Friday, May 23, 2008

Qur'an Revelation, Hadith, and Tafseer

"We have sent down to you the book in truth that you may judge between men, as Allaah guides you; so don’t be an advocate for those who betray their trust." [al-Qur’aan, 4:105]

"We have sent down to you the message that you may explain clearly to people what has been sent to them, and that they think over it." [16:44]

"We sent down the Book to you for the express purpose that you should make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe." [16:64]


  • Qur'an Revelations

    Makkan And Madinan Revelations

    The growth and development of the Muslim umma is marked by two great phases:

    • The period in Makka, before the hijra (A.D. 622).
      The Makkan Phase

      The Makkan phase of the revelation lasted about 13 years, from the first revelation up to the hijra.

      This phase is determined by the prime task of the Prophet to call people to Islam. The main themes of this call, based on the Qur'anic revelation are:

      • Allah and His unity (tawhid).
      • The coming resurrection and judgement.
      • Righteous conduct.

      The role of the Prophet in this phase is in particular that of an announcer and Warner.

    • The period in Madina, after the hijra.

      The Madinan Phase

      The Madinan phase lasted about ten years, from the hijra to the death of the Prophet. While the basic themes of the Makkan phase remain, the factor of the Muslims' growing together into a community and the formation of the umma, now makes its presence clearly felt.

      In Madina, there are four groups of people to be met:

      • The muhajirun, who migrated from Makka to Madina.
      • The ansar, who originated from Madina and helped the muhajirun.
      • The munafiqun, who are from Madina and pretended to support the Muslims.
      • The ahl al-kitab, i.e. Jews and Christians, with their respective scriptures.

      In addition to these the Qur'an also continued to address al-nas, 'mankind' i.e. all people, and referred to the disbelievers and ignorant ones

    Naturally the revelation from Allah to guide the Muslims also responded, to some extent, to these particular situations.


    Many ayat from the Makkan period may be especially meaningful to Muslims living in a strongly un-Islamic environment, while some of the Madinan period would appeal much to Muslims who are in the process of formation of the umma. In some cases, unless one knows which of two or more related verses was revealed first, one cannot decide which legal ruling is now binding upon the Muslims.

    There are a number of guiding criteria, which help to distinguish between them:

    • The theme.
      Among the Makkan themes are tawhid, shirk, day of resurrection, moral corruption, stories of the Prophets. These topics are also found in Madinan suras, but usually only touched upon briefly. Madinan themes which are not found in Makkan revelations are of social and legal implications, concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance, punishment, etc.

    • The length.
      Makkan ayat are often short and Madinan ones longer.
      Makkan suras are usually short, Madinan ones longer, e.g.:
      Juz' 30 is overwhelmingly Makkan. It has 543 (Makkan) ayat.
      Juz' 18 is overwhelmingly Madinan. It has (only) 117 (Madinan) ayat.
      There are however exceptions in both cases.

    • The form of address.
      Often the address: 'O ye who believe', and 'O people of the book' indicates a Madinan origin, while the addresses 'O Mankind' and 'O People' are usually of Makkan origin.

    • Other References, Signs, and Huruf
      There are 19 suras with so-called huruf tahajji (such as alif , lam , mim , etc . ) . All these suras are Makkan, except Sura al-baqara (2) and Al 'Imran (3).

      All ayat with the word kalla are Makkan.
      All suras containing sajda are Makkan.
      Most of the suras of the group mufassal, beginning with Sura qaf (50) in the latter part of the Qur'an are Makkan .

      All references to the munafiqun are from Madina (except Sura al-'ankabut (29). Its verse 11 is Makkan.


    The knowledge of Makkan and Madinan revelations is one of the important branches of ''ulum al-Qur’an. It is not merely of historical interest, but particularly important for the understanding and interpretation of the respective verses.

    Many suras of the Qur'an do contain material from both periods of revelation, and in some cases there exists difference of opinion among scholars concerning the classification of a particular passage. However, on the whole, it is a well-established distinction, fully employed in the science of tafsir and best derived from the internal evidence of the text of the Qur'an itself.

  • Hadith

    The Meaning of hadith

    The word hadith means news, report or narration.
    Technically, the word hadith, (pl. ahadith) means in particular the reports (verbal and written) about the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. Hadith reports about the Prophet Muhammad are of the following kinds:

    • What he said (qaul).
    • What he did (fi'l).
    • What he (silently) approved (taqrir) in others' actions.

    There are also reports about him, i.e. about what he was like (sifa).

    The most important distinction between the Qur'an and all other words or writings therefore is that the Qur'an is the speech from Allah, revealed in its precise meaning and wording through the Angel Gabriel.

  • Tafseer

    Tafseer is an explanation of the verses of the Quran.

    The best method of tafseer is that the best way is to explain the Qur’an through the Qur’an. For, what the Qur’an alludes to at one place is explained at the other, and what it says in brief on one occasion is elaborated upon at the other. But if we can find the explanation, we should turn to the sunnah, because the sunnah explains and elucidates the Qur’an.

    Tafsir of the Qur'an is the most important science for Muslims. All matters concerning the Islamic way of life are connected to it in one sense or another since the right application of Islam is based on proper understanding of the guidance from Allah. Without tafsir there would be no right understanding of various passages of the Qur'an.

    Tafseer aims at knowledge and understanding concerning the book of Allah, to explain its meanings, extract its legal rulings and grasp its underlying reasons.

    The commentator (mufassir) must:

    • Be sound in belief ('aqida).
    • Well-grounded in the knowledge of Arabic and its rules as a language.
    • Well-grounded in other sciences that are connected with the study of the Qur'an (e.g. 'ilm al-riwaya).
    • Have the ability for precise comprehension.
    • Abstain from the use of mere opinion.
    • Begin the Tafsir of the Qur'an with the Qur'an.
    • Seek guidance from the words and explanations of the Prophet.
    • Refer to the reports from the sahaba.
    • Consider the reports from the tabi'un.
    • Consult the opinions of other eminent scholars.

    Grades of Sources of Tafseer:

    • The best Tafseer is the explanation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an.

      The interpretation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an is the highest source of tafseer. Many of the questions which may arise out of a certain passage of the Qur'an have their explanation in other parts of the very same book, and often there is no need to turn to any sources other than the word of Allah, which in itself contains tafsir. To seek to explain an aya from the Qur'an by referring to another aya from the Qur'an is the first and foremost duty of the mufassir. Only if this does not suffice, he will refer to other sources of tafsir.

    • The next best is the explanation of the Qur'an by the Prophet Muhammad, Sunnah.

      There are numerous examples of explanation of the Qur'an by the Prophet, who either himself asked the Angel Gabriel for explanation of matters not clear to him, or who was asked by the Companions about the Qur'an. Suyuti has given a long list of explanations of the Qur'an by the Prophet sura by sura.

    • If nothing can be found in the Qur'an nor in the sunnah of the Prophet, one turns to the reports from the sahaba.

    • If nothing can be found in the Qur'an, the sunnah and the reports from the sahaba, one turns to the reports from the tabi'un.(There are 3 groups tabi'un: The Makkan Group, The Madinan Group, and the Tabi'un fron Iraq)

    However, nothing can match the explanation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an and the explanation of the Qur'an by the Prophet.

    Kinds of Tafseer

    Tafseer may be divided into three basic groups:

    • Tafseer bi-l-riwaya (by transmission), also known as Tafseer bi-l-ma'thur.

      • The Qur'an itself.
      • The explanation of the Prophet.
      • The explanation by Companions of the Prophet (to some extent).

      Naturally, the explanation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an and the explanation of the Qur'an by the Prophet are the two highest sources for tafseer.

    • Tafseer bi'l-ra'y (by sound opinion; also known as tafseer bi-l-diraya, by knowledge).

      Tafseer bi’l-ra'y does not mean 'interpretation by mere opinion', but deriving an opinion through ijtihad based on sound sources. While the former has been condemned already in the hadith, the latter is recommendable, when used in its proper place as sound ijtihad, and was also approved by the Prophet, e.g. when he sent Mu’adh bin Jabal to Yemen.

    • Tafseer bi-l-ishara (by indication, from signs).