Understanding the Quran
كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ مُبَارَكٌ لِّيَدَّبَّرُوا آيَاتِهِ وَلِيَتَذَكَّرَ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
This is a Scripture that We have revealed unto thee, full of blessing, that they may ponder its revelations, and that men of understanding may reflect (Quran, 38:29).
Scriptural interpretation was of major importance since early in the history of Islam. Over centuries, Muslim scholars developed a variety of ways to regulate the methods by which interpretation should proceed. How to understand, or interpret, the meaning of a given verse or phrase of the Quran is the central practice of hermeneutics.
It became a basic axiom of hermeneutics that, since the Quran is the Word of God, the best explanation or interpretation must come from within the source itself, one verse clarifying or explaining another. The next best explanatory power is represented in the Prophet Muhammad, either verbally or through his deeds, and can be found in his normative example, the Sunnah, complementing the Quran. After this, for Sunni Muslims the best explanation was provided by the Companions of the Prophet (ṣahaba), via their teachings preserved in narrations (or Hadith), while for the Shi’a, the corpus of Hadith of the 12 infallible Imams succeeding the Prophet provide authoritative sources in Quranic interpretation and explanation (taʾwil/tafsīr).
Throughout Islam’s history, an interpretative tradition has emerged that speaks to the rich tapestry of voices and perspectives offering insight into the nature and message of the Quran.
Among the most esteemed Quranic exegetes in the modern era is Allameh Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i whose 20-volume commentary known as Tafsir al-Mizan (“The Balance in Interpretation of Quran”), written between 1964-1972, is a work whose importance cannot be overstated.
The English translation of al-Mizan is steadily being made available at: http://www.almizan.org/
To find out more about the hermeneutical tradition and its most salient examples, see: http://www.altafsir.com