فاذكروني أذكركم و اشكروا لي و لا تكفرون
Remember Me, and I will remember you, and thank me and do not be ungrateful to me
While looking over my notes for my upcoming exam on the Qurānic sciences, I came across an interesting view espoused by Ayatollah Javadi Amuli concerning the naming of some of the chapters of the Qurān. I thought it might be an interesting share.
As will be discussed in more detail, in a later LQS post, there exist various views concerning how the chapters of the Qurān came to be named. Some scholars believe that all of the chapters of the Qurān were named by the Prophet, whilst others believe that some chapters came to be named as they are now by common people after the death of the Prophet.
Ayatollah Javadi offers an interesting reason as to why it is possible that certain chapters were not named by the Prophet. Below I have offered a translation of a passage from his exegesis wherein he discusses the naming of Sura al-Baqrah…
Al-Baqrah (The Cow) – The popularity of this name of the chapter is because of its inclusion of the story of the, “Cow of the People of Israel”, which is mentioned within verses 67 – 73 of this chapter. This popular name is an instance of naming due to “popular usage” and the use of this name within the narrations of the Imams (عليهم السلام) is simply in order to cooperate with the idioms of the common people rather than because the chapter was actually named as such. This is because, firstly, the naming of the chapters of the Qurān is not divine (that is the Prophet did not name them) and there is no proof that the Imams (عليهم السلام) named this chapter “al-Baqrah“. Secondly, it is far-fetched that such a chapter which carries grand teachings, deep wisdoms and many rulings would be named according to the name of an animal. The same goes for the chapter of “al-An’ām” (the livestock) which contains 40 monotheistic arguments or the chapter of “al-Naml” (The Ants), which contains the deep and wise teachings of many Prophets (عليهم السلام)…
Due to this same reason, some Shia and Sunni exegetes have also avoided using this name and instead have preferred to use the title, “The chapter in which the Cow is mentioned”. The expression, “The chapter in which…” has also been used within narrations and in some narrations it has been deemed impermissible to use the title “al-Baqrah”.
Aalusi says, in this regard, “It is possible that during the history of Islam, due to the ridicule of disbelievers referring to the chapter as, “the Chapter of al-Baqrah” was legally disliked (makrooh), however after the prevalence of Islam, the aforementioned prohibition was uplifted and the name “al-Baqrah” found popularity. At the same time, narrations indicative of the permissibility of referring to it as “al-Baqrah” can also be found…“
Ayatollah Javadi offers an interesting discussion concerning the naming of the chapters. Although, my teacher did offer some criticism as to the point claiming that such an important chapter comprising important teachings and rulings could not be named after an animal. His criticism centred around verse 26 of Surah al-Baqrah…
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَسْتَحْىِ أَن يَضْرِبَ مَثَلًا مَّا بَعُوضَةً فَمَا فَوْقَهَا
Indeed Allah is not ashamed to draw a parable whether it is that of a gnat or something above it
If Allah is indeed not ashamed to draw any sort of parable, then perhaps the same could be applied to the naming of the chapters. That is, a chapter such as al-baqrah may be named as such for ease of remembrance, relation of the name to its contents etc. The name al-Baqra is definitely a suitable name from the perspective that it relates to the contents of the chapter. Anyhow, I offer such brief criticism only to provoke thought, God knows best in such matters.
و الله اعلم
Calligraphy by Adnan al-Sheikh Uthman
. Al-Baqrah, 2:152
. Ayatollah Javadi Aamuli is a contemporary scholar who teaches and gives lectures upon the exegesis of the Qurān. He has published numerous topical exegeses of the Qurān and has been teaching sequential exegesis over the past years.
. It seems Ayatollah Javadi changed his opinion on this matter later on. In his first lecture on the exegesis of Surah al-Ankaboot, Ayatollah Javadi mentions that some chapters such as al-Fatiha or Yaa-Sin have been named by the Infallibles as opposed to others such as al-Ankaboot which have gained their names through “popular usage”.
. In Arabic, السورة التي يذكر فيها البقرة
. Some examples of such scholars are Syed Radhi (May Allah bless him) in al-Mujazaat al-Nabaviah and Tabari in Jāmi’ al-Bayān.
. Jalāl al-Deen Suyuti, Durr al-Manthoor, v.1 pg.46
. Aalusi was a famous Sunni exegete who wrote Rooh al-Ma’āni, an exegesis composed of 15 volumes.
. Aalusi, Rooh al-Ma’āni, v.1 pg.163
. Ayatollah Javadi Aamuli, Tafseer-e-Tasneem, v.2 pg. 27-28
. Al-Baqrah, 2:22