The Conditions for Making Tafsir: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

During a question and answer session connected to his explanation of ibn Taymiyah’s Muqaddimah fee Usool al-Tafsir, Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh was asked the following the question:

سؤال : ما هي الشروط التي يجب أن تتوفر فيمن يفسر كلام الله عز وجل إذا كان من أهل السنة والجماعة ؟ ـ

Question: What are the conditions which must be in place for someone to make tafsir of Allah’s speech [i.e. the Qur’an] if he is from Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah?

ذكر العلماء شروطًا لذلك : الأول : أن يكون عالمًا بالقرآن ، حافظًا للقرآن ، لأن القرآن يفسر بالقرآن ، وإذا كان غير حافظ لكتاب الله – جل وعلا – عن ظهر قلب فإنه قد يفوته تفسير الآية بآية أخرى ، وفي ضمن ذلك أن يكون يعلم ( وهذا على وجه التفضيل لا على الاشتراط ) أن يعلم القراءات ، سواء أكانت السبع أو العشر ، أو ما هو أكثر من ذلك مما صح من القراءات ، لأن التفسير يحتاج فيه المفسر إلى تفسير القراءة بالقراءة الأخرى مثل قوله تعالى : ﴿ وَلا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّى يَطْهُرْنَ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْنَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ ﴾ في القراءة الأخرى قال – جل وعلا – : ﴿ وَلا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّى يَتَطَهَّرْنَ ﴾ صار معنى يطهُرن : يعني يتطهرن ، يعني الطهارة الكاملة ، الطهارة من الحيض وطهارة بالاغتسال ، فتفسر القراءة بالقراءة ، بعض الناس لا يكون عنده علم ، أو يجترئ على القراءات ويأتي بقراءة شاذة أصلاً لا تصح ، مثل الذي يأتي – وسمعناها من بعض خطباء الجمعة ، ومن بعض المحاضرين ، هذا جهل في بعض أحواله – بقوله : ﴿ وَإِذَا أَرَدْنَا أَنْ نُهْلِكَ قَرْيَةً أَمَرْنَا مُتْرَفِيهَا فَفَسَقُوا فِيهَا ﴾ يعني جعلنا مترفيها أمراء – ما أدري له هوى أو كذا – المقصود : أمّرنا مترفيها ، يقول : كما في القراءة الأخرى – وهذه ليست قراءة صحيحة – ولكن (أمرنا مترفيها ففسقوا فيها ) يعني أمرنا مترفيها بالهدى والتقى فلم يطيعوا الرسل ، بل فسقوا فيها ﴿ فَحَقَّ عَلَيْهَا الْقَوْلُ فَدَمَّرْنَاهَا تَدْمِيرًا ﴾ . إذن يشترط في المفسر أن يكون حافظًا لكتاب الله – جل وعلا – ، ويفضل فيه أن يكون عالمًا بالقراءات لأن بعض القراءات يفسر بعضًا . ـ

Answer: The scholars have mentioned a number of conditions for that.

○ First: That he be knowledgeable of the Qur’an, having memorized the Qur’an, because the Qur’an explains the Qur’an. For if he is not one who has memorized the Book of Allah by heart, then he might miss the fact that one ayah explains another. And included in this is that he knows – and this is one of the preferred aspects, not a required prerequisite – that he knows the qiraa’aat (variant readings), whether seven or ten or more than those from among what has been authenticated of the qiraa’aat. This is because in tafsir, the mufassir is in need of one reading to explain another reading, for example Allah’s statement:

وَلَا تَقْرَ‌بُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْ‌نَ ۖ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْ‌نَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَ‌كُمُ اللَّـهُ

And do not approach them until they are pure. And when they have purified themselves, then come to them from where Allah has ordained for you [2:222]

And in another recitation, Allah said:

وَلَا تَقْرَ‌بُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطَّهَّرْنَ

And do not approach them until they purify themselves [2:222]

So the meaning of “[until] they are pure” comes to mean “[until] they purify themselves” – meaning complete purity, i.e. purity from menstruation and purity by means of performing ghusl. So one recitation is explained by another recitation. Some people do not have any knowledge of this, or they behave brashly with the recitations and bring some odd recitation whose basis is not authentic, such as the one – and I have heard this from some of the jumu’ah khateebs and some of those who give talks, out of ignorance in some instances – such as the one who brings this statement:

وَإِذَا أَرَ‌دْنَا أَن نُّهْلِكَ قَرْ‌يَةً أَمَرْ‌نَا مُتْرَ‌فِيهَا فَفَسَقُوا فِيهَا

And when We intend to destroy a city, We command its affluent ones but they defiantly disobey therein [17:16]

– and takes it to mean: “we make the affluent ones rulers” – I don’t know if this comes from desires or the likes of that – the meaning of which being, “We endow their affluent ones with leadership” and they say, “As it comes in another recitation” – but that is not a valid recitation. Rather

 أَمَرْ‌نَا مُتْرَ‌فِيهَا

We command its affluent ones…  [17:16]

means, We command its affluent ones to take guidance and to have taqwa, but they do not obey the messenger; rather they disobey them in that regard

فَحَقَّ عَلَيْهَا الْقَوْلُ فَدَمَّرْ‌نَاهَا تَدْمِيرً‌ا

… so the word comes into effect upon it, and We destroy it with [complete] destruction. [17:16]

So, it is a prerequisite that the mufassir be one who has memorized the Book of Allah, and it is preferred that he be one who is knowledgeable of the qiraa’aat because some of the qiraa’aat explain others.

الشرط الثاني : أن يكون عالمًا بالسنة ، ونعني بالسنة السنة التي فيها تفسير القرآن الكريم ، فيعلم تفسير القرآن بما جاء في السنة ، ويعلم سنة النبي عليه الصلاة والسلام وكيفة إثباتها ، ومعرفة الصحيح منها من غيره ، لأن ذلك يؤهله لمعرفة ما صح من التفسير بالسنة مما لم يصح . ـ

○ The Second Condition: That he be knowledgeable of the sunnah. And by the sunnah, we mean the sunnah which contains explanation of the Noble Qur’an, so that he knows the tafsir of the Qur’an which has come in the sunnah and he knows the sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ) and how to verify it, and he has knowledge of what is authentic from it and what is not. For that qualifies him to recognize what is authentic from the tafsir done by the sunnah from that which is not authentic.

الشرط الثالث : أن يكون عنده علم بأصول الفقه ، يعني بأسباب النــزول ، بالناسخ والمنسوخ ، بمعنى المطلق والمقيد ، بمعنى العام والخاص ، بمعنى المجمل والمبين ، بدلالات الألفاظ إذا كان عنده علم بأصول الفقه ، أصول الفقه معناها : وجه الدلالة من الآية على المعنى ، هذا من أصول الفقه ، وتعريفه : هو قوانين يستنبط بها العالم الْحُكْمَ من الدليل ، هذا الاستنباط يقوم على قاعدة لابد أن يكون عنده علم بهذه القواعد التي يحصل بها الاستنباط مثل : أن يقدم في الكلام الحقيقة الشرعية ، ثم الحقيقة العرفية ، ثم الحقيقة اللغوية ، هذه تفيد المفسر في كثير من الآيات التي أشكلت أو صار فيها خلاف بين المفسرين . المقصود علمه بأصول الفقه ، أصول الاستنباط يحتاجه في الاجتهاد في التفسير. ـ

○ The Third Condition: That he have knowledge of usool al-fiqh – meaning, of asbaab al-nuzool, of abrogating and abrogated verses, of unrestricted and restricted meanings, of general and specific meanings, of summarized and expounded meanings, of the indications of certain wordings – he will have this when he has knowledge of usool al-fiqh. And the meaning of usool al-fiqh is what the ayah indicates in terms of meaning, and this is part of usool al-fiqh. And its definition is: the rules by which the scholar derives rulings from the evidence. This process of deriving the rulings is based upon foundational principles, and the mufassir must have knowledge of these foundational principles from which this process of deriving is carried out. For example, when it comes to speech, one gives precedence first to a word’s technical meaning according to the sharee’ah, then to its commonly-understood meaning, then to its linguistic meaning. This benefits the mufassir in many ayaat which are difficult or in which there is differing among the mufassiroon. The point is his knowledge of usool al-fiqh, the fundamentals of deriving rulings which require independent judgement in tafsir.

الشرط الرابع : أن يكون عالمًا بكلام السلف في التوحيد والعقيدة ، حتى لا يفسر القرآن بتفاسير الخلف التي فيها بدع ومحدثات ، إذا جاءت الأمور الغيبية يعلم أصول السلف في تفسير الغيبيات ، في أمور التوحيد وصفات الله – جل وعلا – ، يفسرها بما فَسَّرَه به السلف لا يجتهد في شيء يخالف منهج السلف في ذلك . ـ

○ The Fourth Condition: That he be knowledgeable of the statements of the salaf regarding tawheed and ‘aqeedah, so that he does not explain the Qur’an with explanations that are contrary or which contain bid’ah and newly-invented matters. So when matters of the Unseen come up, he knows the foundations of the salaf in terms of making tafsir of the matters of the Unseen. And likewise regarding matters of tawheed and the attributes of Allah – so he explains them with that which the salaf explained them and does not perform independent judgement in something which ends up going against the methodology of the salaf in that subject.

الشرط الخامس : أن يكون عالمًا بلغة العرب ، لأن القرآن أنــزل بلسان عربي ، واللغة هي ميدان الفهم ، هي الوسيلة ، الألفاظ وعاء والمعنى في هذا الوعاء ، ولا تفهم المعاني إلا إذا فهمت دلالة الألفاظ على المعاني ، لذلك لابد أن يكون عالـمًا باللغة علمه باللغة يشتمل على : العلم باللغة في نحوها ، وفي مفرداتها ، وفي تراكيبها . أما البلاغة فلا تشترط لأنها أمر خارج عن ما يفهم به ، إلا إذا قيل في علم المعاني من علوم البلاغة فإن لاشتراطه وجه . ـ

○ The Fifth Condition: That he be knowledgeable in the Arabic language, for the Qur’an was revealed in the Arabic language, and language is the domain of meaning; it is the vehicle of meaning. Words are containers and meanings are held in these containers, and you cannot understand the meanings until you understand what the words indicate regarding meanings. For that reason, the mufassir must be knowledgeable of the language and his knowledge of the language should include: knowledge of the grammar of the language, and of its vocabulary, and of its forms. But as for the science of eloquent speech [al-Balaaghah], then this is not required for that is an issue which is outside of what is understood from language – unless one were to say that that the knowledge of meanings is part of the sciences of eloquent speech, in which case it would be required [according to that way of classification].

علم اللغة ماذا نعني به ؟ ليس معناه أنه يعلم النحو في كل مسألة مثلاً ، أو يعلم هذه مفردها بنفسه ، قد يكون يعلمها بنفسه ، أو بالقوة القريبة ، أى : يستطيع أن يراجع مثلاً المفردة ، عنده كتب اللغة ، عنده المعاجم ، عنده كتب النحو ، عنده ما يستعين به على ذلك ، عنده ملكة . ـ

Knowledge of the language – what do we mean by that? Its meaning is not that – for example – one knows every single minute aspect of grammar or that he knows each and every vocabulary word – maybe he knows that word itself, or maybe he knows the approximate meaning. What it means is that he is able to consult reference works on an issue. Take, for example, a point of vocabulary: he has the books of language, he has dictionaries, he has books of grammar, he possesses what aids him in carrying that out, he has them in his possession.

الشرط السادس والأخير في ذلك : أن يكون في تفسيره مراعيًا مواقع الإجماع والخلاف أن يعلم ما الذي أجمع عليه مما اختلف فيه ، لأنه قد يخالف الإجماع في مسائل . ـ

○ The Sixth Condition – and it is the last of them -: That he is versed in the points of consensus and differing so that he can recognize what has been agreed upon from what there is differing in. For otherwise he might oppose the consensus in some matters.

[Asilah ‘alaa Muqaddimah fee Usool al-Tafsir – retrieved from the sheikh’s website here]

See also: The Importance of Tafsir and its Sources: Sheikh al-Fawzan

See also: The Need for Teaching Tafsir: Ibn ‘Uthaymeen

See also: Understanding the Qur’an: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: Who knows the Ta’weel? : Imam al-Sa’di

See also: An Example of Added Meaning from the Different Qiraa’aat

See also: The Types of Tafsir: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See About the Books of Tafsir to read the scholars’ recommendations and advices regarding the different books of tafsir

See Mufassir Profiles to learn about the individual books of tafsir, their authors, and their methodologies.

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12 thoughts on “The Conditions for Making Tafsir: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

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