A Student’s Guide to Essential Works on Qur’ānic Exegesis
By Mawlānā Yūsuf al-Bannūrī
Before you is an excerpt from “Yatīmat al-Bayān,” a forward by the critical hadith scholar Mawlānā Yūsuf al-Bannūrī (d. 1397 AH) to “Mushkilāt al-Qur’ān” which is a compilation of exegetical notes by ‘Allāmah Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī (d. 1352 AH). In this excerpt, Mawlānā Yūsuf al-Bannūrī begins by pointing out beneficial resources for commentary of Qur’ānic verses in works not written exclusively on the subject of Tafsīr but are nonetheless written by brilliant scholars whose works are generally filled with beneficial commentary. He then draws the attention of the reader to four primary books of Tafsīr which in his opinion “would quench the thirst of anyone who drinks from their springs.” These four are:
(2) Mafātīh al-Ghayb/al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606 AH)
(3) Rūh al-Ma‘ānī fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-‘Ażīm wa al-Sab‘ al-Mathānī by Mahmūd al-Alūsī (d. 1270 AH)
(4) Irshād al-‘Aql al-Salīm ilā Mazāyā al-Qur’ān al-Karīm by Abū al-Su‘ūd (d. 951 AH)
He further adds four more works: two as a replacement for those who are too busy to consult the first four books, and two for those who are interested in particular commentary, identifying in the process certain weaknesses found in them. Finally, he suggests a Tafsīr written in Urdu for those who are more comfortable with reading in that language; but he reassures the reader that there isn’t an Arabic Tafsīr that can replace it.
The entire forward, published in nearly 140 pages, serves as a beneficial introduction for students interested in an in-depth study of Qur’ānic exegeses and related disciplines. Mawlānā Yūsuf al-Bannūrī eloquently discusses issues like reason-based exegesis (al-tafsīr bī al-ra’y) and the nature of the Qur’ān’s inimitability (i‘jāz al-Qur’ān), constantly citing notes and research from his teacher Allāmah Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī. May Allah accept their efforts. To make this article more reader-friendly, an idiomatic translation was adopted in many places.
In accordance with His promise to preserve the true teachings of Islām, Allāh has selected certain individuals or groups throughout Islām’s history to carry out the task of preserving the noble Islāmic legacy. At times of creedal turmoil, the likes of Ahmad ibn Hanbal stood against the Mu’tazilī heresy; at times of political instability, personalities such as Salāh al-Dīn al-Ayyūbī mobilized the Muslim armies for combat; and at times of spiritual degradation, reformers like al-Ghazālī let the ink of their pens flow to revive the true spirit of scholarship and worship. Thus manifested Allāh’s undertaking mentioned in the verse: “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it.” (Qur’ān, 15:9)
The founding of an institution in Deoband, India, in the year 1866, was not the inception of a yet another sect. Rather, it was an extension of this continuous effort to preserve the noble Islāmic legacy. The scholars of Deoband have played a pivotal role in preserving Islām, be it the Qur’ān, the Sunnah and their connected sciences or Islām’s prestigious history. It is sad to witness such a noble legacy and rich heritage go largely unnoticed by many students and scholars of Islām. They have contributed tremendously in various fields of Islām, from Qurā’nic exegesis, to jurisprudence, to Arabic, to political reform. However, their contribution towards the revival and preservation of the blessed Sunnah is most noteworthy.
As a token of acknowledgment and a means of creating awareness, the following article was prepared to highlight their most important contributions in the field of Hadīth. More emphasis has been given to earlier scholars, although contemporary scholars are also occasionally cited. Among other sources, the book Dār al-Ulūm Deoband by Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ubayd Allāh al-Qāsīmī and a list published in a monthly newsletter by Dār al-Ulūm Deoband (Rajab, 1432 AH) were consulted. Honorific titles such as Shaykh, Mawlānā, Muftī, etc. were omitted from the lists.
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