وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا كَافَّةً لِّلنَّاسِ بَشِيرًا وَنَذِيرًا وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ – 34:28
Shaykh Adnan Ibrahim, in his daily classes of exegesis held in this holy month of Ramadhan, presented three interpretations of the word kaaffah in verse 28 of Surat Saba. As we shall observe, nearly all the famous translations of the Quran favour a specific interpretation of this term, but this, according to the Shaykh, is a weaker interpretation of what the word intends.
Some of the English translations for this verse are as follows:
Sahih International: And We have not sent you except comprehensively to mankind as a bringer of good tidings and a warner. But most of the people do not know.
Pickthall: And We have not sent thee (O Muhammad) save as a bringer of good tidings and a warner unto all mankind; but most of mankind know not.
Yusuf Ali: We have not sent thee but as a universal (Messenger) to men, giving them glad tidings, and warning them (against sin), but most men understand not.
Shakir: And We have not sent you but to all the men as a bearer of good news and as a warner, but most men do not know.
Muhammad Sarwar: We have sent you as a bearer of glad news and a warner to the whole of mankind, but most people do not know.
Mohsin Khan: And We have not sent you (O Muhammad SAW) except as a giver of glad tidings and a warner to all mankind, but most of men know not.
Arberry: We have sent thee not, except to mankind entire, good tidings to bear, and warning; but most men do not know it.
Ali Quli Qarai: We did not send you except as a bearer of good news and warner to all mankind, but most people do not know.
The Study Quran: And We sent thee not, save as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner to mankind entire, But most of mankind know not.
The First Interpretation
The first interpretation, which is what all the translations agree on, take kaaffah to mean “all”, “entire” “whole” and hence it tells us that the Prophet was not sent to a specific group of people, but that his duty extended to all mankind. This would treat the word kaaffah similar to how it has been understood in verse 206 of Surat al-Baqarah. But this verse differs in one important respect. The word kaaffah comes prior to the preposition phrase, (jār wa majrūr) lil-naas (to mankind) where we would expect it grammatically to come after, given that it is the haal clause which ought to come after what it modifies where this is in the genitive state. The claimed reason given for why it comes before is that it to show importance to this very clause. Because it is very important that the message is for the entirety of mankind, the verse places the word kaaffah prior to mankind to display this importance. As such, what the verse is really saying akin to this: We did not send you except to mankind entire.
The Second Interpretation
This interpretation rejects the idea that what is really meant requires a restructuring when there is an alternative, and very plausible, interpretation available. The word kaaffah, which is an active participle, comes from the verb kaffa كفّ which means to prevent and stop and the active participle would be كاف. The active participle in the verse was given a ة, which is known as تاء المبالغة which is done for exaggeration of meaning. This is very common in the Arabic language and there are many words where this is done such as علامة، فهّامة، نابغة، راوية. The word علامة, for example, was originally علام but the ending was added to exaggerate the meaning, which denotes here someone extremely knowledgeable. The verse thus means that we have not sent you except as someone who attempts to prevent and stop people from falling into sin and the punishment of the afterlife. This interpretation avoids reconstructing the Quranic sentence and provides a valid meaning that accords with the language, and as such, ought to be preferred to the first meaning according to Shaykh Adnan Ibrahim.
It is worthwhile mentioning that this interpretation is also the one supported by Allameh Tabatabaei in his famous work of exegesis al-Mizan. He rejects the first interpretation based on the grammatical issue of placing the haal before the preposition phase. Moreover, he notes that the second interpretation is aided by the latter part of the verse which tells us that the Prophet is a bearer of good news and a warner and that these two descriptions tell us precisely how he is a preventer of people from falling into sin.1
The Third Interpretation
This agrees with the second interpretation in refusing a restructuring of the verse. It says that one meaning of the verb كفّ is to gather and thus this verse tells us that the Prophet has not been sent except as a gatherer of the people, to unite them in goodness, unite them in light of the Divine message.
Whilst Shaykh Adnan Ibrahim doesn’t choose between the second and third interpretation, he considers the first interpretation to be the weakest of the three. This first interpretation does appear to be the majority view in the works of exegesis and is reflected by the translations of the verse in English. The second interpretation does, however, offer a viable analysis which accurately reflects the original meaning of the word without requiring in the sentence.