SOME COLLEAGUES HAVE asked me to compose for them an introduction to [the science of] Quran interpretation (tafsîr al-Qur’ân). It should comprise the generally acknowledged principles (qawâ’id kulliyyah) by which one may (a) understand [the [message of] the Quran and (b) know its [correct] interpretations and meanings.
It should also equip the reader to ascertain the truth or falsehood of any commentary, be it based on transmitted tradition (manqûl) or rational exposition (ma’qûl). Additionally, it should serve as a manual guiding one’s judgment to [right assessment of differing] interpretations
They advised that I furnish examples from Quran interpretations based on the transmitted traditions of the salaf (the earliest generations of Muslims of unquestioned piety), and other interpretations comprised of analytical reasoning. Further, they adjured me to clarify the correct and erroneous attributes of these [methods of] Quran interpretation, and in doing so to indicate the criteria for such distinction, for Quran commentaries are, indeed, full of all manner of sound and unsound content, some of it clearly true and some of it plainly false.
Now, truthful knowledge [that men convey] is of two kinds: What is conveyed to us from an unimpeachable source who is beyond error [namely, the Prophet œ], and such assertions as can be proven. All else is either invented, and must, therefore, be rejected; or it is doubtful, wherefore its veracity is indecipherable and thus beyond affirmation or negation.
It is the foremost duty of the Ummah, the Community of Believers, to understand the Quran properly, for it is the rope of God [to which we have been divinely commanded to hold fast to…all together (Sûrat Âl ¢Imrân, 3:103)]. It is the Scripture of [revealed] Wisdom [to believe in] (Sûrat Al-An¢âm, 6:89). It is the Straight Way [of salvation] to which God guides whomever He so wills (Sûrat Al-Nûr, 24:46).
No evil shall ever corrupt it. No wicked tongue shall ever distort it. No amount of study shall ever exhaust it, and never shall it cease to inspire, nor scholars ever fathom its depths. He who utters it speaks the truth. He who acts on it reaps divine reward. He who judges by it does justice. He who preaches it calls to the Truth. He whose arrogance turns him from it turns to his doom. And he who seeks guidance elsewhere is lost.
Allah has said:
And when there shall come to you [O humanity] guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance shall not go astray [in the world] and shall not suffer misery [in the Hereafter]. Yet he who turns away from My remembrance, for him, indeed, there shall be a stringent life. And We shall gather him to the Assembly on the Day of Resurrection blind. He shall say: My Lord! Why have You gathered me unto the Assembly blind, though I used to see? He shall say: So it is! Our signs came to you. Yet you forgot them. And so this Day, you are forgotten. (Sûrat Ṭâ Hâ, 20:123-26)
Allah has said, as well:
Alif Lâm Râ [This Quran is] a Book We have sent down to you [O Muhammad] so that you may bring all people out from the [veils of] darkness into the light—by the permission of their Lord—[and] to the [Straight] Way of the Overpowering [One], the All-Praised: Allah! The One to whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. So woe to the disbelievers from [the coming of] a most severe torment! (Sûrat Ibrahîm, 14:1-2)
Allah also said:
And so it is that We have revealed to you [O Prophet, this Quran]—a [guiding] Spirit of [the divine Law with] Our [revealed] command. Never [before it] did you know what the Book [of Allah] was, nor [what Heavenly] faith [was]. Thus have We made it a light by which We guide whomever We so will of Our servants. And, indeed, thereby you guide [humanity] to a Straight Way [of salvation]—the way of Allah, to Whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Most surely, it is to Allah [alone] that all affairs are destined. (Sûrat Al-Shûrâ, 42:52-53).
By design, this Introduction (Muqaddimah) is a concise summation. From Allah’s grace, I have inscribed it by heart. He alone is the guide unto truth and righteousness.