The Foundations of Tafsir

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) used to base their independent opinions in tafsir on the following things.  The first was knowledge of the nature of the Arabic language.  Their knowledge of the Arabic language assisted them in understanding the verses of the Qur’an which was expressed in on the Arabic language.

The second was knowledge of the reasons of Revelation.  The companions were contemporaneous with Revelation and they witnessed it, so they knew the context and reasons for the Revelations of certain verses.  Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) stated, “Knowledge of the reason of Revelation assists in comprehending the verse because knowledge of the cause engenders knowledge of that which is caused.”

Thirdly, there was knowledge of the condition of Jews and Christians in the Arabian Peninsula during Revelation.  This assisted in understanding verses in which their actions are mentioned and commented on.

Fourthly, knowledge of the customs of the Arabs.  In the Qur’an, there are many verses that are related to Arab customs.

And finally, the ability to comprehend and understand.  This is a virtue that Allah (s.w.t.) Gives to whomever He Wills.  The meanings of many verses of the Qur’an are subtle or obscure and cannot be understood except by one who is given a sufficient measure of intelligence and insight.  ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.) was Given the greatest share of that which was due to the prayer that the Prophet (s.a.w.) made for him.


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