ilm al-Aitebar (Consideration): Denying the apparent meaning of the Quran & Hadith, Sufis Esoteric Interpretation of the Quran, Terms & conditions, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

Compiled By: Mufti Umar Anwar Badakhshani

Since the beginning Islamic Scholars have made Quran the center of utilizing their intellectual energies according to their respective subjects and areas of judgment and understanding. Their efforts resulted in an amazing treasure of knowledge and Quranic sciences. Those who indulged themselves in purification and benevolence (Tazkia & ihsan), also known as Sufis, have tried to discover the meanings of the Quran from their own understanding and emotional aspects. As a result certain explanation of the honorable Sufis about the verses of the Quran contradicts the obvious meanings which may be mistaken as an exegesis. The knowledge by Sufis to explain the meanings of the Qur’an is called the “ilm al-Aitebar” (Considering an effective cause for analogy).

Definition of ilm al-Aitebar (Considering an effective cause for analogy)

ilm al-aitebar is to determine the significance of an occurrence with one’s present situation and derive lesson therefrom. Two similar things can be compared to one another, thereby resulting in learning a lesson. It will not be exegesis of quran and cannot be taken as knowledge of the Quran. [Badaa’i, page 241] [Ashraful Jawab, page 314, vol.2]

The following points summarizes this definition:

  • 1) ilm al-Aitebar is not the exact interpretation and meaning of the Qur’an.
  • 2) Resemblance with an Aayah is not the definite Credibility.
  • 3)Element of similarity should not be taken as analogical jurisprudence.
  • 4) This is the purpose of Shariah and is proved by other Shariah arguments.

ilm al-aitebar: Examples from Qur’an

The origin of ilm al-Aitebar is established from the Qur`an. The nomenclature and name for this type (Aitebar) is in fact derived directly from the Qur`an:

1) It is stated in the Qur`an Majeed:

فاعتبروا يا اولي الابصار

This Aayat is related to the incident of the expulsion of Banu Nazeer. Allaah is warning the followers that they should learn a lesson from this incident and abstain from the actions of those people who were punished, lest they fall in the same hole. This is a true example and essence of ilm al-Aitebar, where two situations are compared with each other and a lesson is derived. [Bawaadirun Nawaadir, page 397, vol.2]

2) Another ayat is:

اذهب الى فرعون انه طغى

“Go to Fir’oun, indeed he has rebelled”. The sufiya interpreted this Aayat as “Go, oh soul, towards your nafs and strive against it, indeed it has rebelled”.

The objective here is not the interpretation of ayah (Tafseer,) but their intention is to forewarn and advise the reader of the Quran that the Quran is not merely a book of stories, in fact, lessons should be learned from it. The intention of mentioning incidents in the Qur`an is only to derive lessons therefrom. Allah says in the Quran:

لقد كان في قصصهم عبرة

“Indeed there is in their stories, a lesson.”

therefore while reciting the Aayat regarding Hadhrat Mosa’s (alayhi salaam) confrontation with Fir’oun one should imagine the similarity to Mosa (alayhi salaam) and Fir’oun in one’s self, in which soul is an inviter to good, like Hadhrat Mosa (alayhi salaam) and nafs a caller towards evil, like Fir’oun. Hence you are expected to overpower and overcome your nafs with your soul. Such lessons are learnt and derived through ilm al-aitebar. [Badaa’i, page 240]

3) In the Holy Qur’an, Allah Almighty has said:

اعلموا ان الله يحي الارض بعد موتها

“Know that indeed Allah revives the earth after its death”.

Hazrat Ibn Abbas in his explanation on this verse said:

لين القلوب بعد موتها والا فقد علم احياء الارض مشاهدة

Here the word الارض (earth) which is used for the earth in the ayah means the Heart, This is also an example of ilm al-Aitebar.

He is not contradicting the commonly accepted interpretation which refers to the actual earth in fact he is drawing attention to the listeners that they must not suffice only on the superficial meaning however they must go in-depth for hidden meanings. As the other meaning can be that earth dies and revives, so too is the condition of the hearts. This full narration is present in my Book, ‘Masailus Sulook’. It has been established from these narrations that ilm al-Aitebar is not an innovation (Bid`ah) of the Sufiya. Its origin is in the Text of Quran and Sunnah (nusoos). Hence Sufiyas who consider ilm al-Aitebar should not be labeled as libertine (zindeq), doing so will be committing a grave mistake. [At-Tablegh no.12, page 228-239]

This is amongst the finer, delicate and symbolic gems of Quranic interpretation (Lata`if, nukat and Ta`welat). It is not an exegesis of Quran and cannot be said to be knowledge of the Qur`an. [Ashraful Jawab, page 314, vol.2]

When ilm al-Aitebar is valid and its terms & Conditions?

The explanation about a claim which is only through the knowledge of ilm al-Aitebar and is not an exegesis and interpretation is that if the claim of the ruling is proven by another text of Qur’an and Sunnah then it is within the Shari’ah limits and permissible. However, if that ruling is not proven by another text of the Qur’an and Sunnah then it is only a persuasion. If it is against and contrary to another ruling of Shari’ah then it is absolutely unlawful. So ilm al-Aitebar is achieved by tashabuh (comparison) and ishara (indication).

The bottom line is that:

  • 1) ilm al-Aitebar should not be considered as a commentary on the Qur’an.
  • 2) Aitebar is achieved by tashabuh (comparison) and ishara (indication).
  • 3) The apparent meaning of the Aayah should not be denied.

Reality of ilm al-Aitebar

Apparently ilm al-Aitebar is like Jurisprudential analogy, but in reality it is based on Behavioral analogy (Qiyas Tasarrufi). An important point to be noted is that it is not a definite jurisprudential analogy (Qiyas Fiqhi) Because the Authority in Shariah is only for jurisprudential analogy (Qiyas Fiqhi).

The difference between Fiqhi Qiyaas and Aitebar (Consideration) and their respective rulings

ilm al-Aitibar is to evaluate some occurrence with one’s present situation and derive lesson therefrom. When two things bear a resemblance to each other than one can be compared to the other, thereby resulting in a lesson being learnt. [Badaa’i, page 241]

Fiqhi Qiyaas is where something which is not found in nass (text of Quran and sunnah), is compared with another which is present in the nass (text of Quran and sunnah) and a common ruling is extracted.

The level of such results is less than the jurisprudential measurement, and these indications are not even of a certain level, even this knowledge itself is not attainable. Rather, the one whose mind is concerned with this Appropriateness will be able to make such an argument even if he does not have any special status in knowledge and grace.

The reality of proving something (istidlal), and ilm al-Aitebar (consideration) and the difference between the two.

“Istidlaal” is made by understanding the literal significance, then implementing those methods and ways outlined and explained by the Authentic Scholars. Aitebar is achieved by tashabbuh (comparison) and ishara (indication). The base of both these methods is established from the Qur`an. However the word “daleel” and “istidlal” do not appear directly in the Qur`an, in fact, it is done through indication and synonymously. In this regard, Allah states in the Qur`an:

قل هاتوا برهانکم

Ask the non-believers), bring forth your proof (burhan)”, and in another Aayaat هل عندكم من علم “Say (to the non-believers), is there by you any knowledge?

In these Aayaat, the words, burhan and ilm indicates daleel, hence it is called “istidlal”. Therefore, with regard to the Aayat: أقيموا الصلوة “Establish Salat”, it will be correct to aver that Salat has been made Fard, whereas the word Fard has not been used in this Aayat, but its indication and significance is present.

As for the second method, the Quran uses the word, Aitebar. Allaah says in the Qur’an :

فاعتبرو يا اولي الابصار

“Take lesson, o people of insight”.

The incident of the banishment of the Banu Quraidha was mentioned before this, and thereafter Allah Ta`ala warns the people of insight to take lesson, lest their actions will result in a similar fate for them. This is the meaning of ibrat (taking lesson), where a certain

Situation placed before you, and if you do not take heed and act in the similar manner, your end result will be the same. [Huqooquz zaujain, page 51]

Difference between Majaz (Figurative), Kinayah (Mentonym) and ilm al-Aitebar.

Clarity can be achieved by comparing one thing (Mushabbah) to another (Mushabbah Behe) but it is not proven or established. The fact is that Mushabbah is always established through another proof. On the contrary, this is not needed in majaz (Figurative) be it Majaz Mursal (Synecdoche) or istiaara (Metaphor).

The reason is that in majaz (Figurative) there is some contextual factor that indicates to the unsuitability of the ‘Maudo Lahu’ meaning (Total meaning of Subject), hence the Ghair Maudo lahu meaning (meaning other than its subject) is taken.

Whereas in the case of ilm al-aitebar, neither there is contextual evidence indicating the non-application of the ‘Maudo’ meaning (Total meaning of Subject), nor is the ‘ghair Maudoo’ meaning (other than its subject) implied.

This is also not applicable in kinayah (Metonymy), because in kinayah (Metonymy), the ‘Maudo’ meaning is not discarded, in fact, the actual import of that sentence is the Maudo`.

Difference between ilm al-Aitebar and ilm al-Ta’beer (Dream interpretation)

ilm al-Aitebar is more distinguished than ilm al-Tabeer (interpretation of dreams) the reason for its eminence is that Tabeer only deals with supernatural affairs whereas ilm al-aitibar centers around pure Shar’i rulings. [Bawaadirun Nawaadir, page 396, vol.2]

Proof of the legitimacy of ilm al-Aitebar

This question remains that does the nusoos also use ilm al-Aitebar in the same way the Sufis do? I answered with the praise to Allaah, that such examples can easily be found in the Qur`an, and this is not my claim but Shah Waliullaah Dehlavi (RA) has also mentioned the same. Such a great sheikh had written two Ahadith in the book, Al Fauzul Kabeer.

Once Nabi (PBUH) mentioned regarding the issue of Destiny (Taqdeer):

ما منكم من أحد وإلا وقد علم مقعده من الجنة ومقعده من النار. فقالوا: يا رسول الله! ففيم العمل؟ -يعني: إذا كانت مقاعدنا معلومة ففيم العمل؟- قال: اعملوا فكل ميسر لما خلق له، أما أهل السعادة فييسروا لعمل أهل السعادة، وأما أهل الشقاوة فييسروا لعمل أهل الشقاوة ثم تلا قوله تعالى: فَأَمَّا مَنْ أَعْطَى وَاتَّقَى وَصَدَّقَ بِالْحُسْنَى فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْيُسْرَى وَأَمَّا مَنْ بَخِلَ وَاسْتَغْنَى وَكَذَّبَ بِالْحُسْنَى فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْعُسْرَى.

“There is not any one of you except that a place in The Fire and Jannah has been reserved for him’,The Sahabah asked, ‘O Rasulullah (PBUH), should we not then rely on our Kitab (taqdeer) and abandon (good) deeds?”.

Prophet (PBUH) said, “(Continue to) Do good actions, (because indeed) everything has been made easy for that which has been created for him, for him who is (destined to be) amongst the fortunate ones, good actions have been made easy for him.” Thereafter, Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) recited the following Aayat, “As for him who gives (in charity), and keeps his duty to Allaah and fears Him, and believes in Al-Husna (the best/reward), we will make smooth for him the path of ease (goodness), But he who is greedy….”

Now the question can be arised: where is Destiny mentioned (Taqder) in this Aayat? The import of this Aayat is that the path towards Jannah is made easy for the one who gives charity and is pious, and Jahannum is easily accessible for the one who is a miser. Shah Sahab explained this, that Prophet (PBUH compared this Hadith to this Aayat by means of ilm al-aitebar Which demonstrates that good deeds make the path of Jannah easy whereas bad deeds make the path to Jahannum easy, similarly, through Taqder, good deeds are made easy for some and evil deeds for others. This similarity is given for the purpose of simplify the explanation that the easiness which is created through Taqder is the same as the easiness which is created as a result of the execution of deeds. This dilation is done by means of comparison. Shah Sahib has proven the origin of ilm al-Aitbar in the Qur`an through this Hadith.[Bada`i, page 243]

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has used ilm al-Aitebar in the Ahadith. I am stating this not on my own but on the strength of a great personality as This is a grand claim. If anyone does not accept the statement of Shah Sahib, then I will ask him to comment and explain the Hadith. Indeed the (explanation of) knowledge of these Ahadith, which was rendered by Shah Sahib, is acquired through a gifted knowledge, otherwise (normally) such things cannot be understood. [Badai. page 246]

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