The principles of Shi'i tafsir and the relation between the Imams and the Qur'an
Tafsir means "interpretation" in general but not always of the Qur'an. "The most significant usage of the word is its reference to the branch of Islamic learning concerned with the Qur'an. A tafsir of the Qur'an is a work which provides an interpretation of the Arabic text of the scripture. In most cases, a work entitled tafsir will follow the text of the Qur'an from the beginning to the end and will provide an interpretation (tafsir) of segments of the text (word-by-word, phrase-byphrase or verse-by-verse) as a running commentary. The major exceptions to this fundamental characteristic are to be found in the formative and the contemporary periods of Islam. In the formative period, one finds works of tafsir, which cover only isolated segments of the text, and in the contemporary period, thematic tafasir (mawdu'i) have become quite popular. Different mufassirun have different concerns and goals and this is reflected in the relative weight they put upon elements such as history, grammar, law, theology ..." 1 The commentaries of the Qur'an are useful for deciphering the message of the Qur'an. Many people who read the Sacred Book receive no more from it than the literal message. It is in the commentaries, based on the clarification afforded by the hadith and written by those who are qualified in the true sense, that man comes to understand explicitly and in more extended form what is contained often implicitly and in a contracted form in the Qur'an. 2
1 A. Rippin, "Tafsir", EI2, p.83-84.
2 H. Nasr, Ideals and Realities in Islam, p.58
Adapted from the book: "Mahdi in the Qur'an" by: "N. Vasram and A. Toussi"
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