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The Two Types of Tafsir of The Quran and The Best Works

Quran is the word of Allah, and no one can have the power to claim its ultimate meaning but allah. However, many people tried to interpret it to make it understood to people. Of course, those interpretations aren’t random but based on many sources such as the Quran itself and the sunnah of the prophet Mohammed..

Through understanding Tafseer, people can uncover the layers of the holy book, and get to understand the verses of Allah, besides they can learn about the biography of our prophet Mohammed and the events he passed through.

This guide provides an overview of the main types of tafsir and how to learn them. It also discusses the importance and different types of tafsir e Quran, besides, we’ll fathom the boundaries between the tafsir bil r’ay and tafsir bil athar.

What Is Quran Tafsir Meaning?

Tafsir is an original Arabic word that means to clarify or expound the divine words to Allah in Quran. And definitely, there is no interpreter that can claim that he can fully unveil the meaning of the verses of the Quran

However, when talking about Quran tafsir, we refer to the attempts of muslim exegetes to make the Quran accessible to people by showing its interpretation or what they really think about its meaning.

What Are the Main Types of Tafsir?

We can categorize tafsir types into two broad categories. Tafsir by al athar and Tafsir bil Al-Ra’y

1,tafsir by Al Athar:

Also known as Tafsir bil Riwaya, this tafsir refers to all interpretations of the Quran derived from three different transmission sources.: Quran itself, sunnah, the companions of prophet Muhammad, and the followers ( Tābiʿun).. And it has been approved for its great authenticity. For understanding this type of tafsir, we’ll show you some examples

  • Tafsir by al Quran:

It’s believed that the Quran is the best interpreter as you can see some verses or words in the Quran are explained in other verses.

For example, Allah said in the Quran in surah Al Fatiha:

“the path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor” (Al Fatiha, 7)

However, you might wonder who those whom allah bestowed favors until you find their description in another verse referring to them.

“Whos obeys Allah and the messenger, they are with those unto whom Allah hat bestowed favor, of the prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the righteous. The best of the company are they! ﴾ Al Nisa, 69﴿ 

  • Tafsir by Sunnah:

You might find some explanation in the sunnah (prophet’s sayings) which can interpret the Qur’an,

For example, Allah said in the Quran:

Prepare against them (You, believers) with as much strength as you can (AL Anfal, 6)

And this strength is interpreted in one of the hadith narrated by ‘Uqba b. ‘Amir that he heard God’s Messenger say when he was on the pulpit, “Prepare for them as much strength as you can. Strength is shooting; strength is shooting; strength is shooting.” (Muslim transmitted it).

  • Tafsir by Al-Ma’thur of Companions

Prophet’s companions were the people who accompanied him throughout his life and recorded his sayings. After his death, they would reflect upon the verses of the Quran and everyone would try to decipher the meaning of the ayat based on the information he received from the Prophet. Tafsir by al-Ma’thur has been approved since those companions have a great level of authenticity that stems from their solid, direct connection with prophet Muhammed

For example, Ibn Abbas, the great companion, interpreted the first ayat in surah Nasr (When Allah’s ˹ultimate˺ help comes and the victory ˹over Mecca is achieved˺, that the time when the prophet Muhammed would die has approached.

2. Tafsir Bil Al-Ra’y (ijtihad)

It is the second kind of Tafsir of the Quran that relies on reasoning and it is called ‘ijtihad, rather than being based on the transmission of knowledge.’. Of course, using reasoning does not mean abrupt or random interpretations, rather it is done by looking at the verses, traditions, and sayings of the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and it’s used usually to elicit some rules of Islamic laws or principles of Islamic jurisprudence

ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, one of the great khalifs for Muslims, advised Shuraih before holding the position of the judiciary in Kufa:

What is clear to you in Quran; do not ask anyone about it, and what is not clear to you in Quran, follow its meaning in the Sunnah of the Messenger of God – may God’s prayers and peace be upon him – and what is not clear to you in the Sunnah, then try to use your reasoning to know it.

Muslim scholars categorized Tafsir bil Al-Ra’y  into two types:

1) Good Tafsir

It requires the interpreter to use his mind, to reach the meaning of the Quran with the help of all the tools, conditions, and sciences that must be available in the field of interpretation. Among the most renowned tafsir of the type is tafsir al tabari

Imam has shown the conditions of tafsir be Al-Ra’y that should be met by the interpreter to be approved as follows:

  •  knowledge of the language of the Arabs and their rhetorical speech
  •  knowledge of Arabic words and their connotations
  • knowledge of the reasons for verses’ revelation
  •  knowledge of Nasikh and Mansukh, the hadeeth, the traditional sources of jurisprudence,
  • Not following one’s tendencies and avoiding fanaticism.

2)Disgraceful Tafsir

It occurs when someone claims to clarify the meanings of the Quran in a way that contradicts the rules of the Arabic language and legitimate evidence and submits to the tendency and bias of one’s personal opinion without using the methods of interpretation or meeting its conditions. And allah has prohibited us from this kind of tafsir when he said in surah Al Ana’am, 68:

“And when you come across those who ridicule Our revelations, do not sit with them unless they engage in a different topic”.

What Are the Best Works of Tafsir?

Below, we will mention some of the tafsirs of the Quran.

1. Tafsir al-Jalalayn

This book is written by two muslim scholars Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli,  and Al-Suyuti,

Before his death, Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli wrote the first part (from Surat al-Kahf to Surat al-Nas in addition to Surat al-Fatihah) then Al-Suyuti took the mission of completing the interpretation during the month of Ramadan in the year 870 AH and finished it on the tenth of Shawwal of the same year.

Al-Mahalli in his interpretation tended to be very brief, and Al-Suyuti followed his approach, as he said in the introduction of this book: he tended to be so brief, leaving redundant expressions, and syntax found in Arabic books.

Also, the author of Kashf al-Zunun wrote, in narration to some Yemeni scholars:

“I counted the letters of the Qur’an and its interpretation of the Two Jalalayn, and I found they are as equal as to the letters of Quran, except in Surat al-Muzzammil, and Surat al-Muddaththir where the letters of the interpretation exceeded these of the Qur’an.

2. Tafsir al-Suyuti

Suyuti compiled in this book all the interpretations of the verses narrated from the hadith of prophet moahmmed, and his companions and followers. He relied on hadith in the books of Sahah and Sunan. However, he only mentioned the matn (the text of hadith without mentioning its sanad (or chains of narrators ) due to the need for brevity.

And he summarized this interpretation in his book (Translator of the Qur’an). ) in which he included all the hadiths marfu` (elevated), mauquf (stopped), reaching a few ten thousand hadiths.

Despite its great influence, one of the cons of this book is that writer did not comment or reflect on the narrations of the companions and don’t verify the validity of the hadiths he collected in this interpretation or show what it’s correct and what was weak, according to his opinion.

3. Tafsir al Tabri

According to Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah,  this is one of the most famous Islamic books specializing in the science of interpretation of the Noble Qur’an and some consider it the first reference for interpretation by tradition.

In this book, Al-Qurtubi mentioned the verse from the Qur’an with its list of interpretations of the Companions and followers (with its chains of narration. Also, he represents the different readings of each verse and suggests the most correct one, and listed the hadiths of the Prophet with their chains of transmission and jurisprudential rulings. Besides, he tended to include many Israeli stories.

At last, it’s an invaluable resource for anyone interested in learning more about the Qur’an. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced scholar, Tafsir al-Qurtubi will offer you insights into Quranic texts that you never thought possible.

3. Tafsir al-Qurtubi

This is one of the comprehensive interpretations of the Quran, that focused especially on clarifying Islamic rulings. It is unique in its kind. and also one of the most thorough works in this science that occupied great significance in Islamic history. its author omitted histories and stories, and gave attention to interpreting the rulings of the Qur’an with evidence, and mentioning the readings, and the nasikh and mansukh verses in quran

Al-Qurtubi fulfilled what he vowed to himself in this interpretation, and those points highlight his approach

1. He presented the causes of revelation, the readings, and the syntax, and clarify the strange expressions.

2. He invoked the Arabic language as a great source and frequently cites the poetry of the Arabs.

3. He commented on the sayings of the Mu’tazilah, the Fatalists, the Rafidites, the philosophers, and the extremist Sufis.

4. He did not immerse himself in mentioning stories at all, however, some of the Israeli stories are noticed

5. He used to narrate the opinions of the companions and followers, especially in their interpretation of Islamic fiqh.

6. He quoted from many interpreters who preceded him, especially Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Ibn Attia, Ibn al-Arabi, and Abu Bakr al-Jassas.

4. Tafsir ibn kathir

It is one of the most famous Islamic books specializing in the science of interpretation of the Noble Qur’an. For interpreting the Quran the author relied on sources, organized in their priority as follows: the Quran itself (tafsir verses by another similar verse), then the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammed (in case the verse can’t be interpreted by the Quran), then the sayings of the Companions and followers.

Also, Ibn Katheer used to involve the Israelites and clarify that they were intrusive to the Islamic narrative. Sometimes he does not mention them but just expresses his opinion about them. On the other hand, he relied on the Arabic language to understand the Qur’an, taking into account, the implications of the words, the styles of the language, the semantics of the words, and the evidences of poetry that indicates the meaning and clarifies the meaning.

What Are the Sources of Tafsir?

There are 7 main sources of tafsir organized consecutively according to their priority.

1. Quran

Quan is the greatest source of interpretation, and it constitutes the highest level of authenticity. sometimes the meaning of some words can be explained in another vers, unfolding the ambiguity in the quranic term, as we explained before.

2. Sunnah

It includes the hadiths and narrations attributed to the prophet Mohammed and is also ranked as the second top source of tafsir because those hadiths are narrated from the messenger of Allah. However, the interpreter still should have the ability to distinguish between the weak and correct hadiths by verifying their sanad and matn.

3. the Sayings of The Companions (and Followers)

The Companions of the prophet were so close to him and supported him to spread the message of Islam, And since they had companionship and closeness to the Messenger of God and have passed through what he had, their sayings have precedence over those who came after them, and The person studying their interpretations can sense such depth and insightfulness without preciosity.

4. Arabic Literature

It means studying the Quranic vocabulary of the verses, with the help of the literary sciences, such as morphology, grammar, language, and rhetoric, as references in ascertaining the meaning.

The methods of literary interpretation fall into two major types

The study of (what is around the Qur’an):

 It means studying the Quran, given the physical and moral environment in which the Qur’an is revealed, read, and compiled. Hence, the interpreter should’ve complete knowledge of this Arabic environment and knows its economic, and social circumstances, such as tribal system and creed.

The study of (what is in the Qur’an):

It means studying the vocabulary of the verse, given its verbal and linguistic meaning in the dictionary then moving on to its usage in the Qur’an.


Isra’iliyat is the body of narratives originating from Judeo-Christian traditions that can give extra information or interpretation about events recorded in the Quran. Scholars starting with the Sahabah have studied narrative accounts of other Abrahamic religions to further explain and clarify verses, While some of those stories may be accurate, these narratives aren’t aligned with hadith authenticity criteria, so many tafsir books didn’t consider it as a source of tafsir.

The Importance of Learning Tafsir

Tafsir is the process of understanding and explaining the Qur’an. It is an important tool for Muslims because it helps them to understand the message of the Qur’an and apply it to their lives. Tafsir also helps Muslims to understand the verses in the context of the overall message of the Qur’an. Below, we’ll unveil for you seven important reasons that show the significance of learning this science,

1. A Reason for Converting to Islam

There are many reasons why people might convert to Islam, but one of the most compelling is the religion’s system of tafsir or interpretation.

Tafsir gives us a foundational context for understanding the Quran relying both on reasoning and tradition, and many people can take their decision to convert or reject Islam based on its interpretation

. For example, the wrong tafsir of the meaning of fighting can result in misleading fallacies about Islam portraying it as a bloodshedding-promoting religion. However, correct tafsir based on reasoning and tracing the biography of prophet Mohammed can prove the opposite ultimately.

2. Assists Worshippers in Following the Quran

Tafsir is the Islamic science of exegesis, or interpretation, of the Qur’an. Tafsir helps worshippers to follow and understand the Quran. It is an important tool for understanding the Quran and for making sure that we are following its teachings correctly.

Tafsir shows the rules and guidance of Allah and its role in building a good well-respected individual and society

. for example, any muslim should know he should perform prayers, but a few know the importance of this act of worship. However, it’s through studying tafsir, we know that prayer is a way of thanking and remembering allah, transcendence over worldly matters, and fortification against committing sins.

3. Solidifies Our Relationships with Our Creator

When we seek to solidify our relationship with our creator, it is important to remember that this is a two-way street. We must be willing to put in the effort to connect with Allah on a deeper level, and in turn, He will bless us with His mercy and guidance. One of the best ways to do this is through studying the Quran and learning its teachings.

Tafsir helps us connect with our creator by understanding the verses in the Quran. Tafsir can help us get a deeper comprehension of the Quran’s verses. By understanding what Allah has revealed to us, we can easily live in accordance with His will and find peace and contentment in our lives. . Ultimately, it is through maintaining a strong connection with Allah that we can hope to achieve true peace and happiness in this life and the next.

4. Increases Our Knowledge About Islam

Tafsir deepens our understanding of Islam. It is often done through study and reflection and can lead to a greater appreciation of the religion.

The holy Qur’an is the miraculous word of God revealed to our master Muhammad to affirm his prophethood and challenge the eloquence of the Arabs. God Almighty has called us to recite it and reflect on its verses and understand its meanings.

The interpretation (Tafseer) helps you in understanding the meanings of the Noble Qur’an and the purposes of the clear verses, so it facilitates your reflection and understanding and increases your knowledge of the Noble Qur’an.

5. Extract Laws and Rules for The Muslim Community

Tafsir Quran helps a lot in the process of extracting laws and rules for the Muslim community from the Quran. It is an important tool for understanding Islamic teachings and developing the rules that govern the relationship between people in the muslim community.

It strives to obtain Islamic law in many aspects such as marriage, divorce, trading, and conquest. Also, the laws between muslim and non-muslims. Hence. Tafsir can help us to understand the Quran’s rulings on various issues, and to find evidence for these rulings.

6. Perform Salah (prayers) with Focus and Humility

Salah is performed at least 5 times a day, and in which you reconnect with Allah and purify your soul. However, People sometimes feel distracted by numerous thoughts and lose their concentration.

So, learning tafsir is important, because it allows us, muslim to build a great bond with our creator, as it gave us space to recognize Allah’s words and reflects on his massage in such a more profound way, so, at last, we can pray with focus and humility.

What Is the Difference Between Tafsir and Ta’wil?

There is a difference between tafsir and ta’wil. Tafsir is the process of explicating the meaning of the Qur’an, while ta’wil is the process of reinterpreting its symbols and allegories. In other words, tafsir is concerned with the literal meaning of the text, while ta’wil is concerned with its spiritual or esoteric meaning.

The literal meaning of the Qur’an is its surface meaning, which is understandable to all who read it. The spiritual or esoteric meaning, on the other hand, is accessible only to those who have been initiated into its mysteries. This does not mean that the literal meaning is unimportant; on the contrary, it is essential to our understanding of the Qur’an. However, without ta’wil, we would be limited to a superficial understanding of its message.

Ta’wil helps us to penetrate beneath the surface of the text and to explore its hidden depths. It is through ta’wil that we can come to understand the true nature of things, and it is this knowledge that can lead us to salvation.


Tafsir is the Arabic term for interpretation., when there is no science involved in the interpretation of the Quran, then ambiguity and contradiction surely arise.

This guide provides an overview of the main types of tafsir and how to learn them. It also discusses the importance of tafsir and its role in Islamic theology.

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