How Tafseer Is Performed?

How Tafseer Is Performed?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


From The Book An Introduction To The Principles Of Tafseer (Shaykh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah ÂŠ 1993 al-Hidaayah)

If you ask what is the best method of tafsĂŽr, the answer is that the best way is to explain the Qur’ân through the Qur’ân. For, what the Qur’ân alludes to at one place is explained at the other, and what it says in brief on one occasion is elaborated upon at the other.

But if this does not help you, you should turn to the sunnah, because the sunnah explains and elucidates the Qur’ân. Imâm AbÝ cAbd Allâh Muhammad Ibn IdrĂŽs al-ShâficĂŽ has said: “All that the Prophet, peace be upon him, has said is what he has derived from the Qur’ân.” Allâh has said:

We have sent down to you the book in truth that you may judge between men, as Allaah guides you; so don’t be an advocate for those who betray their trust. [al-Qur’ân 4:105]

We have sent down to you the message that you may explain clearly to people what has been sent to them, and that they think over it. [al-Qur’ân 16:44]

We sent down the Book to you for the express purpose that you should make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe. [al-Qur’ân 16:64]

This is why the Prophet (sallallâhu calayhi wa sallam) said:

Know that I have been given the Qur’ân and something like it. [Ahmad, Musnad, Vol. IV 131; AbĂť DâwĂťd, Sunan, Sunnah, 5]

namely the Sunnah. In fact, the Sunnah, too has been given to him through wahy as the Qur’ân, except that it has not been recited to him as the Qur’ân. Imâm al-ShâficĂŽ and other scholars have advanced a number of arguments in support of this point; but this is not the place to quote them. [For discussion see al-ShâficĂŽ, al-Risâlah]

In order to understand the Qur’ân, you should first look to the Qur’ân itself. If that does not help, then turn to the Sunnah.

The Prophet (sallallâhu calayhi wa sallam) sent Mucâdh (radiyallaahu canhu) to Yemen and asked him: “How will you judge the cases (that come to you)?” He replied: “I will judge according to the Book of Allaah”. “But if you do not get anything there, what will you do?”, the Prophet (sallallâhu calayhi wa sallam) asked. He said:

“I will refer to the sunnah of the Prophet (sallallâhu calayhi wa sallam)”. “But if you do not get it even there, what will you do?”, the Prophet (sallallâhu calayhi wa sallam) asked again. He replied: “I will exercise my judgment.” Hearing this the Prophet (sallallâhu calayhi wa sallam) patted Mucâdh (radiyallâhu canhu) on the shoulder and said: “Praise be to Allâh who has guided the Messenger of His Messenger to what pleases His Messenger.”

This hadĂŽth has been reported in the Musnad and Sunan collections of hadĂŽth with a good isnâd. [Ahmad, Musnad V:230, 236, 242; al-DârimĂŽ, Sunan, Muqaddimah, 30; al-Tirmidhee, Sunan, Ahkâm, 3; AbĂť DâwĂťd, Sunan, Adhiyah, 11.]

When you do not get any help from the Qur’ân or the Sunnah, turn to the words of the companions. For they know the Qur’ân better: they have witnessed its revelation, and passed through the situations in which it was revealed: and know it and understand it fully. This is particularly true of the scholars and leaders such as the four righteous caliphs and cAbdullâh ibn Mas’Ăťd. Imâm AbĂť Jacfar Muhammad ibn JarĂŽr at-TabarĂŽ reports:

AbĂť Kurayb narrated to us, saying: Jâbir ibn NĂťh informed us that: al-Acmash informed us from AbĂť Duhâ: from MasrĂťq that cAbdullâh ibn Mas’Ăťd said: “By the one besides whom there none having the right to be worshipped, there is no verse in the Qur’ân about which I do not know in whose case and at what place was it revealed.

If I were aware that anyone knew the Qur’ân more than me, and I could reach him, I would certainly have gone to see him.” [Ibn al-AthĂŽr, Jâmic al-UsĂťl fĂŽ AhâdĂŽth ar-RasĂťl, 1392/1972, Vol. IX p. 48.] Al-Acmash has also reported through AbĂť Wâ`il that Ibn Mas’Ăťd said: “When anyone of us learned ten verses of the Qur’ân, he did not proceed further unless he had known what they meant and what action they demanded.”

Another great scholar is cAbdullâh ibn cAbbâs (radiyallâhu canhumâ), the nephew of the Prophet (sallallâhu calayhi wa sallam) and the commentator of the Qur’ân. He attained that stature in virtue of the Prophet’s prayer: “O Allâh! Give him knowledge of Islâm and teach him the meaning of the Qur’ân.” [Ahmad, Musnad, Vol. 1: 266, 314, 328, 335].

Muhammad ibn Bashshâr narrated to us, that WakÎc informed us, that Sufyân informed us from al-Acmash: from Musim (ibn Sabeeh Abee Duhâ) from MasrÝq: that cAbdullâh ibn MascÝd (radiyallâhu canhumâ) said:

“What a good interpreter of the Qur’ân Ibn cAbbâs is!” Ibn JarĂŽr has also reported this hadĂŽth through Yahyâ ibn DâwĂťd, from Ishâq al-Azraq, from Sufyân, from al-Acmash, from Muslim ibn Sabeeh AbĂŽ Duhâ, from al-MasrĂťq with slightly different words: “What a good interpreter Ibn cAbbâs is of the Qur’ân!” He has also reported the same words through Bundar, from Jacfar ibn `Awn from al-A`mash.

These words are, therefore, the actual words of Ibn MascÝd (radiyallâhu canhumâ) which he said about Ibn cAbbâs (radiyallâhu canhumâ). Ibn MascÝd (radiyallâhu canhumâ) died, most probably, in 33 A.H. Ibn cAbbâs (radiyallâhu canhumâ) lived for thirty six years after him, and added a lot to the treasury of Islâmic knowledge.

Al-Acmash quotes from AbÝ Wâcil that Ibn cAbbâs (radiyallâhu canhumâ) was appointed leader of the Hajj by cAlÎ (radiyallâhu canhu); he delivered a sermon and read from SÝrah al-Baqarah, or SÝrah al-NÝr according to another report,

and explained it in such a way that had the Romans, Turks and the Dalamites heard it, they would have embraced Islâm. This is the reason why most of what IsmâcĂŽl ibn cAbd al-Rahmân SuddĂŽ has written in tafsĂŽr consists of the explanations of these two scholars: Ibn Mas’Ăťd and Ibn cAbbâs (radiyallâhu canhum).