There are three kinds of terms: one whose meanings can be determined in light of the Arabic language, e.g. shams (sun), and qamar (moon); second, those whose meaning is determined in light of the conventions (urf) of a society, e.g., fahash (obscene), and (ma `ruff good practices; third, those whose meaning is determined in light of the Shar’, such as salah, zakah. To this category belong also such terms as iman, islam, nifaq, and kufr. When the Prophet explains them and states what is meant by them, we no longer need a scholar of language or any other person to give their meaning.
Let it be clear that when the terms occurring in the Quran and the Sunnah are explained by the Prophet (pbuh) we no longer need to need to refer to the explanations of the lexicographers or any other persons. This is the reason why jurists have as classified terms into three categories.: One whose meanings are known through the statements of the shar’, such as salah and zakah; second, terms whose meanings are known through their use in language, such as shams (sun), and qamar (moon); and third, terms whose meanings are determined in the light of the conventions of society, such as fahash422 or ma `ruf in the verse, “Behave with them according to the ma `ruf, ” (the good practices of society) (4:19)
What terms like salah, zakah, siyam, and hajj mean in the language of God and His Messenger have been fully explained by the Prophet. The same is true of khamr, wine, and other, similar terms. Their meanings can be fully ascertained from his statements. If anyone tries to give them a meaning different from what the Prophet has given, his suggestion will not be accepted. However, as for the derivation of a term, or variation in its meaning, it is part of the science of linguistics. Similarly, the discussion of its significance or the reasons of its choice by the Quran from among other similar terms may provide an additional insight; but our knowledge of what is meant by it does not depend on these things.
The most important words in this category are iman, ilam, nifaq and kufr. The Prophet has explained their meanings so thoroughly that we do not need to look at their derivations or the way the Arabs had used them before; we have only to look at their uses in the Quran and the Sunnah to determine what is meant by them; that will be more than enough. In fact, the meanings of these terms is known in their essence to everyone, the elite as well as the common folk. Take, for example, iman. If you look at what the Khawarij and the Murji’ah have said with regard to it you will know that it definitely goes against the pronouncements of the Prophet. You will also know that obedience to Allah and His Prophet is part of iman or that everyone who commits a sin is not to be dubbed a kafir. Suppose some people said to the Prophet that they believed in what he taught, that they were convinced that it was true, and had no doubt about it at all, and that they openly confessed that God was one and he was His messenger, nevertheless they would not comply with any of his commands, they would not offer salah, or fast, or perform hajj, or they would not speak the truth, keep trusts, fulfill promises, do good to kin, or carry out anything he had commanded, or they would instead drink wine, marry those who are prohibited, kill his companions and the people of his ummah and take their property, even wage war against him along with his enemies and kill him, would the Prophet say to them that they were true believers perfect in faith, that he would intercede in their favor on the Day of Judgment, that none of them would enter the Fire? Every Muslim knows that the Prophet would say to them that they were the worst rejectors of faith, and that they would be killed unless they repented.
Similarly, every Muslim knows that the Prophet would not treat those who drink, commit adultery, slander or steal as apostates who deserve to be killed. The Quran and the mutawatir ahadith from the Prophet have prescribed definite punishments for these crimes different from what is prescribed for apostasy. The Quran, for example, says that the slanderer and the adulterer shall be lashed, that the thief’s hand shall be chopped off. We also know definitely that the Prophet enforced these punishments. Had their perpetrators been apostates, the Prophet would have beheaded them. In short, the views of the Khawarij or the Murji’ah are not at all part of the religion of the Prophet.
When heretical sects deviated from the right path, a disease overtook them. They started building up the structure of Islam on the basis of propositions which they thought to be correct from the point of view of language or reason and ignored the statements of God and His Prophet. They did not realize that a proposition which conflicts with any statement of God or His Prophet is wrong. This was the reason why Ahmad wrote his famous work423 on the refutation of those who adhere to what they suppose to be the view of the Quran without referring to the statements of the Prophet, his Companions and their Successors on the subject. He elaborated the same position in the letter which he wrote to Abu `Abdur-Rahman Al-Jurjani 24 refuting the views of the Murji’ah. He was pursuing the method which all the a’immah of the ummah had followed, namely that one should not, so far as possible, diverge from the elucidations of the Prophet on any point. Whoever deviates from this path lands himself in heresy (bid `ah), which means to ascribe something to God and His Prophet what one has no knowledge of, or to say what is not true. God and the Prophet have clearly forbidden this. Speaking of Satan, for example, God has said, “He commands you what is evil and shameful, and that you should say of God that of which you have no knowledge” (2:169); and speaking of the People of the Book, He has said, “Was not the Covenant of the Book taken from them, that they would not ascribe to God anything but the truth?” (7:169). These verses in effect condemn any interpretation of the Quran solely in the light of one’s reason. The Prophet has issued a clear warning against this stance: “Whoever speaks about the Quran soley in the light of his reason shall have his seat in the Fire.”
Author: Ibn Taymiyyah
Islamic Topic: TERMINLOGY OF THE QURAN & SUNNAH
Source: Book: [Fatawa 1 7:286-8] / Also mentioned in “Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam”
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