By Haider Hobbollah
Transcribed and translated by Syed Ali Imran (Canada)
Names, Reasons of Revelation
The chapter has been referred to in four ways in Islamic works:
- Sūrah al-Kawthar – this is what is famous today and has been taken from the word kawthar as it appears in the first verse
- Sharīf Raḍī would refer to it as Sūrah allatī dhukira fīhā al-kawthar
- In some of the traditions such as the Shī’ī ones from the Ahl al-Bayt and the Sunnī ones from the companions, it is referred to with the first verse: Innā A‘ṭaynāka al-Kawthar, or just Innā A‘ṭaynāk
- A very few scholars have also referred to it as Sūrah al-Naḥr, although it was very rare. The word naḥr is taken from the second verse
This is the shortest chapter in the Qurān in terms of number of letters and words, but it is not the shortest in terms of its verses, beause Sūrah al-Naṣr and Sūrah al-‘Aṣr are also three verses.
Merits of the Chapter and Reasons for Revelation
عَنْ أَبِي بَصِيرٍ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع قَالَ: مَنْ كَانَ قِرَاءَتُهُ إِنَّا أَعْطَيْناكَ الْكَوْثَرَ فِي فَرَائِضِهِ وَ نَوَافِلِهِ سَقَاهُ اللَّهُ مِنَ الْكَوْثَرِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَة
Abū Baṣir from Imam Ṣādiq (a):
The second tradition is from the Prophet (p):
عَنْهُ ص مَنْ قَرَأَهَا سَقَاهُ اللَّهُ مِنْ أَنْهَارِ الْجَنَّة
The reason for why this chapter was revelation is very important because it has a very significant impact on our understanding of what the verses mean. The most famous understanding and that which exists in the books of the Muslims is that after the death of ‘Abdullah – or in some traditions Qāsim – the son of the Prophet (p), a disbeliever said the Prophet (p) is abtar (one whose lineage is cut off).
Lineage amongst the Arabs was recognized through a boy and hence the Prophet (p) not having no sons implied his lineage will cut off at him and he will not be remembered after he dies.
There are different opinions on who exactly said this, the most famous opinion is that it was ‘Āṣ b. Wāil al-Sahmī. ‘Āṣ was well known amongst the Makkan disbelievers and in many reports where you find the names of those who belittled, cursed or harmed the Prophet (p), you will see his name appearing. His enmity was well known.
Even though this is the famous opinion, there are some other traditions that mention it was Walīd b. Mughīrah, or Abū Jahl, or ‘Uqba b. Abī Mu’ayd, or Ka’b b. Ashraf, or Abū Lahab, or in some Shī’a works it says it was ‘Amr b. Āṣ.
Another opinion says that this chapter was revealed for another reason altogether and it was in fact revealed in Medīna. Hence, it has nothing to do with the above individuals. The story is that it was the year of Ḥudaybīyyah and the Prophet (p) and the Muslims were not allowed to enter Makkah and Masjid al-Ḥarām. The Muslims and the Prophet (p) were sad at this, after making a journey to Makkah and they had to return back. Sūrah al-Fatḥ was revealed to describe the event at Ḥudaybīyyah as a clear victory, and then Sūrah al-Kawthar was revealed to give the Prophet (p) comfort and support – that there is a lot of benefit in what occurred during Ḥudaybīyyah.
In other words, as per his opinion, what happened in the event of Ḥudaybīyyah was Kawthar itself, it was a lot of goodness. They cite the second verse as proof, since it says to pray and slaughter – as it is done during the pilgrimage. This opinion was also backed by a major scholar like Ibn ‘Āshūr.
When we contemplate a little over the traditions that exist in relation to the first opinion, we will see that majority of them are nothing but the personal opinions and conclusions of the tābi‘īn, they are not from the Prophet (p) or the Ahl al-Bayt. In fact, the reports are not even from the companions, except two, Anas b. Mālik and Ibn ‘Abbās – the former was very young and the latter was not even born if we say the chapter was revealed in Makkah.
As for the second opinion, there is absolutely no historical backing for it and it is just a personal conclusion arrived at by Ibn ‘Āshūr or some others, by adding a few pieces of evidence together – otherwise there is no historical record, albeit a weak one, that points towards this.
As for whether this chapter is Makkī or a Medanī, then the popular opinion is that it is Makkī and this has been narrated from Ibn ‘Abbās, al-Kalbī and many others. The traditions that speak about the reasons of its revelation and the reference to the person who slandered the Prophet (p) also back this point up.
The second opinion says it is a Medanī and this is narrated from ‘Ikrimah, Ḍaḥḥāk and others. This opinion exists, but they do not clarify when exactly it was revealed in Medina, during the early period or during the year of Ḥudaybīyyah. This opinion connects with the opinion of Ibn ‘Āshūr in relation to the reason for its revelation and as well as the notion of naḥr which is mentioned in the second verse.
A third opinion says that it was revealed twice. Some scholars who come across contradicting reports like this, they end up concluding that the chapter was revealed twice.
It seems that the chapter was a Makkī as per whatever we have at our disposal. We do not have any historical reason to assume it was Medanī. It does not matter whether we interpret abtar as not having a lineage, or someone who has been cut off from their society, or that his message will cease to exist (we will expand on these meanings soon), as per both meanings a Makkī revelation makes more sense.
Theme of the Chapter
The theme of the chapter can be deemed shukr – gratefulness and being thankful to Allah (swt), and to repay Allah (swt) back with servitude and worship. A second theme of the chapter can be Allah’s (swt) hospitality towards the Prophet (p) and his increase in rank. A third theme is that one who angers the Prophet (p) and belittles him, they will be doomed and destroyed.
These three themes will be discussed in detail later.
Verse 1 – Innā ‘Aṭaynā-ka al-Kawthar
The most important discussion in this verse concerns two words: al-Kawthar and al-Abtar. The first appears in the first verse and the second appears at the end of the chapter. We will first investigate the meanings of these words and then return back to the meaning of the actual verse through the lens of what we investigated, so that we can understand the intended meaning of the chatper.
1) Linguistic meaning: what does the word mean in Arabic? It means abundant goodness, or something which brings a lot of goodness for someone. It is on the paradigm of faw’al which indicates abundance. The Arabs would also pronounce it as kaythar in the same meaning at times. Sayyid Murtaḍa says that the use of kawthar is indicative of the strong eloquence of the Qurān since it is on a paradigm that is more difficult to pronounce, and it is being used in a place where it is conveying a strong meaning.
A similar word on this paradigm is nawfal which means someone who prays a lot of nawāfil. This is why some grammarians have said that kawthar is used to characterize a person who is very hospitable and charitable. Interestingly, some grammarians have said that kawthar is a river in paradise, but it seems that they took this meaning from the traditions. Although there also exists the possibility that the word Kawthar was used by the Arabs to refer to a rive, because a lot of good comes from it – people can drink from it, they can bathe in it and so on. Therefore, it is possible that the word kawthar was appropriately used for a river as well and then it was used by the Prophet (p) to describe a river in paradise as well.
2) Exegetical meaning: The exegetes – as it is their habit – mixed the conceptual meaning of Kawthar with some instance of it in external reality, while thinking this is the instance the Qurān is intending. Therefore, they have mentioned up to 26 different meanings of Kawthar, this is while the books of grammar and classical dictionaries do not mention almost any of these meanings. I will mention these meanings:
- A river in paradise
- A pond in paradise or on the Day of Judgement
These two meanings are the most famous and in the traditions there are a lot of descriptions mentioned for this pond or river as well.
- Intercession (Shafā’ah)
- Children of the Prophet (p) and their lineage – not restricted to the Ahl al-Bayt as defined by the Imāmī Shī’a. Fakhr al-Rāzī says in v. 13 in his Tafsīr al-Kabīr: kam qutila min ahl al-bayt thumma ‘ālim mumtaliun bihi…
- The companions and followers of the Prophet (p) until the day of Judgement. In other words, all of the Muslims.
- Scholars of the Prophetic nation
- The Qurān
- The light of the heart of the Prophet (p)
- Good moral conduct
- The popularity of his mentioning amongst the people
- The lightening of the Sharī’ah
- Merits of the Prophet (p)
- Maqām al-Maḥmūd
- Knowledge and wisdom
- Fāṭima al-Zahrā’ (a)
When we look at the above we realize that most of them are all real instances of the linguistic meaning of Kawthar (abundant goodness). However, so far we have nothing by which we can restrict the meaning of Kawthar in this verse to mean only one of the instances above and claim that the verse only intended this one specific instance. Perhaps what is intended was the general meaning and all of its instances, or perhaps only one specific instance was intended. We will come back to this discussion later.
3) Kawthar in the Ḥadīth literature: All the traditions that speak about this chapter, whether from the Prophet (p), the companions, or the Ahl al-Bayt (a), only define the word Kawthar in two ways.
The first meaning is abundant goodness (al-khayr al-kathīr). This is reported from Ibn ‘Abbās and the traditions are very little on this. The second set of traditions say Kawthar here means a pond or a river in paradise or on the day of judgement. Majority of the traditions – around thirty of them – say the second meaning and they are mostly Sunnī, while others are Shī’ī. These traditions also have descriptions of this pond and river.
There is absolutely no mention of a third meaning in any tradition or report in Shī’ī or Sunnī works, after my research and investigation. Of course, most average Shī’a today will be wondering about Kawthar meaning Fāṭima al-Zahrā’ (a), and we will discuss later on how this interpretation came to be attributed to this verse and what were the arguments behind it – otherwise in the ḥadīth literature, there is no mention of her alongside this chapter.
1) Linguistic meaning: Linguistically it means the cutting off of something, especially before something has come to a completion. It is also used for someone who does not have any sons because it is presumed the person’s lineage is cut off. In addition, it is also used for someone who has had a loss in business, or one who cuts ties with their blood relatives. It is also used to refer to anything from which no goodness comes forth.
Amongst the Arabs, someone who is not remembered by people and he is forgotten is also called abtar. Perhaps the reason why someone who does not have a son is called abtar is due to this reason, that they will not have anyone to keep their memory alive.
There is a term called al-ṣalāt al-batra, which refers to sending a ṣalawāt on the Prophet (p) but not on his progeny, meaning his progeny has been cut off. The Arab would called a sermon in which Allah (swt) is not praised or the Prophet (p) is not praised as al-khutbā al-batra.
Finally, al-Butrīyyah (not al-batrīyyah as it is commonly pronounced by people) were a Zaydī sect that would say the ‘Alī (a) had the right to caliphate, but after the first two caliphs usurped it, ‘Alī (a) himself was fine with it and approved of it. In conclusion, they would argue that we have no issue with the first two caliphs. However, ‘Alī did not approve of his caliph and hence they were called al-Butrīyyah by the Ahl al-Sunnah since they were accused of cutting off the line of the righteous caliphs at ‘Alī and did not consider ‘Uthmān as part of the group.
2) Exegetical meaning: In the works of exegesis, the famous opinion is that it is someone who does not have a son and therefore no lineage. ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī strongly defends this meaning and we will discuss this opinion shortly.
A second opinion – to which Shahid al-Ṣadr al-Thānī leans towards – says that abtar means someone who has cut off from all goodness.
A third opinion is that it means someone whose memory is lost and they are not remembered after their death.
Sayyid Murtaḍa opined that abtar in this verse means someone who has no authority, no goodness, and no hope in.
A final meaning which has also been mentioned by a number of scholars is that it means someone who is banished in their community and whose words and personality have no value.
After having observed the meanings of these two words both linguistically, and in the words of the exegetes, and also in the ḥadīth literature, we can begin to investigate what it means in this chapter. The reason why we approached the discussion in this manner is because other exegetes usually use one of these words as an alibi to interpret the second word. Some arrived at the meaning of abtar first and then interpreted what Kawthar means in the beginning of the chapter, while others arrived at the meaning of Kawthar and then interpreted the meaning of abtar. We wanted to lay out all these meanings in the beginning and then begin seeing what the most prominent, probable and reasonable interpretations of these verses are. Of course, those interpretations whose weakness is way too clear, we will not be covering those.
If we contemplate over the interpretations of this chapter, what we will realize is that there are two overall approaches taken by scholars. One approach understands that there is no relationship between kawthar and abtar in this chapter – as we will see. The second approach understands that there is a relationship between the two words, and amongst them is one group who takes the meaning of the word kawthar to explain the meaning of abtar, and a second group who takes the meaning of abtar to explain the meaning of kawthar.
There are four significant possibilities – we will not be mentioning the possibilities for which the proponents did not bring any evidence whatsoever:
1) The meaning is that kawthar is a lot of goodness. Indeed, we have given you a lot of goodness, and hence, your enemy is deprived – abtar – of this goodness. This is all that the chapter intends on saying, nothing more or less.
The proponents of this interpretation – who are many, both Shī’ī and Sunnī – say that our argument is essentially to resort back to the very basic and original meaning of both the terms kawthar and abtar. Secondly, the proponents take the beginning of the chapter which employs the verse kawthar, to explain the meaning of abtar. For example, Zayd has wealth, but ‘Amr is abtar – meaning he does not have wealth.
Thirdly, as per this interpretation, this chapter is not saying anything special or unique rather it is conveying a concept that is reiterated numerous times all over the Qurān. The Prophet (p) and the believers received the blessings of Allah (swt) and the disbelievers are cut off from it. The Qurān itself speaks about many different blessings and favours Allah (swt) has bestowed upon the Prophet (p), and his enemies being accursed.
Lastly, this is the most general interpretation of the chapter and is inclusive of all other interpretations that are given for this chapter. Whether you believe kawthar means Prophethood, or the Qurān, the ability to intercede, Fāṭima (s), knowledge and wisdom, and so on, all of these are kawthar and the enemies of the Prophet (p) are deprived of it.
If it were to be just us and this chapter, the above explanation is very justifiable and reasonable. There is only one way to discredit it and that is if we can establish some specific qualities for this word which would limit and restrict the general meaning of kawthar. This is what the proponents of the next three interpretations have done – as we will see.
2) A group of scholars have said the meaning of kawthar is knowledge and wisdom. Indeed, We have given you knowledge and wisdom – and your enemies have been deprived of it. Proponents say we agree kawthar means abundant goodness, but we must look at the Qurān to see what it has identified as abundant goodness. They bring two alibis:
[2:269] …and he who is given wisdom, is certainly given an abundant good…
[4:113] … Allah has sent down to you the Book and wisdom, and He has taught you what you did not know, and great is Allah’s grace upon you.
However, this interpretation does not nullify the first interpretation and in fact this approach to limit the meaning of a word in the Qurān is incorrect. All that the two verses used as alibis prove is that wisdom is an instance of abundant good, not that abundant good is wisdom alone. This is similar to if someone says, “akrim al-‘ālim” (respect the scholar) and some time later says “Zayd ‘alim” (Zayd is a scholar) – does this mean that Zayd is the only instance of a scholar and that other scholars are excluded from the first general phrase? No, there could be other scholars as well and all that the second phrase conveys is that Zayd is one instance of a scholar.
All that the two verses are saying is that wisdom and knowledge are some of those instances of abundant good. They would fit in perfectly fine under the general statement of Sūrah Kawthar. Therefore, this interpretation has not given us a strong enough argument for their position.
3) A group of scholars claim that kawthar means a river or pond in heaven or a pond on the Day of Judgement – as per differences in traditions, we do not want to get into those details.
There is absolutely no Qurānic or linguistic argument for this. The only argument for this is the traditions and the vast majority of the traditions regarding this chapter – in both Shī’ī and Sunnī works – all say that kawthar is a pond or a river in the afterlife. Proponents say there are tens of traditions on this chapter and that is the best argument to restrict the meaning of kawthar in this chapter to just a river or a pond. To read some of them one can refer to al-Āmālī of both Shaykh Mufīd and Shaykh Ṭūsī, Ṭabrasī in his Majma’ al-Bayān, Qumī in al-Tafsīr and other works. To access all of them collectively, one can either refer to Biḥār al-Anwār if they are looking for a Shī’ī author or Durr al-Manthūr of Ṣuyūṭī if they are looking for a Sunnī author.
Generally speaking, proponents of this interpretation differentiate between kawthar and abtar – they do not link the two together. As per their understanding the chapter is essentially saying, indeed we have given you a river in heaven, and your enemies will be deprived of a progeny – there is no connection between the two verses.
As far as observations on this interpretation are concerned, we mentioned already that we will not go into detailed analysis of the traditions as that will become very lengthy. However, what we know is that this interpretation is solely based on these reports, it does not have a Qurānic or a linguistic argument. If there were no traditions saying kawthar is a pond or a river, it is far-fetched for someone to have just made that claim.
When we look at the traditions – be it in Durr al-Manthūr or Biḥār al-Anwār – we see that there is a set of traditions that speak about a river in heaven. This set has nothing to do with our discussion, because all they say is that there is a pond in heaven or that the Prophet (p) is given a pond in heaven, or that the believers and the nation of the Prophet (p) will drink from the pond, or that ‘Alī (a) will be your companion at the pond. The pond in these traditions is called Kawthar, but mere resemblance of words does not mean that the Qurānic verse is speaking about this pond.
The set of traditions relevant for our discussion are those that explicitly speak about Sūrah al-Kawthar and identify the word kawthar to mean a pond in heaven. As far as these traditions are concerned, then an overwhelming amount of them have weak chains of transmissions, in both Sunnī and Shī’ī works – in fact many of them are mursal.
A number of reports which are not problematic from the perspective of their chains, are in fact not ahadīth attributed to the Prophet (p), rather they are attributed to the companions and hence they could be from the personal opinions of the companion. These companions are primarily Ibn ‘Abbās, ‘Āyesha, Ḍaḥḥāk and Ḥuzayfa – and their personal opinions are not binding on us.
What is strange in some of these reports is that Ibn ‘Abbās is describing the revelation of this chapter in Makkah and that the Prophet (p) was asked about its meaning. Ibn ‘Abbās was not even born during the Makkan period and even if we take the earliest date for his possible birth it would have been two or three years before the migration. In any case, a final point about these traditions is that most of them are Sunnī – though I do not intend that just because that is the case, they are wrong, rather this is what their condition is.
Nevertheless, given there are a very small number of reports on this matter can be authenticated, then a scholar must stick to the meaning conveyed in this tradition if they accept the probative force of an authentic solitary speculative tradition in matters of exegesis.
However, if a scholar – like ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī – believes in the probative force of only those traditions where one attains conviction in their utterance, then with the condition of the reports we have at our disposal, it may be difficult to attain assurance regarding these reports.
Nevertheless, whether one accepts this interpretation to a degree of certainty or not, it still acts as a speculative barrier in front of the previous two interpretations. One cannot easily discard it away.
4) These are essentially two different interpretations, but I am combining them since their argument is the same. Proponents say that kawthar is a reference to the progeny of the Prophet (p) until the Day of Judgement. Or some say kawthar is just a reference to Fāṭima (s), not all of the progeny. Even though this opinion has absolutely no explicit tradition to back it up, it has become extremely popular to the extent that it has become symbolic for Fāṭima (s). Proponents of this interpretation rely on four arguments – 2 from the Qurān and 2 from the traditions.
The first argument is that the word abtar in Arabic refers to someone who does not have a progeny. This is correct, the word abtar is used in this meaning as well. Proponents say that if you do not understand the word kawthar to mean the progeny of the Prophet (p) or Fāṭima (s), then that would mean the chapter is talking about two different subject-matters. This is while the chapter is very short, and the presumption is that it is talking about one subject-matter. If the chapter had two subject matters, it would read like this:
Indeed, We have given you a lot of good, or a pond in heaven, or wisdom and knowledge, so pray to your Lord and sacrifice. Indeed, your enemy will be deprived of a progeny.
What does the last verse have to do with the first two verses of the chapter? Nothing – and it rather sounds absurd. However, if we understand the chapter to have one subject-matter, it will read like this:
Indeed, We have given you a large progeny, or Fāṭima (s) – who is the basis of your progeny, so pray to your Lord and sacrifice. Indeed, your enemy will be deprived of a progeny.
These scholars have first taken the meaning of abtar to then explain the meaning of kawthar.
Their second argument relies on the combination of two words “inna” and “huwa” in the last verse. The composition of “inna” with “huwa” conveys that the verse is identifying someone or something in contrast to something that was said earlier. In other words, the chapter is saying, indeed we have given you X, and as a matter of fact, it is your enemy who is deprived of a progeny. X would only make sense if it means progeny.
The third argument which is from outside the Qurān is also important, especially because ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī is also a proponent of this view. The argument is that the traditions regarding the reasons for the chapter’s revelation back up the claim that the context of it was the progeny of the Prophet (p). When his (p) son Qāsim died, the Prophet (p) was called abtar – what is understood from this is that the chapter had to do with progeny and children.
The last argument is the following tradition:
أرسل إليه عمرو بن العاص يعيبه بأشياء منها أنه يسمي حسنا و حسينا ولدي رسول الله ص فقال لرسوله قل للشانئ ابن الشانئ لو لم يكونا ولديه لكان أبتر كما زعمه أبوك.
‘Amr b. al-Āṣ sent forth (someone to Imam ‘Alī) to denounce him on different matters. One of them was that he names Ḥasan and Ḥusayn as the sons of the Messenger of Allah (p). He (a) said to the messenger (of ‘Amr), say to the hater son of the hater, if they were not his sons, he (p) would be abtar just as his father had thought.[note]Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha of Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, v. 20, pg. 334[/note]
We will offer our observations on this interpretation and analysis, but before that we want to mention that the word kawthar in this chapter has been interpreted to mean the progeny of the Prophet (p) since the earliest centuries of Islamic scholarship. However, restricting the word to specifically mean Fāṭima (s), then this is a relatively new position perhaps dating back to around two-centuries. Although old or new makes no difference to us in this discussion and rather what matters is the evidence.
We will offer our observations on the fourth and last interpretation which understands kawthar to mean progeny of the Prophet (p), or specifically Fāṭima (s). We will divide the discussion into three parts. In the first part we will evaluate the four arguments brought by proponents and see whether the argument is strong enough to restrict the meaning of kawthar to just progeny or Fāṭima (s). In the second part we will present six major critiques laid against the fourth interpretation overall – by different scholars – and see whether they are valid or not. Thirdly, we will offer the names of 17 Shī’ī scholars who reject this interpretation.
Before we begin, we want to reiterate that the understanding of kawthar in this chapter to mean progeny is an old opinion. However, its restriction to just Fāṭima (a) occurred around 200 years ago as per what I found during my research. Furthermore, even the opinion of it meaning progeny was not the most famous opinion in the past, it was one of almost 20 different opinions. There was no consensus or even a popularity regarding this specific interpretation, let alone on it being restricted to Fāṭima (s), even amongst the Shī’a.
We will now evaluate the four arguments presented by the proponents of this view for restricting the meaning of the verse to progeny or Fāṭima (a) and negating its general meaning of abundant good. Let us look at the fourth argument first, which was:
أرسل إليه عمرو بن العاص يعيبه بأشياء منها أنه يسمي حسنا و حسينا ولدي رسول الله ص فقال لرسوله قل للشانئ ابن الشانئ لو لم يكونا ولديه لكان أبتر كما زعمه أبوك.
‘Amr b. al-Āṣ sent forth (someone to Imam ‘Alī) to denounce him on different matters. One of them was that he names Ḥasan and Ḥusayn as the sons of the Messenger of Allah (p). He (a) said to the messenger (of ‘Amr), say to the hater son of the hater, if they were not his sons, he (p) would be abtar just as his father had thought.[note]Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha of Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, v. 20, pg. 334[/note]
This tradition does not exist in any source, no book of history, or biographies, or ḥadīth or tafsīr or anywhere else. It only exists in the Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha of Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīḍ who died in 7th century hijrī and he did not mention absolutely any source for it, not even a chain of transmitters. To use this report as a strong alibi is very difficult. Furthermore, even if we were to accept this tradition, all it proves is that the Prophet (p) will not be without a progeny, but to make the claim that kawthar also means progeny or Fāṭima (s) depends on a second presumption which is that there has to be a relationship between the words kawthar and abtar. We will later show that there can indeed be an absence of relationship between the two words without an issue.
The third argument they cited were the traditions regarding the reasons for the chapter’s revelation and ‘Allāmah considered these to be the main argument for his position. The traditions that mention the meaning of abtar in this verse are far fewer than the numerous traditions that talk about the meaning of kawthar as a pond in heaven. In addition, most of them are all narrated by the tābi’īn, not even the companions, or the Prophet (p) or the Ahl al-Bayt (a). Even the very few that are narrated by a companion return back to Ibn ‘Abbās. Furthermore, most of them are all found in the books of Ahl al-Sunnah, not even the Shī’a works – you will only find two or three traditions in Shī’ī works that speak about the meaning of abtar in this verse in context of its revelation. Also, there are numerous contradicting reports from both the companions and the tābi’īn which interpret abtar to mean someone who is cut off from his nation or cut off from good. For those interested to further read these traditions, they can refer to Jāmi’ al-Bayān of Ṭabarī.
Furthermore, not all traditions even explain what abtar means. There is one set of traditions that says ‘Ās b. Wā’il is abtar – this does not tell us the meaning of abtar. The traditions that seem to indicate the meaning of abtar as someone deprived of a progeny, in context of this very chapter, are extremely little.
Likewise, we want to reiterate the argument we made in our critique of the tradition cited from Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd as well, which is that all these traditions prove – if they do – is the meaning of abtar. They do not tell us the meaning of kawthar, and to imply kawthar means progeny is to presume that the two verses and words are related with one another.
Let us for a moment accept everything for arguments sake – let us presume that there are traditions by which we can establish that kawthar means progeny, or even Fāṭima (s). We still face a dilemma which is that on the one hand we have these very few traditions that say kawthar means progeny, but a large quantity of traditions that say kawthar means pond. For what reason did ‘Allāmah prefer the former over the latter? If you say the latter are mostly Sunnī traditions and hence we prefer the former, well then, the former are also mostly Sunnī. If you say the latter are mostly weak traditions, then the former are also mostly weak traditions. There is no reason to prefer the former set of traditions – who speak about abtar and you have to derive the meaning of kawthar indirectly through them – over the latter set of traditions which speak about the meaning of kawthar directly and are much more in number.
This is a very strange position held by ‘Allāmah especially when we know his general methodology when it comes to the discussion of traditions that explain the reasons for revelation is that he does not give them much value to begin with. Why he gave these small number of traditions preference over the traditions that describe kawthar as a pond is strange. The traditions on the pond are not only much more in number, but they include more Shī’ī traditions as well, and there are many more proponents of that view amongst the scholars.
It would have been much more appropriate and befitting if ‘Allāmah had stuck to the general meaning of kawthar and argued that progeny or Fāṭima (a) is simply one instance of kawthar – by applying the principle of Jarī wa al-Tāṭbīq, like he does in many other places of his exegesis.
Now we move towards the last two alibis which were internal, rather than external. The argument was that if you do not understand the word kawthar to mean progeny then that would mean the chapter is talking about two different subject-matters. The second argument was regarding the words “inna” and “huwa”. Let us offer our observations on these two arguments:
- a) There is no doubt that abtar in the Arabic language has been used to mean someone deprived of a progeny. However, just because the Qurān uses this word, does not necessarily mean it has also been used in the same meaning. This is because abtar has been used to mean many other things as well. Essentially, the fallacious argument of the proponents is as follows:
- One of the meanings of a word in the Arabic language is X
- It is possible for the Qurān to have used this word in X meaning
- Hence, the Qurān has used this word in X meaning
This fallacious argument exists in many works of exegesis. For example, the word thiyāb in Arabic, what does it mean? Clothes. However, in the Arabic language the word thiyāb is also used to mean heart (qalb). So certain exegetes, especially those with mystical affinities, claimed the verse [74:4] وَثِيَابَكَ فَطَهِّرْ meant it was an order to the Prophet (p) to purify his heart. This is very evidently fallacious.
Likewise, the word abtar in the Arabic language has also been used to mean someone who is deprived of good, from progeny, from remembrance and fame and so on. There is nothing within the chapter itself that allows us to prefer the meaning of abtar to be someone deprived of a progeny – the only alibi for that are the traditions which are external evidence, that we have already discussed their condition.
- b) Secondly, ‘Allāmah says that if kawthar does not mean progeny then that would mean the chapter is talking about two different subject-matters, and that is a problem. This is a very good attempt to justify the claim, however this has been responded by a number of scholars:
- Shahīd Muḥammad al-Ṣadr al-Thānī says what is the problem if there are two subject-matters in one chapter? There are many chapters that speak about multiple subjects matters and that is not something strange, rather it is pretty common in the Qurān. The chapter could be saying: Indeed, We have given you abundant good, so pray to your Lord, and sacrifice due to what Allah (swt) has blessed you with. On a completely different note, indeed it is your enemy who is without a progeny.
This is what al-Ṣadr has said, but I believe it is not the strongest of arguments, since the chapter is so short, and it still seems far-fetched for it to be speaking about two different subject-matters.
- This second explanation is also given by Shahīd al-Ṣadr al-Thānī, and this is a much stronger argument. He says, we agree that the last verse of the chapter is in opposition to what is being discussed in the first verse, hence both verses should be speaking about one thing. However, why are we presuming abtar means someone deprived of a progeny and not someone deprived of abundant good?
This is a valid argument. ‘Āllāmah – apparently – seems to be influenced by the traditions and then goes to the end of the chapter to define what abtar means, and then concludes that kawthar means progeny. However, why should we being like that, and not from the beginning of the chapter where we take the meaning of kawthar as abundance, subsequently concluding that abtar means someone deprived of this abundance.
- c) As for the last argument regarding the words “inna” and “huwa” then even in this case if we take the meaning of kawthar to mean abundant good and abtar to mean someone who is deprived of it, there would be no problem with the meaning of the chapter. It would simply mean: Indeed, We have given you abundant good, and as a matter of fact, it is your enemy who is deprived of this abundant good.
Overall, the fourth interpretation is standing on two fundamental arguments. One of them are the traditions which we showed were not only weak, but very few in number and contradict a large number of traditions that speak of kawthar as a pond. The second argument was the presumption that abtar necessarily means someone who is deprived of a progeny in this specific verse.
The aforementioned discourse was all related to the first part of our discussion. The second part of our discussion are independent critiques on the fourth interpretation. Most of these critiques are related to restricting the word kawthar to Fāṭima (s) specifically. There are six major critiques:
1) If kawthar was specifically Fāṭima (s), then how is it possible for there to not even have been one single narration in the ḥadīth corpus of the Muslims. This is extremely strange. Not one single tradition, not even a weak one or a later one. Someone did not even bother to fabricate such a tradition. This is while we have so many traditions in our books – and even in Sunnī books – that interpret verses of the Qurān in light and praise of the Ahl al-Bayt (a). If this verse was indeed an explicit reference to Fāṭima (s), this would have been one of the greatest merits of Fāṭima (a) so how could it have been possible for there to not even be one single tradition on the matter? For me personally, this is extremely strange. I am not saying this critique invalidates the fourth interpretation completely, rather it significantly weakens its probability.
On the contrary we find many traditions that say kawthar is a pond or a lake, and one Shī’ī tradition from Imām al-Ṣādiq (a) saying it means intercession on the Day of Judgement.
2) If abtar means someone who is deprived of a progeny, there is a problem which Ibn ‘Āshūr points out in his exegesis. He says, if the verse is saying ‘Ās b. Wa’il al-Sahmī is abtar, this contradicts the fact that he was not abtar. He had a son ‘Amr b. al-Ās who is famous and well known, and even he had a son named ‘Abdullah b. ‘Amr who is a famous narrator amongst the Ahl al-Sunnah. This is established and recorded in the works of history. This also weakens the traditions themselves.
Ibn ‘Āshūr says that if we were to accept these traditions, then it would be necessary to understand the last verse in what is termed as Uslūb al-Ḥakīm (the construct of speech by the wise) in the science of rhetoric. Meaning, the verse is saying, indeed we have given you a lot of good and guidance, and it is your enemy who is deprived – but not deprived of what he believes to be a deprivation in the sense of progeny, rather he will be afflicted with a true deprivation. He will not be remembered, his mention will be erased from all good and righteous places, he will not enter heaven, he will be a forgotten person and so on. This is true deprivation. Lack of progeny is not true deprivation.
As I mentioned in the beginning of our lessons, there is discrepancy in the traditions on who this individual was. I checked the names of all others to see whether there was anyone who did not have a progeny. Some traditions say it was Abū Lahab – he was not abtar, since he had three children. Some traditions say it was Walīd b. Mughīrah – he was not abtar since his son was Khālid b. Walīd who himself had children. Some traditions say it was ‘Amr b. al-Ās and as we mentioned he had a son. Some traditions say it was Abū Jahl – he was not abtar since he had sons, some of them very well known. Some traditions say it was ‘Uqba – he was not abtar since he had children, such as Walīd b. ‘Uqba and as per some traditions the verse of al-Naba’ (49:6) was revealed for him. All of these individuals were not abtar in the sense that they did not have a progeny. Hence, the critique of Ibn ‘Āshūr is strengthened.
Our observation on Ibn ‘Āshūr’s argument is that it is not necessary that when Allah (swt) calls someone abtar that they will not have any immediate progeny. It could be a general statement saying that their progeny will eventually cease. Maybe someone could investigate the genealogy of these figures and conclude that their progeny was indeed cut off after 100 years or so – who knows – time does not allow us to get into such extensive research.
3) Ibn ‘Āshūr has a second critique and that is based on his opinion that the chapter was revealed in Medina. He says that the verse commanding the Prophet (p) to sacrifice, and this is in reference to what happened during Ḥudaybīyyah.
We have alluded to this already in the beginning, and we believe this is a very weak claim and as a matter of fact we will later explain what the word sacrifice (naḥr) in this verse means shortly.
4) If the word kawthar in this chapter means Fāṭima (s) – which is what is popularly understood today, in fact people even name their daughters kawthar because they believe they are giving them one of the names of Fāṭima (s) – then that would mean kawthar is from one of her titles, epithets or from one of her names. When we look at the traditions and historical reports regarding Fāṭima (s) – whether they are authentic or not – there is not one single report which mentions this as one of her titles or names.
What we find instead are the following names: Fāṭima, Ṣiddīqa, Mubārakah, Shahīdah, Ṭāhirah, Zakīyyah, Rāḍīyyah, Radīyyah, Marḍīyyah, Muḥaddatha, Zahrā’, Baṭūl, Baḍa’, Sayyidah al-Nisā’, Sayyidah Nisā’ al-‘Ālamīn, Ḥaṣān, Sayyidah, Umm al-A’imma, Umm Abīhā, Ḥurrah, ‘Adharā’, Ḥawrā’, al-Ḥawrā’ al-Insīyyah, Maryam al-Kubra, al-Siddīqah al-Kubrah, Nūrīyyah, Manṣūrah and others.
All of these titles are mentioned. Some of them are mentioned in traditions, some in the traditions of the Ahl al-Bayt (a), while others are mentioned in the words of scholars of the past or works of history and so on. Not one of these traditions or scholars refer to her as Kawthar and this shows that such a name was not attributed to her at all in the past.
5) This fifth argument is against those who took the meaning of kawthar to mean progeny – it is not applicable to those who restrict the meaning to just Fāṭima (s). It argues, is it really a Qurānic theme to prefer someone over another due to the quantity of their children and progeny? If the verse is saying, indeed we will give you a great progeny, and your enemy will be deprived of it, what merit does this have? Does the Qurān not say [102:1] Rivalry [and vainglory] distracted you? Preference of one over the other due to number of children and progeny was an Arab culture, the very culture the Qurān was trying to diminish.
In addition, have there not been hundreds, if not thousands, of Prophets (p) whose progenies have ceased to exist, and we do not remember those Prophets (p) except through their histories, their stories, the struggles they went through and so on. In addition, does simply having a progeny really a good thing, or is it only a good thing if the progeny is righteous. Allah (swt) says to Nūḥ [11:46] O Noah, indeed he is not of your family; indeed, he is [one whose] work was other than righteous.
Or [42:50] Or He makes them [both] males and females, and He renders whom He wills barren. Indeed, He is Knowing and Competent.
Having a large progeny and lineage is simply in the hands of Allah (swt) and is it not something to be proud of or to feel proud and conceited about.
6) The traditions say that the chapter was revealed when one of the sons of the Prophet (p) passed away, and ‘Ās called him abtar. The verse was revealed saying: Indeed, we have given you al-kawthar. The verse uses the past tense “given you”, this is while Khadīja (s) had not even given birth to Fāṭima (s) yet. Therefore, it has to be something that the Prophet (p) already had been given, such as knowledge, or wisdom, or faith, or even at that moment he could have been given the pond. However, if you understand the word kawthar to mean progeny, then you would have to understand this as a promise, rather than an informative statement. Understanding this past-tense as a promise is against the prima-facie of the verse.
We believe this is not a very strong argument and it is possible to respond to it. This is because in the Arabic language such use is not rare, and hence it is not that difficult to understand the past tense verb as a promise in this verse.
Our conclusion after all these discussions is that the first interpretation is the most reasonable one. Kawthar means abundant good and it has many instances, such as belief, Prophethood, Qurān, wisdom, Fāṭima (s), righteous progeny, pond or lake in heaven and so on; whereas abtar is someone who is deprived of all of these.
In the third part of our discussion, we will mention the names of Shī’ī scholars who – like myself – accepted the first interpretation:
- Shaykh Ṭabrasī in Majma’ al-Bayān
- Shaykh Ṣādiqī Tehrānī in al-Furqān fī Tafsīr al-Qurān
- Sayyid Ja’far Murtaḍa ‘Āmilī in his Tafsīr Sūrah al-Kawthar
- Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍlullah in his Tafsīr
- Gonāhbādī in his Bayān al-Sa’ādah
- Shaykh Muḥammad Jawād Maghnīyyah in Tafsīr al-Kāshif
- Sayyid Muḥammad Taqī al-Modarresī in Tafsīr min Huda al-Qurān
- Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Shīrāzī in Taqrīb al-Qurān ila al-Adhhān
- Sayyid ‘Alī al-Ḥa’irī al-Tehrānī in his Muqtanayāt al-Durar wa Multaqaṭāt al-Thamar
- Sayyid ‘Abd al-Ḥusayn al-Ṭayyib in his Aṭyab al-Bayān fī Tafsīr al-Qurān
- Sayyid ‘Alī Akbar al-Qurashī in his Tafsīr al-Aḥsan al-Ḥadīth
- Ḥusaynī Shāh ‘Abd al-Aẓīmī in his Tafsīr Ithnā’ ‘Asharī
- Sayyid ‘Abdullah Shubbar in his Tafsīr al-Qurān al-Karīm
- Sayyid Maḥmūd Tāliqānī in his Partoyi Az Qurān
- ‘Alī b. al-Ḥusayn al-‘Āmilī in his al-Wajī fī Tafsīr al-Qurān al-‘Azīz
- Sayyid Abū al-Qāsim al-Khū’ī in his work al-Bayān under the discussion of the miraculousness of the Qurān
- Mullā Fatḥullah al-Kāshānī in his Zubdah al-Tafāsīr
All of them are Imāmīyyah Shī’a scholars and they accept that kawthar means abundant good. They believe all things that are mentioned otherwise are simply instances of kawthar and that the verse is not restricted to any one single instance.
Verse 2 – Fa Ṣalli Li Rabbika Wanḥar
Due to the fa we know that that this verse is linked with the first verse. It implies an exchange, meaning, since we have given you a lot of good, you should return the favour by praying and sacrificing. The verse is teaching the Prophet (p) and other Muslims and rest of humanity, that whatever Allah (swt) gives to you deserves gratefulness and thanks (shukr). This is something that all humans acknowledge, when someone does something good for you then you feel that you must thank them for their favour, even if the value of gratefulness in terms of quantity and quality is less than the original favour.
Shukr is of different types, one of them is verbal when one simply says, “thank you”, but there are practical ways to be thankful as well such as what is being mentioned in this verse. In this era mankind has forgotten the favours of Allah (swt) and have forgotten to thank him for all His blessings, rather they have considered themselves the criterion and believe they are the ones that deserve thanks from others. Though these human rights exist, but not at the cost of us forgetting the right of Allah (swt).
Allah (swt) in the Qurān says, [14:7] If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor] – which establishes a further relationship between gratefulness and increase in blessings and favour.
In the verse of Sūrah al-Kawthar, Allah (swt) commands the Prophet (p) to pray and to sacrifice. In other words, he (p) is being asked to thank Allah (swt) by engaging in an act of worship, and by spending and giving to others through sacrifice (as we will discuss in detail shortly).
The relevance of the word li-rabbika should also be very clear, indicating that the prayers are only for your Lord, unlike what the polytheists of Makkah believe. Also note that the verse switches from first-person to third-person – it says “we gave you abundant good”, so “pray to your Lord” instead of “pray to us”. This switch alludes to the reason for why the Prophet (p) is being asked to thank Allah (swt) and that is due to His (swt) Lordship (rubūbīyyah). It is the Lord (swt) who cares about you, showers His (swt) grace upon you, assists you and grants you favours and blessings.
An important question to discussion now is what do the words Ṣalāt and Naḥr in this verse mean. The difference of opinion is due to the traditions on the revelation of this verse, or due to certain analysis some exegetes have done, or simply due to other traditions that speak about these words independently.
1) Fa-Ṣallī is simply a command to pray. Wanḥar is a command to raise your hands during takbīr during prayers up until your neck. Some Shī’ī and Sunnī traditions exist indicating this and some jurists even concluded that this is not something you do just for the first takbīr, but rather every takbir or anytime you raise your hands – which includes raising your hands for the recitation of the qunūt.
2) Fa-Ṣallī is a command to pray – just like the first interpretation above. Wanḥar means that when you stand up from rukū’ in prayers, stand up with a straight back, and do not slouch over. They argue that when we look at the word Naḥr linguistically, we see that it is used for multiple meanings. One of its meaning is throat, but it also means to stand face to face. Proponents of this interpretation say that the verse is saying you should stand up straight looking directly towards the Qiblah.
3) Fa-Ṣallī is a command to pray. Wanḥar means that when you raise your hands for takbir, your palms should be facing the Qiblah.
Our observation on all three interpretations is that if there are reliable reports – as per one’s view on the binding force of solitary reports – explaining and defining the word Naḥr as above, then there is no issue and they have to abide by this understanding. However, if one rejects these traditions for whatever reason – there is a lengthy discussion amongst the jurists over these traditions and one can refer to them to see the different arguments –then one must wonder if any of the three explanations above are strong. Here are a number of observations:
- Some may say there is no relationship between being given kawthar and being asked to pray to offer thanks, but then the verse mentions a very detailed act within that prayer – i.e. this is how you should raise your hands for takbir, or this is how you should stand up after rukū’. The relationship of this very detailed matter in respects to thanking Allah (swt) is not very clear.
We can understand if one says, Allah (swt) has given you a lot of favours, so thank Him (swt) by praying and giving charity for example. But if someone says, Allah (swt) has given you a lot of favours, so thank him by praying, and then you being that prayers and raise your hands for takbir make sure they are facing towards the Qiblah – or that when you stand up from rukū’ make sure you stand up straight and do not slouch over. This is a little strange and its connection with thanking Allah (swt) with a general concept of praying, or giving charity, or sacrificing is not very clear.
This is on top of the fact that most jurists have not given a verdict on it being obligatory to raise your hands for takbir in Ṣalāt (except the first one), let alone a verdict on raising it till the throat or ensuring that the palms face the Qibla.
- Some exegetes have said the gap between Fa-Ṣallī and Wanḥar with the word li-rabbika further weakens these three explanations. This is because it appears that the concept of Ṣalāt ends with the word “for your Lord”, and the word wa after it is essentially indicating the mentioning of something different, rather than a small detail within the same prayers that was previously mentioned before the phrase “for your Lord”.
The above observation is not very clear to me itself and I do not find it very strong, but this is what they have said.
iii. The most important critique is that the word Naḥr in Arabic is more popularly and famously used for the sacrifice of a camel. The Arabs did not know about such details about the prayers, particularly at the time of Makkah during the beginning stages of Islam. For the Qurān to speak about such a detailed jurisprudential matter regarding Ṣalāt in the Makkan period, while the word Naḥr was already popularly used to mean sacrificing an animal, is very far-fetched and weakens the possibility of the three interpretations.
All of these observations are under the presumption that there are no reliable traditions on the matter, but as we have already said, if there is a reliable and probative tradition explaining Naḥr to mean one of these detailed matters, then one must stick to the tradition.
4) Fa-Ṣallī is a command to pray, but Wanḥar is a command to face the Qibla when sacrificing the camel.
This is simply wrong since the proponent has used two different meanings of Naḥr – sacrificing a camel and facing the Qibla – to come up with this interpretation. Even if one were to say that it is possible to for a word to be used in multiple meanings at one time, even then it would be against the prima-facie of the word Naḥr. In fact, the previous three interpretations are much more reasonable than this one.
5) Though Naḥr means slaughtering a camel, but this slaughtering was closely related to the Ḥajj in the Arab culture. Hence, the Prophet (p) is being commanded to sacrifice a camel during Ḥajj on the ‘Īd al-Aḍḥa. However, this also then becomes an alibi that the command to pray is a command to pray Ṣalāt al-‘Īd. This is what Ibn ‘Āshūr has mentioned and some traditions actually assist this interpretation – but those interested can look at the books of jurisprudence and see what the jurists have concluded there, since some have used the verse to prove the obligation of Ṣalāt al-‘Īd.
Ibn ‘Āshūr showed a lot of attention to detail in this interpretation, but in any case, there are a number of problems with it. Firstly, we agree that Naḥr was associated with the slaughtering of camels, however, the claim that this slaughtering was most popular and known to have occurred during Ḥajj is unknown – this needs evidence. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that the Arabs would sacrifice and slaughter a camel when they wanted to distribute a lot of food to people out of their hospitality or out of charity. This is what was well-known in the Arab culture.
This is on top of the fact that there are is no evidence to argue that this chapter had anything to do with Ḥudaybīyyah, or Ḥajj or that it was even revealed in Medina.
6) Fa-Ṣallī is a general command to pray and Wanḥar is a general command to sacrifice and slaughter camel. Of course, the mere sacrifice is not what is intended, rather it is being used as a metonymy (kināyah) to distribute the food, feed people out of charity and hospitality. It is like if someone says, “slaughter a sheep for them”. This does not mean you slaughter a sheep for a group of people and then just throw the sheep away, rather it means you slaughter it and then serve it to them as food.
This is the most reasonable understanding of the verse.
Verse 3 – Inna Shāni’aka Huwa al-Abtar
Shāni’ is someone who possess hate, but a type of hate that is worse than mere enmity. They possess the worse type of enmity and hate possible. Hence the verse is saying, your hater and enemy will be the deprived one, they will be the ones at loss.
Though this chapter is addressing the Prophet (p), it can be generalized to all. Those upon whom Allah (swt) bestows his favours and blessings, then they must thank him for His Lordship by showing servitude to Him alone and as well as being charitable and hospitable to people around them. As for those who trouble you out of their severe hate for you, they will be the ones deprived of Allah’s (swt) favours and they will be the ones at loss.
We will conclude this lesson by mentioning a few words in regard to what was said about this chapter not being about Fāṭima (s). Perhaps the laymen and general laity have an excuse for associating this chapter or other matters of religion to things that are not necessarily valid. A speaker comes to them to their city or village, sits on the pulpit and says certain things – they have no reason not to believe him and accept his words, and they learn from these speakers all the time.
However, there is no excuse for a student of Ḥawzah, one who has entered into the seminary, has opened the door to research and further investigation, to remain a muqallid. I do not mean muqallid in Fiqh – do not confuse it with that. For a student of the seminary it is necessary to look, research and investigate the different opinions, contemplate over them. They must enter into this realm, and not remain like the local vegetable sellers – and I do not mean any offense to them -who do not have any idea about the discussions of religion.
The laymen are excused as their sources of knowledge for these matters are whoever comes to them on the pulpit, or what they hear from the radio or television and so on. Most do not have time to research into these matters, nor do they care – this is fine and that is their right. But someone who enters the seminary, and after spending year after year, it is simply not appropriate for you to remain like a layman. This is extremely dangerous, particularly for the religion itself. You must get out of the robes of the laity and become a real student, even if you do not become a jurist in Fiqh – I am not talking about Fiqh. Of course, this needs to happen gradually, not that on the first day they enter the seminary they think they are now the jurist of the century or the greatest scholar of their time – no. However, it needs to happen, and a student is not excused especially because they carry a responsibility.
Personally, there a piece of of advise I can offer to students, so that when they are on this journey of learning they do not fall into shock when they come across opinions they are not familiar with:
Study the history of the various sciences and issues. When you study the history of these issues, you will become immune to hearing differing opinions and the shock factor will slowly diminish. When you keep believing there is only one opinion on the matter, then even after spending 10 years in the seminary, if you were to ever come across a second opinion, you will fall into a state of shock and fear. This is because you were ignorant of the history of the discussion and the differences of opinions that existed on it from the very beginning. This shock is a result of ignorance and the only way to cure it is to get out of that ignorance. Study the heritage, read the works of the scholars, continuously skim through their works, do not begin any discussion from scratch – rather know that for most matters there generally exists a 1000-years of discussion. This will allow you to become a scholar and you will no longer remain a layman.
If you are a student, but you still behave and think like a layman, then whenever you hear a new opinion you will react in one of two way. One way is that you will either block off the opinion and discard it without giving it any thought and attention, whereas more often than not, the opinion is not new and rather only due to your ignorance of the history of the matter you believe it is new.
The second way you could possibly react is that the moment you hear a different opinion – especially if it is from a significantly influential scholar – it will feel as if lightening has struck you and you will lose all trust and certainty in your previously held beliefs and ideas. This is also very dangerous and incorrect.
Both of these approaches are wrong and we must take the middle ground. This is something that needs to become part of our pedagogy – one must not fall into immediate doubt and skepticism, nor put a barrier between themselves and a different opinion. We must train ourselves to remain calm and collected when we hear a new opinion. We must allow ourselves to investigate it and contemplate over it, not dogmatically reject it and nor become skeptical about all of our previously held beliefs.
There is this story reported, that one day Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī was found weeping by some of his students and they asked him about it. He said he is weeping because for three decades he believed in a certain matter in one of the issues of logic, but he realized he had been incorrect this whole time. The students said to him that this should be a matter of joy since you have realized your error, hence there is no reason to cry. He replied, “I am not weeping because I have realized I was wrong on this specific matter, rather, I am weeping because it is possible I could have been wrong on all other issues as well.”
We do not want to react like Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, who popularly became known as Shaykh al-Mushakkikīn (the Leader of the Skeptics).