Having been a big proponent of revision of tafsir literature in order to sift out fabricated and problematic interpretations, I have received numerous criticisms mainly by traditionalists who advocate holding on to past opinions mentioned in tafsir literature for the past thousand years. One needs to understand that Tafsir works past and present are reference books of opinions and interpretations ( including weak and fabricated sources) that deserve deeper scrutiny and assessment. Tafsir literature is helpful to understand the deep meanings of the Quran, but one needs to understand that they are not revelation. It is the job of scholars that come after to review the different opinions and reach an interpretation(s) that conforms to the language of the Quran, the context, interpreted through the Quran first and foremost ( Tafsir of the Quran with other ayaat of the Quran) and be intellectually sound based on sound reason and reality.
One area that had a great deal of interpretation and extraneous details are the stories of the Prophets in the Quran. The most well-known accounts of these stories usually provide details with no sanad ( unbroken chain) to the Prophet (ﷺ) or the early companions who learned directly from him. When one reads tafsir literature they are bombarded by varying opinions and interpretations. Yes, the Quran has a scope for variance as its meanings are vast and different scholars will offer their own perspectives and nuances. This is not what I am talking about. I am speaking about interpretations that lead to clear contradictions and discrepancies.
Problems with accepting unsubstantiated narrations
Accepting these narrations and details hinder and sometimes put a barrier on trying to understand the true understanding of the Ayaat in the Quran. I will be specifically looking at the Stories of Prophets in the Quran and how additions to the stories have led to two major problems. They are:
1. That Prophets are in some cases no longer seen as an example to follow, even though the Quran calls their stories عِبرَة – a lesson or instruction to move from one code of conduct or mindset to the most proper one.
2. The “Contextual inconsistency” found in the Quran. The Quran says
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ ۚ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا
Then do they not reflect upon the Qur'an? If it had been from any other than Allah , they would have found within it much contradiction. [Surat Al Nisa ayah 82 ]
So this is directly related to the integrity of the Quran which is the living miracle of the Prophet SAW and a sign of his Prophethood. Anything that comes from outside from the Quran which compromises this will need to be rejected.
An example of "inconsistency" in Tafsir literature
Let us take an example in Surat Saad. Surah 38
One can understand from the beginning of the Surah that hostility from the Arab pagans had increased against the Prophet (ﷺ). After mentioning the direct attacks on him and the message, Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) consoles him and tells him to be patient over all these verbal attacks
اصْبِرْ عَلَىٰ مَا يَقُولُونَ وَاذْكُرْ عَبْدَنَا دَاوُودَ ذَا الْأَيْدِ ۖ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ
Be patient over what they say and remember Our servant, David, the possessor of strength; indeed, he was one who repeatedly turned back [to Allah ]. Surat Saad 38:17
In the very same ayah, Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) tells RasoolAllah (ﷺ) to reflect on the story of Dawud (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ). So one would expect a story of great patience and guidance for the Prophet and by extension for us from one of Allah's best creations. Is this what is found according to the well-known interpretations of the story?
The answer unfortunately is No! we are told that Nabi Dawud (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ)became very frightened from a security breach and made a judgement that was incorrect before hearing from both disputants. As the common story goes, he repented from this mistake and Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgave him. The common lesson that is given is to listen to two sides of the story before making a judgment.
This story however is not found in the Quran. Details were added to it that distorted the story in a way to present Nabi Dawud (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) as having a lack of patience. Some Modern scholars have noticed this and have understood that one needs to return back to the actual Quranic text, as the Quran is a self-clarifying book with no need of outside sources.
In the very same section of the Quran Nabi Dawud has been described as having
الْحِكْمَةَ وَفَصْلَ الْخِطَابِ
Wisdom and decisive/ eloquent speech.
And one needs to ask, If the story of him being too afraid to think straight and thus hindering him from making the proper judgement, then why did Allah Most high mention it here? It would be out of place. Wouldn't we expect a situation in his life to show his wisdom on show?
The actual Quranic account devoid of these extraneous sources is presented here by Ustadh Nabeel Alkhalidy
Moreover, in the same section of the Quran we have more inconsistency due to further misinterpretations.
Nabi Sulaiman (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) and Nabi Ayoub (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) are both described in this Surah as
"An excellent slave" Surat Saad, Ayah 30 and 44
One would expect to find the best examples to mankind. Unfortunately, in the well known interpretations of the these stories, we find a Prophet Sulaiman distracted from Allah by his horses, The horses are returned back to him and then he engages in mass slaughter of them for having distracted him. Ask yourself, can this be an action of the best of slaves? Can a Prophet become heedless of Allah and can he destroy animal life in this way?
Nabi Ayoub after battling a long sickness had no food for him and his wife. In one instance he became angry because his wife sold her hair to bring food on the table. As the story goes, Ayoub (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) became so angry that he made an oath that if Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) healed him from his sickness that he would lash his wife with 100 lashes, a punishment that the Quran prescribes for a fornicator. It took revelation from Allah (SWT) to stop this punishment for his wife that she was obviously not worthy of.
Nabeel Alkhalidy here offers the Quranic interpretation of this story:
So in these extraneous accounts, we have oppression to animal life and oppression to ones wife mentioned from the best of creations. We also have heedlessness and extreme anger attributed to them.
One will realize after a deep study and reflection that these false accusations made against the Prophets of Allah have absolutely no basis and one needs to free themselves from such stories to reach the true accounts and only then one can understand the lessons and follow them.
And Allah knows best.
By Nabeel Alkhalidy
Head teacher of the Sibaway Institute.