How to Study Tafsir

06 Jul

Sadly, Quranic studies in general, and tafsir in particular, are often the weakest parts of the curricula of Islamic schools, institutes and universities. What follows is a suggestion on how to study this noble science.

As with all disciplines in Islamic studies, they are interrelated as part of a holistic curriculum. Thus, to truly benefit from tafsir, one must also study related sciences, especially lugha, nahw, sarf, balaghah, usul al-fiqh, and sirah. So, as one completes the elementary stage, one should have also completed elementary study in these fields too. This is very important so as to not leave any gaps in one’s understanding.


The objective at this stage is to study completely an abridged and easy tafsir that gives one a general understanding of the Quran. This is a vital stage as it introduces the science of tafsir to the beginner. It must be emphasised that the book one chooses must be studied cover to cover, without getting preoccupied with the troublesome aspects (variant readings, conflicting interpretations, linguistics, etc.) of each ayah.

Tafsir al-Muyasir, al-Muntakhab fi Tafsir al-Quran al-Karim, and the recently published al-Mukhtasar fi al-Tafsir by Markaz al-Tafsir all give the general meaning of each ayah, without explaining each and every word. At first glance, this might seem to be a deficiency, as one would expect to have each word explained, but these works serve as excellent starting points in getting the gist of an ayah before further and deeper investigations. A student should be able to explain the general meaning of each ayah. A committee of scholars worked for years on each of these and one engaged with tafsir can really appreciate the efforts, as they present the most accurate interpretation of each ayah summarised in contemporary Arabic.

To compensate for the lack of vocabulary explanation in the aforementioned books, one should also add a work that defines the ambiguous words (gharib al-Quran) such as Kalimat al-Quran: Tafsir wa Bayan by Hasanayn Muhammad Makhluf, the former Grand Mufti of Egypt. A similar work is al-Siraj fi Gharib al-Quran by al-Khudayr. Both of these contemporary works are easily arranged by ayah sequence. A more classical work is the excellent Tafsir Gharib al-Quran by Makki al-Qaysi, sometimes printed with the title al-‘Umdah. A simple classical work arranged like a dictionary is Tuhfat al-Arib by the famous grammarian and exegete Abu Hayyan.

One might ask, what about Tafsir al-Jalalayn by al-Mahalli (d.864) and al-Suyuti (d.911)? Whilst a short abridgement, it is not suitable for beginners because it has many difficult passages covering technical linguistic issues and variant readings (qira’at) that need further commentary and explanation. It assumes a certain level of learning on behalf of the reader. This is clear to anyone who has studied it. Yet, if any tafsīr is included in a curriculum, it is usually this one. The truth is that it more suitable for a higher level review for scholars and teachers, to be read alongside its hawashi, such as those by al-Jamal (which is excellent) and al-Sawi (abridged from the former). Its fame, in part, owes to being including in the Azhar curriculum over the centuries, where in previous times the students were much more grounded in linguistics and variant readings than they are today. If one, however, has been trained and has good grounding in linguistics and variant readings then it is an excellent choice.

A much more suitable pre-modern work (by a contemporary of al-Suyuti) for the elementary level is Jami’ al-Bayan by Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Iyji al-Shafi’i (d.905), which is a very clear and concise summary of the great works. As he states in his introduction, he wrote his tafsir as he felt there was a need for something like it, as aspirations had lowered and abilities weakened in his time for the study of the classics. He heavily relies on Tafsir Ibn Kathir and Tafsir al-Baghawi for validating narrations, and depends only on hadiths found in the canonical Six Books of Hadith. His stated main sources, in addition to the aforementioned, are al-Wasit by al-Wahidi, Tafsir al-Nasafi, al-Kashaf by al-Zamakhshari with the following three glosses: Hashiyat al-Tibi (highly regarded by al-Suyuti and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani), Hashiyat al-Kashf by Siraj al-Din ‘Umar al-Thani, and Hashiyat al-Taftazani. The final work upon which he relies is Tafsir al-Baydawi. He uses expressions to indicate authorities, such as saying ‘or’ (aw) between statements to indicate the Salaf (i.e. the Companions and Followers), and saying ‘it is said’ (qila) for the views of the later exegetes. It is an excellent tafsir for beginners as it prepares one well for future study.

Other easy classical commentaries suitable for the beginner include Tafsir Ibn Abi Zamanin al-Andalusi (d.399), by the famous early Maliki master, which is abridged from Tafsir Yahya b. Sallam (d.200).

A popular contemporary work among my teachers and peers is Aysar al-Tafasir by Abu Bakr al-Jaza’iri, which was written after the president of the Islamic University of Medina specifically asked him to write a tafsir that resembles Tafsir al-Jalalayn, but with a Salafi agenda, which could replace the former in institutions of religious education. It is based on Tafsir al-Tabari, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Tafsir al-Maraghi, and al-Saʿdi’s Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman.

However, I personally much prefer Safwat al-Tafasir by al-Sabuni. It is quite similar to al-Iyji’s tafsir in that it is based on the classical commentaries. It focuses on introducing each surah, explaining vocabulary (al-lughah), highlighting subtleties (latifah), benefits (fawa’id), places verses in context in relation to others (al-munasabah), causes of revelation (asbab al-nuzul), and rhetorical devices (al-balaghah). I would venture as far as to say that it is the best introductory tafsir written by a living scholar. Some of the criticisms against it by contemporaries in Arabia are exaggerated and do not affect its overall value.

It is important at this stage to be consistent. One should plan well and designate a set amount to study each week, sticking to it till one completes the task. A manageable amount is to read half a juz a week, or the tafsir of about a page from the Mushaf al-Madinah a day. In this manner, one will have completed the basic tafsir of the Quran in approximately one year.


The objective at this stage is to familiarise oneself with multiple aspects of tafsir, especially concerning the explanation of words and the various narrations regarding each ayah, without striving to find which is preponderant (tarjih) nor being too concerned when different statements are attributed the same authorities, such as Ibn ‘Abbas.

This level is the beginning of specialization. One moves beyond having a general picture about each ayah that presents only one meaning and moves towards exegetical methodology (usul al-tafsir) and the various statements of the exegetes (aqwal al-mufassirin).

It is important that one understands exegetical methodology, the causes of different opinions, the categories of interpretation, the rules of interpretation, the rules of giving preponderance (tarjih), knowing the nomenclature of the exegetes, knowing the variant readings (qira’at), causes of revelation (asbab al-nuzul), abrogation (al-nasikh wa al-mansukh), etc.

Thus, one should read works that address such issues, taking care to memorise the various views of the early exegetes.

Zad al-Masir by Ibn al-Jawzi is an intermediate tafsir that concisely presents the various opinions without selecting the preponderant view. It was designed as an intermediate tafsir to give basic tools to student before going into depths. It is both comprehensive and concise. One may use it to build upon al-Iyji’s work by determining who said what about each ayah without tarjih.

Tafsir Ibn Juzayy is another excellent intermediate work, which may compliment reading Zad al-Masir. It is notable for its focus on definitions and the branches of learning that lead out from the Quran.

Gharib al-Quran by Ibn Qutaybah is a highly influential work that is quoted by many of the classical works such as those by al-Tabari, al-Qurtubi, and al-Razi. It is relatively brief and is the best place to begin when looking for the meaning of some of the more ambiguous words. Due to its conciseness, I prefer it to similar, but more expansive, works such as Majaz al-Quran by Abu ‘Ubaydah and Ma’ani al-Quran by al-Farra’.

One might ask, for the intermediate level, what about Tafsir al-Baydawi? Whilst this is a very popular commentary that is still studied (in part not in whole) in some institutes, it is not suitable even for intermediate students. It is a difficult book as is clear to anyone who has studied it. It cannot be fully understood without further commentary and thus attracted more than 2,000 marginal glosses (hawashi), the most famous by al-Tibi, as scholars grappled to understand and engage with certain passages. Why such a large number, you might ask? It was later adopted and promoted in the curriculum of the Ottoman Empire by Shaykh al-Islam Abu al-Su’ud and ratified by Sultan Sulayman. Its standing grew to such an extent that certain teaching positions were only given to someone who had written a gloss on it. This partly explains why it has attracted a huge amount of glosses in manuscript. It is, by far, the most popular tafsir among scholars of the later pre-modern period (‘asr al-muta’akhirun). It is a Sunni refinement of Tafsir al-Zamakhshari, removing the Mu’tazali arguments, whilst retaining its linguistic discussions, which are somewhat perplexing to most students, and even many teachers, today due to the paucity of contemporary understanding of Arabic linguistics. Again, as with Tafsir al-Jalalayn, this is a book for experts to review, not for curriculum study in my view, unless one is thoroughly grounded.


At this stage one starts to address the issue of preponderance (tarjih) with the aim that the student should know which view is most correct about what is said about each ayah, as well as the strongest non-preponderant views, as these have the possibility of also being correct. One should research issues in the major references and practically apply the methodologies, focusing on the specialised features which distinguish each exegete, be that language, fiqh, variant readings, etc.

The best references for seeking the preponderant views in vocabulary and narration are:

(1) al-Tabari,

(2) Ibn ‘Atiyyah,

(3) Ibn ‘Ashur,

(4) Abu Hayyan,

(5) al-Razi, and

(6) al-Raghib.

Tafsir al-Tabari – all knowledge of tafsir has its foundation in this book, as it shows one how to deal with: reconciling the variant opinions of the commentators, interplay with other ayat, deduce rulings, etc. in order to establish the correct meaning. It is so well known and widespread that I doubt I need to elucidate its virtues.

Tafsir Ibn ‘Atiyyah  pays great attention to establishing the preponderant view (tarjih) from the sayings of the Salaf (the first three generations), and it helps to train the student in the method of tarjih for other narrations not addressed by Ibn ‘Atiyyah. It was highly regarded by Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Taymiyyah due to its extensive and meticulous research, summarising the formative tradition with the most accurate narrations, and was influential on later exegetes such as al-Qurtubi, Abu Hayyan, Ibn Kathir, and al-Shawkani.

Ibn ‘Atiyyah sources include the premier books of his time in tafsir, qira’at, fiqh, and lugha with the aim of tafsir the pinnacle of Islamic studies. He is unique for his time in that he included nothing of the Isra’iliyat common in tafsir books.

When Ibn Atiyyah quotes from earlier scholars, he looks very critically at what they say, making sure that what he quotes is correct and accurate. In this way, he was able to purge any interpretation that sought to give Qur’anic words or statements anything other than their immediate meanings. He rejects all suggestions that Qur’anic statements may have hidden meanings that could be known only to an elite group of people. To him, the Qur’an is God’s book addressed to all mankind in a direct and straightforward manner. This does not allow any room for hidden meaning.

Ibn Atiyyah explains his methodology by stating: ‘I proceed in this commentary according to the word order of every verse, explaining its rulings, grammatical positions, linguistic functions, meanings and the pronunciation of different methods of recitation.’ It is excellently arranged and follows a logical progression with an emphasis on linguistics.

When he speaks of the legal implication of verses and sentences, Ibn Atiyyah does not confine himself to the Maliki madhab, nor does he always support the views of the madhab. He analyzes the evidence supporting each view and gives preponderance to views that have solid evidence.

Tafsir Ibn ‘Ashur, al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwih (The Verification and Enlightenment), is in my view by far the greatest tafsir of the last century. I believe that if any modern tafsir work is still read in centuries ahead, it will be this one. Yet, it has largely been overlooked, having been overshadowed by modernist works by the likes of Rida and Qutb. However, unlike many 20th century exegetes, Ibn ‘Ashur was firmly grounded in the classical tradition, hailing from a scholarly aristocratic family of judges. The distinguishing feature of his tafsīr is his identification of the ta’lil, or rationale as well as underlining the maqasid, or objectives. He also highlights rhetorical devices and reconciling different views. It gives one a solid foundation in tafsir.

It was published between 1956 and 1970 and was the fruit of a lifetime of scholarship of the highest order.

He is critical of most tafasir in that they are dependent on previous works, basically gather what are dispersed among the abridged and extensive tafasir. My own readings support this observation too. There are certain works that are so original and pioneering that they influenced many subsequent works to the extent that one finds entire passages copied. Al-Zamakhshari’s tafsir is a prime example. Most post-Zamakhshari linguistic tafasir cannot avoid engaging with it.

Ibn ‘Ashur goes on to state the most important exegetes in his view:

  • al-Zamakhshari
  • Ibn ʿAtiyyah
  • al-Razi
  • al-Baydawi, which he says is a wonderful summary of al-Zamakhshari and al-Razi
  • al-Alusi
  • The glosses on al-Zamakhshari by al-Tibi, al-Qazwini, al-Qutb, and al-Taftazani
  • The gloss on al-Baydawi by al-Khafaji
  • Abu al-Suʿud
  • al-Qurtụbi
  • Ibn ʿArafah
  • al-Tabari

What is most intriguing for me is that al-Zamakhshari, a noted Mu’tazali, is listed first before the others, as Ibn ‘Ashur’s exegesis of 42:51 could draw criticism of i’tizal, even though it is presented as an Ash’ari view.

Ibn ‘Ashur himself emphasizes that tafsir is the art of expounding meaning and what can be deduced from it thereof. It is firmly grounded in the classical tradition, as can be deduced by his list of important tafāsīr, in focusing on linguistic analysis and Ibn ‘Ashur’s mastery of Arabic allows him to make penetrating insights in his exegesis.

Ibn ‘Ashur listed the following eight objectives (maqasid) for his tafsir:

  1. Reforming Islamic education
  2. Explaining correct beliefs
  3. Defining Quranic law
  4. Clarifying the policy of the Islamic community
  5. Analyzing the history of ancient punished community
  6. Demonstrating sound Quranic methods of proof and deduction
  7. Moral development
  8. Demonstrating the miraculous nature of the Quran

Tafsir Abu Hayyan – is the apex of classical grammatical and linguistic tafsir and is the first point of reference in this regard. 

Tafsir al-Razi – excellent at solving problems and is one of the main references scholars keep coming back to, alongside al-Tabari and Ibn ‘Ashur. Ibn Taymiyyah once infamously stated that ‘in it is everything except tafsir!’ Many later scholars criticised this statement, as Tafsir al-Razi is extremely popular, for good reason. Rather, as some retorted, ‘in it is everything plus tafsir,’ indicating its encyclopaedic scope.

al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran by al-Raghib al-Asfahani is the main reference for defining Quranic vocabulary. The definitions here take precedence over those found in other works.


The objective of this stage is to read the major references and give preponderance based on the skills acquired in the previous stage.

How does one identify the major works? I personally check the listings of major scholars. The main references are Muhammad al-Zarqani (Z), Muhammad Husayn al-Dhahabi (DH), al-Fadl b. ‘Ashur (IA), Nur al-Din ‘Itr (I), Mustafa al-Bugha/Muhyi al-Din Mistu (B), Abdullah al-Juday’ (J), Ibrahim Rufaydah (R), Manna’ al-Qattan (Q), Musa’id al-Tayyar (T), and Muhammad al-Sabuni (S).

Ibn Ashur probably has the most specialized knowledge and is well-versed in the tradition, al-Dhahabi and al-Sabuni probably have the best overview, Rufaydah has good judgment in grammar, and Juday’ and al-Tayyar are probably the most insightful. I have highlighted in bold those that are listed by seven or more authorities, and adjusted the script to facilitate proper pronunciation.

Muqātil (d. 150; the earliest preserved tafsīr) none listed but still important nevertheless

Yaḥyā ibn Sallām (d. 200) IA

al-Farrāʾ (d. 207) R

Abū ʿUbaydah (d. 209) R

al-Zajjāj (d. 311) R, Z

al-Ṭabarī (d. 311) (ma’thūr) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, J, B, I, T, S

Abū Mansụ̄r al-Māturīdī (d. 333) – the first major theological tafsīr IA

al-Naḥḥās (d. 338) R, J (I’rab) Z (nasikh mansukh)

al-Jasas (d. 370) ahkam J, S

al-Samarqandī (d. 375) ma’thur  DH, Z, Q, S

al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427) ma’thur IA, DH, S

Makki al-Qaysi (d. 437) J

al-Wāḥidī (d. 468) R, Z (basit), Z (asbab)

ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. 471) a major linguistic tafsīr IA

Ilkiyā al-Harāsi (d. 504) J, S

al-Baghawī (d. 516) ma’thur DH, Z, J, S

al-Zamakhsharī (d. 538) a major linguistic tafsīr (with al-Jurjānī) IA, R, Q, B, I, S

Ibn ʿAṭiyyah (d. 542) – ma’thur masterpiece in tarjīḥ IA, DH, R, Q, J, T, S

Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597) J, T

Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 604) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, B, S

al-Qurtụbī (d. 671) R, Z, Q, J, B, S

al-Nasafī (d. 710) ra’y DH, R, Z, Q, I, S

al-Khāzin (d.725) DH, Z, Q, I, S

al-Naysābūrī (d. 728) – ra’y lists the qira’āt, DH, Z, S

Ibn Juzayy (d. 741) T

Abū Ḥayyān al-Gharnāṭī (d. 745) – the apex of grammatical tafsīr , DH, R, Z, Q, J, T, S

Ibn Kathīr (d. 774) – distinguished in ḥadīth DH, Z, J, B, I, T, S

al-Bayḍāwī (d. 791) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, J, I, S

Ibn ʿArafah (d. 803) IA

al-Thaʿālibī (d. 875) DH, R, I, S

al-Suyūṭī (d. 911)  al-Durr al-manthūr (and Tafsīr al-Jalālayn) DH, Z, Q, J, S

al-Khaṭīb al-Sharbīnī (d. 977) – ra’y gives tarjīḥ DH, R, Z, S

Abū al-Suʿūd (d. 982) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, I, S

al-Siyālkūtī (d. 1066) – best hashiya on al-Bayḍāwī, though incomplete IA

al-Khafājī (d. 1069) one of the best hawashi on al-Bayḍāwī IA, R

al-Shawkānī, (d.1250) both ma’thūr and ra’y R, J

al-Ālūsī (d. 1270) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, I, S

Ibn ‘Āshūr (d. 1393) the tafsīr of our age J, T


Posted by on July 6, 2015 in Books, Qur'an, Uncategorized


70 responses to “How to Study Tafsir

  1. Bilal Ali

    July 6, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    Magnificent post. Informative and beneficial for both students and teachers. I admire your willingness to break free from the in vogue curricula while still appreciating the position and benefits of works like Jalalayn and Baydawi. Your comments on Ibn ‘Ashur are insightful and spot on. It is refreshing to find Ibn ‘Ashur, as you mention, not dependent on earlier works and replete with original insights.

    • Al-Asiri

      July 7, 2015 at 4:22 am

      Thank you for the positive feedback. As we have discussed before, there is inertia in our curricula, leading to a lack of review and refinement that meets the needs of our students. The tafsirs of al-Jalalayn and al-Baydawi are so ubiquitous that we are reluctant to replace them. Even Sir Richard Burton and C.S. Hurgronje, writing in the nineteenth century, said only these two works are ever studied. Nothing more. This quite obviously leaves our students stranded in the field of tafsir. My own preference, as stated above, is Jami’ al-Bayan and/or Safwat al-Tafasir for a good summary of the tradition for beginners, then Zad al-Masir and maybe also Tashil li Ulum al-Tanzil to introduce a wider range of views and concepts for the intermediate level, and then selected readings from al-Tabari, Ibn Atiyyah, and Ibn Ashur to really open the field to preponderance. These can be covered during one’s primary studies over several years. This creates a greater degree of understanding of tafsir, in my view, allowing one to later really engage with the other major works such as al-Razi, Ibn Kathir, Hashiyat al-Khafaji ‘ala al-Baydawi, Abu al-Su’ud, al-Alusi, etc.

      • Taalib al Ilm

        September 15, 2015 at 9:18 am

        Asalamu alaykum dear brother.

        I wanted to ask about what you know of Tafseer ul Tustari?

        Is it seen as an authentic and reliable tafsir book, both in its transmission and in some of the explanations that it provides of the ayaat?

        jazakallahu Khayran

  2. Bilal Ali

    July 6, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    To add to your comments on Ibn al-Jawzi’s Zad al-Masir, I often find it a good starting point for research work as it does an excellent job of summarizing and organizing the various opinions of a topic.

    • Al-Asiri

      July 7, 2015 at 4:26 am

      Yes it is an excellent starting point. In many ways, it’s the perfect intermediate work. I would even venture as far as to say that, of all of Ibn al-Jawzi’s hundreds of works, this is his masterpiece.

  3. m7ia

    July 7, 2015 at 4:30 am

    Excellent post, as always. Jazakum Allahu khayra!

    May Allah ta’ala grant ya the tawfiq to reach the stages of mastery in tafsir, amin!

    • m7ia

      July 7, 2015 at 4:31 am

      Grant us*

      Imran Ahmed

    • Al-Asiri

      July 7, 2015 at 4:31 am

      Wa jazakum! Allahumma ameen!

  4. Ibn Wali

    July 7, 2015 at 6:47 am

    Al-salamu ‘alaykum,
    Barak Allahu fīkum! One quick question, out of the “beginner” references you stated above, which are the shortest?

    • Al-Asiri

      July 7, 2015 at 9:09 am

      Wa ‘alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah. In answer to your question, it is probably Tafsir Ibn Abi Zamanin as it is an abridgement. It is very clear.

  5. W

    July 7, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Salam Shaykh

    How would one merge this with your Uloom al Quran curriculum?

    • Al-Asiri

      July 8, 2015 at 12:41 am

      Wa alaykum salam. The levels are roughly the same, though the ulum al-hadith curriculum takes longer and has more levels. One should progress through the levels so that one does not end up, for example, at the advanced stage in tafsir but the intermediate stage in hadith.

  6. Yusuf

    July 7, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Can you kindly add an email subscription feature to your blog so we can receive new posts in our inbox?

    • Al-Asiri

      July 8, 2015 at 12:43 am

      I believe that the feature is already in place. You have to change your subscription settings so that you receive updates by email.

  7. eltamim

    July 11, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Excellent post.
    Could you please post on the contemporary/leading ‘Ulamāʾ of each Maḏhab, including those from the near past/century? I am particularly interested in the leading Hanābilah of our time and from the near past in terms of FiQh. (A rich list would be much appreciated)
    Also, if Allāh makes it easy for you, I would love a post on the development of Athāri Aqīdah and the mention of ‘Ulamāʾ contributing to it.
    Jazāk Allāh Khairan for all your efforts.

  8. Bilal Ali

    July 15, 2015 at 8:47 am

    Reblogged this on at-Tahawi.

  9. Quranica

    July 15, 2015 at 11:29 am

    JazakAllahu khayran for this insightful post. I concur with many of your observations and benefited from some points of which I was unaware.

    One thing I feel remains overlooked here is the role of translation. I can appreciate that your assumption is that people are already Arabic students and should grapple with the Arabic, but I’m not sure that reading Arabic (near-)synonyms is the way to best understand the Quranic word, when in some cases, the English translation could convey that meaning more accurately, and certainly more directly to the mind of the student. It seems to me that we short-change the efforts of the many translators of the Qur’an, especially those who did pay attention to the tafsir tradition. Even where they didn’t, the teacher can engage with the translations and point out where they departed from classical opinions or relied on the more apparent linguistic meanings.

    Another point to consider is translations of tafsir works. Though these remain limited, the few which exist could be useful pedagogical tools. Again, the role of a translator – when he does his job properly – is actually one of “sharh” and will save the student and teacher a lot of time.


    • Al-Asiri

      July 15, 2015 at 11:58 am

      Wa jazakum. I see your point about the utility of translation, yet, as you detected, assumed a certain degree of Arabic in the student, who would have the level to engage with tafsir. I’ll admit too that it was partly written with my Arab family and students in mind.

      I personally haven’t found a translation that is completely satisfactory in light of the tafsir tradition, though Ahmad Zaki Hammad and Abdel Haleem come very close.

      Perhaps a translated tafsir can help in this regard, but then the student is inevitably stumped at the grammatical discussions that arise therein. How would you deal with these? I really would like to know your solution.

      • Waleed Patel

        July 31, 2015 at 5:43 am

        Wait wasn’t he talking about a person who had some Arabic knowledge and the utility of translation for them? I personally, feel I have enough nahw to read a book that isn’t so terse, like baydawi, but my downside is my weakness in vocab. a certain degree of grammatical discussion in a translated book wouldn’t be too hard as the istilah used would be nahw related, and those terms would have been covered before.

      • Al-Asiri

        July 31, 2015 at 6:02 am

        The problem with translation is that often there isn’t an English equivalent. Sometimes you need a sentence to explain a word. Also, the language of the Quran is open to a variety of interpretations and by translation you have selected just one of the possibilities.

      • Quranica

        August 20, 2015 at 12:49 am

        Apologies for my slow reply. Yes, as Waleed noted below, I am indeed suggesting that translations are useful tools for students who DO know some Arabic (or a lot). Indeed, it is precisely this type of student who is best able to benefit from the translation, for a few reasons: one of which is that he might be able to compensate for the weaknesses in that translation by ‘back-translating’ in his own mind.

        Below you alluded to two problems with translations. I don’t see these are problems as such, but limitations which would be offset by the teacher’s input. The translated work (especially in a bilingual edition) would provide a great basis for discussion, then more nuances can be explored.

        You noted that translation involves choosing one possible meaning – true, but let me argue from a different angle. How are these multiple meanings to be expressed and explained? It’s often quite challenging to do so within the same language, but easier in translation!

        Coming back to your main question about translating works of tafsir: I actually prepared a paper on this topic which I delivered at a conference in April. I plan to make a version of this available in due course, so we can talk more about it at that point insha’Allah.

      • Al-Asiri

        August 20, 2015 at 12:40 pm

        I do take onboard your point about teaching English speakers, even those who know Arabic. Translation does have a role to play for anyone doing L2 to L1 work. This is especially true in that they will need to learn how to explain the meanings of the Quran to English speakers themselves, in sha Allah. I do see your point.

        But I do feel that the available tafasir are sufficient for giving the precise meaning in Arabic, which a proficient student should be able to understand.

        By the way, which translations do you feel are good for your proposal?

      • Quranica

        August 20, 2015 at 2:07 am

        Let me give an example based on something I witnessed just today. A calligrapher was giving a talk in Arabic and wanted to discuss various significations of the letter ‘waw’. For one of these, he said something like:
        وهو أيضا حرف للجمع بين الشيئين أو الجملتين كأنك تقول: جاء زيد وعلي

        The interpreter went ahead and translated this explanation, whereas he could (and should) have just said “It’s also a conjunction meaning ‘and’.”

        But you can see that it would be much harder for the speaker to state this so simply in Arabic. Even just categorising it as حرف عطف wouldn’t be clear for the audience, whereas ‘and’ is abundantly clear and just one word.

      • Al-Asiri

        August 20, 2015 at 12:33 pm

        Thanks for the input. The problem with the example that you gave is that simply saying it’s a conjunction meaning ‘and’ doesn’t quite give the precise meaining, even in English. And Arabic is very precise, as you know. The speaker meant the first meaning of and, which is also or in addition to. It can also mean added to, as in ‘five and ten make fifteen.’ It can also mean then as in ‘she came in and took her coat off.’ It can also introduce a question as in ‘and what did you decide?’ It can also mean consequence, as in ‘come home late and you’re grounded.’ It can also mean continuation, as in ‘he tried and tried and tried till he succeeded.’ If you look in Mughni al-Labib, you’ll find so many meanings for waw in Arabic.

      • Quranica

        August 20, 2015 at 7:47 pm

        I’m familiar with this issue of multiple meanings of particles, not least because I have translated a quarter of the Itqan, including Chapter 40, which is largely derived from the Mughni. The section pertaining to waw came to over 1000 words in English.

        But I don’t think that really contradicts what I was arguing above. When I get round to publishing the paper I mentioned, insha’Allah it will provide a useful basis to discuss this further. Thanks for your engagement.

      • Al-Asiri

        August 21, 2015 at 6:14 am

        Thank you. I do look forward to your paper and research in this area.

  10. Mir Elias Mubeen

    July 25, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    very important and yimely

  11. Waleed

    July 31, 2015 at 5:59 am

    You mentioned tafseer methodology and understanding and applying it. I’d assume this would be predicated on having stu died some books on uloom al Quran and tajweed qiraat . How would you advise one to study such sciences while Doing this.

    • Al-Asiri

      August 4, 2015 at 6:03 am

      Yes you are right. As outlined in the introduction, it should be expected that the student follows an integrated curriculum that adopts a holistic approach at each level. All too often students have gaping holes in their education as they progress to higher levels. This can lead to glaring mistakes. Tajwid and qira’at are straightforward. Not much can be added to them to develop them further, so any book that your teacher suggests could do. As for ‘ulum al-Qur’an, I believe there is a brief article on this site somewhere. I would add that I really do like Manahil al-‘Irfan due to both content and beautiful prose. That should suffice, but al-Zarkashi and al-Suyuti are exhaustive for those who want more.

      • muhammad

        September 30, 2015 at 9:36 pm

        asalamualaikumwarahmatuALLAH akhi i am looking forward to an article on how to approach hadith and mustalah ul hadith

      • Al-Asiri

        October 5, 2015 at 5:20 pm

        Wa alaykum Salam wa rahmatullahi WA barakatuh. We already have such a post.

  12. MuQeet

    August 12, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Baarakallaahu Feekum

  13. Waleed

    August 19, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    What do you think of Zubdatut tafseer By Shaykh Ashqar, abridged from Fath al Qadeer? I saw it and it seemed nice, is it good for the beginnier?

  14. Tulayhah

    November 21, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    as salaam ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh,

    JazaakAllaahu khairan for this thoughtful and detailed post. Very interesting and informative.

    A few questions came to mind after reading though:

    1) Would are your thoughts about incorporating some books of Thematic Tafsir (التفسير الموضوعي) into this study plan? It seems like such works could be useful in the elementary level for the purpose of familiarizing students with the major content areas and messages of the Qur’an in a more systematic way.

    2) You mentioned briefly the importance of Usool al-Tafsir beginning at the intermediate level. How would you incorporate the study of Usool al-Tafsir into this curriculum, and what are some texts that you would use? In my limited exposure, I have noticed a wide variety of content and organization in works focusing on Usool al-Tafsir, so I would be interested in your thoughts on these questions.

    BaarakAllaahu feek for your feedback. – Khalil

    • Al-Asiri

      March 23, 2016 at 6:42 am

      Wa alaykum Salam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh. Thematic tafsir has its place. I find it to be most useful in researching for lectures and writing.

      Usul al-Tafsir has partisan aspects in some works. Try to find a balance of views and read widely in the area.

  15. Ibn Abid

    January 14, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    What about Zubdah Tafseer as a good introductory tafseer?

    • Al-Asiri

      March 28, 2016 at 7:01 am

      It’s nice but I personally prefer others. Each to one’s taste.

  16. ghulam mustafa

    March 29, 2016 at 1:48 pm


  17. Arbab

    April 15, 2016 at 5:58 am

    Assalamualikum brother
    although I am beginner and want to read tafsir ul jalalain as you said its quite complicated for beginners but I was can it be possible with its sharah as its available in urdu language in which famous one is kamalain and jamalain so what you advise me ?
    جزاك الله خيرا

    • Al-Asiri

      April 17, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      Unless you are well-grounded in Arabic, then I would suggest a respected tafsir in Urdu to begin with.

      • arbab

        April 18, 2016 at 4:03 am

        I am a beginner in arabic language as well so please suggest me any urdu tafsir giving general meaning of ayah .
        And what do you think of tafsir Usmani ??
        Written by mufti shabbir usmani

      • Al-Asiri

        April 20, 2016 at 10:12 am

        I do not understand Urdu so cannot really give an honest assessment of works in that language that haven’t been translated into Arabic or English.

        If you ask some respected Urdu speaking scholars or students they should be able to pint you in the right direction in sha Allah.

  18. Shaukat Ali

    April 26, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Assalam o Alaikum !
    There is a Tafsiri Principle (قاعدہ) :
    ألزام المخاطب بما لم يلزمه
    It is written in Urdu Tafseer of Mufti Mehmood r.a.
    And it is also narrated from Hazrat Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri r.a.

    I want to know that whether this specific principle is found in previous tafsirs or
    found anywhere in hadith books ?

  19. Mehdi H. Sheikh

    December 21, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Tafsir al-Muyasir, al-Muntakhab fi Tafsir al-Quran al-Karim, and the recently published al-Mukhtasar fi al-Tafsir by Markaz al-Tafsir

    What are the main differences in the 3. Which do you prefer? I only want to buy 1 of them.

    • Al-Asiri

      February 28, 2017 at 5:23 am

      They are quite similar in that they give the gist rather than word-for-word. It comes down to personal preference. If you can compare the three together you may incline more towards one. If you cannot do that, I’d say go for al-Mukhtasar fi al-Tafsir.

  20. shabazhus

    March 7, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    What is your opinion regarding Shaykh Abdur Rahman bin Nasir Sa’di’s Tafsir as Sa’di. Is it a good Tafsir for a beginner. JazakAllahu Khayran.

    • Al-Asiri

      March 8, 2017 at 9:04 am

      Al-Salamu ‘alaykum,

      It’s a decent tafsir for a beginner (very brief) although I personally prefer the ones mentioned above.

  21. Saados

    May 13, 2017 at 11:20 am

    As Salamu Alaikum Akhi al-Kareem,

    What are your thoughts on Ibn Abbas’ tanweer (i think its called)? I’ve heard mixed reviews, some saying it is not attributable because of weird narrations and others saying Imam Ahmed relied upon it

    I am currently myself doing Ibn al-Jawzi which I am enjoying alot, except its a little frustrating because he does not make tarjeeh, but it is good because he gives you a taste of everything


    • Al-Asiri

      May 18, 2017 at 4:02 am

      Wa alaykum al-Salam. Tanwir appears to have been a late compilation extracted from a variety of earlier sources. I’d be very cautious in attributing the narrations therein to Ibn Abbas.

      Ibn al-Jawzi is a nice lower-intermediate work to read through but, as outlined in the above article, is not for tarjih. That, my dear fellow, is at a later stage.

  22. Bilal

    May 21, 2017 at 10:48 am

    Shpuld a person take all the beginner books or how many of them should i read?

    And tafsir ibn kathir which lvl is it?

    • Al-Asiri

      May 27, 2017 at 8:03 pm

      At least one book from each level. Ibn Kathir is an intermediate level.

  23. Bilal

    June 8, 2017 at 4:21 am

    Should i focus on Reading more than one tafsir simultaneously or one at a time?

    • Al-Asiri

      August 20, 2018 at 7:31 am

      Wa ‘alaykum al-salam. Sorry about the delay. My family and I have been very unwell alhamdu lillah. One at a time to begin with, in order to feel progression.

  24. shabazhus

    August 6, 2017 at 11:38 pm

    Did Shaykh Muhammad Sha’rawi the recent Azharite scholar have a written tafsir aside from his audio lectures as I’ve heard a lot of praise for them. JazakAllahu Khayran.

  25. Mansoor

    August 31, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    JazakAllah Khaira for the post. Its really beneficial. So for beginners is there a book which gives over all summary of topics in a surah. so what i mean is before i start reading the tafsir of a Surah I want to know topic, people, main theme, time, major events etc. knowing this really helps me understand the surah
    JazakAllah Khair for your help

    • Al-Asiri

      August 20, 2018 at 7:56 am

      Wa ‘alaykum al-salam. Sorry about the delay. My family and I have been unwell alhamdu lillah. Many recent translations in English include what you desire.

  26. islamicbookspdf13

    January 19, 2018 at 5:23 pm

  27. shabazhus

    May 25, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    What is your opinion on shaykh Sabuni’s other short tafsir known as Tafsir Wadih ul Muyassir. Would that suffice as a good first tafsir for a beginner in place of other tafsirs you mentioned.

  28. Learn Quran

    January 27, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    Tafsir is a spacial subject for Muslims learn Quran with correct meaning, thanks for writing this helpful post,

    • Al-Asiri

      June 1, 2019 at 9:56 am

      It is my pleasure and honour to serve and assist Muslims in getting closer to Allah.

      • Mourad

        September 6, 2019 at 9:28 pm

        I was wondering what’s your opinion on Wahba al zuhayli’s tafsirs.

      • Al-Asiri

        January 23, 2020 at 2:00 pm

        They are good summaries but not specialised works. I love the shaykh dearly, may Allah have mercy on him. His field was fiqh and usul. My favourite modern tafsir is Ibn Ashur’s. It is a proper tafsir by a specialist. In general, refer to specialists in a field, not generalists.

  29. Muhammad Hazim

    November 3, 2019 at 7:15 am

    Sayyidi, what say you about Adhwa al Bayan by Syinqiti and Rawhun wa rayhan by Syaikh Amin al Harari?

    • Al-Asiri

      January 23, 2020 at 2:34 pm

      I haven’t read them cover to cover yet. I have referenced them in my research though. From the parts I have seen, they are excellent. The former is great for finding ayat that relate to the ayah in discussion, the latter is great for linguistic summaries. I still prefer Ibn Ashur though.


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