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Hadith and Quranic Exegesis

SHAFAQNA- What follows is Shafaqna’s review of the article entitled as ‘Hadith and Qur’anic Exegesis’, written by Seyyed Ali Aqavi, which is published as Chapter 3 of the book ‘Hadith: An Entry from Encyclopaedia of the World of Islam’, Edited by Gholamali Haddad Adel, Mohammad Jafar Elmi, Hassan Taromi-Rad. 

Tradition and Quranic exegesis have a long-standing relationship. The first kind of exegesis was the transmitted one (Tafsirma’thur), and the first people to embark upon the transmission of traditions (Ahadith) where transmitters and scholars of traditions. The first exegete of the Quran is the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The available exegesis narrations from the Prophet (PBUH) encompasses the whole Quran. After the demise of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Companions and the Successors were responsible for the elucidation of the Quranic verses and collected the related material in the form of traditions in Sunni and Shia collections. The intellectual Muslim scholars used to desist expressing their opinions with respect to the Quran and they adduce traditions which forbid the interpretation of the Quran with knowledge and according to one’s opinion. Later on, those exegeses whose exegete has the requisite qualifications were considered valid.

With the appearance of diverse exegetic leanings, the intellectual aspect became more predominant than the transmissional and traditional facet. Some examples prove this: Tusi, in Tafsir Al-Tibyan, has quoted a large number of traditions narrated from the Prophet (PBUH), and the Ahlal-Bayt (A.S). He has also adopted a critical position with respect to traditions. Zamakhshari in Kashshaf, has also adduced Prophetic traditions. Exegetic traditions have also been used in theosophical interpretations of the Quran.

In modern times, exegetic traditions have not been repudiated all together as Muhammad Abduh has acknowledged the traditions for which there is proof of authenticity from the viewpoint of textual content and transmission chain. Tabatabai explains that understanding the meanings of the Quran is not dependent on any person or anything because the Quran is a clarifier of all things and it is therefore natural for it to be its own interpreter as well.

He also maintains that explanation of instances like specific details of the precepts of the Sharia and the particulars of accounts and issues concerning Resurrection (Ma’ad), is the responsibility of the noble Prophet (PBUH) and the Ahlal- Bayt (A.S) but explanation of indiscernible matters of the Quran is not their duty because the outward aspects of the Quran are discernible and they have been issued to teach the correct method of the application and the exegesis of the Quran. Therefore, the correct method of Quranic exegesis and comprehension of the non-manifest meanings of the Quran will only be attained through diligent application of traditions of them and familiarity with their method of Quranic exegesis.

Various perspectives toward the exposition and exegesis of Quranic verses are listed below: in some traditions, the occasions of Revelation of Quranic verses have been explained with the phrases such as ‘ therefore’ or ‘therefore, God revealed’. In a case that the Prophet (PBUH) recited a Quranic verse comparing to the events that had occurred, the expression ‘the verse was revealed with respect to such and such an event’ has been used. And at times also a story has been recounted, after which the phrases ‘then he read’ or ‘then he recited’ have been mentioned.  In some instances, traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Imams (A.S) explain the meanings of the Quranic terminology. In some cases, also these explanations have been quoted from the companions and the successors without referring to the Prophet.

Many Quranic versus, especially those pertaining to legal percepts and those versus pertaining to Quranic narratives, have equivocal meanings whose explanation and active Prophexposition have been assigned to the normative customs. Narratives of the Prophets (Qisas Al-Anbiya) is a particular genre made of those narratives recounted in the traditions explaining the verses of Quranic parables about former Prophets and personalities of the Children of Israel. Particularities of issues related to the Resurrection also needs traditions. Anyhow, exegesis traditions, by specifying its instances make the application of a Quranic verse easy like in the instances of illicit gains (Suht) or expressions such as ‘those whom Thou hast blessed’ or ‘those who have incurred Your Wrath’ or ‘those who have gone astray’.

Jawadi Amuli believes that most of the traditions which refer to in Shia traditional exegesis are not exegesis of the Quranic verses but they are comparative applications of Quranic verses to some instances and in many cases the most salient comparative application to their instances. Thus, Tabatabai states that most of these traditions belong to the category of conformity and correspondence. The inner facet of the Quran means that the teachings of the Holy Quran are not limited to apparent meanings and the only way to understand these hidden meanings is to refer to those firmly rooted in knowledge whose exegesis has been explained in the sayings of the Ahlal-Bayt (A.S).

A Quranic verse states that the esoteric exegesis of equivocal versus is not known to anyone except God and ‘those firmly rooted in knowledge’, on the other hand, some traditions have interpreted the same phrase as the Prophet (PBUH) and the Ahlal-Bayt (A.S). And consequently, we have to refer to the traditions of the Ahlal-Bayt (A.S) for the knowledge of Quranic exegesis. Exposition of chronic versus does not only mean chronic exegesis (Tafsir). Rather, all the sayings, deeds and tacit approvals of the infallible members of the (Ahlal-Bayt) are construed as elucidations of the Quran and the Prophet’s (PBUH) ethics is referred to as ‘his ethics were the Quran’. The method of applying Quranic verses and the manner of understanding them are also learned from the infallible members of the Ahlal-Bayt (A.S).