Tafsir al-Kabir (al-Razi)

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al-Tafsir al-Kabir ("The Large Commentary"), also known as Mafatih al-Ghayb ("Keys to the Unknown") is a classical Islamic Tafsir book, written by the well-known Persian Islamic theologian and philosopher Muhammad ibn Umar Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149-1209).[1] The book is an exegesis and commentary on the Qur'an. Although it was named "Mafatih Al-Ghayb" (Keys to the Unseen), it was nicknamed Tafsir Al-Kabir (The Large Commentary). At 32 Volumes, it is larger than the 28 Volume Tafsir of At-Tabari named Jami' Al-Bayan. It is not unusual for contemporary works to use it as a reference.

One of [his] major concerns was the self-sufficiency of the intellect. [...] [He] believed [that] proofs based on tradition (hadith) could never lead to certainty (yaqin) but only to presumption (zann), a key distinction in Islamic thought. [...] [However] his acknowledgement of the primacy of the Qur'an grew with his years. [...] [Al-Razi's rationalism] undoubtedly holds an important place in the debate in the Islamic tradition on the harmonization of reason and revelation. In his later years, he also showed interest in mysticism, although this never formed a significant part of his thought.[2]

Features[edit]

Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani has written in 'Uloomu-l-Qur'an (An Approach to the Qur'anic Sciences):

Just as Tafsir Ibn Kathir is the most concise and matchless exegesis from a narrative point of view so also there is no parallel to Tafsir Kabir in relation to sciences of Reason. Some people have passed a funny remark on this exegesis such as is written in Al-Itqan, "In it, there is everything except exegesis," But, in the opinion of Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, if this comment applies to any Tafsir, it describes Tafsir al-Tawahir by Tantawi. But the fact is that this remark is cruelly unjust to this 'book because this book has no equal in interpretation of the meanings of the Qur'an. The prominent features of this book are:

  1. The explanation, grammatical composition, and background of revelation, and all the narrations related to them have been described by Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi in an organised manner with clarity and detail. Thus, the number of sayings in explanation of a particular Ayat are reproduced together and easily observed. In other exegeses these discussions are generally scattered or disorganised, due to which it becomes time consuming. But in Tafseer Al-Kabeer they can be found at one place and very well organised.
  2. He has described the grandeur and majesty of the Qur'an in detail.
  3. The legal injunctions relating to an Ayat have been described with detailed reasons.
  4. Any interpolations introduced by the erring sects and intellectuals in the meaning of any Ayat has been described in full and then refuted with detailed arguments. In this way it contains in it strong refutation of all the erring sects of his time, namely, Jahmiyyah, Mu'tazilah, Mujassimah, Ibahiyyah etc.
  5. A very specific feature of Tafseer Al-Kabeer to which very little attention has been paid is the description of the link between the Ayats of the Qur'an. It is a fact that the reason for a link and affinity between the Ayats as described by him is so casual, appealing and reasonable that not only it imparts a sense of satisfaction but also an ecstatic feeling of elegance and grandeur of the Qur'an.
  6. Qur'anic injunctions and their mysteries and expediences have been very beautifully highlighted.
  7. Imam Razi had written this exegesis up to Surah Al-Fath (chapter 48) when he died. Hence, after this Surah another scholar Qadi Shahab-ud-deen bin Khaleel al-Khauli of Damascus (died 639 AH) or Shaikh Najm-ud-deen Ahmad bin Al-Qamooli (died 777 AH) completed it. It is so marvellously done and the style of Imam Razi has been so thoroughly maintained that anyone not aware of this fact would never suspect that this was written by someone other than Imam Razi.

In short, Tafseer Al-Kabeer is a very concise exegesis and the personal experience of Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani is that whenever [he has] found a difficulty, it has guided [him] to the right answer. Commonly people get upset by its lengthy discussions, (the exegesis of Surah Fatihah alone has covered 150 pages). It is in the earlier part that the explanation is lengthy but takes on fewer words as it progresses. Priceless gems of knowledge and understanding may be received from it. However, certain things must be kept in mind in connection with this exegesis:

  1. The narrations of Tafseer Al-Kabeer, like other exegeses are a collection of good and bad together.
  2. Occasionally Imam Razi has adopted a view different from that of other commentators. For instance, he has rejected the authentic tradition: Ibrahim (Abraham) did not tell a lie except on three occasions. Hence, where he has differed from the accepted view, the established view should be adopted.

Maulana Sayyid Yoosuf Binnori has written in his precious article Yateematu-l-Bayaan that his reverend teacher Anwar Shah Kashmiri used to say: "Of all the difficult things in the Qur'an 1 did not find any difficulty which Imam Razi had not dealt with. It is another matter that sometimes he could not present a solution to the difficulties as could satisfy the soul."

And the saying that it has everything but Tafseer is meant only to lower its exalted status, and is perhaps uttered by a person who was overwhelmed by narrations and paid no attention to the depth of knowledge of the Qur'an.

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