Methods of Tafseer (Part 1 of 3

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Submitted by admin on Thu, 27/07/2006 - 07:12. Tafseer

The Qur'aan is the last book of Divine Revelation sent to man and Allaah has promised to protect it from any distortion or loss. Allaah said in the Qur'aan, "Verily, We have revealed the Reminder (Al-Qur'aan) and verily We will preserve it" [Al-Qur'aan 15:9]. Its written and recited forms have been preserved without even the slightest change for over fourteen hundred years. This can not be said about the Gospel (Injeel) of Prophet Jesus ('alaihi salaam) not the books of the Old Testament attributed to earlier prophets ('alaihimus salaam). However, Allaah's protection of Al-Qur'aan did not stop there; He also safeguarded the original meaning. If the protection of the Qur'aan's meaning had not taken place, deviants would have turned the Book of Allaah into a jumble of symbols, riddles and codes open to a multiplicity of interpretations and its original meaning would have been lost. Allaah preserved the meaning of the Qur'aan by explaining some of its generalities within the Qur'aan itself and by entrusting the Tafseer of the remainder to His final messenger, Muhammad (r). The Sahaabah (companions), radiAllaahu 'anhum, were taught to seek their understanding of the Qur'aan first from the Qur'aan itself then from the explanations and applications of the Prophet (r) and from their own intimate understanding of the language of the Qur'aan. After the Prophet's death ('alaihi salaat wa salaam), those who entered Islaam as new converts depended first on the Qur'aan to explain itself then they depended on the Sahaabah (radiAllaahu 'anhum) to explain the Qur'aan to them. The Sahaabah (radiAllaahu 'anhum) would inform their students among the Taabeoon of the circumstances in which the verses were revealed, the interpretation given by the Prophet's (r) statements and his actions. Finally they would explain the meanings of some words which may not have been familiar or which may have had a different meaning to Arabs outside of the Arabian Peninsula. With the passing of era of the Sahaabah (radiAllaahu 'anhum), the scholars among the Taabeoon shouldered the grave responsibility of conveying the original meanings of the Qur'aan to the next generation of Muslims exactly as they had received it. And, it was this next generation, which began the process of gathering and recording the various narration of Tafseer from the Taabeoon. From the above mentioned methodology of the Prophet (r) and his companions and of the early generations of Muslim scholars which followed them, the following points have been deduced by scholars as being the correct steps for making correct Tafseer of the Qur'aan. 1. Tafseer of Al-Qur'aan by Al-Qur'aan: There are many places in the Qur'aan where questions are asked and subsequently answered in order to catch the mind of the reader and to increase the impact of the concept in question. In other places, general statements are made and then later explained in order to vary the modes of presentation and encourage readers and listeners to reflect more. This self-explanatory process is referred to as Tafseer of the Qur'aan by Al-Qur'aan. is, Allaah chose to clarify what He intended by revealing other explanatory verses. For example, Allaah asks, "By at-Taariq (the Knocker or night approacher). And what will make you understand what at-Taariq is?" [Al-Qur'aan 86 1-2]. He then answers His question in the next verse, "It is the piercing star (Venus)." [al-Qur'aan 86:3]. Allaah also states in the Qur'aan, "Beasts which are herded have been made Halaal (allowable) for you except those which will be read to you." [Al-Qur'aan 5:1]. Shortly afterwards, He explains, "The dead animal, blood, pork, animals sacrificed for other than Allaah, animals strangled to death, killed by a blow or by falling from a height, killed by goring or partially eaten by wild animals are forbidden to you." [Al-Qur'aan 5:3]. Another example can be seen in the verse in which Allaah describes Himself saying, "No vision can grasp Him." [Al-Qur'aan 6:103]. This verse implies that Allaah will not be seen in either this world or the next. However, Allaah later describes the believers in the next life as, "Gazing at their Lord." [Al-Qur'aan 75:23] and disbelievers as, "Verily, they will be veiled from their Lord on that day." [Al-Qur'aan 83:15]. Hence, before any explanation or interpretation may be sought, the Qur'aan must be relied upon to explain itself, for Allaah knows best what He intended.

2. Tafseer of Al-Qur'aan by As-Sunnah:

(r) added further clarification to various verses of the Qur'aan. Allaah had entrusted the job of explaining the Qur'aan to the Prophet (r). This
On many occasions, the Prophet trust was expressed in the Qur'aan in no uncertain terms, "Verily, We have revealed the Reminder (Al-Qur'aan) to you (O Muhammad) so you may explain to the people what has been revealed to them." [Al-Qur'aan 16:44]. And "We have only revealed the book to you (O Muhammad) in order that you clarify for them the things about which they differ." [AlQur'aan 16:64]. The Sahaabah (radiAllaahu 'anhum) understood this clearly and always turned to the Prophet (r) for clarification whenever they were in doubt about the meaning of any of the Qur'aanic passages. In fact, most of the fine details of Salaah, Zakaah, Sawm, Hajj and inheritance laws etc. were explained either by the Prophet's (r) statements or practical demonstrations and applications (the Sunnah). Thus, the Prophet's explanations of the Qur'aanic passages are referred to as the Tafseer of the Qur'aan by the Prophet (r). For example, in Soorah Al-Faatihah, the Prophet (r) explained that al Maghdoobi alayhim (Those on whom is Allaah's anger) are the Christians. On one occasion, he recited the verse, "Prepare for the whatever forces you are able to," [Al-Qur'aan 8:60] and he then said 'Verily force is spear throwing'. Reported by Muslim. In another narration, he explained the verse "Verily, We have given you al Kawthar" referred to a river in paradise which Allaah has given him. [Reported by Al Bukhaari]. Because the Sunnah was based on guidance from Allaah, it represents the second part of Allaah's promise to explain the Qur'aan, "Verily, We will explain it" [Al-Qur'aan 75:19. Consequently no other human interpretation can be given precedence over of the Prophet (r).

Methods Of Tafseer (Part 2 of 3)
Submitted by admin on Thu, 27/07/2006 - 07:13. Tafseer

We continue our discussion of the methods employed by the scholars of tafseer (almufassiroon) to properly understand and explain the Noble Qur'aan. 3. Tafseer of Al-Qur'aan by Aathaar Whenever the Sahaabah could not find the Tafseer of a passage in the Al-Qur'aan itself or in Sunnah, they would use their own reasoning based on their knowledge of the contexts of the verses and the intricacies of the Arabic language in which the Al-Qur'aan was revealed. Consequently, one of the greatest commentators of the Al-Qur'aan, Ibn Katheer, wrote in the preface of his Tafseer, 'If we are unable to find a suitable Tafseer in the AlQur'aan or in the Sunnah, we go to the opinions of the Sahaabah. For verily, they knew the Al-Qur'aan better than anyone else due to their knowledge of the circumstances of its revelation, their complete and accurate understanding of it and their righteous deed.' These explanations of the Sahaabah are known as the Tafseer by Aathaar (The sayings of the Sahaabah) For example, when Ibn Abbas was questioned about the verse, "and tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity and only reveal from their adornment which (normally) appears," 24:31 he replied, 'It refers to the face and hands.' On another occasion after reciting the verse, "And whoever does not judge by what Allaah has revealed, is a Kaafir (disbeliever)" 5:44, Ibn Abbas said ' It is a form of Kufr (disbelief) less than real Kufr.' The Sahaabah also provided information about the circumstances under which the verses were revealed which further clarified their meanings. However, the Tafseer transmitted from the Prophet (r) and the Sahaabah did not cover all of the verses of the Al-Qur'aan. The Prophet (r) explained only what was unclear to the Sahaabah. But with each succeeding generation, more areas became unclear due to the evolution of the language. Hence, the Taabeoon had to make further explanations after the passing of the Sahaabah's era. These explanations are considered a part of Tafseer by Aathaar and should be given

precedence over personal opinions. If they differed, none of their opinions need be given preference over the others unless it is supported by the language. During the era of the Taabeoon many Christians and Jews became Muslims. As a result, some of the Taabeoon narrated tales from Jewish and Christian sources in their explanations of the Al-Qur'aan. Such narration became known as Israa'eeleeyaat. In later generations the books of Tafseer became filled with such narrations many of which could not be traced to any reliable source. 4. Tafseer of Al-Qur'aan by Language With the passage of time, words took on new meanings and old meanings became lost, foreign words entered into the language and vast sections of vocabulary fell into disuse. This natural process necessitated the explanation of some of the Al-Qur'aanic verses according to their literal and logical meanings. Consequently, this period witnessed the appearance of dictionaries like Mukhtaar as-Sihaah written specifically to deal with AlQur'aanic Arabic vocabulary and philology. In cases where words had more than one meaning, this step created differences of opinion, which could only be solved by finding some support in the Sunnah. For example the word, "Lams" literally means to touch but figuratively it means sexual intercourse, thus Muslim scholars were of two basic opinions concerning the following verse, "...or you touch (laamastum) women and can not find water, then make tayammum (ritual purification with dust)" [Al-Qur'aan 4:43]. Imams Ash-Shafee and Malik held it meant the touch of the hand, though each Imam added certain stipulations to it. On the other hand, Imam Abu Hanifah ruled that it meant sexual intercourse. However, the Prophet's wives (radiAllaahu 'anhum) reported that on some occasions he kissed them before performing Salaah, which indicates that touching was not intended by this verse. These four methods come under the general title of Tafseer bir-Riwaayah or Tafseer bilMathoor (Tafseer based on narration) and as such leave little room for argument. Although the fourth step is often times based on narration from earlier generations, at other times it can be highly opinionated and controversial. For example, Yusuf Ali openly translates the Burooj used in the 85th Surah as the Zodiacal signs, while Pickthall translates it as Mansions of Stars, but says in his introduction to the Soorah, 'It is applied to the signs of the zodiac.' Thus, according to them, Allaah is making an oath by the zodiacal signs. Some English-speaking Muslims have taken this to be an indirect support of astrology. However, Burooj originally only meant star configuration and it was not until later times it was used to refer to the imaginary figures of zodiac which pagan Babylonians and Greeks superimposed on them. In fact, astrology has been forbidden by the Prophet (r) in no uncertain terms as it falls under the general prohibition on visiting fortune-tellers about which the Prophet (r) said, 'Whoever visits a fortune teller and believes in what he says has disbelieved in what I have brought (meaning Islaam) - Reported by Abu Dawood.

Methods of Tafseer (Part 3 of 3)
Submitted by admin on Thu, 27/07/2006 - 07:14. Tafseer

We conclude our series on the methods of tafseer with this article. We pray that you find this and all the previous articles informative and useful. 5. Tafseer of Qur'aan by Opinion Opinion based on a careful study of the first four steps can be considered valid as long as they do not contradict any of the steps. Likewise, the application of obvious meanings of the Qur'aan to existing situations and the formation of conclusions based on their similarities is also allowed as long as such interpretations do not clash with authentic classical explanations. However, free interpretation based on philosophical, scientific or sectarian ideas is totally forbidden. The Prophet (r) was reported to have said thrice, 'Opinion-based arguments about the Qur'aan is Kufr (disbelief).' Then he said, 'What you know of it, act on; and what you are ignorant of, refer it to one who knows.' Reported Abu Hurairah and collected by Ahmed. We can see from the above mentioned hadeeth that the Prophet (r) sternly warned his companions and later generations of Muslims concerning the interpretations of Qur'aan based on speculation and unsubstantiated opinions. This was done because the Qur'aan is the foundation of Islaam and as such it had to remain pure and un-tampered with. If free

rein were given to any and everyone to interpret the Qur'aan as they wished, its value would be totally destroyed and Islaam itself would be undermined from its base. Thus, the only accepted Tafseer is that which follows the following sequence. Tafseer of Qur'aan by the Qur'aan, Tafseer by the Sunnah, then by the sayings of the Sahaabah, then by language and finally by opinion, as long as it is based on the preceding four methods and does not contradict any of them. 5. Deviant Tafseer In order to clarify the potential danger and corruption inherent in Tafseer by unsubstantiated opinion, the following examples of deviant Tafaseer (pl.) have been collected from various movements, sects and philosophical schools from distant past to the present. From the tenth century CE, some Sufis, (mystics), have interpreted "Pharaoh" in Allaah's command to Prophet Moosa ('alaihi salaam): "Go to Pharaoh for verily he transgresses," 79:17 as the heart, as it is the heart which oppresses every man causing him to transgress. Others interpreted Allaah's command to Prophet Moosa ('alaihi salaam), "Throw down your stick" 27:10 as a command to throw aside the material world and only depend Allaah. These spiritualistic Tafaseer are indicative of the Sufi movement's overemphasis of the spiritual over the material. In the Mu'tazilite (Rationalist) Tafaseer of the Abbasid Era, revelation was interpreted according to human logic. Hence, the word "heart" in the following verse was given a new meaning. "And when Ibrahim said, ' My Lord show me how You give life to the dead'. He, (Allaah) replied, ' Do you not believe?' Ibrahim said, 'Yes but (I am asking You) in order that my heart may be at rest." 2:260. It was claimed that Ibrahim ('alaihi salaam) had a friend whom he referred to as "heart" and thus the true meaning of the verse was "Yes, but I am asking You in order that my friend may be at ease." This interpretation was considered necessary to explain away the doubt, which Ibrahim ('alaihi salaam) felt in his heart, as it seemed inconsistent with the Prophethood according to the Rationalists The Shiite Tafaseer of the late Abbasid era, under the influence of their inordinate obsession with the Prophet's descendants, interpreted the verse, "He has set forth the two seas and they meet," 55:19-22 as a reference to Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law, and Fatima, the daughter (radiAllaahu 'anhumaa). And in the following verse, "And out of them come the pearls and coral," they found a reference to the Prophet's grandsons, Al-Hassan and Al-Hussain (radiAllaahu 'anhumaa). The Qadiyani sect which appeared in more recent times in India during the latter part of the nineteenth century, claimed that in the verse, "Muhammad is not the father of any of you but he is Allaah's Messenger and the seal (Khaatam) of the Prophets" 33:40, Khaatam does not mean last as most understand it but superior. The meaning of the verse, therefore, becomes 'The most superior of the prophets (but not the last)'. They also assert that the Khaatam means "Seal". That is He (Allaah) sets a seal on people and with his seal one becomes a prophet. These interpretations were made to validate the claim to prophethood made by their founder, Ghulam Ahmad. They also distorted the following verse in reference to Prophet Jesus ('alaihi salaam). "They did not crucify him nor did they kill him but it was made to seem as if they did. But Allaah raised him up to Himself." 4157. They claimed that "raised up" meant the figurative raising as used in the verse "And We raised your esteem for you." 94:4. This interpretation was necessary to support their doctrine that after escaping crucifixion, Prophet Jesus ('alaihi salaam) died a natural death on earth and was buried in Kashmir, and that Ghulam Ahmad was the promised messiah whose return was prophesied. Even more recently in the USA, Elijah Muhammad (1975) founder of the Elijan sect and claimant to prophethood interpreted the verse, "On the day when the trumpet is blown We will assemble the criminals blue-eyed," 20-102 as proof that the inhabitants of the fire will be all white people. This interpretation was used to support the Elijan doctrine that Allaah the god was a black man, that all black people were gods and that all white people were devils - refer to Message to the Blackman in America by Elijah Muhammad. Although the word Zarq literally means blue, it was used to refer to the clouding of the cornea due to certain eye diseases, which gives the eye a bluish-gray tinge. Hence, a more accurate translation would have been 'bleary-eyed'. According to Elijah, since the white man resembles the black man, he was referred to, as "mankind" in the Qur'aan that is a kind of

man! Consequently, the verse, "O mankind, verily We have created you from a male and female" 49:15 was interpreted by Elijah to refer to the black man's creation of the white man (mankind). These few examples of Tafaseer based solely on sectarian opinions clearly show the incoherence and deception that results from the disregard for the correct method of Tafseer. The Qur'aan becomes a voice for each sect's deviant and heretical claims. There are no logical boundaries or coherent rules by which the founders of these sects abide; hence, the same verse may have a multiplicity of meanings for them. Whatever interpretation promotes their ideas becomes correct. For them, the Qur'aan is no longer a book of guidance, but a book containing the hidden secrets of their sect which only their leaders and the specially initiated can unlock. Source: Tafseer Soorah Al-Hujaraat by Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips.

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