Major Arabic Sources for the Study of History and Biography
History is seen by many social scientists as the king of the branches of learning due to the number of sciences upon which it draws. The following are the major references for studying Islamic history and biography. It is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of each work, as well as objectivity. Generally, each work is best suited to describing contemporary events and personalities going back a century or so.
150. Ibn Ishaq of al-Madinah and later Baghdad (major source for Ibn Hisham)
207. al-Waqidi of al-Madinah: al-Tarikh wa al-Maghazi and Futuh al-Sham (covering the Prophetic battles and the early Islamic conquests, though his hadiths are almost universally rejected)
213. Ibn Hisham of Basra and later Egypt (the main source for Sirah – refined from Sirat Ibn Ishaq, whereby he removes much of the Isra’iliyat and adds some details in language and lineage. It thus gained the pleasure of the majority of scholars as no author after Ibn Hisham is free from depending on him. The truth is that the general picture one gains approaches pretty much what is related in the sound narrations, as stated by Shaykh Akram al-‘Umari)
230. Ibn Sa’d of Baghdad, the scribe of al-Waqidi: al-Tabaqat al-Kubra (highly regarded biographies of the Companions and early generations. The first two volumes are specifically about the Sirah. Ibn Sa’d is trustworthy in investigating much of what he narrates, as stated by Khatib al-Baghdadi and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, except that he narrates from weak narrators such as al-Waqidi, from whom he relates so much that Ibn al-Nadim accused him of plagiarism. His three strongest sources are ‘Affan b. Muslim, ‘Abd Allah b. Musa, and Fadl b. Dakin, all of whom are from the trustworthy hadith scholars. )
240. Khalifah b. Khayat: Tarikh (He was a trustworthy narrator and one of the shaykhs of al-Bukhari in his Sahih)
248. al-Ya’qubi of Khurasan and later North Africa – pre-Islamic and early Islamic history
257. Ibn Abd al-Hakam of Cairo: Futuh Misr wa al-Maghrib wa al-Andalus (on the Islamic conquests of North Africa and Spain)
279. al-Baladhuri of Baghdad: Futuh al-Buldan and Ansab al-Ashraf (major reference on the early Islamic conquests, considered weak by Ibn Hajar in Lisan al-Mizan)
279. Ibn Abi Khaythama: Akhbar al-Makkiyin (a reliable source according to al-Dhahabi, published only in part)
283. al-Dinarawi of Persia: al-Akhbar wa al-Tiwal (up to his own time)
310. al-Tabari of Baghdad: Tarikh al-Umum wa al-Muluk (covers the first three centuries of Islamic history – he usually does not criticise narrators but does include chains for readers to research and investigate)
310. Ibn Fadlan of Baghdad: al-Rihla (important description of the Germanic and Slavic peoples during his diplomatic mission in East Europe)
346. al-Mas’udi of Baghdad: Muruj al-Dhahab (covers universal pre-Islamic history up to the late Abbasid Caliphate)
363. al-Qadi al-Nu’man: Iftitah al-Daw’ah (official history of the rise of the Fatimids)
367. Ibn al-Qutiyyah: Tarikh Iftitah al-Andalus (one of the earliest sources on the Islamic conquest of Spain)
430. Abu Nu’aym of Asfahan: Hilyat al-Awliya (biographies of saintly figures up to his time)
463. al-Khatib al-Baghdadi: Tarikh Baghdad (covers the major figures to have visited Baghdad up to his time)
463. Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr: al-Durur fi Ikhtisar al-Maghazi wa al-Siyar ()
468. Ibn Hayyan: al-Muqtabis fi Tarikh al-Andalus (a major history of al-Andalus up to the fall of the Umayyads, which he laments)
560. al-Baydhaq: al-Muqtabis (on the rise of the Almohads)
571. Ibn ‘Asakir: Tarikh Dimashq (covers the major figures to have visited Damascus up to his time)
584. Ibn Munqidh: al-I’tibar (vital source of the Crusades)
630. Ibn al-Athir of Mosul: al-Kamil fi Tarikh (one of the major sources for the Crusades and Mongol Invasions, considered one of the great and trustworthy historians)
632. Ibn Shaddad: al-Nawadir al-Sultaniyyah (the most important contemporary biography of Salah al-Din and the Second Crusade)
681. Ibn Khallikan of Mosul, Damascus, and Cairo: Wafiyat al-A’yun (biographies of major figures up to 600)
712. Ibn ‘Idhari: Bayan al-Mahgrib (valuable of the Almoravids (al-Murabitun) and Almohads (al-Muwahidun))
734. Ibn Sayyid al-Nas: ‘Uyun al-Athar (a trustworthy hadith scholar according to al-Dhahabi and Ibn Kathir, and a disciple of Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, his book is one of the classic hadith-based sirah works)
748. al-Dhahabi of Damascus: Tarikh al-Islam, Siyar A’lam al-Nubula (biographies and history up to the 8th C, including a highly regarded sirah in the beginning of the first book)
751. Ibn al-Qayyim: Zad al-Ma’ad (one of the classics of shama’il and fiqh al-sirah)
774. Ibn Kathir of Damascus: al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah (highly regarded history and biography on the methodology of hadith scholars up to 8th C)
779. Ibn Battutah: al-Rihla (description of the medieval Old World)
808. Ibn Khaldun of North Africa: al-Tarikh (universal historiography, excellent for 7th-8th C)
832. Taqi al-Din al-Fasi: al-‘Iqd al-Thamin (the great histoty of Makkah)
841. Burhan al-Din al-Halabi: al-Sirat al-Halabiyyah (very popular work but includes Isra’iliyat and deleted chains, though explains difficult words and adds valuable observations and notes)
845. al-Maqrizi of Cairo: al-Mawa’iz wa al-I’tibar (masterpiece), al-Itti’az (main reference for Fatimids), al-Suluk li Ma’rifat Duwal al-Muluk (on the Ayyubids and Mamluks)
852. Ibn Hajar of Cairo: al-Durar al-Kaminah (8th C)
902. al-Sakhawi of Cairo: al-Law’ al-Lami’ (9th C)
923. al-Qastallani of Cairo: al-Mawahib al-Laduniyyah (one of the major shama’il works, with a massive commentary by al-Zurqani [d.1122])
942. Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Salihi al-Dimashqi al-Shami: Subul al-Huda wa al-Rushad (possibly the largest sirah ever written, compiled from more than 300 sources)
1089. Ibn al-‘Imad: Shadharat al-Dhahab (up to 1000)
1111. al-Muhibbi: Khulasat al-Athar (11th C)
1250. al-Shawkani: al-Badr al-Tali’ (from 7th C, picking up from al-Dhahabi)
Muhammad al-Kaf on The Difference between al-Marwadi and al-Juwayni
الماوردي شيخ طريقة العراقيين، والجويني شيخ طريقة الخراسانيين.. ولكل طريقة في التفريع وذكر الخلاف في المسائل.
الماوردي يهتم كثيرا بنقل خلاف الققهاء في المسائل.. ويستدل للمذهب.. ويذكر إيرادات الخصوم.. ويجيب عليها. الجويني يهتم بتحرير المذهب.. وببعض النكت الأصولية الدقيقة.. فهو أعمق غورا .. وأكثر اختصارا من الماوردي..فاستطيع ان ألخص لك الفرق أن الجويني أخصر وأعمق في المذهب ، والماوردي أشبه بكتب الفقه المقارن والخلاف..
هذا من خلال تصفح سريع.. وقد تبدو فروقات أخر لمن أدمن التأمل
كما قال الشيخ محمد عمر حفظه الله.“البيان” شرح فيه العمراني رحمه الله كتاب “المهذب” لأبي اسحق الشيرازي رحمه الله ، بخلاف الشيخين الماوردي والجويني رحمهما الله فقد شرحا ” مختصر المزني” .وقد أجاد العمراني في شرحه حتى تمدحه الكثير من العلماء ، وكان مرجعا مهما لمن جاء بعده. وهو غالبا يذكر فيه قول العراقيين ، وفي بعض الأماكن يذكر قول الخراسانيين، لذلك قالوا : هو أول من جمع بين الطريقيتين. وكان العمراني ممن برع في المذهب، وكانت له عناية خاصة في ” المهذب” ، فقد كان يحفظه عن ظهر قلب، وقرأه قبل أن يشرحه اكثر من 40 مرة. وهو في الغالب يتناول نص “المهذب” ، ويذكر أدلة المسائل من الكتاب والسنة ، والإجماع ، والقياس مع ذكر وجه الاستدلال ، ويكثر من ذكر التعليل ، ويذكر قول الإمام الشافعي ، وأقوال المذاهب الأخرى ، ويورد أقوال الصحابة والتابعين، ويناقش المذاهب الأخرى بعد أن يورد أدلتهم كل ذلك في أدب جمّ وعفة لسان، ويتناول أقوال أئمة المذهب من مظانها ، وهو واسع الاطلاع على تلك الأقوال ، ويناقش ويرجح ، يضعف ويصحح، بالإضافة إلى اعتنائه باللغة وشرح الغريب .ومن خلال اطلاعي عليه ، وجدته في بعض الجوانب يفوق كتابي الماوردي والجويني ، بحكم تأخر زمانه، واستقرار المذهب في عصره، فهو بالنسبة إليهما كالذي وقف على بناء جميل ، فزاده جمالا، لكن الكتب المتقدمة – بجملة – عنيت بالمناقشة والتقعيد والتعليل والتقرير ، وكان العلماء المتقدمون يتعاملون مع الأدلة تعاملا مباشرا ، بخلاف الكتب المتأخرة التي حرص أصحابها على جمع الأقوال والتدقيق والتنقيح والاختصار والتحرير ، فذاك ميدان، وهذا ميدان.
قال الإمام تاج الدين السبكي رحمه الله تعالى: “كتاب الرافعي هو العمدة ثم إن لي به خصوصية زائدة ،
وألازمه منذ كنت ابن ثلاث عشرة سنة ، وما ظنك بمن كان قبل الثلاثين من عمره يقول له مثل الشيخ الإمام : ما فعل رافعيُّك ؟ وهل هذه المسألة في الرافعي ؟ اعتقادا منه أنه آت عليه استحضارا لملازمته إياه ليلا ونهارا ” واعلم أن مبسوطات مذهبنا التي يعتمد ، ويلجأ إليها في المعضلات ويستند ، ولم يلحقها من جاء بعدها أحد ثلاثة : 1- الحاوي الكبير للقاضي أبي الحسن الماوردي 2- والمذهب الكبير المسمى بالنهاية لإمام الحرمين أبي المعالي الجويني 3- والشرح الكبير للإمام الرافعي
هذه عمد المذهب ، والمتداولة بين أهله كلما لاح نسيم العلم وهب ، والمستضاء بنورها كلما أظلم من المشكلات غيهب ولسنا ننكر علو قدر تعليقة الشيخ أبي حامد ، ولا نعدل بتعليقتي القاضيين أبي الطيب والحسن ، وبحر الروياني وغيرها من تصانيف تتنازل لها الفراقد ، ومجموعات لكل إمام في هذا المذهب ناقد حتى ننتهي إلى مطلب ابن الرفعة أعظم به من مطلب دونه المهالك ، ومبسوط عظيم المسالك ، وعلى مقدارٍ لو ناداه الخبر لقال ترفعا : أنى يستجاب لذلك ولكنا نقول إن هذه الثلاثة التي نصصنا عليها وأشرنا إليها هي الجامعة للمذهب على منوال فرد ، الحاملة على كاهلها جمهور مسطراته التي تكاثرت عن العد ، المغنية غالبا عن غيرها ، ولا يغني غيرها عنها ، الموثوق بها في الفتيا ، حيث يأمر الفقيه وينهى ثم بينها عموم وخصوص :
ــ فالحاوي أكثرها تقسيما ، وأجمعها للنصوص خصوصا ، ولكلام المتقدمين من أئمتنا عموما ، وأوضحها علة وأكثرها أدلة ، وأرشدها إلى شبه المخالفين وأعودها فائدة على المدرسين
ــ والنهاية أفحلها عبارة ، وأكملها إشارة ، وأعظمها تحقيقا ، وأفخمها طريقا ، وأصحها على السبيل عبارة وأقربها في مجالس النظر انتصارا وأوقعها على محز البحث إذا وقفت الأذهان و أكثرها تمسكا بحرف المسألة إذا كانت من الحيرة تغيب عن العيان، وأفضلها لطالبي الغايات سبيلا ، وخيرها لذوي التحقيق مستقرا وأحسن مقيلا.
كان الشيخ الإمام رحمه الله يحكي لنا : أن طلبة العلم كانوا مهذبية ووسيطية ؛ لأنهم كان من دأبهم أن يلزم كل طلب بعد محفوظه من المختصرات كتابا من المبسوطات يجعله دأبه الليل والنهار فلهم في المختصرات مختصر يحفظونه : إما مختصر المزني أو التنبيه لأبي إسحاق الشيرازي أو نحوهما هذا للدرس والتكرار وفي المبسوطات : إما المهذب أو الوسيط : هذا للمزاولة وترديد النظر الليل والنهار وفي المبسوطات : كتاب يرجعون إليه عند الأمور الكبار فأصحاب المهذب مبسوطهم الحاوي وأصحاب الوسيط مبسوطهم النهاية وتعيب طائفة على طائفة لزوم كتابين ومحاولة طريقين خشية من تبدد الذهن وعدم تماسكه إذا ازدحمت عليه الكتب حتى جاء الرافعي ملخصا ما سبق من تصانيف عدة ، فسد الباب على من بعده ودعا أرباب المبسوطات إليه ، وعاد أرباب الحاوي والنهاية عيالا عليه ولحقٍ نال هذا المنال فإنه: أجمعها شملا وأوضحها قولا ، وأحسنها تلخيصا وأمسها تعميما وتخصيصا ، وأسهلها تناولا وأجملها حاصلا ، وأعجلها للمستوفز وأعودها فائدة للموجز ، وأسرعها إجابة لمن يستوضح ويستبين ، وأنفعا لذوي الإلزام من القضاة والمفتين ؛ فلا غرو أن نخصه بالمزاولة ، ونمنحه في أكثر الأوقات المحاولة”
Sadly, Quranic studies in general, and tafsir in particular, are often the weakest parts of the curricula of Islamic schools, institutes and universities. What follows is a suggestion on how to study this noble science.
As with all disciplines in Islamic studies, they are interrelated as part of a holistic curriculum. Thus, to truly benefit from tafsir, one must also study related sciences, especially lugha, nahw, sarf, balaghah, usul al-fiqh, and sirah. So, as one completes the elementary stage, one should have also completed elementary study in these fields too. This is very important so as to not leave any gaps in one’s understanding.
The objective at this stage is to study completely an abridged and easy tafsir that gives one a general understanding of the Quran. This is a vital stage as it introduces the science of tafsir to the beginner. It must be emphasised that the book one chooses must be studied cover to cover, without getting preoccupied with the troublesome aspects (variant readings, conflicting interpretations, linguistics, etc.) of each ayah.
Tafsir al-Muyasir, al-Muntakhab fi Tafsir al-Quran al-Karim, and the recently published al-Mukhtasar fi al-Tafsir by Markaz al-Tafsir all give the general meaning of each ayah, without explaining each and every word. At first glance, this might seem to be a deficiency, as one would expect to have each word explained, but these works serve as excellent starting points in getting the gist of an ayah before further and deeper investigations. A student should be able to explain the general meaning of each ayah. A committee of scholars worked for years on each of these and one engaged with tafsir can really appreciate the efforts, as they present the most accurate interpretation of each ayah summarised in contemporary Arabic.
To compensate for the lack of vocabulary explanation in the aforementioned books, one should also add a work that defines the ambiguous words (gharib al-Quran) such as Kalimat al-Quran: Tafsir wa Bayan by Hasanayn Muhammad Makhluf. A similar work is al-Siraj fi Gharib al-Quran by al-Khudayr. Both of these contemporary works are easily arranged by ayah sequence. A more classical work is the excellent Tafsir Gharib al-Quran by Makki al-Qaysi, sometimes printed with the title al-‘Umdah. A simple classical work arranged like a dictionary is Tuhfat al-Arib by the famous grammarian and exegete Abu Hayyan.
One might ask, what about Tafsir al-Jalalayn by al-Mahalli (d.864) and al-Suyuti (d.911)? Whilst a short abridgement, it is not suitable for beginners because it has many difficult passages covering technical linguistic issues and variant readings (qira’at) that need further commentary and explanation. It assumes a certain level of learning on behalf of the reader. This is clear to anyone who has studied it. Yet, if any tafsīr is included in a curriculum, it is usually this one. The truth is that it more suitable for a higher level review for scholars and teachers, to be read alongside its hawashi, such as those by al-Jamal (which is excellent) and al-Sawi (abridged from the former). Its fame, in part, owes to being including in the Azhar curriculum over the centuries, where in previous times the students were much more grounded in linguistics and variant readings than they are today. If one, however, has been trained and has good grounding in linguistics and variant readings then it is an excellent choice.
A much more suitable pre-modern work (by a contemporary of al-Suyuti) for the elementary level is Jami’ al-Bayan by Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Iyji al-Shafi’i (d.905), which is a very clear and concise summary of the great works. As he states in his introduction, he wrote his tafsir as he felt there was a need for something like it, as aspirations had lowered and abilities weakened in his time for the study of the classics. He heavily relies on Tafsir Ibn Kathir and Tafsiral-Baghawi for validating narrations, and depends only on hadiths found in the canonical Six Books of Hadith. His stated main sources, in addition to the aforementioned, are al-Wasit by al-Wahidi, Tafsir al-Nasafi, al-Kashaf by al-Zamakhshari with the following three glosses: Hashiyat al-Tibi (highly regarded by al-Suyuti and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani), Hashiyat al-Kashf by Siraj al-Din ‘Umar al-Thani, and Hashiyatal-Taftazani. The final work upon which he relies is Tafsir al-Baydawi. He uses expressions to indicate authorities, such as saying ‘or’ (aw) between statements to indicate the Salaf (i.e. the Companions and Followers), and saying ‘it is said’ (qila) for the views of the later exegetes. It is an excellent tafsir for beginners as it prepares one well for future study.
Other easy classical commentaries suitable for the beginner include Tafsir Ibn Abi Zamanin al-Andalusi (d.399), by the famous early Maliki master, which is abridged from Tafsir Yahya b. Sallam (d.200).
A popular contemporary work among my teachers and peers is Aysar al-Tafasir by Abu Bakr al-Jaza’iri, which was written after the president of the Islamic University of Medina specifically asked him to write a tafsir that resembles Tafsir al-Jalalayn, but with a Salafi agenda, which could replace the former in institutions of religious education. It is based on Tafsir al-Tabari, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Tafsir al-Maraghi, and al-Saʿdi’s Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman.
However, I personally much prefer Safwat al-Tafasir by al-Sabuni. It is quite similar to al-Iyji’s tafsir in that it is based on the classical commentaries. It focuses on introducing each surah, explaining vocabulary (al-lughah), highlighting subtleties (latifah), benefits (fawa’id), places verses in context in relation to others (al-munasabah), causes of revelation (asbab al-nuzul), and rhetorical devices (al-balaghah). I would venture as far as to say that it is the best introductory tafsir written by a living scholar. Some of the criticisms against it by contemporaries in Arabia are exaggerated and do not affect its overall value.
It is important at this stage to be consistent. One should plan well and designate a set amount to study each week, sticking to it till one completes the task. A manageable amount is to read half a juz a week, or the tafsir of about a page from the Mushaf al-Madinah a day. In this manner, one will have completed the basic tafsir of the Quran in approximately one year.
The objective at this stage is to familiarise oneself with multiple aspects of tafsir, especially concerning the explanation of words and the various narrations regarding each ayah, without striving to find which is preponderant (tarjih) nor being too concerned when different statements are attributed the same authorities, such as Ibn ‘Abbas
This level is the beginning of specialization. One moves beyond having a general picture about each ayah that presents only one meaning and moves towards exegetical methodology (usul al-tafsir) and the various statements of the exegetes (aqwal al-mufassirin).
It is important that one understands exegetical methodology, the causes of different opinions, the categories of interpretation, the rules of interpretation, the rules of giving preponderance (tarjih), knowing the nomenclature of the exegetes, knowing the variant readings (qira’at), causes of revelation (asbab al-nuzul), abrogation (al-nasikh wa al-mansukh), etc.
Thus, one should read works that address such issues, taking care to memorise to various views of the early exegetes.
Zad al-Masir by Ibn al-Jawzi is an intermediate tafsir that concisely presents the various opinions without selecting the preponderant view. It was designed as an intermediate tafsir to give basic tools to student before going into depths. It is both comprehensive and concise. One may use it to build upon al-Iyji’s work by determining who said what about each ayah.
Tafsir Ibn Juzayy is another excellent intermediate work, which may compliment reading Zad al-Masir. It is notable for its focus on definitions and the branches of learning that lead out from the Quran.
Gharib al-Quran by Ibn Qutaybah is a highly influential work that is quoted by many of the classical works such as those by al-Tabari, al-Qurtubi, and al-Razi. It is relatively brief and is the best place to begin when looking for the meaning of some of the more ambiguous words. Due to its conciseness, I prefer it to similar, but more expansive, works such as Majaz al-Quran by Abu ‘Ubaydah and Ma’ani al-Quran by al-Farra’.
One might ask, for the intermediate level, what about Tafsir al-Baydawi? Whilst this is a very popular commentary that is still studied (in part not in whole) in some institutes, it is not suitable even for intermediate students. It is a difficult book as is clear to anyone who has studied it. It cannot be fully understood without further commentary and thus attracted more than 2,000 marginal glosses (hawashi), the most famous by al-Tibi, as scholars grappled to understand and engage with certain passages. Why such a large number, you might ask? It was later adopted and promoted in the curriculum of the Ottoman Empire by Shaykh al-Islam Abu al-Su’ud and ratified by Sultan Sulayman. Its standing grew to such an extent that certain teaching positions were only given to someone who had written a gloss on it. This partly explains why it has attracted a huge amount of glosses in manuscript. It is, by far, the most popular tafsir among scholars of the later pre-modern period (‘asr al-muta’akhirun). It is a Sunni refinement of Tafsir al-Zamakhshari, removing the Mu’tazali arguments, whilst retaining its linguistic discussions, which are somewhat perplexing to most students, and even many teachers, today due to the paucity of contemporary understanding of Arabic linguistics. Again, as with Tafsir al-Jalalayn, this is a book for experts to review, not for curriculum study in my view.
At this stage one starts to address to issue of preponderance (tarjih) with the aim that the student should know which view is most correct about what is said about each ayah, as well as the strongest non-preponderant views, as these have the possibility of also being correct. One should research issues in the major references and practically apply the methodologies, focusing on the specialised features which distinguish each exegete, be that language, fiqh, variant readings, etc.
The best references for seeking the preponderant views in vocabulary and narration are: (1) al-Tabari, (2) Ibn ‘Atiyyah, (3) Ibn ‘Ashur, (4) Abu Hayyan, (5) al-Razi, and (6) al-Raghib.
Tafsir al-Tabari – all knowledge of tafsir has its foundation in this book, as it shows one how to deal with: reconciling the variant opinions of the commentators, interplay with other ayat, deduce rulings, etc. in order to establish the correct meaning. It is so well known and widespread that I doubt I need to elucidate its virtues.
Tafsir Ibn ‘Atiyyah pays great attention to establishing the preponderant view (tarjih) from the sayings of the Salaf (the first three generations), and it helps to train the student in the method of tarjih for other narrations not addressed by Ibn ‘Atiyyah. It was highly regarded by Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Taymiyyah due to its extensive and meticulous research, summarising the formative tradition with the most accurate narrations, and was influential on later exegetes such as al-Qurtubi, Abu Hayyan, Ibn Kathir, and al-Shawkani.
Ibn ‘Atiyyah sources include the premier books of his time in tafsir, qira’at, fiqh, and lugha with the aim of tafsir the pinnacle of Islamic studies. He is unique for his time in that he included nothing of the Isra’iliyat common in tafsir books.
When Ibn Atiyyah quotes from earlier scholars, he looks very critically at what they say, making sure that what he quotes is correct and accurate. In this way, he was able to purge any interpretation that sought to give Qur’anic words or statements anything other than their immediate meanings. He rejects all suggestions that Qur’anic statements may have hidden meanings that could be known only to an elite group of people. To him, the Qur’an is God’s book addressed to all mankind in a direct and straightforward manner. This does not allow any room for hidden meaning.
Ibn Atiyyah explains his methodology by stating: ‘I proceed in this commentary according to the word order of every verse, explaining its rulings, grammatical positions, linguistic functions, meanings and the pronunciation of different methods of recitation.’ It is excellently arranged and follows a logical progression with an emphasis on linguistics.
When he speaks of the legal implication of verses and sentences, Ibn Atiyyah does not confine himself to the Maliki madhab, nor does he always support the views of the madhab. He analyzes the evidence supporting each view and gives preponderance to views that have solid evidence.
Tafsir Ibn ‘Ashur, al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwih (The Verification and Enlightenment), is in my view by far the greatest tafsir of the last century. I believe that if any modern tafsir work is still read in centuries ahead, it will be this one. Yet, it has largely been overlooked, having been overshadowed by modernist works by the likes of Rida and Qutb. However, unlike many 20th century exegetes, Ibn ‘Ashur was firmly grounded in the classical tradition, hailing from a scholarly aristocratic family of judges. The distinguishing feature of his tafsīr is his identification of the ta’lil, or rationale as well as underlining the maqasid, or objectives. He also highlights rhetorical devices and reconciling different views. It gives one a solid foundation in tafsir.
It was published between 1956 and 1970 and was the fruit of a lifetime of scholarship of the highest order.
He is critical of most tafasir in that they are dependent on previous works, basically gather what are dispersed among the abridged and extensive tafasir. My own readings support this observation too. There are certain works that are so original and pioneering that they influenced many subsequent works to the extent that one finds entire passages copied. Al-Zamakhshari’s tafsir is a prime example. Most post-Zamakhshari linguistic tafasir cannot avoid engaging with it.
Ibn ‘Ashur goes on to state the most important exegetes in his view:
al-Baydawi, which he says is a summary of al-Zamakhshariand al-Razi in a wonderful achievement
The glosses on al-Zamakhshari by al-Tibi, al-Qazwini, al-Qutb, and al-Taftazani
The gloss on al-Baydawiby al-Khafaji
What is most intriguing for me is that al-Zamakhshari, a noted Mu’tazali, is listed first before the others, as Ibn ‘Ashur’s exegesis of 42:51 could draw criticism of I’tizal, even though it is presented as an Ash’ari view.
Ibn ‘Ashur himself emphasizes that tafsir is the art of expounding meaning and what can be deduced from it thereof. It is firmly grounded in the classical tradition, as can be deduced by his list of important tafāsīr, in focusing on linguistic analysis and Ibn ‘Ashur’s mastery of Arabic allows him to make penetrating insights in his exegesis.
Ibn ‘Ashur listed the following eight objectives (maqasid) for his tafsir:
Reforming Islamic education
Explaining correct beliefs
Defining Quranic law
Clarifying the policy of the Islamic community
Analyzing the history of ancient punished community
Demonstrating sound Quranic methods of proof and deduction
Demonstrating the miraculous nature of the Quran
Tafsir Abu Hayyan – is the apex of classical grammatical and linguistic tafsir and is the first point of reference in this regard.
Tafsir al-Razi – excellent at solving problems and is one of the main references scholars keep coming back to, alongside al-Tabari and Ibn ‘Ashur. Ibn Taymiyyah once infamously stated that ‘in it is everything except tafsir!’ Many later scholars criticised this statement, as Tafsir al-Razi is extremely popular, for good reason. Rather, as some retorted, ‘in it is everything plus tafsir,’ indicating its encyclopaedic scope.
al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran by al-Raghib al-Asfahani is the main reference for defining Quranic vocabulary. The definitions here take precedence over those found in other works.
The objective of this stage is to read the major references and give preponderance based on the skills acquired in the previous stage.
How does one identify the major works? I personally check the listings of major scholars. The main references are Muhammad al-Zarqani (Z), Muhammad Husayn al-Dhahabi (DH), al-Fadl b. ‘Ashur (IA), Nur al-Din ‘Itr (I), Mustafa al-Bugha/Muhyi al-Din Mistu (B), Abdullah al-Juday’ (J), Ibrahim Rufaydah (R), Manna’ al-Qattan (Q), Musa’id al-Tayyar (T), and Muhammad al-Sabuni (S).
Ibn Ashur probably has the most specialized knowledge and is well-versed in the tradition, al-Dhahabi and al-Sabuni probably have the best overview, Rufaydah has good judgment in grammar, and Juday’ and al-Tayyar are probably the most insightful. I have highlighted in bold those that are listed by seven or more authorities, and adjusted the script to facilitate proper pronunciation.
Muqātil (d. 150; the earliest preserved tafsīr) none listed but still important nevertheless
Yaḥyā ibn Sallām (d. 200) IA
al-Farrāʾ (d. 207) R
Abū ʿUbaydah (d. 209) R
al-Zajjāj (d. 311) R, Z
al-Ṭabarī (d. 311) (ma’thūr) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, J, B, I, T, S
Abū Mansụ̄r al-Māturīdī (d. 333) – the first major theological tafsīr IA
al-Naḥḥās (d. 338) R, J (I’rab) Z (nasikh mansukh)
al-Jasas (d. 370) ahkam J, S
al-Samarqandī (d. 375) ma’thur DH, Z, Q, S
al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427) ma’thur IA, DH, S
Makki al-Qaysi (d. 437) J
al-Wāḥidī (d. 468) R, Z (basit), Z (asbab)
ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. 471) a major linguistic tafsīr IA
Ilkiyā al-Harāsi (d. 504) J, S
al-Baghawī (d. 516) ma’thur DH, Z, J, S
al-Zamakhsharī (d. 538) a major linguistic tafsīr (with al-Jurjānī) IA, R, Q, B, I, S
Ibn ʿAṭiyyah (d. 542) – ma’thur masterpiece in tarjīḥ IA, DH, R, Q, J, T, S
Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597) J, T
Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 604) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, B, S
al-Qurtụbī (d. 671) R, Z, Q, J, B, S
al-Nasafī (d. 710) ra’y DH, R, Z, Q, I, S
al-Khāzin (d.725) DH, Z, Q, I, S
al-Naysābūrī (d. 728) – ra’y lists the qira’āt, DH, Z, S
Ibn Juzayy (d. 741) T
Abū Ḥayyān al-Gharnāṭī (d. 745) – the apex of grammatical tafsīr , DH, R, Z, Q, J, T, S
Ibn Kathīr (d. 774) – distinguished in ḥadīth DH, Z, J, B, I, T, S
al-Bayḍāwī (d. 791) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, J, I, S
Ibn ʿArafah (d. 803) IA
al-Thaʿālibī (d. 875) DH, R, I, S
al-Suyūṭī (d. 911) al-Durr al-manthūr (and Tafsīr al-Jalālayn) DH, Z, Q, J, S
al-Khaṭīb al-Sharbīnī (d. 977) – ra’y gives tarjīḥ DH, R, Z, S
Abū al-Suʿūd (d. 982) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, I, S
al-Siyālkūtī (d. 1066) – best hashiya on al-Bayḍāwī, though incomplete IA
al-Khafājī (d. 1069) one of the best hawashi on al-Bayḍāwī IA, R