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Zawahir al-Qur'an :The Authority of the Book's Literal Meanings

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Brief introduction

The author of the book is Ayatullah Sayyid Abulqasim al-Khui. It is translated into English by Mujahid Husayn. And this book is about the Importance of the literal meanings of the Qur'an and examples of its use by the Ahlul Bayt (a). Arguments against the literal meanings. Methodology and sources of tafsir.

The author is one of the maraji (legal authorities) of the Shi'i world and one of the most eminent figures in the world of contemporary Islamic scholarship. The translation given here is that of two chapters from his work on Qur'anic exegesis, al-Bayan fi tafsir al-Qur'an : “hujjiyat zawahir al-Qur'an,” (the authority of the Qur'anic zawahir), and “usul al-tafsir” (the principles of exegesis).

Contents in Brief

Two terms need to be understood in regard to the Qur'anic meaning: nusus (sing, nass) and zawahir (sing. zahir). By nusus is meant those Quranic texts which are absolutely clear, being of a single meaning, about which there is no ambiguity whatsoever. The term zawahir refers to those meanings which are the most obvious, although the text may have another, less probable, meaning besides its apparent sense. Although zawahir has been translated here as 'literal meanings' which applies to nusus as well the difference between nusus and zawahir should be noted.

There is no doubt that the Prophet (S) did not innovate any special method for conveying his message; he spoke to the people by applying the modes of expression to which they were habit­uated. He brought the Qur'an to them that they may understand it, contemplate over its verses, follow its commands and refrain from what it prohibits. This message often recurs in the verses of the Qur'an:

أَفَلَا یَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَیٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا

“What, do they not contemplate over the Qur'an? Or is it that there are locks upon their hearts?” (47:24)

وَلَقَدْ ضَرَبْنَا لِلنَّاسِ فِی هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ مِن کُلِّ مَثَلٍ لَّعَلَّهُمْ یَتَذَکَّرُونَ

“Indeed we have struck for the people in this Qur'an every manner of simili­tude; haply they will remember. “(39:27)

Apart from these verses, there are other verses as well which prove the obligatoriness (wujub) of acting in accordance with the contents of the Qur'an and the necessity of accepting the literal meanings of its verses.

In the following the author states another reasons for the authoritativeness (hujjiyyah) of the literal meanings of the Qur'an as comprehended by the Arabs.

And in one chapter answers the arguments against the authority of the Zawahir. Then argues about the methodology of Tafsir and the sources of Tafsir. At the end states about "limiting the Jurisdiction of the Qur'an by Khabar al-Wahid".


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