Wayfarer's Rest

Some assorted ramblings and occasional thoughts from Talib al-Habib. Updated randomly and irregularly (if at all). Talib takes no responsiblity for anything that he may write, as responsiblity implies capacity, and capacity implies a sound mind...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A glimpse into some commentaries of the Burda


An erudite response, by Shaykh Gibril Haddad, to a recent discussion about selected verses from that most majestic and beautiful of praises upon the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him), the Qasida al-Burda. The author delves into six classical commentaries on the work - primarily regarding the verses quoted immediately below. In addition to clarifying their meaning, he provides a fascinating insight into the nature of traditional Islamic scholarship - incremental, layer-upon-layer analysis and exegesis that is surely unrivalled in religious tradition.

It is also an signal indication that the Burda - and works like it - are not merely enjoyable and invigorating devotional poetry, but prized works of doctrine and spirituality that were taught at Islamic Universities with ijaza, in much the same way as books of fiqh and hadith.

In the verse of the Burda:

"fa-inna min judika al-dunya wa-darrataha / wa-min `ulumika `ilma
al-lawhi wal-qalami"

the two "min" are "referring to the subset of a whole" (tab`idiyya) as
the language and context make clear. Min clearly marks off the set
(`ulum), which is in the plural, from the subset (`ilm) which is in the
singular, indicating other `ulum that are also encompassed. It is
incoherent to say that such subsets could be encompassed in part and not
necessarily in their entirety. Contextwise, this and the previous verse
speak of [1] the undiminishable high standing and [2] abundant
generosity of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. It would be
lukewarm iman, not to mention defective praise, not to mention poor
craftsmanship, for an Arab poet to conclude a poem of Prophetic praise
by suggesting limitation or incompleteness for such attributes. Hence,
the correct meaning denotes encompassment as I had translated it years
ago, in what became the Encyclopedia of Islamic Doctrine:

152. ya akrama al-khalqi ma li man aludhu bihi / siwaka `inda hululi
al-hadithi al-`amami

O noblest one in creation, I have none [in creation] from whom to
request protection other than you when the Universal Event befalls.

153. wa-lan yadiqa rasulallahi jahuka bi / idha al-karimu tajalla
bi-ismi muntaqimi

Your great standing, O Messenger of Allah, will not diminish for
advocating me, if the Generous One manifests Himself with His name of

154. fa-inna min judika al-dunya wa-darrataha / wa-min `ulumika `ilma
al-lawhi wal-qalami

For your generosity encompasses both this world and the one that comes
next, and your sciences encompass the knowledge of the Tablet and the

At that time I had said:

They claim that it is wrong to say "and your sciences encompass the
knowledge of the Tablet and the Pen," and that such encompassing
knowledge belongs to Allah alone. However, their objections are needless
and far-fetched, since one of the meanings of the Tablet in the Qur'an
is the Qur'an itself: "A Glorious Qur'an in a Preserved Tablet"
(85:21-22), which Allah has taught the Prophet salla Allahu `alayhi
wa-Alihi wa-Sallam and the knowledge of which He has guaranteed for him
when He said: "Its gathering and recitation rest upon Us... Then verily
upon Us rests its exposition." (75:16-19)

As for the Pen, the Prophet salla Allahu `alayhi wa-Alihi wa-Sallam
said, as related by Bukhari and Muslim, that during the night of his
Ascension he reached a level where he could hear the screeching of the
pens writing the Decree, and this stands for his being granted its
knowledge, and Allah knows best.

Furthermore, they are gravely wrong in their suggesting that Allah is
unable to grant such knowledge to whomever He wills. We have already
established beyond doubt that the Prophet salla Allahu `alayhi wa-Alihi
wa-Sallam was granted the knowledge of all things except five matters.
This has been explained above in detail, in the section on `Ilm al-ghayb
and there is no need to repeat it here.

Imam Kawthari said in his Maqalat (p. 404): "Concerning [those] who
criticize al-Busiri for saying that the Prophet salla Allahu `alayhi
wa-Alihi wa-Sallam knows the science of the Tablet and the Pen: neither
does all that is hidden, nor does all knowledge reside exclusively in
the Tablet. Therefore the denial of the knowledge of the Unseen does not
necessitate that of the knowledge of what is in the Preserved Tablet.
The denial mentioned in Allah's saying: fa la yuzhiru `ala ghaybihi
ahadan "He discloses unto none His Secret" (72:26) presupposes exemption
of all that is excluded from "His Secret," signifying the negation of
universal disclosure [= no one knows all that Allah knows], not the
universal application of such negation [= no one knows anything that
Allah knows]. Therefore the meaning is the negation of the knowledge of
ALL the Unseen; not the negation of the knowledge of SOME of the Unseen.
This was demonstrated by Sa`d al-Din al-Taftazani in Sharh al-maqasid."

As for the Prophet's generosity which "encompasses both this world and
the one that comes next," it is clearly a reference to his abnegation on
behalf of his Umma in this world, and his intercession on their behalf
in the next world: to acknowledge both of these is a required article of
belief for all Muslims. And it is established in the hadith narrated by
Tirmidhi who declared it a fair narration (hasan), that Anas asked the
Prophet salla Allahu `alayhi wa-Alihi wa-Sallam for his intercession in
the next world, and he replied: ana fa`il, i.e. "I shall do it." This is
a proof against those who claim that it is unlawful to ask for the
Prophet's future intercession while still in this world.

Al-Hamdu lillah, even then a fumbling pauper's love was enough to read
the Arabic correctly and be guided to some of the Aayaat and Ahaadith
that show the mendacity of that specific attack upon the Burda. Even
before I had sat down I instinctively knew that the writer of such an
obviously inspired poem could not be guilty of what his attacker
claimed, especially in light of the latter's highly suspicious proneness
for the anathema and tadlil of our Salaf Imams and the common Muslims. I
knew, even as a four-year old in Islam, that the Seal of all Ummas was
protected from error in its `Aqida and could not possibly have been
propagating wrong for centuries from West to East, and that Ibn Shama
could not have been teaching the Burda to al-Nawawi in Syria, nor Ibn
Hajar to al-Sakhawi in Cairo, nor al-Sakhawi to his students in the
Haramayn, nor al-Haytami to al-Qari in Makka, if there were even the
smell of shirk in one of its letters, for Ibn `Uthaymeen to credibly
propose, at the tail-end of times, a fatwa which said "Qasidat al-Burda
contains passages that constitute shirk" as quoted in the
Arabic-language periodical al-Sirat al-Mustaqeem published in the US
(Issue #46-47, Rabee` al-akhira 1416 / September 1995, p. 7).

We can be even more certain now, as I knew then, that no conscientious
Muslim would fly in the face of the Arabic language, ignore the `isma of
the Umma, and leave the company of the Sadiqin among the greatest Ulema
upon whom the Umma concurs, to follow some non-ma`sum teacher(s) except
a misguided muqallid who fell prey to his hawa.

I will quote from various commentaries of the Burda, again al-hamdu
lillah, which confirm one after another the soundness of the above, by
the following:

1. Imam Muhammad Abu al-Su`ud al-Hanafi (d. 951),
2. Shaykh Muhyi al-Din Muhammad ibn Mustafa al-Hanafi, known as Shaykh
Zadah (d. 951),
3. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami al-Shafi`i (d. 973),
4. Mulla `Ali al-Qari al-Hanafi (d. 1014) whose commentary is by far the
most interesting,
5. `Allama Ibrahim al-Bajuri al-Shafi`i (d. 1277), and
6. Imam Muhammad al-Tahir Ibn `Ashur al-Maliki (d. 1284).

Some of the above excelled their respective contemporaries in the Arabic
language and they excelled also in fiqh and usul, while Ibn `Ashur and
Abu al-Su`ud were arguably the two greatest mufassirs of the last five
hundred years.

1. Abu al-Su`ud: "Knowledge of the Tablet and the Pen (in the sense of
what is written on the Tablet through the coursing of the Pen) is some
of what your knowledge flows through / has thorough access to [ba`du
mimma jara fihi `ilmuk]." As quoted in Sayyid Hasan al-`Idwi al-Hamzawi
al-Maliki's (d. 1303) al-Nafahat al-Shadhiliyya fi Sharhi al-Burdat
al-Busiriyya (Damascus photocopy of the Cairene ed. of the Nafahat p.

2. Shaykh Zadah: "It may be that Allah Most High showed him, upon him
blessings and peace, all that is in the Tablet, and increased him on top
of that also, because the Tablet and the Pen are created, so what is in
them has a limit, and it is possible for the limited to encompass the
limited. This is according to your understanding [O reader]. As for him
whose heart's eye has beed dyed with the kohl of Divine light, he
witnesses through spiritual taste that the sciences of the Tablet and
the Pen are a portion (juz') of his sciences, upon him blessings and
peace, just as they are a portion of the knowledge of Allah Most High."
Shaykh Zadah's Hashiyat al-Burda in the margin of al-Kharputi'
s `Asidat
al-Shuhda Sharh Qasidat al-Burda (Ottoman 1320 ed. p. 219).

THE PEN, that is: Of some of your vast learning (ay: ba`di ma`arifika)
which Allah Most High gifted you. [...] And the sense in which knowledge
of the Tablet and the Pen is part of some of his sciences, upon him
blessings and peace, is that on the night of Isra', Allah Most High
showed him everything that is in the Preserved Tablet and added to that
other types of knowledge, such as the secrets which pertain to His
Essence and Attributes, may He be exalted!" Al-Haytami, al-`Umda fi
Sharh al-Burda, ed. Bassam Muhammad Barud (UAE: Dar al-Faqih, 2003, p.

4. Al-Qari: "Min is tab`idiyya [...]. The commentators have said
conflicting things on the second hemistich of the verse. It was said
that 'al-`ilm' is a substantive which is in construct with its subject
(masdar mudaf ila fa`ilihi), that is: the Tablet and the Pen's knowledge
of things, but then we need to say that they possess perception and
feelings toward what was attributed to them. It was also said that
'al-`ilm' is in construct with its object, that is: the people's
knowledge of the Tablet and the Pen, but then we need to say that there
are different positions here. It was also said that Allah Most High
showed him, upon him blessings and peace, what the Pen had written in
the Preserved Tablet, which is the knowledge of the first and the last,
and this is the preponderant explanation (wa-huwa al-az.har). To clarify
further, what is meant by the knowledge of the Tablet is what was
entered into it among other transcendent writs and shrouded images
(al-nuqush al-qudsiyya wal-suwar al-ghaybiyya). What is meant by the
knowledge of the Pen is what was entered with it into the Tablet as
Allah Most High wished, so the construct implies the nearest
connection (al-idafatu li-adna mulabasa). The fact that the knowledge
of the Tablet and the Pen is part of his sciences consists in that his sciences
are multifarious, including universals and particulars, hidden matters
and minutiae, subtle wisdoms and arcane sciences pertaining to the
Essence and the Attributes, whereas the science of the Tablet and the
Pen are only a few lines (sut.ur) among the lines of his knowledge and a
mere river from the seas of his knowledge. Then, in addition to this, it
is from the blessing of his existence according to the report that was
said to be transmitted: 'The first thing Allah created is my light,'
that is, He looked at it with a gaze of majesty, so it cleaved in two,
and from its two halves were created the two worlds. This [light] is
what is meant by the Pen, hence the transmitted report: 'The first thing
Allah created is the Pen,' so there is no contradiction. The upshot is:
this world and the next are aftereffects (aathaar) of your existence and
generosity, and whatever appeared out of the Pen and onto the Tablet is
from the secrets of your wisdoms and the lights of your sciences."
Al-Qari, al-Zubda fi Sharh al-Burda, ms. from the Damascus library of
the Musnid Sayyid Muhammad Salih al-Khatib (also containing al-Qari's
two treatises on the Mawlid), folios 54b-55a.

5. Al-Bajuri: "His saying 'fa-inna min judika al-dunya etc.' [...] min
is for tab`eed. [...] 'Wa-min' in his saying 'wa-min `ulumika' is for
tab`eed also [...] meaning the informations Allah Most High showed him,
for He, Most High, showed him the sciences of the first and the last.
[...] {The problem was raised that part of 'the knowledge of the Tablet
and the Pen' are the five things mentioned at the end of Surat Luqman
although the Prophet, salla Allahu `alayhi wa-Sallam, does not know them
for Allah Most High reserved their knowledge for Himself alone, so the
aforementioned tab`eed is incomplete? It was replied that it is not
granted that those five things are among what the Pen wrote on the
Tablet, or else whoever is entitled to look into the Tablet, such as
some of the muqarrabin angels, would have seen them; and even if it were
granted that they are part of what the Pen wrote into the Tablet, what
would be meant is that some of his sciences, upon him blessings and
peace, are the science of the Pen and the Tablet which a creature may
look upon, thus excluding those five matters} [curly-bracketed material
is largely from al-Qastallani], although the Prophet, salla Allahu
`alayhi wa-Sallam, did not leave this world except after Allah Most High
did inform him of those matters. If it is asked: Since the knowledge of
the Tablet and the Pen are some of his sciences, upon him blessings and
peace, then what is the rest? The reply is, the rest is [to say the
least] what Allah Most High informed him of with regard to the states of
the hereafter, because the Pen only wrote into the Tablet what was going
to happen until the Day of Resurrection and nothing more, as already
mentioned in the hadith ['The first thing Allah created was the Pen, and
He told it to write, so it said, What shall I write? He said: Write the
apportionments of every living thing until the Hour rises' al-Tirmidhi
(sahih) and Ahmad]." Al-Bajuri, Sharh al-Burda (`Abd al-Rahman Mahmud
Cairo ed. p. 132-133).

6. Ibn `Ashur: "The meaning is: how could your great standing diminish
for advocating me, whereas you are the noblest of all creatures in the
sight of your Lord Who gave you exclusively the magnificent special
attributes that show your rank before Him, among which, that He created
this world and the next for your sake, and also among which, that He
taught you what no one else encompasses by their knowledge, to the point
that what is in the Tablet and the Pen is some (ba`d) of your sciences."
Ibn `Ashur in `Umar `Abd Allah Kamil's al-Balsam al-Murih min Shifa'
al-Qalb al-Jarih, the epitome of Ibn `Ashur's Shifa' al-Qalb al-Jarih fi
Sharhi Burdati al-Madih (Beirut: Bisan, 2004, p. 164-165).

In conclusion, the statement that "The wording used by Imam Busiri does
not specify that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) had
all the knowledge of the Tablet and the Pen" is incorrect, and Allah
Most High knows best.

I long to see the commentaries on the Burda by Imam Fayruzabadi and
Hafiz Murtada al-Zabidi, even more that of Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyya
al-Ansari, and even more that of Imam Abu Shama, the earliest of them

Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and all his Companions.

walhamdulillahi rabb al-`alamin, wa as-salat wa as-salam `ala habib


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting :)

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jazakallah for the CD, it's brilliant! :D
May Allah (SWT) bless you with the best in worlds and reward your efforts, Aameen!

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Assalamu Alaikum

I just received the lyrics to your beautiful song 'Gift of Life'.

Mashallah. It bought tears to my eyes as I long to be in the company of my beloved and precious teachers.

Jazakullah Khayr

May we all be beacons of light.

7:06 AM  
Blogger talib said...

jazakallah. May Allah keep all of us in the company of his beloveds, so that we might become beloved of them and Him.

was salam

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May Allah keep all of us in the company of his beloveds, so that we might become beloved of them and Him.


1:05 PM  
Blogger The Guerilla said...


I am not a spiritual man, but after reading your blog i am inspired, mashallah, May Allah give you success. It is also nice to see people from Ahle Sunnah writing so eloquently. I just wish to add a few words of my own. Down with the house of Saud!! Sort out those lovey dovey deenporters and Big up the Birmingham Massive!!

4:53 PM  
Blogger Amal said...

Assalamu alaiku. I just found out about your music from alif music radio streaming service, masyaAllah and i really enjoy your blog as well. May Allah bless you in this life and the hereafter, ameen
your sis in islam

1:25 AM  

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