Ramadan Guide Day 7: Origin of Tafsir by Femi Abbas
From the beginning of Ramadan, every year, Muslims congregate in various Mosques or Learning Centres where the exposition of the Qur’an (Tafsir) is rendered by learned Muslim scholars. This is in accordance with the Prophetic tradition which encourages better understanding of the Qur’an.
Linguistically, Tafsir means exposition. But technically, it means the comprehensive analysis of the Qur’an, spiritually, linguistically, logically and semantically.
In other words, Tafsir is the exposition of the contents of the Qur’an, as usually done comprehensively by Muslim scholars especially during the month of Ramadan throughout the Muslim world.
Because of the coded language of the Qur’anic revelation, it became necessary for the verses of that sacred Book to be decoded for the purpose of thorough understanding by the Muslim Ummah when the Prophet was alive. And the example of this was laid by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to the great delight of his companions.
From the explanation above, it therefore becomes clear that the revelations of the Qur’anic chapters and verses were the immediate causes of intellectual research in Islam. For instance, Arabic, the original language of the Qur’an, had no grammar prior to the revelations of the divine message. The grammar of that language evolved only from the contents of the Qur’an.
With time, the challenge which the Qur’an threw to humanity in all spheres of life led to serious competition among scholars. Thus, each time a revelation came, the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were always eager to know why and how of every what. And this led to their very close association with the Prophet who paved the way for them towards that intellectual research.
Although the formal study of Tafsir as an independent intellectual discipline did not begin until many years after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he (the Prophet) nevertheless, started its process.
He did not only give the exoteric and esoteric meanings of the revealed verses of the Qur’an, he also explained their application to the daily life of man as well as the implications of same.
It was the prophet who decoded most of the coded areas of the Qur’an for proper understanding by the ordinary Muslims. Through his utterances and actions which were later to be known as Hadith and Sunnah, the contents of the Qur’an became more and more understandable to the Muslims even as further researches continue today.
Thus, after the prophet’s demise, Hadith and Sunnah together became an independent subject of research paving man’s way to higher firmaments in civilization. And this has helped, in no small measure, to expand the scope of Tafsir.
It is from Qur’anic researches that, all new discoveries and new frontiers in knowledge became adapted to the study of Tafsir until Tafsir itself became an estuary through which every stream of knowledge was passed to mankind. But what problems does Tafsir face in the contemporary time? Read the answer to this question in this column tomorrow.