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Modern Quranic


Quranic Interpretation/


Tafsir bi’l-ma’thur or bi’l-ma’qul

Classical scholars say interpretation only based on personal reason (ra’y) is prohibited… it must accord with and be backed up by transmitted material

Ta’wil/Interpretation vs. Tafsir: “It is He who revealed the Book in it are strongly establishes ayat these are the Mother of the Book and others that are ambiguous and those who have misguidance in their hearts they follow the ambiguous of it seeking to cause dissention and

seeking its ta’wil and none knows its ta’wil except God and those firm in knowledge they say ‘We believe in it,

all if it comes from our Lord’ and none remembers this

but those possessed of reason. (3:7)

Where does the comma go? Who can know?

Muhammad b. al-Sa’ib al-Kalbi (d. 763) attributes to Ibn Abbas (d. 688): “The Quran was [revealed] in four aspects: tafsir [the literal meaning?], which scholars know; Arabic with which the Arabs are acquainted; lawful and unlawful, of which it is not permissible for people to be unaware; and tawil [the deeper meaning?] that only God knows.” Ibn Abbas also says that ta’wil is “what will be (ma huwa ka’in).”

Al-Maturidi: “The tafsir belongs to the Companions, the tawil to the scholars ( fuqaha),

because the companions saw the events and knew the circumstances of the revelation of the


Early Tafsir Types

Explanation of words and circumstances: derived from Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, Qatada, Ali b. Abi Talha

Collections: Muhammad b. Saib al- Kalbi and Muqatil b. Sulayman (d. 767)

Grammar/Language Works: Ma’ani al- Quran by al-Farra’ (d. 822)

Stories of the Prophets: ex. Tafsir of al- Dahhak b. Muzahim of Balkh (d. 723), al- Suddi

Later Tafsir Genres

Asbab al-nuzul: ex. of al-Wahidi (d.


Summa Works: linguistic, historical, and theological orientations; ex. al-Tabari (d. 923), al-Zamakhshari (d. 1144) al-Razi (d. 1210)

Ahkam al-Quran works: ex. al-Jassas (d.


Mystical Tafsirs: al-Sulami (d. 1022) and Ibn Arabi (d. 1240)

Modern Tafsir

Continuations of Classical Genre: Ruh al-ma’ani of Mahmud al-Alusi (d. 1854)

Modernist Tafsir:

the Quran as its own best interpreter ex. Muhamad Abduh (d. 1905); Azad ‘let the Quran disclose its own


Revolutionary/Activist: Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966) and Ali Shariati (d. 1977)

Literary Critical Analysis: ex. Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd

Quran-Only Movement: M. Tawfiq Sidqi (d. 1920) in Egypt and Abdallah Chakralawi (d. 1930) in


Sayyid Qutb

• From literary critic to fundamentalist… thanks to prison… executed 1966

Islam as ideal, authentic system: social justice w/out Communist atheism; freedom w/out limitless toleration of the West

Shariah vs. Fiqh

• Reflective reading of the Quran… his own understanding of God’s words

First 16/30 volumes written before entering prison in 1954, the rest from prison

Tawhid vs. Shirk / Jahiliyya vs. Islam (emerges in


Ali Shariati

Tawhid, Shirk & Hijra: tawhid as radical social

equality, bringing all under God’s justice vs. Shirk = deifying of human institutions and injustices… Hijra transition between the two • “Life is conviction and struggle and nothing

more. Look at the Companions of the Prophet,

they were all men of the sword, concerned with

improving their society, men of justice.”

Quran as revolution for the masses: the Quran “begins in the name of God and ends in the name of the masses (al-nas)”

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd

Famous Book: Mafhum al-nass

Quran is eminently tied to interpretation; no objective meaning… speech act

Divine speech subject to rules of human interpretation because it became

temporal, limited in a time and place Interpreter is essential component of meaning will always change/not fixed Influence of Ibn Arabi: infinite meanings? Critique of religious authority

Abu’l-Kalam Azad

Muslim political activist against British in India joins Indian National Party against Muslim League

Against narrow communalism: hijra as internal, spiritual

• Rejection of Scholasticism: “Had Imam Razi

chosen to represent what exactly the

Quran stood for, at least two thirds of

what he wrote would have been left


Friday Question

Quran and Science

Miraculous school: Rida?

Compatibility School: Khan Not-Interested School: azad