Methods of Tafseer

Methods of Tafseer
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The Quran is the last Book revealed by Allah Almighty. He has promised to protect it from any distortion or loss. Allah Says in the Quran (what means): “Verily, We have revealed the Reminder (the Quran) and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)." [Quran 15:9] Its written and recited forms have been preserved without even the slightest change for over fourteen hundred years. This cannot be said about the New Testament or the Old Testament. However, Allah’s protection of the Quran did not stop there; He also safeguarded the original meaning. If the protection of the Quran’s meaning had not taken place, deviants would have turned the Book of Allah into a jumble of symbols, riddles and codes open to a multiplicity of interpretations, and its original meaning would have been lost. Allah preserved the meaning of the Quran by explaining some of its generalities within the Quran itself and by entrusting the Tafseer (explanation) of the remainder to His final Messenger, Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ).  

The Prophet's companions may Allah be pleased with them were taught to seek their understanding of the Quran first from the Quran itself, then from the explanations of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) and from their own intimate understanding of the language of the Quran. After the Prophet’s death, those who entered Islam as new converts depended first on the Quran to explain itself, then they depended on the Companions to explain the Quran to them. The Companions would inform their students among the Taabi'een (second generation) of the circumstances in which the verses were revealed, the interpretations given by the Prophet’s  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) statements and actions. Finally, they would explain the meanings of some words which may not have been familiar or which may have had a different meaning to Arabs outside of the Arabian Peninsula.   

With the passing of era of the Companions, the scholars among the Taabi'een shouldered the grave responsibility of conveying the original meanings of the Quran to the next generation of Muslims exactly as they had received it. It was this next generation which began the process of gathering and recording the various narrations of Tafseer from the Taabi'een.

From the above mentioned methodology of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) and his companions, and of the early generations of Muslim scholars which followed them, the following points have been deduced by scholars as being the correct steps for making correct Tafseer of the Quran.

Tafseer of the Quran by the Quran Itself:

There are many places in the Quran where questions are asked and subsequently answered in order to catch the attention of the reader and to increase the impact of the concept mentioned. In other places, general statements are made and then later explained in order to vary the modes of presentation and encourage readers and listeners to reflect more. This self-explanatory process is referred to as Tafseer of the Quran by the Quran. Allah chose to clarify what He intended by revealing other explanatory verses. For example Allah asks (what means): “By the Sky and the night comer. And what will make you know what the night comer is?” [Quran 86: 1-2] Then He, the Most Exalted, answers His question in the next verse (which means): “It is the piercing star).” [Quran 86:3] Allah also states in the Quran (what means): “Beasts which are herded have been made Halaal (allowable) for you except those which will be recited to you.” [Quran 5:1] 

Shortly afterwards, He explains (what means): “The dead animal, blood, pork, animals sacrificed for other than Allah, animals strangled to death, killed by a blow or by falling from a height, killed by goring or partially eaten by wild animals are forbidden to you.” [Quran 5: 3]

Another example can be seen in the verse in which Allah Almighty describes Himself Saying (what means), No vision can grasp Him…” [Quran 6:103] This verse implies that Allah can not be seen. However, Allah later describes the believers in the next life as (what means): “Gazing at their Lord.” [Quran 75:23] and disbelievers as (what means):  “Verily, they will be veiled from their Lord on that day.” [Quran 83:15]

Hence, before any explanation or interpretation may be sought, the Quran must be relied upon to explain itself, for Allah knows best what He intended.

Tafseer of the Quran by the Sunnah

On many occasions, the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) added further clarification to various verses of the Quran. Allah had entrusted the task of explaining the Quran to the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ). This trust was expressed in the verse (which means): “Verily, We have revealed the Reminder (Quran) to you (O Muhammad) so you may explain to the people what has been revealed to them.” [Quran 16:44] And the verse (which means): “We have only revealed the book to you (O Muhammad) in order that you clarify for them the things about which they differ.” [Quran 16:64]

The Companions may Allah be pleased with them understood this clearly and always turned to the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) for clarification whenever they were in doubt about the meaning of any of the Quranic passages. In fact, most of the fine details of prayer, almsgiving, pilgrimage, and inheritance laws, etc. were explained either by the Prophet’s statements or practical demonstration and applications (the practical Sunnah). Thus, the Prophet’s explanations of the Quranic passages are referred to as the Tafseer of the Quran by the Sunnah.

For example, the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) explained the word "Al Kawthar" in the verse (which means): “Verily, We have given you Al Kawthar” as a river in paradise which Allah has given him. [Al Bukhari] Because the Sunnah was based on guidance from Allah, it represents the second part of Allah’s promise to explain the Quran, as He Says (what means):  “…Then verily, We will explain it.” [Quran 75:19] Consequently, no other human interpretation can be given precedence over of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ).

Source: Tafseer Soorat Al-Hujuraat

By: Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips

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