Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Tafsir during a CIU course. Here, Riddell continues to present the different styles within Tafsir literature, like philosophical, popular hadith-based, and 20th-century Tafsir literature.  


 Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Tafsir (Pt.2):


Hello, and, welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re dealing in, the current lecture with, following on from the last couple of lectures. Let’s take stock. We initially talked about, principles of tafsir, principles of commentary writing in Islam. And I’ve encouraged you to try and relate this to your own understanding of, biblical commentary writing.


To what extent are the principles similar? To what extent are they different? If they’re different, how are they different? We also took our 1st group of commentaries for examination, and we we we focused especially on the commentaries that drew on the hadith and on the stories, on narrative, which according to John Wansbrough represents the very earliest form of commentary writing in Islam, and others agree with Wandsborough on that. How does that compare in the biblical context?


To what extent does storytelling serve as a very significant feature of biblical commentary writing? Even beyond the world of scholarly biblical commentary writing, to what extent does storytelling serve to elucidate the Bible in Sunday school classes or at church or in children’s classes in in in, Christian schools? It’s worth considering the same principles to see whether there’s overlap or whether there’s difference. We’re going to move on now from the, from the narrative and hadith based commentaries to look at philosophical commentaries. Inevitably, after the early centuries, when commentary writing on the Quran focused very much on narrative and on hadith, in time, some commentators wanted to go further and simply tell stories or tell narratives and draw on hadith for the commentary task.


So some commentators moved into more philosophical, speculative, rationalistic kind of thinking in there in explaining Quran verses. And remember, in talking about commentaries, we’re talking about explaining verses, how to explain a verse. These people, these commentators believe that, 1, that they needed to engage in rationalist speculative thinking to explain verses, to do full justice to the verses at their disposal. Now Jane McAuliffe, who we’ve encountered before in her book, Koranic Christians, she makes a list of the, philosophical commentators. She lists, Abdul Jabbar, who died in 10/25, Azam al Shari, Arazi, al Beidawi, and Anasafi.


And you notice the dates. We’re talking the 10 100, 11 100, 12 100, 1300. This was the period of great philosophical commentary writing. Whereas the preceding centuries, the 800, the 900, that had been the period of the where hadith and narrative commentary writing had dominated. Now we’re going to look in particular at 3 of the names on that list.


The second one, Azamakhshari. 3rd one, Araiza, and the 4th, Ubaidawi. Let’s begin with Zamakhshari. Now there’s a book being written on, on Zamakhshari, on his commentary by Andrew Lane. It’s called a traditional Mu’tazilite Quran commentary.


And this brings us back to that word that we encountered earlier, the Mu’tazilah, zamakshali and the Mu’tazilah. So we’ll spend a little more time now thinking about this. Now who was he? Well, he died in 11 44. You’ve got his full name there.


His commentary was entitled the unveil of the real meanings of the hidden matters of what was sent down and the choice of statements about the various aspects of its interpretation. Even the title tells us something more than the Hadith based commentaries did. It’s telling us the title this title is telling us of a process of unveiling that’s taking place of real underlying meanings of hidden matters. And in order to access those real meanings in the hidden matters and to unveil the matters, this commentator believed that he had to reason and engage in philosophical speculation. Now the Arabic term for this kind of commentary writing is what’s presented at the, the second bullet point at the bottom, the third bullet point.


Good it’s a good example of tafsir berei. Now this man, as I’ve shared, he was quite overt about his Mu’tazilite leanings. He he was quite open about his sympathies for the Moatazilite movement. Who were they? Well, they espouse doctrines such as the doctrine of the unity and the justice of God.


They rejected anthropomorphism for God. They argued for the creativeness of the Quran. That’s an interesting one. These were some early Muslim groups debated whether the Quran was a created document or an uncreated document. Importantly, this group of thinkers, including Azam Akshati, recognized the intellect as the source of understanding of faith.


In order to understand faith, it wasn’t a matter of blindly following teachings, but it was a matter of using the intellect. They also believed in freedom of will, the free will of the individual person, and they rejected superstitious concepts. Now I’d like you to stop your recording and do a little bit of research about the Mo’utazila, their teachings and their influence. They’re a very interesting group who, at one stage, they were predominant in the early centuries of Islam in the 8 100, but they lost their influence and they ended up losing the debate to groups that were a little more predestinarian or fatalistic in their approach. But they’re a very interesting group.


And their influence lived on in the writings and thinking of some people and has made a resurgence in the in the modern world. Now this next commentator, Arasi, died in 1210. His commentary is entitled the keys to the hidden. Again, we have this idea of hidden matters being revealed. His commentary extends to 32 volumes, and one finds this sometimes with philosophical writers that that they go on and on and on in in at great length.


And Razi is certainly one of those. It’s a it’s a huge commentary, 32 volumes. Now he drew heavily on the preceding man, but he rejected the Moqtazilite thinking of Zamasikari. Because by this stage, by the stage of Adazi, who died in 12/10, that group of thinkers, those rationalist thinkers, the had lost favor, and it was no longer they were no longer the predominant force. So this commentator, Razi, draws on Zamashari, but he doesn’t he he adapts his teaching to orthodoxy.


Here’s another name, Anissa Buri. He drew heavily on Razi and on Zamakhshari, and he also was interested in philosophical commentary writing. He takes an interesting approach to exegesis, and this gives us a feel for the for the philosophical approach to commentary writing. And, again, we should always be asking ourselves the question, how does this compare to biblical commentary writing? Do you do you see any evidence of this kind of approach in the writing of certain biblical commentators?


What Nisaburi does is that he follows a particular structure. First, he poses a question, then he provides an answer, then he poses an alternative question. He cites the mothazila, giving an exposition of their view. He provides an alternative approach and expon exposition, and then he provides his own conclusion. You can see it’s a highly structured approach, one which requires a lot of thinking, a lot of philosophical or speculative thinking, rational thinking.


And this is the essence of this philosophical approach to commentary writing. No longer are they simply telling a story to explain a verse, but they’re thinking it through. Quite a different approach. And remember as we talk about all of this that we’re getting a feel for diversity among Muslims in history and diversity, which reflects itself today as well. Back in this early period, Muslims were debating at great length about how to explain the Quran.


Should they explain it by telling a story, or should they explain it by thinking through the issues, rationally thinking through the issues? That debate took place over a 1000 years ago, but it’s still taking place today. And it’s interesting how those old debates live on. So in looking at this material, we are not simply studying history, but we are engaging with a process which lives on in the Muslim world today. Because Muslims continue to engage in these debates.


Some like to explain the Quran by telling a story. Others like to explain the Quran by thinking through the issues and engaging in a kind of philosophical process. Another name to mention is Al Baydawi, the tafsir of Al Baydawi. This appears in 2 volumes and has been very widely distributed through the world. This man died sometime between 12861292.


Again, we’re talking about a man who lived a long time ago. But remember that Islamic commentary writing does not discard the works of the predecessors. Later commentaries build on the works of their predecessors. So by studying these early commentators, we are effectively also studying the modern comment commentary approach as well. Now Obeidawi’s commentary was entitled the lights of revelation and the secrets of interpretation.


Again, we have the concept of secrets being unveiled. He drew also very heavily on the first man we talked about, Azam Kashari, but, again, he assimilated his perspectives to orthodox Sunni theology. He rejected his heavily mottazila approach. And to illustrate that, I’d like to look at an example. Let’s see how the 2 commentators explained a particular verse.


The verse is sort of 18 verse 29. And this verse in from the Quran says, say the truth is from your lord. So whoever wills may believe, and whoever wills may disbelieve. Now how are Muslim commentators going to explain that? Because it relates to freedom of will.


It relates to God’s sovereignty. How a Muslim commentator is going to explain that? Well, Zama Shari, the first commentator we we dealt with in this philosophical group, leans towards the free will approach. He writes, there remains for you nothing more than to choose freely whether you want to follow the way of deliverance or the way of destruction. Now this man lived almost a 1000 years ago, but his approach certainly has followers today.


Whereas, al Baidawi is more cautious. He’s more circumspect. He adds, this in no way means necessarily that the servant is solely responsible for his act himself. Even though this happens through his wish, still his wish is not limited to his wish. You get the sense of caution and circumspection where he’s not wanting to give or to attribute free will to the individual, but he’s leaving room for the sovereign Allah to maintain control, and that was a key part of that big early debate.


Now the fill philosophical commentaries have played a significant role in Islamic history, and they continue to do so today. This last commentary that we saw, by Al Baydawi is very popular in Muslim Southeast Asia, both in earlier periods and today. I’d like you to stop the recording at this point and turn to the middle page and look at the exegesis by Al Baydawi of surah 3 verses 116 to 119 in the link that’s available there. It’s David Margolio’s translation of that Surah. So if you stop the recording now and have a look at that.


And, again, ask yourself the question, how does this feel as a commentary style compared with the earlier narrative commentaries, the earlier hadith based commentaries? Are they similar? Are they different? If they’re different, how? Of course, waves come and go, trends come and go, but it doesn’t mean that an earlier trend has been has completely disappeared.


And, of course, while the philosophical commentaries emerge, there were hadith based commentaries that were continuing on, continuing to emerge as well side by side. Let’s look at a couple of them. This by Ibn Kathir is very popular today. This man died in 1970, 13/73, Ibn Kathir. He was born into a period of great social upheaval following the Mongol invasions and devastations.


His tafsir is essentially Hadith based. He first uses the Quran text in explaining the Quran, and then he uses the Hadith, then he uses the writings of the companions. I can’t stress enough the importance of this commentary today. Although this man died in 13/73, his commentary is widely distributed today. It’s published all over the world.


It’s widely available. He was writing at a time of great weakness of Islam. And what tends to happen is that at periods of when his Islam is weak following the Mongol Mongol invasions, these kinds of scholars emerge and say, let’s get back to the Quran. Let’s get back to the Hadith. Let’s get back to the styles of explaining the Quran that were close to the time of Mohammed.


And so his approach represents a kind of throwback to earlier styles of commentary writing. A slightly later commentary is the Tafsirah Jalalain produced by 2 men actually. One of whom died in 14/85, and this man, Asayuti, died in 1505. This is an extremely popular commentary. It’s a relatively easy commentary for for students.


It’s very popular among students in the seminaries. And, really, the title, Tafsir al Jalalain, means the commentary of the 2 Jalals because the 2 authors were both named Jalal. One was this teacher and one was a student. Now I’d like you again to stop the recording and to have a look at an example of this commentary, the, look, where a link is provided on the Moodle page, and have a look at the commentary on Surah 2 verses 7 to 15. Now finally, I’d just like to make brief mention to commentaries outside the Arab world.


We have to remember that, although we’ve been focusing very much on commentaries produced by Arab writers, More Muslims live outside the Arab world than live in it. Now this was a famous commentary in Muslim Southeast Asia in present day Indonesia that was written by Abdulrauf ibn Ali Alfonsuri Asinkli. He died in 16/93. And, his commentary was the first complete commentary on the Quran from that part of the world. It was entitled the interpreter of that which gives benefit.


Now we’ve covered a lot of ground. I hope you’re still with me, on on this material, and I’d like us to digest it as we go along, remembering at all times that we’re not just here to study the Islamic materials for the sake of studying the Islamic materials, but we’re here to respond to them as Christians. I’d like you to digest the material we’ve looked at in studying tafsir, commentary writing. Digest the material, both classical and modern, to get a feel for the different exegetical styles. How did the Muslim commentators differ from each other?


How do their styles differ? Consider the differences between a hadith based, more literalist approach, and a philosophical and rationalist approach. Now we’ve covered a lot of material, and there’s more to come. Hello again. This is, the last, lecture on the topic of, tafsir al Quran.


We’re rounding off by looking at the, the modern period. So let us, move ahead with this tafsir of Quran, exegesis of Quran. Now there has been a a lot of activity. During the 20th century, many Muslims wrote commentaries. In many ways, it was, one of the most prolific periods of commentary writing, among the Muslim world.


And we’re just going to look at a selection of those commentaries to give you a taste as to, what is out there. A number of, 20th century commentators are available online, so I would I would encourage you to look at, online materials and resources. You can certainly supplement what we make available on the Moodle site by looking for other commentaries as well. Let’s reiterate the key point that was made by Jane McAuliffe in her in her writing, that is that modern commentators look back to and depend heavily upon the great classical commentators. Remember that theme.


The dependence of later commentaries upon earlier commentaries. Islam Islamic commentary writing is characteristic characterized by that. In contrast with the biblical tradition, where you have a much more dynamic process, where commentaries, are designed to address the needs of the modern world and don’t necessarily feel that there is anything to be gained from looking backwards at early commentators. So the works of the classical Islamic commentators live on in their own right as well, and we need to we need to be aware of that. Having said that, it’s not entire dependence with modern commentators having nothing new to say.


Certainly, modern commentators have introduced new approaches, innovative ideas, revised formats in the exegetical process. Now a key name in the modern period, by modern, we’re going back especially in the Islamic context to the turn of 20th century. A key name was Muhammad Abdul and also his student, Rashid Rehda. Now in 9 18 99, Mohammed Abdul was appointed grand Mufti of Egypt, and that’s a very significant position. It represents the most senior Islamic scholar in Egypt at the great University of Al Azhar, which is a magnet for students of Islam from all over the Muslim world.


So he wielded great influence. And his lectures at Al Azhar University between 18/99/1905 were collected by his student, Rashid. They were revised, they were expanded, and they were edited, and they were then added to by Rita and presented in the form of a commentary on the Quran entitled Tafsiran Manaar. So Tafsiran Manaar represents a combined effort by these two men. It’s one of the very significant 20th century commentaries.


Here’s a picture of Muhammad Abdul. Egypt came to represent one of the key centers for learning very early on in the Islamic period, but in the 20th century, Egypt was one of the great magnets as I say. An Egyptian who, is key name in terms of 20th century Islam is Sayed Kotb. He was Egyptian. He wrote a tafsir.


He wrote a commentary. He actually wrote it from prison. He has an interesting story, and I would encourage you to read about him. In brief, he spent, a couple of years in the United States in the late 19 forties. He was very disillusioned with, Western society as he saw it.


He came back. He became radicalized as a Muslim, and he spent the the the the years of the 19 fifties and until his death in 1966 in Egypt resisting the, government of the nationalist, government of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Was a Muslim revivalist, and he actually has become a clean name among contemporary radicals. Here’s really the main idea log or one of the 2 main ideologues of modern Muslim Sunni fundamentalism. I’ve given a, a link on the Moodle page to, his commentary writing on the Surah 109.


So I’d like you to stop the recording at this point and to carefully read, say, if God’s exegesis of that verse of that, Surah, actually, of that chapter 109. But, of course, don’t just read it. Ask yourself, read it critically and ask yourself, how does it differ from the early examples of commentary that that you’ve read going back to the early hadith based commentators, the story based commentators, the philosophical commentators. How does Sayid Quds’ exegesis of Sura 109 compare with those? How is it different?


There’s another very key name, in terms of 20th century, radical exegetical writing, and that is Sayed Abu Alaa Maududi. Now he came from the other key pole of, the key pillar of the Islamic world in the 20th century that is Pakistan, India, Pakistan. He was born at the time that the two nations were 1. He was born in British India, but he played leading role in the emergence of Pakistan. He’s a very prolific writer.


He’s had a huge influence around the world on, on Muslims, especially literalist, Islamist Muslims. He’s very much a believer of political Islam. He wrote this commentary called the meaning of Quran, a multivolume work. He considered the weakness of Islam in India resulted from the centuries old practice of interfaith mixing. He was very critical of certain expressions of Sufi mystical Islam or popular Islam.


Muldudi founded in 1941 a a group that went on to become a very significant political party in Pakistan, the Jama’at Islami. And it called for the establishment of an Islamic state. Muldudi was your essential Islamist, believing in the, intermixing of Islamic politics, and that comes through in his commentary towards understanding of Quran. I have also uploaded to the website a, a link, to Mulduri’s commentary, and I would like you to look at that, to look at his exegesis of sura 3117 to 127. Again, compare what Muldudi has to say with what had to say.


Compare their approach not only between themselves, but also with the earlier philosophical and hadith based commentaries as well. You get a taste of Maldudi’s, political and and religious leanings by reading the broad corpus of his writings. Here’s a quote from some of his writing. Muldudi wrote, Islam is a revolutionary doctrine and a system that overturns governments. It seeks to overturn the whole universal social order and establish its structure anew.


Islam seeks the world. It is not satisfied by a piece of land, but demands the whole universe. Islamic Jihad is at the same time offensive and defensive. The Islamic party does not hesitate to utilize the means of war to implement its goal. Pretty strong words.


And, of course, not all Muslims buy this line. Maududi represents a particular stream of Islam that has quite a following in Pakistan and beyond, especially among the more literalist Muslims who are leaning towards, Islamic Islam in politics, political Islam, Islamic states, and so forth. He’s a powerful he bears powerful influence in the world. Moving further to the east, we find a commentator in Indonesia by the name of Hamka. He lived and died around the same time as Muldudi.


He was a 20th century writer dying in 1981. He was born in the Minang Kabal region of West Sumatra, and he also was imprisoned like. During his 3 year imprisonment, he wrote most of his chronic commentary. So this is the 2nd 20th century commentator, who wrote his commentary in prison. His commentary was entitled Tafsir Al Azhar.


And he identifies his sources quite interestingly because when we look at the list of his sources, it’s virtually a who’s who of commentators down the centuries. He says he drew on So in other words, the first name mentioned there, Tabari, died in 9 23 AD. And the last mentioned person, Saeed Khotb, died in 1966. So hamka has really drawn on the full gamut of Islamic commentary writing. He was not a radical like and.


Hamka, his full name is actually Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amurullah. But according to the well established custom in Indonesia, they tend to create acronyms. So his full name was turned into the acronym of hamka. He had, Sufi leanings, mystical leanings, and so his commentary is much more, in some ways, mystically inclined than, you would expect to find in the writings of more political Islamists like Muldudi and Gudp. In these lectures on on, exegesis, we have touched on, a range of different styles.


We’ve looked at hadith based commentary writing, story based commentary writing, We’ve looked at philosophical commentaries. We’ve looked at, some modern 20th century commentaries, the more radical writing of. We’ve hinted at the mystical writing of someone like Hunkka. There’s much more we could look at, but we weren’t in these lectures. But the key thing that comes out of these lectures, I think, is the diverse approaches to explaining verses of the Quran by Islamic commentators.


And so as we set our goal to understand the Quran in this course, we have to get a sense of how understanding the Quran depends very much on where people are coming from. And we can see that Muslims are not all of one mind or of all of one block in understanding of the Quran as reflected in the very diverse approaches to commentary writing. And we haven’t even considered it, commentaries coming from the Shiite group of Muslims. And we’ve barely touched on the commentaries coming from Sufi Muslims as well. So there’s much more to be said on this topic, but I’ll leave that for you to do in your own reading.


And if you prepare an assignment on this topic, you have some good materials to start with, but there’s much more available as well. I’d like you to finish this lecture by, going to the Moodle page and watching a film where a link is provided on on the Moodle page. It’s a very interesting film because you have a panel of discussions talking about a particular verse in the Quran. Verse 34 of chapter 4. Now this is the verse that refers to to, suggests that a man should beat his wife if she, is disobedient.


Now the question is, how do Muslims understand that verse? Well, you’ll see from the film that Muslims understand it in very different ways, and there are huge debates about this kind of topic. So the quranic verse itself is not self standing. It’s not self evident. It seems to say a man should beat his wife if she’s disobedient.


How do Muslims explain that? They explain it in very different ways. Watch the film, enjoy it, and think about, the different approaches to understanding that verse. And, of course, think about it in terms of our Christian context as well. How would you, as a Christian, respond to the kinds of approaches to that topic reflected in that film?


And more broadly, how would you, as a Christian, engage with the diverse approaches to Islamic commentary writing that we’ve encountered?