Five Benefits of History

Imam Abu Ishaak Al-Tha’laby رحمه الله mentions five points in which he discusses the nobility of history and its virtues. He lists five the wisdoms as to why Allah ﷻ revealed stories in the Holy Quran, sent to the Prophet ﷺ as follows:

1. A Miracle of Prophethood

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the unlettered prophet (أُمِّي). He did not spend time with a mentor or teacher as he grew up nor did he leave the Arabian peninsula for the amount of time wherein it would have been possible for him to stay with a scholar and learn this information. Taking this into account, if we give this some thought, it becomes clear to us that this knowledge is indeed divine, from Almighty Allah. We are compelled to accept and verify the message of Rasulullah ﷺ. After having contemplated and giving some thought to this, only an envious or obstinate person would refuse to accept this.

2. Characteristics for our beloved Prophet ﷺ to adopt.

To set out an example for Rasulullah ﷺ by mentioning the character of previous prophets. Characteristics for our beloved Prophet ﷺ to adopt. And to warn this Ummah of the consequences of disobedience by telling us of nations that perished before us. e.g Fir’awn.

Shah Waliullah writes in Fawz ul-Kabir, “When you read the Quran, we shouldn’t think that the polemic is addressed to a people who have since become extinct, but rather there is no test and trial that has existed in the past except that an example of it exists even today as is narrated in the noble Hadeeth,

لتتبعن سنن من كان قبلكم

“You will surely follow the traits of those before you.” (Bukhari)

The objective of the Holy Quran is to explain the universality of these corruptive matters and not the particularity, the intricate details of events.

3. Support for Rasulullah ﷺ by informing him of his honour and the honour of his Ummah

Many stories mentioned in the Noble Quran were revealed to give solace to Rasulullah and inform him of the honour afforded to him and to his Ummah. This Ummah has been absolved of many trials which previous nations had been made to endure e.g. religious injunctions have been reduced for us, and we have been chosen and blessed with miracles which previous nations had not been given.

Allah Ta’ala says:

وَأَسْبَغَ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعَمَهُ ظَاهِرَةً وَبَاطِنَةً

“And He (Allah) has amply bestowed upon you his favours [both] apparent and unapparent.” (Surah Luqman:20)

One interpretation of the apparent favours is that while the apparent religious injunctions were reduced, the subtle benefits and favours were multiplied.

4. To refine and discipline this Ummah.

Allah Ta’ala refers to this in many Aayaat (verses) of the Holy Quran:

آيَاتٌ لِّلسَّائِلِينَ

“There are signs for those who ask.” (Surah Yusuf: Ayah 7)


لَقَدْ كَانَ فِي قَصَصِهِمْ عِبْرَةٌ لِّأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ ۗ مَا كَانَ حَدِيثًا يُفْتَرَىٰ وَلَـٰكِن تَصْدِيقَ الَّذِي بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَتَفْصِيلَ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ

“Surely, in the narratives of these, there is a lesson for the people of understanding.” (Surah Yusuf: 111)


وَمَوْعِظَةٌ لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ

“And a lesson for the God-fearing.” (Surah Baqarah: 62)

اشتغل العامة بذكر القصص والخاصة باعتبار من القصص

Abu Bakr Al-Shibly رحمه الله says: “The laity suffice with reading stories merely to pass time and for entertainment whereas the intellectuals take lessons from the stories.”

5. A source of motivation for those who do good so that they exert themselves in doing more good in the hope of reward and also to preserve their mention and to leave behind a good legacy.

Similar to what Prophet Ibraheem Khaleelullah (The Close Friend of Allah)عليه السلام prayed for:

واجعل لي لسان صدق في الآخرين

“And Grant me a reputation of honour among the later generations.”

Another point to note is that people are transient. People say, “So-and-so died” but it is his memory that keeps him alive. Some go as far to say that, “Kings and rich men of the past spent fortunes constructing buildings, fortresses and castles solely so that people will remember them.”

وإنما المرء حديثا بعده   فكن حديثا حسنا لمن وعى

A poet says, “A person is merely a narrative for those after him, so be a good memory for those that will take heed.”

Isn’t it enough for us that we benefit from the stories of the pious. We motivate ourselves by reading of their successes. Inspire ourselves by witnessing their struggles. Seek solace and comfort by hearing of their challenges and how they overcame them.


What the predecessors had to say about history

  • Sufyaan bin ‘Uyaynah رحمه الله,

تنزل الرحمة عند ذكر الصالحين

“The Mercy of Allah Ta’ala descends at the mention of the pious”

  • Imam Muhammad ibn Idris As-Shafi’i رحمه الله

من حفظ التاريخ، زاد عقله

“Whoever memorises history increases in intellect.”


  • Abul Faraj Ibn ul-Jawzi رحمه الله

إن التواريخ و ذكر السير راحة القلب و جلاء الهم و تنبيه للعقل

“Studying history gives peace of mind, removes anxiety and sharpens the brain.”

Adapted from ‘الإعلان بالتوبيخ لمن ذم التاريخ‘ by Imam Sakhawi who has summarised the five points made by Imam Tha’laby in his ‘قصص الأنبياء’

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