Al-Maidah · Juz 7 · Qur'an Tafseer

Tafseer Surah al-Ma’idah Ayah 104

Following Customs Blindly Leads to Heedlessness

Following the forefathers was one of the many customs of Jahiliyyah which had involved them in all sorts of evils, and equally deprived them of all kinds of virtues too. If a person embraced Islam, he was put to shame on the plea that he had proved his forefathers to be no good since he took to another way at the cost of the way of his forefathers. It was then that this ayah was revealed.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَعَالَوْاْ إِلَى مَآ أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ وَإِلَى الرَّسُولِ قَالُواْ حَسْبُنَا مَا وَجَدْنَا عَلَيْهِ ءَابَاءَنَآ أَوَلَوْ كَانَ ءَابَاؤُهُمْ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئاً وَلاَ يَهْتَدُونَ

And when it is said to them: “Come to what Allah has revealed and unto the Messenger.” They say: “Enough for us is that which we found our fathers following,” even though their fathers had no knowledge whatsoever and no guidance.

When those who had innovated strange customs in religion were called to come to Islam they said, “Sufficient is for us that on which we saw our forefathers.” Meaning they rejected the truth that the Messenger sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam had brought.

This is an argument that followers of Shaytan give. Without using their knowledge and skills to explore the truth they say, “Sufficient for us is that which our forefathers taught us”. They prefer the practices of their forefathers over reason and guidance. They do not realize where such practices are taking them and what would be their end.

When we apply this to today’s world, we see a lot of people taking some people as the yardstick of right and wrong. Wherever they see these people are headed they begin to follow their direction. We have learned that majority is not always right. In fact majority of the people are not the wisest or the smartest or the most virtuous in their deeds. Therefore, a majority can never become our criterion of distinction between truth and falsehood.

Then there are such people who say, “Okay, we are going to follow Qur’an but not the Sunnah”, or they say, “Oh, it’s only a Sunnah” and through it behind their backs. In this ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala first mentions the Qur’an and then He talks about the Sunnah of Rasoolullah sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam. This indicates that we can neither let go of Qur’an nor Sunnah. They are not mutually exclusive rather they co-exist and we must follow both of them.

Every person is responsible for himself. A person should first determine the aim of his life and the direction of his journey. Then in order to achieve that purpose he has to look for a person who has the knowledge of that direction and is himself proceeding to it. Tagging along such a person will result in success. For example, the taqleed of the Mujtahid Imams. These four Imams knew the deen therefore we follow them.

Following someone who is already astray or does not know his destination will make us get lost too. We will be wasting our efforts and time, if we tag along such a person. We will be signing our own warrant of destruction. It is a pity that today, despite immense knowledge and enlightenment majority of the people are astray. They are adamant about following their forefathers and do not want to search for the truth. What’s more depressing is that most of these people are highly educated and have foresight yet they are unable to see the problem with blindly following a person or a certain group of people.

LESSONS:

– In this ayah, we learn about the criterion of leadership i.e. we should choose only those people as our leaders who have both ilm as well as guidance. None of the other options based on ancestry and lineage, being in the lead followed by masses, being wealthy, or being in power and authority, is worthy of being considered as the criterion of leadership.

– Those who are astray will lead others astray as well. Therefore, when we are following someone we need to identify what is their objective, what is their source of knowledge and whether or not they themselves act upon the knowledge that they claim to possess. How is their conduct?

– This ayah also teaches us an effective method of criticism. Instead of directly saying your forefathers were ignorant or astray it makes a subtle interrogation asking if blindly following one’s forefathers is reasonable.

– When it comes to religion we take matters quite lightly. For example, we have been told in our childhood not to drink milk with fish. But as we grew up, researched on our own or interacted with a few doctors we learned it’s nothing more than a myth. There’s only one kind of fish which shouldn’t be taken with milk otherwise there are no harmful effects. Similarly, when our parents tell us about other worldly matters, we spend hours and hours on the Internet researching the matter or finding someone knowledgeable who will guide us in this regard. After gathering our information we prove it to our parents that what they told was false. However, when it comes to religion we are not bothered to research and find out the truth, and speak up (respectfully, of course). Why are we so determined about the worldly matters and negligent when it comes to religion?

[SOURCE: Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Tafseer Lecture of Taimiyyah Zuberi]

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