chapter  1
27 Pages

The genre of scriptural commentary in Islam

Qurʾān commentary (tafsīr, pl. tafāsīr) is a genre whose origins reach back to the earliest years of Islam and continues to the present day, as Muslims (and even some non-Muslims) continue to read and compose works of qurʾānic interpretation. In this chapter, as in the whole of the present work, we are concerned with the genre before the twentieth century. In addition to the duration and persistence of tafsīr, we may note the size of individual works: most of the works in the genre are voluminous, as commentaries of ten or twenty volumes are more the rule than the exception. Ostensibly, the purpose of tafsīr is to provide a correct understanding of the meaning of the Qurʾān’s verses. That the central text of the Islamic religion, the unmediated word of God in Arabic and the fi nal decisive revelation to His prophet Muḥammad, should be the object of careful scrutiny is hardly surprising. Moreover, the ideas of both holy scripture and its interpretation or commentary are familiar from many other religious traditions, with the most obvious parallel being biblical exegesis.