Saturday, October 25, 2008

How to Interpret Quran? - 1

Mubashir Inayet wrote:

I don't know why we need "scholars of tafseer" as crutches. It is pretty simple to understand. Be sincere and take risks like Shaheen of Iqbal rather than picking lefoevers of long gone "mufassirs" who were human and thus prone to error. Do the ahadees explain each and every chapter of the Qur'an?


Dear Mubashir Sahab,

"Is Shaheen of Iqbal free from Error and Mistakes"

Since I am a non-entity therefore with utmost care and sincerity my humble view is as under:

Understand Qur'ân by the Qur'ân and the explanation of the Qur'ân by the Prophet [PBUH], his Companions [May Allah be pleased with them] and their Companions [May Allah have mercy on their souls] and their Companions - Prophet-Sahabi-Taaba'i-Taba Taaba'ai.

My view is this:


Regarding Tafseer and Muffassir:

1st Opinion

An Introduction To The Principles Of Tafseer BY Shaykh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah.

If you ask what is the best method of tafsîr, the answer is that the best way is to explain the Qur'ân through the Qur'ân. For, what the Qur'ân alludes to at one place is explained at the other, and what it says in brief on one occasion is elaborated upon at the other. But if this does not help you, you should turn to the sunnah, because the sunnah explains and elucidates the Qur'ân. Imâm Abû Abd Allâh Muhammad Ibn Idrîs al-Shâfai has said:

"All that the Prophet, peace be upon him, has said is what he has derived from the Qur'ân."

Allâh has said:

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ لِتَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ بِمَا أَرَاكَ اللّهُ وَلاَ تَكُن لِّلْخَآئِنِينَ خَصِيمًا

Interpretation of the Meaning:

Lo! We reveal unto thee the Scripture with the truth, that thou mayst judge between mankind by that which Allah showeth thee. And be not thou a pleader for the treacherous; [AN-NISA (WOMEN) Chapter 4 - Verse 105]

بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَالزُّبُرِ وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

With clear proofs and writings; and We have revealed unto thee the Remembrance that thou mayst explain to mankind that which hath been revealed for them, and that haply they may reflect. [AN-NAHL (THE BEE) Chapter 16 - Verse 44]

وَمَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ إِلاَّ لِتُبَيِّنَ لَهُمُ الَّذِي اخْتَلَفُواْ فِيهِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

And We have revealed the Scripture unto thee only that thou mayst explain unto them that wherein they differ, and (as) a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe. [AN-NAHL (THE BEE) Chapter 16 - Verse 64]

This is why the Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] said:

Know that I have been given the Quran and something like it. [Musnad Ahmad Bin Hanbal and Sunnan Abu Dawud]

[Excerpts from Tafseer Ibn Kathir]

Tafsîr, Its Kinds & Principles

Tafsîr (exegesis) of the Qur'ân is the most important science for Muslims. All matters concerning the Islamic way of life are connected to it in one sense or another since the right application of Islam is based on proper understanding of the guidance from Allah. Without tafsîr there would be no right understanding of various passages of the Qur'ân.

Tafsîr & Ta'wil

The word tafsîr is derived from the root 'fassara' - to explain, to expound. It means 'explanation' or 'interpretation' . In technical language the word tafsîr is used for explanation, interpretation and commentary on the Qur'ân, comprising all ways of obtaining knowledge, which contributes to the proper understanding of it, explains its meanings and clarifies its legal implications. The word mufassir is the term used for the person doing the tafsîr, i.e. the 'exegete' or 'commentator' .

The word ta'wîl, which is also used in this connection, is derived from the root 'awwala' and also means 'explanation, interpretation' .

In technical language it similarly refers to explanation and interpretation of the Qur'ân.

Tafsîr in the language of the scholars means explanation and clarification. It aims at knowledge and understanding concerning the book of Allah, to explain its meanings, extract its legal rulings and grasp its underlying reasons. Tafsîr explains the 'outer' meanings of the Qur'ân. Ta'wîl is considered by some to mean the explanation of the inner and concealed meanings of the Qur'ân, as far as a knowledgeable person can have access to them. Others are of the opinion that there is no difference between tafsîr and ta'wîl.

Why Is It Important?

There are a number of reasons why tafsîr is of great importance, but the basic reason is the following: Allah has sent the Qur'ân as a book of guidance to mankind. Man's purpose is to worship Allah, i.e. to seek His pleasure by living the way of life Allah has invited him to adopt. He can do so within the framework of the guidance that Allah has revealed concerning this, but he can do so only if he properly understands its meanings and implications.

A Warning

Some Muslim scholars have warned against tafsîr.

Hanbal, e.g. has said: 'Three matters have no basis:

tafsîr,(tales of eschatological nature) and maghâzî (tales of the battles)'.

By this is meant that there is much exaggeration and unsound material in these fields, but it does not mean that neither of them ought to be considered. This is clear from another version of the same verdict, in which the word isnad is used for 'basis'.

Basic Conditions

Muslim scholars have laid down certain basic conditions for sound tafsîr. Any tafsîr, which disregards these principles must be viewed with great caution, if not rejected altogether. The most important among these conditions are the following:

The mufassir must:

Be sound in belief ('aqîda).

Well-grounded in the knowledge of Arabic and its rules as a language.

Well-grounded in other sciences that are connected with the study of the Qur'ân (e.g. 'ilm al-riwâya).

Have the ability for precise comprehension.

Abstain from the use of mere opinion.

Begin the tafsîr of the Qur'ân with the Qur'ân.

Seek guidance from the words and explanations of the Prophet.

Refer to the reports from the sahâba.

Consider the reports from the tâbi

Consult the opinions of other eminent scholars.

Grades Of Sources

The best tafsîr is the explanation of the Qur'ân by the Qur'ân.

The next best is the explanation of the Qur'ân by the Prophet Muhammad, who, as Shâfi'î explained, acted according to what he understood from the Qur'ân.

If nothing can be found in the Qur'ân nor in the sunna of the Prophet, one turns to the reports from the sahâba.

If nothing can be found in the Qur'ân, the sunna and the reports from the sahâba, one turns to the reports from the tâbi.

However, nothing can match the explanation of the Qur'ân by the Qur'ân and the explanation of the Qur'ân by the Prophet.

Kinds Of Tafsîr

Tafsîr may be divided into three basic groups:

Tafsîr bi-l-riwâya (by transmission) , also known as tafsîr bi-l-ma'thûr.

Tafsîr bi'l-ra'y (by sound opinion; also known as tafsîr bi-l-dirâya, by knowledge).

Tafsîr bi-l-ishâra (by indication, from signs).

Tafsîr bi-l-riwâya

By this is meant all explanations of the Qur'ân which can be traced back through a chain of transmission to a sound source, i.e.:

The Qur'ân itself.

The explanation of the Prophet.

The explanation by Companions of the Prophet (to some extent).

Naturally, the explanation of the Qur'ân by the Qur'ân and the explanation of the Qur'ân by the Prophet are the two highest sources for tafsîr, which cannot be matched nor superseded by any other source.

Next to these rank the explanations by the sahâba, since the sahâba were witnesses to the revelations, were educated and trained by the Prophet himself and were closest to the period of the first Muslim umma. Of course all reports of explanations by the Prophet or by a sahâbi must be sound according to the science of riwâya as in Ulum al-hadîth.

The Qur'ân explained by the Qur'ân:

The interpretation of the Qur'ân by the Qur'ân is the highest source of tafsîr. Many of the questions which may arise out of a certain passage of the Qur'ân have their explanation in other parts of the very same book, and often there is no need to turn to any sources other than the word of Allah, which in itself contains tafsîr. To seek to explain an aya from the Qur'ân by referring to another ayâ from the Qur'ân is the first and foremost duty of the mufassir. Only if this does not suffice, he will refer to other sources of tafsîr.


A case in point is the detailed explanation of 5:2

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ لاَ تُحِلُّواْ شَعَآئِرَ اللّهِ وَلاَ الشَّهْرَ الْحَرَامَ وَلاَ الْهَدْيَ وَلاَ الْقَلآئِدَ وَلا آمِّينَ الْبَيْتَ الْحَرَامَ يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلاً مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَرِضْوَانًا وَإِذَا حَلَلْتُمْ فَاصْطَادُواْ وَلاَ يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ أَن صَدُّوكُمْ عَنِ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ أَن تَعْتَدُواْ وَتَعَاوَنُواْ عَلَى الْبرِّ وَالتَّقْوَى وَلاَ تَعَاوَنُواْ عَلَى الإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ إِنَّ اللّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

O ye who believe! Profane not Allah's monuments nor the Sacred Month nor the offerings nor the garlands, nor those repairing to the Sacred House, seeking the grace and pleasure of their Lord. But when ye have left the sacred territory, then go hunting (if ye will). And let not your hatred of a folk who (once) stopped your going to the inviolable place of worship seduce you to transgress; but help ye one another unto righteousness and pious duty. Help not one another unto sin and transgression, but keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is severe in punishment. [AL-MAEDA (THE TABLE, THE TABLE SPREAD) Chapter 5 - Verse 2]


5:4, concerning permissible and prohibited meat.

يَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا أُحِلَّ لَهُمْ قُلْ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ وَمَا عَلَّمْتُم مِّنَ الْجَوَارِحِ مُكَلِّبِينَ تُعَلِّمُونَهُنَّ مِمَّا عَلَّمَكُمُ اللّهُ فَكُلُواْ مِمَّا أَمْسَكْنَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَاذْكُرُواْ اسْمَ اللّهِ عَلَيْهِ وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ إِنَّ اللّهَ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

Forbidden unto you (for food) are carrion and blood and swineflesh, and that which hath been dedicated unto any other than Allah, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which hath been killed by (the goring of) horns, and the devoured of wild beasts, saving that which ye make lawful (by the death-stroke), and that which hath been immolated unto idols. And (forbidden is it) that ye swear by the divining arrows. This is an abomination. This day are those who disbelieve in despair of (ever harming) your religion; so fear them not, fear Me! This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al-Islam. Whoso is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin: (for him) lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. [AL-MAEDA (THE TABLE, THE TABLE SPREAD) Chapter 5 - Verse 4]

Another example of explanation of one aya in the Qur'ân by another concerns a question which might arise from Sura 44: 3.

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

Lo! We revealed it on a blessed night - Lo! We are ever warning - [AD-DUKHAN (SMOKE) Chapter 44 - Verse 3]

It is explained in Sura 97: 1:

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Predestination. [AL-QADR (POWER, FATE) Chapter 97 - Verse 1]

'We sent it down during a blessed night' (44: 3).

Which night is this blessed night, in which the Qur'ân was sent down?

'We have indeed revealed this in the lailatal-qadr' (97: 1).

A third example is the explanation of Sura 2:37

فَتَلَقَّى آدَمُ مِن رَّبِّهِ كَلِمَاتٍ فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

Then Adam received from his Lord words (of revelation), and He relented toward him. Lo! He is the relenting, the Merciful. [AL-BAQARA (THE COW) Chapter 2 - Verse 37]

by Sura 7:23.

قَالاَ رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

They said: Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If thou forgive us not and have not mercy on us, surely we are of the lost! [AL-ARAF (THE HEIGHTS) Chapter 7 - Verse 23]

The Qur'ân explained by the Prophet: There are numerous examples of explanation of the Qur'ân by the Prophet, who either himself asked the Angel Gabriel for explanation of matters not clear to him, or who was asked by the Companions about the Qur'ân.

Suyûtî has given a long list of explanations of the Qur'ân by the Prophet sura by sura.

Here one example may suffice:

وَكُلُواْ وَاشْرَبُواْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الأَسْوَدِ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

and eat and drink until the white thread becometh distinct to you from the black thread [AL-BAQARA (THE COW) Chapter 2 - Verse 187]

Narrated 'Adi b.Hâtim: I said: 'O Allah's Apostle! What is the meaning of the white thread distinct from the black thread? Are these two threads?' He said: 'You are not intelligent, if you watch the two threads'. He then added, 'No, it is the darkness of the night and the whiteness of the day'.

Tafsîr by Sahâba

Next, after explanation of the Qur'ân by the Qur'ân and of the Qur'ân by the Prophet himself, ranks the explanation of the Qur'ân by the sahâba. Among them, the following were best known for their knowledge of and contribution to the field of tafsîr: Abû Bakr, Umar, Uthmân, Alî (not much has been reported from them), Ibn Mas'ûd, Ibn Abbâs, 'Ubay b. Ka'b, Zaid b. Thâbit, Abû Mûsâ al-Ash'arî, Abdullâh b. Zubair.

Ibn Abbâs: Abdullah b. Abbâs (d. 68/687) is considered to be the most knowledgeable of the Companions in tafsîr. He has been called 'tarjumân al-Qur'ân', the interpreter of the Qur'ân. Since he was related to the Prophet, being his cousin, and his maternal aunt Maimuna being one of the Prophet's wives, he was very close to the Prophet Muhammad and learnt much about the revelation. It is said that he saw the Angel Gabriel [when he appeared as a common man] twice.

Apart from his detailed knowledge of everything concerning tafsîr, he is also given the credit for having emphasised one of the basic principles of ilm al-tafsîr which has remained important to this day, namely, that the meaning of words, especially of unusual words in the Qur'ân ought to be traced back to their usage in the language of pre-Islamic poetry.

There is a long list of such explanations quoted by Suyûtî.


The following is an example of tafsîr from a sahaba, namely Ibn Abbâs, confirmed by Umar:

فَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ وَاسْتَغْفِرْهُ إِنَّهُ كَانَ تَوَّابًا

Interpretation of the Meaning:

Then hymn the praises of thy Lord, and seek forgiveness of Him. Lo! He is ever ready to show mercy. [AN-NASR (SUCCOUR, DIVINE SUPPORT) Chapter 110 - Verse 3]

Narrated Ibn Abbâs: Umar used to make me sit with the elderly men who had fought in the battle of Badr. Some of them felt it (did not like that) and said to Umar: 'Why do you bring in this boy to sit with us, while we have sons like him?'

Umar replied 'Because of what you know of his position' (i.e., his religious knowledge).

One day Umar called me and made me sit in the gathering of those people, and I think that he called me just to show them (my religious knowledge). Umar then asked them in my presence: 'What do you say about the interpretation of the statement of Allah'.

إِذَا جَاء نَصْرُ اللَّهِ وَالْفَتْحُ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

When Allah's succour and the triumph cometh [AN-NASR (SUCCOUR, DIVINE SUPPORT) Chapter 110 - Verse 1]

Some of them said: 'We are ordered to praise Allah and ask for His forgiveness, when Allah's help and the conquest (of Makka) comes to us'. Some others kept quiet and did not say anything. On that Umar asked me: 'Do you say the same, O Ibn Abbâs?' I replied: 'No'. He said: 'What do you say then?' I replied: 'That is the sign of the death of Allah's apostle which Allah informed him of Allah said:

إِذَا جَاء نَصْرُ اللَّهِ وَالْفَتْحُ

وَرَأَيْتَ النَّاسَ يَدْخُلُونَ فِي دِينِ اللَّهِ أَفْوَاجًا

فَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ وَاسْتَغْفِرْهُ إِنَّهُ كَانَ تَوَّابًا

When Allah's succour and the triumph cometh And thou seest mankind entering the religion of Allah in troops, Then hymn the praises of thy Lord, and seek forgiveness of Him. Lo! He is ever ready to show mercy. [AN-NASR (SUCCOUR, DIVINE SUPPORT) Chapter 110 - Three Verses]

On that Umar said: 'I do not know anything about it other than what you have said'.

Another short example is:

Narrated 'Atâ': When Ibn Abbâs heard:

أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ بَدَّلُواْ نِعْمَةَ اللّهِ كُفْرًا وَأَحَلُّواْ قَوْمَهُمْ دَارَ الْبَوَارِ

Interpretation of the Meaning:

Hast thou not seen those who gave the grace of Allah in exchange for thanklessness and led their people down to the Abode of Loss, [IBRAHIM (ABRAHAM) Chapter 14 - Verse 28]

He said: 'Those were the disbelieving pagans of Makka.'

Tafsîr by Tabi

There are many more persons from among the tabi known for their preoccupation with tafsîr, because many more people had embraced Islam and the need for knowledge about the Qur'ân had increased manifold. Also, the Prophet himself and many of his Companions were no longer available to give this guidance, and therefore greater efforts had to be made to satisfy this need for proper understanding of the book of Allah.

Of the mufassir from among the tabi one distinguishes three groups, according to their origin and area of activity:

Those from Makka.

Those from Madina.

Those from Iraq.

The Makkan Group: According to many scholars, this group of mufassirun from among the tabi are the most knowledgeable in tafsîr, because they learnt about it from Abdullâh b. Abbâs. They are many in number, and among the best known out of many others are Mujâhid and Ikrima (d.107H).

Mujâhid, the best known among them, is reported to have gone through the Qur'ân thrice with Ibn Abbâs and to have asked him about the 'when' and 'how' of each verse that had been revealed.

A complete book of tafsîr by Mujâhid has been published. It is based on a manuscript from the 6th Hijra century and is edited by Surtî.


Humaid b. Qais Makki reported: I was with Mujâhid and we were circumambulating the house (Ka'ba). A man came and asked whether the fasts of penalty of an oath should be observed continuously or severally. Humaid replied that if he liked he could observe them severally too! But Mujâhid said: Not severally, for the reading of Ubayy b. Kab is thalâthi ayyâmin mutatâbi'ât, i.e. to fast three days continuously' .

The Madinan Group: The mufassir from Madina had many Companions as their teachers, among the best known being Ubay b. Kab. The following are some of the well-known Qur'ân exegetes among them: Muhammad b. Kab al-Qarzî (d.117/735), Abu-l 'Allîya al-Riya and Zaid b. Aslam (d.130/747).

The Iraq Group: There were also many mufassir among the tabi in Iraq. Their principal teacher was Ibn Mas'ûd. Their main centres were Basra and Kufa. The best known among them are: Al-Hasan al-Basri (d.121/738), Masrûq b. al-'Ajda' (d.63/682) and Ibrâîm al-Nakha'î (d.95/713).


Nothing can excel the tafsîr of the Qur'ân by the Qur'ân. This is followed by sound reports about the Prophet's explanation of the revelation.

Whatever is sound and genuine in the explanation of the Qur'ân by the sahâba and the tabi may not be rejected, but the following principles are to be observed:

Sound reports must be distinguished from unsound ones, for many views have been falsely attributed to some sahâba and tabi (especially to Ibn Abbâs and Mujâhid, the most renowned ones among them), which cannot be traced back to them when the isnad is investigated. Those reports must of course be rejected.

Material from the ahl-al-kitâb, in particular the Jewish traditions (isrâ'îlîyât) must be sorted out and evaluated.

Material which crept in due to theological, philosophical, political and other considerations, must be sorted out and evaluated (such as e.g. some Shî'a attributions to Alî, or Abbâsid attributions to Ibn Abbâs, etc.).

False material purposely introduced by the enemies of Islam must be distinguished from sound material.

Tafsîr bi'l-ra'y

The second kind of tafsîr, after tafsîr bi'l-riwâya, is the so-called tafsîr bi'l-ra'y. It is not based directly on transmission of knowledge by the predecessors, but on the use of reason and ijtihâd.

Tafsîr bil-ra'y does not mean 'interpretation by mere opinion', but deriving an opinion through ijtihâd based on sound sources. While the former has been condemned already in the hadith, the latter is recommendable, when used in its proper place as sound ijtihâd, and was also approved by the Prophet, e.g. when he sent Mu'âdh bin Jabal to Yemen.

Tafsîr bi'l-ra'y on the other hand has been declared harâm on the basis of the following hadîth:

'From Ibn Abbâs: Allah's messenger said: "He who says (something) concerning the Qur'ân without knowledge, he has taken his seat of fire"'.

However this hadîth has been explained in two ways:

That no one should say of the Qur'ân what is not from the sahâba or tabi.

That no one should say of the Qur'ân what he knows to be otherwise. The obvious meaning of the hadîth is that one should not say something about the Qur'ân without having the proper knowledge, the sources of which have already been explained.

Two Kinds of tafsîr bi'l-ra'y: In view of this, it is obvious that tafsîr bi'l-ra'y should not be rejected in toto, but is acceptable if based on sound ijtihad. Scholars have therefore grouped tafsîr bi'l-ra'y into two kinds:

Tafsîr mahmûd (praiseworthy) , which is in agreement with the sources of tafsîr, the rules of sharî'a and the Arabic language.

Tafsîr madhm (blameworthy) , which is done without proper knowledge of the sources of tafsîr, sharî'a and the Arabic language. It is therefore based on mere opinion and must be rejected.

Sahâba or tabi shun mere opinion: While the tafsîr bi'l-ra'y based on sound sources was accepted, it is reported that from the outset the sahâba had refused to involve themselves in giving explanations based on mere opinion:

It is reported that a man asked Ibn Abbâs about the day (mentioned in the Qur'ân) which measures 50 years, and Ibn Abbâs replied: 'They are 2 days which Allah has mentioned in His book, and Allah knows best about them', and he disliked that he should say concerning the book of Allah, what he did not know.

The same attitude is also found among the tabi:

'We used to ask Saîd b. al-Musayyib about halâl and harâm, and he was the most learned man, but when we asked him about tafsîr of a verse of the Qur'ân, he kept silent, as though he did not hear.'


Some scholars have said that tafsîr bi'l-ra'y is not allowed. since it cannot be traced back to the Prophet or his Companions directly. Others, who form the majority, say that it is permissible under the conditions described briefly above, because it is done by ijtihâd, based on sound sources, which is a permissible means of obtaining knowledge.

Tafsîr bi-l-ishâra

By this is meant the interpretation of the Qur'ân beyond its outer meanings, and the people practising it concern themselves with meanings attached to verses of the Qur'ân, which are not visible to anyone, but only to him whose heart Allah has opened. This kind of tafsîr is often found with mystically-inclined authors. While it must not be denied that Allah guides to the understanding of the Qur'ân whom He pleases and as He wills, it has to be said that tafsîr bi-l-ishâra is not a matter of science and scientific principles, which may be acquired and then used, as are the other branches of ulum al-Qur'ân and of tafsîr. Some scholars have therefore rejected it from the viewpoint of general acceptability and said it is based on mere opinion. However Ibn al-Qayyim is reported to have said that results achieved by tafsîr bi-l-ishâra are permissible and constitute good findings, if the following four principles are jointly applied:

That there is no disagreement with the plain meaning of the verse.

That it is a sound meaning in itself.

That in the wording there is some indication towards it.

That there are close connections between it and the plain meaning.

Differences In Tafsîr

In some cases the mufassir do not agree on the interpretation of a given verse from the Qur'ân. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important ones are the following:


Disregard for isnad.

Use of unsound materials, such as isrâ'îlîyât.

Conscious misrepresentation, based on a pre-conceived belief or other ulterior motives.


Genuine mistake in comprehension.

Interpretation based on unconscious preconceived notion.

Multiplicity of meanings in the revelation from Allah.

The main cause however is, in the view of Ibn Taimîya, that the people introduced false innovation (bid'a) and 'twisted the speech (of God) from its actual position, and interpreted the speech of Allah and His apostle(s) other than it is meant, and explained it other than it should be explained'.


This word, meaning 'of Jewish origin' refers to explanations derived from non-Muslim sources and especially from the Jewish tradition, but also including other ahl al-kitâb in general. Such material was used very little by the sahâba, but more by the tabi and even more by later generations. There are many aspects of the Qur'ân which can be explained by referring to such sources, when there is common ground between the Qur'ân and the other traditions. However, the information taken from such sources must be used with great caution and cannot be considered sound according to the standards of 'ilm al-hadîth, unless traced back to the Prophet himself and his Companions. The Prophet has already cautioned Muslims against this source of knowledge:

Narrated Abu Huraira: The people of the scripture (Jews) used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used to explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that Allah's apostle said: 'Do not believe the people of the scripture or disbelieve them, but say:

قُولُواْ آمَنَّا بِاللّهِ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا

Interpretation of the Meaning:

Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us [AL-BAQARA (THE COW) Chapter 2 - Verse 136]

Similarly Ibn Mas'ûd, the well-known Companion, is reported to have said: 'Do not ask the ahl al-kitab about anything (in tafsîr), for they cannot guide you and are themselves in error....'

Hence one distinguishes three kinds of the so-called isrâ'îlîyât:

Those known to be true because the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad confirms them.

Those known to be false, because the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad rejects them.

Those not known to be true or false, and we do not say they are true or false.


A concise but useful summary of the vast field of tafsîr can be found in the following words said to be from Ibn Abbâs:

'Tafsîr has four aspects:

the aspect the Arabs knew because of its language,

tafsîr, for ignorance of which no one will be excused,

tafsîr, which the scholars know,

tafsîr, which no one knows except Allah'.


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