The 5 necessary conditions for making the correct Tafseer and What are the conditions for a Mufassir to achieve an authentic tafseer of the Quran

Praise be to Allah,


The Quran is an infallible miracle given to the prophet Muhammad(PBUH). The challenge of producing a book like it or even one chapter which consists of mere three verses remains unachieved. Allah has promised to protect the Qur’an from any distortion. Allah says:


“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.” 


(Translation Qur’an, 15:9)


Quran was revealed for three reasons: to worship Allah by reciting it, to understand its meaning, and to act upon it[1]. Allah explained the Quran to him and he ﷺ taught it to his followers by his statements and his actions. Allah says,


“Verily, collecting the Qur’an (for you) and reciting it (to you) is My responsibility, so when I read it to you, listen to it. Then it is upon Me to explain it[2]


Further Allah says,


“I have revealed the Reminder (Qur’an) to you (O Muhammad) so that you may explain to people what has been revealed to them[3]”.


Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would explain to the sahabah the intended meaning of the verse in Quran. An example is the hadith of Ayesha,


Aisha reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah, peace, and blessings are upon him, about this verse, “Those who give what they give while their hearts are afraid,” (23:60). Aisha said, “Are these who drink wine and steal?” The Prophet said, “No, O daughter of the truthful, rather they are those who fast, pray, and give charity while they fear it will not be accepted from them. They are those who race towards virtue[4]” 

Moreover, the Sahabas would not move to the next verse until they have memorized, properly, understood the ten verses, and acted upon them[5]. Anas says, “ if a man from amongst us would memorize surah al Baqarah and Surah Al-Imran, he would gain respect in our eyes[6].”


The superiority of some Sahabas in interpreting the Quran.


The most knowledgeable in the science of Tafseer was Abdullah ibn Abbas.


Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: ‘Umar used to make me sit with the elderly men who had fought in the battle of Badr. Some of them felt it (did not like that) and said to ‘Umar: ‘Why do you bring in this boy to sit with us, while we have sons like him?’ ‘Umar replied ‘Because of what you know of his position’ (i.e. his religious knowledge). One day ‘Umar called me and made me sit in the gathering of those people, and I think that he called me just to show them (my religious knowledge). ‘Umar then asked them in my presence: ‘What do you say about the interpretation of the statement of Allah’.


إِذَا جَاءَ نَصْرُ اللَّهِ وَالْفَتْحُ

‘When comes Help of Allah, and the conquest . . .’ (110: 1). 

Some of them said: ‘We are ordered to praise Allah and ask for His forgiveness when Allah’s help and the conquest (of Makka) comes to us’. Some others kept quiet and did not say anything. On that ‘Umar asked me: ‘Do you say the same, O Ibn ‘Abbas?’ I replied: ‘No’. He said: ‘What do you say then?’ I replied: ‘That is the sign of the death of Allah’s Apostle which Allah informed him of. Allah said: ‘(O Muhammad) when comes the help of Allah (to you against your enemies) and the conquest (of Makka) (which is the sign of your death) – you should celebrate the praises of your Lord and ask for His forgiveness, and He is the One who accepts the repentance and forgives (110:1-3). On that ‘Umar said: ‘I do not know anything about it other than what you have said[7].


The noble Companions of the Prophet passed on their knowledge to their students. These students in turn passed it on to their students. The first three generations of Islam made great sacrifices to attain knowledge and in implementing them. There were three main Islamic centers in the Muslim empire, Madeena, Makkah, and koofa. The students of Abdullah Ibn Abbas like Mujahid, Ikrimah, Tawoos (May Allah be pleased with them all) became leading scholars in Tafseer.


The most noteworthy compilation of Tafseer during the time of taba’eeen is that of Mujaahid a student of Ibn Abbas. ‘He once stated, “I read the whole Qur’an to Ibn ‘Abbaas three times. During each reading, I stopped at the end of every verse and asked him about whom and why it was revealed.”[8]


The students of Abdullah ibn Masood like Alqama ibn Qays, Masrookh, and others became leading scholars in Tafseer in Kufaa.


In the city of the prophet(PBUH), Madeena, the students of the Ubay ibn Kaab like Aboo al- Aaliyah, Muhammad ibn Kaab al- Qurdi, and Zaid ibn Aslam (May Allah be pleased with them all) became prominent scholars in Tafseer.


One of the notable features of this period was that the successors made more commentary than even the companions[9]. The Islamic empire grew much bigger and reached places where Judaeo-Christian influence was high. There were civil riots and break up of Ummah into various sects which were not present during the time of prophet Muhammad. Consequently, new issues arose which were not present at the time of the companions. Moreover, narrations from their sources entered into the Islamic books of Tafseer. Another notable feature is the beginning of fabrication of the hadith attributed to the prophet Muhammad( peace be upon him).


The 5 necessary conditions for making the correct Tafseer with one example in each.


After the first three generations’ passing, there was a steady decline in faith and knowledge in the ummah. The prophet (PBUH) has said,


“There will not lapse an era except that which follows shall be worse off”[10]


The instances of differences of opinion rose followed by a break-up of the ummah into several sects. Each sect interpreted the Quran to support their belief. To preserve the Quran’s true meaning according to the understanding of the salaf, the scholars have laid down several principles necessary for interpreting the Quran.


  1. Tafseer of Qur’aan by Qur’aan


The first principle to interpret the quran is the quran itself. Allah states,



“Do they not ponder on the Quran? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein many discrepancies [11]


Since the book of Allah is absolutely pure and free from contradictions, it is essential to interpret the Quran by the Quran itself.

Al-Zarkashi stated, “The best way to interpret the Quran is by using the Quran itself. What is stated concisely in one place may be elaborated upon at another place.”[12]

The Quran uses several methods to explain the meaning of verses. Sometimes questions are asked followed by the answer in the next verse or other instances the explanatory verse is not located in the same chapter. At the same time, there are detailed and general verses in one place and the exceptions or specific is mentioned in another verse.


An example of this would be,


“Then Adam received from his Lord words and He relented toward him”[13]


In this verse, the words that were revealed to Adam are not stated. When we turn to the verse-


They [Adam and Eve] said, ‘Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not and have not mercy on us, surely, we are of the lost[14]“‘ 



  1. Tafseer of Qur’aan by the Sunnah


The second source of interpreting the Quran is the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Al Albani commented on the verse quoted above Soorah an-Nahl (16):44:


This verse has two meanings. First, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) is not to conceal anything of the revelation that he has received but he must convey all of it to mankind. Second, it means that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) has the duty of explaining the finer details of the Quran and of demonstrating how the Quran is to be applied”[15].


No one can claim to know Tafseer of the Quran more than the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to whom the Quran was revealed. Although the Quran is revealed in Arabic, the companions sometimes misunderstood the intended meanings of few verses. They had to turn to Sunnah for correction. A perfect example would be:


And eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct from the black thread of the dawn”[16]


A Companion used to keep two threads, one black and one white, under his pillow to know if he could distinguish between the two at the time of dawn. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) heard about this and he cleared that the verse is referring to the differentiation between the white streak of the dawn and that of the night.”[17]


  1. Tafseer of Qur’aan by Aathaar


The third most important source to interpret the Quran is the narrations from companions of the prophet. This is simply because they are the most knowledgeable and best of the generations. They witnessed the Quran being revealed and also they knew the reasons behind their revelations. They were perfectly familiar with all the sciences of the Quran like asbaab an- nuzool, naasikh and mansookh, makkana, and madeenian verses. However, not all the opinions of the companions can be taken as the source and they might be their personal opinion. The Tafseer which the Companions agreed is considered a valid source. This is both because of the status of the Companions and because of ijmaa. Their opinion will carry the highest weight after the top two sources particularly in matters of the asbaab an-nuzool, the matters of unseen, and others. An example of interpreting of the verse of the Quran by the companions is:


An example is:


Narrated ‘Ata’: When Ibn ‘Abbas heard the verse of Surah Ibraheem: 28: ‘Have you not seen those who have changed the favor of Allah into disbelief[18]? He said: ‘Those were the disbelieving pagans of Makkah[19]


  1. Tafseer of Qur’an by Language


The third source to interpret the Quran is the Arabic language. It is affirmed by the Quran itself in several places. Allah states,


,,. “Verily We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran in order that you may understand[20]“).


The famous student of the Companion ibn Abbaas, Mujaahid said “It is not permissible for anyone who believes in Allah and the Last Day to speak about the Book of Allah if he is not knowledgeable of the dialects of the Arabs[21]” Once it was asked to Ibn Abbas regarding the verse[22],


لَا رَيۡبَۛ فِيهِۛ ( Surah baqaraah 2:2)


he (May Allah be pleased with him) replied, “ it means doubt”. They asked, do the Arabs know their meaning? “he replied yes”[23].


The Mu’tazila sect believed that anyone who committed a major sin and did not repent from it would be in the Hell-Fire forever and they do not believe in the intercession of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Therefore, they interpret “people of kabaa-ir” as the believers who perform the prayers because Allah says in the Quran,


“Seek help in patience and prayer and truly it is hard (Ar., kabeera) save for the humble” (al-Baqarah 45).


This interpretation goes against the principles of the Arabic language; there is no way that kabeerah could be construed to refer to the same as ahle-kabaa-ir


  1. Tafseer of Qur’an by Opinion


The permissibility of the Ijtihaad is a blessing from Allah as it helps in addressing the issues by extracting rulings from the time of the messenger of Allah till the last day of judgment. Ijtihaad means deriving an opinion based on sound Islamic sources. It was also approved by the Prophet, e.g., when he sent Mu’adh bin Jabal to Yemen,


When the Prophet (PBUH) sent him to Yemen, he asked him, ‘How will you give a judgment or settle a dispute?’ Mu’adh answered; ‘I will refer to the Qur’an.’ The Prophet then asked, ‘What will you do if you do not find the decree you are looking for in the Qur’an?’ Mu’adh answered, ‘I will refer to the Prophet’s Sunnah.’ The Prophet (PBUH) asked, ‘But what will you do if you do not find a decree even in the Sunnah?’ Mu’adh readily answered, ‘I will be judge between mankind by resorting to juristic reasoning (ijtihad) to the best of my power”[24].


Speaking without knowledge is explicitly prohibited in the Quran as Allah states,


“Say: The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are indecent deeds, whether open or secret, sins and trespasses against the truth, assigning of partners to Allah for which He has given no authority., _and saying things about Allah of which you have no knowledge”[25].


What are the conditions for a Mufassir to achieve an authentic Tafseer of the Quran


A Mufassir is the One who makes Tafseer of the Qur’an. A person to qualify to become a Mufassir must have the following three qualities:


1- Correct Belief:


A mufassir must have the proper belief based on the teachings of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the understanding of the Salaf. It is only then he will be able to interpret the true meaning of the verses. Any association with a group or sect will hinder the heart from correct interpretations and consequently, he will lose the trust of the masses.


2- Correct Methodology


The second most important condition to become a Mufassir is that he must follow the proper methodology. The first and foremost is the explanation of the Qur’an by the Qur’an. The next is the explanation of the Qur’an by the Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad(peace be on him). If these are not sufficient, we may turn to the teachings of the sahaba. If nothing is found in these, then we will turn to the Language of the Quran and lastly ijtihad based on sound Islamic sources.


3- Correct Knowledge


A Mufassir must possess the knowledge of the scholarly level of Arabic, related sciences that relate to the study of the Qur’an. He must know naseekh and mansookh, Muhkaam from its Mutashabiaah, make and madinee verses and process of revelation and it’s asaab an nuzool, knowledge of hadith science, knowledge of principles of fiqh and others.



Brief introduction of the two popular Tafseer


Tafseer of Ibn katheer: Tafseer al-Qur’aan al-Atheem


Ibn Kathīr, (1373 CE/699-774 AH), author of the popular Tafseer al-Qur’an al-Atheem was one of the most famous Islamic scholars in medieval Islamic history. His Tafseer comprises four volumes and is considered the second-best after Tafseer of Imam at-Tabaree. It is very popular because it explains each verse of the Qur’an with the support of hadith and sayings of the sahaba and tabaeen.


One of the advantages of Tafseer ibn katheer over the Tafseer of the tabaree is that it presents the readers with adequate details without going into extremes. This is highly beneficial for the students of knowledge. Of the criticisms in Ibn Kathir are quotations of weak hadith and stories from Jewish sources.


Imam-Suyooti (may Allah have mercy on him) said concerning this Tafseer: Nothing like it has ever been written”[26].


Tafseer of Qurtubee :Jaami‘ Ahkaam al-Qur’aan wa al-Mubayyin li Maa Tadammana min as-Sunnah wa Aay al- Furqaan


Tafseer al Qurtubee is authored by the famous Imam Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Ansari al-Qurtubi (d. 671), a scholar of Andalusia. The preface of this book is large discussing issues like virtues of the Quran, how to recite the Quran, punishments for interpreting the Quran by mere opinion, and others. This book is highly fiqh-oriented, meaning legal rulings are deduced from the texts. It is one of the lengthiest works of tafsir comprising twelve volumes.


Both the Tafseer is written by scholars of the highest caliber. The difference between the two Tafseer can be summarised as:



Concerning the Tafseer of imam Qurtubi, it is more comprehensive for he mentions the opinion of all the schools of thought and then concludes with the strongest opinion- mostly Maliki. As for the Tafseer of Ibn Katheer, he does not abide by any specific school of thought. He explains verses by analyzing all of his narrations of the sahabah and the taabi‘oon. Tafseer Al Qurtubi is in large twelve volumes whereas ibn katheer’s Tafseer is in four volumes.





[1] An Explanation of Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s Introduction to the Principles of Tafsir, Page 9

[2] Soorah al-Qiyaamah (75):17-19.

[3] Soorah an-Nahl (16):44

[4] Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3175

[5] An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qu’ran, Yasir Qadhi, 294

[6] An Explanation of Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s Introduction to the Principles of Tafsir, Page 26

[7] [Bukhari, Vl, No. 494.], Fath al Bari 8:606, see also tafseer ibn katheer vol 10 page 618

[8] An Explanation of Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s Introduction to the Principles of Tafsir, Page 32

[9] An Explanation of Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s Introduction to the Principles of Tafsir, Page 32

[10] Reported by al-Bukhari (9/61), worded by him, Ahmad (3/117,132 ), and al-Tirmidhi (2206) from the hadith narrated by Anas.

[11] (al-Nisaa 82).

[12] .” Badr al-Din Al-Zarkashi, A/-Burhaan ft U/oom al-Quran (Beirut: Daar alMarafa, n.d.), vol. 2, p. 1 75.

Quoted in How to Understand and approach the Quran, J Zarabozo, page 205

[13] al-Baqarah 37

[14] al Araaf23

quoted in APPROACH TO THE QURANIC SCIENCES, Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, page 345

[15] Quoted in How to Understand and approach the Quran, J Zarabozo, page 221

[16] (al-Baqarah 187).

[17] Recorded by Muslim.

[18] ‘ Surah Ibraheem14: 28

[19] Sahih al-Bukhari 4700

[20] Chapter 12. Surah Yoosuf :2

[21] Quoted in How to Understand and approach the Quran, J Zarabozo, page 244

[22] Surah baqaraah 2:2

[23] An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qu’ran, Yasir Qadhi, page 314

[24] Sunan Abu Dawood 3592

[25]  Surah al-Araaf33

[26] Tadhkirat al-Huffaaz, p. 534.




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