A certain fellow Mr. Akber Chaudhary has come up with an allegation of intellectual dishonesty on my part with regards to my article in refutation of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Mr. Chaudhary’s contention is that the words “qad khalat” in Qur’an 3:144 essentially mean death. Let’s see as to what the truth is.
In my response to malignant accusation of playing with the meaning of the Word of Allah, I shall;
1) Give the dictionary meaning of the word tracing back its root.
2) Briefly touch upon each of the 14 other instances in Qur’an where “qad khalat” appears. For this instead of randomly picking up from various commentaries I shall rely on just two but well known commentaries i.e. Tafsir Jalalayn and Tafsir Ibn Kathir.
3) Cite some classical and recent commentaries that deal with the meaning of the words in the context of the verse under consideration.
4) Explain what Mr. Chaudhary has quoted from the 4 classical scholars and say as to why the fifth one does not help here.
Of all these 1) and 2) are presented in part-1 of my response and 3) and 4) shall follow in part-2.
Before I start as stated above let me briefly say as to what has been my contention. Also I will reiterate some points on the issue which must be kept in mind while reading any commentary.
My argument is simply that there is nothing in the actual letter of the verse to mean death. It simply refers to prophets having been in the past.
The case of ‘Eisa (AS) in the established and the sole true tradition is recognized as an exception. All the prophets before the Final Messenger (may Allah bless him) except him at the end of their terms on this Earth faced death. So if any commentator says that earlier prophets have died it does not imply the same for ‘Eisa (AS). This is especially true because actual the letter of the Qur’an does not mean death. So for any running comment we must remember the rule,
للأكثر حكم الكل
This implies an exception does not harm the general meaning or conversely a general rule does not affect the things established as exceptions through other evidences. This point will be of paramount importance while looking into commentaries of the scholars on the verse in question. We shall see that in part-2 in-sha’Allah!
Now let’s get back to the real academic thing.
The dictionary meaning scratching the root:
Following is what Imam Ragheb al-Isfahani (d. 502 A.H.) wrote:
“Al-Khullu (the root of khala) is used for both time and space and but as there is a nuance of the past in (its usage of) time so linguists explained "khala al-zaman" by saying time has passed (or gone).” (Al-Mufradat fi Gharaib al-Qur’an vol.1 p.210 pub. Nazar Mustafa al-Baz)
While above is the translation of the text that I have highlighted in yellow in the image above; point to note is the first example in green that the classical scholar has given is the very verse under consideration. Is it not a clear proof that he is conveying that in the verse the essential meaning of the word “khalat” (which comes from khala) is about having been in the past? What is more, that he then quotes 3:137 (highlighted in red) as the example in the same head. Now 3:137 reads;
قَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ سُنَنٌ
And duly translated it would mean;
“Indeed there have been examples before you.”
Or can someone say that it means,
“Indeed examples have died before you” ?
Important: The fact that a scholar known for his linguistic skills has put both verses in the same head without pointing out to any basic difference kills the notion that the word must mean something different when used for humans. We shall see no commentators have actually given this idea any real importance.
Other Qur’anic verses containing the words “qad khalat”:
In this section I will get my readers to take a look at each of the 14 other instances in the Qur’an where “qad khalat” is found. I will only quote Tafsir Jalalayn and Tafsir Ibn Kathir. For some verse if I do not mention either or both of these, it is because they have not categorically commented on the meaning of these words “qad khalat.”
1) Qur’an 2:134
After the mention of Prophet Yaqub’ (Jacob) –may Allah bless him- will to his children in verse 2:133 the Qur’an says
تِلْكَ أُمَّةٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتْ وَلَكُمْ مَا كَسَبْتُمْ وَلَا تُسْأَلُونَ عَمَّا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
“This is the community that has been in the past. For them is that which they earned, and for you is that which you earn. And you will not be asked of what they used to do.”
Now for the choice of words in the above translation, please see the following;
Hafiz Ibn Kathir (d. 774 A.H.)
He says (in the highlighted part): “’... have been (qad khalat)’ i.e. lived in the past (madhat)’” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir p. 213 pub. Dar Ibn Hazm, Beirut 2000)
“madhat” is essentially about having being in the past and does not mean death by any stretch of imagination.
Now Tafsir Jalalayn coauthored by Jalaluddin al-Mahalli (d. 864 A.H.) and Jalaluddin al-Suyuti (d. 911 A.H.) says.
To translate the highlighted part alone. The Tafsir tells us;
“ .. have been (qad khalat)”: preceded (salafat)” (Tafsir Jalalayn p.20)
‘salafat’ simply means ‘has gone before/preceded’ Again nothing to mean death!
Let’s not forget this is the use about humans.
So the meaning of “qad khalat” when used for humans even is simply “madhat” and “salafat” which refutes any idea of death attached to the words.
2) Qur’an 2: 141
After mentioning the great Messengers of Allah and their progeny in the preceding verse, Allah repeats the same wording as in 2:134.
To quote Ibn Kathir ones again;
He has said exactly what he said for the previous.
And in Tafsir Jalalayn it is simply said that its like has been explained already.
Again the meaning is clear.
3) Qur’an 3:137
قَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ سُنَنٌ فَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَانْظُرُوا كَيْفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الْمُكَذِّبِينَ
“Indeed there have been examples before you; therefore travel in the earth and see what was the end of the rejecters.”
Ibn Kathir says:
“there have been examples before you (qad khalat min qablikum sunan): i.e. ‘verily the same (mishaps) have happened to the communities that were there before you …” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir p.403)
And in al-Jalalayn we read:
“’... have been (qad khalat)’ i.e. lived in the past (madhat)’” (Tafsir Jalalayn p.67)
This is same as Ibn Kathir said for Qur’an 2:134 and 2:141.
Also note those verses were for humans and this is for practice yet the meaning is same and verses are easily understandable. Some people do not learn from the word of Allah, rather tend to project their own ideas to the holy text.
4) Qur’an 5:75
مَا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلَّا رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ كَانَا يَأْكُلَانِ الطَّعَامَ
“And Messiah ibn Maryam was not but a Messenger. There have been messengers before him and his mother was a truthful lady. They both used to eat food …”
Ibn Kathir has not directly commented on the meaning of “qad khalat” here however he simply said that it means there have been prophets before him (‘Eisa Masih A.S.). Nothing to imply death anyway!
However in Tafsir Jalalayn we read:
“And Masih ibn Maryam was not but a Messenger verily there have been (qad khalat)’ [i.e.] passed in time (madhat), ‘prophets before him’ and so he will also become a subject of past (yamdhi) like them and he us not a deity as they (Christians) assumed otherwise he would not have become a subject of past (madha)” (Tafsir Jalalayn p.120)
The real Deity is supposed never to become a subject of past. An essential attribute of the real Deity is Omnipresence and Ever-Presence.
Also note “khalat” is equated with “madhat” just as it was done for Qur’an 3:137 by the authors of Tafsir al-Jalalayn.
And as the sentence construction is exactly same in the verse under question, it shows according to authors of Tafsir Jalalayn “qad khalat” means “madhat” there too. This makes it crystal clear that death is not in the meaning of the word of Allah.
5) Qur’an 7:38
قَالَ ادْخُلُوا فِي أُمَمٍ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ مِنَ الْجِنِّ وَالْإِنْسِ فِي النَّارِ
“He will say, enter the Fire along with the peoples who have been before you from the Jinn and the human beings.”
Ibn Kathir says:
“’have been before you’ i.e. from the earlier (al-safila) disbelieving nations.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir p.754)
In Tafsir Jalalayn there is no direct comment on the words in this instance.
However Ibn Kathir’s commentary again proves that words actually do not mean death.
6) Qur’an 13:6
وَيَسْتَعْجِلُونَكَ بِالسَّيِّئَةِ قَبْلَ الْحَسَنَةِ وَقَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمُ الْمَثُلَاتُ
“And they ask you to hasten on the evil before the good, and indeed there have been exemplary punishments before them;”
Following is Hafiz Ibn Kathir’s intake on this,
“’and indeed there have been exemplary punishments before them;’” Meaning, `We have exerted Our punishment on the previous nations (umamin khaliya).” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir p. 1003)
While Tafsir Jalalayn has nothing to say directly about the words under discussion, Ibn Kathir has actually killed Mr. Chaudhary’s point.
“umam al-khaliya” is very much like “ayyamin khaliya” used in Qur’an 69:24 and simply means previous or of the past time. No mention of death again.
7) Qur’an 13:30
كَذَلِكَ أَرْسَلْنَاكَ فِي أُمَّةٍ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلِهَا أُمَمٌ لِتَتْلُوَ عَلَيْهِمُ الَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ
“Thus we have sent you among a community before which there have been (other) communities so that you recite unto them what We have revealed unto you.”
Explaining the point about “other communities” Ibn Kathir says:
“ … Likewise we sent among communities of the past (umamin madhiya) who disbelieved in Allah (prophets) …” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir p. 1014)
Note Ibn Kathir says “communities of the past” not “communities who have died.”
Further here he says, “umam al-madhiya” and under 7:38 he said “umam al-khaliya” to mean the very same thing. This itself proves “khaliya” which is of the same origin like “khalat” is about being in the past.
Jalalayn is again not saying anything direct on this.
8) Qur’an 15: 13
Talking about the Prophet –may Allah bless him- Allah says;
لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ وَقَدْ خَلَتْ سُنَّةُ الْأَوَّلِينَ
“They do not believe in him, and this has been the way of earlier people.”
Neither Tafsir Ibn Kathir nor Tafsir Jalalayn says directly on this. However it is evident that meaning of death is just impossible here.
9) Qur’an 40:85
Allah Almighty says;
فَلَمْ يَكُ يَنْفَعُهُمْ إِيمَانُهُمْ لَمَّا رَأَوْا بَأْسَنَا سُنَّةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي قَدْ خَلَتْ فِي عِبَادِهِ وَخَسِرَ هُنَالِكَ الْكَافِرُونَ
“But, their profession of faith was not (competent) to benefit them, once they had seen Our punishment – a customary practice of Allah that has been there all along in the matter of His servants – and hence, the disbelievers became the losers.”
Again neither Ibn Kathir nor authors of Tafsir Jalalayn have anything to say on this. But except for mentally incapacitated no one will take it to mean death.
10) Qur’an 41:25
وَقَيَّضْنَا لَهُمْ قُرَنَاءَ فَزَيَّنُوا لَهُمْ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَحَقَّ عَلَيْهِمُ الْقَوْلُ فِي أُمَمٍ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ مِنَ الْجِنِّ وَالْإِنْسِ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا خَاسِرِينَ
“And We had assigned for them fellows (in the worldly life) who beautified for them what was before them and what was behind them. And (thus) the word (of punishment) became due against them along with the communities that have been there before them from Jinns and human beings. Surely they were the losers.”
Ibn Kathir has nothing direct to say on this. However we read in Tafsir Jalalayn,
“communities that have passed” meaning “have been destroyed.” (Tafsir Jalalayn p. 479)
If one reads this Surah (no. 46) from verse 19 onwards to the verse 25 under consideration one will know that it is about people who are doomed and condemned to Hellfire. And in this verse it is told this fate is for them like the earlier communities and as their end was all about destruction we find the word “halakat = destroyed” in Tafsir Jalalayn.
Contrast this to Qur’an 2:134, 2:141 and Qur’an 13:30 where it is about communities yet destruction is not mentioned because there the argument is not about eternal condemnation in Hellfire.
Also compare it to Qur’an 7: 38 where almost the same sentence is given. Infact “destruction” can also be used there, however it is not the actual meaning of the word as clear from Ibn Kathir’s comment to Qur’an 7:38 given above.
11) Qur’an 46:17
وَالَّذِي قَالَ لِوَالِدَيْهِ أُفٍّ لَكُمَا أَتَعِدَانِنِي أَنْ أُخْرَجَ وَقَدْ خَلَتِ الْقُرُونُ مِنْ قَبْلِي
“And the one who said to his parents, .Fie upon you both! Do you promise to me that I shall be brought out (from the grave), while generations have been there before me?”
Ibn Kathir says,
“’And generations have been before me’ meaning the people have been in the past (madha)” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir p. 1705)
Again the in the whole of the argument of the Qur’an it means those have been before “and dead” but the intrinsically “qad khalat” does not mean death and meaning of death comes in the argument because it is about coming out from the graves and that has been the fate of people who were there in the past. This is clear from the quotation from Ibn Kathir above.
12) Qur’an 46:18
أُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ حَقَّ عَلَيْهِمُ الْقَوْلُ فِي أُمَمٍ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ مِنَ الْجِنِّ وَالْإِنْسِ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا خَاسِرِينَ
“Such are the people on whom the word (of punishment) has come true along with the communities of the Jinn and the humans that have been there before them. Surely they were losers.”
Neither of the two commentaries have anything direct to say on this. However, comparing it with Qur’an 2:134, 2:141, 7:38 and 46:17 the meaning is quite clear. And the words “qad khalat” themselves do not mean death.
13) Qur’an 46: 21
وَاذْكُرْ أَخَا عَادٍ إِذْ أَنْذَرَ قَوْمَهُ بِالْأَحْقَافِ وَقَدْ خَلَتِ النُّذُرُ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا اللَّهَ إِنِّي أَخَافُ عَلَيْكُمْ عَذَابَ يَوْمٍ عَظِيمٍ
Mention (Hud) one of 'Ad's (own) brethren: Behold, he warned his people about the winding Sand-tracts: but there have been warners before him and after him: "Worship ye none other than Allah. Truly I fear for you the Penalty of a Mighty Day."
Ibn Kathir says,
“’there have been warners before him and after him’ means, Allah had sent Messengers and warners to the towns surrounding their land.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir p.1706)
And in Tafsir Jalalayn we read;
“’ there have been warners’ i.e. messengers have been in the past (madhat).” (Tafsir Jalalayn p.505)
The scholarly quotes leave no ambiguity once again.
14) Qur’an 48: 23
سُنَّةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي قَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلُ وَلَنْ تَجِدَ لِسُنَّةِ اللَّهِ تَبْدِيلًا
“(Such has been) the practice (approved) of Allah already in the past: no change wilt thou find in the practice (approved) of Allah.”
Neither of the commentaries explains this for it needs no explanation. Only an insane can take it to mean death.
Study of all the 14 instances in the Qur’an besides 3:144 makes it clear that “qad khalat” actually means “madhat” i.e. “having been in the past.”
So to say that it actually means death highlights a serious trouble with ones understanding.
I will request Mr. Akber Chaudhary to have an objective look into the meanings of the word and just care about the language in which Allah actually revealed His word. In-sha’Allah this way we can hope to reach an agreed upon interpretation of the verse.
Points to note:
The discussion is about how classical scholars have understood the words “qad khalat” at instances other than Qur’an 3:144. About the verse in question, I will post in part-2 the scholarly intake and relate it to what we have studied here.
Indeed Allah knows the best!