Praise for Tafsir al-Tabari from Great Scholars of the Past

In his handbook to the Qur’anic sciences, Jalal al-Deen al-Suyooti concluded an overview of the famous scholars of tafsir of the past and their books by writing the following high praise for the great mufassir, Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (died 310AH/932CE) and his famous book of tafsir commonly referred to as Tafsir al-Tabari or Tafsir ibn Jarir:

فِإِنْ قُلْتَ : فَأَيُّ التَّفَاسِيرِ تُرْشِدُ إِلَيْهِ وَتَأْمُرُ النَّاظِرَ أَنْ يُعَوِّلَ عَلَيْهِ ؟ قُلْتُ : تَفْسِيرُ الْإِمَامِ أَبِي جَعْفَرِ بْنِ جَرِيرٍ الطَّبَرِيِّ الَّذِي أَجْمَعَ الْعُلَمَاءُ الْمُعْتَبَرُونَ عَلَى أَنَّهُ لَمْ يُؤَلَّفْ فِي التَّفْسِيرِ مِثْلُهُ . قَالَ النَّوَوِيُّ فِي تَهْذِيبِهِ : كِتَابُ ابْنِ جَرِيرٍ فِي التَّفْسِيرِ لَمْ يُصَنِّفْ أَحَدٌ مِثْلَهُ .ـ

If one were to ask, “Which book of tafsir would you recommend for someone looking for something to rely on?” then I would say: the Tafsir of the Imam Abu Ja’far ibn Jarir al-Tabari. All the scholars worth any consideration agree that there hasn’t been anything else like it written in the field of tafsir.

al-Nawawi said in al-Tahdheeb, “The Tafsir of ibn Jarir – no one has authored anything like it.”

[al-Itqan 2/476]

al-Suyooti highlighted one of the reasons for the great merit of ibn Jarir and his tafsir earlier in the same discussion when he wrote: Continue reading

The Seven Qiraa’aat are all Part of One Harf: ibn Taymiyah

Sheikh al-Islaam ibn Taymiyah once received a letter with a series of questions about the qiraa’aat in it, including:

وسئل عن قول النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ” { أنزل القرآن على سبعة أحرف } ” ما المراد بهذه السبعة ؟ وهل هذه القراءات المنسوبة إلى نافع وعاصم وغيرهما هي الأحرف السبعة أو واحد منها ؟ وما السبب الذي أوجب الاختلاف بين القراء فيما احتمله خط المصحف ؟ وهل تجوز القراءة برواية الأعمش وابن محيصن وغيرهما من القراءات الشاذة أم لا ؟ وإذا جازت القراءة بها فهل تجوز الصلاة بها أم لا ؟ أفتونا مأجورين . ـ

The sheikh was asked about the Prophet’s statement, “The Qur’an was sent down in seven ahruf

(a) what is meant by these seven?

(b) Are the qiraa’aat attributed to Naafi’ and ‘Asim and others the seven ahruf or just one of them?

(c) What is it that causes there to be differences among the reciters within the bounds of the text of the official ‘Uthmani Mushaf?

(d) Is is permissible to recite the recitation of al-A’mash or ibn Muhaysin or other such shadh [non-canonical] recitations? If so, is allowed to pray with them?

We would greatly appreciate if you could deliver some verdicts for us.

[Majmoo’ Fataawaa 13/389]

What follows is part of Ibn Taymiyah‘s response to these questions, touching on the fourth question (d) and the second question (b) while also addressing a number of related topics such as the collection of the Qur’an:

وأما القراءة الشاذة الخارجة عن رسم المصحف العثماني مثل قراءة ابن مسعود وأبي الدرداء رضي الله عنهما ( والليل إذا يغشى والنهار إذا تجلى والذكر والأنثى كما قد ثبت ذلك في الصحيحين . ـ

There are the shadh [non-canonical] qiraa’aat which do not match with the text of the official ‘Uthmani mushaf, such as the recitation of ibn Mas’ood and Abu al-Dardaa’ (may Allah be pleased with them both) of: Continue reading

Ibn Mas’ood and the Prophet’s Final Review of the Qur’an

In a small booklet dedicated to a study of the narrated statements regarding the final review of the Qur’an that the Prophet performed with the angel Jibril in the year of his death, sheikh Muhammad Bazmool included the following valuable and clarifying discussion:

المسألة التاسعة : العرضة الأخيرة ، هي قراءة زيد أو قراءة ابن مسعود؟ ـ
Issue #9: The Final Review of the Qur’an, was it in the recitation of Zayd ibn Thabit or the recitation of ibn Mas’ood?

عن شَقِيقُ بْنُ سَلَمَةَ، قَالَ خَطَبَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ فَقَالَ وَاللَّهِ لَقَدْ أَخَذْتُ مِنْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِضْعًا وَسَبْعِينَ سُورَةً، وَاللَّهِ لَقَدْ عَلِمَ أَصْحَابُ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنِّي مِنْ أَعْلَمِهِمْ بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَمَا أَنَا بِخَيْرِهِمْ‏.‏ قَالَ شَقِيقٌ فَجَلَسْتُ فِي الْحِلَقِ أَسْمَعُ مَا يَقُولُونَ فَمَا سَمِعْتُ رَادًّا يَقُولُ غَيْرَ ذَلِكَ‏.‏ ـ

Shaqeeq ibn Salamah said: ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood addressed us one day and said:

I swear by Allah that I learned seventy-something surahs directly from Allah’s Messenger, and I swear by Allah that the Companions of the Prophet know that I am one of the most knowledgeable of them when it comes to the Qur’an, although I am not the best of them.

and Shaqeeq said, “I sat in the sittings, listening to what was said and I did not hear anyone refuting what he said.”

ولفظ مسلم : عَنْ شَقِيقٍ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، أَنَّهُ قَالَ ‏{‏ وَمَنْ يَغْلُلْ يَأْتِ بِمَا غَلَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ‏}‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ عَلَى قِرَاءَةِ مَنْ تَأْمُرُونِي أَنْ أَقْرَأَ فَلَقَدْ قَرَأْتُ عَلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِضْعًا وَسَبْعِينَ سُورَةً وَلَقَدْ عَلِمَ أَصْحَابُ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنِّي أَعْلَمُهُمْ بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَلَوْ أَعْلَمُ أَنَّ أَحَدًا أَعْلَمُ مِنِّي لَرَحَلْتُ إِلَيْهِ ‏.‏ قَالَ شَقِيقٌ فَجَلَسْتُ فِي حَلَقِ أَصْحَابِ مُحَمَّدٍ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَمَا سَمِعْتُ أَحَدًا يَرُدُّ ذَلِكَ عَلَيْهِ وَلاَ يَعِيبُهُ ‏.‏ ـ

In the wording of Muslim, Shaqeeq relayed that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood said

Continue reading

Links Between the Beginnings and Ends of Surahs: al-Suyooti

In part of his chapter on the munasabat [connections and links between ayaat and surahs] in his famous handbook on the Qur’anic sciences, Imam al-Suyooti mentioned the following:

من هذا النوع مناسبة فواتح السور وخواتمها ، وقد أفردت فيه جزءا لطيفا سميته مراصد المطالع في تناسب المقاطع والمطالع . ـ

Another type of munasabat are those between the beginning of a surah and its conclusion. I have written a work specifically focused on this category of munasabat entitled Maraasid al-Mataali’ fee Tanaasub al-Maqaati’ w’al-Mataali’.

وانظر إلى سورة القصص كيف بدئت بأمر موسى ونصرته ، وقوله فلن أكون ظهيرا للمجرمين [ القصص : 17 ] . وخروجه من وطنه ، وختمت بأمر النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم بأن لا يكون ظهيرا للكافرين ، وتسليته عن إخراجه من مكة ، ووعده بالعود إليها لقوله في أول السورة إنا رادوه [ القصص : 7 ] . ـ

Consider how surah al-Qasas begins with with the story of Moosaa, his helping the man in the market, his statement:

فَلَنْ أَكُونَ ظَهِيرًا لِّلْمُجْرِمِينَ

So I will never again be a helper to the criminal wrong-doers [28:17]

and his leaving his homeland. Then it ends with commanding the Prophet to not be a helper to the disbelievers and giving him some consolation for his leaving Mecca. And Allah also gives him a promise that he will return to Mecca in His statement:

إِنَّا رَادُّوهُ

… Indeed, We shall bring him back … [28:7]

قال الزمخشري : وقد جعل الله فاتحة سورة قد أفلح المؤمنون وأورد في خاتمتها إنه لا يفلح الكافرون [ المؤمنون : 117 ] . فشتان ما بين الفاتحة والخاتمة . ـ

al-Zamakhshari said: Allah placed Continue reading

How the Qur’an Uses Contrasting Pairs and Repetition: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah describes His Book in surah al-Zumar by saying:

اللَّـهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُّتَشَابِهًا مَّثَانِيَ

Allah has sent down the best speech: a mutashaabih and mathaani Book. [39:23]

The word “mathaani” [مَثَانِي] is often translated into English as “oft-repeated” or sometimes as “paired”. Also, when used in conjunction with “mathaani“, the word “mutashaabih” [مُتَشَابِه] is it is often translated as “consistent”. But as often happens in translation, the translated terms do not sufficiently convey the meaning of the original. In what follows, the great scholar of tafsir al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir provides some clarification and examples of these terms which can help the reader to better understand these two recurring features of the Qur’an.

Even before reaching surah al-Zumar, ibn Kathir draws the reader’s attention these features at their first occurrence in the mushaf under his commentary of 2:25 by writing:

لما ذكر تعالى ما أعده لأعدائه من الأشقياء الكافرين به وبرسله من العذاب والنكال ، عطف بذكر حال أوليائه من السعداء المؤمنين به وبرسله ، الذين صدقوا إيمانهم بأعمالهم الصالحة ، وهذا معنى تسمية القرآن مثاني على أصح أقوال العلماء ، كما سنبسطه في موضعه ، وهو أن يذكر الإيمان ويتبعه بذكر الكفر ، أو عكسه ، أو حال السعداء ثم الأشقياء ، أو عكسه . وحاصله ذكر الشيء ومقابله . وأما ذكر الشيء ونظيره فذاك التشابه ، كما سنوضحه إن شاء الله ؛ فلهذا قال تعالى : ( وبشر الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات أن لهم جنات تجري من تحتها الأنهار ) ـ

After having mentioned the pain and punishment that He has promised to those miserable enemies of His who disbelieve in Him and His Messengers, Allah then immediately follows that up by mentioning the condition of His joyful allies who believe in Him and His Messengers – those who actualize their eemaan with righteous good deeds. This is the essence of what the Qur’an refers to as Mathaani according to the strongest position of the scholars, a topic which we will discuss in more detail in its proper place. Essentially, Mathaani is to mention eemaan and then to follow that up by discussing kufr, or vice versa, or to mention the state of the people of ultimate joy and then the people of ultimate misery, or vice versa. In short, it is mentioning one thing and then contrasting it with its opposite.

Now as for mentioning something alongside a close corollary, that would be al-Tashaabah [i.e. their “mutashaabih-ness”], which is another topic that we will clarify in further detail, inshaAllaah.

So that is why [after having finished discussing the punishment of the disbelievers], Allah says: Continue reading

Six Basic Guidelines for Understanding the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di authored books in a number of fields, with his book of tafsir, Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman, becoming especially widespread and well-known. In addition to that work, he once mentioned that a number of people had asked him to write an even more condensed and abridged book of tafsir. Although he began this work, it appears that he did not complete it and it was left in manuscript form until only the first few pages of it were published for the first time in a 35 volume collection of the sheikh’s works. The sections published were limited to a short author’s introduction, two pages on important principles for understanding the Qur’an and the first half of surah al-Fatihah. This amounts to less than 5 pages in total, though perhaps further sections of this work will be found in the future. Below you can read Imam al-Sa’di’s brief words of advice for those who desire to correctly understand the Qur’an, advice that he wrote to go accompany that incomplete condensed tafsir.

مقدمة في ضوابط النافعة
Introduction to Some Beneficial Principles

ـ • ينبغي لمن أراد فهم كلام الله فهما صحيحا أن يتدبرا صادقا ويتفهم ما دل عليه من المعاني ويطبقها على الواقع فلا يراعى خصوص الاسباب التي نزلت الايات بسببها أو قيل : إنها نزلت بسببها ، بل يراعى عموم معنى الكلام ويعلم أن السبب إذا ثبت فإنه جزء وفرد من أفراد ذلك المعنى الذي دل عليه الكلام ، وكذلك الأقوال التي يقولها المفسرين إذا تعددت فإن البصير بإمكانه أن يجعل جميعها داخلة في المعنى ومراده منه حيث احتملها اللفظ ولا ينبغي له أن يحملها على التباين والتخالف فكم ذكر في كثير من الآيات أقوال متعددة ومرجعها في الحقيقة كلها إلى المعني العام . ـ

• Whoever wants to understand the Qur’an correctly should earnestly contemplate it, work to comprehend the messages it presents and implement them in his life. He should not become consumed with the specific circumstances under which or because of which the ayaat were revealed or say, “It was revealed due to such-and-such reason”. Rather, he should focus his attention on the general meaning of the ayah and know that the reason for revelation – even if authentic – is just one piece and one portion of the meaning which this ayah conveys.

Continue reading

Ten Areas to Memorize for Excellence in Tafsir

The following Q&A was conducted with sheikh ‘Abdullah al-‘Awaaji, a professor of Tafsir at the Islamic University of al-Madinah, via the Qur’anic Consultations Twitter page:

س/ اشتركت في حلقة نقرأ فيها تفسير السعدي والحمد لله فهل نحفظ التفسير لنفهم معاني الآيات؟ ـ

Question: Alhamdulillaah, I participate in a class where we go through Tafsir al-Sa’di. Should we memorize the tafsir in order to understand the meanings of the ayaat?

ج/ لا أختار لكم حفظ التفسير كله ولكن الذي يحفظ لإتقان التفسير : ـ

Response: I would tell you not to memorize the entire tafsir but instead to memorize those things which bring about excellence in the field of tafsir.

١-علم مفردات القرءان لا سيما المتكررة (وهو مايسمى غريب القرآن) ومتوسطها للمبتدئ ألف كلمة وللمنتهي مائة كلمة تقريبا

1) Knowledge of Qur’anic vocabulary, especially those words which are used frequently, which is referred to as Ghareeb al-Qur’an. These would be about 1,000 words for the beginner, and then to finish off with roughly another [less frequently used] 100 words.

٢-وعلم التفسير النبوي الصحيح الصريح وهو مئة حديث تقريبا

2) Knowledge of the authentic explicit statements of tafsir from the Prophet, and this amounts to about 100 hadith narrations. Continue reading

The Valid Qiraa’aat are not Limited to Seven: ibn Taymiyah

In part of his letter regarding the qiraa’aat – variant recitations of the Qur’an -, sheikh al-Islam ibn Taymiyah first addressed the issues of distinguishing the ahruf and qiraa’aat, the lack of contradiction among the valid qiraa’aat and stated that the seven well-known qiraa’aat are all part of just one harf. He then began to clarify that the valid qiraa’aat are not limited to only the seven well-known qiraa’aat, as you can read below:

ولذلك لم يتنازع علماء الإسلام المتبوعين من السلف والأئمة في أنه لا يتعين أن يقرأ بهذه القراءات المعينة في جميع أمصار المسلمين ; بل من ثبت عنده قراءة الأعمش شيخ حمزة أو قراءة يعقوب بن إسحاق الحضرمي ونحوهما كما ثبت عنده قراءة حمزة والكسائي فله أن يقرأ [ ص: 393 ] بها بلا نزاع بين العلماء المعتبرين المعدودين من أهل الإجماع والخلاف ; بل أكثر العلماء الأئمة الذين أدركوا قراءة حمزة كسفيان بن عيينة وأحمد بن حنبل وبشر بن الحارث وغيرهم يختارون قراءة أبي جعفر بن القعقاع وشيبة بن نصاح المدنيين وقراءة البصريين كشيوخ يعقوب بن إسحاق وغيرهم على قراء حمزة والكسائي . ـ

Following from that, there is no difference of opinion among the scholars of the earliest generations or the later imams that it is not mandatory to only recite with the seven well-known qiraa’aat in all of the Muslim lands. On the contrary, those who consider the qiraa’ah of al-‘Amash – the teacher of Hamzah – or the qiraa’ah or Ya’qub ibn Ishaaq al-Hadhrami or others like these to be reliably transmitted, just as others affirm the validity of the qiraa’ah of Hamzah or of al-Kisaa’i, then he can recite with those qiraa’aat. 

There is no difference of opinion on this among the scholars whose views deserve consideration and are counted as authorities of the highest level. In fact, most of the great scholars who were exposed to the qiraa’ah of Hamzah – such as Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Bishar ibn al-Haarith, etc. – preferred the qiraa’aat of Abu Ja’far ibn al-Qa’qa’ and Shaybah ibn Nisaah among the reciters of al-Madinah or the qiraa’aat of Ya’qub ibn Ishaaq or other sheikhs of the people of al-Basrah more than the qiraa’aat of Hamzah and al-Kisaa’i. Continue reading

The Threat for Explaining the Qur’an Without Knowledge: Tafsir al-Baghawi

In the introduction to his famous book of tafsir, Imam ِAbu Muhammad al-Husayn al-Baghawi included the following chapter:

فصل في وعيد من قال في القرآن برأيه من غير علم
Chapter Regarding the Threat for Whoever Speaks About the Qur’an According to His Own Opinions Without Knowledge

أنا أبو بكر محمد بن عبد الصمد الترابي أنا أبو محمد عبد الله بن أحمد بن حمويه السرخسي أنا أبو إسحاق إبراهيم بن خزيم الشاشي ثنا أبو محمد عبد بن حميد ثنا عبد الرزاق أنا الثوري عن عبد الأعلى عن سعيد بن جبير عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : من قال في القرآن برأيه فليتبوأ مقعده من النار ” . ـ

… on the authority of ibn ‘Abbaas, Allah’s Messenger said, “Whoever speaks about the Qur’an according to his own opinions, let him take his seat in the hell-fire.” Continue reading

Reasons Why the Tafsir of the Sahabah Differed: Muhammad Bazmool

Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool, a professor at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca, wrote a brief post accounting for the differences found among the Qur’anic explanations of the Sahabah. We have translated it below:

الاختلاف الواقع بين الصحابة في التفسير هو من اختلاف التنوُّع، ولا يقع بينهم اختلاف من باب التضادِّ، إلا فيما لا يصحُّ عنهم. ـ

The differing that did occur among the Sahabah in the field of tafsir is simply variations on a theme. There was not any differing among them that was actual in opposition or conflict, except for things that cannot actually be authentically attributed to them.

ووجه ما يجيء عنهم من اختلاف في التفسير يعود إلى أمرين: ـ

The reasons why there were some differences among their explanations of the Qur’an all go back to two issues:

الأمر الأوَّل: أن تتعدَّد أسماء الشيء وأوصافُه، وشروطه وأركانه، فتارةً يذكره أحدُهم باسمٍ غير ما يذكره به الآخر، وتارةً يذكره بركن فيه غير ما يذكره الآخر، ولا اختلاف تضاد بينهما، كمن يقول: اركع ركعتين، والآخر يقول: اسجد سجدتين، فالسجود والركوع من أركان الصلاة، ويعبَّر بهما عن الركعة من القيام والقراءة والركوع والرفع منه والسجود والجلوس بين السجدتين والسجود الثاني. ـ

1. A single thing can have multiple names, or multiple characteristics, conditions or key parts. So sometimes one of the Sahabah would call something a certain name while another mentioned it by a different name. In other instances, perhaps one of them would refer to the entire thing by one of its essential components while another mentioned it by a different key part. So there is no conflict or contradiction between the two. This is just like if one person said, “Pray two raka’aat” and another person said, “Pray to sajdahs”, because the sujood and the rukoo’ are both essential pillars of the salaah. So the term rukoo’ can be used to refer to the entire salaah without the need to mention the standing, recitation, bowing, coming back up from bowing, prostrating, sitting between the two prostrations or the second prostration. Continue reading