Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis: Genesis and Development
SCHOOLS OF QURANIC EXEGESIS – Book Sample
Preface – SCHOOLS OF QURANIC EXEGESIS
Qur’anic exegesis is a literary activity whose function is the elucidation of the clear and ambiguous aspects of the Scripture and its major principles. Schools of exegesis constitute a major discipline in Qur’anic studies referred to in Arabic as manahij al-tafsir, meaning ‘methodologies of exegesis’. Qur’anic exegesis has gone through a historical marathon journey that has lasted fourteen centuries, from the seventh to the end of the twentieth century.
The present book delineates precisely the odyssey of the birth, development and growth of Qur’anic exegesis and its various schools. This book, however, is not merely a historiographical account of the development of exegesis but rather a methodologically academic investigation of the genesis and proliferation of the discipline and techniques of exegesis.
Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis taps a rich vein of information in this valuable discipline of Islamic studies. This work presents a holistic survey of exegesis scholarship of classical and modern, mainstream and non-mainstream exegetes that has started since the first/seventh century and continued until our present time.
Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis also provides a theoretical insight into the early and modern Qur’anic exegesis activity and its related disciplines from both a Muslim perspective and a non-Muslim critical eye.
This work illustrates the major characteristic features and exegetical techniques ad hoc to each school of exegesis together with the theological and/or political implications of a given exegetical point of view. The exegetical activity of mainstream Islam is represented by the Sunni (ahl al-Sunnah wal-jamacah) approach to the Qur’an, while the exegetical activity of the non-mainstream Islam is represented by Sunni and non-Sunni approaches to the Qur’an.
Thus, the non-mainstream approach to the exegesis of the Scripture of Islam is represented by the Shicah, Ismacili, Khawarij, Ibadi, Ashcari, Muctazilah and Sufi.
Therefore, although the Khawarij and Ibadi are within the non-mainstream Muslim faith, they neither represent the Shici nor the Sunni views. Similarly, while the Ashcari, Muctazilah and Sufi are classified within the non-mainstream Muslim faith, they still represent the general Sunni views. The dichotomy between mainstream and non-mainstream Islam is related to the binary opposition in exegesis between al-tafsir bil-ma’thur, that is, traditional, and al-tafsir bil-ra’i, that is, rational/hypothetical.
This dichotomy reflects subtle dogmatic differences and political cleavages in Islamic thought. Since its infancy during the formative phase of the first/seventh century and up to our present time, Qur’anic exegesis has become the channel through which opposing, politically motivated theological views are expressed by different mainstream and non-mainstream students of the Qur’an.
Most importantly, mainstream and non-mainstream exegetical views have significantly influenced the political agenda of Muslim political parties and organizations of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Out of Qur’anic exegesis, political Islam is born.
The theologically oriented ayahs related to fighting and the development of divergent religious dogmas such as jihad and political allegiance to the ruler have, for instance, found their place at the heart of Qur’anic exegesis. Thus, the tafsir tradition and written works have evolved in response to varying political, theological, historical and intellectual conditions.
The growing polarity between traditional and rational schools of exegesis has significantly contributed to the genesis of the sectarian tafsir. The exegesis of the Qur’an has acquired a politico- religious function.
Anyone who employs a hypothetical opinion with regards to the meaning(s) of a given Qur’anic passage or word is dubbed as mu’awwil (interpreter of the Qur’an by personal reasoning) and his tafsir is classified as wrong and counter to the Qur’an and the standard practice of Muhammad. The historical dichotomy between mainstream and non-mainstream Islam has been firmly established in the community due to the emergence of polarity in tafsir tradition.
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