History of Tafsir


After the generation of the Companions, their students took over the responsibility of explaining the Quran. The Successors interpreted the Quran as the Companions did, except that they added to the list of sources the interpretation of the Companions. They understood that an interpretation given by the Companions of the Prophet could not be compared to an interpretation of any person after them. Therefore, the sources for interpreting the Quran were: the Quran, the statements of the Prophet that the Companions had informed them of, the Companions personal reasoning (ijtihad), and Judaeo-Christian tradition (Israeliyaat).

After the death of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam), the Companions spread out to different Muslim cities in order to teach people the religion of Islam. Each one taught many Successors, most of whom became scholars in their own rights in due time. Historically, three primary learning centre’s were established in the Muslim empire: Makkah, Madeenah and Kufah. Each of these areas became leading centre’s of knowledge during the period of the Successors, including the knowledge of tafsir. In Makkah, where Ibn Abbas had taught, his primary students became the scholars of this area. In, particular, Saeed bn Jubayr (d. 95AH), Mujahid ibn Jabr (d.104AH), Ikrimah (d. 104),Tawus (d. 106) and Ataa bn Rabaah (d. 114AH) became leading authorities in this field,and their names are still to be found in many works of tafseer. In Madeenah, the influence of Ubayy bn Kab was the strongest in the field of tafseer and his students, Abu al-Aaliyah (d. 90AH.), Muhammad ibn Kab al-Quradi(d. 118) and Zayd bn Aslam (d. 136 AH.) emerged as the scholars of tafseer in Madeenah during this period. In Kufah, Abdullah bn Masud left behind his greatest legacy to Alqamah bn Qays (d. 61 AH.), Masruq (d. 63 AH.) and al-Aswad bn Yazeed (d. 74 AH.).Other Successors from Kufah who were famous for their knowledge of Tafseer were Aamir ash-Shabee (d. 109AH.),al-Hasan al-Basree (d. I 10AH.) and Qataadah as-Sadoosi (d. 117AH.).

During this period, emphasis was placed on Judaeo-Christian traditions known as Israeliyaat, and because of this, many of these narrations entered into Islamic literature. Most of the people who narrated these traditions were Jews and Christians who had embraced Islam, such as Abdullah bn Salaam, Kab bn al-Ahbar, Wahb bn Munnabih and AbdulMalik bn Jurayj. Much of the Jedaeo-Christian traditions prevalent in tafsir literature can be traced back to these scholars. Also during this time, the differences in interpreting the Quran were much greater than during the time of the Companions. Another characteristic of this period is the forged narrations attributed to the Prophet. This was due to the religious and political strife that was rampant throughout the Muslim territory at the time.


This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited


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