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Commentary of the Quran
Quranic commentaries (tafāsīr, sing. tafsīr) has always been at the center of Islamic intellectual history, the prism through which the Quran has been mediated to believers. In the traditional Islamic world, the Quran was and is understood through the language of tafsīr, and much of what Muslims believe the Quran is stating is actually what tafsīr says it is. Thus the significance of tafsīr in the religious history of Islam is paramount.
In addition to the text of the Quran itself, a vast exegetical literature grew around it over the years and formed part of an independent science, that of tafsīr, which together with the science of ḥadīth, or Prophetic Traditions, is regarded as the cornerstone of what are known as religious sciences in Islam.
Each commentary can be characterized as traditional (based primarily on ḥadīth), rationalist (drawing on dialectical theology), mystical (with esoteric insights), sectarian (Sunni, Shiite, Kharījī depending on view) and modern. From another perspective, each commentary can be characterized from both a chronological and thematic classification. Chronologically, the first stage is with the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad and the second with the two generations that immediately followed. The third stage covers a vast span of more than a millennium, while the final stage is that of modern and contemporary commentary. Thematic categories includes philosophical, legal, mystical and scientific. However, individual commentaries often blend several perspectives and employ multiple modes of interpretation.
Most of the classical commentaries share certain formal features. They follow the canonical order of the Quran, beginning with the first verse of the first chapter and continuing methodically until the last chapter and verse, in what is often labeled a “linked” (musalsal) approach. In the largest commentaries, consecutive passages (usually individual verses) are set at the very top of the page, and tends to be cumulative, with each new effort incorporating masses of material from earlier centuries text and studies on the Quran. Such comprehensive Quran commentaries have continued to be written in the modern and contemporary periods, sustaining a deep and unbroken tradition. However, new emphases and new methods have also entered the exegetical work, and diversity in different forms has grown. As emigration and colonization drastically increased exposure to post-Enlightenment thinking, some schools have adopted a rationalist approach to the Quran that could account for scientific advances and new forms of political, social, and economic organization. Others go even further with “scientific exegesis” (tafsīr ʿilmī) claiming that the Quran contains all knowledge, and in the doctrine of the Quran’s miraculous inimitability (iʿjāz), lies all answers to modern science. The latest exegetical trend - upon encounters with post-Enlightenment rationalism, postcolonialism, scientific advances - is literary studies of the Quran where the tafsīr is broadened in scope of ideas and intellectual currents. This type is characterized as “thematic interpretation” (tafsīr mawḍūʿī), that rather than following the textual sequence of the chapter and verse from beginning to end, thematically focuses on key concepts or issues as the commentators draws together material from throughout the Quran deemed relevant to the topic under consideration.
Following is a short outline of some important classical and modern Quran commentaries sorted chronologically.
Classical and Modern Commentary
Muqātil ibn Sulaymān (d. 150/767)
Tafsīr Muqātil ibn Sulaymān (Quranic commentary of Muqātil son of Sulaymān)
A transmitter of ḥadīth and one of the earliest Quranic commentators whose work still survives, Ibn Sulaymān was originally from Balkh in present-day Afghanistan; he lived and taught in Baghdad and Basra, where he died. He is said to have held zaydī and murjiʿī views on matters of law and theology. His commentary reveals a particular interest in the narrative elements of the Quran concerning Biblical figures, and he frequently elaborates on these narratives using material he attributes to Jewish and Christian sources.
Sahl ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Tustarī (d. 283/896)
Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm (Commentary on the Mighty Quran)
Born in 203/818 in Tustar (in Persian, Shushtar) in Khuzistan in southeastern Iran, al-Tustarī was a mystic and Sufi guide. His uncle introduced him to the formal study of his religion, overseeing his instruction in the fundamental areas of Islamic learning. For two decades, al-Tustarī adopted a rigorously ascetical lifestyle of Sufi practices and devoted himself to the cultivation of his inner life. His commentary, perhaps the earliest extant collection of Sufi exegesis, recognizes both an outward/exoteric and inward/esoteric meaning for Quranic verses, although the commentary was compiled from his teachings by his disciples and is not complete. Later Sufi scholars and Quran commentators, such as ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (see below), relied heavily on al-Tustarī’s interpretations in drawing their own insights.
The fourth volume of the Great Commentaries on the Holy Qur’an series, by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, Amman, Jordan, have made the first complete English translation of tafsīr al-qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm of Sahl b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Tustarī. Translated by Annabel Keeler and Ali Keeler, first published in 2011 by Fons Vitae.
Furāt ibn Furāt al-Kūfī (d. ca. 310/922)
Tafsīr Furāt (Quranic commentary of Furāt)
Furāt b. Furāt b. Ibrāhīm al-Kūfī is the author of one of the oldest Shiite Quranic commentaries. Furāt’s commentary, like that of ʿAyyāshī for example, would be conventionally classified as a tafsīr biʾl-maʿthūr; that is, one in which the exegesis of verses draws on the narrations transmitted from the Prophet and the Ahl al-Bayt in association with that particular verse. These traditions mostly either go back to Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq or to one of Imam ʿAli’s close companions, such as al-Aṣbagh b. Nubāta; at times, however, we find that a tradition goes back to Ibn ʿAbbas. Furāt does not exhaust every single Quranic verse in his commentary and, very much like ʿAyyāshi and Qummī, the exegesis is a selective one, often designed to convey a specific Shiite significance or context. Naturally, Furāt’s commentary attempts to extract these Shiite aspects of the Quran - that is to say, verses, which taken with their associated reports, reflect such fundamental Shiite doctrines as love and obedience to the imam and a recognition of his authority (walāya, wilāya). Another important aspect of this commentary is the inclusion of accounts of the miracles performed by the Ahl al-Bayt as confirmations of their rank, reflecting the popularisation of material that disseminated doctrines later regarded as ‘extremist’ (ghuluww), such as the pre-eternity of the Ahl al-Bayt and their super-human knowledge of the unseen (ʿilm al-ghayb). Furāt’s style of presentation consists of a simple listing of selected narrations on a given topic.
Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923)
Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āy al-Qurʾān (The Comprehensive Clarification of the Interpretation of the Verses of the Quran)
The most famous of the classical commentaries on the Quran is that of al-Ṭabarī. One of the most prolific Sunni authors of his time, al-Ṭabarī was born in 224–25/839 in Tabaristan in northern Iran. He traveled widely in his youth through Egypt and the Levant in search of learning and eventually settled in Baghdad, where he wrote the two works for which he is known: his encyclopedic Quranic commentary and his universal history, al-Taʾrīkh al-rusul waʾl-mulūk (The History of Messengers and Kings), which begins with accounts of ancient prophets and legendary figures leading up to the founding of Islam and then chronicles Islamic history up to his own time. Al-Ṭabarī’s comprehensive Quranic commentary is considered a culmination of the early genre and is perhaps the best classical example of tafsīr biʾl-maʿthūr, or commentary based on the collection of individual exegetical reports transmitted from the Prophet Muhammad’s Companions and earlier generations of Muslim commentators. Al-Ṭabarī’s work therefore preserves the religious views and opinions of many early Islamic scholars that would have otherwise been lost. Al-Ṭabarī is not merely a collector of reports, however, as his commentary also includes his own analysis and evaluation of the varying exegetical claims and readings he reports in his work.
A projected five-volume abridged translation of al-Ṭabarī’s vast commentary was cut short by untimely and much-lamented death of the translator, the Cambridge scholar John Cooper. Only Volume One has appeared. This volume was edited by Wilferd Madelung and Alan Jones and published under the title of The Commentary of the Qurʾān by Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī by Oxford University Press in 1987. But even from this single volume and Cooper’s superb translation, readers will acquire a good notion of how al-Ṭabarī and other like-minded classical commentators deployed their strategy of Quranic commentary.
In 2017 the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, in Amman, Jordan, commissioned a publication containing thirty-two discreet passages of al-Ṭabarī’s Quranic commentary in translation. The selection of sūras and verses was made by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute and translated by Scott Lucas. Published in two volumes, mainly containing texts associated with special merits and blessings, also includes al-Ṭabarī’s own introduction to the tafsīr. This translation is based on the 27-volume, 2001 critical edition, titled Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī: Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āy al-Qurʾān, edited by ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-Turkī and the Markaz al-Buḥūth wa’l-Dirāsāt al-ʿArabiyya wa’l-Islāmiyya bi-Dār Hajar in Cairo, Egypt.
ʿAlī ibn Ibrāhīm al-Qummī (d. 328/939)
Tafsīr al-Qurʾān (Quranic commentary), also known as Tafsīr al-Qummī (Commentary by al-Qummī)
ʿAlī ibn Ibrāhīm al-Qummī is credited with the first full-scale Shiite commentary on the Quran. Little is know about his early life, but he is known to have been a contemporary of the eleventh Shiite imam, al-Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī, who died in 873. Al-Qummī’s tafsīr is the only extant work attributed to him and presents distinctly Shiite interpretations of most of the verses it treats. Originally from Kufa, he moved with his father, also a well-known Twelver Shiite scholar, to the Shiite scholarly center of Qumm in central Iran.
Abū Manṣūr Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Māturīdī (d. 333/944)
Taʾwīlāt ahl al-sunnah
A prominent theologian and founder of a major school of Sunni theology, al-Māturīdī took an approach to theological issues balanced between reason and scripture and adopted positions that often lay between Ashʿarism (the major school of Sunni theology) and Muʿtazilism. He was born in Samarqand in modern-day Uzbekistan in the mid-third/ninth century. His Quranic commentary was reportedly compiled by his students.
Naṣr ibn Muḥammad al-Samarqandī (d. 373/983)
Abū’l-Layth al-Samarqandī, as he is most commonly known, was a prominent ḥanafī jurist (one of the four schools of Islamic law within Sunni islam) and author of works on ethics and asceticism whom some consider an important figure in the early development of the Māturīdī school of theology. His Quranic commentary was especially popular among the Ottomans, who translated it repeatedly into Turkish in the ninth/fifteenth century.
ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (d. 412/1021)
Ḥaqāʾiq al-tafsīr (Truths of Quranic Commentary)
Born in 325/937 in Nishapur in northeastern Iran, al-Sulamī was initially trained by his Sufi father and later became a disciple of the Nishapuri Sufi master Abu’l-Qāsim Ibrāhīm al-Naṣrabādhī. Al-Sulamī’s tafsīr was influenced by, and also preserves, exegetical material attributed to earlier Sufis, including Sahl al-Tustarī. Sulamī’s tafsīr was, in turn, an important influence on al-Qushayrī’s Sufi tafsīr a generation later. In addition to his tafsīr, al-Sulamī was the author of many Sufi treatises as well as an extensive Sufi biographical dictionary.
Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427/1035)
al-Kashf wa’l-bayān ʿan tafsīr al-Qurʾān (The Unveiling and Clarification Concerning the Quran)
A ḥadīth scholar and preacher as well as an exegete, al-Thaʿlabī was a renowned and celebrated scholar of Nayshapur even in his own time. Among his students was the well-known Quranic commentator al-Wāḥidī. Al-Thaʿlabī’s tafsīr, encyclopedic in scope, includes a wide variety of narrative, legendary, and literary materials in the discussions of Quranic passages, yet also pays attention to issues of grammar and recitation. In addition to his commentary, he is also the author of the well-known Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (Stories of the Prophets), which expands upon the Quranic accounts of the prophets.
ʿAlī ibn Muḥammad al-Māwardī (d. 450/1058)
al-Nukat wa’l-ʿuyūn fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān
A shāfiʿī jurist (one of the four schools of Islamic law within Sunni islam) and prominent legal judge (qāḍī), al-Māwardī was born in Basra in 364/974, but lived most of his life in Baghdad, where he enjoyed the favor of Abbasid caliphs eager to revive Sunni ideals in a political environment dominated by the Shiite Buyid dynasty. In addition to his tafsīr, he is the author of many works, including an important book on Islamic politics and governance, al-Aḥkām al-sulṭāniyyah.
Abu’l-Qāsim al-Qushayrī (d. 465/1072)
Laṭāʾif al-ishārāt (Subtleties of Indications)
Born in 376/986 in Nayshapur, al-Qushayrī was a Sufi commentator famous for his book about Sufism al-Risālah (The Treatise). He adhered to the Ashʿarite school of theology and the shāfiʿī legal school (one of the four schools of Islamic law within Sunni islam) prominent in Nayshapur during his lifetime. He was a disciple of the Sufi master Abū ʿAlī al-Daqqāq and studied with ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī, also the author of a major Sufi commentary. Like the works of other Sufi authors of his time, al-Qushayrī’s commentary aims to present Sufi interpretations as complementing, rather than challenging, the exoteric Sunni Islamic perspective.
Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan al-Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067)
al-Tibyān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān (Elucidation Regarding the Exegesis of the Quran)
Often referred to by his honorific title Shaykh al-Ṭāʾifah (“Leader of the Community”) al-Ṭūsī was the leading Twelver Shiite religious scholar in Baghdad during the late Buyid period. Born in Tus in Khurasan (northeastern Iran), al-Ṭūsī migrated to Baghdad at an early age in order to study with the leading Twelver Shiite religious scholars al-Shaykh al-Mufīd and al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā. Al-Ṭūsī tempered the rationalism of these two scholars, incorporating a renewed recognition of the importance of the transmitted traditions of the Imams into a more balanced Shiite theology and legal theory that championed the authority of the Twelver religious scholars and jurists in the absence of the Shiite Imams. This scholarly approach is reflected clearly in his extensive tafsīr. In addition to his Quranic commentary, al-Ṭūsī wrote many other theological, biographical, and bibliographical works as well as two of the four canonical collections of Twelver Shiite aḥādīth: al-Istibṣār and Tahdhīb al-aḥkām.
Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad al-Wāḥidī (d. 468/1076)
Asbāb nuzūl al-Qurʾān
A prominent religious scholar born in Nayshapur in northeastern Iran, al-Wāḥidī studied with al-Thaʿlabī, a prominent exegete and author of a comprehensive tafsīr. Al-Wāḥidī is the author of several exegetical works on the Quran. His Asbāb nuzūl al-Qurʾān is the earliest known example of a work devoted to presenting the circumstances in which particular Quranic verses or passages were revealed and the particular historical issues or problems to which they were responding. The tafsīr is not comprehensive, but only treats those verses for which the circumstances of revelation were known or transmitted.
Al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī (d. 502/1108)
Mufradāt alfāẓ al-Qurʾān
Born in Isfahan, al-Rāghib apparently remained in the city for the whole of his life and career. The Mufradāt is not set up as a standard tafsīr; instead, it discusses the semantic range and significance of various Quranic terms, arranged alphabetically by the Arabic root they are derived from, in their Quranic context(s). In addition to the Mufradāt, al-Rāghib reportedly composed other works on Quranic exegesis, although these survive only in fragments or as citations in later works. He is also the author of numerous works on literary, philosophical, and ethical themes.
Al-Ḥusayn ibn al-Farrāʾ al-Baghawī (d. 516/1122)
Born and educated in a village near Herat in present-day Afghanistan, al-Baghawī was primarily a ḥadīth scholar. He composed his Quranic commentary largely on the basis of traditions (aḥādīth) from the Prophet Muhammad, and he is also the author of two ḥadīth collections, Sharḥ al-sunnah and Maṣābīḥ al-sunnah, in which each section of the collection is prefaced by a reference to Quranic verses related to the topic of that section.
Rashīd al-Dīn Maybudī (d. ca. 520/1126)
Kashf al-asrār wa ʿuddat al-abrār (The Unveiling of Mysteries and Provision for the Pious)
Rashīd al-Dīn Maybudī was a Persian Sufi exegete. His large tafsīr, written primarily in Persian, provides a literal Persian translation followed by an exoteric commentary and then an esoteric or mystical interpretation.
Abu’l-Futūḥ Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī al-Rāzī (d. 525/1131)
Rawḥ al-jinān wa rūḥ al-janān.
A Twelver Shiite commentator and student of the famous exegete al-Zamakhsharī, Abu’l-Futūḥ al-Rāzī composed his commentary in Persian, although he may have written another in Arabic that has not survived. The commentary gives a Persian translation of each Quranic verse or passage, followed by a discussion of various debates and issues surrounding its meaning.
Abu’l-Qāsim Maḥmūd ibn ʿUmar al-Zamakhsharī (d. 538/1144)
al-Kashshāf ʿan ghawāmiḍ ḥaqāʾiq al-tanzīl wa ʿuyūn al-aqāwīl fī wujūh al-taʾwīl (Unveiler of the Real Meanings of the Hidden Matters of What Was Sent Down)
Born in Khwarazm in Central Asia in 467/1065, al-Zamakhsharī, a scholar of Arabic grammar and philology as well as Quranic exegesis, wrote numerous works on Arabic language and literature (adab). Al-Zamakhsharī was a great exponent of the beauty and perfection of Arabic as a sacred language, and his commentary is famous for its analysis of the grammatical, philological, and rhetorical aspects of the Quranic text. Theologically, he held rationalist Muʿtazilite views, which are also evident in his commentary.
Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq ibn ʿAṭiyyah al-Andalusī (d. 541/1147)
al-Muḥarrar al-wajīz fī tafsīr al-kitāb al-ʿazīz
An Andalusian exegete from Seville, Ibn ʿAṭiyyah also served as a religious judge (qāḍī) in Granada. His commentary pays close attention to issues of Arabic grammar and pronunciation of the Quranic verses as well as to their content and meaning. Some reports give him a slightly later death date of 546/1152.
Qāḍī Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 543/1148)
An Andalusian scholar and polymath, Ibn al-ʿArabī (not to be confused with the celebrated Sufi writer Muḥyi’l-Dīn ibn ʿArabī) wrote on various religious sciences and produced works on law, ḥadīth, history, and Arabic grammar as well as Quranic commentary. He traveled widely, visiting Damascus, Egypt, and Baghdad, where he studied with the famous Sufi theologian Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī.
Abū ʿAlī al-Faḍl ibn al-Ḥasan al-Ṭabrisī (or al-Ṭabarsī; d. 548/1153–54)
Majmaʿ al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān (Confluence of Elucidation in the Exegesis of the Quran)
A Twelver Shiite Quranic commentator, al-Ṭabrisī was born and raised in Khurasan in northeastern Iran. His name is sometimes given as al-Ṭabarsī, although al-Ṭabrisī seems the more accurate pronunciation. He studied with students of the other great Twelver Shiite exegete Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Ṭūsī, spending much time in the Shiite sacred city of Mashhad, where he is buried. Like most prominent Twelver Shiite scholars of his time, he embraced many of the views of the rationalist Muʿtazilite school. His commentary is methodically structured, beginning the treatment of each Quranic passage with a series of technical discussions concerning issues of grammar, philology, and proper pronunciation and then following those with an interpretation of the content of the verses drawn from both Sunni and Shiite traditions.
Abu’l-Faraj ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn ʿAlī ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597/1200)
Zād al-masīr fī ʿilm al-tafsīr (Provisions for the Journey in the Science of Exegesis)
Born in 510/1116, Ibn al-Jawzī was a ḥanbalī (one of the four schools of Islamic law within Sunni islam) scholar and prolific author in the fields of law, ḥadīth, biography, and history. A prominent preacher in Baghdad, for most of his life he enjoyed the official patronage of caliphs and viziers interested in promoting an exoteric Sunni perspective rather than Shiite and some Sufi views. When the political climate changed near the end of his life, he was imprisoned and exiled for a time, but eventually returned to Baghdad. Al-Jawzī tafsīr is intended to equip its readers with the exegetical essentials rather than the elaborations found in the more encyclopedic commentaries.
Rūzbihān al-Baqlī al-Shīrāzī (d. 606/1209)
ʿArāʾis al-bayān fī ḥaqāʾiq al-Qurʾān (Brides of Elucidation in the Truths of the Quran)
A Sufi commentator and religious scholar from Shiraz, Rūzbihān al-Baqlī was known for his commentary on the ecstatic sayings of the Sufis, his treatment of Divine Love, and his vivid spiritual visions, which are chronicled in his spiritual autobiography entitled Kashf al-asrār. Al-Baqlī’s Quranic commentary is also rich with spiritual allusions and symbolic interpretations.
Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210)
al-Tafsīr al-kabīr (The Great Commentary), also known by the title Mafātīḥ al-ghayb (Keys of the Unseen)
Born in 543/1149 in Rayy (today a suburb of modern-day Tehran), al-Rāzī was a prolific author in the fields of philosophy and theology in addition to Quranic exegesis. His magnum opus is his encyclopedic commentary on the Quran. Al-Rāzī favored the Ashʿarite school of theology, although he was critical of some of its positions, and spent much of his career debating the views of Muʿtazilites. After some travels to Khurasan and Central Asia, he eventually settled in Herat in present-day Afghanistan, where he secured significant patronage as well as intellectual renown. His extensive training in philosophy and theology is evident in his Quranic commentary. Al-Rāzī is noteworthy among medieval Quranic commentators both for his discussion of not only the language and content of the verses, but also their order and stylistic arrangement in the text, and for his lengthy treatment of theological and philosophical questions in the context of Quranic commentary. The tafsīr is thirty-two volumes in the current printed edition. Al-Rāzī often divides his analysis of a particular vese into a series of subdivisions, each of which may undergo further segmentation.
In 2018 the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, in Amman, Jordan, commissioned a publication of the first ever translation into English from The Great Exegesis and focuses on the first chapter of the Quran, the Fatiha. This first edition was published in 2018 by The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought and The Islamic Texts Society. Translated (the whole text) with notes by Sohaib Saeed, foreword by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, a well-known translator of the Quran himself that relies heavily on al-Rāzī’s in his approach to his translation.
Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1272)
al-Jāmiʿ li-aḥkām al-Qurʾān
An Andalusian scholar who eventually settled in Egypt, al-Qurṭubī was a prominent mālikī legal scholar (one of the four schools of Islamic law within Sunni islam), a scholar of ḥadīth, and a Quranic commentator. As the title of his tafsīr suggests, the work pays particular attention to the implications of Quranic verses for matters of Islamic Law in relation to both jurisprudential theory (uṣūl) and specific legal rulings (furūʿ), although it is not limited to these areas and should be considered one of the great encyclopedic commentaries. The tafsīr includes a good number of aḥādīth in its interpretation of verses and does not make extensive use of Biblical material or legendary reports.
ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿUmar ibn Muḥammad al-Bayḍāwī (d. ca. 685/1286)
Anwār al-tanzīl wa asrār al-taʾwīl (Lights of revelation and secrets of interpretation), also known by the title tafsīr al-Bayḍāwī
An author of several works on various Islamic sciences, including philosophical theology (kalām), legal theory, and grammar, al-Bayḍāwī is best known for his Quranic commentary, which is heavily based on al-Zamakhsharī’s al-Kashshāf (see above). Bayḍāwī adhered to the shāfiʿī school of law (one of the four schools of Islamic law within Sunni islam) and served as judge (qāḍī) in Shiraz, Iran.
ʿAbd Allāh ibn Aḥmad al-Nasafī (d. 710/1310)
Madārik al-tanzīl wa ḥaqāʾiq al-taʾwīl
A ḥanafī scholar (one of the four schools of Islamic law within Sunni islam) of Islamic Law and theology as well as a Quranic exegete, al-Nasafī hailed from Sogdiana in Central Asia. He traveled throughout Iran and Iraq, residing for some time in Kerman in southeastern Iran and visiting Baghdad before dying in Khuzistan in southern Iran.
Niẓām al-Dīn al-Nīsābūrī (or al-Nayshābūrī; d. 728/1328)
Tafsīr gharāʾib al-Qurʾān wa raghāʾib al-furqān
A polymath from the city of Nayshapur in northeastern Iran, al-Nīsābūrī was a scholar of theology, philosophy, and science—particularly astronomy—as well as a Quranic exegete. His tafsīr, which was deeply influenced by the commentary of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, reflects his concern with theology, Sufism, and philosophy. Al-Nīsābūrī takes a distinctly mystical approach in his interpretation of the text, and he was one of the first to seriously incorporate the natural sciences into his commentary.
ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Kāshānī (d. 736/1336)
Taʾwīl al-Qurʾān al-karīm (Hermeneutics of the Quran), known by many as Tafsīr Ibn ʿArabī
A third-generation student of the outstanding Andalusian mystic and metaphysician Ibn ʿArabī, al-Kāshānī is the author of a number of important works in the field of philosophical Sufism. His Quranic commentary is rich with metaphysical and symbolic interpretations and clearly shows the influence of the school of Ibn ʿArabī. The work was first published under the name of Ibn ʿArabī and is commonly, but mistakenly, attributed to him.
Commissioned by the the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, institute in Amman, Jordan, and published by Fons Vitae, this tafsīr has been translated into English, as volume 7 in a series of a total of 9 volumes with different translations of Quranic commentaries (“Great Commentaries of the Holy Qur’an Series”). The publication is a partial English translation of the commentary, covering chapter 1-18 of the Quran. The translator Feras Hamza, is an Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the American University in Dubai, with a doctoral studies in Islamic history from the University of Oxford.
Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Juzayy al-Kalbī (d. 741/1340)
al-Tashīl li-ʿulūm al-tanzīl
An Andalusian man of letters and polymath, Ibn Juzayy was the author of several important works. In addition to his Quranic commentary, he also wrote a comparative legal work on the Sunni schools of Islamic Law entitled Qawānīn al-fiqhiyyah and a Sufi treatise called Taṣfiyat al-qulūb.
ʿImād al-Dīn Abu’l-Fidāʾ Ismāʿīl ibn ʿUmar ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1373)
Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm (Interpretation of the Mighty Quran)
Born in Basra near the turn of the eighth/fourteenth century, Ibn Kathīr moved to Damascus at a young age and became one of the leading religious scholars in Syria at that time. He was heavily influenced by his Syrian contemporary Ibn Taymiyyah and taught Quranic sciences at the Umayyad mosque in Damascus. A traditionalist as well as an exegete, he sought to rely as fully as possible on the ḥadīth and to reduce the influence of Biblical material and legends (isrāʾīliyyāt) on Quranic interpretation. He is also the author of a major universal history entitled al-Bidāyah wa’l-nihāyah.
Burhān al-Dīn Abu’l-ḥasan Ibrāhīm al-Biqāʿī (d. 885/1480)
Naẓm al-durar fī tanāsub al-āyāt wa’l-suwar
A scholar of both law and exegesis, al-Biqāʿī studied in Egypt before settling in Damascus. His tafsīr is distinctive for its careful attention to the significance of the stylistic arrangement (naẓm) of the Quran, its use of Biblical materials, and its defense of the use of the Bible in tafsīr.
Jalāl al-Dīn al-Maḥallī (d. 864/1459) and Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī (d. 911/1505)
Tafsīr al-Jalālayn (Interpretation of the Two Jalāls)
Jalāl al-Dīn al-Maḥallī was a Cairene scholar of both law and exegesis. Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī was his student, and one of the most prolific authors of all time in various Islamic sciences, including Islamic Law, ḥadīth, and the Quranic sciences. Al-Suyūṭī taught shāfiʿī law and was a highly regarded muftī in Mamluk, Egypt. In addition to completing the Tafsīr al-Jalālayn, which was begun by his teacher al-Maḥallī, he is also the author of al-Itqān fi ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, an influential work treating various aspects of the Quranic sciences, and al-Durr al-manthūr fī’l-tafsīr bi’l-maʾthūr, a Quranic commentary based exclusively on the sayings of the Prophet and the first generations of Muslims.
Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī, known as Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1050/1640)
Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-karīm (Commentary on the Noble Quran)
The most prominent representative of the Safavid-era Shiite school of philosophy known as the School of Isfahan, Mullā Ṣadrā produced works that synthesized many of the earlier schools of Islamic philosophy, metaphysics, and mysticism. His philosophical works are profoundly rooted in the Quran, as evidenced in his frequent Quranic references and allusions. He also wrote many separate treatises on the Quran and its interpretation, assembled together and entitled Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-karīm.
Muḥammad Muḥsin al-Fayḍ al-Kāshānī (d. 1091/1680)
Born in Qumm, a center of Twelver Shiite tradition and learning, al-Kāshānī moved to the city of Isfahan, where he studied with the foremost Safavid-era philosopher Mullā Ṣadrā. Al-Fayḍ al-Kāshānī was an Akhbārī Shiite scholar whose work is characterized by a reliance on the transmitted traditions of the Twelver Shiite Imams as well as a mystical and gnostic Shiite approach to Quranic interpretation.
Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī al-Burūsawī (d. 1137/1725)
A twelfth/eighteenth-century Ottoman Turkish scholar who resided in Istanbul and Bursa, al-Burūsawī (Bursevī in Turkish) was a Sufi shaykh in the prominent Turkish Sufi order, the Jalwatiyyah. His tafsīr contains both exoteric and esoteric commentary and is noteworthy for its use of the Persian poetic tradition.
Aḥmad ibn ʿAjībah (d. 1224/1809)
al-Baḥr al-madīd fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-majīd
A twelfth/eighteenth-century Maghribī shaykh of the Darqāwiyyah-Shādhiliyyah Sufi order, Ibn ʿAjībah produced a commentary that includes both exoteric and esoteric commentary. His esoteric commentary (ishārah) sometimes quotes earlier Sufi authorities, but it also contains a number of original mystical insights and analyses and is characterized by its consistent method of addressing the multiple levels of meaning in the Quran and its systematic use of Sufi technical vocabulary.
Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Shawkānī (d. 1250–55/1834–39)
Al-Shawkānī was a thirteenth/nineteenth-century religious scholar and legal authority in Ṣanʿāʾ, Yemen. Raised in a zaydī Shiite family, he later embraced and championed Sunnism, arguing for a return to the original textual sources of Islam, the Quran, and the ḥadīth.
Shihāb al-Dīn al-Ālūsī (d. 1270/1854)
Rūḥ al-maʿānī fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm wa’l-sabʿ al-mathānī
A thirteenth/nineteenth-century scholar and descendent of a prominent Baghdadi family claiming descent from the Prophet, al-Ālūsī was a muftī as well as an exegete. He encouraged a return to the Quran and ḥadīth rather than reliance on established schools of Islamic theology and law.
Muḥammad al-Ṭāhir ibn ʿĀshūr (d. 1393/1973)
A Tunisian scholar of Islamic Law as well as an exegete, Ibn ʿĀshūr is the author of Maqāṣid al-sharīʿah al-Islāmiyyah, one of the most important recent works to examine the “aims” or “purposes” of the Law as a key to the proper interpretation and application of sharīʿah rulings.
Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabāʾī (d. 1401/1981)
al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān (The Balance in the Exegesis of the Quran)
A leading fourteenth/twentieth-century Shiite religious scholar, philosopher, and teacher in the Shiite seminary in Qumm, al-Ṭabāṭabāʾī was a master of the sciences of philosophy, law, ethics, and Quranic hermeneutics. His tafsīr is encyclopedic in scope, treating traditional exegetical questions and debates as well as historical and philosophical issues and themes.
In 1982, the World Organization for Islamic Studies (WOFIS) based in Qum, Iran, entrusted Sayyid Saʿīd Akhtār Rizvī to render an English translation of the tafsīr of al-Ṭabāṭabā. Rizvī managed to complete the translation of the Arabic volume 1 to 6 (and part of volume 7), and died untimely in the year 2002 and thereby left the commentary partly translated. Sayyid Muḥammad Akhtār Rizvī, the son of the late Sayyid Saʿīd Akhtār Rizvī, agreed to complete the English translation of the last part of the Arabic volume 7. Around the year 2017, editor Dr. Amina Inloes and translator Tawus Raja picked up where the Rizvīs left off and are now working on finishing the complete English translation of Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Tawus Raja is an independent translator who has studied Quranic exegesis and Islamic philosophy.