The odyssey of Qur’anic exegesis was launched by Muhammad in the first/seventh century and continued down to our present time. However, the scholarship of Qur’anic exegesis flourished and gained momentum only by the end of the formative phase during the end of the first/seventh and early second/eighth century onwards. The role of Muhammad in Qur’anic exegesis is announced by Q16:44, ‘anzalna ilaika al-dhikra litubaiyina lil-nasi ma nuzzila ilaihim [We have revealed to you the Qur’an so that you can explain to people what was sent down for them].’ Commentary on the Qur’an is claimed to be hinged upon sources of divine knowledge passed on to Muhammad who is divinely instructed to teach it to his companions. This knowledge is of two categories: one is based on sound transmission of prophetic traditions which include occasions for revelation, abrogating and abrogated ayahs; foreign words in the Qur’an; variant modes of reading and Qur’anic parables. The other is based upon the discovery (al-istinbat) of and reflection (al-tadabbur) upon the significations of Qur’anic expressions. The latter category of knowledge is subcategorized into
(i) knowledge about which Muslim scholars hold different opinions with regard to whether it is permissible (ja’iz) knowledge. This kind of knowledge attempts to unravel the significations of ambiguous Qur’anic notions and expressions such as the unseen matters (al-ghuyub), the specific time of the Hour (qiyam al-sacah) and the names and attributes of God. These notions, for orthodox Muslim scholars, should be believed in without any discussion and whose significations should be taken denotatively, literally and non-allegorically. In other words, a Muslim is expected to believe in these theological notions without subjecting them to one’s finite human cognitive resources or compare them to similar notions or expressions such as ‘God’s hearing,’ ‘God’s seeing.’ Orthodox Muslim scholars also argue that one is not encouraged to take these expressions and compare them to human ears and hearing or human eyes and seeing. This view is based on the notion of de-anthropomorphism (al-tanzih, that is, tanzih al-rabb) according to which God should not be compared in terms of His names and attributes with people’s names and attributes. Their view is backed up by
Q42:11, ‘laisa kamithlihi shai’un [There is nothing like unto Him].’ This kind of knowledge is related to the notion of objectionable ta’wil.