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The Verse of Witness

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آیه شاهد.png
Verse's Information
Name Shahid verse
Sura Quran 11
Verse 17
Juz' 12
Content Information
Cause of
Revelation
Reassuring and inspirit the Prophet (s)
Place of
Revelation
Mecca
About Imam 'Ali (a) as the witness for prophethood
Related Verses Al-Mubahala Verse

The Verse of Witness or al-Shāhid Verse (Arabic: آية الشاهد) concerns the proofs for the Prophet’s prophethood from the Quran, earlier scriptures, and truthful believers. It was revealed when polytheists accused the Prophet (s) of falsehood. The verse was revealed to reassure and inspirit the Prophet (s).

In Shi'a and Sunni sources of hadiths and Quranic exegesis, the “witness” in the verse is said to be Imam ʿAli (a), although there are other interpretations such as Gabriel, the Prophet’s tongue, and the Qurʾan as well.

The Verse of Witness is adduced as evidence for Imam ʿAli’s guardianship and caliphate, since according to the verse, the “witness” in question should be the Prophet’s own soul, and according to the Verse of Mubahala, Imam ʿAli (a) was the Prophet’s own soul.


Text and Translation

Content

In his al-Mizan, ʿAllama Tabatabaʾi takes the Verse of Witness to be a reassurance to the Prophet (s) and reinforcement of his faith in the Book of God. On his account, the verse was revealed concerning accusations raised by polytheists to the effect that the Prophet (s) was a liar.[1]

In the Quranic exegeses, Majmaʿ al-bayan and Tafsir-i nimuna, two interpretations of the verses are offered:

  • On the first interpretation, the phrase “Is he who stands on a manifest proof from his Lord” refers to the Prophet (s) himself in that his prophethood can be proved in three ways:
  1. The Quran as a manifest proof or evidence,
  2. Earlier scriptures such as the Torah in which the Prophet’s signs have been mentioned,
  3. His loyal followers and truthful believers such as ʿAli b. Abi Talib (a), as they are evidence for the truth of a religion.[2]
  • On the other interpretation, the phrase “Is he who stands on a manifest proof from his Lord” refers to all believers who believed in the Prophet (s) and eagerly followed the Quran through manifest convincing proofs as well as evidence for the Prophet’s truthfulness in earlier scriptures.[3]

The term “bayyina” (manifest proof) in the verse is said to mean obvious things that not only make themselves manifest, but also bring other things into light.[4]

Who is the Witness?

There are different interpretations offered by Quranic exegetes about what is meant by the word “witness” in verse 17 of Quran 11. In many Shi'a and Sunni books of hadith and exegesis,[5] the “witness” is taken to refer to Imam ʿAli (a) as the first person who believed in the Prophet (s).[6] There is a hadith in which Imam ʿAli (a) cites himself as the “witness” in this verse.[7]

In his Shawahid al-tanzil, al-Hakim al-Haskani cites over sixteen hadiths to support the view that Imam ʿAli (a) was the witness in this verses. A case in point is a hadith from Anas b. Malik to the effect that the phrase “Is he who stands on a manifest proof from his Lord” refers to Muhammad (s) and the phrase “and whom a witness of his own [family] follows” refers to ʿAli b. Abi Talib (a).[8] The hadith continues by saying that ʿAli (a) was the Prophet’s tongue toward people of Mecca when they violated their treaty.[9] In another hadith, al-Haskani quotes Ibn ʿAbbas as saying that the “witness” in the phrase “and whom a witness of his own [family] follows” uniquely refers to Imam ʿAli (a).[10]

There are other accounts of the referent of the “witness” in this verse as well. According to Fadl b. Hasan al-Tabrisi in his Majmaʿ al-bayan, Ibn ʿAbbas and Mujahid, two early Muslim exegetes of the Quran, have interpreted the “witness” as referring to Gabriel who carried the Quran from God to the Prophet (s). On another account, the “witness” is said to refer to the Prophet’s tongue and gestures as means of recitation of the Quran. On yet another account, the proof is said to be rational evidence and the witness is said to be the Quran itself.[11]

'Allama Tabataba'i rejects other accounts of the verse, and drawing on certain hadiths,[12] he argues that the phrase “and whom a witness of his own [family] follows” refers to Imam ʿAli (a).[13]

Implications for Imam ʿAli’s Guardianship and Caliphate

The Verse of Witness is also adduced as a proof for the position of guardianship and caliphate for Imam ʿAli (a). According to some researchers, the term “yatlūh” in this verse means to follow, rather than recitation, because the masculine pronoun in this term as well as the pronoun in “minh” (from his own) refer to “he who.” It follows that “from his own” is evidence for an essential spiritual relation between the witness and the Prophet (s); that is, the witness here is the Prophet’s own soul.[14] Moreover, since the verb “follows” implies continuity, it is said to imply that the witness follows the Prophet (s) in all degrees and at all times. Such attributes can only be established through the position of guardianship and caliphate or succession of the Prophet (s). The instance of such a position, according to hadiths and Quranic verses such as the Verse of Mubahala, is said to be Imam ʿAli (a).[15]

Why Reference is Made to the Torah

The Verse of Witness refers to the Torah from among the earlier scriptures. According to Quranic exegetes, this is because Jewish thoughts were more prevalent in the milieu in which the Quran was revealed, since Christians lived in more distant areas such as Levant and Yemen.[16] Moreover, it is said that the Prophet’s attributes have been more comprehensively mentioned in the Torah.[17]

Notes

  1. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 10, p. 183.
  2. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 5, p. 226; Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 51-52.
  3. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 5, p. 226; Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 53-54.
  4. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 10, p. 183.
  5. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 190; Ibn Ḥayyūn al-Tamīmīyy, Daʿāim al-Islām, vol. 1, p. 19.
  6. Ḥuwayzī, Tafsīr nūr al-thaqalayn, vol. 2, p. 344-346; Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 5, p. 226-227; Suyūṭī, al-Durr al-manthūr, vol. 3, p. 324.
  7. Hilālī, Kitāb Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilālī, vol. 2, p. 903; Ibn ʿUqda al-Kūfī, Faḍaʾīl Amīr al-Muʾminīn, p. 193.
  8. Ḥaskānī, Shawāhid al-tanzīl, vol. 1, p. 359-370.
  9. Ḥaskānī, Shawāhid al-tanzīl, vol. 1, p. 366.
  10. Ḥaskānī, Shawāhid al-tanzīl, vol. 1, p. 365.
  11. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 5, p. 226-227.
  12. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 10, p. 194-196.
  13. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 10, p. 185.
  14. Manṣūrī, and Ṣādiqī, Different literary aspects in the opening phrase of Qur'an 11:17 and its reflection in the interpretation of the phrase "a witness of his own (family)" (Persian) p. 119.
  15. Manṣūrī and Ṣādiqī, Different literary aspects in the opening phrase of Qur'an 11:17 and its reflection in the interpretation of the phrase "a witness of his own (family)" (Persian), p. 119.
  16. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 56.
  17. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 56.

References

  • Ḥaskānī, ʿUbayd Allāh b. ʿAbd Allāh al-. Shawāhid al-tanzīl li-qawāʿid al-tafḍīl. Tehran: Muʾassisa Ṭab' wa Nashr-i Wizārat-i Irshād, 1411 AH.
  • Hilālī, Sulaym b. Qays. Kitāb Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilālī. Qom: Al-Ḥadī, 1405 AH.
  • Ḥillī, al-Ḥasan b. Yūsuf al-. Nahj al-ḥaq. Qom: Muʾassisa Dār al-Hijra, 1407 AH.
  • Ḥuwayzī, ʿAbd ʿAlī b. al-Jumʿa al-. Tafsīr nūr al-thaqalayn. Qom: Muʾassisa Ismā'ilīyān, 1415 AH.
  • Ibn ʿUqda al-Kūfī, Aḥmad b. Muḥammad. Faḍaʾīl Amīr al-Muʾminīn. Qom: Dalīl-i Mā, 1424 AH.
  • Ibn Ḥayyūn al-Tamīmīyy, al-Nuʿmān b. Muḥammad. Daʿāim al-Islām wa dhikr al-ḥalāl wa l-ḥarām fī al-qaḍāyā wa al-aḥkām. 2nd edition. Qom: Muʾassisat Āl al-Bayt, 1385 AH.
  • Kulaynī, Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-. Al-Kāfī. Tehran: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyya, 1407 AH.
  • Makārim Shīrāzī, Nāṣir. Tafsīr-i nimūna. Tehran: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyya, 1371 Sh.
  • Manṣūrī, Sayyid Muḥammad and Ṣādiqī, Zahrā. Wujūh-i mukhtalif-i adabī dar ʿibārāt-i āghāzīn-i āya-yi 17 Sūra-yi Hūd wa bāztab-i ān dar tafsīr-i ʿibārāt-i shāhid minh, Different literary aspects in the opening phrase of Qur'an 11:17 and its reflection in the interpretation of the phrase "a witness of his own (family). The Journal of Research in Quranic Sciences and Hadith. No 26, 1405 AH.
  • Suyūṭī, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Abī Bakr al-. Al-Durr al-manthūr fī tafsīr bi l-maʾthūr. Qom: Kitābkhāna Āyat Allāh al-Marʿashī Najafī, 1404 AH.
  • Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Mūhammad Ḥusayn al-. Al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān. Beirut: Muʾassisat al-Aʿlamī li-l-Maṭbūʿāt, 1390 AH.
  • Ṭabrisī, Faḍl b. al-Ḥasan al-. Majmaʿ al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān. Tehran: Nāṣir Khusraw, 1372 Sh.