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

Levels of Explanation Needed for the Qur’an: al-Zarkashi

In his famous handbook to the Qur’anic sciences, al-Burhan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an, sheikh Badr al-Deen al-Zarkashi dedicated one chapter to discussing the different levels of explanation needed for different parts of the Qur’an. We have added a numbering system to this translation in an effort to facilitate navigating the the sections and many examples it includes:

ينقسم القرآن العظيم إلى : ما هو بين بنفسه ، بلفظ لا يحتاج إلى بيان منه ، ولا من غيره ، وهو كثير . ومنه قوله – تعالى – : التائبون العابدون ( التوبة : 112 ) الآية ، وقوله : إن المسلمين والمسلمات ( الأحزاب : 35 ) الآية ، وقوله : قد أفلح المؤمنون ( المؤمنون : 1 ) ، وقوله : واضرب لهم مثلا أصحاب القرية ( يس : 13 ) ، وقوله : ياأيها الذين أوتوا الكتاب آمنوا بما نزلنا مصدقا ( النساء : 47 ) . ـ

The Qur’an can be divided into the following categories:1. Those parts which are clear in and of themselves, with wordings that do not require any further clarification, and these are very common.

Some examples include:

Ex 1. Allah’s statement:

التَّائِبُونَ الْعَابِدُونَ الْحَامِدُونَ السَّائِحُونَ الرَّاكِعُونَ السَّاجِدُونَ الْآمِرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَالنَّاهُونَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَالْحَافِظُونَ لِحُدُودِ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

They are those who repent, worship, praise, fast, bow, prostrate, command the good, forbid evil, and observe the regulations of Allah. And give glad tidings to the believers [9:112]

Ex 2. and His statement: Continue reading

A Question about the Length of the Makki Surahs

I posed the following question to sheikh ‘Abdullah al-‘Awaaji, a professor of Tafsir at the Islamic University of al-Madinah, via Twitter on the @ConsQuran channel on November 2, 2019:

احسن الله إليكم . ذكر السيوطي في الاتقان : “أخرج الطبراني ، عن ابن مسعود : نزل المفصل بمكة ، فمكثنا حججا نقرؤه ، لا ينزل غيره .” كيف نفهم هذا اثر وسور طويل نزلت قبل الهجرة كسورة الكهف و سورة يوسف وسورة الأعراف ونحوها . بارك الله فيك . ـ

[Question] May Allah be good to you. al-Suyooti mentions the following quote in al-Itqan:

al-Tabarani brought a report from ibn Mas’ood that:

The Mufassal surahs were revealed in Mecca, so we remained reciting these for years without anything else being revealed.

How should we understand this narration when long surahs such as surah al-Kahf, surah Yusuf, surah al-A’raf and others were revealed before the Hijrah?

May Allah bless you.

أولًا في ثبوت ذلك عن ابن مسعود رضي الله عنه نظر والراجح تضعيفه وقد مال محققو الاتقان ط المجمع الى تحسينه تساهلًا لانه يتعلق بالتفسير ،وممن ضعفه لعلتين مؤثرتين المحقق أد/ سعد الحميد في ج ١ من تخقيقه لسنن سعيد بن منصور وهذه صورة كلامه ـ

[Response] Firstly, there is some question as to whether this is actually an authentically transmitted statement of ibn Mas’ood. The predominant opinion is that it is weak, though the verifier of al-Itqan inclined towards grading it as acceptable due to his more relaxed standards with material related to tafsir. One of those who graded this report as weak due to two problems in its chain was the verifier Dr. Sa’d al-Humayd in the first volume of his critical edition of the Sunan of Sa’eed ibn Mansoor, and you can see the image of his comments below. Continue reading

Applying Hadith Criteria to Statements of Tafsir: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh mentioned the following points in his explanation of ibn Taymiyah’s famous introduction to the principles of tafsir:

هاهنا تنبيه مهم وهو أنه ليست قواعد مصطلح الحديث منطبقة دائما على أسانيد المفسرين، لهذا يخطئ كثيرون من المعاصرين في نقدهم لأسانيد التفسير على طريقة نقدهم لأسانيد الحديث؛ بل تجد أحدهم يتعّجب من ابن جرير وابن كثير والبغوي بل ابن أبي حاتم ونحو ذلك من إيرادهم التفاسير عن الصحابة والتابعين بالأسانيد التي هي على طريقة مصطلح الحديث ربما كانت ضعيفة؛ لكنها على طريقة مصطلح الحديث الذي اعتمده المفسرون تكون صحيحة. ـ

Here we must bring your attention to an important point, which is that the principles of hadith classification are not also applied to the chains of narrations of those who explain the Qur’an. Many people in this age have made the mistake of applying the methods of criticism used for the chains of Prophetic hadith narrations to the chains of narration used in tafsir. In fact, you will find such people who are astonished that ibn Jarir and ibn Kathir and al-Baghawi and even ibn Abi Hatim and others of similar caliber would mention explanations of the Qur’an from the Sahabah and Tabi’oon which might be graded as “weak” according to the methods of classification in the hadith sciences. However, according to the methods of classification relied upon by the scholars of tafsir, these same reports would be graded as “authentic”.

مثال ذلك حديث السّدي، السدي صاحب تفسير، له تفسير يفسر باستنباطه ويفسر وينقل عن غيره، يروي التفسير عنه أسباط بن نصر يروي التفسير عنه أسباط بن نصر، السدي فيه ربما كلام، وأسباط بن نصر أيضا فيه كلام ربما ضُعِّف بل جعل ممن اُنتقد على مسلم إيراد حديثه، فيأتي فيقول هذا الإسناد حسن بل ربما يقول هذا ضعيف، وهذا عند العلماء بالتفسير هذا من أجود الأسانيد؛ بل هو أجود أسانيد تفسير السدي، وإن كان أسباط فيه كلام فذلك الكلام فيه في الحديث، أما في العناية بالتفسير فلو به خصوصية خاصة تفسير السدي، وقد نقله عن كتابه وحفظه، ولهذا لما ترجم له العلماء قال راوي تفسير السدي. ـ

One example of that is the narrations of al-Suddi, the one who authored a book of tafsir in which he explained the Qur’an and derived legal rulings and also transmitted explanations of others. Asbat ibn Nasr related some explanations of the Qur’an from al-Suddi. Regarding al-Suddi, perhaps there is some criticism, and perhaps there is also criticism regarding Asbat ibn Nasr; perhaps he is weak. In fact, perhaps a person would be criticized for bringing one of his narrations, such that one might relay it and consider it to be sound when it actually might be weak. But according to the scholars of Tafsir, narrations by this route are some of the best in terms of their chain of narration, or rather the best chain of narration for al-Suddi’s tafsir even though there is some criticism of Asbat. However that criticism is about his narrations of hadith reports, but when it comes to his attention to Tafsir, if Asbat were to have a specialty it would be in the tafsir of al-Suddi for he transmitted it both by a written copy and by memory. That is why when the scholars provide biographical information about him they refer to him as “the transmitter of Tafsir al-Suddi.” Continue reading

Clarification on the Qiraa’aat and the Ahruf: al-Qurtubi

In the introduction to his famous book of tafsir, Imam al-Qurtubi dedicated one section to discussing the meaning of the Prophet’s statement that the Qur’an was revealed in seven ahruf. He concluded that section and segued into the next by writing:

وقد قيل : إن المراد بقوله عليه السلام : أنزل القرآن على سبعة أحرف القراءات السبع التي قرأ بها القراء السبعة ; لأنها كلها صحت عن رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – ، وهذا ليس بشيء لظهور بطلانه على ما يأتي . ـ

And some have said that the meaning of the Prophet’s statement, “The Qur’an was sent down in seven ahruf” is that it is referring to the seven qiraa’aat which were recited by the seven famous reciters because all of these can be authentically traced back to Allah’s Messenger. But this position is not worth consideration due to its clear falsity, as we will see.

فصل في القراءات ونسبتها
Regarding the Qiraa’aat and their Attribution

قال كثير من علمائنا كالداودي وابن أبي صفرة وغيرهما : هذه القراءات السبع التي تنسب لهؤلاء القراء السبعة ، ليست هي الأحرف السبعة التي اتسعت الصحابة في القراءة بها ، وإنما هي راجعة إلى حرف واحد من تلك السبعة ، وهو الذي جمع عليه عثمان المصحف ، ذكره ابن النحاس وغيره . وهذه القراءات المشهورة هي اختيارات أولئك الأئمة القراء ، وذلك أن كل واحد منهم اختار فيما روى وعلم وجهه من القراءات ما هو الأحسن عنده والأولى ، فالتزمه طريقة ورواه وأقرأ به واشتهر عنه ، وعرف به ونسب إليه ، فقيل : حرف نافع ، وحرف ابن كثير ; ولم يمنع واحد منهم اختيار الآخر ولا أنكره بل سوغه وجوزه وكل واحد من هؤلاء السبعة روي عنه اختياران أو أكثر ، وكل صحيح . وقد أجمع المسلمون في هذه الأعصار على الاعتماد على ما صح عن هؤلاء الأئمة مما رووه ورأوه من القراءات وكتبوا في ذلك مصنفات ، فاستمر الإجماع على الصواب ، وحصل ما وعد الله به من حفظ الكتاب ، وعلى هذه الأئمة المتقدمون والفضلاء المحققون كالقاضي أبي بكر بن الطيب والطبري وغيرهما . ـ

Many of our scholars, such as al-Dawudi and ibn Abi Sufrah have said that these seven qiraa’aat which are ascribed to these seven famous reciters are not the seven ahruf which the Sahabah were permitted to recite with, but that these seven qiraa’aat all go back to one single harf out of those seven, which is the one that ‘Uthman collected in the official ‘Uthmani mushaf. That was mentioned by ibn al-Nahaas and others.

Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Tafsir of the Closing of Surah al-Baqarah: Sheikh Faisal Aal Mubarak

Sheikh Faisal Aal Mubarak (d. 1376Ah/1957CE) set out to author a book of Qur’anic explanation for beginning students composed of carefully selected statements of the salaf and excerpts from Tafsir al-Tabari, Tafsir al-Baghawi and Tafsir ibn Kathir, three of the most reliable books of tafsir available. He divided his book into 313 lessons for further ease of reading. What follows is a complete translation of his 35th lesson, covering the final ayaat of surah al-Baqarah:

الدرس الخامس والثلاثون
Lesson #35

لِّلَّهِ ما فِي السَّمَاواتِ وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ وَإِن تُبْدُواْ مَا فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوْ تُخْفُوهُ يُحَاسِبْكُم بِهِ اللهُ فَيَغْفِرُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيُعَذِّبُ مَن يَشَاءُ وَاللهُ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ * آمَنَ الرَّسُولُ بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْهِ مِن رَّبِّهِ وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ كُلٌّ آمَنَ بِاللهِ وَمَلآئِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ لاَ نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّن رُّسُلِهِ وَقَالُواْ سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا غُفْرَانَكَ رَبَّنَا وَإِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيرُ * لاَ يُكَلِّفُ اللهُ نَفْساً إِلا وُسْعَهَا لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتْ وَعَلَيْهَا مَا اكْتَسَبَتْ رَبَّنَا لاَ تُؤَاخِذْنَا إِن نَّسِينَا أَوْ أَخْطَأْنَا رَبَّنَا وَلاَ تَحْمِلْ عَلَيْنَا إِصْراً كَمَا حَمَلْتَهُ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِنَا رَبَّنَا وَلاَ تُحَمِّلْنَا مَا لاَ طَاقَةَ لَنَا بِهِ وَاعْفُ عَنَّا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا وَارْحَمْنَا أَنتَ مَوْلاَنَا فَانصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ

To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth, and whether you disclose what is in your own selves or conceal it, Allah will call you to account for it. Then He forgives whom He wills and punishes whom He wills. And Allah is Able to do all things. [2:284]

The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, as do the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. They say, “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” – and they say, “We hear and we obey. We seek Your Forgiveness, our Lord, and it is to You that we shall return!” [2:285]

Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope. He gets reward for that which he has earned, and he is punished for that which he has earned. “Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error. Our Lord! Do not lay a burden on us like that which You did on those before us. Our Lord! And do not put any burden on us greater than we have strength to bear. Pardon us and grant us Forgiveness. Have mercy on us. You are our Protector, so give us victory over the disbelieving people. [2:286]

قوله عز وجل: {لِّلَّهِ ما فِي السَّمَاواتِ وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ وَإِن تُبْدُواْ مَا فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوْ تُخْفُوهُ يُحَاسِبْكُم بِهِ اللهُ فَيَغْفِرُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيُعَذِّبُ مَن يَشَاءُ وَاللهُ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ (284) } . ـ

○ Allah’s statement:

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