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Friday, 21 November 2014

The Interpretation of the Qur'an (Tafseer)

The Interpretation of the Qur'an (Tafseer)

by Abû Ammâr Yasir al-Qadhî

The topic of tafseer is the most important topic of 'uloom al-Quraan, since in many ways it is the primary goal of 'uloom al-Quraan — to understand and implement the Qur'aan properly. This has also been the first topic of 'uloom al-Quraan to have been written on, and without a doubt the one in which most of the works in this field have been written about.

I. The Definition of Tafseer and Ta'weel

The word 'tafseer comes from fassara', which means, 'to explain, to expound, to elucidate, to interpret.' The word tafseer is the verbal noun of fassara', and means 'the explanation or interpretation of something.' According to another opinion,[1] the word tafseer is a transposition from s-f-r, which means, 'to expose, to uncover.' Thus, a woman who uncovers her face is called a 'saafirah', and the act of uncovering her face is called 'sufoor.' Therefore, according to this definition, 'tafseer would mean uncovering the meanings and exposing the secrets of the Qur'aan.

However, the stronger opinion is the first one, even though both of these meanings are correct.
In Islaamic sciences, tafseer is defined to be: The science by which the Qur'aan is understood, its meanings explained, and its rulings derived.[2]

Another common word that is heard in this subject is the word 'taweel'. What, then, is the difference, if any, between tafseer and taweel?
The word 'ta'weel' is from a-w-l, which means 'to return, to revert,' which implies going back to the original meaning of a word to see what its meanings and connotations are. The meanings of the word 'ta'weel' were given earlier, and are repeated here.
The word 'taweel' has three meanings:
1) To understand a word in light of one of its connotations, despite the fact that this connotation is not the primary intent of the word.
2) To explain a word or phrase.
3) The actuality of an event.

With these two definitions in mind, there are five main opinions as to the difference between tafseer and taweel, as follows: [3]
  • They are equivalent in meaning. This was the opinion of at-Tabaree (d. 310A.H.), as his commentary of the Qur'aan uses these two terms interchangeably. 
  • Tafseer is used in explaining a word which carries only one meaning, whereas taweel is used in choosing one of the connotations of a word that possesses many connotations. 
  • According to al-Maatureedee (d. 333 A.H.), when the interpretation is based on certain knowledge, this is called tafseer, whereas when it is based on personal reasoning (ijtihaad), it is known as taweel. 
  • Aboo Taalib at-Tha'labee held the view that tafseer was the explanation of the literal meaning of the verse, whereas taweel was the actual intent behind the verse. For example, the tafseer of the verse,
"Verily, your Lord is ever-Watchful [89:14]
is that Allaah is aware of all that man does, but the ta'weel is that the verse is a warning to man not to lapse into sins or to belittle the commandments of Allaah. 
  •  Tafseer is meant to give the meanings of the individual words in a verse, whereas taweel gives the meaning of the verse as a whole.
There is no one correct opinion amongst these five, since various authors use these two words in all of these meanings. However, the most common understanding in modern usage of the two words is the second one, namely that tafseer is used to explain the meaning or intent of a verse which has only one connotation, whereas taweel is used when one of the possible connotations of a verse or word is chosen over the others due to external factors.

II. The Necessity and Importance of Tafseer

The question arises: Why is there a need for tafseer? After all, does not Allaah say in the Qur'aan:
"Verily this Qur'aan leads to the path that is most right" [17:9]
and thus everybody can find the Straight Path through this Book? And is not the Qur'aan a complete source of guidance in and of itself, as it says,
"And We have sent down the Book to you as an explanation for everything, a guidance, a mercy and glad tidings for Muslims" [16:89]:
Indeed, it is true that anyone who approaches the Qur'aan with a pure heart, seeking the guidance of Allaah, will find it. As Allaah says,
"This (Qur'aan) is a declaration for mankind, a guidance and an admonition for those who ward off evil" [3:138]

But this in no way implies that a person who is unaware of the numerous hadeeth of the Prophet (SAW) in explaining the Qur'aan, and of the reasons behind the revelation of specific verses, and of the intricacies of Arabic grammar and principles of rhetoric, and of the various qiraaat, and of the knowledge of the abrogated rulings, and of all of the other topics of 'uloom al-Qur aan will benefit from the Qur'aan to the same degree that a person who does know these facts will.

For example, an Arabic linguist or grammarian might be able to see a certain wisdom behind the phrasing of a verse that the average person may not. A person specialised in the topics of 'uloom al-Qur aan will be better able to grasp the intended meanings of a verse, and derive rulings from it, in contrast to the average layman, who is not qualified to derive rulings from the Qur'aan.

As-Suyootee also discusses the necessity of 'tafseer in his al-Itqaan.[4] He begins by stating that it is a known fact that Allaah communicates with man in a way that the will be able to understand. This is the reason that every messenger has been sent in the language of his people. However, there are three basic reasons why tafseer is necessary despite these facts.

  • First of all, Allaah uses the most clear, eloquent and concise language, and in doing so the meaning is clear to those who are well-grounded in the Arabic language, but not so clear to those who are not. 
  • Secondly, the Qur'aan itself does not always mention the events or references for which each particular verse was revealed, and these must be known in order for the verse to be fully and totally understood. 
  •  Lastly, some words may have multiple meanings, and it is the job of the person that does tafseer to explain what is meant by the word.
It can be said that the purpose of tafseer is to elaborate the principles which the Qur'aan came to clarify:[5]
  1. The elaboration of a perfect set of beliefs with regards to the Creator, and the relationship of the created with the Creator.
  2. The perfection of personal conduct and good morals.
  3. The establishment of a set of laws and code of conduct to govern individual and familial relations.
  4. The establishment of laws governing societal and political dealings between com munities and nations.
  5. The narrations of the history of the previous nations, so that the pious among them may be followed, and the impious to act as a warning.
  6. To give the good news of Paradise and the blessings in store for the believers, and the evil tidings of the punishment of Hell in store for the disbelievers.
  7. To prove the truthfulness of the Prophet (SAW), and this is done by explaining the miraculous nature of the Qur'aan (i'jaaz).

Therefore, the job of a mufassir is to explain all of the above points to mankind. From the above discussion, the importance of tafseer should become apparent. The science of tafseer is meant to explain to mankind the Book that has been revealed to them from Allaah. The Qur'aan is like a treasure trapped in a glass receptacle; mankind can view and benefit from this treasure, but they are in need of tafseer, for tafseer acts like the key that unlocks the treasure, so that mankind can benefit from it to the greatest possible extent.

Iyaas ibn Mu'aawiyah (d. 122 A.H.) said, "The example of a people who recite the Qur'aan and do not know its explanation is like a group of people who have a written message from their king that comes to them during the night, and they do not have a lamp. Therefore, they do not know what is in the message. The example of one who knows tafseer is like a person who comes to them with a lamp and reads to them what is in the message." [6]
And the Successor Sa'eed ibn Jubayr (d. 95 A.H.) said, "Whoever recites the Qur'aan and does not explain it, is like an ignorant person.

As-Suyootee said,
(The science of tafseer) is the most honourable of all sciences for three reasons. The first reason is with respect to its topic. It deals with the Speech of Allaah, which contains every kind of wisdom and virtue. It contains pronouncements about what has passed, reports of what will happen and judgements concerning what happens between the people. Its wonders never cease. The second reason is with respect to its goal. Its goal is to lead mankind to the firm handhold of Allaah, and to the true happiness, one that does not end. The third reason is with respect to the great need for this science. Every aspect of this religion and this world, in the near or distant future, is in need of the sciences of the sharee'ah and knowledge of the religion, and this knowledge can only be obtained through the understanding of the Book of Allaah. [7]

Apart from these reasons, the Qur'aan itself commands its readers to ponder over it, and to reflect upon its meanings, for it says,
"(This is) a Book which We have sent down to you, full of blessings, so that they may ponder over its verses, and that men of understanding may remember) [38:29]

It is the science of tafseer which is the fruit of 'pondering over its verses.'

1 az-Zarkashee, v. 2, p. 147.
2 as-Suyootee, v. 2, p. 223.
3 cf, as-Suyootee, v.2, pps. 221-2, ar-Roomee, pps. 8-9, Zarabozo, p. 14.
4 as-Suyootee, v.2, p. 223.
5 cf. Ik, pps. 64-66.
6 Both quotes taken from Zarabozo, ibid., p. 12.
7 as-Suyootee, v. 2, p. 224; c£ Zarabozo, p. 12.

Extracted from “The Sciences of the Qur’aan” published by Al Hidaayah

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Friday, 14 November 2014

The Muslim's Perspective of Worldly Life

(Speech was delivered by Imam Mohamed Baianonie at the Islamic Center Of Raleigh, N. C., on August 12,1988)
Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat Al-Imran, (verse 14) what can be translated as, "Beautified for mankind is love of the joys (that come) from women and offspring, and stored-up heaps of gold and silver (wealth), and horses branded (with their marks), and cattle and land. That is comfort of the life of the world. Allah has excellent Return with Him."

Also Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat Al-Hadid, (verse 20) what can be translated as, "Know that the life of this world is only play, and idle talk, and pageantry, and boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children; as the likeness of vegetation after rain, whereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller, but afterward it dries up and they see it turning yellow, then it become straw. And in the Hereafter there is grievous punishment, and (also) forgiveness from Allah and His good pleasure, whereas the life of the world is but matter of illusion."

The forgoing is referring to the worldly life as described through verses of the Qur’an and all people, believers and non-believers alike, experience this life through possessing its goods and encountering its lusts and vanities. Then they turn away from its pleasures. 

However, there is a major difference between a Muslim and non-Muslims in coping with this life and all that it encompasses. This difference is due to a difference in Creed (belief system), which is instilled within each of them. Each Creed shapes its bearer through its system of views, effects, and restraints.

The main goal of a non-believer or infidel, in this life, is to attain the highest degree of its goods (or material wealth), lusts, and vanities-without limitation or restraint, and there is no goal for life in the hereafter. Moreover, there is forgetfulness of the hereafter, or it is denied. 

Allah Has spoken of this type of people in surat Al-Baqarah, (verse 200) what can be translated as, "But of Mankind is he who says: "Our Lord! Give unto us in the world," and he has no portion in the hereafter."

The goal of a Muslim, however, is the lasting eternal life of the hereafter, and his main concern is in achieving Allah’s pleasure and collecting the rewards of the hereafter, thereby, attaining the highest levels of eternal paradise, and towards this aim, he does not refuse or neglect this worldly life (with its chattels, and goods), but, at the same time, he does not make it his main objective. He enjoys it within the limitations that, thereby, attaining both the goods of this life and the Hereafter. 

Allah Has prescribed for him in surat Al-Baqarah, (verse 201) what can be translated as, "Of them (also) is he who says: "Our Lord! Give unto us in the world that which is good and in the Hereafter, that which is good, and guard us from the doom of fire."
The distinguishing feature of Muslims in this life is the advise offered in the Qur’an in surat Al Qasas, (verse 77) what can be translated as, "But seek with that (wealth) Allah has bestowed on you, the hear after, and do not forgot your portion of legal enjoyment in this world"

Additionally, a Muslim has restraints in this life which are those limitations prescribed by Allah, and which, thereof, he may not exceed .The duration of time, in which a Muslim has to spend in this life, is merely a duration of testing and examination. 

The prophet (S.A.W.) addressing us in hadith reported by Imam Muslim "This life is a fair meadow, which Allah has appointed you to, watchful of your deed, so seek immunity from the temptations of this life and that of women, since the first temptation for the children of Israel was women."

Currency or money comes from this life, and a Muslim is one who earned it from permissible sources and he used it for the right causes as Allah had commanded us to do.
So are women, and a Muslim is one who balances his relationship with them within the limitations prescribed by Allah (S.W.T.). 

Children are from this worldly life, and a Muslims love for them never outweighs that for Allah and his prophet. Raising them in an Islamic way of life should be every Muslims main priority.

Horses, cattle, and other means of transportation are from this life, and a Muslim is one who fulfills Allah’s right with them, using these means in ways that please Allah (S.W.T.).
Ownership of land and its cultivation are from this life, and a Muslim acquires this only through lawful routes, giving Allah’s rights in it, and does not deal in it, thereof, except within the limits that Allah had allowed.

Sports and amusements are from this life, and in this a Muslim never exceeds what Allah (S.W.T.) Has limited us to. Ornamentation and beautification are from this life, and a Muslim uses that within the allowable limits around the issues enumerated by the previous verse about the possessions of this worldly life. 

The Imam ( Inshaa-Allah) will elaborated on the limits set by Allah (S.W.T.) regarding all of the foregoing and the Muslims position with them.
It is of major concern that we not overlook the reality of being Muslims, nor to forget our obligation towards this deen or way of life, and that this obligation imposes upon us restraints and limits, which are not adhered to by non- Muslims. 

We live within a society that differs from our way of life in all aspects, from its creed, philosophy, and various endeavors, to its customs and manners, It is incumbent upon us as Muslims to realize that we have a different belief system that we should adhere to, and that we should not adopt as an example of character, the way of life of this society.

Furthermore, it must be clear to us that, what is permissible within this society, in terms of lawful and unlawful acts, may go beyond the bounds of Islam. We must understand that not everything allowed in this society is allowable for the Muslims. It does not mean that, because this society has prospered materially and made scientific advancements, that we should adopt its customs or way of life, which are degenerative and suppressive to spiritual growth. 

Its doctrines and philosophies, which are based on a different belief system, uphold unlawful acts, which conflict with that which Allah (S.W.T.) has prescribed for the Muslims. Being Muslims is to profess that there is no God but Allah (S.W.T.) and that Muhammad is His prophet, the simplest implication, of which is the requirement of surrendering and yielding to the Legislation of Allah (S.W.T.), and any other deed leading to the acceptance of any other Legislator, be it directly or otherwise, jeopardizes the Muslim.