Introduction to the Science of Tafsir of the Koran
By: Ayatullah Jafar Subhani (1983)
01: A Correct Approach to the Exegesis of the Koran
02: An Awareness of the Rules of Arabic Grammar
03: An Awareness of the Meaning of the Words in the Koran
04: Exegesis of the Koran through the Koran
05: Examining the Occasion of Revelation of the Verses
06: Examining the Authentic Ahadith
07: A Consideration of the Harmony between all the Verses of the Koran
08: Examining the Context of the Verses of the Koran
09: Awareness of the Various Viewpoints and Opinions
10: Distancing Oneself from any Form of Prejudgment
11: Awareness of the Philosophical and Scientific Theories
12: Understanding of the Early History of Islam
13: Knowing the Verses of the Koran which are “Makki” and “Madani”
14: Question On the Phrase “Clear Arabic”
Biography of the Author
Chapter 1 # A Correct Approach to the Exegesis of the Koran
The Twentieth Century of the common era, corresponding to the fourteenth century of the Islamic calendar, started off with an awakening of the Eastern world, especially the Muslims. In this century, the magical spell of colonialism was, to an extent, broken. Countries that had been under colonization emerged as independent or at least partially independent countries. The Muslims and their intellectual leaders began to contemplate upon a series of fundamental issues, and the reasons for the subjection and backwardness of their societies was studied and thereby, they sought to find reasons for their abject state.
Amongst the issues that drew their greater attention was the propagation of the teachings, truths, and sciences of the Koran, since in the previous centuries, it was only the scholars who were benefiting from the truths of this Heavenly Book while the rest of the people were limited to the mere recitation of the scripture. The lay people expended all of their energy in the correct recitation of the Koran and in learning the rules of proper pronunciation, while the books of exegesis of the Koran written during those centuries were only of benefit to the scholars. Very rarely could it be seen that a scholar would sit down and write a commentary of the Koran which would be for the guidance of the common people in understanding the meaning of the Koran and very rarely could it be seen that they would hold classes in which the Koran would be expounded upon.
It can be said that pondering and thinking upon the verses of the Koran was something limited to the scholars, while the rest of the people were only to benefit from the recitation of the Koran!
In addition to this frame of thought being very detrimental which is something that the scholars found out later, this belief went directly against the clear verses of the Koran as the Koran has invited all of humanity to think and ponder deeply on its verses and to take it as their radiant lamp (giving off Divine Celestial light) and as the best guide and leader of the Allah-conscious (those with Taqwa).
The Koran introduces itself as a “Reminder”َ (Ziker) and a way through which we can be informed (of previous nations, scriptures and events that have transpired). In addition, we see that those who refrain from hearing the Koran and pondering upon the meaning of its verses have been severely reprimanded, as the Noble Koran says:
“What is the matter with them that they evade the Reminder as if they were terrified donkeys fleeing from a lion?” [74.49]
The verses of the Koran which call upon those with consciousness of Allah (Taqwa), scholars, thinkers and intellectuals to listen and to contemplate upon the concepts presented in this Book are in such a great number that we shall refrain from quoting them or translating them or even giving their chapter and verse numbers (in this short treatise). Rather, we shall only present one such verse, suffice ourselves with it, and then go on to another discussion:
“And We have indeed made the Koran easy to understand for remembrance, then is there any that will receive admonition?” [54.17]
This verse and other such verses of the Koran tell us that understanding and making use of the Koran is not limited to a select or specific group of people!
In Summary: Sidelining the masses of people (from the Koran) and preventing them from benefiting from the verses of the Koran which was done in the previous centuries, is something that goes directly against the words of this Heavenly Book!
Due to the aforesaid, one of the greatest changes seen at the beginning of the fourteenth Islamic century is the opening up of the gatherings of the commentary of the Koran to everyone with the masses of people becoming acquainted with this Heavenly Book. In this regards, commentaries aimed at enlightening the general public have been written in the various Islamic countries (
At this point, it is necessary for us to exhibit the correct way and method of pursuing a commentary of the Koran so that those who have an ardent desire to understand the meanings and teachings of the Koran may be able to make the best use of this Book.
The commentary of the Koran, in the true meaning and way in which the commentator struggles to understand the meanings of the verses of the Koran – and not merely in which they simply follow those who have come before them in explaining the verses of the Koran, must be carried out through employing a series of rules, realizing various conditions, and following certain issues which will be alluded to in the following pages.
Chapter 2 # An Awareness of the Rules of Arabic Grammar
The first prerequisite in the exegesis of the Koran is that the commentator must have a complete knowledge of the rules of Arabic grammar so that under the shadow of this comprehensive knowledge, he is able to clearly differentiate the ‘the subject of a verb’ from the ‘the object of a verb’; the ‘adverb’from the ‘qualified verb’; the ‘denotative of state’ from the ‘subject of state’; and the ‘coupled’ from the ‘antecedent’.
However it is not only in understanding the Koran for which this sort of a key is needed. Rather, in order to benefit from a book in any language, a person must possess knowledge of the rules of grammar of that particular language. How many times has it been seen that without knowing the rules of Arabic grammar, many errors in the understanding of the meaning of a verse of the Koran take form.
This first condition is so clear that there is no need to go further in the discussion of this point.
However we should mention that being aware of the rules of Arabic grammar does not mean that a person must be a specialist in the rules of the sciences of: derivation, declension of words and syntax of sentences, since it is not necessary to be an expert in these fields to be a commentator of the Koran. Rather, it is sufficient that a person has a general understanding of these sciences, through which he would be able to understand and point out the various differences (in the words). Such a form of understanding (of the rules of Arabic grammar) can be attained by going through an entire course in the fields of the science of derivation (of the words) and the science of syntax of sentences.
Chapter 3 # An Awareness of the Meaning of the Words in the Koran
Knowledge of the meaning of the individual words of the Koran is one of the fundamental prerequisites for the commentary of the Koran, since understanding compounded word is only possible after comprehending its original components.
At this point, it is imperative to note that we must never rely upon the common meaning that we perceive of a word, which is in our minds, and explain the verse according to that interpretation. How often have we seen that with the passing of time, the meaning of a word completely changes and the common definition (of a particular word) which was well known during the time of the revelation may later undergo a change. Therefore, we must go forth and study the root meaning of the word and seek to acquire its original denotation, and only then can we proceed to explain a verse of the Koran.
For example the words for ‘he sinned’ and ‘he deviated’, original had meaning (during the time of revelation of the Koran) was different from the meanings that we commonly perceive today.
We observe a group of people who prove the fallibility of the prophets by the following verse:
“Thus did Adam distance himself from his Lord, and perform an action which had no benefit to it.” [20.121]
They assume that the words mean the same today as they did during the time of the revelation. However if the original meaning of these two words was searched out, people would definitely see that they have different (original) meanings than what is in the minds of the people today, which have been derived from the original meaning of these two words. However, the original meaning of these two words was never associated with the technical meaning of sinning!
The best book available which is able to guide us in finding the original meaning of the words contained in the Koran is the work al-Maqayis, written by Ahmad b. Faris b. Zakariyya. This work has been printed in six volumes in
Today, in the various Arabic dictionaries, we see that there are some words which have ten meanings to them and a person may actually think that a particular word has actually been formed to mean all ten things and actually has ten meanings to it! However, when a person refers to the work al-Maqayis, it would then be made clear to him that the word he is studying does not have more than one meaning associated with it and all other meanings are simply different facets of the original meaning, which, due to the passage f time, have been attributed to that word and taken as independent meanings.
In addition to the book al-Maqayis, the true commentator of the Koran must also refer to books such as, al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Koran, written by Abul Qasim Husayn b. Muhammad, popularly known as Raghib al-Isfahani and the work, an-Nihayah fi Gharib al-Hadith wal Athar, written by Majd ad-Din Abul Safdat Mubarak b. Muhammad Jazri, better known as Ibne Athir if he wants to be able to differentiate the various meanings of the words in the Koran.
This last book mentioned has been printed in
In addition, the work Majma’ al-Bahrain, written by Turayhi al-Najafi is also a very beneficial work on the commentary of the words (contained in the Koran).
Chapter 4 # Exegesis of the Koran through the Koran
With complete clarity, the Koran introduces itself as the explainer of all things, when it states:
“And We have sent down The Book (Koran) upon you (Muhammad) as a clarifier of all things.” [16.89]
If the Koran is an explainer of all things, then naturally it stands to reason that it would be an explainer of itself as well. Therefore, if there is some ambiguity in one verse of the Koran - and its ambiguity was for a purpose – we can resolve its ambiguity by referring to other verses which were revealed in regards to that same issue.
At this point, we present an example of this concept.
In Suratul Shuara, Allah states the following in regards to the nation of (prophet) Lut:
“And We rained down upon them a rain, and evil was the rain on those warned.” [26.173]
This verse gives us a glimpse of the sending down of something, however it is not clear what sort of precipitation this was – was it a spatter of water or was it a raining down of stones? Therefore to clear this issue up, another verse of the Koran, which removes the ambiguity of the verse quoted above, is referred to in which we are told:
“…and We rained down upon them stones made from baked clay…” [15.74]
The word “حِجَارَةٌ”(stones) is the word, which clears up the ambiguity in the first verse.
In order for us to truly comprehend this third point, we present another example.
In one instance in the Koran, we read the following:
“Will they wait until Allah comes to them in canopies of clouds, with Angels (in His train) and the question is (thus) settled? But to Allah do all affairs go back (for decision).” [2.210]
The apparent reading of this verse shows us that it is not free of ambiguity, since the coming and going of an object are characteristics for a physical entity and we know that the sacred essence of Allah is free from being a physical body. Thus, we must seek to remove the vagueness, which is contained in this verse through some other means.
One such way is to carefully review other similar verses of the Koran which repeat the same or close to the same wordings as this verse.
Such a similar verse is in Suratul Nahl, which contains approximately the same wording. This other verse clearly shows us that the meaning of the ‘coming of the Lord’ as actually referring to the coming of ‘the commandments’ of Allah for the punishment and retribution and (also) the orders and prohibitions from Him:
“Do they wait until the Angels come to them, or there comes the Command of your Lord (for their doom)? So did those who went before them (also wait). But Allah wronged them not, no, they wronged their own souls!” [16.33]
With complete explicitness, this verse removes any ambiguity present in the first verse, and by adding the word “أمر”(the Command of Allah) the true subject of the verb ‘come’, is made clear.
This form of explanation (tafsir of one Koranic verse by another verse) is a certain and unfailing method, and is the tradition of the Imams of the Shifa and is something which even until now is employed by the erudite commentator of the Koran.
The commentary of the Koran by the great teacher, Aqa [Sayyid Muhammad Husayn] Tabatabai entitled, al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Koran, has been written following this particular method of commentary.
Of course this issue is something different than the issue of ‘looking at the harmony which exists between the verses of the Koran’, which we shall cover in detail later on in this discussion.
At this stage, the goal is merely to present the synoptic view of a verse through employing another verse. However at the next level, our goal is something different and thus at that stage, in order to reach to our own deduction of understanding a verse, we must not keep other verses of the Koran out of our attention [and only look at one verse without paying attention to other verses on the same topic].
It is incorrect to assume that if a verse’s apparent meaning is devoid of any ambiguity, one can interpret it without taking into regard those verses of the same issue and then attribute that meaning to Allah!
With that said, the difference between these two forms of commentary of the Koran should be clear to the reader.
Chapter 5 # Examining the Occasion of Revelation of the Verses
The Noble Koran was revealed over the span of twenty-three years, following a chain of questions and answers [from the people] or with various events and incidents taking place.
Having knowledge of the history of revelation of the verses offers us a clearer understanding of the meaning of each verse. However, this does not mean that without knowing the history of revelation we are unable to go forth and explain the Koran. Rather, since the verses of the Koran are a source of guidance, clear proofs, and the distinguisher between right and wrong, just as we are told that:
“…(this Koran is a) guide to mankind, and also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgement (between right and wrong)…” [2.185]
“…and We have sent down to you the manifest light (the Noble Koran)…” [4.174]
thus naturally, this is exactly what has been meant and even without referring to the history of revelation of the verses, we are able to clearly understand their meaning.
However, with shifting our attention to the history of revelation of the verses, their meaning will become clearer and even more manifest.
At this point, we present an example that proves what we have just stated.
It is mentioned in Suratul Tawbah that:
“(He - Allah - turned in mercy also) to the three who were left behind; (they felt guilty) to such a degree that the Earth seemed constrained to them for all its spaciousness, and their souls seemed straitened to them, and they perceived that there is no fleeing from Allah (and no refuge), but to Him. Then He turned to them that they might repent, for Allah is Oft-Returning, the Most Merciful.” [9.189]
There is no doubt that the meaning of the verse is clear, however a person would definitely have, in regards to the (deeper) meaning of this verse, the desire to know the following things:
1. Who are the three people referred to in this verse?
2. Why were they left behind?
3. How did the Earth become constrained for them?
4. How did their chests become straitened in regards to the life of this world and how did their souls face pressure?
5. How did they realize that other than Allah, there is no other source of refuge?
6. What is the meaning of the ability or opportunity given by Allah to humans (Tawfiq) in relation to these people?
The answers to each of these questions can easily be achieved by referring to the history of revelation of this verse.
At this stage, it would not be out of place to remind ourselves of the following point which is that any narration which details the history of revelation of a particular verse of the Koran can not automatically be accepted. Rather, in regards to the trustworthiness of a tradition which contains the history of revelation (of a verse), there must be some measurements in place through which, the correct and incorrect narrations can be weighed. This is especially true when it comes to the history of revelation of the verses of the Koran which relate the stories of the previous prophets and the past generations of people as in this area of review, precaution must not be neglected as many of the narrations which discuss the history of revelation (of these types of instances) have been related from unknown and unfamiliar sources and as we know, we can never (blindly) accept historical narrations from such sources.
Unfortunately, many of the commentaries of the Koran do not take this point into consideration and therefore, some commentators have gone forth to relate any narration which accounts the history of revelation – even from people who are not trustworthy or reliable!
Chapter 6 # Examining the Authentic Ahadith
Some of the verses of the Koran pertain to Islamic law and jurisprudence. They talk about the acts and deeds of those obligated to observe the Islamic laws and explain their rulings.
The number of such verses in the Koran are not few and some scholars enumerate such verses as being around five hundred! Although the actual number of such verses is fewer than this, however benefiting from them, without referring to the relevant authentic Islamic traditions is incorrect. This is because a majority of these are either general guidelines whose conditions and restrictions have been mentioned in the traditions of the Noble Prophet and his Infallible Successors or are universal laws whose exceptions were later explained by the sunnah of the Noble Prophet. It goes without saying that establishing a law by the absoluteness of the absolute form or the universality of the universal without referring to the limitations and exceptions is incorrect.
In order for this issue to be clear in the minds of the readers, we present the following examples.
1. There are issues in the Noble Koran, for which there can be found no explanation save in the Islamic ahadith and the conduct of the early Muslims. For example, the Koran has made salat, sawm, zakat, khums, and hajj obligatory, while it has given no details about them. Thus, we have no choice but to seek the details of these general acts from the Islamic ahadith and the conduct of the early Muslims. Hence without referring to these sources, any other kind of commentary and explanation about them would be equal to aspiring for the impossible. In explaining such verses, the method adopted by all the Muslims of the world from the early days of Islam until today has been the same [i.e. referring to the relevant authentic ahadith and the way of life of the Muslims].
2. In the Noble Koran there are general and absolute laws whose exceptions and limitations appear only in the sunnah of the Prophet and the traditions of the Infallible Imams.
This custom of not incorporating notes alongside laws is not restricted to the Koran. Rather, even legislative bodies of the world follow the same method: over a period of time in implementing the laws of a country, points of enlightenment and exceptions are incorporated into the laws. The difference however between the Koran and man made laws is that whereas the reason in separating the points of enlightenment from the original law in the case of the latter is the limitation of human awareness which requires annotations, exceptions and additions over time. In the Divine legal system, such limitation does not arise, and all the details of a law - whether those which are to be outdated or added in the future - are clear for a Law Maker like Allah. Nevertheless sometimes social interests necessitate that the specifics of the laws be expounded gradually, and not all at one place.
For example, the Koran has prohibited the taking of interest and has stated:
“And He (Allah) has prohibited interest.”
However, in the ahadith, we observe that in some circumstances, interest is permissible. For example: interest between a father and son or a husband and wife, and the benefits of such exceptions are completely clear, for in these examples, due to the uniformity of the kitty and the close relationship of both parties, interest does not bear an oppressive color and has thus been designated as lawful.
According to the verse of the Koran which reads:
“…whatever the Prophet gives to you, take it; and whatever he forbids you from, stay away from it…”
We Muslims must adopt all the commandments which have come from the Messenger of Allah and distance ourselves from all the things which he has forbidden us from doing.
Thus, if a commentator of the Koran wants to explain such verses of the Koran – whose number is not small – and was to rely solely on the verses of the Koran, and was to abstain from referring to the ahadith, then he would have acted against the verse of the Koran quoted above and in essence, would have neglected this verse of the Koran!
The need to explain and elucidate some of the verses of the Koran which deal with the practical laws of Islam (whether the general import of their meanings such as salat, zakat, etc. or exceptions and limitations, i.e. the points of enlightenment and exceptions in law) by way of the sunnah and ahadith, led the Fuqaha (Jurisprudents) to expound such verses separately, and write books that specifically concern such kind of verses. The best works and exegeses of this nature on the ayat al-ahkam are of al-Jassas, Fadil al-Miqdad, Muhaqqiq Ardibili and al-Jazairi.
In order for the esteemed reader to develop a greater understanding of this kind of exegesis, we present two other examples:
3. The Koran unconditionally permits any form of transaction and respects all forms of contracts, promises and pacts and considers it mandatory to act according to them. However, the sunnah of the Prophet and the ahadith – which are respected by all Muslims – proclaim some kinds of transactions as incorrect. For example, the buying and selling of instruments of gambling and intoxicant liquids, sales in transactions of munabadhah and the like, of which, all their details have been mentioned in the ahadith.
Therefore, expounding the verse of the Koran which reads:
“…And Allah has made business transactions permissible...”
without referring to these traditions would be incorrect and baseless.
Likewise is the case with the verse that reads:
“…Be truthful to all of your promises.”
Without referring to the ahadith which proclaim some conditions and pacts as futile and invalid, it would be incorrect to explain the verse.
For example the phrase of the ahadith which states:
“(Respect all conditions) except a condition which makes a forbidden act lawful and a lawful act impermissible.”
no longer allows us to adhere to the absolute meaning of the verse.
The issue which has just been mentioned is a tangible reality which every exegete of the Koran is able to appreciate from up close. In addition, it satisfies every realistic person as well. Besides, the Koran clearly bears witness that it requires the exposition of the Noble Prophet, who apart from reading it to the people, is also obliged to expound its meanings.
At this point, we bring forth some examples from the Koran, but will not go into detail in explaining them:
1. The first example is seen in the following verse:
“And We have sent down to you (Muhammad) The Reminder so that you may explain to mankind that which has been sent to them so that perhaps they may ponder and think upon it.”
This verse can only imply what we are trying to establish when we understand that the Prophet’s duty has been expounded by the words “لِتُبَيِّنَ” (so that you may expound) which is different from the phrase “لِتَقْرَأَ” (so that you may recite).
In other words the Prophet was commissioned to undertake two responsibilities:
a. Recitation of the verses of the Koran;
b. Explaining the verses of the Koran and elucidating its meanings. It should be known that this verse and its likes do not pertain to all the verses of the Koran, but verses whose meaning and details are impossible to know without an exposition from the Noble Prophet and his successors. Examples of these are the ambiguous verses of Islamic law or verses that require enlightenment and exceptions.
2. The second example is seen in the following verse:
“Do not move your tongue (Muhammad) to make haste with it (the recitation of the Koran). Surely upon Us lies the responsibility of collecting it and the reciting of it (the Koran). Therefore, when We have recited it, follow its recitation. Again on Us (devolves) the explaining of it (the Koran).”
In this verse of the Koran, we see that Allah has taken three responsibilities upon Himself:
a. Recitation of the Koran;
b. Collection of the verses of the Koran;
c. Explanation of the meaning of the verses of the Koran. It goes without saying that expounding the meaning of the Koran to the Prophet is only possible through Divine Revelation (Wahi) whereas the people are never directly addressed by Divine Revelation. The Divine Revelation on the Prophet is either depicted in the Koran or the sunnah of the Noble Prophet.
Therefore, in explaining the meanings of the verses of the Koran, one must refer to both of these sources (the Koran and the ahadith of the Prophet and his successors) and we must never suffice with just one of them.
In other words: In this verse, Allah prohibits the Prophet from hasty recitation; thereafter He takes the responsibility from the Prophet for the acts of collecting and reciting the verses and orders the Prophet to follow the Angel in recitation. Finally He (also) takes the responsibility of expounding and elucidating the contents, as the following phrase of the verse clearly reveals:
“Again on Us (devolves) the explaining of it (the Koran).”
Here, what is the actual meaning of the exposition that Allah takes responsibility of? We should not conjecture that it refers to the exposition of defining the words of the verses, for this has already been mentioned previously in the phrase:
“Surely upon Us is the responsibility of collecting it and the reciting of it (the Koran).”
Hence, there is no need for repetition of the same. Certainly, it refers to the exposition of those verses that require exposition from Allah, and His Messenger and his true successors, after having received the same through Revelation (Wahi) which they then hand over to the nation.
It should be known however that the aim is not that every verse of the Noble Koran needs exposition so that someone should say that the following verse too needs exposition:
“Surely Allah has power over all things.”
Rather, the purpose is that in order to be generally acquainted with the meaning of the Koran, we need an exposition of the Revelation. However at the moment, our discussion does not concern the quantitative dimension of such necessity.
Obviously, just as we had mentioned in regards to referring to the occasion of the revelation of the verses, one must not undertake to explain the Koran with any report or hadith. Rather, each tradition must be carefully reviewed from the point of view of its chain of narrators and contents, and (only) after ascertaining that it contains all the necessary conditions of reliability, can one seek assistance from it.
Suratul Baqarah (2), Verse 275
Suratul Hashr (59), Verse 7
 The following is an example of a munabadhah transaction: The buyer agrees with the seller: (in nabadhtahu ilayya, faqad ishtaraytuhu bikdha (If you throw the commodity to me, it means that I have already bought it for such and such amount.) (al-’Allamah al-Hilli, Tahrir al-Ahkam, v.2, p. 256). We must realize that according to some experts in Islamic law, not all kinds of transactions which taken place in this form are invalid. There are some specific extensions, which come under the valid transactions. (Ed.)
Suratul Baqarah (2), Verse 275
Suratul Ma`idah (5), Verse 1
Suratul Nahl (16), Verse 44
Suratul Qiyamat (75), Verses 16 to 19
Chapter 7 # A Consideration of the Harmony between all the Verses of the Koran
A Consideration of the Harmony between all the Verses of the Koran
What has been mentioned so far makes up the primary foundation of Koranic exegesis. However, one of the important conditions for the correctness of tafsir and its strength is that the commentator must not consider each verse of a particular surah as being separate from the other verses of the same surah as well as the verses of all other chapters of the Koran. The commentator must realize that all the verses have either a single goal behind them, or multiple goals, all of which can be summarized in one extensive goal.
The greatest stumbling block in the commentary of the Koran lies in this stage meaning that a person, due to his mere knowledge of the rules of Arabic grammar, goes forth to offer a commentary of a verse of the Koran, neglecting other similar verses revealed about the same issue. It was this very blunder in exegesis that resulted in the formation of different Islamic sects and ideologies, and every creed and founder of a new sect, in order to establish his ideology, brought proof and testimony from the Koran!
Who does not know that all of the different schools of Islamic thought, whether the Mujabbirah, the Muftazilah, the Mushabbihah, the Mujassimah, the Murjifah, or the other proponents of ideologies and sects based their theoretical beliefs upon various verses of the Koran and considered themselves to be among the followers of the Koran! This is while, save for one, all other creeds are false and are distanced from the guidance of the Koran.
When we search for the root cause of the emergence of these sects, we observe that the reason, or at least one of the reasons for them coming about is that each sect attached itself to a specific verse and was negligent of the other verses that spoke of the same subject which could have served as an exposition to first the verse.
There is no doubt that the Koran contains numerous verses, which if taken and studied on their own, may make one reach various (incorrect) conclusions such as that of the beliefs of: predestination, free-will, likening Allah to His creations, tanzih, belief in Allah having a body, etc. However, one can never state that all of these contrary and opposite beliefs and ideologies stem directly from the Divine Revelation (wahi) and that all of these make up the actual goals and objectives which the Koran has put forward, since the Koran clearly states that:
“And had this (Koran) come from any other than Allah then surely you would have found numerous discrepancies within it.”
This confusion can also be cleared up if we do not forget the unity and harmony which exists amongst the verses of the Koran.
In addition, we must keep in mind that the Koran has been described as possessing the following two characteristics:
a. Verses which are similar to one another;
b. Often repeated – from the point of view of their content (not necessarily repeated verbatim).
This is clearly seen in a verse of the Koran in which it is stated:
“Allah has revealed the best of discourses in the form of a Book, consistent with itself, (yet) repeating (its teachings in various aspects).”
Naturally, one thing may resemble something else and whereas it is possible that they may differ in some regards and aspects, however without doubt they would also have points of conformity and commonality amongst them and it is for this reason that they are referred to as being similar to one another. Therefore, in explaining one verse of the Koran, one must refer to all of the other verses which have been revealed in the same regard. At this point, from the collection of all the verses, a final opinion would be concluded, and this is how one should carry on the entire process of commentary of the Koran.
It is at this point that the necessity to search for another form of commentary of the Koran which is known as the ‘thematic exegesis’ of the Koran becomes obvious. The methodology used in such a commentary of the Koran is that all of the verses on a particular theme are – as much as is humanly possible – gathered together, and then at that point, one keeps in mind the context of each verse and compares one verse to another. From this overall review, one outcome is extracted.
The other form of exegesis of the Koran, meaning the explanation of the verses of the Koran in sequential order – chapter by chapter – is no doubt beneficial and very valuable, even for a select group of people and there is no other method of commentary of the Koran which would be as fruitful. Unfortunately however, the only way to remove the curtains which may cloud over the true goals and aims of the verses of the Koran is through the thematic exegesis of the Koran, as this is the true soul and essence of seeing the harmony in verses of the Koran. In addition, this is the same path which has been taken by the author of this (present) work in compiling, Manshur-e-Jawid-e-Koran - “The Everlasting Charter of the Koran” and the work, Mafahimul Koran - “The Understandings of the Koran”. Of course it goes without saying that these works of ours are not free from flaws and defects, and those who shall come in the future will complete and perfect this form of exegesis of the Koran, God willing.
It should be noted that ‘referring to the harmony in the sum of verses of the Koran’ is something other than the commentary of one verse (of the Koran) through employing another verse (of the Koran) which was mentioned in the third condition given above for which, the difference is extremely clear.
 This school of thought believes that man has no freedom and is merely a tool in the hands of Allah. (Tr.)
 They believe that man is totally free and Allah exercises no power over his action. (Tr.)
 The anthropomorphists [Gr.,=having human form]. This term refers to those who believed in the Divine having a human form or having human characteristics. (Tr.)
 Corporealists. (Tr.)
 They were of the view that faith and belief are sufficient for salvation and good deeds are not necessary. (Tr.)
 Tanzih or ‘Deanthropomorphism’ literally refers to the belief of, “ridding of philosophy or religion of anthropomorphic beliefs and doctrines.” However, this belief becomes misleading when one disregards every perfect trait that the human being possesses and believes that Allah is free from the perfect attributes. This is incorrect, for Allah possesses all of the perfect attributes but in the infinite and absolute form. Thus, for example, we cannot say that Allah has no mercy because man has mercy, but rather that ‘Allah has mercy, but in the Absolute sense.’ His mercy, unlike human mercy, does not follow the state of pity, which is “a state of change”. [Tr.]
Suratul Nisa (4), Verse 82
Suratul Zumur (39), Verse 23
 The thematic exegesis of the Koran written in Farsi. Fourteen volumes have been published to date.
 The thematic exegesis of the Koran written in ‘Arabic. Seven volumes have been published to date. This work can be read in its entirety at www.imamsadeq.org
Chapter 8 # Examining the Context of the Verses of the Koran
Paying attention to the context of the verses, that is which comes before and after a particular verse (which we wish to comment upon) is in some ways, a branch of the sixth prerequisite of tafsir – consideration of the harmony that exists in all the verses of the Koran.
For example, we know that the Koran speaks about various issues and brings forth numerous verses in regards to a specific topic. In such an instance, referring to only one verse and neglecting the other verses would not result in anything but inexactitude and distancing oneself from the true goal of this Noble Book.
However it is not only the Koran which, in trying to comprehend its sentences, must be understood and explained by seeing everything which comes before and after a particular verse. Rather, in order to explain the words of any wise person, this method (which is currently being discussed) must be employed.
In order for this discussion to be clear in the minds, we present the following examples:
In Suratul Araf (7), verse 35, Allah says:
“O children of Adam! If there come to you Messengers from among yourselves, relating My communications to you, then whoever shall guard (against evil) and act aright, they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.”
In explaining this verse of the Koran, if we abstain from referring to that which came before and after it and simply take the verse on its own, then its meaning would be that the Koran has kept the door open for other prophets to come after the Noble Prophet Muhammad and has not shut the door of prophethood. However we know that in another verse of the Koran, it is stated that Prophet Muhammad is the final and seal of all the prophets (and none shall come after him) just as we read:
“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last (and seal) of the prophets, and Allah is cognizant of all things.”
The root of these two opposite conclusions is that in the commentary of the first verse mentioned, there was no attention paid to the context of the verse and it was reviewed without keeping in mind the commentary of the verses that came before or after it. However, if one simply refers to the Koran itself, they would have seen that this verse is only one section of a collection of twenty-six verses (verses eleven to thirty-six) of Suratul Araf (7) which elucidate upon an event that took place at the beginning of the creation of humanity. Thus, we see that these verses are in regards to the time period of the creation of Adam, his being removed from
In such an instance in time (when this was happening), Allah addressed the sons of Adam and told them, “O’ children of Adam! If a prophet comes to you, then whosoever of you displays consciousness (Taqwa) of Allah and chooses the path of righteousness shall have no fear or grief!”
There is no doubt that after Adam settled down on Earth, countless prophets came from Allah to guide mankind and all of their missions were one and the same:
“…then whoever shall guard (against evil) and act aright, they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.”
Such an address (by Allah) which took shape at the beginning of creation does not prevent us from accepting the fact that our Prophet (Muhammad) is the final prophet and it is through him that the door of Propethood, which up until the point in time (of him coming) had been open for so many years, was shut to humanity for various reasons.
Thus in summary: In this instance, the Koran is addressing a specific period and is relating an incident to us. However this does not mean that this is something that would take shape after the revelation of this verse that is being reported about (that another prophet would come).
This reality only becomes apparent when we know that the collection of twenty-six verses (verses 11 to 36) of the Koran in Suratul Araf (7) are directly addressing the (actual) children of Adam as is seen when they are directly spoken to three times by the phrase, “O’ Children of Adam!” (يا بني آدم) as can be seen in the verses below:
“O’ Children of Adam! Surely we have sent down to you clothing…”
“O’ Children of Adam! Do not let Satan test you as He ousted your parents…”
“O’ Children of Adam! If there come to you Messengers from among yourselves…”
In another instance in which the Koran speaks about the beginning of creation, we see the same wordings being used, such as in the following example:
“Did I not take a covenant from you, O children of Adam that you should not serve Satan?”
This form of addressing (by Allah) is related to the period of the beginning of creation and is in accordance with that occasion and is not in reference to the time of the Noble Prophet of Islam.
With this explanation, it becomes clear that the address in the verse under review is among the first Divine addresses at the time of the beginning of creation. Thus, there is no substance in relating them to the issue of the finality of prophethood and the source of this error in judgment is due to not paying attention to the context of the verses.
A Consideration of the Context of the Verses and the Successively Narrated Ahadith
Even though referring to that which comes before and after a particular verse (in understanding its true meaning) is one of the keys for a correct and accurate exegesis of the Koran, unfortunately, the context of the verse is effectual only when the verse under review is not proven to be independent of the verses which came before and after it. When it is proven to be independent of the verses around it, then we cannot refer to the context of the verses in order to explain and comment upon it.
A study of the verses of the Koran confirms the fact that sometimes (and we stress on the word sometimes) before the Koran finishes speaking about a particular topic, it may bring a new theme into the discussion. Then when it finishes with that topic, it would revert to the original theme of discussion and this is one of specialties of the Koran. This is the same thing that is more or less, seen in the words of eloquent and articulate speakers as well.
Of course, our purpose in stating this is not to say that in the Koran, within the confines of a particular discussion, another topic is brought up which has absolutely no relevance or bearing to the original discussion. Technically speaking, we do not wish to state that one verse that is built upon a specific theme and issue is mixed in with other verses that are related to other topics and themes and intrudes or interrupts the flow of verses. Rather, our meaning here is that at the same time that it safeguards the perspective of the verses, before concluding a topic within the initial discussion, a new topic is also introduced and the first topic is then completed in the (remaining) verses.
Examples of this Issue
In Suratul Baqarah (2) in verses 221 to 240, the Koran brings forth issues related to husband, wife, children, the issues of divorce and the death of the husband. The entire collection of verses of this section is completely in unity and harmony with one another.
However, after verse 237, in verses 238 and 239 we see that the issue of protecting the salat, especially the ‘middle’ salat has been mentioned and the performance of the salat in the state of jihad has also been brought up. After this, we see that the verses then revert to the initial topic (of marriage and family life). Thus, what is the suitability for these two verses to come up in the middle of the discussion on family issues? At present, this is not our discussion however this is something that we are able to perceive by reviewing these verses.
Nevertheless, at this point, in order for this issue to be understandable for the readers, we bring forth these verses of the Koran:
“And if you divorce them (women) before you have touched them (had sexual relations with them) and you have appointed for them a portion (dowry), then (pay to them) half of what you have appointed, unless they relinquish or he should relinquish in whose hand is the marriage tie; and it is nearer to righteousness that you should relinquish; and do not neglect the giving of free gifts between yourselves; surely Allah sees what you do. Attend constantly to prayers and to the middle prayer and stand up truly obedient to Allah. But if you are in danger, then (say your prayers) on foot or on horseback; and when you are secure, then remember Allah as He has taught you what you did not know. And those of you who die and leave wives behind, (make) a bequest in favour of your wives of maintenance for a year without turning (them) out, then if they themselves go away, there is no blame on you for what they do of lawful deeds by themselves, and Allah is Mighty, Wise.”
As can be seen in these verses, the first and last past of this section are in regards to the issue of marriage and relations while the verses in the middle are in regards to protecting the salat – with special emphasis on the middle salat and the salat at the time of fear (such as war or from an enemy, etc.).
Therefore, whenever clear and unambiguous proofs such as a successively narrated hadith (mutawatir) or a hadith which accompanies hints that necessitate knowledge of the content of the tradition contradict the context of the verses, then we must act according to the conclusion which we have reached from the ahadith. Thus, in such an instance, we must not regard the context of the verses of the Koran, but rather focus our attention on the correct ahadith.
We present the following two examples to further elucidate this issue:
a. In Suratul Ahzab (33), from verses 28 to 35, the Koran discusses the wives of the Noble Prophet of Islam. However in verse 33, we see the following sentence:
“Surely Allah wishes to remove all forms of impurity from you, Ahlul Bayt, and to purify you with a thorough purification.”
The context of the verses before and after would tell us that this verse is related directly to the wives of the Noble Prophet of Islam. However, the successively narrated ahadith which have come to us from both sides (the Shi’a and the Ahlus Sunnah) tell us that this verse was revealed in regards to a specific group of people who have been beautified with the adornment of infallibility. Thus in this instance, the undeniable ahadith take precedence over the context of this verse.
Other than this, there is even clear proof in the verse itself to prove that this part of the verse is not in regards to the wives of the Prophet of Islam. These two proofs are the masculine pronoun used in the word “عَنْكُمْ” and “يُطَهِّرَكُمْ” which announce to us that there is no relationship between this part of the verse and that which has come before it in regards to the wives of the Prophet Muhammad.
Then, why has the purity and infallibility of the Ahlul Bayt been mentioned within the discussion concerning the wives of the Prophet of Islam? This is not part of our discussion here and thus we leave it at that.
b. In Suratul Ma`idah (5), from verses 1 to 5, the Koran speaks in a particular way about meat and other issues regarding food. However in the middle of the third verse, we read:
“On this day, I have perfected your religion for you and have completed My bounties upon you and have been pleased to choose Islam as your religion.”
The rule of reviewing the context of the verses of the Koran, commands us to accept that the part of the verse quoted above is in regards to the day when various things were forbidden for consumption such as the animal which has died on its own, blood, the flesh of swine and other things. Thus, the meaning of ‘this day’ (أليوم) as mentioned in this part of the verse is the day when these things were made prohibited for human consumption. However the clear and unambiguous proofs and the successively narrated ahadith state that this part of the verse was not revealed in regards to the prohibition of various types of meat. Rather, we are told that this part of the verse was revealed in regards to the Day of Ghadir [18th of Dhul Hijjah] – the day when the faith and teachings of Islam were perfected and completed through the designation of the leader of the community [after the Prophet of Islam - that being Imam ’Ali b. Abi Talib.]
Thus, the commentator of the Koran who is seeking to display the realities (of the Koran) must refrain from explaining the verse according to the context of that which has come before and after it and must instead refer to the definite ahadith in this regard.
In this issue, there are many more examples which we can bring to act as proofs for our statements, however in order to keep this discussion brief, we shall not mention them here.
The ‘Arabic word, ‘إِمَّا’ mentioned in this verse was originally two words – ‘إِنْ’ and ‘مَا’ however since the area of pronunciation of these two words is very similar in the ‘Arabic language, the letter ‘ن’ was merged with the letter ‘م’. In reality, the word ‘إِمَّا’ is actually in the meaning of a ‘condition’ and thus, the meaning of this verse becomes, “Surely IF messengers come to you…”
Suratul Ahzab (33), Verse 40
Suratul A’raf (7), Verse 26
Ibid., Verse 27
Ibid., Verse 35
Suratul Baqarah (2), Verse 237 to 240
Suratul Ahzab (33), Verse 33
In our work, Mafahimul Koran, vol. 5, and The Third Path, we have discussed this verse in great detail and have proven, through using the undeniable proofs that the meaning of Ahlul Bayt is reserved for a specific group of people who were clearly identified by the Noble Prophet of Islam.
Suratul Ma`idah (5), Verse 3
Chapter 9 # Awareness of the Various Viewpoints and Opinions
Being fully aware of the various viewpoints and opinions of Muslim commentators on the Koran who have spent their entire lives engrossed in the Koran, and who can rightfully be called the ‘teachers of the science of the Koran’ is another foundation necessary in the commentary of this Noble Book.
There is no doubt that from the first day of revelation of the Koran, due to the awareness of the people about the occasions of revelation and the prevalent circumstances during revelation, a great deal of the understandings of the verses were clear to them and in understanding the goals of the Koran, they were not in need of seeking out the viewpoints and opinions (of others). However, due to the gap in time (between the era of the Prophet - the revelation of the Koran and our time), and since those points of the history of revelation are no longer with us, we must seek assistance through the thoughts and viewpoints which would assist us in understanding the issues in regards to the history of revelation. We must never go forth to explain the verses of the Koran without this in place since the thoughts and reflections of a group of people are always at a higher level than the thoughts and reflections of an individual. As we know there is a possibility of an individual falling into error in thought more so than when we reflect and review the thoughts of a group of people.
Of course, what we have just mentioned here is something other than the issue of making our own thoughts and reflections the slave of what others think and giving up the freedom of thought (on the verses of the Koran). Rather, the purpose here is that in going forth in the commentary of a verse of the Koran, we should not be negligent of the opinions of other commentators, nor should we ignore what others have said, since it is very well possible that by referring to what others have stated, it may actually assist us in choosing an opinion and outcome or may also help us deflecting an error of judgement.
At this point, another issue must be mentioned which is that at what time in the course of the explanation of the verses of the Koran must a commentator refer to the other opinions concerning a particular verse of the Koran? Must he first review and study the various opinions in regards to a particular verse and then when he has become aware of the various opinions, puts forth his struggles and endeavors to separate the truth from falsehood? Or, would he first struggle to bring forth a commentary of his own and then after this, when he is ready to introduce his opinions, he would then refer to the beliefs and thoughts of other people (to compare his work to)?
For the novice in the field of commentary of the Koran, the first path is the most beneficial to take, while the person who is a well-read researcher may choose the second path.
Many times it can be seen that becoming acquainted with the opinions and viewpoints of others may actually prevent a person from going forth to conduct his own independent research and investigation (thus limiting the work of the expert).
Chapter 10 # Distancing Oneself from any Form of Prejudgment
Going forth to study the verses of the Koran with preconceived notions is one of the greatest of dilemmas in the exegesis of the Koran. The person who, with prefabricated beliefs looks at the Koran and feels that his goal is to search for proofs to back up his own predetermined thoughts through the Koran will never become aware of the true objectives of the Koran and will not be able to reach his outcome.
The commentator of the Koran must look towards this Book with complete objectivity and with no sort of preconceived notions so that he may be able to arrive at the true objectives of the Koran.
Any sort of preconceived ideas act as a major veil between the commentator and the (true) objectives of the Koran and will lead the commentator to having the Koran submit to his beliefs rather than he submitting to the Koran. Instead of being a student of the Koran, he would try to become the teacher of the Koran (imposing his beliefs on the text of the Koran)!
The narrators of hadith from within the Muslim world are in complete agreement that the Noble Prophet has stated that:
“Whosoever interprets the Koran according to his own opinion must take for himself a place in the hell fire.”
The meaning of ‘interpreting the Koran according to one’s own opinion’ can be nothing other than that which we have just mentioned.
The interpretation of one verse of the Koran with the assistance of another verse, like when an allegorical verses of the Koran is interpreted by using one of the decisive verses of the Koran, is not in the least problematic. Such a form of interpretation is not considered as commentary of the Koran according to one’s own opinion. Rather, this is elucidating upon the Koran through employing the Koran itself which is something which we have already spoken about in one of our previous discussions.
What is not permissible is that without relying upon other verses of the Koran and the definitive ahadith, due to a person’s previously formed opinions and ideas, he goes forth to explain the verses of the Koran with his own goals in mind! It goes without saying that if a person did not have such preconceived notions (to implant into the Koran) then he would never think about interpreting the Koran in such a fashion.
In the course of history, we see groups of people, referred to as the Batiniyyah [those who claimed to be researching into the inward content of the verses of the Koran] and others who claimed to be ’Urafa` (mystics), and as of recent, other misguided groups - even within our own era - who have played around with the verses of the Koran who have sought to explain The Book according to their own wishes. Not only are these people themselves misguided, rather, they are also the source of misguiding others!
At this point, we bring forth the following simple example and leave the detailed examples and illustrations for another time.
There are a series of verses (19-22) in Suratul Rahman (55) which read:
“He has made the two seas to flow freely (so that) they meet together. Between them is a barrier that they cannot pass. Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny? There comes forth from them pearls, and coral.”
In these verses, the following topics are covered:
1. There are two bodies of water which meet together.
2. Between these two bodies of water, there is a barrier present which does not permit the waters to mix with one another.
3. From these two bodies of water, there are jewels such as pearls and coral, which are extracted.
What is the meaning of these two seas or bodies of water from which pearls and coral are extracted? What is the meaning of the two different types of water which meet together somewhere in this, world; however, as we are told, the water of one sea never mixes with the water of the other sea? Is the difference in the two types of water a natural one - such as one being sweet and delicious tasting water, while the other one is salty and bitter; or is one body of water clear, transparent (clean) water while the other is dark, murky and dirty? Where do these two bodies of water exist in the world today and where can they be found? At present, our discussion is not the actual location of these bodies of water. However, when Muhy ad-Din al-Arabi, who was absorbed in the teachings of mysticism (’Irfan) and philosophy, went forth to comment on these verses, he did so with a mind so engrossed in philosophy and mysticism that he wrote:
“The meaning of the ‘bitter body of water’ are the corporeal and physical issues (related to the human being) whereas the meaning of the ‘sweet and pleasant body of water’ is the human spirit; both of these meet in the existence of the human being, and the barrier and separator between them is the ‘animal soul’, which although does not reach to the level of the human spirit in terms of purity and refinement, is higher and better than the physical body in terms of darkness and murkiness. At the same time neither of the two dimensions transcend their boundary: neither does the spirit bestow immateriality to the body, nor does the body make the spirit descend and place it among the material entities.”
This example should give us a good understanding of what ‘exegesis of the Koran according to one’s own personal opinion’ is and how such a preconceived notion and belief (in a particular science or discipline) can have an effect on the actual commentary of the Koran which a person wishes to express.
Tafsir of Ibne Arabi. This is just one example of exegesis of the Koran according to one’s own personal opinion and the book of Tafsir of Ibne ‘Arabi, just as his work Fususul Hikm is full of such examples of Tafsir of the Koran according to his own personal whims and opinions which is both – from the viewpoint of the intellect and also the Islamic jurisprudence – not permissible.
Chapter 11 # Awareness of the Philosophical and Scientific Theories
Having an awareness of the philosophical and scientific theories is a valuable source for the mind which would permit the intellect to expand and would lead to valuable interpretations of the Koran. By this we mean that although one must keep away from any form of explanation of the Koran according to one’s own personal opinion and must not seek to interpret the Koran in order to justify and validate one’s preconceived beliefs and thoughts, however at the same time, possessing an awareness of the thoughts and theories of the great philosophers of Islam in regards to monotheism (Tawhid), the characteristics and actions of Allah and other issues in relation to the beginning of creation and resurrection, in addition to having knowledge and understanding of the physical properties and makeup of the world and of mankind, will all lead one to having a better insight. In the end, this awareness and knowledge would actually allow a person to gain more benefit from the Koran.
Today, humanity has made great progress in attaining knowledge of the Earth, universe, and animal kingdom. Humankind has arrived at new horizons of understanding in regards to the sciences of psychology and sociology. Although it is correct to assert that not all of the knowledge that has been gained up until today is completely correct, however having a better understanding of the scientific breakthroughs and discoveries can lead a person’s philosophical and scientific awareness to become stronger. This acts as a source of blossoming of the mind of the commentator of the Koran, and grants him a special ability through which he would be able to make use of the Koran in the most complete way.
We narrate the following example in this regard to better understand this point.
The six verses mentioned in the beginning of Suratul Hadid (57) are the most clear proofs and words which we have in our possession to better understand this point. In this example of ours, we shall refer to and quote only two verses along with their translation:
“He is the First and the Last and the Apparent and the Hidden and He has knowledge of all things. He it is Who created the Heavens and the Earth in six days; then settled on the Throne. He knows that which goes deep down into the Earth and that which comes forth out of it, and that which comes down from the sky and that which goes up into it, and He is with you wherever you are. And Allah sees what you do.”
The philosophical and theological points mentioned in these two verses of the Koran (and indeed in the other four verses which follow) are so great that Imam ’Ali b. Husayn as-Sajjad has stated the following in regards to these verses:
“(These verses and indeed this chapter of the Koran) were revealed for those people who would come at the end of time who would go forth in deep thinking and pondering.”
There is not a single person who could objectively state that with mere knowledge of the Arabic language, he would be able to elucidate upon these verses of the Koran. When we (for example) go forth to translate these verses into Farsi, we would still remain in a state of ambiguity and uncertainty in regards to the actual purport of these verses.
However, the knowledge which we have gained through what the researchers of Islam have stated in regards to the encompassing nature of an entity and the science of the beginning of creation, act as a tool which permits the blossoming of the mind, which in turn leads us to having a better understanding of the substance of these verses of the Koran.
Is it possible for a person who has never studied anything and never seen a teacher to reach to the depths of the sentence which reads:
“And He is with you wherever you may be.”
Can anyone who does not possess deeply grounded knowledge in the teachings of the Divine understand the reality of the part of the verse that reads:
“He (Allah) is the First and the Last, the Apparent and the Hidden…”
We must repeat this point that: Our purpose in stating this issue is not that we go forth and interpret the Koran through the use of Greek or Islamic philosophy or through employing the new sciences and that we compare the Koran with these fallible theories. If this was the case, then surely this would be nothing other than commentary of the Koran through our own opinion which is, as we know and as was previously mentioned, prohibited both through employing the logical understanding and the Islamic legislations! Rather, our aim here is that this form of awareness and knowledge (of other sciences and theories) would actually give our intellect the power and strength to better understand the verses of the Koran with a much more careful precision and in which we would be in a better position to appreciate the aims and goals intended by this Heavenly Book.
Today, the discussions of the psychologists and sociologists in regards to mankind and the studies of the scholars of the natural sciences in regards to the Earth and Universe have opened up new horizons in understanding the Koran and have given people in this day and age, the power to look at the Koran in a new light.
At this point, the greatness contained in the words of the eighth Imam, ’Ali b. Musa al-Rida are made manifest. Once, a person asked the Imam the following question:
“Why does the publication and study of the Koran, increase its freshness and newness?”
The Imam replied:
“This is because Allah, the Blessed and the High, did not make it (the Koran) for a particular time period nor for a specific group of people. Therefore it is new for every time and fresh for every nation until the Day of Resurrection.”
Perhaps it is due to this very reason that Ibne Abbas has said:
“Time interprets the Koran.”
The meaning of time is the different thoughts and sciences that appear in the human society, which bestow a new vision to the exegete of the Koran, as a result of which he derives such information from the Koran that the minds of his predecessors never contained.
Suratul Hadid (57), Verses 3 & 4
Tafsirul Burhan, vol. 1, pg. 28
Chapter 12 # Understanding of the Early History of Islam
The meaning of the ‘early history of Islam’ are those events which took place after the official appointment of the Prophet Muhammad – specifically that which occurred after the migration to Madinah as a [significant] portion of the verses of the Koran were revealed after this event. Thus, amongst all of these events, having knowledge of the history of the battles and expeditions which were carried out is very effective in offering commentary on some of the verses of the Koran.
There are numerous verses in regards to events such as the Battles of Badr, Uhud, Ahzab; the event of Bani Mustalaq; the peace treaty of Hudaybiyyah; the victory over the city of
In this regard, one must refer to the authentic and true historical accounts, which have been written by the impartial and nonaligned historians. Through employing a systematic and methodical process, the correct historical accounts must be separated from the unauthentic reports.
Of course, within the books of history and biography, there are unfounded reports and narrations which are not in line with our Islamic beliefs, nor are they congruent with the verses of the Koran. Thus for the researcher who possesses awareness of the principles of history, he would be able to differentiate between the truth and falsehood (in these historical reports).
In this regard, we can recommend the following books: as-Sirah of Ibne Hisham, Murujul Dhahab of al-Masudi, Imtiaul Asma of al-Maqrizi and al-Kamil by Ibne Athir. However, it must be understood that we can not accept the entire content of these books. Rather as can be seen, some of them contain issues which have absolutely no foundation and go against both the intellect and the narrated proofs!
For example: In al-Kamil by Ibne Athir, when he relates the incident of Zaid and his wife, Zainab, he mentions something which no one other than an open and aware enemy [of Islam and the Prophet] would claim to have occurred.
In addition, in regards to the attack of the army [from
The work, as-Sirah of Ibne Hisham, is the best book which has been written in regards to the life of the Noble Prophet of Islam. In actuality, this book is a summary of the work, as-Sirah of Ibne Ishaq, which is unfortunately no longer available. If however, the Muslim scholars are able to find a copy of this book in any of the libraries of the world and after making minor corrections and some additional research (on the sources referred to in the book) are then able to have this work printed, then it would not be inconceivable that this book would open up a new horizon on the life of the Prophet for us which the Sirah of Ibne Hisham has not been able to accomplish! It should be kept in mind that Ibne Ishaq was a Shi’a, while the one who summarized his work, meaning Ibne Hisham, was a Sunni, and thus, in various issues, there was a difference of opinion between them.
12. Familiarity with the Stories and the History of the Lives of Previous Prophets
A great portion of the verses of the Koran are in relation to the history of the previous prophets and we are given a brief insight into the lives of some of these great men and the ways of their struggles with the oppressors and tyrants of their time.
Having knowledge of the history of the life of previous nations such as ’Ad and Thamud, or having knowledge of the satanic powers of the oppressors such as those in Babil [present day fIraq] and the Pharaohs of Egypt, make the verses which speak of the struggles of the various prophets such as Hud, Salih, Ibrahim and Musa clear to us.
Information on the lives of the prophets of the Children of Israel (Bani Isra’il), especially of prophets Dawud and Sulayman help us understand many of the verses of the Koran. In referring to the verses of the Koran in regards to these two individuals, the truthfulness in our words (in regards to these two prophets) would be made clear to everyone.
Of course in this section, we must not give up our prudence and caution (in conducting research) and must recognize the correct and authentic reports from the incorrect and unauthentic ones, especially when it comes to the prophets sent to the Children of Israel and the forged traditions known as “Isra’ili” narrations, which are large in number and can never be relied upon.
13. Knowledge of the Historical Environment in which the Koran was Revealed
The Koran was revealed in an environment in which the people were accustomed to a particular style of life and thus, the verses of the Koran which were sent down were suitable to and alluded to the lifestyle, traditions and customs of those people. In addition, the verses also went forth to comment on these people and their (negative) characteristics!
Thus, it is necessary for the commentator of the Koran to be aware of the lifestyle of the ’Arabs before Islam and even those contemporary to the revelation of the Koran so that they are able to clearly understand the verses of the Koran in relation to a particular theme.
For example, the Koran speaks about various issues and topics such as Azlam (animals which have been slaughtered as a sacrifice to the various false gods and idols), and the various idols such as Wadda, Suwaf, Yaghuth, Yafuqa and Nasra. In addition, the Koran also speaks about issues such as the morals and ethical traits of the ’Arabs and their repulsive acts such as the killing of their female infants. The verses of the Koran also speak about the relationship which the Arabs had with the orphans of the society and tens of other topics in relation to the life of the Arabs before Islam and during the time of the Prophet. Thus, the ability to completely review and explain the verses of the Koran in regards to these issues can only be performed by the person who has a full understanding of the complete way of life of this group of people since the Koran was revealed in the environment and surroundings of these people.
Sometimes, the Koran presents the truths to us in the form of a parable [such as the parable of the falsehood being equated with seeing a mirage in the desert]. However the only person who is able to understand the reality of the parable (of a mirage) is one who has an understanding of life in the desert or lives in a dry and arid land with little to no agriculture.
For example, when Allah mentions the parable of the truth and falsehood as being like a mirage, which one sees and He says:
“And (as for) those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage in the desert, which the thirsty man deems to be water.”
The person who lives in the desert or who has knowledge of the life of such people would be able to better understand the actuality of this parable whereas the person who lives near the banks of a river or in a very grassy, lush area would not, in the beginning stages, be able to fully understand the actuality of this similitude.
 al-Kamil by Ibne Athir, vol. 2, pg. 121
Ibid., vol. 1, pg. 263
Suratul Maidah (5), Verses 3 and 90
Suratul Takwir (81), Verse 8
Suratul Nur (24), Verse 39
Chapter 13 # Knowing the Verses of the Koran which are “Makki” and “Madani”
In regards to the time of their revelation, the verses of the Koran are divided into two categories – they are either verses which were revealed before the migration (to Madinah), or those which were revealed after the migration (to Madinah). The first group of verses are known as ‘Makki’ while the second group are referred to as ‘Madani.’
The Makki verses have their own particular style to them and the Madani verses also have their own style.
The verses which are referred to as ‘Makki’ were revealed at a time in which the Muslims lived the life of a small “unknown” group who did not have the power to stand up and struggle against those who opposed them. The condition of their lives did not permit them to go forth to elucidate upon the practical laws of Islam such as Salat, Sawm, Zakat, Khums and Jihad. Therefore, a majority of the verses of the Makki period were in regards to the polytheists and a majority of these verses of the Koran were in regards to elucidating on the beliefs and lofty theological issues of the faith of Islam.
However, the conditions which existed in Madinah were of another form and after seeing that the environment was friendly to them, the Muslims emerged as a powerful force. Consequently, the explanation of the practical laws of Islam was entirely possible. It is for this reason that the verses in relation to the practical laws of Islam such as those of Salat, Sawm, Zakat, Khums and Jihad were revealed in the city of
Being aware of these two types of verses will definitely help a person reach the goal of the verses of the Koran.
The scholar who is not able to correctly differentiate which verse is Makki and which is Madani, may say, in regards to the verse which reads:
“…Say (O’ Muhammad): I ask you (Muslims) no reward for my work except love for my close family members.”
that it was not revealed in regards to the family of the Prophet since the Surah which this verse comes from is a Makki chapter and was revealed in the city of
However, if we look at the books written in regards to the recognition of the Makki verses from the Madani verses, it would be clear to such a commentator that simply because a chapter of the Koran is known to be a Makki chapter does not mean that all of the verses of that Surah were revealed in Makkah! It is possible that Makki verses may be found in chapters of the Koran which are known as Madani and vice versa.
More than this, the commentators of the Koran who have considered Suratul Shura (which is where the verse quoted above has been taken from) to be revealed in Makkah have mentioned that specifically this verse (under discussion) and a few other verses of this Surah are Madani.
What has been mentioned up until this point are fourteen fundamental pillars of a correct method of commentary of the Koran, some of which have a particular priority associated with them. Even though we are able to group some of them with others in the discussion, such as the eleventh and twelfth points which were ‘knowledge of the history of Islam’ and ‘knowledge of the previous prophets sent and their stories’, which could technically be covered under the heading of ‘knowledge of the history of revelation of the verses of the Koran’, however in order to make this discussion clear and unambiguous, we decided to review each of these separately.
The common and well-known terminologies which are used in the commentary of the verses of the Koran are ‘Makki’ and ‘Madani’, just as has been stated. However, these verses are known with other words and terminologies which those who are specialists in the field of Tafsir are well acquainted with.
Suratul Shura` (42), Verse 23
 We are able to discern which surahs were revealed in Makkah and which were revealed in Madinah by keeping the following two points in mind:
1. The traditions (ahadith) which mention to us the place of revelation of a specific surah.
2. Pondering over the contents of the verses of the surah as this action usually acts as a chain of events and tells us if the surah was revealed in Makkah or Madinah.
Seeing as how the cities of Makkah and Madinah were two completely different environments, we understand that each was governed by its own ways of thought, and thus the religion of Islam was put face to face with issues and difficulties which were specific to that particular area. Thus, after we are acquainted with the way of thinking and the particular issues of an area (Makkah or Madinah), and have studied the contents of a surah, we are then able to understand where the surah or the verses of the surah were revealed.
For instance, the environment of Makkah was polluted with polytheism and idol worship. The Jews and Christians had not permeated into this city and thus, those who had true faith (iman) were very small in number. The issue of jihad was not brought up in this environment and in during this time, the Prophet had frequent dealings and relations with the idol worshippers. The point of difference of the Prophet with the polytheists (of Makkah) was concerning tawhid (the Oneness of Allah) and the concept of being brought back to life on the Day of Judgment after the physical death in this world.
It is for this reason that the verses whose axis rotates around the discussion of issues such as the origin (of life), Resurrection Day, reproaching polytheism and speaking about the outcome of the previous generations which were inflicted with the anger and punishment of Allah due to not following His commandments and their appointed Messengers were most often revealed in Makkah.
However the environment in Madinah was an atmosphere of faith, virtue and piety. It was a center where the Ahlul Kitab - especially the Jews – had influenced and permeated into. It was an atmosphere of young men, heroes, champions and brave individuals who readily accepted the teachings of Islam. In addition, it was also an environment where the Muslims had little need to discuss the foundational beliefs (Usul ad-Din) of the religion, and thus it was time for them to become acquainted with a series of other issues including their practical responsibilities, ethical and societal guidelines and the performance of devotional acts such as salat, sawm (fasting), zakat and other issues. It is because of this fact that the verses in relation to the Tawrat and Injil and the beliefs of the Ahlul Kitab (Jews and Christians) and the explanation of the altercations, battles and wars of the Muslims with the Ahlul Kitab and the polytheists were revealed in Madinah.
Also, the verses which speak of the principles of etiquette and the commandments of the religion including the obligatory (wajib) and recommended (mustahab) acts were all revealed in Madinah – meaning after the migration (hijrah) of the Prophet from Makkah to Madinah.
Given that the mood in Madinah was one of interaction between the Prophet and the Ansar (the local people of Madinah who welcomed the Prophet and his followers to their city) and other groups that slowly accepted the teachings of Islam, this limited time frame did not permit the Prophet to discuss issues such as condemning the idols and idol worshippers (while in Madinah – as they had already been covered while in Makkah).
Conversely, the atmosphere in Makkah was not conducive to discussing ethical issues, since the people of Makkah still held doubts concerning the principles of Islam (origin of life and Day of Resurrection), did not attest to the prophetic mission of the Prophet of Islam and had not yet developed faith in his universal message. [Taken from, The Islamic Moral System: A Commentary of Surat al-Hujurat by Ayatullah Ja’far Suhani translated by Saleem Bhimji]
Chapter 14 # Question On the Phrase “Clear Arabic
Up until this point, the conditions and fundamental pillars upon which a correct commentary of the Koran lie upon have been made clear. However in relation to this, a question is raised which we must answer: What is the meaning of the phrase mentioned in the Koran of “عَرَبِيٌِ مُبِينٌ”or that the Koran has been presented in “Clear Arabic”?
If the commentary of the Koran requires such a series of preparatory steps as have been mentioned, then why has the Koran referred to itself with the following description:
“And this (the Koran) is in a clear, understandable, Arabic.”
In another instance, we read:
“The Trustworthy Spirit (Jibra`il) has brought this (the Koran) to your (Muhammad) heart so that you may be amongst the warners, in a clear, understandable, Arabic.”
Is the meaning of these two verses and many other similar verses anything other than the fact that the only thing needed to explain the Koran is an awareness of the Arabic language and nothing else?
Seeing as how the polytheistic Arabs felt powerless in regards to the challenges being offered in the Koran, they were incessantly plunged into deep thought about the origin of this Book. Thus in the end they had to state that, “Muhammad learned the Koran from two Roman slaves named Jabr and Yasar and others like them”, and this is what has been alluded to in a verse of the Koran where it states:
“And certainly We indeed know that they say, “It is a mortal human being who teaches him (Muhammad).” The tongue (language) of him, they wickedly point to, is notably foreign, while this is Arabic, pure and clear.”
The original meaning of the word “عجم” is something that is vague or ambiguous and thus a person would be called an “أعجمي” (one who is a non-Arab) whose mode of expression was defective – whether he was an Arab or a non-Arab. Seeing as how the Arab did not have an awareness of other than his own language, the non-Arab referred to others as Ajam as well since they did not properly understand Arabic or were not able to speak the Arabic language in a correct manner.
Keeping in mind the history of revelation of this verse of the Koran which some commentators have mentioned, the purpose of this verse is to ask the question that: Is it logical to bring up a point of contention that, “Is it right to claim that the Prophet had learnt the Koran from such individuals (non-Arabs or those who were not eloquent in the Arabic language), where as we see that the Koran is replete with eloquence, expressiveness, allure and attraction and has a certain sweetness and harmony to it!?
When we look at the speech of these two individuals (the two Romans mentioned above), we see that they definitely lacked these qualities since they were Romans and were individuals who had no awareness of the Arabic language. Even if we assume that they knew the general workings of the Arabic language, however still, we know that they could not speak the language well and their words and thoughts were not free from errors and distortion.”
Therefore, the true meaning of the verse under review is that the Koran is an accurate speech, an eloquent communication and is free from all forms of error and distortion (in the language used). Due to this, we are not able to accept the influence of these two individuals or others such as them.
However it must be noted that by the Koran being an eloquent and expressive work, or a writing which is free from errors and distortions does not mean that the prerequisites which have been explained in this book are not needed. Thus, there is no incongruity between requiring such prerequisites as mentioned in this work and the Koran being a work of “plain and clear Arabic”.
Today in all countries of the world, we see various technical books on the mode of teaching or books of higher learning which have been written in very smooth and fluid style which are far removed from any sort of complexity. Unfortunately though, all of these books, or at least a good majority of them, are still in need of a teacher or instructor (in order to understand them).
In clearer terms we can state that: If the Koran is written in a clear Arabic prose, then the meaning of this is that the way that the Koran speaks is not the way that those who do not know Arabic would speak – meaning that they would gather a few words, mix them together erroneously and inaccurately and then think that they are speaking Arabic. Rather, it is a Book which is completely in line with the rules of the Arabic language and is far from all forms of distortion and error in its language and complication of speaking.
This reality is made clearer when we see that throughout the
At this point, we bring forth an example from the words of one of these priests, named Sutih, who claimed to be an interpreter of the words of the Jinn and who lived during the time of the Prophet of Islam. From this narration, it is clear how and why the Koran is known as a Book which has been written in “clear and manifest Arabic”.
What we quote below is just one line from one of these priests who offered a reply to an ambassador who had travelled from
“Abd al-Masih, mounted on a serious and swift camel, has come to Satih, who has already approached his death; The Sassanian king sent you due to the tremor of the chamber and the dream of the ruler of magians, who saw [in his dream] an obstinate camel leading an Arab horse…”
Just as can be seen in this sentence, expressing himself in the form of rhyme, through employing short sentences and making use of unintelligent words, his thoughts are actually the basis for confusion and bewilderment!
However we see that the style of the Koran is a completely different form, and its style of poetry is a clear and expressive mode. In addition, the Arabic used in the Koran is eloquent and articulate. As well, possessing such a form of perfection (in its language and mode of expression as is the case of the Koran) does not prevent us from accepting the fact that from the point of view of its contents, it is such a fathomless ocean of knowledge that it is not possible to dive into the depths of understanding it without a teacher. The conditions (which were previously mentioned) that rule over the exegesis of the Koran must be in place and observed in order to correctly benefit from the contents of this Divine work.
Today, all of the books written in relation to physics, chemistry or even mathematics are, from the point of view of their language, written correctly and with great eloquence and even have pictures and diagrams in them, however in order to understand and make use of these books, one is in need of a teacher!
The rules related to the court system have been penned in the most eloquent of styles, are far removed from any sort of errors and distortions in their language, contain no obscurity whatsoever and have been written without any sort of complications. However still, not a single person would permit himself to, without possessing the specific qualifications (to understand such works), make use of these works!
The Koran tells us: I speak with complete clarity – I do not speak like those who have no knowledge of the rules of the Arabic language whose words are full of errors and distortions (in language), nor do I speak like those priests who converse with the Jinns and Spirits (who too do not possess a correct understanding of the rules of Arabic) and who make use of unintelligible sentences and words…
Thus in summary: Verses such as the one below and others which state:
“And We have indeed made the Koran easy to understand for remembrance, then is there any that will receive admonition?”
are in the Koran as a response to two groups of people:
1. The first group are those people who, due to the fact they are not fluent in Arabic, would themselves speak Arabic in an incorrect manner and full of errors;
2. The second group is those people who have a habit of speaking in inexpressive and contorted ways and have bound themselves to speaking in prose and short sentences. In place of paying attention to the meaning of what they want to say, they instead place the emphasis on the words they use (and the method of speaking).
However the method of the Koran is something other than is seen in these two forms of speech. Nonetheless, this sophistication in speech does not mean that a person can ignore the need to pay careful attention to the depth of the words being spoken, referring to other verses of the Koran, referring to the history of revelation of the verse and the reliable ahadith and other issues in understanding the message of the Koran.
Principally, the person who reaches at a conclusion from the verse quoted above and other such verses that a commentator of the Koran is not in need of referring to anything else (other than the Koran), has not followed the third and sixth conditions from the fourteen conditions which we have discussed in detail nor has he paid any attention to them. Through drawing a conclusion from the verse quoted above, they have neglected another verse which presents Allah and the Prophet as the commentators and elucidators of the Koran and others which clearly state that the task of commenting on and explaining the Koran is the sole responsibility of Allah.
At this point, we bring our discussion to a close and end our discourse by quoting the words of the Commander of the Faithful, Ali b. Abi Talib. In one particular event, the Commander of the Faithful Ali b. Abi Talib sent Ibne Abbas towards the Khawarij (a group of individuals who had in fact, left the faith of Islam due to their deviant beliefs) to debate with them, however offered him the following advice:
“(O’ Ibne Abbas!) In your debates and discussions with them (the Khawarij), never resort to replying to them with the Koran, since surely the Koran contains verses which have various probabilities and possibilities to them (in their meaning and understanding). You shall speak to them (with the Koran), and they shall reply to you (with the Koran) and thus, your discussion with them will be prolonged. Rather, debate them using the sunnah since surely in that there is the straightforward and unequivocal reply and they will find no way to misrepresent the truth.”
This very valuable sentence clearly tells us that there are some verses of the Koran which have various possibilities in their meaning and it is not possible to specify one meaning to a verse without first going through the introductory steps (of understanding the verse). By merely possessing knowledge of the rules of the Arabic language, the section of ambiguities will never be removed. Thus, the only way the ambiguities are removed is through the fourteen ways mentioned in this work.
This hadith also relates to us the fact that all of the verses of the Koran are not straightforward proofs (which can be picked up and used without discretion) and thus in determining the true meaning where there is multiple possibilities of a particular verse, we must refer to other ways and means.!
Writing completed on the
27th of Muharram al-Haram, 1404 [2nd November, 1983]
Suratul Nahl (16), Verse 103
Suratul Shu’ara (26), Verse 193 to 195
Tafsir al-Kashaf, vol. 2, pg. 318
Suratul Nahl (16), Verse 103
 Farid Wajid Encyclopedia under the world كهنن
 ‘Abd al-Masih is the name of the ambassador who traveled from
 The adjective mashih denotes both seriousness and swiftness. It sometimes means “cautious”. (Ed.)
 Here Satih is the name of the addressee of ‘Abd al-Masih. The context of the speech indicates that he was very ill. The word satih literally signifies “spread out”; and is also used to denote a water vessel. (Ed.)
 Note that the word ¤arih does not mean “death” but rather a tomb, shrine, trench or an oblong excavation in the middle of a grave. However, the context of the expression implies death. (Ed.)
 See Lisan al-’Arab under the root word (‘a-r-b).
Suratul Qamar (54), Verse 17
Suratul Nahl (16), Verse 78
Suratul Qiyamat (75), Verse 19
Nahjul Balagha, Letter 77
# Biography of Jafar Subhani:
Ayatollah Jafar Subhani has written over 200 books, some of which have been translated into English.
Subhani was born in 1926 in the city of
After completing his primary school and the introductory Islamic studies, Jafar Subhani went on to study the books of Persian literature and grammar. Following this, at the young age of 14 (1940) he enrolled in the Theological Seminary of Tabriz named Talibiyyah and kept himself occupied with the preliminary and secondary level of studies of Islam.
Subhani studied the Arabic language under the guidance of Hajj Shaykh Hasan Nahwi and Shaykh Ali Akbar Mudarris Khayabani, the author of Rayhanatul Adab. These studies took Subhani five years until 1944, after which he was able to complete the second level of theological studies and then proceed on to begin the highest level of Islamic studies (Kharij) in Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Usulul Fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence) and Philosophy. During this period of his studies, he benefited from the knowledge of:
1. Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Burujerdi (d.1959)
2. Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Hujjat Kuhkamari (d.1951)
3. Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhallah Musawi Khomeini (d.1989)
In the field of Philosophy, he studied the commentary of the book Manzumah and al-Asfar of Mullah Sadra and benefited from private lessons in the subject of realism under the guidance of the late Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai (d.1982).
In addition, he studied Ilmul Kalam under the late Sayyid Muhammad Badkubai (d.1969).
Jafar Subhani is one of those scholars who took up the pen and began to write on Islamic topics from a very young age and since the early days, his entire life has been spent in the fields of teaching and writing. It has been noted that the first book he ever wrote, titled The Criterion of Thinking (concerning the science of Mantiq - Logic) was written when he was only 17 years old!
At the age of 18, he began teaching the secondary level of Islamic studies (Sutuh) and was imparting knowledge in the fields of Fiqh, Usulul Fiqh, Philosophy, Hadith and other subjects.
In addition, he has written notes on the lectures of Usulul Fiqh which were delivered by the late Ayatollah Khomeini which have been recently printed.
Through all of this work, he has transformed himself into a teacher who goes deep into a subject and an effective thinker such that many important tasks have been imparted upon him, including:
1. Establishing a centre for the teaching of ILMUL KALAM (Science of Theology) and a research library and facility for those who are conducting research in the Islamic sciences.
2. Having written one complete topic-wise commentary of the Koran (currently at fourteen volumes and available in both Arabic and Farsi).
3. Prepared and taught one complete course – printed in 16 volumes – in the fields of the History of Fiqh and the Fuqaha.
4. Prepared and wrote manuals for the teaching of Usulul Fiqh, Ilmul Kalam, Hadith, Ilmul Rijal and the history and information on the various religions of the world and their sects and divisions.