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What Is Tafsir? And What are the Types of Tafseer?


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what is the meaning of tafsir?

The word Tafsir is derived from the root ‘Fassar’ which means to clarify or to explain. This contextually refers to clarification of the meaning of the Quran. 

Tafsir of the Quran started early in Prophet Muhammad’s life when his companions asked him about the aim of the Quranic verses and their meanings. That’s independent of their extensive knowledge of the Arabic language, as they always needed to understand Allah’s aim from the source of revelation.

Likewise, Muslims nowadays should learn Tafseer. In addition to the previous reason, they also lack the proper knowledge of the Fusha Arabic language of the Quran which necessitates learning Tafseer.

It is worth mentioning that Tafsir is a compilation of several Islamic knowledge: Arabic language, Hadith, Prophet Muhammad’s Biography, Jurisprudence, Asbab Al-Nuzul…etc. 

The Importance of Reading in Tafseer Books

Reading Tafseer books is essential for every Muslim to properly understand the Quran. No doubt, the Quran’s language, and meanings are clear and obvious. However, many Muslims nowadays are non-Arabic speakers. Moreover, nowadays Arabs themselves are relatively weak in the original Fusha Arabic.

Reading Tafseer is not only important for the previously mentioned reason. However, it is also fundamental to understand the Maksud (Aim) of the verses as Allah (SWT) meant and taught his prophet (PBUH).

It is worth mentioning that understanding the Quran ignorantly in one’s own way is dangerous to his religion. We should always refer to knowledgeable scholars who understood the Quran in the light of the authentic sources of Tafseer.

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Types of Authentic Sources of Knowledge in Tafseer

There are authentic sources of Tafseer that a Mufassir should stick to. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss the different authentic sources of Tafseer.

1. Tafseer The Quran by The Quran

No doubt, the Quran itself is the very first source of Tafseer. Allah (SWT) is the best one to declare the aim and the meaning of what He (SWT) had said.

There are numerous examples, we will discuss a few.

In Surah Al-Baqarah verse no. 2, Allah says that the Quran is a guide for pious people. Then He (SWT) further clarified their attributes in the following paragraphs.

Also, in Surah AL-Waqiah verse no. 10, Allah (SWT) mentions the forerunners who will be granted the highest levels in Paradise. Allah clarifies the attributes of those people in Surah Al-Mu’minoun verses 57-61.

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2. Tafseer The Quran by The Sunnah

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received revelation from Allah (SWT). He clarified the Quran and taught Muslims how to practice its teachings the right way. For example, he (PBUH) clarified the verse “Establish Prayer” by teaching Muslims how to perform prayer as Allah (SWT) taught him.

He (PBUH) said: “Pray as you have seen me perform prayer”

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3. Tafseer The Quran by Sahaba Sayings

The Sahaba are the companions of the Prophet (PBUH). They were living around the time of the Quran’s revelation. They learned the Quran from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Moreover, there were some verses that were revealed in response to their questions or as a commentary on their actions. In addition, they were the best to understand the language of the Quran as it was in their mother language. Therefore, they were the best ones to tell people about the meanings of the Quran and its Tafseer.

Among the most famous Sahaba in Tafseer are: Ibn Abbas, Ibn Masud, Obayy Ibn Ka’d, Zayd Ibn Thabet… etc.

4. Tafseer The Quran by Tabi’een Sayings

The Tabi’een are the generation that directly followed the Sahaba. They didn’t see Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). However, they had the opportunity of learning the Quran directly from the mouth of the Sahaba.

Muslim scholars say that if Tabi’een agreed upon a certain Tafseer of a verse, we should immediately accept it.

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5. Tafseer by Knowledgeable Opinion

If we didn’t find a Tafseer of a certain verse in the previously mentioned sources, knowledgeable scholars work hard to clarify its meaning. This type of Tafseer is restricted to highly qualified, righteous scholars who have knowledge in several linguistic, quranic, and Islamic sciences.

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What is the difference between tajweed and Tafseer?

  1. Tajweed:

    • Definition: Tajweed refers to the rules and principles of proper pronunciation and recitation of the Quran. It ensures that the words and verses of the Quran are recited accurately and with proper intonation.
    • Focus: Tajweed focuses on the correct pronunciation of Arabic letters, the application of rules for elongation and shortening of sounds, and the proper articulation of Arabic phonetics. It aims to preserve the beauty and purity of Quranic recitation.
    • Importance: Tajweed is considered essential for Muslims who wish to recite the Quran with precision and reverence. It is often taught to children and adults to improve their Quranic recitation skills.
  2. Tafseer:

    • Definition: Tafseer is the scholarly interpretation and explanation of the meanings of the Quranic verses. It delves into the context, historical background, linguistic nuances, and the intended message of the Quran.
    • Focus: Tafseer aims to provide insights into the deeper meanings and guidance contained in the Quran. It explores the historical, cultural, and theological aspects of the text to help believers understand its relevance to their lives.
    • Importance: Tafseer plays a crucial role in understanding the Quranic text in its entirety. It helps Muslims gain a deeper understanding of the teachings and principles found in the Quran, making it applicable to contemporary life and issues.

In summary, Tajweed is concerned with the proper recitation of the Quran, while Tafseer involves the scholarly interpretation and explanation of its meanings. Both Tajweed and Tafseer are important aspects of Islamic studies, serving different purposes in the understanding and practice of the Quran.

What are the 2 types of Tafsir?

In the field of Tafsir (exegesis or interpretation of the Quran), there are primarily two main types or approaches:

  1. Tafsir al-Ma’thur (Traditional/Classical Exegesis): This type of Tafsir relies on established and authoritative sources of interpretation, often following a systematic and scholarly approach. It includes the following subtypes:

    a. Tafsir bil-Ma’athur (Narrative Tafsir): This approach involves interpreting the Quranic verses by referencing authentic Hadiths (sayings, actions, and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him), statements of the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet), and the consensus (ijma) of scholars. Tafsir works in this category are known for their adherence to traditional sources and their focus on providing historical and linguistic context.

    b. Tafsir bi’l-Ra’y (Opinion-based Tafsir): While still rooted in traditional sources, this approach may incorporate scholarly opinions and analogical reasoning (qiyas) to interpret Quranic verses. However, it does so cautiously and within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence.

    c. Tafsir al-Tafsir (Interpretation of Interpretation): Some scholars of Tafsir have written commentaries that compile and summarize the interpretations of earlier scholars, making this type a compilation or synthesis of existing Tafsir works.

  2. Tafsir al-Ra’y (Rational/Philosophical Exegesis): This type of Tafsir relies on reason, philosophy, and personal interpretation to understand the Quranic text. It includes the following subtypes:

    a. Tafsir al-Bi’l-Ra’y (Opinion-based Tafsir): In this approach, scholars use their reasoning and personal judgment to interpret the Quranic text. It may involve linguistic analysis, historical context, and philosophical considerations.

    b. Tafsir al-Ishari (Allegorical/Symbolic Interpretation): Some scholars use symbolic or allegorical interpretations to derive meanings from the Quran. This approach often delves into deeper spiritual and mystical interpretations of the text.

    c. Tafsir al-Tafsir al-Kalam (Theological Interpretation): Theological interpretations of the Quran focus on explaining the text within the framework of Islamic theology and creed. Scholars in this category may explore theological concepts and doctrines through Quranic verses.

It’s important to note that while these two broad categories exist, there can be overlaps and variations in Tafsir approaches. Many Tafsir works incorporate elements of both traditional and rational approaches to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Quranic text. Ultimately, the goal of Tafsir is to uncover the meanings and guidance within the Quran while respecting the traditional sources and scholarly consensus of the Islamic tradition.

What is the difference between Hadith and Tafsir?

Hadith and Tafsir are two distinct but related fields within Islamic scholarship. They both serve important roles in understanding and interpreting Islamic teachings, but they focus on different aspects of the religion. Here are the key differences between Hadith and Tafsir:

1. Nature and Focus:

  • Hadith: Hadith refers to the recorded sayings, actions, and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It primarily deals with the words and actions of the Prophet and provides guidance on various aspects of religious practice, ethics, and behavior. Hadith serves as a source of practical guidance and legal rulings in Islam.

  • Tafsir: Tafsir, on the other hand, is the scholarly interpretation and commentary on the Quranic text. It involves explaining the meanings, context, and teachings found in the Quranic verses. Tafsir provides insights into the theological, moral, and legal aspects of the Quran and helps Muslims understand the message of the Quran.

2. Source:

  • Hadith: The primary source of Hadith is the collection of statements and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as transmitted by reliable narrators. Hadith collections, such as Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, are considered authoritative sources of Hadith.

  • Tafsir: The primary source of Tafsir is the Quran itself, as well as other sources like the Hadith, the statements and interpretations of the companions of the Prophet (Sahabah), and the consensus (ijma) of Islamic scholars.

3. Content:

  • Hadith: Hadith contains specific guidance, instructions, and reports of incidents from the life of the Prophet. It often deals with matters such as prayer, fasting, charity, family life, and ethical behavior.

  • Tafsir: Tafsir focuses on explaining the Quranic text, including its historical context, linguistic nuances, legal implications, and theological teachings. It helps readers understand the Quranic message and its relevance to various aspects of life.

4. Role in Islamic Scholarship:

  • Hadith: Hadith plays a crucial role in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and provides the basis for legal rulings in Islamic law (Sharia). Scholars use Hadith to derive legal principles and to understand how to practice Islam correctly.

  • Tafsir: Tafsir is essential for understanding the Quranic text and its teachings. It helps scholars and Muslims interpret the Quran in a way that is relevant to their lives, guiding them in matters of belief, morality, and spirituality.

In summary, Hadith deals with the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and provides practical guidance, while Tafsir is the scholarly interpretation of the Quranic text, offering explanations and insights into the meanings and teachings of the Quran. Both Hadith and Tafsir are valuable sources of knowledge in Islamic scholarship and contribute to a comprehensive understanding of Islam.

Who wrote the tafsir?

  1. Ibn Kathir (1301-1373): Ibn Kathir is widely known for his comprehensive Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim. His work is highly respected for its thoroughness and reliance on authentic Hadith and narrations.

  2. Al-Qurtubi (1214-1273): Al-Qurtubi authored Al-Jami’ li Ahkam al-Qur’an, which is known for its balanced approach and insights into the legal and ethical aspects of the Quran.

  3. Al-Tabari (838-923): Al-Tabari’s Jami’ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an is one of the earliest and most extensive Tafsir works. It includes linguistic analysis, historical context, and interpretations of Quranic verses.

  4. Al-Razi (1149-1209): Fakhr al-Din al-Razi wrote Al-Tafsir al-Kabir, which is known for its philosophical and theological discussions along with Quranic interpretations.

  5. Al-Jalalayn (Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli and Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti): Tafsir al-Jalalayn is a concise and accessible Tafsir work authored by the two Jalalayn scholars. It provides clear explanations of Quranic verses.

  6. Ibn Ashur (1879-1973): Muhammad al-Tahir Ibn Ashur wrote Al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir, a Tafsir known for its modern and reformist approach, emphasizing the Quran’s relevance to contemporary issues.

  7. Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328): Although he didn’t write a comprehensive Tafsir, Ibn Taymiyyah’s works include Quranic commentaries and discussions on various aspects of the Quran. His writings are influential in Islamic scholarship.

  8. Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838-923): Although less known than Al-Tabari, he authored Tafsir Ibn Jarir, which is another early Tafsir work.

  9. Ibn Sa’di (1889-1956): Abd al-Rahman ibn Nasir al-Sa’di’s Tafsir al-Sa’di is a concise and widely read Tafsir work known for its simplicity and clarity.

These are just a few examples of prominent scholars who have written Tafsir works. The field of Tafsir is vast, and many scholars have contributed to its development over centuries. Each Tafsir work reflects the unique insights, methodologies, and perspectives of its author, providing a rich tapestry of interpretations and commentary on the Quran.

How is the tafsir of the Quran done?

Tafsir of the Quran is a complex and scholarly endeavor that involves the interpretation and commentary on the Quranic text. It is carried out through a systematic and rigorous process by Islamic scholars who have expertise in Quranic studies. Here is an overview of how Tafsir of the Quran is typically done:

  1. Understanding the Quranic Text:

    • Scholars begin by studying the Quranic text itself. This involves reading and reciting the Quran in its original Arabic language to understand the words, grammar, and structure.
  2. Linguistic Analysis:

    • Linguistic analysis is a fundamental aspect of Tafsir. Scholars examine the meanings of individual words and phrases in their linguistic context, considering the various shades of meaning in Arabic.
  3. Historical Context (Asbab al-Nuzul):

    • Understanding the historical context in which specific Quranic verses were revealed is crucial. Scholars investigate the circumstances, events, and incidents that prompted the revelation of certain verses. This helps in contextualizing the Quranic message.
  4. Consulting Authentic Hadith:

    • Scholars refer to authentic Hadith (sayings, actions, and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) to gain insights into the interpretation of Quranic verses. Hadith often provide additional context and explanations.
  5. Interpreting Quranic Verses:

    • Scholars provide interpretations and explanations of Quranic verses based on their linguistic analysis, historical context, and reliance on established Islamic scholarship. They explore the intended meaning of the verses, including their legal, moral, and theological implications.
  6. Cross-Referencing:

    • Tafsir scholars often cross-reference Quranic verses with other verses within the Quran to find complementary or explanatory content. This helps in uncovering the Quran’s internal coherence.
  7. Consulting Classical Tafsir Works:

    • Scholars may refer to classical Tafsir works written by renowned scholars of the past, such as Ibn Kathir, Al-Qurtubi, Al-Tabari, and others, to benefit from their insights and interpretations.
  8. Consideration of Jurisprudential and Theological Perspectives:

    • Depending on the focus of the Tafsir, scholars may discuss the legal (fiqh) and theological (aqidah) implications of Quranic verses. This is especially important in Islamic jurisprudence and theology.
  9. Ethical and Spiritual Insights:

    • Tafsir often includes discussions on the ethical and spiritual dimensions of the Quranic message, offering guidance on personal conduct, moral values, and spiritual development.
  10. Applying Ijma and Qiyas:

    • In some cases, scholars may apply the principles of consensus (ijma) and analogy (qiyas) to derive legal rulings and interpretations from Quranic verses.
  11. Relevance to Contemporary Issues:

    • Some modern Tafsir works aim to address contemporary issues and challenges, showing how the Quran’s guidance can be applied to current situations.
  12. Clarity and Accessibility:

    • Scholars strive to present their Tafsir in a clear and accessible manner so that it can be understood by a wide audience, including students, scholars, and the general public.

Tafsir is a dynamic field that continues to evolve with the changing needs of the Muslim community and the development of Islamic scholarship. It plays a vital role in helping Muslims understand the Quranic message and its relevance to their lives.

types of Quran:

there is typically one Quran, but it can be categorized in different ways based on its physical format and size, its script, or its translations. Here are some types or categories of the Quran:

  1. Mushaf Al-Madina (The Medina Manuscript): This refers to the original written compilation of the Quran during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Medina. It is considered the earliest and most authentic version of the Quran.

  2. Uthmani Script: This is the script in which the Quran was originally written during the time of the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with him). It is the standard script used in printed Quranic texts.

  3. Different Sizes and Bindings: The Quran is available in various physical formats and sizes, including pocket-sized editions, standard-sized books, and larger, more decorative editions. It can also be found in different bindings such as hardcover, softcover, and leather-bound.

  4. Translations: The Quran has been translated into numerous languages to make it accessible to non-Arabic speakers. These translations are available in printed form and online. They vary in their interpretations and nuances, and some well-known translations include those in English, French, Spanish, Urdu, and many more.

  5. Tafsir (Exegesis): While not a different type of Quran, tafsir refers to the extensive commentaries and explanations of the Quranic text by scholars. Tafsir works provide in-depth analysis, historical context, linguistic insights, and interpretations of Quranic verses.

  6. Digital Versions: In the digital age, the Quran is widely available in electronic formats, including apps, websites, and e-books. These versions often offer search functionalities, audio recitations, and other interactive features.

  7. Braille Quran: Quranic texts have been transcribed into Braille for visually impaired individuals, ensuring that they have access to the Quranic text through touch.

  8. Specialized Editions: There are specialized editions of the Quran, such as those designed for memorization (with larger text and clear spacing), for scholarly study (with extensive footnotes and commentary), and for children (with simplified language and colorful illustrations).

  9. Quranic Calligraphy: Some editions of the Quran feature artistic calligraphy, making them not only a source of religious guidance but also a form of Islamic art.

It’s important to note that while the physical formats and scripts may vary, the content and text of the Quran remain consistent and unchanged in all of its versions, as Muslims believe it to be the unaltered word of God as revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).


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