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 interpretation, which are covered by the related word ta'wil. An author of tafsir is a mufassir (Arabic: مُفسر, mufassir, plural: مفسرون, mufassirūn).

Sources of tafsir

The five traditional sources for commentary of the Qur'an are:

  1. The Qur'an. This is regarded as the highest form of tafsir, on the belief that the Qu'ran is the word of God,in Arabic called Allah, and authoritative when it explains itself. A related Muslim belief is that the Qur'an is free of contradiction, and that apparent inconsistencies in its message are inevitably resolved through closer study of the Qur'anic text.
  2. The hadith. Muslims believe that the Islamic prophet Muhammad was sent, among other reasons, to explain and communicate the Qur'an to people. The accounts of Muhammad's teaching recorded in the hadith collections thus contain much tafsir of the Qur'an, under titles such as "Meaning of Qur'anic verses." An authenticated hadith is regarded the second highest form of tafsir, because Muhammad is explaining it -- but many of these traditions are disputed.
  3. The reports of the Sahaba. The Sahaba, or companions of Muhammad, also interpreted and taught the Qur'an. If Qur'anic explication is absent, and there is no authentic tradition deriving from Muhammad, then a consensus of the companions may be helpful in interpreting a certain verse. Scholars have an obligation to follow that consensus.
  4. The reports of those who learned from the companions. These people grew up in an environment with people who had known Muhammad, so their insight is the next in line of the sources of tafsir. (In addition, the recorded practice of those who lived in Muhammad's city of Medina carry special weight in the Maliki school.)
  5. Reason. A qualified scholar's personal reasoning (deductive logic and personal evaluation of arguments) is the final method of understanding the Qur'an; it exists in conjunction with the other four. See Ijtihad. Early caliphs are strongly associated with this method of tafsir.

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's 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 it's 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 Bakir (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's 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's 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. Many verses or words in the Qur'an are explained or further clarified in other verses of the Qur'an. 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 surat 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sufistic: It's 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 , Islamic opinion imposes strict limitations on esoteric interpretations specially when interior meaning is against exterior one.

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.

Genres of tafsir

  • Asbāb al-nuzūl: defining the "occasions of revelation" of the suras.
  • Naskh: dealing with the abrogation of one Qur'anic verse by another.

Prohibited tafsir

" please take into account only those ahadees that have been given proper references i.e the time and situation in which the hadees was revealed by the holy prophet."

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 (qs), how-ever, qualifies this tradition, with the following under-standing, "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." [1]

The Qur'an, the utmost authority on Islam asserts that the word was sent to all of mankind and it is up to the whole of mankind to receive it and sincerely ponder upon its meaning. Islam acknowledges no "clergy" nor monopolisation of "The Word of Allah (swt) i.e God", Islam only acknowledges the "knowledgeable" ones from among a community of people, the "Ulama" or scholars if they are known and famous for their Islamic correct faith. In the Qur'an, Allah i.e. God exhorts mankind to "think" and "ponder" and "realise" for themselves, thereby awakening true belief inside each and every human being.

[1] The Recitation and Interpretation of the Qur'an: Al-Ghazali's Theory by Muhammad Abul Quasem Univ of Mayala Press, Malaysia, CHAPTER FOUR, UNDERSTANDING THE QUR'AN, AND ITS EXPLANATION BY PERSONAL OPINION WHICH HAS NOT COME DOWN BY TRADITION

Major mfassireen

Major Tafsirs of the Qur'an include:

  • Ibn Kathir: "Tafsir ibn Kathir" - A classic tafsir, considered a summary of the earlier Tafseer by Ibn Jarir (at-Tabari). It is especially popular because it uses 'hadith' to explain each verse and chapter of the Qur'an.
  • Fakhr al-Din al-Razi: "Mafatīh ul-Ghayb" also known as "Tafsir Kabir" - A voluminous work covering many aspects including science and medicine. Ibn Taymiyyah once critically said of this tafsir that it "contains everything but tafsir".
  • Yahya ibn Ziyad al-Farra: "Maani al-Quran".
  • Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari: Tafsir al-Tabari.
  • Qazi Abu Saud al-Hanafi: "Irshad ul Aql as-Saleem ila Mazaya al-Qur'an al-Kareem" also known as "Tafsir Abu Saud".
  • Imam Abu Abdullah al-Qurtubi: "al-Jāmi' li Aḥkām il-Qur'an" by the famous Maliki jurist of Cordoba. This 10-volume tafsir is a commentary on the Qur'anic verses dealing with legal issues. Although the author was a Maliki, he also presents 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 tafsir was translated into English by Aisha Bewley.
  • Qaḍi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi: "Aḥkam al-Qur'an" - Known as 'Qaḍi ibn al-Arabi' (ibn Arabi the judge) to distinguish him from the famous Sufi ibn Arabi, he was a Maliki jurist from Andalusia (Muslim Spain) His tafsir was published in 3 volumes and contains commentary on the legal rulings of the Qur'an according to the Maliki school.
  • al-Jaṣṣaṣ: "Aḥkam al-Qur'an" - Based on the legal rulings of the Hanafi school of Islamic law. This was published in 3 volumes and remains popular amongst the Hanafis of India, the Middle East and Turkey.
  • ‘Allama Mahműd Alusi al-Hanafi: "Tafsir Ruh ul-Ma'ani fi Tafsir il-Qur'an al-Azim wa Saba' al-Mathani" - Also known as Ruh ul Ma'ani.
  • Allama Tabataba'i: Tafsir Al-Mizan - A 20-volume work using the methodology of explaining the Qur'an through the Qur'an.
  • Ismail Hakki Bursevi: "Ruh al-Bayan" - 10-volume Arabic work by the founder of the Hakkiyye Jelveti Sufi order.
  • Ibn Ajibah: "Tafsir ibn Ajibah" - 2-volume work by Sidi ibn Ajibah, a Moroccan Sheikh of the Darqarwi Shadhili Sufi order.
  • "Tafsir al-Baghawi" - A popular tafsir amongst Sunni Muslims.
  • "Tafsir al-Baydawi" - Shortened version of the above tafsir printed in 2 volumes. In Turkey it is often published with marginal notes by an unknown Turkish Sheikh called 'Konyawi' in 7 volumes.
  • "Tafsir ibn Atiyyah" - A tafsir popular in North West Africa.
  • "Tafsir ibn al-Jawzi" - Written by the great Hanbali polymath.
  • "Tafsir an-Nasafi" - Written by the great Hanafi theologian Nasafi and published in 2 volumes.
  • "Tafsir Abu Hayyan" also called "Bahr al-Muhit" - This tafsir 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 Andalusia.
  • "Tafsir al-Jalalayn" - The great Shafi Sheikh Jalal ud-Din Siyuti wrote 2 tafsirs - one named "Jalalayn" and the other "ad-Durr al-Manthur". Both are published (the second in several volumes) and the Jalalayn is very popular with Muslims all over the world due to its simplicity.

Modern mufassireen

  • [disputed - citation needed] Shaykh al-Qur'an wa al-Hadith 'Allama Sayyid Ghulam Rasul Sa'idi: Widely acknowledged as one of the leading scholars of the Muslim World, he has written a brilliant 12 volumes tafsir of the Qur'an, including in it discussions of modern problems the society faces. Among his other works is the superb commentary on the hadith collection Sahih Muslim in 7 volumes, and a number of other articles and essays. He is currently writing a commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, which upon completion, will be a most singular achievement, since no other living scholar has written a Tafsir as well as commentaries on both the Sahih collections of hadith. His work is so thorough and insightful that even the well known Mufti Taqi Usmani has expressed his great esteem for the Shaykhs works, relying heavily upon them, when he needs to find evidences on legal matters.
  • [disputed - citation needed] Shaykh al-Mashaikh 'Allama Sayyid Justice Pir Muhammad Karam Shah al-Azhari: A great scholar of the past century. He is the writer of the one of most accepted commentaries of the Qur'an, namely Dia al-Qur'an, that focusing strictly on explaining the verses. Moreover he has written a 7 volumes work on the life of the Prophet, called Dia al-Nabi, which is arguabely one of the best and most loved works in Urdu on this particular topic. Among the notable features of the style is the love filled way of writing about the Prophet, a hallmark of Sunni tradition come to life. Describing the beautiful style, Muslim scholars have stated that it seems that before writing every word the pen kisses the Throne and make prostrates to God and is filled and enrolled with true love of the Prophet. The Shaykh was chosen as the official representative of the Subcontinent to lead the case against the Qadiani sect, when they were where officially declared non-Muslims in Pakistan.
  • Mufti Muhammad Shafi'i: A detailed and comprehensive commentary of the Quran written in Urdu, and has been translated to English. The author is the father of Mufti Taqi Usmani. Popular among Muslims, it is published in 8 volumes, and addresses many modern issues. All 8 volumes are available in English here
  • Maulvi Abdul Qadeer Siddiqui: Tafseer-e-Siddiqui (in Urdu) Written early last century by the former dean of theology of Osmania University. As a professor of Arabic and theology, he attempted to bring the Quranic Arabic to Urdu as well as address some critical current issues.
  • Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad Rida: Kanz al-Iman (in Urdu) Written by the defender of the Sunni school of thought in India. This tasfeer is written from a traditional Non-Wahhabi point of view defending the current beliefs and practicing against that of the Wahhabi movement.
  • Sayyed Qutb: In the Shade of the Qur'an - Many praise it as a modern tafsir of the Qur'an. However, many critics including some Wahhabi and Salafi scholars say that Qutb had little Islamic knowledge and did tafsir in his own opinion. It has also been attacked for not containing the classical tafsir style (using the above mentioned sources).
  • Ghulam Ahmed Pervez : Matalibul Furqaan (7 volumes) and Mafhoom-ul-Quran (3 volumes) written in Urdu and also available in English under title: Exposition of the Holy Quran
  • Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi: Tafhim al-Qur'an, 6 volume tafsir written in Urdu. The English translation was released as Towards Understanding the Qur'an, and it was also translated into Malayalam and Kannada.
  • Amin Ahsan Islahi: Tadabbur-i Qur'an - written by Indian/Pakistani scholar. Based on idea of the nazm (thematic and structural coherence) in the Qur'an.
  • Muhammad Al-Ghazzali, a recent Egyptian scholar who died in 2001 (not the Imam Al-Ghazali): "A Thematic Commentary on the Qur'an" - A tafsir that tries to explore the themes that weave through the entire Qur'an as well as the main theme of each surah.
  • Bediuzzaman Said Nursi has begun to write his tafsir which name is Risale-i Nur 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. , , 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 Ottoman State, Nursi, an erudite exegete and theologian, died in 1960 in modern Turkey.

Tafsir in other languages

Tafsir 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 tafsirs that have been written in non-Arabic languages.Bengali


See also

External links

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