What is Tafsir?
Tafsir is an Arabic word meaning explanation, commentary (from the verb fassara which means “to explain”). Synonimous with ‘sharh’, tafsīr refers to a form of commentary across various disciplines in science and philosophy. However, within Arab-Muslim terminology, there seems to be a difference between the meaning of sharḥ, which is used more particularly to denote commentaries on scientific, philosophical, or literary works, from that of tafsīr, which has come especially to characterize commentaries on the Quran. The science related to it is called ‘Ilm at-tafsīr (science of exegesis). Another term closely related to tafsīr is ta’wīl, which initially signified general explanation or interpretation, but whose use later becameconfined to the interpretation of the Quran. However, ta’wīl seems to have taken on an even narrower meaning so as to apply only to interpretive exegesis or, more precisely, to the allegorical interpretation of the Quran. Thus, the ta’wīl was an important complement to the traditional exegesis of the Quran, which is better known as tafsīr. Interpretive exegesis met with hostility from orthodoxy, which violently opposed it among the mystics and admitted it only with great reluctance among the Mu’tazilites.
History of Tafsir
Tafsir refers to the interpretation and explanation of the Quran. It plays a significant role in understanding the message and teachings of the Quran. The history of Tafsir dates back to the time of Prophet Muhammad (S), who provided explanations and clarifications regarding Quranic verses to his companions.
After the death of Prophet Muhammad (S), the companions continued transmitting their knowledge and understanding of the Quran to successive generations. This led to the development of various methods and approaches to Tafsir.
During the early centuries of Islam, Tafsir was primarily transmitted orally and was often based on the explanations provided by the companions. Scholars would gather in circles known as “halaqas” to study and discuss the meanings of the Quranic verses.
Over time, Tafsir began to be documented in written form. Prominent scholars such as Ibn Abbas, Ibn Masud, and Abdullah ibn Umar compiled their explanations of the Quranic verses, which served as important references for future scholars.
In the following centuries, different schools of Tafsir emerged, each with its own methodology and approach. Some scholars focused on linguistic analysis, while others emphasized historical context or theological perspectives. Notable scholars like Al-Tabari, Allamah Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai, Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Qummi, and Ibn Kathir made significant contributions to Tafsir literature.
Tafsir also evolved alongside advancements in other Islamic sciences such as Arabic grammar, hadith studies, and jurisprudence. Scholars drew upon these disciplines to provide comprehensive explanations of the Quranic text.
Today, Tafsir continues to be an essential component of Islamic education. It is studied in seminaries, universities, and Islamic institutes worldwide. Numerous Tafsir works have been translated into various languages to facilitate understanding for non-Arabic speakers.
The history of Tafsir reflects the continuous efforts of scholars throughout centuries to unravel the depth and wisdom of the Quran. It serves as a valuable resource for Muslims seeking guidance and enlightenment from the divine message of the Quran.
Why do we need Tafsir?
1-To enhance worship while following the Quran
The Quran is the absolute truth, the only scripture that remains valid and unwavering till the Day of Judgment. Tafsir of the Quran facilitates deeper understanding of the Quran. As said by the Prophet (S) in his last sermon: “I leave behind me two things, the Quran and the Sunnah (Hadith), and if you follow these you will never go astray.”
This hadith proves that reading and understanding the Quran is essential for leading a steadfast life under the guidance of Allah, after the Prophet’s (S) demise. Moreover, learning tafsir of the Quran is essential for studying the five pillars (fundamental principles) of Islam. A person who is learns Tafsir will be capable of fulfilling these obligations with the correct understanding and utmost devotion. These pillars include the following:
Shahadah-the declaration of faith.
“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad (S) is his messenger.”
Salat – prayer five times a day.
The Messenger of Allah (S) said: “When anyone of you stands to pray, he is communicating with his Lord, so let him pay attention to how he speaks to Him.”
As mentioned in the Quran: “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (Quran 2:153)
Sawm -fasting in the month of Ramadan.
The Quran states: “Oh ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you even as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may reach attainment.”
Zakat -giving charity in the way of Allah.
“The alms are only for the poor or needy; and the destitute, those employed to collect Zakat. To attract the hearts of those who have been inclined towards Islam, to free the captives; and for those in debt; for Allah’s Cause; for the wayfarer, a traveler who is cut off from everything; a duty imposed by Allah. And Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise.” [Quran 9:60]
Hajj -pilgrimage by visiting the holy Ka’aba.
In the Holy Quran, Allah Almighty Says: “Verily, the first House (of worship) appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), full of blessing, and guidance for Al-‘Alamin (the mankind and Jinns).
2- To perform daily practices (Salah) with concentration and humility
When an individual performs Salah multiple times a day, there are chances of not being precise or correct. He may also get preoccupied with numerous thoughts of his interests, plans, and problems that are running through his mind. This can be avoided when the individual is aware of the importance and meaning of each verse that he recites in his prayer. This would not only assist the individual to have khushoo and khuzoo in his supplication but he will also have developed a solid bond betweem him and Allah. This is achievable when a person learns Tafsir.
3- For a better understanding of the Quran by Non-Arabic individuals
Allah uses clear, smooth, and concise language in the Quran, and in doing so, the importance and meaning are evident to those individuals who know the Arabic language or are familiar with the Arabian dialect. However, the Quran will not be as easy to understand by people who are not Arabic speakers. For this purpose, learning Tafsir is necessary for all members of the Muslim Ummah. You can explore this to learn more about how to move between darkness to light. https://lms.darulquran.co.uk/en/course/index.php?categoryid=46
Iyaas ibn Mu’aawiyah (d. 122 A.H.) once said,
“The individual who recounts the Quran and does not know its clarification/ explanation is like a group of individuals who have received amessage from their ruler at night, and they don’t have a lamp to read it
Therefore, they don’t have any idea of what the message contains. The example of the one who has the knowledge of Tafsir is like an individual who comes to them with a light and tells them what is in the message”
4-To Establish an everlasting bond with our Creator
Closeness to Allah in the Quran has been emphasized in the Quran on numerous occasions, and it is meant to signify various aspects of Allah’s constant presence with you. However, the term ‘closeness to Allah’ holds different meanings.
As mentioned in the Quran: “And indeed We have created man, and We know whatever thoughts his inner self develops, and We are closer to him than (his) jugular vein.” [Quran 50:16].
Learning Tafsir develops a connection in a believer’s heart with the Creator that goes deeper than simply reading or memorising the Quran. It draws one’s heart and mind closer towards the word of Allah and comepls us to remain on a straight and righteous path. (If you want to know how you can memorise the Quran see this link: (https://lms.darulquran.co.uk/en/course/index.php?categoryid=18)
Purpose of Tafsir
- The purpose of Tafsir is to explore the foundational principles which the Quran seeks to clarify:
- The explanation of a comprehensive set of beliefs concerning the Creator, and the relationship between the created and the Creator,
- The perfection of personal conduct and good morals,
- The establishment of a framework of laws and code of conduct that govern individual and family interactions,
- The establishment of laws governing social and political dealings between communities and nations,
- The narrations of the histories of previous civilizations, so that the pious serve as role models, and the impious to act as a warning,
- To give the good news of Paradise and the blessings in store for the believers, and the evil admonition of the punishment of Hell as a punishment for the disbelievers,
- To prove the truthfulness of the Prophet (S), by explaining the miraculous nature of the Quran.
Types of Tafsir
As Islam expanded to diverse regions and cultures, Tafsir evolved into various schools and methods, reflecting the richness and dynamism of Muslim thought. Some of the main categories of Tafsir are:
- Tafsir bi-al-ma’thur (Tafsir based on transmitted sources): This type of Tafsir relies on the reports and narrations from Prophet Muhammad (S) and his companions, as well as their successors (tabi’un) and other authoritative figures in Islamic history. It is considered to be the most authentic and reliable, as it preserves the original understanding of the Quran. Some important interpretations of Shia in this category include Tafsir Ali Ibn Ibrahim Qomi and Tafsir Ayashi.
- Tafsir bi-al-ra’y (Tafsir based on opinion): This type of Tafsir uses rational reasoning, personal reflection, or independent analysis to interpret the Quran. It may also incorporate other sources of knowledge, such as philosophy, science, history, or literature. This type of Tafsir is more flexible and creative, but also more prone to errors or deviations.
- Tafsir al-ta’wil (Tafsir based on allegorical interpretation): This type of Tafsir seeks to uncover the hidden or esoteric meanings of the Quranic verses, going beyond their apparent or literal meanings. Symbolic language, metaphors, parables, and mystical insights may be used to reveal deeper truths or secrets of the Quran.
The first person widely recognized as having written a Tafsir (exegesis) of the Quran from a Shia perspective is Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Qummi, commonly known as Al-Qummi. He lived in the 10th century CE and is considered one of the prominent early Shia scholars. Al-Qummi’s Tafsir, titled “Tafsir al-Qummi,” is a comprehensive work that provides explanations and interpretations of the Quranic verses from a Shia perspective. It covers various aspects, including theological, legal, and historical dimensions. Al-Qummi’s Tafsir incorporates narrations from the Prophet Muhammad (S) and the Ahl al-Bayt (the family and descendants of the Prophet) to provide insights into the deeper meanings of the Quranic text.
On the other hand, the first person widely recognized as having written a Tafsir (exegesis) of the Quran from a Sunni perspective is Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838–923), who wrote Tafsir al-Tabari. Tafsir al-Tabari is a significant work in Sunni Islam and provides exegetical material for the entire Quran. However, it is important to note that Tafsir al-Tabari also contains conflicting information, which Tabari attempts to reconcile or argue in support of the interpretation he deems more correct.
It’s important to acknowledge that Shia scholars have also made significant contributions to the field of Quranic exegesis throughout history. There are several other notable Tafsirs from Shia perspectives, including “Tafsir al-Mizan” by Allamah Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai and “Tafsir al-Burhan” by Sayyid Hashim al-Bahrani. These Tafsirs, among others, continue to be influential works in the Shia scholarly tradition.
Famous commentaries (Tafsir) of the Quran
- Tafsir Tanwir al-Miqbas
Attributed to Abdullah ibn Abbas and thus called “Tafsir Ibn Abbas” It was collected by Abu Tahir Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Fayruz Aabadi who was a lexicographer and compiler of a comprehensive Arabic dictionary known as al-Qamous. This Tafsir is considered unreliable by most, and despite its popularity among the masses, it is rejected by many Muslim scholars.
- afsir al-Mizan
Authored by Allamah Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai (1903-1981), this Tafsir is considered one of the most comprehensive and influential works in Shia exegesis. It combines traditional methods of interpretation with philosophical and mystical insights. Tafsir al-Mizan delves into the linguistic, theological, and ethical dimensions of the Quranic verses, providing a holistic understanding of the text.
- Tafsir At Tabarî
The Tafsir ‘Jami’ al-Bayan’an Ta’wil Ayat-al-Quran, commonly known as Tafsir al Tabari, translates to–’Collection of statements on the interpretation of the verses of the Quran’. This tafsir is highly regarded among the Sunnis due to the extensive reports of sayings from the salaf, the early leaders of the Muslim community, as well as the comprehensive coverage of various topics. It was authored by Imam Abû Ja’far Muhammad Ibn Jarîr At Tabarî,one of the earliest and most distinguished Persian historians and exegetes of the Holy Quran Muhyi Ddîn An Nawawî remarked, “The Muslim community; is unanimous in stating that no work comparable to the Tafsir of Al Tabarî was ever composed.”
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Authored by the renowned Islamic scholar Ibn Kathir (1300-1373 CE), Tafsir Ibn Kathir is considered one of the most authoritative and widely read Tafsir works in Sunni Islam. Ibn Kathir was a prolific scholar who dedicated his life to the study of Islamic sciences, including Hadith, Fiqh, and Tafsir. His Tafsir is highly regarded for its meticulous analysis, scholarly rigor, and adherence to authentic sources.
- Tafsir al-Qummi
Authored by Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Qummi, as mentioned earlier, this Tafsir is one of the earliest and foundational works in Shia exegesis. It provides insights into the Quranic verses from a Shia perspective and incorporates narrations from the Prophet Muhammad (S) and the Ahl al-Bayt.
How to learn Tafsir
Learning Tafsir, the exegesis or interpretation of the Quran, is a rewarding and enlightening journey that helps individuals gain a deeper understanding of the Quranic verses. Here are some steps to guide you in learning Tafsir:
- Establish a Strong Foundation:
Before delving into Tafsir, it is important to have a good understanding of Arabic language and grammar. Learning basic Arabic helps in comprehending the linguistic nuances and structure of the Quranic verses. Enhancing your Arabic skills through courses, textbooks, or online resources is beneficial for studying Tafsir effectively.
If you are not familiar with the Arabic language and do not know how to pronounce the Arabic alphabet correctly, do not worry. At DarulQuran Academy, we have taught numerous individuals who were not familiar with Arabic, and they now understand Arabic. If you are interested in learning the Arabic language, we offer Arabic language training courses . Arabic is the language in which the Quran was revealed and is spoken in many Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and others. Join our Arabic language training courses to further enhance your understanding and mastery of this significant language.
- Study the Quran:
Develop a habit of regularly reciting and studying the Quran. Familiarize yourself with the different chapters (Surahs) and their themes. Understanding the overall context of the Quran enables a deeper engagement with its Tafsir.
If you cannot recite Quran, don’t worry, At DarulQuran Academy, we have taught numerous individuals who were not familiar with Arabic , and they now recite the Quran proficiently. These individuals started with our basic course for reading the Quran and progressed to higher levels. You too can start your Quran learning journey with our basic course (Quran Reading) and become a skilled reciter.
- Select Reliable Tafsir Texts:
Choose reliable and reputable Tafsir texts written by renowned scholars. Some well-regarded Tafsir works include “Tafsir al-Mizan” authored by Allamah Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai (1903-1981) or “Tafsir al-Burhan” written by Sayyid Hashim al-Bahrani (1698-1772) or “Tafsir al-Qummi” authored by Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Qummi. These texts provide detailed interpretations and explanations of the Quranic verses.
- Seek Knowledge from Qualified Scholars:
Attend Tafsir classes or lectures conducted by knowledgeable scholars. Their insights, explanations, and teachings can contribute to a comprehensive understanding of Tafsir. Engage in discussions, ask questions, and seek clarification on any topics that require further explanation.
- Utilize Tafsir Resources:
Access reputable online Tafsir resources, mobile applications, and websites that offer digital versions of Tafsir texts. Organizations and institutions often provide comprehensive Tafsir courses or materials that facilitate self-study in understanding Tafsir.
- Begin with Surah Al-Fatiha:
Start with the Tafsir of Surah Al-Fatiha, as it is the opening chapter of the Quran and encompasses important concepts and themes. Study various Tafsir sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of the meanings, lessons, and deeper insights within this Surah.
- Adopt a Systematic Approach:
Follow a systematic approach to studying Tafsir. Begin with shorter chapters and progress gradually to longer ones. Take the time to reflect on the meanings and context of the verses, considering the historical, linguistic, and cultural aspects.
- Connect with the Scholars and Learn from their Lectures:
Attend workshops, seminars, or online courses conducted by reputable scholars specializing in Tafsir. These sessions provide valuable insights and allow for interactive learning experiences. Utilize platforms like YouTube, where renowned scholars deliver Tafsir lectures, to enhance your understanding.
- Collaborate in Study Groups:
Join Tafsir study groups or circles where you can engage in discussions, share insights, and learn from others. Collaborating with like-minded individuals fosters a supportive learning environment and leads to richer understanding and discussions on Tafsir topics.
- Read Tafsir Commentaries:
Complement your study of Tafsir by reading commentaries and analysis on specific verses or Surahs. Authors often provide insights and viewpoints that enrich your understanding and expand your knowledge of Tafsir.
Remember, learning Tafsir requires dedication, patience, and an open mind. Approach the study of Tafsir with humility and a sincere intention to seek knowledge and better comprehend the message of the Quran. May your journey of learning Tafsir be enriching, enlightening, and spiritually uplifting.
About Our Online Tafsir Course
On numerous occasions, we have found ourselves in situations where we yearned to discover the Quran’s guidance pertaining to specific issues but struggled to find satisfactory answers. In this course, we have endeavored to address this predicament by exploring and analyzing prevalent topics from the Holy Quran that we frequently encounter in our lives, as determined by your survey responses. We approach these subjects—such as gender equality, duties towards parents, divorce, judgment, and the concept of Hijab—from the Holy Quran’s perspective.
- Qualified Instructors: Our instructors are highly qualified and experienced in the field of Tafsir. They have in-depth knowledge of the Quran and its interpretation, ensuring that students receive the best education.
- Interactive Learning Environment: We provide an interactive learning environment where students can actively participate in discussions, ask questions, and engage in debates related to Tafsir. This helps in enhancing their understanding and critical thinking skills.
- Flexibility: Our Tafsir course is designed to accommodate students with different schedules and commitments. We offer flexible timings and online learning options, allowing students to study at their own pace and convenience.
- Supportive Learning Community: We foster a supportive learning community where students can interact with fellow learners, share their thoughts, and seek guidance from instructors. This creates a collaborative and enriching learning experience.
- Certification: Upon successful completion of the course, students will receive a certification from DarulQuran Academy in London, validating their knowledge and expertise in Tafsir.
- Familiarity with the science of exegesis,
- Removing ambiguities that can be seen at first glance in some verses of the Quran,
- Using this Knowledge in practice and making a lifestyle based on the Quran,
- Obtaining a comprehensive interpretation, secrets and new messages of the Quran and being aware of the conditions, characteristics, causes and outcomes of topics from the Holy Quran that human beings face in life, such as: Stages of the creation of man, Gender Equality, Man’s duty towards their parents, Charity and Zakat and so on.
In conclusion, there are many reasons that the Tafsir holds great importance but the main reason is that Allah has sent the Quran as a book of guidance to mankind. The purpose of humanity is to worship Allah. This can be accomplished within the framework of the guidance that Allah has revealed regarding this, but only possible if one understands its meanings, implications, and interpretation.
The Tafsir of Quran is of significant importance for anyone wishing to understand the Quran’s true essence and meaning. Thus, understanding the Quran is greater than a simple reading of translation.
For more information about this course and other courses that are available, you can visit the website of DarulQuran Academy at https://darulquran.co.uk/courses/quranic-exegesis-tafsir/