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Following the emergence of the earliest exegeses of the Holy Qur’an in the 3rd Century AH/9th Century AD, the most prominent exegesis of the world of Islam, the “Jāme’ al-Bayān” (popularly known as the “Tafsir-e Tabari”), was written by Mohammad bin Jarir Tabari (d. 310 AH/922 AD), the renowned Iranian scholar, on the style of the narrators of hadith, and had by pushing aside the earlier exegeses began a new era in the field of exegesis-writing. The most distinct features of this book are its comprehensiveness as well as the jurisprudential approach of the author, which is palpable throughout the book and which hold true, both, as regards the selection of ahādith as well as the author’s personal comments on various issues. This new writing trend was subsequently followed by some other Iranian scholars like Ibn Manzar Neishāburi (d. 318 AH/930 AD), Ibn Abi Hātam Rāzi (d. 327 AH/939 AD), Abu al-Sheikh Esfahāni (d. 369 AH/979 AD), and Ibn Marduyeh Esfahāni (d. 410 AH/1020 AD).

This style of writing Qur’anic exegesis on the basis of the narrators of hadith can also be found among the Ithnā Ashari Shiite scholars of the 3rd and 4th Centuries AH/9th and 10th Centuries AD. Some of the important surviving exegeses written during this period are the ones attributed to ‘Ali bin Ebrāhim Qomi (printed in Najaf in 1386-1387 AH) and Mohammad bin Mas’ud Ayyāshi (printed in Qom in 1380-1381 AH) while one of the most important of them which has been lost in the course of history, was the exegesis of Hosein bin Sa’id Ahvāzi, which was extensively referred to by the later Imāmiyah Shiite scholars.

The writing of Qur’anic exegesis in the style of the theologians since the 3rd Century AH reached its zenith among the followers of the various Islamic schools of thought during the 4th-6th Century AH and gave birth to a very important part of the Iranian heritage in the field of exegesis. From among the exegeses written in this style by the Shiite scholars, mention can be made of the works of Ibn Abdak Jorjāni and Abu Mansur Sarām Neishāburi of the 4th Century AH as well as the great exegesis, “Al-Tebyān”, written by Sheikh Tusi (d. 460 AH/1068 AD), which proved to be one the most impacting works in the history of exegesis-writing among the Shiites.

Similarly, from among the exegeses written by the Mo’tazelite scholars mention must be made of the “Tafsir-e Qāzi Abd al-Jabbār Hamadāni” (d. 415 AH/1024 AD), the “Tafsir-e Kabir-e Abu Moslem Esfahāni” (d. 459 AH), and the “Tafsir-e Kabir-e Abu Yusof Qazvini”. The most important exegeses written by the Ashā’erah scholars included the “Tafsir-e Kabir-e Abdollāh bin Yusof Joveini” (d. 438 AH/1046 AD) and the “Tafsir-e Kabir-e Fakhr al-Din Rāzi” (d. 606 AH/1209 AD) of which the latter one is considered to be one of the richest and most popular books in the field of exegesis among the Sunnis.

Another style adopted for the purpose of writing exegeses on the Holy Qur’an is the Gnostic style, which was initiated by Sahl bin Abdollāh Tostari (d. 283 AH/896 AD) when he wrote a short exegesis on the Qur’an (printed in Cairo in 1326 AH). Later on, during the period in which the theological style of exegesis had become popular, suitable grounds were prepared for the Gnostic style of exegesis-writing, the most popular among which was the book, “Haqāyeq al-Tafsir”, written by Abu Abd al-Rahmān Selmi (d. 412 AH/1021 AD), the famous Gnostic of Neishābur, which had gained great popularity among the Sufi circles throughout the Islamic world. This trend gained momentum after Abu Abd al-Rahmān, the outcome of which were the two exegeses of “Latā’ef al-Eshārāt” of Abu al-Qāsem Qosheiri (d. 465 AH/1073 AD), which was first published in Cairo in 1981 and the all important exegesis of Khwājeh Abdollāh Ansari (d. 481 AH/1088 AD) which had a profound impact on Rashid al-Din Meibodi’s exegesis, the “Kashf al-Asrār”, which was one of the most important exegeses of the Sufis.

Another style of exegesis-writing that emerged in Iran since the 4th Century AH was the style that was more or less sermonic in nature and was written for religious preachers as well all those who wished to acquaint themselves further with Islamic teachings. The main purpose behind this style of exegesis-writing was to provide readers with a comprehensive and yet easy-to-understand explanation on the Qur’anic verses without getting involved with the rigid methods of the narrators of hadith over the validity of the documents related to the ahādith or without venturing into intricate theological discussions. The most important feature of this type of exegesis-writing was their extensive elaboration on the stories of the Qur’an. Some of these exegeses were the “Tafsir” of Abu Leith Samarqandi (d. 373 AH/983 AD) which was first printed in Baghdad in 1405-1406 AH, the “Al-Kashf wa al-Bayān” of Tha’labi Neishāburi (d. 421 AH/1030 AD), and three exegeses written by Wāhedi Neishāburi (d. 468 AH/1076AD) called the “Al-Basit”, the “Al-Wasit”, and the “Al-Wajiz”.

This style of exegesis-writing became particularly popular among the Imāmiyah Shiites since the 6th Century AH/12th Century AD as a result of which a number of works were produced both in Arabic and Persian.

The most important feature of these exegeses was that the style of their writing was different from, both, the hadith-oriented as well as the theological styles of exegesis-writing. From among the most important of these works reference can be made to the “Roz al-Janān”, popularly known as the “Tafsir-e Abu al-Fath Rāzi”, which was written in Persian. Another point that should be noted here is that later on the theological style of exegesis-writing underwent some important developments which manifested in the everlasting work of Fazl bin Hasan Tabarsi called the “Tafsir-e Majma’ al-Bayān”.

Following the Mongol invasion of Iran, the practice of exegesis-writing faced a decline and only a few outstanding works were produced by the followers of the Sunni school of thought during the 7th Century AH/13th Century AD, the most important of which was the “Anwār al-Tanzil” of Beizāwi. In this very concise work the author has only made an attempt to express the meanings of the verses in brief. The trend of exegesis-writing thrived once again during the Timurid period as a result of which some important works like the “Mawāheb Alayyah” of Wa’ez Kāshefi (d. 96 AH/1500 AD) and the “Jawāher al-Tafsir” came to be produced. Both of these works were in the Persian language and were first printed in Tehran in the years 1317 AH and 1980 respectively. What needs to be mentioned here is that despite the fact that the latter work could not be completed by the author, it contains a very important preface in which he has described the techniques of exegesis-writing.

During the Safavid reign the practice of exegesis-writing entered a new phase which lasted for a very short time. The outcome of this new trend was that a number of exegeses of the Holy Qur’an were produced mainly in the sermonic and hadith-oriented styles. The most important of these works included the “Tafsir-e Gāzar” of Abu al-Mahāsen Jorjāni and the “Menhāj al-Sādeqin” of Fathollāh Kāshāni (d. 988 AH/1580 AD), both of which were written in Persian and in the sermonic style as well as the “Tafsir-e Sāfi” of Mollā Mohsen Feiz Kāshāni and the “Nur al-Thaqalayn” of Hoveizi that had been written in the hadith-oriented style and were first published in Tehran in 1311 AH and in Qom in 1311 AH, respectively.

In the past few decades new cultural trends have influenced the field of exegesis and have resulted in the emergence of new styles of exegesis-writing in Iran. From among these new styles mention must be made of the style of the “tafsir-e Qur’an be Qur’an” (lit.: “interpreting the Qur’an through the Qur’ān”) that was employed by Allāmeh Mohammad Hasan Tabātabā’i in the writing of his great work, the “Al-Mizān”, which was first published in Tehran in the year 1394 AH and which profoundly influenced all the subsequent attempts in the field of exegesis-writing.

Before concluding the discussion on exegesis-writing, it becomes inevitable to discuss the importance of the movement of translating the holy Qur’an into the Persian language and how this important historical move has played a very crucial role in the spread of the Islamic culture among the general masses. The work that was compiled in Persian in Mesopotamia in the 4th Century AH and was referred to as the Persian translation of the “Tafsir-e Tabari” was, in fact, the first known exegesis of the Holy Qur’an in the Persian language and the first move towards the translation of the Holy Qur’an into this language. Subsequently, a large number of translations of the Qur’an were written that were either part of an exegesis or independent works, the translators of which seem to have kept in mind the requirements of their times. This trend has been gaining momentum in the past few decades and a new wave of translating the Qur’an into Persian has begun, keeping in view the cultural conditions of the present times.

* source: Pakatchi , Ahmad " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.654 - 656


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