Was there a commentary of the Koran during the times of Muhammad and His Companions?
The warning of the Prophet: “Let him who tells lies about me prepare his place in the Hell”; and the sayings such as “Let him who tells comments on the Koran using his partial mind prepare his place in the Hell” as a continuation of the above statement to threaten those that speak about the Koran as it comes using his own mind. (Sünenu’t-Thirmizi, vol.5, p.109 Müsned, vol.1, p.269) The wise people who make contact with the Holy Spirit are exempted from this.
The Companions of the Prophet who were present during his conversation and learnt some knowledge from Him hesitated to comment on the Koran for fear that they might make a mistake in interpretation and they did not want to speak about this subject. The distinguished companions such as Abu Baqr, Omar, Abdullah b. Omar avoided making comments on the Koran. Once, Abu Baqr was asked the meaning of the 31st verse of the Sura of Abese, he said: “If I interpreted the Book of Allah according to my opinion or if I interpreted it though I did not know it, which world would carry me on and which sky would shade me?” (1)
Hz. Omar said: “Among these people I am not afraid of the person who hides his belief though he is a believer and the person who tells he is impious although he is a sinner, but I am afraid of those who recite the Koran and suit it to the religion and who interpret it with a wrong explanation.” (2)
Our dear Prophet would explain the necessary chapters of the Koran to his Companions and to the distinguished people around him when and where it was needed.
The Companions avoided making comments on the interpretation as the word “interpretation” was referred to Allah. When the commentary on the Koran was mentioned, it was understood that it was the direct explanation of Allah and His Prophet. It means that there must not be the possibility of fault in the commentary. It must be correct. Shortly, the interpretation was ascribed to Allah and His Prophet.
(1) Tefsiru’l Taberi: vol.1, p.78; Tefsir-ü Ibn Kesir, vol.1, p.99
(2) Itkan, vol.2, p.4 Tefsir ül Kâsım, vol.1, p.99
Some of the Companions such as Abdullah b. Mes’ud and Abdullah b. Abbas would recite the Suras and would interpret them. (These commentaries were in the forms of verses) We see that these two persons and the others who were famous for the commentary on the Koran were very cautious in interpreting expressing that they would say what they were informed about but they would not say anything about what they did not know. (3)
“The Companions would learn ten verses from the Prophet and would not continue the other verses unless they learnt the meanings of them scientifically and practically.” (4)
“It is certain that the Messenger of Allah explained most things from the meanings of the Koran to his companions as the sources of hadiths approved. Yet, he did not explain the whole Koran verse by verse in order because Allah the Most High assigned some meanings of the Koran to Himself, some of them were understood by the scholars and some were grasped by the Arabs as they were familiar with the language. Some of the verses are very clear to be understood by everybody. On this point, there may be little or more truth in the evidence brought up by conservatives or exaggerators. However, they exaggerated the matters and changed this event improperly. If we tell the truth, the Prophet neither interpreted the Koran very little, nor interpreted the whole Koran or the most parts of it as it was claimed.” (5)
At the beginning, the commentaries were based on the traditions as a branch of Hadith Studies. During the times of the Prophet and His companions, taking traditions not only covered comprehensive meanings, it was also tried to be narrated with a wide understanding including the traditions of the Prophet and His companions in order to be studied during the followers of the Prophet.
For instance, every city or region that was a center of Knowledge would get the traditions from the person who was the religious leader of that place such as: the People of Mecca from Ibn Abbas, the people of Madina from Ubeyy b. Ka’b, the people of Iraq from Ibn Mes’ud. (6)
(3) Tefsir-12, Prof. Dr. Ismail Cerrahoğlu, Doç. Dr. Şevki Saka, MEB Kitapları p.39, Eskişehir- 1992
(4) Tefsiru’t-Taberi, vol.1, p.80, Mukaddime fi usûli’t-Tefsir, p.5
(5) Tefsir-12, Prof. Dr. İsmail Cerrahoğlu, Doç. Dr. Şevki Saka, MEB Publ. P.52 Eskişehir-1992
(6) same book, p.64
Abdullah b. Abbas was the nephew of our Prophet (his uncle’s son). He was 10-14 years old when Our Prophet died. Meymune, who was one of our Prophet’s wives, was the aunt of Ibn Abbas. He spent his youth with the Family of the Prophet and Companions.
According to the information from Ahmed b. Hanbel, the Knowledge of Ibn Abbas depended on three authorities. They were Hz. Ali, Omar and Ubeyy. (7)
In addition, Ibn Abbas did not prepare a booklet of the interpretations of some verses he had taken from Hz. Prophet, from the Companions and using his independent interpretation. His students who followed him formed a booklet in the name of him including their personal knowledge and skills.
Imam Ghazzali said in his work called “Ihya-u Ulumi’ddin-Revivification of the Religious Sciences” that the Koran had some mysteries and they would be understood by only those who reached a high level in Arabic Sciences in Jurisprudence and in the Knowledge about the Universe and Human beings.
Ghazzali also said that people have different capacities to understand the Koran but the understanding of all the people would be correct if they did not exaggerate the meaning of it. There are some certain meanings of certain words at the beginning of the Chapters, which serve as a key to guide in order to solve the hidden mysteries and the knowledge of the Koran.
Muhammad Ghazzali says: “The Koran has an interior and an exterior. The interior includes the Knowledge of the Mysteries of the Koran” depending on mystical approach. (8)
Some of Imamiye do not accept the commentary with personal judgment or speculation (Re’y). According to them, the Prophet S.A.W. said: “The Koran is easy. It may have several meanings. Ascribe it to the best form”. Hz. Ali, who is the leader of the believers said: “The person who understands the Koran and interprets it gathers the knowledge in Himself.” He meant to say that the Koran mentions the essence (core) of all the Knowledge as well as the miracles and the news. Therefore, the most correct explanation is, “Whoever submits himself to Allah the Most High sincerely and obeys His Prophet and the Family of the Prophet cordially and acquires his knowledge from them and searches their information and learns some of their mysteries in order to have a rank in Knowledge and inner peace in Marifat (the Knowledge of Allah); if his eye of the heart is opened and if he contemplates the reality with the knowledge he has acquired, if he comes face to face with the spirit of certain knowledge, if he finds, those of which naughty ones frightened, mild, if he is acquainted with what the ignorant are afraid of and if his heart becomes with the highest rank while he is on earth..., such a person is able to benefit and profit the mysteries of the Koran.
(7) Tefsir-12, Prof. Dr. İsmail Cerrahoğlu, Doç. Dr. Şevki Saka, MEB Publ. P.52, Eskişehir, 1992.
(8) Ihyau Ulumi’ddin, Gazali, vol.1. p.262.
It is not surprising that it is from the benevolence of Allah and it is not strange that it is hoped from Allah. This is not a talent for only a certain group of people excluding others. A group of their friends regarded those who have these qualities, from themselves. Thus, they said “Selman is from Ahl al Bayt”. It is not a distant possibility for such a person who has these qualities to take part in among the scholars who know the interpretation of the Koran.” (9)
Later, some personages such as Taberi (225-839), Zamahşeri (467-1075), Fahruddin Razi (543-1149), Kâdi Beydâvi (death 691-1292), Ibn Kesir (701-1301), Elmalılı Muhammad Hamdi Yazır (1295-1879), Konyalı Mehmed Vehbi (1280-1864) interpreted the Koran. Now we are going to explain the characteristics of these interpretations mentioned as “Commentary”.
(9) Imam Jafer, M. Ebu Zehra, from Şafak Publ., “es-Sâfi”, p.9