On Qur'an Commentaries (Tafsîr)
The Qur’ān is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be the literal – verbatim – word of God, communicated to His last messenger, the prophet Muhammad, through the angel Gabriel.
Many Muslims feel that the verses of the Qur’ān are nothing less than miracles as they contain the most beautiful piece of language ever witnessed by humans, thereby reflecting their Divine origin. Muslims recite the Qur’ān and turn to it for guidance.
However, there are radically different opinions about the beauty of its contents.
Here are several statements about the Qur’ān’s message, expressed in the media by both opponents and believers:
“The Qur’ān teaches us to live in peace with others.”
“The Qur’ān seems to incite violence against non-believers.”
“The Holy Qur’ān contains ethical values and guidelines for a better society.”
“The Qur’ān teaches to subjugate or kill non-Muslims and endorses wife beating.”
“The Qur'ān abounds in excellent moral counsel and precepts which suit man at any moment of his life.”
“Those who state that the Qur’ān teaches a message of peace usually cherry-pick verses to support their view.”
“Only when the words of the Qur’ān are taken out of context, can it be read as a book of violence.”
Clearly, some people (often Muslims) believe that, if understood correctly, the Qur’ān can be a force for good in this world, while others claim the opposite. It is not my intention to either support or attack the Qur’ān. However, as one can apparently find Qur’ānic verses in support of either view, as can be done with any Holy Scripture by the way, it seems to me that the determining factor in this contention is not the words of the Qur’ān themselves, but the way Muslims interpret them. After all, a nasty looking piece of text can be interpreted in an agreeable way, and vise versa.
For this and other reasons, I believe that the study of Qur’ān Commentaries (in Arabic: Tafsîr, plural: Tafāsîr) is extremely important. To read the text of the Qur’ān is one thing, but to understand Islam, one needs to learn how Muslims have understood the Qur’ān and how they understand it today.
A great many Qur’ān commentaries have not been translated yet. I have translated a few expositions of three commentators (two Sunni, one Shiite) on a limited number of verses. I was particularly interested in their exegesis of verses that deal with Jews.
While I hope that the reader will find these translations interesting, as a comprehensive overview these translations are far from enough, even with the commentaries that have already been translated and published by others. But although no conclusions should be reached based on my humble contributions, I hope they will provide a small additional piece of a large and complicated puzzle.
To read my translations, follow the following links:
Al-Ṭabarî on Sura 33:26 (On the Annihilation of the Jews of Medina)
Al-Qurṭubî on Sura 33:9-26 (On the Battle of the Trench and the Annihilation of the Jews of Medina)
Ṭabāṭabā’î on Sura 33:26 (The Battle of the Trench and the Annihilation of the Jews of Medina)
Ṭabāṭabā’î on Sura 9: 28 (Uncleanliness of Infidels)
Ṭabāṭabā’î on Sura 17: 4-8 (On the Destruction of the Jewish Temple)