The Great Virtue of Tafsir: al-Suyooti

In his landmark handbook on the Qur’anic sciences, Imam Jalal al-Deen al-Suyooti included a chapter on the great merit of the field of tafsir – Qur’anic exegesis – which he concluded with the following words:

وقد أجمع العلماء أن التفسير من فروض الكفايات ، وأجل العلوم الشرعية . ـ

The scholars have unanimously agreed that tafsir is one of the sciences which must always be studied and learned by a portion of the community and that it is the most important field of study in this religion.

قال الأصبهاني : أشرف صناعة يتعاطاها الإنسان تفسير القرآن . بيان ذلك أن شرف الصناعة إما بشرف موضوعها مثل الصياغة ، فإنها أشرف من الدباغة ، لأن موضوع الصياغة الذهب والفضة ، وهما أشرف من موضوع الدباغة الذي هو جلد الميتة . وإما بشرف غرضها مثل صناعة الطب ، فإنها أشرف من صناعة الكناسة ، لأن غرض الطب إفادة الصحة ، وغرض الكناسة تنظيف المستراح . وإما لشدة الحاجة إليها كالفقه ، فإن الحاجة إليه أشد من الحاجة إلى الطب ، إذ ما من واقعة في الكون في أحد من الخلق إلا وهي مفتقرة إلى الفقه ، لأن به انتظام صلاح أحوال الدنيا والدين ، بخلاف الطب فإنه يحتاج إليه بعض الناس في بعض الأوقات .ـ

al-Asbahani said:

The most noble endeavor that a person can undertake is the tafsir of the Qur’an. That becomes clear when one considers that the virtue of an endeavor can come from one of several things:

Either it is due to the virtue of its subject or field. Take, for example, goldsmithing. Goldsmithing has higher virtue than tanning hides due to the fact that the subject of goldsmithing is gold and silver, both of which are of greater virtue than the subject of tanning, which is the hides of dead animals.

Or the virtue of an endeavor could be due to the virtue of its objective. Take, for example, the field of medicine. Medical work is more virtuous than work as a janitor because the objective of medicine is to bring health while the objective of janitorial work is cleaning the restrooms.

Or the virtue of an endeavor could be due to its demand. Take the field of fiqh for example. The need for fiqh is greater than the need for medicine, for there is no one present in the entire creation who is not in dire need of fiqh, as that is what gives order to both worldly and religious affairs alike. Compare this to medicine, which only certain people need at certain times.

 إذا عرف ذلك فصناعة التفسير قد حازت الشرف من الجهات الثلاث . أما من جهة الموضوع فلأن موضوعه كلام الله تعالى الذي هو ينبوع كل حكمة ، ومعدن كل فضيلة ، فيه نبأ ما قبلكم ، وخبر ما بعدكم ، وحكم ما بينكم ، لا يخلق على كثرة الرد ، ولا تنقضي عجائبه .وأما من جهة الغرض : فلأن الغرض منه هو الاعتصام بالعروة الوثقى ، والوصول إلى السعادة الحقيقية التي لا تفنى . وأما من جهة شدة الحاجة : فلأن كل كمال ديني أو دنيوي عاجلي أو آجلي ، مفتقر إلى العلوم الشرعية والمعارف الدينية وهي متوقفة على العلم بكتاب الله تعالى .  ـ

So, if you understand that, then the field of tafsir has virtue from all three of these directions:

As for the direction of its subject, then its subject is the Speech of Allah which is the wellspring of every wisdom and the mine of every virtue. It contains news of what took place before you, information about what will happen after you, and rulings for what takes place among you. It does not wear out from frequent use, nor are its wonders ever exhausted.

As for the direction of its objective, then its objective is holding fast to the trustworthy handhold and attaining true happiness which will never end.

As for the direction of its great need, then every good matter – whether religious or worldly, short-term or long-run – is dependent on the religious sciences and religious understanding, all of which hinge of knowledge of Allah’s Book.

[End quote from al-Asbahani]

[al-Itqan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an 1/119. I originally found this passage in Mawsoo’ah Madrasah Makkah fee al-Tafsir 8/106, may Allah reward the generous brother who gifted it to me.]

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

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