Responding to Some Current Misconceptions in Tafsir: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool penned the following short clarification to certain current misconceptions regarding some technical aspects in the field of Tafsir:

خلفيات علمية
Some Background Knowledge

ينتقد بعض الناس مصطلح (التفسير بالمأثور) ، ويورد عليه بأنه حادث، لم يأت في كلام السابقين، وإنما جاء في كلام الدكتور محمد حسين الذهبي في كتابه التفسير والمفسرون. ـ
وبأن تفسير القرآن بالقرآن اجتهادي، إذ المفسر هو الذي يتدخل فيه بحمل الآية على الآية. ـ
وتفسير الصحابي باجتهاد منهم! وكذا تفسير التابعين. ـ
و لا يصح أن يحكم بصحة شيء من التفسير واعتماده إلا التفسير النبوي. ـ

There are some people who criticize the use of the term “al-Tafsir bi’l-Ma’thoor” – “Narration-based Exegesis” -, and they take it to be something new which was not present in the speech of the previous scholars; rather, it only came into use with the speech of Dr. Muhammad Husain al-Dhahabi in his book “al-Tafsir w’al-Mufassiroon“.

And they also say that tafsir of the Qur’an by the Qur’an is something which is a matter of individual scholarly efforts, thereby making it the mufassir who enters into this enterprise by interpreting this ayah in light of that ayah.

And they say that the tafsir of the Sahabah was of their own individual scholarly efforts! And likewise with the tafsir of the Taabi’oon.

And that it is not correct to rely on or consider any explanation of the Qur’an to be accurate except for the tafsir of the Prophet himself.

أقول: هذا الكلام يقرره بعض الأخوة ، وفيه عندي نظر من جهات متعددة؛ ـ

I say: These ideas have been accepted as fact by some brothers, and here is my opinion regarding these ideas from a number of different angles.

الجهة الأولى : مصطلح (التفسير بالمأثور)، هو تسمية حادثة ، لمعنى كان موجوداً ومتداولا بين أهل العلم. فمن نظر في كلامهم يجدهم يحذرون من التفسير بالرأي، ويذمون كلام أهل البدع بأنه تفسير للقرآن بآرائهم، لم يراعوا فيه ما جاء عن السلف . ـ

○ The first angle: The term “al-Tafsir bi’l-Ma’thoor” is a modern name for something which has long been present and in circulation among for scholars. Whoever looks into the statements of the scholars will find them warning and cautioning against al-Tafsir bi’l-Ra’yi – Opinion-based Tafsir – and dispraising the speech of the people of innovation due to the fact that it was making tafsir of the Qur’an by their own personal views and opinions without any concern for the explanations of the salaf.

وهذا المقابلة تدل على أنهم يرون أن تفسير السلف يقابل الرأي، بمعنى أنه تفسير صحيح معتمد، لا مدخل للرأي والاجتهاد فيه. وهذا يدل أنهم يعتمدون تفسير مقابلاً للرأي ، وهو ما سمّاه الشيخ محمد حسين الذهبي رحمه الله بـ (التفسير بالمأثور)، فهو لم يأت بغير الاسم، وإلا فإن المعنى المراد كان موجوداً يدل عليه كلامهم. ـ

And this differentiation shows that they saw the tafsir of the salaf in contrast to mere opinions, meaning that the tafsir of the salaf was the authentic and reliable tafsir, as opposed to entering into personal opinions and individual scholastic efforts. This demonstrates that they relied on and trusted that tafsir which was opposite to mere opinions, which is what sheikh Muhammad Husain al-Dhahabi (may Allah have mercy on him) referred to as “al-Tafsir bi’l-Ma’thoor“. So he did give it a title, however the meaning which the title designated was something already present and known, as indicated by the speech of the earlier scholars.

الجهة الثانية : المراد بالتفسير بالمأثور، أي التفسير الذي لا يدخل فيه المفسر برأي نفسه، فلا يأت بمعنى للآية من عند نفسه، إنما يفسر الآية بمعنى آية أخرى، فهو من هذه الحيثية لا رأي فيه. و لا دخل للمفسر في معنى الآية. ـ

○ The second angle: The intended meaning of “al-Tafsir bi’l-Ma’thoor” is the explanation of the Qur’an which does not include any personal opinions. So one does not come with some meaning of an ayah that he simply produced on his own. Rather, it is only explaining an ayah according to the meaning of another ayah. So from this angle, it does not involve any independent reasoning at all, nor does the mufassir himself delve into the meaning of the ayah.

أمّا قضية أن تفسير الصحابي يدخله اجتهاد منه، فهذا يتعقب بما يلي: ـ
– اجتهاد الصحابة في تفسير القرآن مبنى على ما فهموه عن الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلم في معنى الآية، فهو اجتهاد مبني على معنى صحيح فهمه من الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلم. ـ
– أن نظرهم في تفسير الآية مبني على معرفتهم ومشاهدتهم لقرائن وأحوال نزول القرآن وملاباسات حصلت عند نزول الآيات لا يشاركهم فيها غيرهم، وهذا المعنى يجعل اجتهادهم ليس كاجتهاد غيرهم. ـ
– ولأن النظر في معنى الآية إذا كان مبنيا على اللغة فهم أعلم بلغة القرآن وبالمراد منه من كل أحد غيرهم، وهل المعنى العرفي زمن النزول إلا كلامهم ولغتهم؟! ـ

○ Now as for the issue of the tafsir of a Sahabi involving his own personal independent reasoning, then this should be addressed as follows:

The independent reasoning of the Sahabah in the field of explaining the Qur’an was based on what they had understood from Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) regarding the meaning of an ayah, so their independent reasoning was built upon the meaning of its correct understanding – which came from the Messenger (ﷺ).

Furthermore, their views when it came to the explanation of an ayah were based upon their knowledge of and having witnessed the events surrounding the revelation of the Qur’an and having been involved in the events which resulted in the revelation of the different ayaat. And there is no one else who shares with them in this status. So all this makes their independent reasoning qualitatively different from the independent reasoning of others.

And if one’s views on the meaning of an ayah are based upon language and linguistics, then the Sahabah were more knowledgeable of the language of the Qur’an and its intended meanings than anyone else. Were the common linguistic meanings of the language during the time of the revelation anything other than their own everyday speech and language?!

فأصبح بما تقدم تفسيرهم للقرآن العظيم، تفسير بعيداً عن الرأي والاجتهاد المجرد، فلا يجعل كالتفسير بالرأي! ـ

So it should be clear from what I have mentioned that their tafsir of the Qur’an was a tafsir far removed from personal opinions or independent reasoning devoid of any textual basis. It was nothing like al-Tafsir bi’l-Ray’i!

فإذا تحرر معك ما قدّمته تبين لك أن تفسير القرآن بالقرآن وتفسير القرآن بالسنة وتفسير القرآن بقول الصحابي وبما أجمع عليه التابعون، هو التفسير المقابل للتفسير بالرأي. ـ

○ So if what I have said made things clear for you, then it should also be clear to you that tafsir of the Qur’an by the Qur’an itself, tafsir of the Qur’an by the Sunnah, tafsir of the Qur’an done by a Sahabi or by the consensus of the Tabi’oon – all of this is the tafsir which is the opposite of tafsir done by one’s own personal opinions.

وكونه تفسيرا مقابلاً للتفسير بالرأي لا يمنع أن تسميه (التفير بالمأثور)، أو (التفسير بالرواية)، أو (التفسير بالمنقول). فليست المكشلة في التسمية إنما في المعنى المراد، وقد اتضح بما تقدم صحته ووجوده وتداوله بين السلف من قديم. والله المستعان وعليه التكلان و لا حول و لا قوة إلا بالله. ـ

And there is nothing to stop that tafsir which is the opposite of tafsir done by one’s own personal opinions from being called “al-Tafsir bi’l-Ma’thoor” or “al-Tafsir bi’l-Riwayah” or “al-Tafsir bi’l-Manqool“. The issue is not in the name, but rather in the underlying thing which is the intended meaning of that name. So now the correctness of this title and its long-standing presence and well-known status among the salaf has become clear from what I have mentioned.

Allah is the One whose aid is sought, the One upon whom we rely, and there is no might or power except by Allah.

[Taken from a post on the sheikh’s social media account on 12/27/2016. See here.]

See also: Narration-based Tafsir before Opinion-based Tafsir: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

See also: The Types of Tafsir: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: The Difference Between Narration-based Tafsir and Opinion-Based Tafsir: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: Transmitted Explanations of the Qur’an: al-Zarkashi

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