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Part of the series on
Qur'anic exegesis


Mosque02
Most famous

Sunni:
Tafsir ibn Kathir (~1370)
Tafsir al-Qurtubi (~1273)
Tafsir al-Tabari (~922)
Tafsir al-Jalalayn
between (1460-1505)
Tafhim-ul-Quran

Shi'a: Tafsir al-Mizan
between (1892-1981)

Sunni tafsir

Tanwir al-Miqbas
Tafsir al-Baghawi
Tafsir of Fakhr al-Din
Dur al-Manthur Fi zilal al-Qur'an
Tadabbur-i-Qur'an
Ma'ariful Quran

Shi'a tafsir

Al-Mizan Fi Tafsir al-Qur'an Holy Quran (puya)
Majma' al-Bayan
Nur al-Thaqalayn
al-Safi

Sufi tafsir

Tafsir Ibn Arabi

Mu'tazili tafsir

Al-Kashshaf

Terms

Asbab al-nuzul

Tafsir (Arabic: تفسير‎, tafsīr, "interpretation") is the Arabic word for exegesis or commentary, usually of the Qur'an. It does not include esoteric or mystical interpretations, which are covered by the related word Ta'wīl. An author of tafsīr is a mufassir (Arabic: 'مُفسر‎, mufassir, plural: Arabic: مفسرون‎, mufassirūn).

The Sources of Tafsīr (Uṣūl al-Tafsīr)

There are two approaches to interpreting the Qur'an, a) based on tradition and b) based on language, context and context of situation of the text. In the former approach there are four traditional sources for commentary of the Qur'an:

  1. The Quran: The highest form of tafsīr is when one verse of the Quran is used to explain another.
  2. The Ḥadīth: the second highest grade of tafsīr is where Muhammad commented on the meaning or virtues of particular verses of the Quran, and those statements have been passes down to us. Many of the great collections of Ḥadīth have separate sections about tafsīr.
  3. The reports of the Ṣaḥābah: The Ṣaḥābah, or companions of Muhammad, also interpreted and taught the Quran. If nothing is found in the Quran or the Hadīth, the commentator has recourse to what the Ṣaḥābah reported about various verses.
  4. The reports of the Tābi'ūn, the next generation who learned from the Ṣaḥābah: these people grew up with people who had enjoyed everyday interaction with Muhammad, and had often asked about the meanings of verses or circumstances of their revelation.

In the latter approach there are numerous sources of interpretation which inlcude: a) Historical Sources There are two types of historical resources of interpretation, (a) foundational and absolutely authentic and (b) secondary and supportive. The Qur’ān, alone is the basic and foundational resource while the sound aḥādīth (the prophetic traditions), established historical facts and the Scriptures of the earlier nations constitute the ancillary and secondary resource.

b) Linguistic Resources The classical Arabic poetry and the text of the Qur’an are two resources which can be used as foundational reference in ascertaining the meaning and signification of the remaining literal and figurative diction of the Qur’ān and its style of expression. Many of the words of the Qur'an have remained in continuous usage from the time of its revelation to this day. This makes them known to all.

It needs to be appreciated that in this approach all the sources of Qur'an interpretation are to be used in the light of the principles of coherence in the Qur'an. This approach was introduced and attracted scholars in the last century especially in Indian sub-continent and Eypt. In India it was Farahi championed this approach in his prolegomena to his Tafsir entitled Nizam al-Qur'an. In Egypt it was adopted by Rashid Rida and others.

The approaches of tafsir

The standard approach taken by any major Tafsir (like at-Tabari and Ibn Kathir) is very conservative for the following reasons

  • The Quran states that it is made easy to understand (V11:1, V41:3, V41:44, V54:17, V54:22, V54:32, V54:40 and in many other places) so no one is allowed to divert its literal meaning.
  • Prophet Muhammad said:

وقال رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وسلم): من قال في القرآن برأيه فأصاب فقد أخطأ (أي أخطأ في فعله بقيله فيه برأيه وإن وافق قيله ذلك عين الصواب) translation: the one who interprets Quran from his own point of view and he was right then he erred. Err here refers to the act of trying to interpret Quran the wrong way, which means no guessing should be made, trying to know the meaning should only be based on authentic sources and certain reasoning.

  • Abu Bakr (the companion of prophet Muhammad) said:
قال أبو بكر الصديق (رضي الله عنه): أي أرض تقلني وأي سماء تظلني إذا قلت في القرآن ما لا أعلم ! 

translation: Which land shall hold me, and which sky shall I be beneath (I can't imagine my self in a position) If I say about Quran what I don't know.

This can be seen in the introduction of any major Tafsir.

The standard approach of Tafsir depends on

  • Interpreting Qur'an by Qur'an. Because what is made brief in a place, it is detailed in another.

it mentioned in Quran { الر كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آَيَاتُهُ ثُمَّ فُصِّلَتْ مِنْ لَدُنْ حَكِيمٍ خَبِيرٍ } meaning translation { ALR. (This is) a Book, with verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning), further explained in detail,- from One Who is Wise and Well-acquainted (with all things) } (Quran V11:1)

  • The Sunnah (traditions of prophet Muhammad) is another source as it mentioned in Quran that

{ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَالزُّبُرِ وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ } meaning translation { (We sent them) with Clear Signs and Books of dark prophecies; and We have sent down unto thee (also) the Message; that thoumayest explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought. } (Quran V16:44) and { وَمَا أَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا لِتُبَيِّنَ لَهُمُ الَّذِي اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ } meaning translation { And We sent down the Book to thee for the express purpose, that thou shouldst make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe. } (Quran V16:64)

  • Quran is sent down in the clear language (Arabic) which have a systematic way of shaping words (see morphology) one can know the meaning by knowing the root and the form the word was coined from.

It is mentioned in Quran {بِلِسَانٍ عَرَبِيٍّ مُبِينٍ} meaning { In the perspicuous Arabic tongue.} (Quran V26:195)

There are various approaches to interpret the Qur'an--

  • Interpretation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an: Because of the close interrelatedness of the verses of the Qur'an with one another, the Qur'anic verses explain and interpret one another.[1] Many verses or words in the Qur'an are explained or further clarified in other verses of the Qur'an.[2] Tafsir al-Mizan is an example of this kind.
  • Interpretation of the Qur'an by the Hadith: In this approach the most important external aids used in interpreting the meanings of the Qur'an are the hadith — the collected oral traditions upon which Muslim scholars (the ulema) based Islamic history and law. While certain hadith — the hadith qudsi — are thought to reflect non canonical words spoken by God to Muhammad, Muslims do not consider these to form any part of the Qur'an.
  • Interpretation of the Qur'an by the History: Most commentators considered it extremely important for commentators to explain how the Qur'an was revealed—when and under which circumstances. Much commentary, or tafsir, was dedicated to history. The early tafsir are considered to be some of the best sources for Islamic history. Famous early commentators include at-Tabari and Ibn Kathir.

(These classic commentaries usually include all common and accepted interpretations; modern fundamentalist commentaries like that written by Sayyed Qutb tend to advance only one of the possible interpretations.)

Commentators feel fairly sure of the exact circumstances prompting some verses, such as Surah Iqra, or many parts, including ayat 190-194, of surat al-Baqarah. In other cases (eg Surat al-Asr), the most that can be said is which city Muhammad was living in at the time (dividing between Meccan and Medinan suras.) In some cases, such as surat al-Kawthar, the details of the circumstances are disputed, with different traditions giving different accounts.

  • Theologies approach: Theologists are divided into myriad of sects; and each group clung to the verse that seems to support its belief and try to explain away what was apparently against it.

The seed of sectarian differences was sown in academic theories or, more often than not, in blind following and national or tribal prejudice; but it is not the place to describe it even briefly. However, such exegesis should be called adaptation, rather than interpretation. There are two ways of interpreting a verse — One may say: "What does the Qur’an say?" Or one may say: "How can this verse be explained, so as to fit on my belief? " The difference between the two approaches is quite clear. The former forgets every preconceived idea and goes where the Qur’an leads him to. The latter has already decided what to believe and cuts the Qur’anic verses to fit on that body; such an exegesis is no exegesis at all.[3]

  • Philosophic approach: The philosophers try to fit the verses on the principles of Greek philosophy (that was divided into four branches: Mathematics, natural science, divinity and practical subjects including civics). If a verse was clearly against those principles it was explained away. In this way the verses describing metaphysical subjects, those explaining the genesis and creation of the heavens and the earth, those concerned with life after death and those about resurrection, paradise and hell were distorted to conform with the said philosophy. That philosophy was admittedly only a set of conjectures — unencumbered with any test or proof; but the Muslim philosophers felt no remorse in treating its views on the system of skies, orbits, natural elements and other related subjects as the absolute truth with which the exegesis of the Qur'an had to conform.[3]
  • Scientific approach:Some people who are deeply influenced by the natural and social sciences followed the materialists of Europe or the pragmatists. Under the influence of those secular theories, they declared that the religion's realities cannot go against scientific knowledge. one should not believe except that which is perceived by any one, of the five senses; nothing exists except the matter and its properties. What the religion claims to exist, but which the sciences reject -like The Throne, The Chair, The Tablet and The Pen — should be interpreted in a way that conforms with the science; as for those things which the science is silent about, like the resurrection etc., they should be brought within the purview of the laws of matter; the pillars upon which the divine religious laws are based — like revelation, angel, Satan, prophethood, apostleship, Imamah (Imamate) etc. - are spiritual things, and the spirit is a development of the matter, or let us say, a property of the matter; legislation of those laws is manifestation of a special social genius, who ordains them after healthy and fruitful contemplation, in order to establish a good and progressive society. They believe one cannot have confidence in the traditions, because many are spurious; only those traditions may be relied upon which are in conformity with the Book. As for the Book itself, one should not explain it in the light of the old philosophy and theories, because they were not based on observations and tests — they were just a sort of mental exercise which has been totally discredited now by the modem science.[3]
  • Sufistic: It is an interpretation of the Qur’an which includes attribution of esoteric or mystic meanings to the text by the interpreter. In this respect, its method is different from the conventional exegesis of the Qur’an, called tafsir. Esoteric interpretations do not usually contradict the conventional (in this context called exoteric) interpretations; instead, they discuss the inner levels of meaning of the Qur'an. A hadith from Muhammad which states that the Qur’an has an inner meaning, and that this inner meaning conceals a yet deeper inner meaning, and so on (up to seven levels of meaning), has sometimes been used in support of this view.[4] Islamic opinion imposes strict limitations on esoteric interpretations specially when interior meaning is against exterior one.[5]

Esoteric interpretations are found mainly in Sufism and in the sayings (hadiths) of Shi'a Imams and the teachings of the Isma'ili sect. But the Prophet and the imams gave importance to its exterior as much as to its interior; they were as much concerned with its revelation as they were with its interpretation.[3]

Prohibited tafsir

Muslims believe that it is prohibited to perform Qur'anic interpretation using solely one's own opinion. This, they base on an authenticated hadith of Muhammad which states that it is prohibited.

Imam al-Ghazali qualifies this tradition, with the following understanding:

"The truth is that prophetic Traditions (akhbar) and statements of the Prophet's companions and of other pious Muslims in early Islam (athar) prove that 'for men of understanding there is wide scope in the meanings of the Qur'an'. Thus 'Ali (may God be pleased with him!) said, 'except that God bestows understanding of the Qur'an upon a man.' If there is no meaning other than that which is related [from Ibn 'Abbas and other exegetes] what is that understanding of the Qur'an [which is bestowed upon a man]? The Prophet (may God bless him and greet him) said, 'Surely the Qur'an has an outward aspect, an inward aspect, a limit and a prelude.' This is also related. by Ibn Mas'ud on his own authority and he is one of the scholars of Qur'anic interpretation. [If there are no meanings of the Qur'an besides the outward ones], what is the meaning of its outward aspect, inward aspect, limit and prelude? 'Ali (may God show regard to his face!) said, 'If I so will I can certainly load seventy camels with the exegesis of the Opening Sura of the Book.' What then is the meaning of this statement of 'Ali, when the outward exegesis of this sura is extremely short us [and can be set forth in a few pages]? Abu Darda' said, 'One cannot [fully] understand the religion until one sees the Qur'an from different perspectives.' A certain religious scholar said, 'For every Qur'anic verse there are sixty thousand understandings [comprehensible to man]. The understandings of it which remain [incomprehensible to man] are even more than these in number.'[6]

Major Commentators (Mufassirūn)

Major Tafsīrs of the Quran include:

  • Ibn Kathīr (1301-1373 CE): Tafsīr ibn Kathīr - A classic tafsīr, considered to be a summary of the earlier tafsīr by Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī. It is especially popular because it uses ḥadīth to explain each verse and chapter of the Quran.
  • Fakhruddīn al-Rāzī (865-925 CE): Mafātīḥ al-Ghayb ('Keys to the Unseen') also known as Al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr ('The Great Exegesis') - a voluminous work covering many aspects of the meanings of the Quran, including science and medicine. Ibn Taymiyyah once critically said of this commentary that it 'contains everything but tafsīr'.
  • Imām Abū 'Abdullāh ibn Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (1214-1273 CE): Al-Jāmi' li-Aḥkām al-Qur'ān ('The Collection of Quranic Injunctions') by the famous Mālikī jurist of Cordoba, in Andalucia. This ten-volume tafsīr is a commentary on the Quranic verses dealing with legal issues. Although the author was a Mālikī, he also presents the legal opinions of other major schools of Islamic jurisprudence; thus it is popular with jurists from all of the schools of Islamic law. One volume of this tafsīr has been translated into English by Aisha Bewley.
  • Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Tha'labī (died 427 AH / 1035 CE): Tafsīr al-Tha'labī, also known as al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr ('The Great Commentary').
  • Qaḍi Abū Bakr ibn al-'Arabī: Aḥkam al-Qur'ān - The author is generally known as 'Qaḍi ibn al-'Arabī' (ibn 'Arabī, the judge) to distinguish him from the famous Sufi ibn 'Arabī; he was a Mālikī jurist from Andalucia (Muslim Spain) His tafsīr has been published in three volumes and contains commentary on the legal rulings of the Quran according to the Mālikī school.
  • Maḥmūd Ālūsī al-Ḥanafī: Tafsīr Rūḥ al-Ma'ānī fī Tafsīr al-Qur'ān al-'Azīm wa al-Saba' al-Mathānī ('The Spirit of Meanings on the Exegesis of the Sublime Quran and the Seven Oft-repeated [Verses]') - often abbreviated to Rūḥ al-Ma'ānī.
  • Ma'ālim al-Tanzīl- by Ḥasan bin Mas'ūd al-Baghawī (died 510 AH/1116 CE) also known widely as Tafsīr al-Baghawī - A popular tafsīr amongst Sunni Muslims, it relies heavily on the Tafsīr of al-Tha'labī, whilst placing more emphasis on Prophetic traditions (ḥadīth).
  • Abu al-Qāsim Mahmūd ibn 'Umar al-Zamakhsharī(died 1144 CE): Al-Kashshāf ('The Revealer'). Al-Zamakhsharī belonged to the Mu'tazilah sect, but nevertheless this tafsīr has been popular among scholars down the years, and is usually printed along with Sunnī supercommentaries, pointing out what they consider to be mistakes, made because of the author's Mu'tazilite beliefs.
  • 'Abdullāh bin 'Umar al-Baiḍāwī (died 685 AH/1286 AD) - Anwār al-Tanzīl, also famous as Tafsīr al-Bayḍāwī - a shortened version of Al-Kashshāf, with Mu'tazilite references altered; printed in two volumes. In Turkey it is often published with marginal notes by an Turkish Sheikh called 'al-Qunawī' in seven volumes.
  • Tafsīr ibn 'Aṭiyyah - A tafsīr popular in North West Africa.
  • Tafsīr an-Nasafī - Written by the great Hanafi theologian al-Nasafī and published in two volumes.
  • Tafsīr Abī Ḥayyān also called Al-Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ - This tafsīr is in several volumes and contains many stories that some commentators consider to be unreliable. However, it is popular in North Africa as it originated from Andalucia.
  • "Tafsīr al-Jalālayn" ('The Commentary of the Two Jalāls') - This Arabic tafsīr was begun by Jalāluddīn al-Maḥallī (in 1459), and was subsequently completed, in the same style, by his student, the famous Shāfi'ī Sheikh Jalāluddīn al-Suyūṭī (died 911 AH/1505 CE), who completed it in 1505. Jalālayn is very popular with Muslims all over the world due to its simplicity. It has also been translated completely by Aisha Bewley.
  • Al-Durr al-Manthūr fī al-Tafsīr bi-l-Ma'thūr ('The Threaded Pearl Concerning Commentary Based on Traditions'), also by Jalāluddīn al-Suyūṭī. This tafsīr, in Arabic, concentrates on the hadīths that have been transmitted relating to each verse and subject in the Quran. It has been published in six volumes.

Modern Writers of Tafsīrs (Mufassirūn)

  • 'Allāmah Ghulām Rasūl Sa'īdī: Widely acknowledged as one of the leading scholars of the Muslim World, he has written a twelve volume tafsīr of the Qur'an, including in it discussions of modern problems that society faces.
  • 'Allamah Sayyid Pīr Muhammad Karam Shāh al-Azharī: A great scholar of the last century, wrote one of most accepted Urdu commentaries, Ḍiyā' al-Qur'ān ('The Light of the Quran')[7], which strictly focuses on explaining the verses.
  • Allāmah Sayyid Sa'ādat 'Alī Qādarī: Elder brother of Muftī Justice Sayyid Shujā'at 'Alī Qādarī, has written an Urdu tafsīr, entitled Yā'ayyuhalladhīna Āmanū, which covers modern-day issues in a very easy to understand style
  • Muftī Muhammad Shafī': Ma'ārif-ul Qur'ān, is a detailed and comprehensive commentary of the Quran written in Urdu, and has been translated to English. The author is the father of Muftī Taqī Usmānī. It is published in eight volumes, and addresses many modern issues.
  • Ahmad Razā Khān: Kanz al-Īmān ('Treasury of Faith')[9]. Written by a defender of the Sunni school of thought in India. This tafsīr is written from a traditional, non-Wahhābī point of view defending the beliefs current before the rise of Wahhābī influence.
  • Sayyid Quṭb: Fī Zilāl al-Qur'ān ('In the Shade of the Quran') in Arabic. - Many praise it as a modern tafsīr, but at the same time, many critics including some Wahhabi and Salafi scholars say that Quṭb had little Islamic knowledge, and wrote his commentary according to his own opinion. It has also been attacked for not following the style of classical tafsīrs.
  • Amīn Ahsan Islāhī: Tadabbur-i Qur'ān - written in Urdu by Indian/Pakistani scholar. Based on the idea of the nazm (thematic and structural coherence) in the Quran.[3]
  • Bediuzzaman Said Nursi began to write a tafsīr called Isharat al I'jaz in 1910s. The former written in Ottoman Turkish (translated into Arabic, English etc.) in the classical exegesis style, with special emphasis to combining linguistical nuances with theological depth. Consists of one volume only, addressing the exegesis of the first chapter and part of the second chapter of the Quran. The latter, Risale-i Nur, written mainly in Turkish, is a larger work, with four main volumes. It consists of extensive exegesis of certain verses and explanation of the fundamentals of how to approach the Quran. This work is written in a more accessible style to the general public and is translated to many languages. [4], [5], [6] Nursi also wrote Muhakamat in Arabic (also translated into Turkish) which outlines in a sophisticated manner the hermeneutics of the Quran. Mathnawi al Nuriya, written in Arabic (abridged Turkish translation and also a non-academic English rendition is available),can also be considered an exegetical work in that it contains his deep reflections on different verses of the Quran. Born toward the end of the Ottoman State, Nursi, an erudite exegete and theologian, died in 1960 in modern Turkey.

Tafsīr in other languages

Tafsīr was almost always written in Arabic but during the 20th century with the emergence of modern states, the need was felt by Muslims to write commentaries in local languages so that those who do not know Arabic can still have access to the meaning of the Qur'an.

The following are a list of tafsīrs that have been written in non-Arabic languages.

French
Bengali
English
Turkish
  • Elmalılı Tefsir: by Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi. Published in 10 volumes, it remains the most popular tafsīr in Turkish.[10]
  • Büyük Kur'an Tefsiri, by Konyalı M.Vehbi. A voluminous tafsīr written in simple Turkish, but less popular than the Elmalili tafsīr[11]. Its original title was Hulasatül Beyan fi Tefsiril Kuran,
  • Kur'ân-ı Kerîm'in Türkçe Meâl-i Âlisi ve Tefsiri: by Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen. An eight-volume tafsīr, written in the first half of the Twentieth Century. The language used is Ottoman Turkish, which many modern Turks find difficult to understand[12].
Uzbek

Tafsīr-i Hilāl (six volumes) by Muftī Muḥammad-Ṣādiq Muḥammad Yūsuf Mamamsodiq Mamamyusupov).Published in 2003.

Urdu

translated into English ("Towards Understanding the Qur'an"), Malayalam and Kannada.

Malayalam
Somali

Sources

  1. Tafseer Al-Mizan
  2. The Fundamentals of Understanding Islam
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Tafseer Al-Mizan
  4. Tabataba'i, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn (1998). The Qur'an in Islam: Its Impact and Influence on the Life of Muslims. Zahra Publications. ISBN 0710302665. 
  5. Tabataba'i, Allamah. "The Outward and Inward Aspects of the Qur'an". Tafseer Al-Mizan. http://www.almizan.org/new/special/Aspects.asp. Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  6. Quasem, Muhammad Abul. "Understanding the Qur'an and its Explanation by Personal Opinion which Has Not Come Down by Tradition". The Recitation and Interpretation of the Qur'an: Al-Ghazali's Theory. University of Mayala Press. 
  7. [1]
  8. http://www.hasrat.com/Tafseer/p1/taf-p1.asp
  9. [2]
  10. http://www.kuranikerim.com/t_elmalili_index.htm
  11. http://www.darulkitap.com/indir/buyuk-kuran-tefsiri-konyali-m.vehbi-ucdal.html
  12. http://www.harunyahya.org/Makaleler/omer_nasuhi_bilmen.html

Tafsir-e-Ashrafi by Shaykh al Islam Sayyad Muhammad Madani al Ashrafi Tafsir-e-Maajdi by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi

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