The Qualifications Of A Mufassir

A person who wishes to interpret the Qur’ân (a mufassir) must fulfil certain conditions and qualities before he is allowed to explain the Qur’an to people – not everybody can just pick up the Book of Allâh and start interpreting it.

As was quoted earlier from Imâm ash-Shâfi’î (d.204 A.H.]: “It is impermissible for any person to give verdicts concerning the religion of Allâh, unless he is knowledgeable of the Book of Allâh, and its nâsikh from its mansûkh, and its muhkam from its mutashâbih, and its interpretation, and its process of revelation, and its makkî from its madanî, and its asbâb an-nuzûl. On top of this, he must be knowledgeable of the Sunnah…” [1]

As-Suyûtî, in his al-Itqân, lists fifteen characteristics that a person must have before he is qualified to interpret the Qur’ân. However, these are only a summary of the qualities that a mufassir is required to have. Some of these qualities, and others, are listed briefly below. The first four are inherent qualities that are essential in a mufassir, and the others are external and acquired. [2]

1. The proper intentions, since the Prophet [sall-Allâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said: “All actions are by intentions.” [3] The mufassir must intend to please Allâh by this action of interpreting the Qur’ân, and he must intend to guide people to the Straight Path to the best of his abilities.

2. The correct Islâmic beliefs {‘aqîdah). If a person is not a Muslim or of a heretical or misguided sect, then he cannot be trusted in interpreting the Qur’ân, for his motive will be to defame Islâm, or to defend his particular sect or beliefs.

3. To be free from practising or believing in innovations, and to respect the Qur’ân. If a person is innovating in the religion of Allâh, then he will have no qualms about innovating in the interpretation of the Book of Allâh. Also, the mufassir must love and respect the Qur’ân, and have the proper beliefs concerning it. Part of this belief is that he must believe that the Qur’ân is the actual kalâm of Allâh (and not an “expression” of the kalâm of Allâh!]. Ibn Qayyim [d.758 A. H.] said: “…[a mufassir] must witness that it [the Qur’ân] is the kalâm of Allâh, which Allâh actually spoke, and which was revealed to the Prophet [sall-Allâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam] by inspiration. And none can grasp its meanings unless his heart is free of misgivings and doubts with regards to the Qur’ân, and if a person does not really believe that the Qur’ân is from Allâh, then there is a disease in his heart [which prevents him from understanding the Qur’ân].” [4]

4. Repentance and a pious heart. This condition means that a mufassir must fear Allâh to the best of his abilities, and if he falls into a sin, he must immediately repent to Allâh for that sin, and not return to it. This is because, as Ibn Qayyim said: “No heart can understand the Qur’ân, or grasp its meanings, except if it is pure, and it is impossible for a heart full of evils and innovations to understand the meanings of the Qur’ân properly.” [5]

5. A thorough and proper understanding of the fundamentals of religion [‘aqîdah], so that a mufassir can avoid falling into many of the heresies and innovations that misguided sects did with regards to the understanding of the Qur’ân.

6. Following the proper methodology of tafsîr. A basic introduction to this methodology was outlined in the previous section.

7. Knowledge of the Arabic language and its vocabulary. Such knowledge must, of course, be on a scholarly level; a person whose primary language is Arabic is not necessarily knowledgeable of Arabic to the level that is required to interpret the Qur’ân.

8. Knowledge of Arabic grammar (nahw).

9. Knowledge of Arabic morphology (sjirf).

10. Knowledge of the basis of Arabic words and word structures (ishtiqâq).

11. Knowledge of Arabic rhetoric, eloquence and manners of oratory. [6]

12. The knowledge of the sahîh, da’îf shâdh and bâtil qira’âts.

13. The knowledge of the principles of fiqh (Usûl-ul-Fiqh), so that he can interpret the verses pertaining to laws in a proper manner.

14. The knowledge of fiqh itself, so that he is aware of the various interpretations of the verses pertaining to laws.

15. The knowledge of asbâb an-nuzûl, and related sciences.

16. The knowledge of nâsikh from its mansûkh, and related sciences.

17. The knowledge of the hadîth of the Prophet [sall-Allâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam], in particular those related to the interpretation of the Qur’ân.

18. The knowledge of all the other branches of Ulûm al-Qur’ân, including makkî and madanî, muhkam and mutashâbih, and the types of i’jâz of the Qur’ân.

19. A divine endowment that is not possible to obtain by one’s self. This is a type of gift from Allâh to whomever He chooses. This type of intellect was what the Prophet [sall-Allâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam] prayed for when he prayed for Ibn ‘Abbâs: “O Allâh, grant him an understanding of interpretation.”

From this list, which is far from exhaustive, it can be appreciated that not everyone is qualified to pick up the Qur’ân and start interpreting it, in particular if he is not. Even familiar with Arabic! Of the fifteen conditions that as-Suyûtî mentions in his list, seven – almost half – are directly related to the knowledge of the Arabic language. In addition, the knowledge required for every other condition (in terms of books and scholars) is not available in any language other than Arabic! It is not surprising, therefore, to see Shaykh-ul-Islâm ibn Taymiyyah [d. 728 A.H.] saying that: “…the Arabic language is a part of the religion (of Islâm)!” [7]

By Abû Ammâr Yasir Qadhi
An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’ân, Pgs. 324-326

Footnotes:

1. An-Nahâs, P. 124
2. As-Suyûtî, V. 2, Pgs. 225-237, ar-Rûmî, Pgs. 136-142, Zamralî, Pgs. 11-13
3. Reported by al-Bukhârî and other
4. Ar-Rûmî, P. 12
5. Zamralî, Pgs. 11
6. This one point is a summary of three different pointes in the Itqân, all of which are types of knowledge related to the Arabic language. These are the knowledge’s of ma’âni, badî’, and bayân
7. Ibn Taymiyyah, Ahmad bin ‘Abdul-Halîm: Iqtidâ’ as-Sirât al-Mustaqîm [ed. Dr. Nâsir al-‘Aql, Maktabah ar-Rushd, Riyadh, 1994], P. 469

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