A Mufassir is a master of Qur’anic exegesis – noted scholars authorized to interpret the Qur’an and teach these interpretations to the masses. Some of the most commonly heard names around this discipline would be Ibn Abbas, At-Tabari and Ibn Katheer.
Tafseer is no simple feat and bestows considerable authority the Mufassir as sharia is mainly derived from it. Before one can endeavour to take on such a heavy responsibility, there are a few prerequisites to fulfill – and they are as follows:
Requirements of a Mufassir
- His ‘Aqidah must be sound.
- He must be free of his nafs (i.e, overcome it)
- He must be a master of (all the 13 disciplines of) the Arabic language.
- He must be learned in the disciplines related to the Qur’an itself (e.g Tajweed, Qiraat, Asbab an-Nuzul, Nasikh wal Mansukh, etc)
- He must be of high intellect and understanding.
The exegesis itself should be done in this order:
- Because the Qur’an is essentially self-explanatory, it must first and foremost be explained via references within itself.
- Afterwards, use references in the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh)
- If he fails to find an explanation, look to the sayings of the companions
- Then, the sayings of the Tabi’in
The Adab of a Mufassir
A Mufassir must possess the following qualities:
- Good intention ( حسن النية و صحة المقصد ) – because actions are by their intentions, and ones intention of delving in the disciplines of sharia should be first and foremost the betterment of society.
- Excellent mannerisms ( حسن الخلق ) – as such is obvious of one who has triumphed over his nafs.
- To be actively practicing what he knows ( الإمتثال و العمل ) – for the benefit of this is more than the expanse of his knowledge and understanding.
- Trustworthiness ( تحري الصدق و الضبط في النقل ) – he must be able to quote and make references accurately
- Humility ( التواضع و لين الجانب ) – because boastfulness is an impregnable barrier between knowledge and benefiting from it.
- Dignity ( عزّة النفس ) – for knowledge raises its acquirer above inferior matters.
- Unafraid to uphold the Truth ( الجهر بالحق ) – for such is a considerable jihad, to be able to stand up against an unjust leader.
- Excellent self-conduct ( حسن السمت ) – more specifically, to be solemn in all his actions, even when sitting, standing, walking, and so on.
- Patience and deliberation ( الأناة و الروية ) – thus ensuring accuracy in his words.
- Puts the more knowledgeable before himself ( تقديم من هو أولى منه ) – he must not openly challenge other Mufassireen in their lifetime, nor despise them after they have deceased. He should instead encourage learning from them and reading their books.
- Well-versed in presenting knowledge ( حسن الإعداد و طريقة الأداء ) – the explanation of the ayat should be done in an orderly fashion. For example, he could begin with explaining the Asbab an-Nuzul, and then explain the Mufradaat, afterwards proceed to identify the literary and grammatical instruments (Balaghah and Nahu) used, and so on.
[taken from: Mabaahith fi ‘Ulum Al-Qur’an by Mannaa’ al-Qatthaan (1990), Ch 24: Shuruut al-Mufassir wa Aadaabihi]
‘Aqidah: belief system
Nafs: the sense of self, also known as ego
Tajweed: the (high precision) art of reciting the Qur’an
Qiraat: the study of the different styles of Qur’anic recital
Asbab An-Nuzul: the study of the reasons behind the revelation of individual Qur’anic verses
Nasikh wal Mansukh: the study of early rulings and their nullification against more recent ones, during the time of revelation.
Balaghah: a discipline in Arabic literature
Nahu: Arabic grammar and syntax