Foundation of Knowledge
The Necessity and Importance of Tafseer (2)
After the death of the Prophet(salallahu alayhi wa sallam), the science, of tafseer took on a more systematic approach. Thus it can be considered that the first true mufassirs were actually the Companions. The sources that the Companions used for tafseer were the Qur'aan the statements of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam), the principles of Arabic grammar and rhetoric, their own personal reasoning (ijtihaad), and pagan and Judaeo-Christian custom that were prevalent at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an.
There were many among the Companions who were well known for their knowledge of the interpretation of the Qur'an. As-Suyootee wrote, "There are ten who were famous for their knowledge of tafseer among the Companions: the four Khulafaa ar-Raashidoon, Abdullaah ibnMas'ood, Abdullaah ibn Abbaas,Ubay Ibn Ka'ab, Zayd ibn Thaabit,Aboo Moosaa al-Ash'aree and Abdullaah ibn Zubayr. As for the Khulafaa, Alee ibn Abee Taalib has the most narrations amongst them; as for the other three, their reports are very rare to find, since they died relatively earlier. In other words, the tafseer narrations of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthmaan are not as common due to the fact that they were not compiled because of their relatively early deaths. Also, during their time, there was no great need to interpret much of the Qur'an, as the Companions were many and wide-spread.
During later times, however, such as during the Caliphate of Alee, the need to interpret the Qur'an was much greater than before. There were others besides these ten Companions who were well known for their knowledge of tafseer, such as Anas ibn Maalik, Aboo Hurayrah, Jaabir ibn Abdullah and 'Aa'ishah, except that they were not in the same category as the ten whom as-Suyootee mentioned.
The most knowledgeable Companion with regards to the interpretation of the Qur'an is considered to be Ibn Abbaas. Abdullaah ibn Umar (RA) said, "Ibn Abbaas is the most knowledgeable of this ummah concerning the revelation given to Muhammad." This is due to the fact that the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) himself prayed for Ibn Abbaas, he said:
"O Allaah! Give him the knowledge of the Book and of Wisdom!" and in another narration, "O Allaah! Give him the knowledge of the religion, and interpretation." (Bukhari)
Ibn Abbaas was held in great esteem by the Companions, despite his age (he was thirteen when the Prophet passed away). Umar used to let Ibn Abbaas enter into the meetings of the older Companions, so some of them complained, 'Why is it that you let him enter, even though we have sons the same age as him (whom you do not allow to enter)?" Umar answered, "Since he is amongst the most knowledgeable of you!"So he called them one day, to prove to them this statement, and he asked them "What do you think of the verse,
"When the help of Allaah comes, and the Conquest" (Q110 [Nasr]: 1)?
Some of them did not reply, while others said, 'We have been commanded to thank Allaah and ask for His forgiveness whenever we are helped and aided to victory." 'Umar asked Ibn 'Abbaas, 'And do you think the same also, O Ibn 'Abbaas?" He answered, "No!" 'Umar asked. "Then what do you say." He replied, "This is an indication to the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) from Allaah that his life is about to end. The verse means, ‘When the help of Allaah comes and the Conquest' then this is a sign of your approaching death, therefore,
"Glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask for Forgiveness, for verily He is ever-accepting repentance!" (Q110 [Nasr]:3).
Umar (RA) said, "I don't know any other meaning to this except what you have said!" (Bukhari)
The narrations of Ibn 'Abbaas, along with those of Abdullaah ibn Mas'ood, 'Alee Ibn Abee Taalib,and Ubay ibn Ka'ab are the most numerous narrations from Companions that are to be found in tafseer literature. Each one of them established centres of learning during their lifetimes, and left many students among the Successors after their deaths.
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited