Summarizing Major Points Regarding Qur'aanic Tafseer

Submitted by admin on Thu, 27/07/2006 - 07:14. Tafseer

Source: An Introduction To The Principles Of Tafseer by Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Hidaayah Publishing And Distibution, Publishers The following summarizes some major points to remember regarding the commentaries explaining the Qur'aan. The preface to the book "Introduction To The Principles of Tafseer" by Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah does this task quite well and we strongly recommend this book to all English readers. "This introduction to the exegesis of the Qur'aan is by Shaykh Al-lslaam Taqee ud-Deen Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah (661/1262-728/1327), one of the most erudite personalities of Islaam, an outstanding scholar of the Qur'aan and Sunnah, a great expounder of Islaamic ideas, and a profound critic of all those alien concepts and practices that have entered into the body of Islaam. Ibn Taymiyyah discusses how to understand and interpret the Qur'aan, how to use the commentaries written on it, how to know what is a right and proper exposition of the Qur'aanic verses, and how to know what is not." How Tafseer Should Be Approached "The first thing that he suggests one should do is to refer to the Qur'aan itself. For the Qur'aan often alludes to a thing stating it briefly at one place and then elaborates upon it at another, it discusses one aspect of a subject on one occasion and another aspect of it on another. By referring, to the relevant passages at different stages at different places, one will have a clear understanding of its verses and so a complete view of its themes. The second thing one should do is to refer to the expositions of the Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. For he was commanded not only to communicate the words of the Qur'aan but also to explain their meaning. Since he performed this task under Allah's guidance, his expositions are authoritative. Thirdly, one should refer to the elucidations of the companions of the Prophet (r). They understood the Qur'aan better than anyone else; for they witnessed revelation, knew the circumstance in which it was revealed, and learned its meaning directly from the Prophet (r). The most knowledgeable among them with regard to the Qur'aan are, of course, the closest associates of the Prophet (r), the first four Caliphs, and then two outstanding scholars, 'Abdullah Ibn Mas'ood (d.32/656) and 'Abdullah Ibn 'Abbaas (d.68/687) (radiallahu 'anhum). Fourthly, one should refer to the exegesis presented by the next two generations, the successors (al-Taabi'een) and their successors (Tabul-Taabi'een). As Ibn Taymiyyah says, their expositions have not been influenced by foreign ideas, have not been affected by political and theological disputes that marred the exegesis of later generations, and are, to be sure, the best and the purest expositions in the spirit and letter of the Qur'aan. However, their expositions carry authority only when they are all in agreement. Where they differ, no one view is binding over and above another or for that matter binding over the following generations." Differences In Interpretation "Ibn Taymiyyah is perfectly aware that if one follows the Salaf one will come across differences between them. But these differences are not real, or, as he puts it, are differences of variation (tanawwu') rather than of contradiction (tadadd). Broadly speaking, there are four differences. One is of expression, as for example, when, one of the Salaf characterizes 'the straight path' (As-Siraat al-Mustaqeem) as the Qur'aan, or obedience to the Qur'aan, and another characterizes it as Islam. The second difference is one of illustration, when, for example, someone explains the three categories of Muslims (see al-Qur'aan 35:32) as the wrongdoers (adh-Dhaalim li Nafsihee), the average performer of religious duties (al-Muqtasid), and the most obedient (alSaabiq) in terms of some act of obedience: prayer, charity or otherwise. One may, therefore, say that the dhaalim is the one who at times offers obligatory prayers, and at times not; the muqtasid is one who offers them regularly; and the saabiq is one who, over and above the obligatory prayers, offers also the supererogatory ones.

A third difference occurs when a word has, say, two meanings and the text can admit them both; here one person may prefer one meaning and another the other. The fourth kind of difference arises from the fact that there are very few words that can convey precisely the meaning of another word. It is only natural that people will differ in their choice of the most appropriate word in their translations. lbn Taymiyyah mentions two additional differences which one is likely to find in the exegetical material that has come down from the Salaf One arises from the Israelite transmissions which some companions began to use in their elucidation of Qur'aanic references, particularly when a number of Israelite books were found after the battle of Yarmook (13 A.H. /634 AD). The key figures in the transmission of the Israelite material are Ka'b al-Ahbar (d.32/652), Wahb Ibn Munabbah (d. 110/728) and Muhammad Ibn Ishaaq (d. 150/767). This material, Ibn Taymiyyah says, is of three kinds. The first is contradicted by our own Ahadeeth, and must be rejected; the second is supported by our own Ahadeeth, and can be utilized; and the third is neither supported nor contradicted by our Ahadeeth. These can be quoted without approval or disapproval. This material has, moreover, a very limited utility: it is not at all necessary for our understanding of the verses which deal with the important matters of belief and practice. At the most they are helpful in the case of historical narrative. But here, too, many of the details which they offer are of little significance. For example, we are not going to gain much if what we are told is the size of the Arc of Noah, or what the color of the dog was which the people of the cave had. Another difference concerns our own Ahadeeth. It may be noted that only a part of the Ahadeeth concerning exegesis (tafseer) are musnad; that is, have come down from the Prophet (r). Of these, there are, of course, many that are mutawaatir, that is, reported in so many ways that their authenticity becomes absolutely certain. However, the majority of the Ahadeeth are one-man reports (Khabar al-Waahid). Of them, those which have been accepted and approved by the scholars of the ummah are definitive. However, most of ahaadeeth used in tafseer are mursal, that is, reported by a successor directly from the Prophet (r). As a rule, Ahadeeth used in tafseer literature have not been scrutinized as much as the other Ahadeeth. Consequently, a number of weak and even fabricated Ahadeeth have found place in the various commentaries on the Qur'aan. This is the case particularly with the Ahadeeth concerning the merits of the Soorahs and the verses which were produced, for example, by Ath-Tha'labee (d. 477/ 1036), al-Wahidee (d.468/2075) and al-Zamakhsharee (d.538/ 1043) in their commentaries. However, it is by no means difficult to find out which Ahadeeth are authentic and which are weak and fabricated. The scholars of hadeeth have written much on the subject and have provided us with enough help. The real differences in tafseer arose after the first three generations of the Salaf had passed, when people had the positions on political and theological issues, and had worked out doctrines in the light of their reasoning and with the help of Greek logic and philosophy. Their knowledge of the Qur'aan and the Sunnah was inadequate, and they paid little regard to the expositions of the Salaf. Consequently, they denied at times one hadeeth or another, and the result was exaggerated, even fantastic interpretations." The Wrong Approach "Ibn Taymiyyah condemns a rational interpretation of the Qur'aan so strongly that many people take it as a complete denial of reason in his exegesis. This is not correct. The tafseer bil ra'y which Ibn Taymiyyah condemns is that tafseer which one carries out mainly on the basis of one's reason without fully acquainting oneself with relevant passages of the Qur'aan, the hadeeth of the Prophet (r) and the elucidations of the Salaf on the subject, or without paying due regard to them. Ibn Taymiyyah does not recommend that one should simply quote the Ahadeeth and the words of the Salaf, and never exercise one's mind. Nor is this his own practice in the commentaries that he has written on the various Soorahs and verses of the Qur'aan. All that he condemns is that use of reason which is not rooted in the Qur'aan, the Sunnah and the traditions of the Salaf He sees no inherent contradiction between reason and divine text. In fact, one of the basic principles of his thought is that the unclouded reason (al-'aql al-sareeh) with which Allah has created man supports rather than contradicts the authentic text (al-naql al-saheeh) of religion. He has taken great pains to demonstrate this truth in his writings.

Ibn Taymiyyah also censures the esoteric elucidations and interpretations of the Qur'aan by the mystics. Some of them have ideas which are right in themselves, but the verses from which they have inferred them do not lead themselves to this interpretation. Hence there is no justification for calling them the allusions (isharaat) of the Qur'aan and investing them with a pseudo-sanctity. The mystics have also presented ideas which are wrong and which have no support whatsoever in the Qur'aan. To put them in the exegesis of the Qur'aan and plead for their acceptance on the ground that they have been discovered in kashf or ilhaam (i.e. inspiration), is a grave mistake unless it is proved that they are supported by the Qur'aan and the Sunnah. These are the major points which Ibn Taymiyyah discusses in this introduction.

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