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How Tafseer is Performed?
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah
An Introduction to the Principles of Tafseer © 1993 al-Hidaayah
If you ask what is the best method of tafseer, the answer is that
the best way is to explain the Quraan through the Quraan.
For, what the Quraan alludes to at one place is explained
at the other, and what it says in brief on one occasion is elaborated
upon at the other. But if this does not help you, you should turn
to the sunnah, because the sunnah explains and elucidates the Quraan.
Imaam Abu `Abd Allaah Muhammad ibn Idrees al-Shaafi`ee has said:
"All that the Prophet, peace be upon him, has said is what
he has derived from the Quraan." Allaah has said:
"We have sent down to you the book in truth that you may judge
between men, as Allaah guides you; so dont be an advocate
for those who betray their trust." [al-Quraan, 4:105]
"We have sent down to you the message that you may explain
clearly to people what has been sent to them, and that they think
over it." [16:44]
"We sent down the Book to you for the express purpose that
you should make clear to them those things in which they differ,
and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe."
This is why the Prophet (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam) said: "Know
that I have been given the Quraan and something like it"
[Ahmad, Musnad, Vol. IV 131; Abu Dawood, Sunan, Sunnah, 5], namely
the Sunnah. In fact, the Sunnah, too has been given to him through
wahy as the Quraan, except that it has not been recited to
him as the Quraan. Imaam al-Shaafi`ee and other scholars have
advanced a number of arguments in support of this point; but this
is not the place to quote them. [For discussion see al-Shaafi`ee,
In order to understand the Quraan, you should first look
to the Quraan itself. If that does not help, then turn to
the Sunnah. The Prophet (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam) sent Mu`aadh
(radiyallaahu `anhu) to Yemen and asked him: "How will you
judge the cases (that come to you)?" He replied: "I will
judge according to the Book of Allaah". "But if you do
not get anything there, what will you do?", the Prophet (sallallaahu
`alayhi wa sallam) asked. He said: "I will refer to the sunnah
of the Prophet (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam)". "But
if you do not get it even there, what will you do?", the Prophet
(sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam) asked again. He replied: "I
will exercise my judgment." Hearing this the Prophet (sallallaahu
`alayhi wa sallam) patted Mu`aadh (radiyallaahu `anhu) on the shoulder
and said: "Praise be to Allaah who has guided the Messenger
of His Messenger to what pleases His Messenger." This hadeeth
has been reported in the Musnad and Sunan collections of hadeeth
with a good isnaad. [Ahmad, Musnad V:230, 236, 242; al-Daarimee,
Sunan, Muqaddimah, 30; al-Tirmidhee, Sunan, Ahkaam, 3; Abu Dawood,
Sunan, Adhiyah, 11.]
When you do not get any help from the Quraan or the Sunnah,
turn to the words of the companions. For they know the Qur'an
better: they have witnessed its revelation, and passed through the
situations in which it was revealed: and know it and understand
it fully. This is particularly true of the scholars and leaders
such as the four righteous caliphs and `Abdullaah ibn Mas`ood. Imaam
Abu Ja`far Muhammad ibn Jareer al-Tabaree reports: Abu Kurayb narrated
to us, saying: Jaabir ibn Nooh informed us that: al-A`mash informed
us from Abu Duhaa: from Masrooq that `Abdullaah ibn Mas`ood said:
"By the one besides whom there none having the right to be
worshipped, there is no verse in the Quraan about which I
do not know in whose case and at what place was it revealed. If
I were aware that anyone knew the Quraan more than me, and
I could reach him, I would certainly have gone to see him."
[Ibn al-Atheer, Jaami` al-Usool fee Ahaadeeth ar-Rasool, 1392/1972,
Vol. IX p. 48.] Al-A`mash has also reported through Abu Waa`il that
ibn Mas`ood said: "When anyone of us learned ten verses of
the Quraan, he did not proceed further unless he had known
what they meant and what action they demanded."
Another great scholar is `Abdullaah ibn `Abbaas (radiyallaahu `anhumaa),
the nephew of the Prophet (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam) and the
commentator of the Quraan. He attained that stature in virtue
of the Prophets prayer: "O Allaah! Give him knowledge
of Islaam and teach him the meaning of the Quraan." [Ahmad,
Musnad, Vol. 1: 266, 314, 328, 335]. Muhammad ibn Bashshaar narrated
to us, that Wakee` informed us, that Sufyaan informed us from al-A`mash:
from Musim (ibn Sabeeh Abee Duhaa) from Masrooq: that `Abdullaah
ibn Mas`ood (radiyallaahu `anhumaa) said: "What a good interpreter
of the Quraan Ibn `Abbaas is!" Ibn Jareer has also reported
this hadeeth through Yahyaa ibn Dawood, from Ishaaq al-Azraq, from
Sufyaan, from al-A`mash, from Muslim ibn Sabeeh Abee Duhaa, from
al-Masrooq with slightly different words: "What a good interpreter
Ibn `Abbaas is of the Quraan!" He has also reported the
same words through Bundar, from Ja`far ibn `Awn from al-A`mash.
These words are, therefore, the actual words of Ibn Mas`ood (radiyallahau
`anhumaa) which he said about Ibn `Abbaas (radiyallaahu `anhumaa).
Ibn Mas`ood (radiyallaahu `anhumaa) died, most probably, in 33 A.H.
Ibn `Abbaas (radiyallaahu `anhumaa) lived for thirty six years after
him, and added a lot to the treasury of Islaamic knowledge.
Al-A`mash quotes from Abu Waa`il that Ibn `Abbaas (radiyallaahu
`anhumaa) was appointed leader of the Hajj by `Alee (radiyallaahu
`anhu); he delivered a sermon and read from Soorah al-Baqarah, or
Soorah al-Noor according to another report, and explained it in
such a way that had the Romans, Turks and the Dalamites heard it,
they would have embraced Islaam. This is the reason why most of
what Ismaa`eel ibn `Abd al-Rahmaan Suddee has written in tafseer
consists of the explanations of these two scholars: Ibn Mas`ood
and Ibn `Abbaas (radiyallaahu `anhum).