The inspiration for this work arose from the desire of Muslims (and even non-Muslims) to relate to and understand the Qur’ān. However, in doing so they faced two key obstacles. Firstly, the lack of appropriate commentaries in English; there weren’t many and those that did exist were either too brief, difficult to understand or quite specialist and not relevant to most readers. Secondly, readers wanted the assurance that the commentary was authentic and not the personal or novel view of an individual.
Consequently, this book has aimed to consolidate classic and contemporary commentaries of the Qur’ān (and those in between) in an easy to understand and accessible manner. Eleven famous commentaries (tafāseers) from different eras and locations of Islam were chosen, beginning from the 1st century (with the sayings of the great companion Abdullah ibn Abbās) to the modern day contemporary (Tafseer Ashrafi being published in 2008). The origins of these tafāseers spans the length and breadth of the Islamic world; as West as Muslim Spain and as East as India.
This wide-ranging choice of tafāseers will demonstrate the comprehensive message of the Qur’ān, with the ‘golden thread’ of authenticity and consensus running through Muslim history, so readers can be assured of the genuineness and universality of the commentary.
Another reason for such a selection is that each tafseer has its own speciality and interest, ranging from doctrine, to hadith, to history, to spirituality, and lexicology and grammar. This breadth will ensure that this book appeals to all kinds of readers, whatever their interest in the Qur’ān.
What is tafseer
Tafseer is the science concerned with the nature of the words of the Qur’ān, their madlool (indication), and their individual and collective meanings in the sentence construction.1
Meer Syed Shareef writes ‘the literal meaning of tafseer is to reveal and expose, whilst in Islamic terminology it means to state the meaning of the verse in clear words, to deduce rules (from it), and mention the related ahadith and reason for revelation.’4 Allāma Ibn Jowzee states ‘Tafseer is to take something from the darkness of unknown into the light of knowledge’5 i.e. revealing the things that are unknown about the verses.
Why the need for tafseer?
- To understand the reason behind the verse or chapter
- To unlock the wealth of meaning contained in the verses of the Qur’ān, which is especially so for the last surahs which are short in length but great in meaning.
- To highlight the wisdoms, messages and implications of each verse, which may not be immediately obvious from the translation.
- The Qur’ān is applicable to all of mankind. It is relevant for people of all ages, and of all intellects. It is for the sinner as much as for the pious, for the young as well as the old and for the wealthy and poor alike. The tafseer helps each mind to relate to the same verse.
The Tafāseers referred to in this book:
- Tafseer Ibn Abbās: This is the tafseer attributed to Syeduna Abdullah ibn Abbās y, the great companion and cousin of the Prophet r. The Prophet r supplicated to Allah Y to open the knowledge of the Qur’ān upon Abdullah ibn Abbās. The tafseer has been taken from Tanwir al-Miqbās min Tafseer Ibn Abbās (which was compiled by Abu Tāhir Muhammad ibn Yaqub Fayruz Ābadi (1329–1414).
- Tafseer Kabeer: a 7th century tafseer reckoned to be one of the most epic Tafseers ever written, hence its title, which means ‘The Large Tafseer.’ Its original name is Mafātih al-Ghayb (keys to the unknown) and was written by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Umar Fakhr ud Din Rāzi. Its primary reason was to respond to the ideological challenges and corrupt beliefs posed by the philosophers and so called intelligentsia against Islam. It thus relies heavily on rational reasonings. However, alongside this, many other priceless gems of insight and knowledge are provided in this great work. Note: this tafseer should not be confused with the tafseer e kabeer of the Qadiyāni Ahmadi sect.
- Tafseer Qurtubi: compiled by the great 7th century scholar of Muslim Spain (his title Qurtubi referring to Cordoba) Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Abu Bakr al Ansāri al Qurtubi. The tafseer is also known as Al Jami’ il Ahkām il Qur’an (Collection of the rulings of the Qur’ān). The basic objective of this tafseer was to deduce juristic injunctions and rulings from the Qur’ān. However, again, while doing so, Imam Qurtubi has also provided an explanation of verses, research into difficult words, discussion of diacritical marks and elegance of style and composition.
- Tafseer Ibn Katheer: an 8th century tafseer written by the famous Syrian Scholar Ismāʿīl ibn ʿUmar Ibn Katheer, who was a student of Ibn Taymiyya. Its original name is Tafseer al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓeem and one of its distinctions is that it linked the ahadith of the Prophet r and sayings of the companions to verses of the Qur’ān in explanation. In length it is much shorter than Tafseer Kabeer and Tafseer Qurtubi.
- Tafseer Jalālayn: The name literally means the ‘Tafseer of the two Jalāls’ and was initially composed by Jalāl ud Din al Maḥalli in the 9th century and then completed by his student, and the famous Shafi’i scholar, Jalāl ud-Din as-Suyuti some 50 years later, thus its name, the two Jalāls. It is only one volume in length and is more in the style of short notes on each (most) verse.
- Tafseer Ruh ul Bayān. This is a famous Tafseer which has a special interest in spirituality, etiquettes and virtues. It is a 10 volume work by Sheikh Ismail Haqqi, from the 11th century, who was a great sheikh of the Naqshbandi Mujaddidi order. He was from Ottoman Turkey. Alongside the academic commentary it also provides a spiritual commentary to the verses of the Qur’ān.
- Tafseer Mazhari: a 13th-century tafseer of the Qur’an, written by Shaykh Qādi Thanā ullah Pānipati. This tafseer combines the elucidation of Qur’anic words, narrations of hadith and historic contexts of the verses. This is also a lengthy tafseer.
- Tafseer Nur ul Irfān: written by Mufti Ahmad Yār Khān Na’eemi (1324-1391), who was known as Hakeem ul Ummah. As a result of the doctrinal issues of the time this tafseer tries to link core Islamic doctrine to the verses of the Qur’ān. This is a short tafseer largely in the style of comments or footnotes on the verses of the Qur’ān.
- Tafseer Dhiyā ul Qur’ān: written by Justice Muhammad Karam Shah al-Azhari from Pakistan in the 14th Century of Islam. Its full title is “The light of the Qur’ān in the Exegesis of the Qur’ān.” Alongside mentioning the linkages between verses and relevant ahadith, it also covers the lexigraphic, morphologic and grammatical points whilst quoting relevant historical narratives pertaining to the reasons behind the revelations. Certain parts of this tafseer were written in prison, the author being detained as part of the movement regarding the finality of the Prophet Muhammad r. Later on, he went on to become a Justice of the official Supreme Court (Shariah bench).
- Tafseer Tibyān ul Qur’ān: written by the great scholar of the very recent past – Shaykh Ghulam Rasool Saeedi, who passed away in 2016 AD. This is a large work, in 10 large volumes, and deals with many current day issues whilst referring back to the classic works of hadith and tafseer. He was seen as a progressive thinker and dealt with contemporary issues such as organ transplantation, use of alcohol in medicine and IVF. Shaykh Saeedi also wrote a 16-volume commentary of Sahih Bukhāri and a 7-volume commentary of Sahih Muslim.
- Tafseer Ashrafi: by Shaykh Syed Muhammad Madani Ashrafi Jilāni of Kochacha, India. The only tafseer from this selection whose author is still with us at the time of writing, and may Allah Y preserve his shade over us. This tafseer was first published in 2008 AD in the USA. The first part was written by the great Muhaddith of India Shaykh Syed Muhammad Ashrafi Jilāni and then, on the request of scholars and public, was completed by his son, Syed Muhammad Madani Ashrafi.