It is a call to those who doubt to study and investigate in order to reach the truth.
فَإِنْ كُنْتَ فِي شَكٍّ مِمَّا أَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ فَاسْأَلِ الَّذِينَ يَقْرَءُونَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْ قَبْلِكَ لَقَدْ جَاءَكَ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّكَ فَلَا تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ
If you are in doubt regarding that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reciting the Book before you. Indeed, the truth has come to you from your Lord so do not be amongst the doubters. (Surah Yunus, 94).
Some Christian proselytizers quote this verse in order to claim that Muslims must learn religion from them in order to understand it correctly. This is clearly a mistake in understanding the verse. Had this interpretation been sound then we would not find multiple verses in the Holy Quran calling the Christians to follow the truth, nor would we find the Prophet inviting them to Islam. Rather the Quran and Prophetic Sunnah highlights their misguidance and calls them to the truth. Why would we be asked to turn to a people who have been declared to be astray?
The sound understanding of this verse from Surah Yunus has been presented by the classical scholars of Tafseer. It is addressing disbelievers who are in doubt regarding the truth of Islam, they are invited to look for the truth of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in their own scripture and from their own religious leaders who have embraced Islam.
(فَإِنْ كُنْتَ فِي شَكٍّ مِمَّا أَنْزَلْنا إِلَيْكَ) الْخِطَابُ لِلنَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَالْمُرَادُ غَيْرُهُ، أَيْ لَسْتَ فِي شَكٍّ وَلَكِنْ غَيْرُكَ شَكَّ. قَالَ أَبُو عُمَرَ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْوَاحِدِ الزَّاهِدُ: سَمِعْتُ الْإِمَامَيْنِ ثَعْلَبًا وَالْمُبَرِّدَ يَقُولَانِ: مَعْنَى” فَإِنْ كُنْتَ فِي شَكٍّ” أَيْ قُلْ يَا مُحَمَّدُ لِلْكَافِرِ فَإِنْ كُنْتَ فِي شَكٍّ مِمَّا أَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ (الجامع لأحكام القرآن)
(If you are in doubt regarding that which We have revealed to you), the words are addressing the Prophet ﷺ but others are intended by them. Meaning you are not in doubt, rather others are in doubt. Abu Umar Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahid al-Zahid said, I heard the two Imams, Tha’lab and al-Mubarid say, ‘If you are in doubt,’ means ‘O Muhmmad say to the disbeliever, if you are in doubt regarding what We (Allah Most High) has revealed to you (Muhammad ﷺ). (Imam al- Qurtubi, al-Jami li Ahkaam al-Quran).
وَالْخِطَابُ لِلسَّامِعِ غَيْرِ الرَّسُولِ. وَكَثِيرًا مَا يَأْتِي الْخِطَابُ فِي ظَاهِرِهِ لِشَخْصٍ، وَالْمُرَادُ غَيْرُهُ. (البحر المحيط في التفسير)
It is addressing listeners other than the Messenger ﷺ. It is common for the address to be for a particular person, but another is intended. (Imam Abu Hayaan, al-Bahr al-Muheet).
Imam al-Razi goes further and provides numerous examples of verses that outwardly address a Prophet but the disbelievers are actually intended by the address.
اخْتَلَفَ الْمُفَسِّرُونَ: فِي أَنَّ الْمُخَاطَبَ بِهَذَا الْخِطَابِ مَنْ هُوَ؟ فَقِيلَ النَّبِيُّ عَلَيْهِ الصَّلَاةُ وَالسَّلَامُ. وَقِيلَ غَيْرُهُ، أَمَّا مَنْ قَالَ بِالْأَوَّلِ: فَاخْتَلَفُوا عَلَى وُجُوهٍ.الْوَجْهُ الْأَوَّلُ: أَنَّ الْخِطَابَ مَعَ النَّبِيِّ عَلَيْهِ الصَّلَاةُ وَالسَّلَامُ فِي الظاهر، والمراد غيره كقوله تعالى: يا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ اتَّقِ اللَّهَ وَلا تُطِعِ الْكافِرِينَ وَالْمُنافِقِينَ [الْأَحْزَابِ: 1] وَكَقَوْلِهِ: لَئِنْ أَشْرَكْتَ لَيَحْبَطَنَّ عَمَلُكَ [الزُّمَرِ: 65] وكقوله:يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنْتَ قُلْتَ لِلنَّاسِ [الْمَائِدَةِ: 116] (مفاتيح الغيب)
The scholars of Tafseer have differed over the person being addressed by this statement. Some said the Prophet ﷺ is being addressed, and some said other than the Prophet (is being addressed). Those who mentioned the first opinion differed regarding its interpretation. The first interpretation is that the Prophet is addressed outwardly but other than him is intended, similar to Allah (Most High) saying, ‘O Prophet, fear Allah and do not obey the disbelievers or the hypocrites.’ (Surah al-Ahzaab,1). And His (Most High) saying, ‘And if you commit Shirk (polytheism), then your deeds will be nullified.’ (Surah al-Zumar, 65). And His (Most High) saying, ‘O Esa son of Maryam did you say to the people (take me and my mother as gods besides Allah).’ (Surah al-Maidah, 116). (Imam Fakhr al-Deen al-Razi, Mafateeh al-Ghayb).
It is unacceptable to take a verse of the Holy Quran or Hadith of the Prophet in isolation, rather everything must be understood in context. This is not only true regarding religious scripture but is true in any aspect of life. Otherwise, there would be no need for experts in any field. Rather any individual could pick up a book on any subject and claim to understand any part of it. This is clearly an error, the reason we have experts is because they have broader knowledge and can understand things in light of that knowledge. Taking statements or passages in isolation, without context, invariably leads to misunderstanding and misrepresenting what is truly being said, it is an elementary mistake.
And Allah (Most High) Knows best.
– Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen (08.04.2021)
Is it sufficient to learn the Deen through questions and answers (Q&A) only?
See also (video):