What are the principles of tafsir, the interpretation of the Holy Quran?


A lady interpreted a verse of Surah al-Nur herself and presented the interpretation before Hazrat Amirul Momineen, Khalifatul Masih Vaa. She then asked whether it was permissible to do so. 

In his letter dated 10 March 2021, Huzooraa provided the following guidance:

“The interpretation you have given of this verse is good. Almost everything you have mentioned in it is also found in the Jamaat’s literature. You have also stated one or two additional points, for example, that olive oil had a flash point of 550 degrees, meaning it did not ignite if spilt over from a lamp. Maybe this is also mentioned somewhere in the Jamaat’s literature but I have not come across this point. 

“As far as interpreting the Holy Quran is concerned, it is essential to have a broad and in-depth knowledge of the teachings contained in the Holy Quran, the sunnah of the Holy Prophetsa, the ahadith and the books of the Promised Messiahas. After this, a person may become qualified to interpret the Holy Quran. Below, I have briefly outlined the principles of interpreting the Holy Quran [tafsir] that Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has stated for your benefit: 

“Huzoorra stated three principles of tafsir on the basis of a vision and said: 

“‘Whenever there is a disagreement among you about the meaning of a verse, ponder over the other verses of the Holy Quran to see which of the meanings they support. If such verses are not found, then find its meaning in the ahadith of the Holy Prophetsa. And if you do not find its meaning even in the ahadith, then look at the words of someone who has received revelation and his interpretations. This is so because his mind is enlightened by receiving fresh light and inspiration from God Almighty.’ (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 28, Sermon delivered on 21 November 1947 [p. 415])

“Huzoorra, while outlining the principles of tafsir stated by the Promised Messiahas, writes in his book Hazrat Masih-e-Maudas Ke Karnamay that in order to understand the Holy Quran, it was necessary for a person to forge a relationship with God Almighty, to ponder over the Holy Quran, and to keep in mind that: 

Every word of the Quran was arranged in a perfect order

None of its words was superfluous. No word was meaningless

The Holy Quran itself gave evidence for each of its claims

The Holy Quran interpreted itself

There was no [unnecessary] repetition in the Holy Quran

The Holy Quran did not merely consist of stories

No part of the Holy Quran had been abrogated

There could be no difference between the Word of God and His practice

The various words of the Arabic language were not synonymous; rather, even the letters carried certain [distinct] meanings

The surahs of the Holy Quran were like the [arrangement of] human organs which manifested their perfection together as well as individual parts. (Abridged from Hazrat Masih-e-Maudas Ke Karnamay, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 10, pp. 157-159)

“In light of these golden principles, if you think that you can do justice to the interpretation of the Holy Quran, then you may do so by all means and do not hesitate to send it to me as well. In any case, the Holy Quran is not the property and heritage of any one section of society but it is the source of guidance and direction for all mankind. Hence, every class and every level of human beings can benefit from it according to their ability and potential. Hence, referring to the sciences and insights of the Quran which were bestowed upon the Promised Messiahas by Allah the Exalted, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra states:

“‘A fifth discovery (at the hands of the Promised Messiahas) was the multi-sidedness of the Holy Text. A given verse can have a variety of meanings, some near the surface, some deeper, some deeper still. Whatever the intellectual level of the reader, his background or experience, he can find in a given verse a meaning which will suit his understanding, and which he will find true and relevant. The same words serve different purposes and different kinds of persons. A man of ordinary understanding will discover in those words a simple and convincing teaching which he does not find hard to understand and which he has no difficulty at all in believing. Another man, endowed with a slightly higher intellect, will find in the same words a meaning appropriate to his understanding and experience. A man of still higher intellect will find in it a higher meaning. The Holy Quran has something important and relevant to impart to men of all intellectual levels. Those of low intellect will not find the Holy Quran beyond their understanding; those of high intellect will not find the Book beneath theirs. Men of all levels will find the Book significant and important and able to affect their intellectual and moral improvement.’” (Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, p. 317)

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