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Exegesis (Tafsir) Of the Quran Is the Most Important Science for the Muslims – Concluding Part

By Prof Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi

February 12, 2021

Arabic Tafsir

Tafsir Ibn Kathir: by Isma'il Ibn 'Amr ibn Kathir al-Dimashqi (d.774/1372) under the title Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Azim, one of the better-known books of Tafsir, perhaps second to Tabari, with more emphasis on soundness of reports, in particular rejection of all foreign influences such as Israiliyat, 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-al-Qur’an, 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.

Ibn Kathir was follower of his teacher Ibn Taimiyah in most of his views and was well versed in the sciences of Tafsir Hadith and Tarikh and his book in history al Bidayah wal Nihayah is one of the very basic sources of Islamic history and his Tafsir of the Quran (Tafsir al Quran al Azim) is most important Tafsir based on narrations known as Tafsir bil Mathur and its status is just second after Ibn Jarir because he comments on the Book of Allah (SWT) on the basis of a hadith and the Athar of the Companions(RA) and does not forget to provide Jarahwa Taadil also whenever required, and prefers some statements on others on the basis of merit and inautheticates the Riwayat and authenticates others as per requirement .One of the most important peculiarities of Ibn Kathir is that he warns mostly against the inclusion of Israiliyat in the Tafsir bil Mathur. He will mention the statements of the Ulama with regard to the commands of Fiqh and criticises their opinions and arguments at times.


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According to Sabuni Hafiz Imaduddin (Ismail Ibn Umar u Ibn Kathir) al Qarshi al Damashqi (Abul Fida) was born N 700 AH and died in 774.A.H: He was a gigantic mountain (Jabalan sham khan) and a plenteous ocean (Bahran Zakhiran), in all sciences especially in Tafsir Hadith and history and also a great authority in writing style and compilation. Zahbi says about him: “he was a Mufti Imam a master Muhaddith and a deep rooted jurist consult and a scholarly Muhaddith and an established Mufassir and he had very beneficial books to his credit. He first mentions the verse and then explains in very easy manner the meanings and brings evidence from other Qur’anic verses and then compares these verses together till the meanings become clear and we understand the purport of the verse. He adheres strictly to the principle: Tafsir al Quran bil Quran .He also warns against the dangers of the Israiliyat with regard to Tafsir.

Ismail Imaad-al Din Abu AL Fida Ibn Kathir (died.1373AD), a famous Shafii jurist, traditionalist and historian, was a great scholar of his own times, mildly polemical, but fair and informative. Ibn Kathir appended to his commentary, Tafsir al –Quran al Azim, a short treatise entitled Fadail al –Quran and his views were based on tradition. Ibn Kathir had reacted to some of the views of famous figures in Tafsir like al Tusi(d.460/1067),Al-Zamakhshari )9Died 538/1144) Fakhr al Din Razi (died 606/1209) and Ibn Arabi (died 638/1240),because these writings had “left their mark”. At least some of this proliferation is reflected if merely negatively, by a rejection –in the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir. Positively his Tafsir presents us with clear evidence of a conscious application to methodological issues.” He was born in Syrian citadel town of bistre, after the death of his father he moved to Damascus at the age of six as the ward of his brother. He found best opportunity at Damascus and he became the eager student of Hadith and fiqh. The most profound teacher of him, as already mentioned, was Ibn Taimiyah (d.728/1328) and when Ibn Taimiyah died Kathir was just 28 years age .He knew Ibn Taimiyah during the period of intermittent persecution, which plagued the last ten years of Ibn Taimiyah’s life that he knew him. Ibn Kathir’s own career developed quietly in the years following Ibn Taimiyah’s death, but over the years, his reputation spread as scholar of Fiqh, a teacher of Hadith, and a prominent khatib. During the sixth decades of his life, Ibn Kathir had become one of the most respected preachers and lecturers in Damascus .He died in 774/1373 and was buried in the cemetery of the Safiyah near his master, Ibn Taimiyah.

Ibn Kathir's Tafsir al Quran al Azim is solidly in the class of Tafsirbil –mathur .Accordingly to the contemporary scholar Abd Allah Mahmud Shihata, it is one of the soundest of Tafsir bilmathur, if not absolutely the soundest. A predominant factor in the formation of the work, which merits such an assessment, is the attention paid to issues of exegetical methodology. He introduced the Tafsir with a clear and careful analysis of “correct hermeneutical procedure as he saw it.” He outlines the sequence of steps that the Qur’anic commentator should follow. The first stage is and the best procedure is ‘to interpret the Quran by the Quran’. Letting the Quran to interpret itself presupposed understanding the Quran as unified body of revelation, one part of which can clarify another. Ibn Kathir underscores this by noting that, in the Quran, ‘what is said succinctly in one place is treated in detail in another place.’ It is only after such intra scriptural investigation has been exhausted that recourse may be had to the second step of this hermeneutical procedure.


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The second step involves the examination of the Sunnah of the prophet (SAW) because the Sunnah means of lying open the Quran (Sharihalil Quran) and a means of elucidating it (Mudihalihi). In line with his Shafiite training, Ibn Kathir underlines importance of the Sunnah, observing that it, too, was sent down with inspiration (wahy) as the Quran was, although it was not recited (by Gabriel) as was the Quran However, when neither the Quran nor the Sunnah of the Prophet [SAW] provides adequate resources for the interpretation of a passage, the exegete is encouraged to venture upon the third hermeneutical step, that of resorting to the sayings of the companions of the Prophet (SAW). These companions are distinguished, observes IbnKathir, as being ‘eye witnesses to the circumstances and the situations with which they were particularly involved.’ This intimate participation equipped them with the means for complete understanding, sound knowledge and righteous action. ‘Singled out for special attention are the first four caliphs Ibn Mas’ud and Ibn Abbas (RA).

Ibn Kathir does not rule out the transmission of the non-Islamic material in the interpretation of the Quran as out of bounds. However, all such information may permissibly be reported but there is little point in doing so. The fourth and final resources to the sayings of the followers (al-tabuin).Chief of those he mentions is MujahidIbn Jabr (d.104/722)..,a student of Ibn Abbas .However ,Ibn Kathir clarifies that this course is not incumbent upon the Qur’anic exegetes but is simply fallowed by many of them. Furthermore, the sayings of the followers are not authoritative source when they conflict, that is, if they disagree, the statement of some is not authoritative over the statement of others or over those who come after them.

The final component of this hermeneutical prelude is the author‘s excoriation of Tafsirbilray. What is most roundly condemned under this rubric, judging from the hadiths, which Ibn Kathir has presented, is irresponsibly attempting the exegesis of something for which one has no knowledge. On the other hand, he points out that silence is not the appropriate or even permissible response in all cases. There is correlative obligation to share ones knowledge with those who seek it. To refuse to do so is, indeed, a condemnable act. Ibn Kathir’s Qur’anic support for this injection is drawn from the Qur’anic phrase: “So explain it (the Book) to people and do not hide it.”(3:187). At the same time Ibn Kathir recognises in concert with Tabari that there are limits to human knowledge. He prominently affirms that the interpretation of some things must be left to Allah (SWT) alone.



Prof Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi is Head, Department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir. Former Director, Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir Srinagar.

Original Headline: The Quran and its interpretation: An introduction - III

Source: The Rising Kashmir


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