The question arises:
Why is there a need for tafsîr After all, does not Allâh say in the Qûran:
Verily this Qûran 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 Qûran 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 Qûran with a pure heart, seeking the guidance of Allâh, will find it. As Allâh says,
|This (Qûran) 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 hadîth of the Prophet (saws) in explaining the Qûran, 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 qirât,and of the knowledge of the abrogated rulings, and of all of the other topics of Ulûm al Qûran will benefit from the Qûran 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 Ulûm al Qûran 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 Qûran.
As-Suyûti also discusses the necessity of tafsîr in his al-Itqân. He begins by stating that it is a known fact that Allah 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 tafsîr is necessary despite these facts.
First of all, Allah 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 Qûran 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 tafsîr to explain what is meant by the word.
It can be said that the purpose of tafsîr is to elaborate the principles which the Qûran came to clarify:
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 communities 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 (saws), and this is done by explaining the miraculous nature of the Qûran (i’jâz).
Therefore, the job of a mufâssir is to explain all of the above points to mankind. From the above discussion, the importance of tafsîr should become apparent. The science of tafsîr is meant to explain to mankind the Book that has been revealed to them from Allah. The Qûran is like a treasure trapped in a glass receptacle; mankind can view and benefit from this treasure, but they are in need of tafsîr,for tafsîr acts like the key that unlocks the treasure, so that mankind can benefit from it to the greatest possible extent. Iyâs ibn Mu’âwiyah (d. 122 A.H.) said, “The example of a people who recite the Qûran 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 tafsîr is like a person who comes to them with a lamp and reads to them what is in the message.” And the Successor Sa’ îd ibn Jubayr (d. 95 A.H.) said, “Whoever recites the Qûran and does not explain it, is like an ignorant person.”
(The science of tafsîr) 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 Allah, 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 Allah, 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 Sharî’ ah and knowledge of the religion, and this knowledge can only be obtained through the understanding of the Book of Allâh.
Apart from these reasons, the Qûran 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 tafsîr which is the fruit of pondering over its verses.’
1 As-Suyûti, v.2, p. 223.
2 cf. Ik, pps. 64-66.
3 Both quotes taken from Zarabozo, ibid., p. 12.
4 As-Suyûti, v. 2, p. 224; cf. Zarabozo, p. 12.