CHAPTER 6 Interpreting the Text TAFSIR, ITS KINDS AND PRINCIPLES Tafsir (exegesis) of the Qur'an is the most important science for Muslims. All matters concerning the Islamic way of life are connected to it in one sense or another since the right applica- tion of Islam is based on proper understanding of the guidance from Allah. Without tafsir there would be no right under- standing of various passages of the Qur'an. Tafsir and Ta'wil The word tafsir is derived from the root 'fassara' - to explain, to expound. It means 'explanation' or 'interpretation'. In technical language the word tafsir is used for explanation, interpretation and commentary on the Qur'an, comprising all ways of obtaining knowledge, which contributes to the proper understanding of it, explains its meanings and clarifies its legal implications. [1] The word mufassir (pl. mufassirun) is the term used for the person doing the Tafsir, i.e. the 'exegete' or 'commentator'. The word ta'wil, which is also used in this connection, is derived from the root 'awwala' and also means 'explanation, interpretation' . In technical language it similarly refers to explanation and interpretation of the Qur'an. Tafsir in the language of the scholars means explanation and clarification. It aims at knowledge and understanding concerning the book of Allah, to explain its meanings, extract 1. See Zarkashi, op.cit., 1, p. 13. its legal rulings and grasp its underlying reasons. Tafsir explains the 'outer' (zahir) meanings of the Qur'an. Ta'wil is considered by some to mean the explanation of the inner and concealed meanings of the Qur'an, as far as a knowledgeable person can have access to them. Others are of the opinion that there is no difference between tafsir and ta'wil. Why is it Important? There are a number of reasons why tafsir is of great impor- tance, but the basic reason is the following: Allah has sent the Qur'an as a book of guidance to mankind. Man's purpose is to worship Allah, i.e. to seek His pleasure by living the way of life Allah has invited him to adopt. He can do so within the framework of the guidance that Allah has revealed concerning this, but he can do so only if he properly understands its meanings and implications. A Warning Some Muslim scholars have warned against tafsir. Ahmad b. Hanbal, e.g. has said: 'Three matters have no basis: tafsir, malahim (tales of eschatological nature) and maghazi(tales of the battles)'. [2] By this is meant that there is much exaggeration and un- sound material in these fields, but it does not mean that neither of them ought to be considered. This is clear from another version of the same verdict, in which the word isnad is used for 'basis'. Basic Conditions Muslim scholars have laid down certain basic conditions for sound tafsir. Any tafsir, which disregards these principles must be viewed with great caution, if not rejected altogether. The most important among these conditions are the following: The mufassir must: 2 Ibn Taimiya, muqaddima fi usul al-tafsir, Kuwait, 1971, p.59. - Be sound in belief ('aqida). - Well-grounded in the knowledge of Arabic and its rules as a language. - Well-grounded in other sciences that are connected with the study of the Qur'an (e.g. 'ilm al-riwaya). - Have the ability for precise comprehension. - Abstain from the use of mere opinion. - Begin the tafsir of the Qur'an with the Qur'an. - Seek guidance from the words and explanations of the Prophet. - Refer to the reports from the sahaba. - Consider the reports from the tabi'un. - Consult the opinions of other eminent scholars. Grades of Sources [3] The best tafsir is the explanation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an. The next best is the explanation of the Qur'an by the Prophet Muhammad, who, as Shafi'i explained, acted accord- ing to what he understood from the Qur'an. If nothing can be found in the Qur'an nor in the sunna of the Prophet, one turns to the reports from the sahaba. [4] If nothing can be found in the Qur'an, the sunna and the reports from the sahaba, one turns to the reports from the tabi'un. [5] However, nothing can match the explanation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an and the explanation of the Qur'an by the Prophet. Kinds of Tafsir - Tafsir may be divided into three basic groups: [6] 3 See Ibn Taimiya, op.cit., p.93. 4 ibid., p.95. 5 ibid ., p. 102. 6 This classification has been borrowed from Sabuni, tibyan, p.63. See also Qattan, op.cit.. section 25. - Tafsir bi-l-riwaya (by transmission), also known as Tafsir bi-l-ma'thar. - Tafsir bi'l-ra'y (by sound opinion; also known as tafsir bi-l-diraya, by knowledge). - Tafsir bi-l-ishara (by indication, from signs). Tafsir bi-l-riwaya By this is meant all explanations of the Qur'an which can be traced back through a chain of transmission to a sound source, i.e.: - The Qur'an itself. - The explanation of the Prophet. - The explanation by Companions of the Prophet (to some extent). Naturally, the explanation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an and the explanation of the Qur'an by the Prophet are the two highest sources for tafsir, which cannot be matched nor super- seded by any other source. Next to these rank the explanations by the sahaba, since the sahaba were witnesses to the reve- lations, were educated and trained by the Prophet himself and were closest to the period of the first Muslim umma. Of course all reports of explanations by the Prophet or by a sahabi must be sound according to the science of rEwaya as in 'ulum al- hadith. The Qur'an explained by the Qur'an. The interpretation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an is the highest source of tafsir. Many of the questions which may arise out of a certain passage of the Qur'an have their explanation in other parts of the very same book, and often there is no need to turn to any sources other than the word of Allah, which in itself contains tafsir. To seek to explain an aya from the Qur'an by referring to another aya from the Qur'an is the first and foremost duty of the mufassir. Only if this does not suffice, he will refer to other sources of tafsir.' 7 Itqan, II, pp.181-2. Examples: A case in point is the detailed explanation of 5:2 by 5:4, concerning permissible and prohibited meat. Another example of explanation of one aya in the Qur'an by another concerns a question which might arise from Sura 44: 3. It is explained in Sura 97: 1: 'We sent it down during a blessed night' (44: 3). Which night is this blessed night, in which the Qur'an was sent down? 'We have indeed revealed this in the lailatal-qadr' (97: 1). A third example is the explanation of Sura 2:37 by Sura 'Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord turned towards him, for He is Oft- Returning, Most Merciful' (2: 37). These 'words of inspiration' are explained by the Qur'an as follows: 'Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls. If Thou forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Thy mercy, we shall certainly be lost' (7: 23). The Qur'an explained by the Prophet. There are numerous examples of explanation of the Qur'an by the Prophet, who either himself asked the Angel Gabriel for explanation of matters not clear to him, or who was asked by the Companions about the Qur'an. Suyuti has given a long list of explanations of the Qur'an by the Prophet sura by sura. [8] Here one example may suffice: 'And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread. . .' (2: 187). Narrated 'Adi b. Hatim: I said: 'O Allah's Apostle! What 8 Itqan, II, pp. 191-205. is the meaning of the white thread distinct from the black thread? Are these two threads?' He said: 'You are not intelligent, if you watch the two threads'. He then added, 'No, it is the darkness of the night and the whiteness of the day'. [9] Tafsir by sahaba. [10] Next, after explanation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an and of the Qur'an by the Prophet himself, ranks the explanation of the Qur'an by the sahaba. Among them, the following were best known for their knowledge of and contribution to the field of tafsir: Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman, 'All (not much has been reported from them), Ibn Mas'ud, Ibn 'Abbas, 'Ubay b. Ka'b, Zaid b. Thabit, Abu Musa al- Ash'arl, 'Abdullah b. Zubair. Ibn 'Abbas. Abdullah b. 'Abbas (d. 68/687) is considered to be the most knowledgeable of the Companions in tafsir. [11] He has been called 'tarjuman al-qur'an', the interpreter of the Qur'an. Since he was related to the Prophet, being his cousin, and his maternal aunt Maimuna being one of the Prophet's wives, he was very close to the Prophet Muhammad and learnt much about the revelation. It is said that he saw the Angel Gabriel twice. Apart from his detailed knowledge of everything concerning tafsir, he is also given the credit for having emphasised one of the basic principles of 'ilm al-tafsir which has remained important to this day, namely, that the meaning of words, especially of unusual words in the Qur'an ought to be traced back to their usage in the language of pre- Islamic poetry. There is a long list of such explanations quoted by Suyuti. [12] Example: The following is an example of tafsir from a sahabl, namely Ibn 'Abbas, confirmed by 'Umar: 9 Itqan II. pp. 191-205. 10 For a brief summary on early tafsir see al-Sawwaf, 'Early Tafsir', in Ahmad, K. and Z.I Ansari. Islamic Perspectives. Leicester, 1979, pp.l35-45. 11 A book entitled tanwir al-miqbas min tafsir Ibn Abbas (Beirut, n.d.) is a complete tafsir of the Qur'an. all explanations of which are said to go back to Ibn Abbas. On the question of authenticity, see al-Sawwaf, op.cit. p. 140. 12 Itqan 1 pp.120-33. 'So celebrate the praises of your Lord, and ask for His forgiveness. Verily! He is the one who accepts the repentance and forgives' (110: 3). Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: 'Umar used to make me sit with the elderly men who had fought in the battle of Badr. Some of them felt it (did not like that3 and said to 'Umar: 'Why do you bring in this boy to sit with us, while we have sons like him?' 'Umar replied 'Because of what you know of his position' (i.e. his religious knowledge). One day 'Umar called me and made me sit in the gathering of those people, and I think that he called me just to show them (my religious knowledge). 'Umar then asked them in my presence: 'What do you say about the interpretation of the statement of Allah'. 'When comes help of Allah, and the conquest . . .' (110: 1). Some of them said: 'We are ordered to praise Allah and ask for His forgiveness, when Allah's help and the conquest (of Makka) comes to us'. Some others kept quiet and did not say anything. On that 'Umar asked me: 'Do you say the same, O Ibn 'Abbas?' I replied: 'No'. He said: 'What do you say then?' I replied: 'That is the sign of the death of Allah's apostle which Allah informed him of. Allah said: '(O Muhammad) when comes the help of Allah (to you against your enemies) and the conquest (of Makka) (which is the sign of your death) - you should celebrate the praises of your Lord and ask for His forgiveness, and He is the One who accepts the repentance and forgives' (110:1-3). On that 'Umar said: 'I do not know anything about it other than what you have said'. [13] Another short example is: Narrated 'Ata': When Ibn 'Abbas heard: 13 Bukhari, Vl, No. 494. 'Have you not seen those who have changed the favour of Allah into disbelief?' (14: 28). He said: 'Those were the disbelieving pagans of Makka. *14 Tafsir by Tabi'un. There are many more persons from among the tabiun known for their preoccupation with tafsir, because many more people had embraced Islam and the need for knowledge about the Qur'an had increased manifold. Also, the Prophet himself and many of his Companions were no longer available to give this guidance, and therefore greater efforts had to be made to satisfy this need for proper understanding of the book of Allah. Of the mufassirun from among the tabi'un one distinguishes three groups, according to their origin and area of activity: - Those from Makka. - Those from Madina. - Those from Iraq. The Makkan Group. According to many scholars, this group of mufassirun from among the tabi'un are the most knowledgeable in tafsir, because they learnt about it from 'Abdullah b. 'Abbas. They are many in number, and among the best known out of many others are Mujahid (d.104/722), 'Ata' (d.114/732) and 'Ikrima (d.107H). Mujahid, the best known among them, is reported to have gone through the Qur'an thrice with Ibn 'Abbas and to have asked him about the 'when' and 'how' of each verse that had been revealed. [15] A complete book of tafsir by Mujahid has been published. It is based on a manuscript from the 6th Hijra century and is edited by Surti. [16] Example: Humaid b. Qais Makki reported: I was with Mujahid and 14 Bukhari Vl No. 222. 15 Taimiya p. ;()2. 16 Surti, A.: Tafsir Mujdhid, 2 vols., Beirut, n.d. we were circumambulating the house (Ka'ba). A man came and asked whether the fasts of penalty of an oath should be observed continuously or severally. Humaid replied that if he liked he could observe them severally too! But Mujahid said: Not severally, for the reading of 'Ubayy b. Ka'b is thalathi ayyamin mutatabi'at, i.e. to fast three days continuously'. [17] The Madinan Group. The mufassirun among the tabi'un from Madina had many Companions as their teachers, among the best known being 'Ubay b. Ka'b. The following are some of the well-known Qur'an exegetes among them: Muh. ammad b. Ka'b al-Qarzi (d.117/735), Abu-l 'Alliya al-Riyahi (d.90/ 708) and Zaid b. Aslam (d.130/747). The Iraq Group. There were also many mufassirun among the tabiun in Iraq. Their principal teacher was Ibn Mas'ud. Their main centres were Basra and Kufa. The best known among them are: Al-Hasan al-Basri (d.121/738), Masruq b. al-'Ajda' (d.63/682) and Ibrahim al-Nakha'i (d.95/713). Summary Nothing can excel the tafsir of the Qur'an by the Qur'an. This is followed by sound reports about the Prophet's explanation of the revelation. Whatever is sound and genuine in the explanation of the Qur'an by the sahaba and the tabi'un may not be rejected, but the following principles are to be observed: - Sound reports must be distinguished from unsound ones, for many views have been falsely attributed to some sahaba and tabisdn (especially to Ibn 'Abbas and Mujahid, the most renowned ones among them), which cannot be traced back to them when the isnad is investigated. Those reports must of course be rejected. - Material from the ahl-al-kitab, in particular the Jewish traditions (israiliyat)[18] must be sorted out and evaluated. 17 Muwatta Malik, No. 617. 18 For details, see below, p. 133. - Material which crept in due to theological, philosophical, political and other considerations, must be sorted out and evaluated (such as e.g. some ShE'a attributions to 'Ali, or 'Abbasid attributions to Ibn 'Abbas, etc.). - False material purposely introduced by the enemies of Islam must be distinguished from sound material. Tafsir bi'l-ra'y The second kind of tafsir, after tafsir bi'l-riwaya, is the so-called tafsir bi'l-ra'y. It is not based directly on transmission of knowledge by the predecessors, but on the use of reason and ijtihad. Tafsir bil-ra'y does not mean 'interpretation by mere opinion', but deriving an opinion through ijtihad based on sound sources. While the former has been condemned already in the hadith, the latter is recommendable, when used in its proper place as sound ijtihad, and was also approved by the Prophet, e.g. when he sent Muiadh bin Jabal to Yemen. ' [19] Tafsir bi'l-ra'y on the other hand has been declared haram on the basis of the following hadith: 'From Ibn Abbas: Allah's messenger said: "He who says (something) concerning the Qur'an without knowledge, he has taken his seat of fire" *.[20] However this hadith has been explained in two ways: - That no one should say of the Qur'an what is not from the sahaba or tabi'un. - That no one should say of the Qur'an what he knows to be otherwise.2' The obvious meaning of the hadith is that one should not say something about the Qur'an without having the proper knowledge, the sources of which have already been explained.22 19 Mishkat al-masabih, op.cit., II, p.794: (Arabic), Vol. 2, No. 3737. 20 Ibn Taimiya, p.105, from Tirmidhi, who says it is hasan sahih. 21 Sabuni.tibyan,p.174. 22 The Qur'an explained by the Qur'an, by the Prophet, by the Companions. By the tabi'un. by sound ijtihad. Two Kinds of tafsir bi'l-ra'y. In view of this, it is obvious that tafsir bi'l-ra'y should not be rejected in toto, but is acceptable if based on sound ijtihad. [23] Scholars have therefore grouped tafsir bi'l-raby into two kinds: - Tafsir mahmud (praiseworthy), which is in agreement with the sources of tafsir, the rules of shari'a and the Arabic language. - Tafsir madhmum (blameworthy), which is done without proper knowledge of the sources of tafsir, shari'a and the Arabic language. It is therefore based on mere opinion and must be rejected. Sahaba and Tabi'un shun mere opinion. While the tafsir bi'l-ra'y based on sound sources was accepted, it is reported that from the outset the sahaba had refused to involve themselves in giving explanations based on mere opinion: It is reported that a man asked Ibn 'Abbas about the day (mentioned in the Qur'an) which measures 50 years, and Ibn 'Abbas replied: 'They are 2 days which Allah has mentioned in His book, and Allah knows best about them', and he disliked that he should say concerning the book of Allah, what he did not know. [24] The same attitude is also found among the tabi'un: 'We used to ask Sa'id b. al-Musayyib about halal and haram, and he was the most learned man, but when we asked him about tafsir of a verse of the Qur'an, he kept silent, as though he did not hear.' [25] Summary Some scholars have said that tafsir bi'l-ra'y is not allowed. since it cannot be traced back to the Prophet or his 23 Someone who practises tafsir bi'l-ra'y must have sound knowledge in the following fields: 'ilm al-balagha, 'ilm usul al-fiqh, ma'rifat asbab al-nuzul, ma'rifat al-nasikh wa-l-mansukh, 'ilm al-qira'a Also, he must be inclined towards faith, which is a gift from Allah, and not a skill to be acquired. 24 Ibn Taimiya, p. 110, based on Tabari. 25 Ibn Taimiya, p.ll2, based on Tabari. Companions directly. Others, who form the majority, say that it is permissible under the conditions described briefly above, because it is done by iitihadd, based on sound sources, which is a permissible means of obtaining knowledge. Tafsir bi-l-ishara By this is meant the interpretation of the Qur'an beyond its outer meanings, and the people practising it concern them- selves with meanings attached to verses of the Qur'an, which are not visible to anyone, but only to him whose heart Allah has opened. This kind of tafsir is often found with mystically- inclined authors. While it must not be denied that Allah guides to the understanding of the Qur'an whom He pleases and as He wills, it has to be said that tafsir bi-l-ishara is not a matter of science and scientific principles, which may be acquired and then used, as are the other branches of 'ulum al-qur'an and of tafsir. Some scholars have therefore rejected it from the viewpoint of general acceptability and said it is based on mere opinion.26 However Ibn al-Qayyim [27] is reported to have said that results achieved by tafsir bi-l-ishara are permissible and constitute good findings, if the following four principles are jointly applied: That there is no disagreement with the plain meaning of the verse. That it is a sound meaning in itself. - That in the wording there is some indication towards it. - That there are close connections between it and the plain meaning. Differences in Tafsir In some cases the mufassirun do not agree on the interpre- tation of a given verse from the Qur'an. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important ones are the following: 26 Itqan. n, p.l74. 27 Qattan, op.cit., pp.309-10. - External: Disregard for isnad. Use of unsound materials, such as iSrawlgiyat.2s Conscious misrepresentation, based on a pre- conceived belief or other ulterior motives. - Internal: Genuine mistake in comprehension. Interpretation based on unconscious precon- ceived notion. Multiplicity of meanings in the revelation from Allah. The main cause however is, in the view of Ibn Taimiya, that the people introduced false innovation (bid'a) and 'twisted the speech (of God) from its actual position, and interpreted the speech of Allah and His apostle(s) other than it is meant, and explained it other than it should be explained'. [29] Israiliyat [30] This word, meaning 'of Jewish origin' refers to explanations derived from non-Muslim sources and especially from the Jewish tradition, but also including other ahl al-kitab in general. Such material was used very little by the sahaba, but more by the tabi'un and even more by later generations. There are many aspects of the Qur'an which can be explained by referring to such sources, when there is common ground between the Qur'an and the other traditions. However, the information taken from such sources must be used with great caution and cannot be considered sound according to the standards of 'ilm al-hadith, unless traced back to the Prophet himself and his Companions. The Prophet has already cau- tioned Muslims against this source of knowledge: Narrated Abu Huraira: The people of the scripture (Jews) used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used to explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that Allah's apostle said: 'Do not believe the people of the scripture 28 See below. 29 IbnTaimiya, op.cit., p.91. 30 See Ibn Taimiya, op.cit., pp.S6-8. or disbelieve them, but say: "We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us"' (2: 136). Similarly Ibn Mas'ud, the well-known Companion, is reported to have said: 'Do not ask the ahl al-kitab about anything (in tafsir), for they cannot guide you and are them- selves in error.[31] Hence one distinguishes three kinds of the so-called isra' iliyat: - Those known to be true because the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad confirms them. - Those known to be false, because the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad rejects them. - Those not known to be true or false, and we do not say they are true or false. Summary A concise but useful summary of the vast field of tafsir can be found in the following words said to be from Ibn 'Abbas:32 'Tafsir has four aspects: the aspect the Arabs knew because of its language, [33] Tafsir, for ignorance of which no one will be excused, [34] Tafsir, which the scholars know, tafsir, which no one knows except Allah'. THE TAFSIR LITERATURE Some important Books of Tafsir Numerous books have been written by Muslim scholars on 31 Ibn Taimiya, op.cit., p.57. 32 Ibn Taimiya, p. 115, based on Tabari. 33 i.e. Linguistic matters. 34 i.e. concerning haram and halal. the subject of tafsir.35 The oldest text available is attributed to Ibn 'Abbas (d.68/687) although some doubt its authenticity. Other old books of tafsir, still available to us, include the works of Zaid bin 'Ali (d.122/740) and Mujahid, the famous tdb'l (d.104/722).36 However it is generally accepted that the magnum opus among the early books of Tafsir, which have come down to us is the tafsir al-Tabari. Tafsir al-Tabari. This book was written by Ibn Jarir al- Tabari (d-310/922) under the title jami al-bayan fi tafsir al qur'an. It belongs to the most famous books in tafsir and is perhaps the most voluminous work we have on the subject. It belongs to the class of Tafsir bi'l-riwaya and is based on the reports from the Prophet, the sahaba and the tabi'un, giving the various chains of transmission and evaluating them. How- ever, it also contains reports that are not sound, without clearly indicating this, including so-called isra'iliyat. Tabari also says in some places that one cannot know about certain things and that not to know about them does not do any harm. In spite of all this the book is nevertheless one of the most important works in tafsir referred to by almost every subse- quent scholar. It has been printed twice in Egypt (in 1903 and 1911) in 30 volumes, while a third edition begun in 1954 has reached volume 15. Other Well-Known Books of Tafsir Tafsir al Samarqandi, by Abu al-Laith al-Samarqandi (d.373/983) under the title bahr al 'ulum with many reports from the sahaba and tabi'un, but without sanad . Tafsir al Tha'labi, by Ahmad bin Ibrah. im al Tha'labi al Nisaburi (d.383/993) under the title al kashf wa-l-bayan 'an tafsir al-qur'an with some sanad and some unsound tales and stories. Tafsir al-Baghawl, by Hasan bin Mas'ud al-Baghaw 35 For extracts from the classical books of tafsir translated into English see Gaetje. H.: The Qur'an and its Exegesis, London. 1976. 36 See Sawwaf, op.cit., pp. l35 45. (d.510/1116) under the title ma'alim al-tanzil being an abridgement of Thailabi with its weaknesses but with more emphasis on soundness of hadith. Tafsir Ibn Kathir, by Isma'il bin 'Amr bin Kathir al Dimashqi (d.774/1372) under the title Tafsir al-qur'an al-azim, one of the better-known books on tafsir, perhaps second to Tabari, with more emphasis on soundness of reports, in particular rejection of all foreign influences such as isra'iliyat, discussing the sanad of various reports often in detail, which makes it one of the more valuable books of tafsir. Makes much use of tafsir al-qur'an bi'l quran, referring a reader to other relevant ayat on the topic discussed. This book has been printed on various occasions (in 8 volumes) and an abridged version (mukhtasar) has been edited by Sabuni. No English translation available. This book although of greatest importance to Muslims has been widely ignored by the orientalists .[37] Tafsir al-Suyuti, by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d.911/1505) under the title al-durr al-manthur fi-l-Tafsir bi-l-mathur. Some important books from the class of tafsir bi'l-ra'y are as follows: - Al-kashshaf, by Abu'l-Qasim Mahmud Ibn 'Umar al Zamakhshari (d.539/1144), one of the well-known books of tafsir based on a mu'tazila approach and considered to be the standard work of mu'tazila tafsir, with much emphasis on Arabic grammar and lexicography as a means of interpretation with less attention given to sanad _ Mafatih al-ghaib, by Muhammad bin 'Amr al-Husain al-Razi (d.606/1209). One of the most comprehensive works of Tafsir bi' l-ra'y covering many areas often beyond the actual field of exegesis, also known as the tafsir al- kabir. 37 See e.g. Gaetje, op.cit., who does not even mention Ibn Kathir's name. Also Goldziher, 1.: Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranslegung, Leiden, 1970, is silent about him. - Anwar al-tanzil, by 'Abd Allah bin 'Umar al-Baidawi (d.685/1286), a summary of Zamakhshari with addi- tional material to counterbalance the mu'tazila stance of the kashshaf. - Ruh al ma'ani, by Shihab al-Din Muh. ammad al-Alusi al-Baghdadi (d.1270/1854), criticises unsound reports; considered to be among the best of tafsir bi'l-ray'. - Tafsir al-Jalalain, by Jalal al-Din al Mahalli (d.864/1459) and Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d.911/1505)? a handy book of tafsir, containing only brief notes on various passages of the Qur'an. None of these important books have ever been translated into any European language. [35] To conclude here is an example from the tafsir al- Jalalain: [39] 'About the Hypocrites: Among men are those who say, we believe in God and in the Last Day - (that is the Day of Resurrection, because it is the last of days): but they are not believers. They endeavour to deceive God and those who have believed, by making a show of the reverse of the infidelity that they conceal; but they deceive not any except themselves; for the punishment of their deceit shall come upon them, and they shall be disgraced in this world, in consequence of God's acquainting His Prophet with that which they conceal, and shall be punished in the world to come; and they know not that they deceive themselves. In their hearts is a disease. Doubts and hypocrisy in this order 38 There are, however, a few extracts available in English, which may help the reader gain some idea of this important field of study: See Gaetje, op.cit.39 Lane, Edward William: Selection from the Kuran with an interwoven commentary, London, Madden, 1843. This is a most interesting though very rare book. Apart from a lengthy introduction (96 pages) almost wholly from Sale, it contains selections from the Qur'an, translated into English with commentary taken from the tafsir al-Jalalain. It therefore gives some idea of what this tafsir is like. The selections reflecting the translator's cultural and historical millieu rather than the message of the Qur'an are on the following topics: God and His Works, Predestination, Angels and Jinn, Various Prophets and Books, Messiah, Muhammad and the Qur'an, Believers and Unbelievers, Paradise and Hell. them; and God has increased their disease by what he has revealed in the Kuran, because they disbelieve it; and for them (is ordained) a painful punishment because they have charged with falsehood the Prophet of God and when it is said to them: corrupt not in the earth by infidelity and hindering others from embracing the faith - they reply, we are all only rectifiers - assuredly they are the corrupters; but they are not sensible thereof and when it is said unto them, believe ye as other men, the Companions of the Prophet, have believed- they say, shall we believe as the fools have believed? - assuredly they are the fools; but they know it not. And when they meet those who have believed they say, we believe; - but when they retire privately to their devils (that is, their chiefs), they say, we agree with you in religion; we only mock at them by making a show of their faith - God will mock at them. He will requite them for their mockery and continue them in their exceeding wickedness, wandering about in perplexity. These are they who have purchased error in exchange for right direction, and their traffic has not been profitable; on the contrary, they have incurred loss; for their transit is to the external fire; and they have not been rightly directed in that which they have done' (2: 7-15).[40] Contemporary Tafsir Literature [41] Among numerous books on Tafsir that have been written in the twentieth century, three are outstanding. They have greatly influenced the thinking of Muslims all over the world, and are briefly introduced here. They are: - Tafsir al-manar. - Fi zilal al qur'an - Tafhim al-qur'an. 40 Lane. pp.285-7. 41 For a survey of the modern tafsir literature as perceived by the orientalists. See Baljon, J . M. S.: Modern Muslim Koran Interpretation. Leiden. 1968 and Jansen. JG.: The Interpretation of the Qur'dn in Modern Egypt. Leiden. 1971. Tafsir al-manar. The actual title of this book is tafsir al- qur'an al-hakim. It was compiled by Muhammad Rashid Rida (d.1354/1935), the well-known disciple of Muhammad 'Abduh (d.1323/1905), and published in Egypt. It is called tafsir al-manar since some of its parts had been serialised in the periodical al-manar. The tafsir covers the first 12 juz' of the Qur'an. The influence of the 'Manar School of Thought' on Muslims all over the world since the turn of the century has been tremendous, although today, after several decades, some of the attempts to harmonise contemporary scientific as well as social development with the teachings of the Qur'an seem rather inappropriate. For example, the commentary on Sura 1: 276, where Jinns are explained as microbes causing diseases, or on 4:3 where polygamy is 'prohibited' according to the tafsiral-manar, because justice cannot be done between two or more wives. However the basic notion of the 'Manar School of Thought' was that Islam is different and has to be seen as different from all Western philosophies and must regain its original position. This view, underlying the tafsir al-mandr continues to be voiced by many later Muslim scholars and leaders alike. [42] Fi zilal al-qur'an. This book, covering the complete Qur'anic text in 4 volumes, with the title In the Shade of the Qur'an has greatly influenced numerous Muslims especially the younger generations, and particularly in the Middle East. It was written by the well-known author Sayyid Qutb (d.1386/ 1966), mostly during his imprisonment (1954-64), and com- pleted before he was executed by the Egyptian government because of his association with the ikhwan al-muslimun. Qutb's aim, with this commentary on the Qur'an was to explain the true nature of Islam to contemporary Muslims, so as to invite them to join the struggle for the establishment of Islam both on the individual as well as the social level. He emphasised in particular the differences that exist between Islam and the non-Islamic systems, as well as the need for Muslims to strive for the establishment of a movement for 42 Also juz' 'amma has been published. For a shon extract on Sura 4: 3, see Gaetje, op. cit., pp.248-61. Islam. [43] Tafhim al-qur'an.44 Written in Urdu, and first published in article form, from 1943, in the journal tarjuman al-qur'an, this tafsir, covering the complete Qur'anic text was completed in 1973. It is of great importance for contemporary Muslim thinking, particularly in the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Ceylon), but has also, by means of trans- lation, reached a much wider audience.45 This tafsir, entitled Understanding of the Qur'an was written by the well-known founder of the Jama'at-i-Islami in Pakistan, Abul A'la Maw- dudl (d.1400/1979). Addressed primarily to a non-Arabic speaking audience this tafsir places great emphasis on the thorough explanation of basic Qur'anic concepts, such as ilah} rabb, ibada and din, and the Qur'an as a 'book of guidance', not least containing guidance for a movement of Islamic re- construction and the Islamic way of life. Numerous notes add to the usefulness of this aid to understanding the Qur'an. It is particularly suitable for the young educated Muslim with no direct access to the Arabic original. Summary There is a common factor in these three contemporary books. Tafsir al-manar for the first time in modern history attempted to relate, to some extent, the Qur'anic message to the actual situation of the Muslim umma in the contemporary world, and here, for the first time for centuries, Tafsir is no longer restricted to purely academic exercise and intellectual stimulus, but regains social and political significance. This is upheld and further elaborated in the two other books referred to. Apart from these three main books of tafsir, numerous other attempts have been made to interpret the Qur'an for the contemporary age. All efforts of tafsir are however, apart 43 The last juz' of this book is now available in English: Qutb, Sayyid. In the Shade of the Qur'an (Vol. 30), MWH Publishers, London, 1979. 44 See Ahmad, Khurshid: 'Some thoughts on a new Urdu tafsir', in Actes du XXLXE Congres International des Orientalistes, 1, 1, Paris, 1975, pp. 1-7. 45 English translation, so far nine volumes, up to Sura 26, published under the title The Meaning of the Qur'an, Islamic Publications Ltd., Lahore, 1967-79. from their varying degrees of utility and reliability, only human efforts to present the Qur'anic message in accordance with the needs and requirements of the age, and therefore in the final analysis can be only faint reflections of the Qur'an as the word of God, against which all human efforts are inade- quate, incomplete and of only limited validity. This basic principle, which all mufassirun make the starting point of their work, should also be well remembered by the readers of the books of tafsir, so as to remain aware of the actual book from Allah, the Qur'an, upon which all exegesis and explan- ation rests. TRANSLATION OF THE QUR'AN By translation (tarjama) of the Qur'an is meant the expres- sion of the meaning of its text in a language different from the language of the Qur'an, in order that those not familiar with it may know about it and understand Allah's guidance and will. There is agreement among Muslim scholars that it is impos- sible to transfer the original Qur'an word by word in an identical fashion into another language. This is due to several reasons: - Words of different languages do not express all the shades of meanings of their counterparts, though they may express specific concepts. - The narrowing down of the meaning of the Qur'an to specific concepts in a foreign language would mean miss- ing out other important dimensions. - The presentation of the Qur'an in a different language would therefore result in confusion and misguidance. However, there is no doubt that translations of the meanings of the Qur'an had already been made at the time of the Prophet Muhammad as a solution for those who did not understand the language of the Qur'an: When Heraclius, the Byzantine emperor received the message Muhammad had sent to him by messenger, the verses of the Qur'an therein, together with the message, had to be translated, and the report by Abu Sufyan on this matter [46] states expressis verbis that translators were called for the conversation between the emperor and Abu Sufyan and that the message from the Prophet included a passage from the Qur'an, namely Sura 3: 64. Similarly, translation from a passage from Sura Maryam (19), which was recited by the Muslims in front of the Negus of Abyssinia [47] must have occurred. It might even be taken as indicating that the Muslims carried with them written extracts from the Qur'an in case the Negas questioned them, before one of them recited from the Qur'an: do you have something with you from what he brought from Allah? [48] There is also some reference to the Persian language: 'Some Iranians- one is not certain whether they were from Yemen or Bahrain, Oman or elsewhere - were converted to Islam and applied for permission to say their prayers temporarily in their mother tongue. The Persian Salman al Farisi translated the first chapter (Sura al-fatiha) and sent it to one of them.' [49] Translation of the Meanings A word-by-word translation of the Qur'an into another language would not be adequate. Therefore good translators have always aimed at first determining the meaning of a passage and then rendering it into the other language. Hence translations of the Qur'an are actually expressions of meanings of the Qur'an in other languages. M. Pickthall, one of the well-known English Qur'an translators opened his Foreword with the following lines: 46 Bukhari, VI, No. 75. 47 See Ibn Hisham, p. 152. 48 hal ma'aka mima ja'a bihi 'an allahi min shai': see Ibn Hisham, Arabic 1, p.224. 49 Hamidullah, Munabbih, p. 19; also: Le Saint Coran, p.xxxvi; see also: 'Is the Qur'an translatable? Early Muslim Opinion', in: Tibawi. A.L., Arabic and Islamic Themes, Luzac, London, 1974, pp.7245, here p.73. 'The aim of this work is to present to English readers what Muslims the world over hold to be the meaning of the words of the Qur'an and the nature of that Book . . . The Qur'an cannot be translated. That is the belief of old fashioned Sheikhs and the view of the present writer. The book is here rendered almost literally and every effort has been made to choose befitting language. But the result is not the glorious Qur'an, that inimitable symphony the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy. It is only an attempt to present the meaning of the Qur'an - and peradventure something of the charm - in English.' [50] Limitations of Translation The Qur'an is the word of Allah. Scholars say that since the Qur'an has been revealed in the Arabic language any trans- lation of it would not be the word of Allah. Furthermore, the concept of the uniqueness and inimitability of the Qur'an (i'jaz al-qur'an) is, in the mind of these scholars, closely linked to its expression in the Arabic language. This would become immaterial in translation. Lastly, because of the different meanings that words carry in different languages, the trans- lation would never adequately express all the meanings of the Qur'an carried by the original text. Importance of Translations and their Benefits The translations of the meanings of the Qur'an are of great importance for two reasons: - To present the message of Islam to non-Muslims and invite them to ponder over the Qur'an. - To point out to Muslims the revealed guidance and will of Allah to be observed by them. Without translations of the Qur'an today there is no way of effective da'wa either to non-Muslims or to Muslims them- 50 Pickthall, M. M.: The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, New York, 1963. selves since those familiar with the language of the Qur'an are few in number, and the vast majority of people have no opportunity to become acquainted with the meaning of the Qur'an unless it be rendered into their mother tongue. Translations of the meanings of the Qur'an therefore are not only permissible but a duty and obligation upon Muslims,5' and the practical basis for the extension of the Islamic da'wa to other peoples all over the world. Translation in Salat? [52] There is a difference of opinion as to whether the translated meanings of the Qur'anic verse could be recited during prayer. Some scholars (in particular some Hanafites) say that someone not familiar with the Qur'anic language may recite short passages in his mother tongue until he has learnt them in the Qur'anic language. [53] The majority of scholars say that this would render the prayer invalid and only recitation of the Qur'an in its revealed form is permissible. Which translation? The first translation of the Qur'an, from Arabic into Latin, made in Europe was done under the instructions of Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, in 1143. It was an attempt at the dawn of crusades and to equip the 'reconquerors' for mission among Muslims and refutation of Islam, and since then many other translations have followed. Here we are however only concerned with translations into the English language. Borrowing from the field of Tafsir (and translation, as we have seen is certainly some kind of Tafsir, since the expression of its meaning in another language require tagsgr) the conditions which need to be fulfilled would be: - The translation must be done by someone with the correct belief, i.e. by a Muslim. 50 Sabuni, tibyan, p.232. 52 See Qattan, op.cit., pp..272b. 53 See also GdQ, III, p. 106. - The translation must be done by someone with adequate knowledge of both the language of the Qur'an and the language for the translation. - The translation must be done by someone well acquainted with the related sciences, such as hadith, tafsir, etc. >From the above principles it is obvious that all such transla- tions by missionaries and their help-mates, the orientalists (even if excellent with regard to their English idiom) [54] should be rejected. This also applies to all non-Muslim translators and to those holding beliefs other than those based on the Qur'an and sunna. Authors well grounded in Islam but proposing explanations not in conformity with the consensus should be read with caution. Translations by persons with insufficient knowledge of either language, or with insufficient educational background, poor knowledge of related sciences, etc., are of little use and may confuse, if not mispresent, the meanings of the Qur'an. There remain only a few translations into English which can be recommended. Among them the following two seem most useful: - Abdullah Yusuf Ali: This is a book of mixed value, since the translation in places is a little far from the text. The numerous footnotes provide helpful explanations and background information but some of them seem odd if not unacceptable. - Marmaduke Pickthall: This is a mere translation with no explanation and footnotes which makes it perhaps more difficult for the beginner. The author took great care to give as far as possible a literal translation. 54 Such as e.8. Arberry, A. J.: The Koran Interpreted, London, 1964.