Science of commentary and different group Shi’ah and Sunni commentators in Islam

Advent of commentary
commentary on the words and expressions used in the Qur’an began at time of first revelation. The Prophe himself undertook the teaching of the Qur’an and the explanation of its meanings and intent.

Thus, in chapter XVI:44 God says, “And we have revealed to you the Remembrance that may explain to mankind that which has been revealed for them .” And He says in LXII:2, “ He it is Who has sent among the unlettered ones a messenger of their own, to recite to them His revelations and to make them grow and to teach them the Scriptures and wisdom.

At the time of the Prophet a group of men, on his orders, were instructed to read, record and learn the Qur’an by heart. when the Prophet’s companions passed away, other Muslims took over the responsibility of learning and teaching the Qur’an, and so it has continued until the present day.

Different group of Sunni commentators
The first group -companions
After the death of Prophet a group of his companions, including Ubayy ibn Ka’b Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud ,Jabir ibn Abd Allah al- Ansari, Abu Sa’id al- Khudri, Abd Allah ibn al- Zubayr, Abd Allah ibn Umar, Anas, Abu Hurayrah, Abu Musa, and above all, the famous Abd Allah ibn Abdas, were occupied with the Science of Commentary. Just as they had heard the Prophet explaining the meaning of the verses, they would transmit it orally to other trustworthy persons.

The traditions specifically concerned with the subject of Qur’anic verses number over two hundred and forty, many were transmitted through weak chains of transmission and the text of some have been rejected as incorrect or forged. Sometimes the transmission would include commentaries based on personal judgements rather then on a narration of the actual saying, hadiths, from the Prophet.

The later Sunni commentators considered this kind of commentary as part of the body of Sayings of the Prophet. Since the companions were learned in the science of Qur’anic commentary. They argued that these companions had a quired their knowledge of this science from the Prophet himself and that it was unlikely they would say anything which they themselves had invented.

There is, however, no absolute proof for their reasoning. A large proportion of these sayings, or traditions, about the reasons and historical circumstances of the revelation of verses do not possess an acceptable chain of narration. It should be noted that may of the narrations like Ka’b al- Akhbar, were learned companions who had belonged to the Jewish faith before accepting Islam.

Moreover, it should not be over looked that Ibn Abbas usually expressed the meaning of verses in poetry. In one of his narrations over two hundred questions of Nafi ibn al- Azzraq are replied to in the from of poetry. al- Suyuti in his book, al-Itqan, related one hundred and ninety of these questions.

It is evident, therefore, that many of the narrations made by the commentators amongst the companions cannot be counted as actual narrations from the Prophet himself therefore, such additional material related by the companions much be rejected.

The Second group -The companions of the followers
The second group of commentators were the companions of the followers (tabi’un), who were the students of the companions. Amongst then we find Mujahid, Sa’id ibn Jubayr, Ikrimah and Dahhak. Also from this group were Hasan al- Basri, Ata ibn Abu Rabah, Ata ibn Abi Muslim, Abu al- Aliyah, Muhammad ibn Ka’b al- Qurazi Qatadah, Atiyah, Zayd ibn Aslam, Ta’us al- Yamani (Mujahid a famous commentator , died 100 or 103 A.H. ( al. Nawawi, Tahdhib al- asma’) Sa’id ibn Jubayr , pupil or Ibn Abbas was martyred at the hand s of al- Hajjaj in 94 A.H (Tahdhib) , Ikrimah, apupil of Sa’id ibn Jubayr , died 104 A.H (Tahdhib). Dahhak was pupil of Ikrimah( Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Lisan al-mizan). Hasan al- Basri, an ascetic and commentator died in 110 A.H (Tahdhib). Ata ibn Abi Muslim was a pupil of Ibn Jubayr and Ikrimah and died in 133 A.H (Tahdhib). Ata ibn Abi Rabah, a commentator and jurisprudent, a pupil of Ibn Abbas , died 115 A.H (Tahdhib) Muhammad ibn Ka’b al-Qarthi, a well known commentator was a descendant of a Jewish tribe Banu Qurayzah (Tahdhib) , Qatadah, one of the greatest commentators , was a pupil of Hasan al- Basri and Ikrimah and died in 117 A.H. (Tahdhib) , Atiyah was a rawi ( transmitter) of Ibn Abbas (Lisan). Zayd ibn Aslam, a freed slave of Umar ibn al- Khttab, died 136 A.H. (Tahdhib). Ta’us al- Yamani ,a great scholar of his time , a pupil of Ibn Abbas, died 106 A.H. (Tahdhib) )).

The Third group
The third group were comprised of the students of the second group, namely, Rabi ibn Anas, Abd al- Rahman ibn zayd ibn Aslam, Abu Salih al- Kalbi and others. The tabi’un sometimes narrated the commentary on a verse as a tradition of the Prophet or the companions and, sometimes they explained its meaning without attributing a narrator to the source, this they did especially when there was doubt as to the identity of the narrator. The later commentators treat these narrations as traditions of the Prophet, but count them as mawquf in their science of the levels of hadiths (that is as a traditions whose chain narration does not reach back to the Prophet).

The fourth group -compilers of commentanries
The fourth group comprised the first compilers of commentaries, like Sufyan ibn Uyanah Waki ibn al- Jarrah, Shu’bah al- Hajjaj and Abd ibn Humayd, others from this group include Ibn Jarir al- Tabari ,the author of the famous Qur’anic Commentary.

This group recorded the sayings of the companions and the followers of the companions with a chain of narrators in their works of commentary, they avoided expressing personal opinions except, perhaps, Ibn Jarir al- Tabari who sometimes expressed his views by indicating his preference when discussing may be traced to this group.

The fifth group
The fifth group omitted the chain of narrators in their writings and contented themselves with a simple relation of the text of the traditions. Some scholars regard these commentators as the source of varying view in the commentaries by connecting many traditions to a companions or follower without verifying their validity or mentioning their chain of narration. Consequently has arisen allowing many false traditions to enter the body of traditions, thus undermining the reputation of his section of hadith literature.

Careful examination of the chains of transmission of the traditions leaves one in doubt as to the extent of the deceitful additions and false testimonies. Many conflicting traditions can be traced to one companion or follower and many traditions, which are complete fabrications, may be found amongst this body of narrations.

Thus reasons for the revelation of particular verse, including the abrogating and abrogated verses, do not seem to accord with the actual order of the verses, No more one or two of the traditions are found to be acceptable when submitted to such an examination.

It is for this reason that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who himself was born before this generation of narrators, said, “ Three things have no sound base: military virtues body battles and the traditions pertaining to Qur’an commentary” Imam al- Shafi’I relates that only about one hundred traditions from Ibn Abbas have been confirmed as valid.

The sixth group
The sixth group consists of those commentators who appeared after the growth and development of the various Islamic Sciences and each undertook the study of Qur’anic commentary according to this specialization: al- Zajjaj studied the subject from the grammatical point of view, al- Wahidi and Abu Hayyan investigated the verses by studying the inflection of the verbs, the vowels and the diacritical points.

There is also commentary on the rhetoric and eloquence of the verses by al- Zamakhari in his work entitled al- Kashshaf. There is theological discussion in the “Grand Commentary” of Fakhr al- Din al- Razi, The gnosis of Ibn al – Arabi and Abd al- Razzaq al- Kashani treated in their commentaries. Other narrators, like al- Tha’Iabi, record the history of transmission of the traditions. Some commentators ,among them al- Qurtubi, concentrate on aspects of fiqh ( jurisprudence).

There also exists a number of commentaries composed of many of these sciences ,such as Ruh,al- bayan by Shaykh Ismail Haqqi, Ruh, al- ma’ani by shihab al Din Mahmud al- Alusi al- Baghdadi Ghara’ib al- Qur’an by Nizam al- Din al- Nisaburi, This group rendered a great service to Science of Qur’anic commentary in that it brought the Science out of a state of stagnation (characteristic of the fifth group before it) and developed in into Science of precise investigation and theory.

However, if one were to examine closely the prexision of this group ‘s research, one would see, that much of its Qur’anic commentary imposes its theories onto the Qur’an rather than allowing the content of the verses to speak for themselves.

Different group of shi’ite commentators
All the group mentioned above are Sunni commentators their method, used in the earliest commentaries of this period, was based on ijthad, that is the reports of the companions and the followers of the companions were examined according to certain rules in order to reach an acceptable understanding of the text. This resulted in varying opinions amongst those making ijtihad and caused disorder, contradiction and, even, fabrication to enter into the body of the traditions.

The method employed by the shi’ite commentators, how ever, was different, with the result that the patterning of the group was also different. The shi’ite commentators in their study of a verse of the Qur’an, viewed the explanation given by the Prophet as proof of the meaning of the verse, they did not accept the saying of the companions, or the followers, as indisputable proof that the tradition was from the Prophet.

The shi’ite commentators only recognized as valid an unbroken chain of narration from the Prophet and through members of his family. Accordingly, in using and transmitting the verses concerning Qur’anic commentary, they restricted themselves to the use traditions transmitted by the Prophet and the Imams of the Prophet’s family. This has given rise to the following groups:

The first group
The first group comprises those who have learned these traditions from the Prophet and from the Imams of the Prophet’s family, studying and recording them according to their own method but not in any particular order. Among them we may mention such scholars as Zararah, Muhammad, ibn Muslim, Ma’ruf and Jarir who were companions of the fifth and sixth Imams.

The second group -compilers of the commentaries
The second group comprises the first compilers of the commentaries, like Furat ibn Ibrahim al- Kufi, Abu Hamzah al- Thumali, Muhammad al- Ayyashi, Ali ibn Ibrahim al- Qummi and Nu’mani who lived between the second and fourth centuries after Hijrah. The method of this group was similar to that of the fourth Sunni group of Commentators.

Thus, they avoided any kind of ijthad of passing of judgement. We should remember that the Imams of the Prophet’s family were living amongst Muslims and available for questioning ( on matters of commentary, for example) for a period of almost three hundred years. Thus the first groups were not divided chronologically but rather according to their relationship with the Imams.

There are very few who recorded the tradition without a chain of transmission. As an example, we should mention one of the students of al- Ayyashi who omitted to record the chains of transmission. It was his work ,.instead of the original of al- Ayyashi which came into common use.

The Third group
The third group comprises masters of various sciences, like al-Sharif al- Radi who provided a commentary concerned with Qur’anic language and Shaykh al- Tusi who wrote a commentary and analysis on metaphysical matters. In cluded, too is Sadr al- Din al- Shirazi’s philosophic work, al- Maybudi al- Kunabadi’s gnostic commentary and Abd Ali al- Huwayzi’s commentary Nur al- thaqalayn, Hashim al- Bahrani composed the commentary al- Burhan, and al- Fayd al- Kashani compiled the work known as al-Safi.

There were others who brought together may different themes to their commentaries, like Shaykh al – Tabarsi who in his Majma al- bayan researches different fields of language, grammar, Qur’an recitation, gnosis of death, after – life and paradise, and knowledge of the tradition.

Sources :

  1. The quran in islam- pages: 46to51