To the Scholars Who Conduct the Tafsir of Qur’an In Ramadan, By Murtadha Gusau
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Bestower Mercy
Verily, all good praises are for Allah, we seek His help and His forgiveness. We seek refuge with Allah from the evil of our own souls and from our bad deeds. Whomsoever Allah guides will never be led astray, and whomsoever Allah leaves astray, no one can guide. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, He alone without any partner. And I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.
“O you who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam (as Muslims) with complete submission to Allah.” [Surah Ali Imran, 3:102]
“O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person, and from him He created his wife, and from them both He created many men and women, and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you).” [Surah al-Nisa’, 4:1]
“O you who believe! Keep your duty to Allah and fear Him, and speak (always) the truth. He will direct you to do righteous good deeds and will forgive you your sins. And whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger (Pbuh) he has indeed achieved a great achievement (i.e. he will be saved from the Hellfire and made to enter Paradise).” [Surah al-Ahzab, 33:70-71]
As to what proceeds: Verily the best of speech is the Book of Allah and the best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (Pbuh). The worst of affairs are the newly-invented affairs in the religion and every newly invented affair in the religion is an innovation and every innovation is misguidance and all misguidance is in the hellfire. As to what proceeds:
Servants of Allah! The menace of sectarianism in the recent time among the Muslims of Nigeria has reached a point whereby each sect or religious organisation is using the Tafsir of the Qur’an in Ramadan, in defence of their sentimental views. This situation has led to the emergence of a new trend of Tafsir in Nigeria.
Brothers and Sisters! Know that the history of Tafsir is as old as the spread of Islam in Nigeria. As a vital subject for the understanding of Islam, Muslims should know the meaning of its contents in order to apply its teaching in practical life. Many Muslim scholars started to impart the knowledge of Tafsir to make the people understand the clear message of the Qur’an. It is expected that the teaching of Tafsir will guide the general affairs of mankind in line with the commandments of Allah and help to minimise the problems that our society is facing in all our aspects of lives. It is believed that all problems associated with our backwardness and underdevelopment could be minimised, if not eroded completely, if the true message of the Qur’an is clearly and sincerely delivered to the people by those doing the Tafsir and the people apply them in their daily lives.
Unfortunately, many Mafassirun in Nigeria do not concentrate to convey the real Qur’anic message to the people, instead they resort to interpret the Qur’an to support their sectarian ideologies or their desires. The Qur’an was made subjective to sectarian views, a situation that led to the disunity and weakness of the Muslims in Nigeria as a result of the bad approach of some Mufassirun to Tafsir. This tendency has weakened the formidability of the Muslim Ummah and exposed it to attack and ridicule from some of our non-Muslim counterparts.
My respected people! The word ‘Tafsir’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘fassara’, which literally means to lift the curtain, to make clear, to show the objective, to explain, to expound, to elucidate, to interpret, and hence by analogy Tafsir is the body of knowledge which aims to make clear the true meaning of the Qur’an, its injunctions and the occasions of its revelation. The word ‘Tafsir’ is the verbal noun of ‘fassara’, and means ‘The explanation or interpretation of Something.’
My people! Today’s Sermon is based upon the traditional transmitted material about the Qur’an. Although Tafsir is an Arabic word, the process was known before the age of Islam. Jews and Christians used the term in various ways for their translations and commentaries on the Bible in the past. [See The Last of the Prophets, by Robert Britton, page 109]
Another common word ‘Ta’wil’ has been also used to denote the interpretation or reclamation of meanings of the Qur’an text. Some scholars believe that Ta’wil is synonymous with Tafsir, others have denied and suggest that Tafsir refers to the illumination of the external meaning of the Qur’an, while Ta’wil is the extraction of the hidden meanings. [See Al-Itqan fi Ulum Al-Qur’an, Chapter 77, page 424-430, by Imam Suyuti]
Brothers and Sisters! The commentator of the Qur’an or exegete is called a Mufassir. His responsibility is to explain the text of the Qur’an as fully as possible. He aims to show where, when and why a subject is written and what it meant during the time of the Prophet, his Companions and subsequent followers. He eventually tries to make the text communicate meaningfully within his or her own time and cultural framework.
Servants of Allah! According to Imam Shah Abdul Aziz Dehlawi, a Mufassir should keep in mind the three following conditions in his exegesis of the Qur’an:
1. Every word should be explained with its real meaning. In order to succeed, the Mufassir should have command in linguistic knowledge, grammar, sarf, balagha, usul al-fiqh and sirah.
2. Everything needs to be explained within its reference and context to the main theme.
3. The interpretation should not be contrary to that of the Sahabah (Prophet’s Companions) who witnessed the coming of the revelations to the Prophet. [See Shariah: The Islamic Law, by Abdur Rahman I. Doi, page 22]
Though there are both Muslims and non-Muslims who have written commentaries on the Qur’an, the majority of Muslim scholars insist that the Mufassir must be a Muslim. He should be sound in belief, aqidah; well grounded in the knowledge of Arabic and its rules as a language. He should “have the ability for precise comprehension” of the Qur’an and “abstain from the use of mere opinion.” [See Ulum al-Qur’an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an, by Ahmad Von Denffer, page 122]
A Mufassir should have the knowledge of the science of recitation of the Qur’an, Ilm al-Tajwid. He should know the Ilm al-Hadith to recognise that which is Mubhim, ambiguous, and to elaborate on that which is Mujamil, brief or abridged. He must have studied thoroughly the various schools of thought, Ilm al-Fiqh. The Mufassir should have knowledge of Asbab al-Nuzul, reasons for the revelation of the different verses and should have knowledge about the theory of abrogation of verses of the Qur’an, al-Nasikh wa al-Mansukh. [See Shariah: The Islamic Law, by Abdur Rahman I. Doi, page 35]
My good people! In later years, commentators and Qur’anic scholars formulated various rules of interpretation. Foreign thoughts, knowledge and reasoning were also woven into the fabric of Islamic thought and culture. This amalgamation emerged in several kinds of Tafsir and can be divided into two or three groups, i.e., Tafsir bil riwaya, by transmission; Tafsir bil-ra’y, sound opinion or knowledge and Tafsir bil-ishara, by indication.
Tafsir bil-riwaya (also known as Tafsir bil-ma’thur) includes the interpretation of the Qur’an by Quranic verses and use of the explanations of the Prophet and his Companions. Books of this class of Tafsir include those attributed to Ibn Abbas, Ibn Abi Khatim, Ibn Hibban, and that of Imam Suyuti known as Al-Dur al-Manthur, Tafsir by Khatir and al-Shaukani may also be included in this group.
Tafsir bil-ra’y (or Tafsir bil-dirayah) is not based directly on transmission of knowledge from the past, but on reason. Exegesis is derived through opinion based on reason and Ijtihad or Qiyas. In this area we find Tafsirs like al-Kashshaf by Zamakshari.
Tafsir bil-ishara: It goes into the detail of the concepts and ideas associated with the words and verses of the Qur’an. This kind of Tafsir is often produced by mystically inclined authors. The most famous are those by al-Razi and al-Khazin.
Ibn Jarir has reported through Muhammad ibn Bashshar Muammal, Sufyan and Abul Zanad that Ibn Abbas said:
“Tafsir is of four kinds: One which Arabs can know from the language; second which no one can be excused for not knowing; third which only the scholars know; and fourth, which Allah alone knows.” [See An Introduction to the exegesis of the Qur’an, by Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, Translated by M. Abdul Haq Ansari, page 48]
Servants of Allah! During the lifetime of the Prophet, his Companions used to ask him questions relating to the interpretation of the Qur’an and the different aspects of the injunctions contained in it. The Prophet used to explain to them the revelation. Muslim scholars believe that the result of such inquiries was that the Companions came to know all about the causes of revelation, Asbab an-Nuzul of different verses. They also became aware of the verses that were abrogated and those verses that were replaced by other verses.
The authority to explain was granted to the Prophet by Allah himself as laid down in the Qur’an:
“We have sent down unto you (also) the Message; that you may explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought.” (Surah 16:44)
Therefore, Muslim scholars state that the things said by the Prophet in explanation or to which he gave silent approval were committed to memory by the Companions. Being men of great learning many of them had not only memorised the Qur’an but also had full knowledge of when, where and why verses of the Qur’an were revealed.
After the death of the Prophet (Pbuh), the Companions taught others the Qur’an and its interpretation. Scholars recognise that the Khulafah Rashidun, the rightly guided, were Mufassirin of the Qur’an. Others from the Prophet’s time that were recognised as scholars of the Qur’anic Tafsir are Abdullah Ibn Abbas, Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud, Ubay Ibn Ka’ab, Zaid Ibn Thabith, Abu Musa al-Ashari and Abdullah Ibn Zubair. [See Al-Itqan fi Ulum Al-Qur’an, by Imam Suyuti, page 968, cited by Doi, page 22-26]
It is generally stated that in the subsequent period after Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), three schools were established to explain the Qur’an: The Makkah school led by Abdullah Ibn Abbas, the Madinah school led by Ubay Ibn Ka’ab and the Iraq school led by Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud. The methodologies adopted by them was based more on transmission (riwaya). While Abdullah Ibn Abbas, who is repudiated to be the first exegete in the history of Islam, in the light of the traditions, it would seem that Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud had a reputation in teaching the Qur’an. Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) recognised the efforts of Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud’s learning of the Qur’an, so much so that he recommended others to learn from him. Ali Ibn Abi Talib said about his scholarship:
“He knows the Qur’an and the Sunnah and his knowledge is the best.” [See Al-Tafsir wal Mufassirun by Muhammad Husayn Al-Dhahabi, page 86, cited by Doi, page 26]
My Respected people! Many of the Companions of the Prophet taught the Qur’an and its exegesis to the next generation of Muslims, Tabi’un. The conversion of many people from different faiths and walks of life made it imperative that the Tabi’un should not only treasure the existing information but also build on it a body of learning known as Ulum al-Qur’an (The Knowledge of Qur’an).
It is believed that within a half century after Prophet Muhammad’s (Pbuh) death, three main schools of Qur’anic tafsir had developed in Makkah, Madinah and Iraq. The Makkah group is said to have been taught by Ibn Abbas. The best known of the group, among learners, are Mujahid, Atah and Ikrimah.
The Madinah group had the best known teachers such as Ubay bin Ka’ab. This group had some well known Muffasirin for example, Muhammad bin Ka’ab al-Qarzi, Abul Aliyah al-Riyahi and Zaid bin Aslam.
The Iraqi group who followed Ibn Mas’ud had centres in Basrah and Kufah. The best known among the teachers in Tafsir were Al-Hasan al-Basri, Masruq and Ibrahim al-Nakha’i.
Servants of Allah! In the period following the above, others like al-Suddi and Sulayman came forward in this field and some of their work survives in the collections of Hadith and recent versions attributed to them. A complete book of Tafsir by Mujahid is available, which is based on a manuscript from the 13th century AD. [See Tafsir Mujahid, 2 Vol., by Surti, cited by Ahmad Von Denffer, page 130]
However the oldest work of tafsir extant today is of Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari. [See The Qur’an and Its Exegesis, by Helmut Gatje, page 34]
Some believe that he (Al-Tabari) was the first man to write Qur’anic exegesis explaining it side by side with the Sunnah. Since then the process of Tafsir has continued until today. Some of the classical Tafsirs amongst the Muslims today are those of Imam al-Baghawi; Imam al-Zamakhshari, Imam al-Baidawi, Imam Al-Ghazali, Imam al-Qurtubi, al-Jalalain, al-Mudarik, al-Husain, Al-Jalalain, al-Mazhari, Azizi, Zad al-Masir of Ibn Jawzi, Abu Hayyan, Ibn Atiyyah etc.[See Dictionary of Islam, by Thomas Patrick Hughes, page 522].
Brothers and Sisters! Though the mood of Tafsir writing in modern times is the same, to make the text understandable and relevant, there have been other areas in which attempts are made to interpret the Qur’anic text in the light of “modern and scientific reason.” The earliest effort in this area was of Sayyid Ahmad Khan. His modernist but incomplete subject wise commentary was entitled simply ‘Tafsir al-Qur’an.’ He tried to interpret the question of revelation, miracles and the message of the Qur’an in the light of available “enlightenment” from the West. To encourage social and educational reforms he tried to strike a balance between western and eastern ideas and find support in the Qur’an.
Also Muhammad Abduh, from Egypt is considered by some to be the most significant exponent of the modernist school. He spent his time as a teacher and later as a judge, mufti, giving decisions, fatwas which embodied the modernist stance. He struggled against the traditional enterprise of Tafsir. His incomplete Tafsir of the Qur’an, ‘Tafsir al-Manar’, based upon his class lectures and the text of his legal decisions has been edited and published by Rashid Rida, his student and follower. [See Tafsir Al-Manar, by Rashid Rida, 12 vol.]
Other tafsirs in this arena are Tarjuman al-Qur’an by Abul Kalam Azad, Fi Zilal al-Qur’an by Sayyid Qutb, and Tafhim al-Qur’an by Sayyid Abul ‘Ala Mawdudi.
In English there are several commentaries available today as of Yusuf Ali, Mawdudi, and of Muhammad Asad etc. Abridged and some incomplete editions of a few classical commentaries, e.g. Tabari, Baidhawi, Zamkhshari and Ibn Kathir are also available.
Also a popular contemporary works among the scholars of Tafsir are: Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman, Aysar al-Tafasir, Safwat al-Tafasir, Tafsir al-Muyassir, al-Muntakhab fi Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Karim, Tafsir Ibn Ashur and recently published al-Mukhtasar fi al-Tafsir etc.
Servants of Allah! One Tafsir may differ with another on the interpretation of a text of the Qur’an. There are a number of reasons for this but the most important one may be external or internal. In Ibn Taimiya’s opinion, for example, a Mufassir may have used unsound material and his interpretation actually rests on some preconceived belief or other motive thus introducing false innovation, bid’ah. Some Mufassirin have used the Isra’iliyyat, the Jewish origins of the narratives mentioned in the Qur’an particularly derived from non-canonical Jewish and Christian traditions. Such material was used by some of the Sahabah (Companions), but it was referred to more by the Tabi’un and by later generations. The other difference may have been internal. A Mufassir may have had difficulty understanding the words or may explain them according to the limitations of his circumstances. [See An Introduction to the Exegesis of the Qur’an, by Ibn Taymiyyah, Translated by M. Abdul Haq Ansari, page 17]
It is due to such reasons that some scholars in their exposition of kind of Tafsirs have divided Tafsir bil-ra’y further into two categories: Tafsir mamduh (praise worthy Tafsir) and Tafsir madhmumah (blameworthy tafsir). Tafsir madhmumah is a Tafsir which has mostly relied on dha’if (weak) and mawdu’ (spurious/fabricated) traditions; has not given consideration to the saying of the Sahabah (Companions of Prophet Muhammad); has no regard for the Arabic language in its interpretation and given no consideration to phenomena that are in conformity with the meaning of the Arabic Language.
My people! Much has been said and written to interpret the Qur’an to help Muslim communities in their daily doings through the years. Nowadays as we saw above, the Qur’an is interpreted in the light of scientific reasons and methodology. However, the best method and foremost way is to interpret the Qur’an by the Qur’an and use the Prophet’s Sunnah and the way the Sahabah understood the text as mentioned in the classical literature.
My people! Surely, the Tafsir of Qur’an is the most important for Muslims. All matters concerning the Islam is based on proper understanding of the guidance from Allah. Without the help of Tafsir there would be no right to understanding the different passages of the Qur’an.
As said earlier, the word Tafsir is derived from the root ‘fassara’ to explain, to expound. It means ‘explanation’ or ‘interpretation’. In other language the word Tafsir is mostly used for explanation and interpretation of the Qur’an meanings and clarifies its legal implications. Also the word, Ta’wil which is also used in this connection and is derived from the root ‘awwala’ and also means ‘explanation, interpretation.’
The Tafsir is the language of scholars, its aim to get knowledge and understanding the concerning book of Allah and explain the meanings. Tafsir explains the outer meanings of the Qur’an and Ta’wil is considered the inner and concealed meanings of the Qur’an. Others opinion that there is no difference between the Tafsir and the Ta’wil.
It is reported that a man asked Ibn Abbas about the day (mentioned in the Qur’an) which measures 50 years, and Ibn Abbas replied: ‘They are two days which Allah has mentioned in His book, and Allah knows best about them, and he disliked that he should say concerning the book of Allah, what he did not know.
There are many reasons that the Tafsir is of great importance but the basic reason is that Allah has sent the Qur’an as a book of guidance to mankind. Man’s purpose is to worship Allah, i.e. to seek His pleasure by living the way of life Allah has invited him to adopt. He can do so within the framework of the guidance that Allah has revealed concerning this, but he can do so only if he properly understands its meanings, implication and interpretation.
From Ibn Abbas Allah’s Messenger (Pbuh) said:
“He who says (something) concerning the Qur’an without knowledge, he has taken his seat of fire.”
With the above Hadith, I can say the principles of Tafsir is very important in understanding the methodology involved in exegesis of the Qur’an.
Servants of Allah! The topic of Tafsir is the most important topic of Ulum al-Qur’an (Science of the Qur’an), since in many ways it is the primary goal of knowledge of al-Qur’an – to understand and implement the Qur’an properly. This has also been the first topic of Ulum al-Qur’an to have been written on, and without a doubt the one in which most of the works in this field have been written about.
But sadly, Qur’anic studies in general, and Tafsir in particular, are often the weakest parts of the curricula of Islamic schools, institutes and universities. Wallahul Musta’an!
Brothers and Sisters! Sectarianism is playing a vital role in the Tafsir of the Qur’an in Nigeria. They enlightened their subjects towards the understanding of Islam and succeeded in uniting their members to repel the attack of their opponents. The aim of the Mufassirun in some of the organizations is to interpret the Qur’an in support of their sectarian ideologies and condemn their opponents. Almost all the sects have made the Qur’an subjective to their sectarian views and this tendency of all the religious sects has caused disunity and weakness of the Muslims in Nigeria. As against the united Muslim Ummah before, now sectarianism has weakened it and exposed it to be attack from our enemies within and without. Sectarianism has hindered the Muslims from understanding the real meaning of the Qur’an and its application in our daily life for our benefit in both here and the hereafter.
Therefore it is recommended that the Muslims should know the meaning of the Qur’anic contents in order to apply its teaching in practical life. It is the duty of the Muslim scholars to do this, so as to guide the people to understand the clear message of the Qur’an. And if this is achieved, it will help to minimise the problems that our society is facing in all our aspects of lives. It is believed as mentioned earlier that all the present problems facing the Muslims could be minimized drastically if not wiped off completely with the clear understanding and application of the Qur’anic teachings. This can only be achieved if the Muslim scholars should conduct their Tafsir free from sectarian biases and face the Qur’an with plain and clear mind. Ideas are to be drawn from the Qur’an but not to impose them on the Qur’an. The Mufassirun of all sects and organizations should remember and be cautioned by the saying of the prophet (Pbuh) that:
“Whoever said about the Qur’an out of his fancy and desire or out of what he did not know, should find himself a position in the Hell fire.”
May Allah guide and protect us, Ameen.
Lastly, I ask Allah the Most High to give us the ability to restrain our desires in interpreting and explaining the Book of Allah (Al-Qur’an) and to willingly submit ourselves to His will.
Oh Allah the Almighty, make our country Nigeria safe and the other Muslim countries in general, Oh Lord of the universe, jinn and mankind.
Oh Allah protect our safety, our Iman and our peace in our native lands and rectify those placed in authority over our affairs (our leaders), and don’t hold us to account for that which the foolish amongst us have done, and protect us from trials the apparent and hidden of it.
Oh Allah show us the truth for the truth and help us to follow it, and show us the falsehood for falsehood and help us to stay away from it, and make Iman the most beloved to us and beautify it in our hearts, and make disbelief, lewdness and rebellion most hated to us and make us from those who are guided.
Oh Allah rectify our leaders, guide them to that which is good for themselves and to that which is good for us. Oh Allah make them a means for our safety, and make them a means for our word (unity) to be one, and make them a cause for our coming together, Yaa Al-Hayyu (Oh The Ever Living, The One who cannot die), Yaa Al-Qayyum (The Self Sustainer), Yaa Saami’ (The Hearer) of the supplication.
Oh Allah safeguard our country. Oh Allah bring ease to the Nigerians from that which they face from sufferings. Oh Allah give us immediate ease. Oh Allah give us victory with a happy outcome. Oh Allah make ease for the Nigerians from every difficulty and from every suffering, Oh Hearer of the supplication, Oh Reliever from every distress, Oh answerer of the supplication, Oh Helper of the grieving, Oh ever living, Self Sustaining, Oh Hearer of the supplication, Oh Owner of Loftiness and Nobility!
I ask Allah to assist us in living by the Qur’an and Sunnah. I pray that He lets us recognize the truth for what it is and helps us to follow it, and that He lets us see falsehood for what it is and helps us to avoid it.
O Allah! Guide us and protect us from the causes of ignorance and destruction! Save us from the defects of ourselves! Cause the last of our deeds to be the best and most righteous! And forgive all of us.
My respected people! Anything good I have said in my today’s Khutbah (Sermon) is from Allah the Almighty, and any mistakes are my own and we seek refuge in Allah from giving wrong advice and from all forms of calamities and fitnah. And I ask Allah’s forgiveness if I stepped beyond bounds in anything I said or I do.
Servants of Allah! Please, let’s seize the opportunity of the blessed month of Ramadan, the month of mercy to pray for our President, Muhammadu Buhari and our country.
May Allah be praised; and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His Messenger Muhammad and upon his family and Companions.
With this I conclude my Khutbah (Sermon) and ask Allah, the Almighty and the sublime, to forgive all of our sins. So seek his forgiveness, He is all forgiving Most Merciful.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Sha’aban 29, 1438 A.H. (May 26, 2017), By Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and Alhaji Abdurrahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene Kogi State Nigeria. He can be reached through: +2348038289761.