Does Quran Prohibit asking questions about Islam and Allah? A detailed context of Quran (5:101-102)
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
What is the context of 5:101-102?
O you who have believed, do not ask about things which, if they are shown to you, will distress you. But if you ask about them while the Qur’an is being revealed, they will be shown to you. Allah has pardoned that which is past; and Allah is Forgiving and Forbearing.A people asked such [questions] before you; then they became thereby disbelievers.
A brief tafseer says, the sahabas were simply asking too many questions.
But what type of questions were they asking that if answered would turn them into disbelievers?
First of all you should know that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) warned his companions not asking too much (for details) as did banu Israel, so that their ahkam (of shari’a) became “difficult” to apply. See for example in Sahih Muslim.
What type of questions were they asking?
Ibn al-‘Arabi in his tafsir gave 4 possible reasons for the revealing of the quoted first part of Verse (5:101) :
- a narration from Sahih al-Bukahri, Sahih Muslim, Jami’ at-Tirmidhi and others where a man asked: “Who is my father?” …
Note that the answer could be very embarrassing for his mother, if she had premarital sex in jahiliya, especially as this was asked while the Messneger of Allah (peace be upon him) was holding a speech!
In Tafsir al-Baghawi, ibn Kathir and at-Tabari different narrations where quoted with the reaction of the mother of that man who asked about his father, where she calls her son a disobedient, who compromised his mother (here the Arabic statement from tafsir al-Baghawi):
ما سمعت بابن قط أعق منك ، أأمنت أن تكون أمك قد قارفت بعض ما تقارف نساء أهل الجاهلية فتفضحها على أعين الناس؟
- An other narration from Sahih al-Bukahri (also in al-Awsat of Imam at-Tabarni) which says that people asked the Messenger of Allah about things to mock him.
- Anarration which is not in the two Sahih books, but in al-Mustadrak, in Sunan ibn Majah, in Jami’ at-Tirmdihi, which says that the companions (May Allah be pleased with them) have asked if Hajj is required every year, but the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) remained silent!
- A quotation of ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with -both of- them): saying it’s about people who asked the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) about al-bahira البحيرة(a she-camel whose milk was spared for the idols and nobody was allowed to milk it),
- As-saa-iba السائبة (a she-camel let loose for free pasture for their false gods, e.g. idols, etc., and nothing was allowed to be carried on it), al-Wassyla الوصيلة (a she-camel set free for idols because it has given birth to a she-camel at its first delivery and then again gives birth to a she-camel at its second delivery)
- And al-ham الحام (a stallion-camel freed from work for their idols, after it had finished a number of copulations assigned for it, all these animals were liberated in honour of idols as practised by pagan Arabs in the pre-Islamic period) who are quoted in (5:103).
Then he added that if they are shown to you, will distress you
makes the first reason stronger, because if the Messnger of Allah (Peace be upon him) answered that son (in some ahadith he didn’t answer) then maybe his mother would be embarrassed with what she had committed in Jahiliya (pre-Islam era)!
He also quoted a Haidth from Sunan ad-Daraqutni, al-Awsat of at_Tabarni and zwaid al-Haythami which he qualified as sahih and supports the third possible revealing reason and also goes ahead with the first hadith is quoted in our answer:
إن الله أمركم بأشياء فامتثلوها ، ونهاكم عن أشياء فاجتنبوها ، وسكت لكم عن أشياء رحمة منه ، فلا تسألوا عنها
Our Translation (please take it with care)
Allah ordered you to observe things, so comply with them, and He has forbidden you things so refrain from them, and He remained silent about things to mercy from Himself, so don’t ask about them!
So his conclusion is -apparently- that things which are forbidden to ask about (according this Verses) are things where the answer would hurt or bring any kind of distress once it’s spoken out or revealed!
For example if one knows that his mother had premarital sex or if we should practice hajj each year, or maybe a Question with a nasty result could apply to this like the Verses from (2:55)!
He also insisted in explaining that (fiqh) calamities النوازل are excluded from this Questions one shouldn’t ask, as some people used a hadith to hinder people form asking extensively about fiqh matters!
- Some scholars (Fatwa in Arabic) said that Question about irrelevant/useless things are included in this. But this doesn’t mean that asking to seek knowledge is forbidden (16:43). And you’ll find examples of that in the Qur’an for example in (2:189), (2:219) and (2:222)…
Imam al-Qurtoby in his tafsir concluded after quoting ibn al-‘Arabi’s reasons:
وفي الصحيح والمسند كفاية . ويحتمل أن تكون الآية نزلت جوابا للجميع ، فيكون السؤال قريبا بعضه من بعض ، والله أعلم
– – – (My own transaltion take it carefully) – – –
And what is in the sahih with a connected (sane) narrator chain should be enough. But it is possible that the verse is an answer of all of these reasons too so the kinds of questions might be similar to each other (or asking question might be meant in general) And Alalh knows best!
Why or how the answers would turn them into disbelievers?
According to tafsir at-tahrir wa-tanwir (5:102) refers to people of the book who asked their Messengers and Prophets (Peace be upon them) about some details of subjects and once they were given them they didn’t believe:
For example Thamud who asked Salih (peace be upon him) about a sign from Allah so once Allah brought out a She-Camel from the rock they hum-strung it! Also some tafsir’s mention as an example the table of the disciples of ‘Isa (peace be upon him).
Other narrations which are considered as related to these Verses
- In most tafsir books other narrations are quoted like this one from Sahih al-Bukhari, where the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) one day allowed his companions to ask him anything as long as he was in his place.
- A longer narration from Sahih Muslim, about the man who asked about his father with the addition of a narration with the reaction of his mother.
- An other narration from Sahih Muslim defining that the greatest sinner among Muslims is the one who asked about something Allah didn’t forbid “until” Allah forbid it because of his persistence!
Part of knowledge is to understand what we, as human can not comprehend. That is to know our own limitation. Human mind give names to things and ideas. If we can not give a name to anything then we can not communicate it to others. That’s why our languages have similes. That’s what Allah has used in describing Heaven and Hell etc.
People are encouraged to understand this limitation and concentrate on things that is more relevant to this life, it’s purpose and prepare for the next one.
We have many questions in our mind about the universe or the human body or about history etc. But we are not capable of grasping that knowledge. For example: if someone tries to explain how the magnetic charger works to some people who doesn’t have even know what is electricity or live in the jungle, he will not understand what you are saying and would obviously disbelive you.
He will think you are talking nonsense. He doesn’t have the capability to understand the current let alone anything more advance than that. We, in our modern era, have advanced a lot but still doesn’t know a lot about our own body. And whatever we know is based on good guessing. So how can we understand something that we cannot even see or happend in the past.
If you get that answer (the type of answers you asked about) you will try your best to understand it but you cannot fully understand it and ultimately, you will think it’s not true.
And lastly, if you don’t understand some ayat then dont stress over it, try your level best to understand it. If you still cannot make the point of it, then ask Allah to give you the knowledge to get it.
Allah knows best!
Some people questioned the Prophet (pbuh) only to mock him. “People before you” asked such questions and they were given answers. They did not believe the answers, so they became disbelievers because of that.
This occurred because these rulings were made plain to them, yet they did not benefit at all from that, for they asked about these things not to gain guidance, but only to mock and defy.
The following Hadith states the reason for the revelation of that verse=ayah:
The Prophet (ﷺ) delivered a sermon the like of which I had never heard before. He said, “If you but knew what I know then you would have laughed little and wept much.” On hearing that, the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) covered their faces and the sound of their weeping was heard.
A man said, “Who is my father?” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “So-and-so.” So this Verse was revealed: “Ask not about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble.” Quran (5.101)
Tafsir of Ibn Kathir also mentions the following incident to have happened before the revelation of that Ayah. This Hadith tells more about the context of that Ayah:
The Prophet (ﷺ) came out after the sun had declined and offered the Zuhr prayer (in congregation). After finishing it with Taslim, he stood on the pulpit and mentioned the Hour and mentioned there would happen great events before it.
Then he said, “Whoever wants to ask me any question, may do so, for by Allah, you will not ask me about anything but I will inform you of its answer as long as I am at this place of mine.” On this, the Ansar wept violently, and Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) kept on saying, “Ask Me! ”
Then a man got up and asked, ”Where will my entrance be, O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)?” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “(You will go to) the Fire.” Then
Abdullah bin Hudhaifa got up and asked, "Who is my father, O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)?" The Prophet (ﷺ) replied, "Your father is Hudhaifa."
The Prophet (ﷺ) then kept on saying (angrily), "Ask me! Ask me!"Umar then knelt on his knees and said, “We have accepted Allah as our Lord and Islam as our religion and Muhammad as an Apostle.”
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) became quiet when `Umar said that. Then Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “By Him in Whose Hand my life is, Paradise and Hell were displayed before me across this wall while I was praying, and I never saw such good and evil as I have seen today.”