One of the major Islamic sciences, concerned with the interpretation of
the Qur'an. Classically it took the form of sequential verse-by-verse
or word-by-word commentaries on the entire Qur'an. Such commentaries
ranged in size from the one-volume gloss of the two Jalals (al-Jalalayn: Jalal
al-Din al-Mahalli [d. ca. 1460], and Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti [d. ca. 1505])
to enourmous works such as the Tafsir of al-Tabari,
which takes up 30 volumes.
There are many approaches to writing tafsir, which evolved over the centuries:
A) Gloss: Paraphrasing Qur'anic words or verses
B) Isra'iliat: Relating traditional stories (often
from Jewish sources) so as to provide background to Qur'anic references (e.g.
background stories about
C) Legal tafsir: Organizing verses by legal topic
(prayer, fasing, inheritance, etc.) and explaining their legal meaning.
D) Philological and grammatical tafsir: Analyzing
unusual Qur'anic words or grammatical constructions in terms of formal linguistic
E) Traditionalist tafsir: Giving information
(in the form of a hadith with an isnad)
about the circumstances under which each verse was revealed (asbab al-nuzul),
and the explanations
that the Prophet Muhammad and his
had given to each verse. This may be considered the mainstream approach. (E.g.
F) Abridgements of the massive traditional commentaries.
G) Rationalist tafsir:Speculative
a more rationalist exegesis based on the linguistic sciences, and offering
of anthropomorphic expressions in the Qur'an.
H) Shi`ite tafsir, emphasizing the interpretations of
I) Sufi and Isma`ili tafsir, emphasizing the interior or hidden meaning (batin)
of the Qur'an.
J) Modernist tafsir, finding answers in the Qur'an
to modern social and scientific questions.
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expressed herein should not be taken as a position of or endorsement by the
University of Oklahoma.