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    The three sources of Tafsir

    The three sources of Tafsir
    translated and compiled by Abdulilah Lahmami

    The first source of Tafsir is the Qur'an by the Qur'an. The scholar of Tafsīr, Ash-Shinqīṭi (1426H. 1/8) said, “The scholars have unanimously agreed that the most honourable and noble type of Tafsīr is the Tafsīr of the Qur’ān by the Qur’ān since there isn’t anyone who knows the meaning of the Qur’ān (more) than Allāh.” If this type of Tafsīr has this lofty status, then there is no doubt that it is part of a fundamental methodology in understanding the Qur’ān correctly. The Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) himself said to his wife ‘Aisha radhiallaahu 'anha, “if you see some people following the unclear (verses) then they are the ones that Allāh named; so be warned from them.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhāri 5/166]. This was referring to the attitude of those trying to cause strife and doubts by quoting unclear verses with their own deviated explanation. These are fundamental principles of Tafsīr so as to avoid translators incorrectly translating the Qur’ān.

    The second source of Tafsīr is the speech of the Messenger of Allāh (peace be upon him). The Qur’ān is explained by the Messenger (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) because he was responsible for conveying the message. He is the most knowledgeable person of what Allāh intends with His speech.
    وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
    “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” (Holy Qur’ān, Chapter 16: 44). Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said, “The Sunnah explains the Qur’ān and shows what it means and explains it further…the authentic Sunnah does not contradict the Book of Allāh but rather it agrees with it and affirms it, but it clarifies and shows further (its meaning) to those who fall short in understanding the Qur’ān, for the Qur’ān has subtle meanings that are obscure to many people and in it are topics mentioned in the general sense and the Sunnah explains it.” (Majmu’ Fatāwa: 21/131). Imam Muhammad bin Idrīs ash-Shaf’ī said, “Whenever the Messenger of Allāh gave a ruling, then it was what he understood from the Qur’ān.
    إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ لِتَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ بِمَا أَرَاكَ اللَّهُ وَلَا تَكُنْ لِلْخَائِنِينَ خَصِيمًا
    “Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth so you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you. And do not be for the deceitful an advocate.” (Holy Qur’ān, Chapter 4:105).
    وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
    “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.” (Holy Qur’ān Chapter 16: 44).
    وَمَا أَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا لِتُبَيِّنَ لَهُمُ الَّذِي اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
    “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” (Holy Qur’ān Chapter 16: 64). This is why the Messenger (peace be upon him) said “Indeed I have been given the Qur’ān and that which is similar to it.” , meaning the Sunnah (cited in Ahkām Al-Qur’ān (1/21).

    An example where the Qur’ān is clearly explained by the Prophetic tradition (hadīth) is in the verse in chapter 10:26:
    لِلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا الْحُسْنَى وَزِيَادَةٌ
    “Those who have done righteousness, for them will be the best reward (paradise) and something more.” This ‘something more’ has been explained to mean seeing His face based upon the authentic Prophetic tradition reported by Abu Musa and Ubay ibn Ka’b and recorded by Ibn Jarīr and Ibn Abi Hātim. Also At-Tabari recorded it from the hadīth of Ka’b bin ‘Ujrah. There is also a hadīth in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim (no.449) narrated by Ṣuhaib bin Sinān from the Prophet (peace be upon him). Within this latter hadīth is the statement of the narrator that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “then the covering will be removed and they will not have been given anything more beloved to them than looking at their Lord.” This interpretation is in harmony with other verses in the Qur’ān that confirm the believers seeing Allāh on the Day of Judgement such as, “Some faces that Day shall be radiant, Looking at their Lord (Allāh)” [75:22-23:]. The Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said:
    When those deserving Paradise would enter it, the Blessed and the Exalted would ask: Do you wish Me to give you anything more? They would say: Have you not brightened our faces? Have you not made us enter Paradise and saved us from the Fire? He (the narrator) said: He (Allāh) would lift the veil, and of the things given to them, nothing would be dearer to them than the sight of their Lord, the Mighty and the Glorious. He then recited the verse: {For those who do good is the best reward and something more} in chapter 10:26. [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim]
    He (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) also said: “You will see your Lord with your eyes.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri]

    The third source of Tafsīr is the consensus of the companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) and successors, especially those who were known for their knowledge and understanding of Tafsīr because the Qur’ān was revealed in their language and in the time where the companions were prevalent. Imam Dhahabi said, "If you want to be justly balanced, then restrict yourself to the Qur’ānic and prophetic texts, then look to what the companions and their successors conveyed, the scholars of Tafsīr with regards these verses and what they narrated from the methodology of the pious predecessors. Either you speak with knowledge or you stay quiet upon patience."

    Abu ‘Abdulrahman al-Sulami said, “those who used to teach us the Qur’ān such as ‘Uthmān bin ‘Affān, ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud would say: when we learnt from the Prophet (peace be upon him) ten verses we would not go beyond them until we learnt what these verses entailed of knowledge and action. So we learnt the Qur’ān, knowledge and action altogether.” Ibn Kathīr (1/7) wrote in the preface of his Tafsīr, “If we are unable to find a suitable Tafsīr in the Qur’ān or in the Sunnah, we go to the opinions of the companions. For verily, they knew the Qur’ān better than anyone else due to their knowledge of the circumstances of its revelation, their complete and accurate understanding of it and their righteous deeds.” ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud radhiallaahu 'anhu said:

    By the One whom none has the right to be worshipped but Him, no verse from the Book of Allāh (that has been revealed) except that I know whom it was revealed for and where it was sent down and if I knew that there was a place where there was a person who is more knowledgeable of the Book of Allāh than me, then I would go to them (At- Ṭabari (15/60) with an authentic chain of narration).
    The Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) himself supplicated for his cousin ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas: “O Allāh give him the understanding of this religion and teach him the understanding of this (Qur’ān) (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhāri 75 and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2477).


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