The commentary on the Quran, vol. 1, by al-tabari
THE TRANSLATOR’S INTRODUCTION
THIS is the first of five volumes in which it is intended to present an abridged English translation of the whole of Tabari’s commentary on the Qur’an. This commentary consists in greater part, although by no means entirely, of pronouncements on the interpretation of passages of the Qur’an made by the early generations of Muslims, and handed down in the customary Islamic form of Tradition ( adıth, khabar). Indeed, the important place which Tabari’s commentary has held in the Islamic world since its inception is due to the comprehensive collection of these Traditions relevant to Qur’anic interpretation which is to be found therein. in many cases, it provides the only extant source for these early pronouncements.
The purpose of this introduction is to place Tabari’s commentary within the historical framework of the development of Qur’anic exegesis. A short account will also be given of the sources most frequently cited by Taban and of the history of the text of the Qur’an.
Abu Ja’far Muhammad b. Janr b. Yazid b. Kathir b. Ghalib al-Taban was bom at the end of 224 or the beginning of 225 (=AD 839) in Amul in northem Iran, in the region then known as Tabaristan, from which his name, al-Taban, derives. Because he had shown early intellectual promise, his well-to-do father sent him to study in the religious centre of Raiy, near to present-day Tehran. After preliminary studies there, he left for Baghdad, apparently in the hope of studying with the great Traditionist Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855), founder of the last of the four great Sunni schools of law. There are differing accounts of whether he actually did so or not, for he arrived in Baghdad around the time of lbn Hanbal’s death.
in his late twenties or early thirties he began his joumeys to the important centres of lslamic leaming in search ofTraditions. This was a customary joumey for those who wished to collect Traditions, for one of the main criteria of the authenticity of a Tradition is its chain of transmission (isniid). Traditions were handed down from one trans mitter to another, and their names were recorded, the subsequent chain being prefaced to each Tradition in some such form as: ‘A reported to…
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