Tafseer by the Statement of the Companions

After the Quraan and the Sunnah, the next important source for understanding the Quraan is the understanding of the Companions. The statements of the Companions are taken as a fundamental source of tafseer for the following reasons: The primary reason is that the Companion are a generation that was chosen by Allaah to accompany the Prophets (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) and to pass on the religion and teachings of Islaam to later generations, their character and religious knowledge has been testified to by Allaah and the Prophet, for Allaah says: "Muhammad is the Messenger of Allaah and those who are with him (i.e. the Companions) are severe against the disbelievers and merciful amongst themselves. You see them bowing and falling down in prostration, seeking the Bounty of Allaah and His Pleasure ... "(Q48[Fath]:29). 

In more than one verse of the Quraan, Allaah mentions the fact that "He is well pleased with them, and they with Him.  (Q98 [Bayyinah]:8).

Thus, clearly showing the superiority of the Companions over other generations. The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: "The best of (all) generations are my Companions, then those that will follow them, then those that will follow them." (Bukhari). The Companions actually witnessed the revelation of the Quraan. Many of its verses were revealed to cater for problems that had risen amongst them.

As such, they were familiar with the asbaab-an-nuzool, with the makkee and madanee verses, and with the naasikh and mansookh, and did not need to go searching for this knowledge, as later generation would have to do. The Quraan was revealed in the Arabic that the Companions spoke. Therefore, many words and phrases that later generations had difficulty understanding were clear to the Companions. The Companions were the most knowledgeable of generations with regard to pre-Islamic customs. Therefore, they understood the references in the Quraan to such customs.

There is a difference of opinion whether the interpretation of the Companions is of definitive authority. In other words, once a Companion has given an interpretation of a verse, must that interpretation be accepted, as is the case with the previous two sources of taf seer? Al-Hakim An-Naisapooree, the author, of al-Mustadrak. Considered any interpretation by a Companion to be equivalent to a hadeeth of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) for he believed that all such interpretations must have originated from the Prophet.

This opinion is not accepted in its generality and the majority of scholars, such as an-Nawawee. as-Suyootee and Ibn Taymiyyah, held the view that the interpretation of a Companion is equivalent to a hadeeth of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) only when it concerns matters which are not based on personal reason (ijtihad), such as reports concerning sabab an-nuzool, or the knowledge of the unseen. This is because such knowledge could not have originated from the Companionsijtihad, and most have come from the Prophet.

A report from a Companion not concerning these topics cannot be taken as equivalent to a hadeeth of the Prophet, rather, it is given a status below that of a hadeeth. However, this does not diminish the status of the tafseer from the Companions. The Companions were the most knowledgeable of this nation, and as such their personal reasoning (ijtihad) occupies a status above that of any later scholar.

 

This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited

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