What is Tafsir?

TAFSIR

  • Meaning: Branch of Islamic learning devoted to explanation, interpretation, commentary of the Qur’an by recognized Islamic scholars
  • Plural: Tafasir
  • Rootword: Fassara (meaning: to explain)
  • Mufassir (plural: Mufassirun) – one who writes Tafsir
  • Aim: To know and understand the Quran, explain its meanings, extract its legal rulings and grasp its underlying reasons

THE 4 TRADITIONAL SOURCES OF TAFSIR (USUL AT-TAFSIR)

  1. Qur’an: when one verse is used to explain another verse
  2. Hadith: where the Prophet ﷺ commented on the meaning of a particular verse; and those comments were passed down to us.
  3. Sahaba: if nothing is found in the first 2 sources, the Mufassir has to resort to what they interpreted about various verses.
  4. Tabi’un: they grew up with the Sahaba who interacted with the Prophet ﷺ, and had often asked about the meanings of verses.

THE 3 MAIN APPROACHES OF TAFSIR

1. Interpreting the Qur’an by the Qur’an: what is made brief in one verse is detailed in another verse.

2. Interpreting the Qur’an by the Hadith: most important external aids upon which scholars based Islamic history and law.

  • [We sent them] with clear proofs and written ordinances. And We revealed to you the message that you may make clear to the people what was sent down to them and that they might give thought. [An-Nahl 16:44]
  • And We have not revealed to you the Book, [O Muhammad], except for you to make clear to them that wherein they have differed and as guidance and mercy for a people who believe. [An-Nahl 16:64]

3. Interpreting the Qur’an by the History: extremely important to explain how the Qur’an was revealed – when and under which circumstances.

THE STANDARD APPROACH OF TAFSIR IS VERY CONSERVATIVE FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS

1.  The Qur’an is made easy to understand [no one is allowed to divert its literal meaning]

  • Alif, Lam, Ra. [This is] a Book whose verses are perfected and then presented in detail from [one who is] Wise and Acquainted. [Hud 11:1]
  • It is sent down in clear language. [Ash-Shu’ara 26:195]
  • A Book whose verses have been detailed, an Arabic Qur’an for a people who know. [Fussilat 41:3]
  • A verse repeated 4 times – And We have certainly made the Qur’an easy for remembrance, so is there any who will remember? [Al-Qamar 54:17, 22, 32, 40]

2. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The one who interprets the Qur’an from his own point of view and he was right then he erred.” [no guessing should be made; Haram to do Tafsir using solely one’s own opinion]

3. Abu Bakr (radiyallahu anhu) said: “Which land should me, and which sky shall I be beneath if I say about the Qur’an what I do not know.” [meaning he cannot imagine himself in a position]

[Main source: Tafsir Ibn Kathir, other different sources including my own notes accumulated from long years of study]

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