Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal interprets the verse ‘Wa ja’a Rabbuka’ (narrated by as-Saidi)

Title page of biography of Imam Ahmad al-Jawhar al-Muhsal

In his biography of Imam Ahmad entitled al-Jawhar al-Muhsal, the Hanbali scholar as-Sa’idi narrates, in the chapter of the belief of Imam Ahmad, the following story:

‘He was a follower of the madh-hab of the Salaf, by declaring Allah exempted [from any resemblance to the Creation] and by the negation of any anthropomorphism. It even happened that he interpreted in some situations. Hanbal (the son of the paternal uncle of Imam Ahmad) said: ‘One day, I heard the son of my uncle say: ‘They [the mu’tazilah] have used as a proof against me, the day of the great debate, [the following hadith whose apparent meaning is]: ‘On the day of judgement, Surat al-Baqarah will come, and Surat Tabaaraka will come!’

[Explanation: the Mu’tazilah, a misguided group, based themselves on this hadith to maintain that teh Qur’an is created and therefore implied that Allah does not have the attribute of al-Kalam, which is a blasphemous belief. Imam Ahmad did not accept to utter this statement, and on the day of the trial of Imam Ahmad, they tried to use this hadith as a proof by saying that if it mentioned that these 2 Surahs will come, therefore it could only mean according to them, that these surahs have been created, as they will move from one place to another]

I said to them ‘It is the reward [that will come’], [indeed] it is the manifestation of His power that will come [qudratuhu]. The Qur’an is full of metaphors, exhortations, commandments, prohibitions and others’.

[Explanation:  this means that Imam Ahmad answered to them that the Qur’an says ‘Wa jaa’a Rabbuka’ too, so are you going to say that this means that Allah will come too and move? (Imam Ahmad knew that even though they had other wrong beliefs, they did not use to say that God moves or that He is created. It is as if he had told them : ‘you and I know that this is not the meaning referred to here. On top of that he explained that when it is mentioned int the hadith that these Surahs will come, truly what is meant is that the rewards due to reading these Surahs will come.]

Points to remember:

  • Imam as-Sa’idi died in 900 after the Hijrah, i.e. more than 500 years ago. He was a hanbalite, and this book is specifically dedicated to the life of Imam Ahmad.
  • Imam as-Sa’idi starts the chapter of the belief of Imam Ahmad by explaining the belief of the Salaf, and by mentioning the fact that Imam Ahmad did happen to perform interpretations.
  • We also learn that Imam Ahmad only performed an interpretation because there was a need, i.e. he needed an argument to prove a misguided group wrong, and this forced him to demosntrates how he understood the verse ‘wa jaa’a Rabbuka’. In other situations, the scholars of the Salaf did not use to make detailed interpretation, but they were performing a ‘general’ interpretations by saying that the apparent meaning is not to be taken into account.
  • this interpretation is also narrated by Ibn Kathir (in this website), who quotes al-Bayhaqi who said that the chain of transmission of this event cannot be contested

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