرِجَالٍ مِّنَ الْجِنِّ فَزَادُوهُمْ رَهَقًا

Indeed some persons from the humans would seek the protection of some persons from the jinn, thus only adding to their rebellion.

This was an old habit of the Arabs. When they would be out in the deserts during their journeys, and they had reason to fear something, they would seek protection from the Jinn. The Qur’an is clearly implying that no one can protect us except Allah (swt) and this is one of the core views of a monotheistic faith, especially Islam.

On the other hand, we find a lot of praise and encouragement for seeking protection in Allah (swt). However we see that Allah (swt) has mentioned the notion of seeking protection and refuge in Him (swt) from various types of things.

For example, we see the concept of seeking protection, against those who are arrogant. We read in Surah al-Ghafir, verse 27:

وَقَالَ مُوسَىٰ إِنِّي عُذْتُ بِرَبِّي وَرَبِّكُم مِّن كُلِّ مُتَكَبِّرٍ لَّا يُؤْمِنُ بِيَوْمِ الْحِسَابِ

Moses said, ‘Indeed I seek the protection of my Lord and your Lord from every arrogant one who does not believe in the Day of Reckoning.’

Another area where refuge is being sought, is against oppression. We read in Surah al-Dukhan, verse 20:

وَإِنِّي عُذْتُ بِرَبِّي وَرَبِّكُمْ أَن تَرْجُمُونِ

I seek the protection of my Lord and your Lord, lest you should stone me.

A third area is the concept of seeking protection against oneself, one’s ignorance and foolishness. This is really important and interesting as it is a spiritual lesson for all of us. This tells us that we should be cautious of ourselves and seek Allah’s protection in this regards as well. We read in Surah al-Baqarah, verse 67:

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ أَن تَذْبَحُوا بَقَرَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَتَّخِذُنَا هُزُوًا ۖ قَالَ أَعُوذُ بِاللَّهِ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ

And when Moses said to his people, ‘Indeed Allah commands you to slaughter a cow,’ they said, ‘Do you take us in derision?’ He said, ‘I seek Allah’s protection lest I should be one of the senseless!’

In this verse, we see Moses (s) seeking protection from the possibility of being categorized as those who are ignorant or senseless. The word jahil (ignorant) is often times used even for a person who is in reality knowledgeable, yet if their behaviour and actions resemble that of an ignorant person, it would be appropriate to use the term jahil for them.

In verse 47 of Surah Hud we read:

قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أَسْأَلَكَ مَا لَيْسَ لِي بِهِ عِلْمٌ ۖ وَإِلَّا تَغْفِرْ لِي وَتَرْحَمْنِي أَكُن مِّنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

He said, ‘My Lord! I seek Your protection lest I should ask You something of which I have no knowledge. If You do not forgive me and have mercy upon me I shall be among the losers

This verse is in context of the story of Noah (s) when his son was drowned in the flood. This verse also shows that the concept of knowledge and ignorance in the Qur’an is not just limited to one’s usage of the intellect or the lack of it, but rather it has a relationship with one’s outwardly behaviour and mannerism as well.

Finally we read in verse 79 of Surah Yusuf:

قَالَ مَعَاذَ اللَّهِ أَن نَّأْخُذَ إِلَّا مَن وَجَدْنَا مَتَاعَنَا عِندَهُ إِنَّا إِذًا لَّظَالِمُونَ

He said, ‘God forbid that we should take anyone except him with whom we found our wares, for then we would indeed be wrongdoers

Once again we see this concept of seeking protection of Allah (swt) from one’s own self, the possibility of one becoming an oppressor and wrongdoer.

We will continue the next lesson from where we are leaving off.


[1] Tafsir al-Safi of Faydh Kashani, Volume 5, Page 397

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