Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim (تفسير القرآن العظيم, lit. ‘Exegesis of the Great Qur’an’), also known as Tafsir Ibn Kathir, is a tafsir by the 14th-century Islamic scholar, exegete, muhaddith, historian Abu al-Fiḍā ‘Imād Ad-Din Ismā‘īl ibn ‘Umar ibn Kathīr al-Qurashī Al-Damishqī, known as Ibn Kathir.
Tafsir Ibn Kathir references other verses of the Qur’an in its commentary. The work references hadith and the opinions of the companions of the Prophet and the tabi’un. His work frequently quotes the early Muslim scholars Qatadah, Mujahid, Ikrimah, as well as later writers Muhammad Ibn Jareer al-Tabari and Sufyan al-Thawri.
Translations and editions
The famous Hanafi exegete Muhammad Ali al-Sabuni summarized the tafsir in 3 volumes. In 2005, Jordanian Salafi scholar Muhammad bin Musa Al-Nasr published an abridged Arabic version of the tafsir that removed weak hadith and Isra’iliyyat traditions. Tafsir Ibn Kathir has been translated into many languages including Indonesian, Bengali, English, French, Turkish, German and Urdu. A Bengali translation was done by Mujeebur-Rawhmaan. Akhtar Farooq translated the tafsir into Bengali in 1988, along with its introductory book Fada’il al-Qur’an in 11 volumes.
An Urdu translation was prepared by Muhammad Junagarhi. Anzar Shah Kashmiri, the son of Muhammad Anwar Shah Kashmiri, has written footnotes to the Urdu translation of Tafsir Ibn Kathir, using Ashraf Ali Thanwi’s Urdu translation of the Qur’an.
In 2000, Darussalam Publishers published an abridged version of Tafsir Ibn Kathir translated by Saifur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri and a team of scholars. The version of Tafsir Ibn Kathir edited and translated by al-Mubarakpuri has become popular among English-speaking Muslims because of its simplicity and a dearth of English language tafsir.
In 2006, 11 Muslim scholars translated the commentary into Swahili.
Abu al-Fiḍā ‘Imād Ad-Din Ismā‘īl ibn ‘Umar ibn Kathīr al-Qurashī Al-Damishqī (إسماعيل بن عمر بن كثير القرشي الدمشقي أبو الفداء عماد; c. 1300 – 1373), known as Ibn Kathir (ابن كثير, was a highly influential Arab historian, exegete and scholar during the Mamluk era in Syria. An expert on Tafsir (Quranic exegesis) and Fiqh (jurisprudence), he wrote several books, including a fourteen-volume universal history titled Al-Bidaya wa’l-Nihaya.
His full name was Abū l-Fidāʾ Ismāʿīl ibn ʿUmar ibn Kaṯīr (أبو الفداء إسماعيل بن عمر بن كثير) and had the laqab (epithet) of ʿImād ad-Dīn (عماد الدين “pillar of the faith”). His family traces its lineage back to the tribe of Quraysh. He was born in Mijdal, a village on the outskirts of the city of Busra, in the east of Damascus, Syria, around about AH 701 (AD 1300/1). He was taught by Ibn Taymiyya and Al-Dhahabi.
Upon completion of his studies, he obtained his first official appointment in 1341, when he joined an inquisitorial commission formed to determine certain questions of heresy.
He married the daughter of Al-Mizzi, one of the foremost Syrian scholars of the period, which gave him access to the scholarly elite. In 1345 he was made preacher (khatib) at a newly built mosque in Mizza, the hometown of his father-in-law. In 1366, he rose to a professorial position at the Great Mosque of Damascus.
In later life, he became blind. He attributes his blindness to working late at night on the Musnad of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in an attempt to rearrange it topically rather than by the narrator. He died in February 1373 (AH 774) in Damascus. He was buried next to his teacher Ibn Taymiyya.
Further information: Ahl al-Hadith
The records from modern researchers such as Taha Jabir Alalwani, Yazid Abdu al Qadir al-Jawas, and Barbara Stowasser has demonstrated important similarities between Ibn Kathir and his influential master Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah, such as rejecting logical exegesis of Qur’an, advocating a militant jihad and adhering to the renewal of one singular Islamic ummah. Furthermore, these scholars assert that like Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Kathir is to be categorized as an anti-rationalistic, traditionalistic, and hadith-oriented scholar. According to Jane McAuliffe in regards to Qur’anic exegesis, Ibn Kathir uses methods contrary to former Sunni scholars and followed largely the methodology of ibn Taymiyyah. Barbara Freyer contends that the anti-rationalistic, traditionalistic, and hadith-oriented approaches held by Ibn Kathir were shared not only by Ibn Taymiyyah, but also by Ibn Hazm, Bukhari independent Madhhab, and also scholars from Jariri, and Zahiri Maddhabs. According to Christian Lange, although he was a Shafi, he was closely aligned with Damascene Hanbalism. David L. Johnston described him as “the traditionist and Ash’arite Ibn Kathir”.
Taha Jabir Alalwani, Professor and President of Cordoba University in Ashburn, Virginia maintains that these traditionalistic views of Ibn Kathir claimed by Salafists were rooted further in the generation of Sahaba Salaf, where Zubayr ibn al-Awwam, one of The ten to whom Paradise was promised also taught this view. Contemporary researchers note that these anti rationalistic, anti-Ash’arite methods of Ibn Kathir shared with his teacher Ibn Taimiyyah; were proven in his Tafseer regarding the Day of Resurrection and Hypocrisy in the Qur’an.
Ibn Kathir states:
“People have said a great deal on this topic and this is not the place to expound on what they have said. On this matter, we follow the early Muslims (salaf): Malik, Awza’i, Thawri, Layth ibn Sa’d, Shafi’i, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh, and others among the Imams of the Muslims, both ancient and modern that is, to let (the verse in question) pass as it has come, without saying how it is meant (min ghayr takyif), without likening it to created things (wa la tashbih), and without nullifying it (wa la ta’til): The literal meaning (zahir) that occurs to the minds of anthropomorphists (al-mushabbihin) is negated of Allah, for nothing from His creation resembles Him: “There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing” Rather this affair is like what the Grand Shaykh of Imam Bukhari Shaykh Naeem ibn Hamaad Khazaa’i said “Whosoever likens Allah to his Creation has done Kufr (disbelieved) and whosoever negates what Allah describes Himself with has also done Kufr (Disbelieved) There is nothing with what Allah describes Himself with nor his Prophet describes Allah with from likening Allah to his Creation (tashbeeh). Whosoever affirms for Allah what has reached Us from the Truthful Ayahs (verses) and Correct Hadeeth (Prophetic narrations) on the way that is befitting the Majesty of Allah while negating from Allah all defects indeed He has traveled the way of guidance.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir 7:54)
These words from Ibn Kathir were argued by Athari scholarship as proof of Ibn Kathir not being Ash’arite. According to Salafi Muslims, since Ibn Kathir does not use logical rationale to reject anthropomorphism, he believed the attributes of God cannot be likened to creatures, while simultaneously affirming the verses and hadith about God’s Attributes such as residence above His Throne and His Exaltation above all creatures. Salafis rebut Ash’arite claims as a Formal fallacy regarding Ibn Kathir tafsir, and other claims such as four madhhab schools as supporting Ash’ari and Maturidites are fabrications. For this, they employ the reports from Ahmad ibn Hanbal who rejected the views of those who were allegedly deemed as proto Asharites and Maturidites, the Mutakallim, and deems them as not in Ahl as the Sunnah teaching. According to Livnat Holtzman, historically the school of Ahl al-Hadith championed by none other than Ibn Kathir’s master, Ibn Taymiyyah, had successfully crushed the interrogation and accusation from Ash’arite rational (Kalam) argumentations during the 13th AD century. while modern scholars such as Marzuq at Tarifi, and Sa’id Musfir al-Qahtani further posited that Abu al-Hasan al-Ashʿari, the eponym of the Asharite school, himself was not fond of his “Asharite followers” and pointed out on his book, al-ibāna, that Abu al Hasan was teaching the method similar to Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Kathir, and rejected the Ahl al-Kalam and Maturidites such as Al-Razi.
In summary, Jon Hoover outlined that Ibn Kathir stance according to scholars were orthodox traditionists and rejected the view of Mutakallims, just like the view of Salafi Muslims and their predecessor Ahl al-Hadith school.
In modern times, Ibn Kathir’s creed has sometimes been raised as a subject of disagreement between the Ash’arites, the successor of the Ahl al-Ra’y rationalist school, and the Salafis, theorized by Jon Hoover as a successor of the Ahl al-Hadith traditionist school. Some Ash’arite theologians have claimed Ibn Kathir as an Ash’ari, pointing out some of his beliefs and sayings reported from his works, and to the fact that:
- He belonged to the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence and was a professor of Hadith at the House of Hadith known as “Dar al-Hadith al-Ashrafiyya” which was exclusively established for those aligned to the Ash’ari school of creed, as mentioned by Taj al-Din al-Subki (d. 771/1370) in his Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra (Comprehensive Biographical dictionary of Shafi’ites) that a condition to teach at the al-Ashrafiyya was to be Ash’ari in ‘aqida.
- Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449) reported in his al-Durar al-Kaminah (The Hidden Pearls: on the Notables of the Eighth Islamic Century), that a dispute between Ibn Kathir and the son of Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya broke out over teaching position. It seems Ibn Kathir implied that the dislike for him is due to his Ash’ari roots, and once Ibn al-Qayyim’s son confronted him about this and said that even if Ibn Kathir swore to high heavens that he wasn’t upon the creed of Ibn Taymiyya, people wouldn’t believe him, because his sheikh (teacher) is Ibn Taymiyya.
Ibn Kathir wrote a famous commentary on the Qur’an named Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm which linked certain Hadith, or sayings of Muhammad, and sayings of the sahaba to verses of the Qur’an, in explanation and avoided the use of Isra’iliyyats. Many Sunni Muslims hold his commentary as the best after Tafsir al-Tabari and Tafsir al-Qurtubi and it is highly regarded, especially among the Salafi schools of thought. Although Ibn Kathir claimed to rely on at-Tabari, he introduced new methods and differs in content, in an attempt to clear Islam from that he evaluates as Isra’iliyyat. His suspicion of Isra’iliyyat possibly derived from Ibn Taimiyya’s influence, who discounted much of the exegetical tradition since then.
His Tafsir has gained widespread popularity in modern times, especially among Western Muslims, probably due to his straightforward approach, but also due to the lack of alternative translations of traditional tafsirs. Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir work has played a major impact on the contemporary movements of Islamic reform. Salafi reformer Jamal al-Din Qasimi’s Qurʾānic exegesis Maḥāsin al-taʾwīl was greatly influenced by Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Kathīr, which is evident from its emphasis on ḥadīth, Scripturalist approaches, the rejection of Isrāʾīliyyāt, and polemical attitudes against the Ahl al-raʾy. From the 1920s onwards, Wahhabi scholars also contributed immensely to the popularisation of ḥadīth-oriented hermeneutics and exegeses, such as Ibn Kathīr’s and al-Baghawī’s Qurʾān commentaries and Ibn Taymiyya’s al-Muqaddima fī uṣūl al-tafsīr, through the printing press. The Wahhābī promotion of Ibn Taymiyya’s and Ibn Kathīr’s works through print publishing during the early twentieth century emerged instrumental in making these two scholars popular in the contemporary period and imparted a robust impact on modern exegetical works.
In academic discourse
Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm is controversial in western academic circles. Henri Laoust regards it primarily as a philological work and “very elementary”. Norman Calder describes it as narrow-minded, dogmatic, and skeptical of the intellectual achievements of former exegetes. His concern is limited to rating the Quran by the corpus of Hadith and is the first, who flatly rates Jewish sources as unreliable, while simultaneously using them, just as prophetic hadith, selectively to support his prefabricated opinion. Otherwise, Jane Dammen McAuliffe regards this tafsir as, deliberately and carefully selected, whose interpretation is unique to his own judgment to preserve, that he regards as best among his traditions.
- Al-Jāmiʿ (الجامع) is a grand collection of Hadith texts intended for encyclopedic use. It is an alphabetical listing of the Companions of the Prophet and the sayings that each transmitted, thus reconstructing the chain of authority for each hadith.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia