Tafsir al-Tabari

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Jāmi` al-bayān `an ta'wīl āy al-Qur'ān, popularly Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī (Arabic: تفسير الطبري), is a classic Sunni tafsir by the Persian scholar Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838–923). The work is a collective tafsir, very rich in content, and a major source for academic research and historical inquiry.[1] The book was translated into Persian by a group of scholars from Khorasan during the reign of Samanid king, Mansur I (961–976).


Tabari finished his work in 883, often dictating sections to his students.[2] It is his second great work after "History of the Prophets and Kings" (Tarīkh al-Rusul wa'l-Muluk), famously known as "Tarikh al-Tabari".


Tabari has primarily used narratives of the Prophet, including narrations and comments of the sahabah and tabi'in where necessary. He has included linguistics and grammatical explanations to many words.

Also knowledgeable in the area of hadith, Tabari carefully indicates the chain of narrations, sometimes elaborating on the trustability of narrators.[3] Narratives are carefully chosen for authenticity, most notably is the example of rejection of the same historical sources he already used for his historical works.


In the preface, Tabari has given general facts about the Quran, including its superiority to any other text, what tafsir and tawil are, the seven qiraat, companions who commented on the Quran and the naming of the suras.[4]

There is great emphasis on the language of the Quran, Arabic, and the view that there are foreign words in the Quran are rejected.[5] It is put forward that these foreign words are coherent with Arabic, entering the Arabic language before the revelation of the Quran, and that they are very rare, and cannot be used as counter evidence that the Quran is Arabic.


Interpretations start with "al-qawlu fī ta'wīli qawlihi ta'ālā" (English: The tawil of this word of God is) for every verse. Then hadith and other previous interpretations are stated and classified according to their compatibility to each other. Interpretation using other verses and Arabic language is favored, qualifying this tafsir as riwaya, but the inclusion of critiques and reason is an integral part of the books unique character; as Tabari has refrained from interpretation using merely his own opinion and opposed those who do so.[6]

Lexical meanings of words are given, and their use in Arabic culture is examined. Tabari’s linguistic views are based on school of Basra. Opinions of linguists are given where appropriate. Evidence from Arabic poetry are used frequently, sometimes with their origins.

Tabari is also a well known qira'at scholar, thus giving his opinions on qiraat debates in his book. Choices of qiraat are usually given according to the Kufa school. Sometimes both qiraat is preserved, leaving the choice to the reader.[7]

Although rare, Tabari has included isra'iliyat occasionally in his book. Given only as notice, this information is not dwelled upon, usually left for the understanding of the reader.


Jami al-Bayan is an important source for attaining information about older commentaries which have not survived to the present. Its rich content which encompasses dictionaries, historical notes, law, recitation, theology and Arabic literature has made it a highly referenced book throughout history, creating a long list of editions. It is also a good example of reasoning in a tafsir by a widely accepted scholar, giving it a value of diraya.

It was marked by the same fullness of detail as his other work. The size of this work and the independence of judgment in it seem to have prevented it from having a large circulation, but scholars such as Baghawi and Suyuti used it largely; Ibn Kathir used it in his Tafsir ibn Kathir. Scholars including Suyuti have expressed their admiration towards this tafsir, regarding it as the most valuable of commentaries,[8] and most notably the words of Theodor Nöldeke;

If we had this book [fully] in our hands, we would not need anything else written after it”[9]


Mansur I, a Samanid king who ruled in Khorasan between 961 and 976, asked for the legal opinion (fatwa) of jurists on the permissibility of translating the Quran into Persian. The scholars affirmed that reading and writing the translation of the Quran in Persian was permissible for those who did not speak Arabic. Subsequently, the King ordered a group of scholars from Transoxiana and Khorasan to translate Tafsir al-Tabari into Persian. The Persian translation of the tafsir has survived and has been published numerous times in Iran.


Editions of Tabari's commentary on the Qur'an:

  • Edition published in thirty vols. (with extra index volume) at Cairo, 1902-1903; reprinted in 1984.
  • Tafsir al-Tabari : al-musammá Jami' al-bayan fi ta'wil al-Qur'an. New edition published in 12 volumes by Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyah, Beirut, 1997.
  • An account with brief extracts given by O. Loth in the Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, vol. xxxv. (1881), pp. 588-628.
  • The commentary on the Qur'an, by Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Jarir al- Tabari ; being an abridged translation of Jami' al-bayan 'an ta'wil ay al-Qur'an, with an introduction and notes by J. Cooper, general editors, W.F. Madelung, A. Jones. Oxford University Press, 1987. The late author did not carry this beyond the first volume. It is out of print.
  • Commentary on the Quran, Vol. 1, Delhi 1987. ISBN 0-19-920142-0. This is a replica of the Cooper translation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Diyanet İslam Ansiklopedisi, 7, camiul beyan.
  2. ^ Yâküt, XVIII, 62
  3. ^ Câmi'u'l-beyân, I, 33
  4. ^ Câmi'u'l-beyân, I, 32
  5. ^ Hatîb, II, 164; Yâküt, XVIII, 42
  6. ^ Ebû Dâvûd, "İlm", 5; Tirmizî, "Tafsir",1
  7. ^ Cami u I-beyân, IV, 328-329; VIII, 351
  8. ^ Inbâhü'r-ruuât, III, 89; el-İtkân, IV, 21 2 ; el-Hûfî, s. 157
  9. ^ Goldziher, p. 108

External links[edit]