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Further issues related to Tafsir

Tafsir of the Qur’aan cannot be understood without some basic understanding of the sciences of the Qur’aan, hence the brief background given in the previous lectures.

Some of the sciences have not yet been touched upon, e.g. the examples given in the Qur’aan like:

“Their example is that of one who kindled a fire, but when it illuminated what was around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness [so] they could not see.” [2:17]

There are two components of fire, light and smoke.
The munaafiq is left without the light but with the smoke.

Some of the details of these other sciences will be discussed as we mention the concerning aayaat.

Points to understand

Tafsir can be categorised into two categories, that which is correct and that which is not (that which is based on correct sources and that which is not).

Correct tafsir is based on ‘ilm

What is authentically reported from Muhammad sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam (the one who was not subjected to corruption due to the protection of Allah).
Any statement other than that of the prophet that is based on the above (i.e. that of a sahabi or taabi’)

Is Tafsir required? Is the Qur'aan not clear and sufficient?

It is a need of the ummah to understand the Qur’aan in order to follow the guidance it brings.

The purpose of sending the prophet was to explain the Qur’aan:

“...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.” [16:44]

Thus the sunnah explains the Qur’aan proving that people need the sunnah to understand the intent of Allah so that they may follow it.

“And thus We have revealed to you an inspiration of Our command. You did not know what is the Book or [what is] faith, but We have made it a light by which We guide whom We will of Our servants. And indeed, [O Muhammad], you guide to a straight path” [42:52]

1) The prophet made the meaning of the Qur’aan clear to his companions just as he made the recitation/words clear. Some of the companions made this clear when they said: “We used to learn the Qur’aan with its ‘ilm (knowledge) and ‘amal (acting upon it) together.”

2) Learning the Qur’aan includes learning the tafsir and applying it and this is vital for every muslim. It is not correct to say one has learnt the Qur’aan just by memorising it but he needs to know the tafsir as well.

Example of the one who has memorised a book of medicine, it does not mean he is a doctor.
The one who knows must have learnt, understood and applied.

3) The outcome of the above two is that there are next to no real differences amongst the companions in tafsir.

There are many differences of opinion between them in terms of rulings but not on the actual explanations of the aayaat. This is a proof that they all learned the tafsir directly from the prophet.
Mujahid went over every ayah twice with ibn Abbaas, asking him the tafsir. Sufyaan ath thawri said if you know that the tafsir comes from Mujaahid, than it is enough for you and Bukhari and Ash Shaafi’ preferred his tafsir.
2 kinds of differences of opinions in tafsir:
a) Using different words to describe the same thing or understanding the same word to mean slightly different things, e.g. "dhikr" in [20:124] was interpreted as the Qur'aan by some and all the books of revelation by others.
b) Difference over the reason for revelation and the application of an ayah in a more general manner when it has a specific reason, e.g. [2:195] was revealed in connection with some from the ansaar leaving jihad for their trade after fighting many battles. There is a difference over the exact incident that prompted this revelation and its applicability to other situations.

4) The best who learnt the tafsir from amongst the taabi’een:

In Makkah, the students of ibn Abbaas, including Ikramah, Mujaahid, Ataa, Sa’eed ibn Jubayr and Tawus
In Kufa, the students of ibn Mas’ud, including Alqamah and others
In Madinah, Zayd ibn Aslam (student of ibn Abbaas)

Note: Tafsir al ma’thur = those that are based on narrations