The Exegesis of the Holy Qur’an by Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.)

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Among the sciences which Imam Abu Ja’far (al- Baqir), peace be on him, presented during his lectures was the exegesis of the Holy Qur’an. Indeed he devoted a time of his times to it. He discussed all of its affairs. The scholars of exegesis, though they had different opinions and trends, studied under him. Thus, he was the most brilliant explainer in Islam. Among his studies on the Holy Qur’an are the following:

The Virtue of Reciting the Holy Qur’an

Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, urged (the community) to recite the Holy Book, for it is the abundant source that guides people to righteousness, enlivens their hearts, and supplies them with abilities of light and awareness. He, peace be on him, reported what his grandfather Allah’s Apostle, may Allah bless him and his family, said concerning the virtue of reciting the Holy Qur’an. He, peace be on him, said:

Allah’s Apostle, may Allah bless him and his family, said: “Whoever recites ten verses on a night is not written among the heedless. Whoever recites fifty verses is written among those who praise (Allah). Whoever recites a hundred verses is written among the obedient. Whoever recites two hundred verses is written among the humble. Whoever recites three hundred verses is written among the successful. Whoever recites five hundred verses is written among the strivers. Whoever recites a thousand verses, a hundredweight of gold is written for him.

(Al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, p. 25)

Traditions similar to this have been reported on the authority of the Imams of the members of the House (Ahl al-Bayt), peace is on them.  They urge Muslims to recite the Holy Qur’an and to consider carefully its verses and to understand their secrets. Without a doubt, the verses of the Holy Qur’an develop the intellect, educate souls, protect them from deviation, and guide them to the right path.

Repetition of Reciting the Holy Qur’an

As for repeating and reciting the Holy Qur’an with a good voice, it penetrates the depth of the heart and inner self. It reacts with sentiments, for the Holy Qur’an has maxims and sciences necessary for life. The Imams of the members of the House (Ahl Bayt), peace be on them, took care of reciting the Holy Qur’an. Thus, Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, was the best of all the people in reciting the Holy Qur’an with a good voice.

Abu Basir reported: I said to Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir): “When I recite the Holy Qur’an loudly, Satan comes to me and says: with this (recitation) you want to please your family and the people.” Imam al-Baqir, peace be on him, said:

“Recite the Holy Qur’an in an intermediate recitation. Let your family listen (to that). Read the Holy Qur’an with a good voice. Indeed Allah likes reciting the Holy Qur’an with a good voice.

The Holy Qur’an far above Falsehood

The Holy Qur’an is the great miracle of Islam. “(This is) a Book, whose verses are made decisive, then are they made plain, from One Wise, All-aware. (This Book), there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who guard (against evil).” There is no contradiction in its rules nor is there any incompatibility in its verses. And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy. “Surely this Qur’an guides to that which is most upright.” “Falsehood shall not come to it from before it nor from behind it.” Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, explained this verse, saying: “Falsehood does not come to it from before the Torah nor before the Bible and the Zabur (David’s psalms). Nor from behind it means that no Book will come after it to abrogate it.” In a narration from al-Sadiq, peace be on him: “There is no falsehood in what the Holy Qur’an has told about the past nor is there falsehood in what it has told about what will happen in the future.” 

The Imam dispraised those who distort the Holy Qur’an

Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, dispraised those who distort Allah’s Book. It is they who interpret its verses according to their own desires. Thus, he, peace be on him, wrote a letter to Sa’d al-Khayr:

“Among their neglecting the Book is that they have rectified its letters and distorted its penal law. Indeed they see the Holy Qur’an but they do not conform to it. The ignorant admire memorizing the narration. The religious scholars are sad when they leave the care.”

Figurative Usage in the Holy Qur’an

Figurative usages are famous in the language of Arabs.  They  are  famous  in  many  matters  such  as expressions are among the nice usage and beauties of this language. The Holy Qur’an has a large group of figurative usage. Among them is the following Words of Allah, the Exalted: “He said: O Iblis! what prevented you that you should do obeisance to him whom I created with My two hands?” The meaning of the word hand is the special organ. However, this is impossible for Allah, the Highest. That is because the hand is in need of a body, while this is rationally impossible for Allah, the Exalted. Mohammed b. Muslim asked Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir) about that. So, he, peace be on him, replied: “The word hand (yad) in the speech of Arabs means power and blessing. Allah, the Exalted, said: “And remember Our servant Dawood with hands.” He said: “And the sky We built it with hands.” It is said: “So-and-so has many hands with me, favours and kindness. He has a white hand with me, meaning blessing.”

(Nasikh al-Tawarikh, vol. 1, p. 434)

This means that the word hand (yad) is not used in its real meaning. Rather it is used in other than it, either figuratively or truly. That is because it includes all these meanings the Imam mentioned.

The Basmalah is Part of the Suras of the Holy Qur’an

Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, and all the Imams of the members of the House (Ahl al- Bayt), peace be on them, believed that the basmalah (i.e., in the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful) is part of the chapters of the Holy Qur’an. A large mass of the Moslem scholars and readers followed them in that.

(Tafsir al-Alusi, vol. 1, p. 39)

Yahya b. Abi Umran al-Hamadani wrote a letter to Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him. In the letter he mentioned: “May I be your ransom, what is your opinion of a man (who) started his prayers with:

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, in the mother of the Book (i.e., the first sura meaning of the Holy Qur’an), and when he reached to a sura other than the mother of the Book, he left it (the basmalah)? The Abbasid (man) said: There is no harm in that.” So, the Imam, peace be on him, replied to him with a letter in which he mentioned: “He (i.e., the man who left the basmalah) should repeat it twice in spite of him (the Abbasid man).”

However, this meaning is untrue. That is because man, according to this meaning, has the right to read the Holy Qur’an in various ways. So, this will lead to a big difference such as adding a verse or omitting it. That is because the differing words bring about differing sentences, as al-Qurtubi said. The traditions of the two parties (Sunna and Shi’a) have unanimously agreed that the bismillah is part of the suras of the Holy Qur’an. Those who deny that are irregular.

The Holy Qur’an was revealed in Seven Letters

The commentators have made known that the Holy Qur’an was revealed in seven letters. They claimed that Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, said:

“The   Holy   Qur’an   was   revealed   in   seven letters.”

The ideas in this connection are so many that Abu Hatam has mentioned that they are thirty-five. It is necessary for us to give a brief idea about the meanings of the seven letters to know whether they are truly attributed to Imam Mohammed al-Baqir, peace be on him, or not.

The Seven Letters

There are various views about the meanings of the seven letters. The following are some of them:

  1. The seven letters are: promise, threat, order, prohibition, stories, controversy, and Ibn Atiya weakened this idea. He said: “These are not called letters
  2. They are the differing words that have close meanings such as aqbil and halum (come! come on, ‘ajjil and asri’ (be quick). Al-Tabari chose this
  1. They are  the  seven  chapters  which  the  Holy

Qur’an brought: the prevention, the order, lawful, the unlawful, the clearly defined (verses), the ambiguous (verses), and the proverbs.

These chapters are not called letters. Besides, the prevention and the unlawful are one chapter. They are therefore not seven chapters.

  1. They are the classical dialects from the dialects of the They are differing in the Holy Qur’an. So, some of the Holy Qur’an was revealed in the dialect of Quraysh; some of it in the dialect of Huzayl; some of it in the dialect of Hawzan; some of it in the dialect of the Yemen; some of it in the dialect of Kina`na; some of it in the dialect of Tamim; some of it in the dialect of Saqif. This idea is ascribed to al-Bayqahi, al-Abhari, and the author of al-Qamoos. However, Umar opposed this idea when he said that the Holy Qur’an was revealed in the dialect of Madar.
  2. They are seven recitations. Our master, the Professor, opposed that when he said that the famous recitations are more than seven.

These are some of the opinions. Our master, the Professor, numbered ten opinions. However, he disproved them and proved that they did not lead to any result. Abu Shama wrote a book on these meanings and refuted most of them.

The Imam denied the Seven Letters

Imam  Abu  Ja’far  (al-Baqir), peace be on him, denied the seven letters. What was attributed to him that he reported them is incorrect. In the (book) al- Sahih, Zarara reported on the authority of the Imam, who said: “Indeed the Holy Qur’an is one. The One (Allah) revealed it. However,  the  reporters  have brought about these differences.”

It was reported on the authority of the Imam al- Sadiq, peace be on him, that he denied that. Al-Fudayl

  1. Yasar asked him: “Surely, the people say: The Holy Qur’an was revealed in seven letters.” So, Imam al- Sadiq, peace be on him, said: “The enemies of Allah have told lies. However, the Holy Qur’an was revealed in one letter from the One and Only.”

 The Method of Exegesis

The trends of the commentators of the Holy Qur’an are different. In that they followed differing methods. Among them are:

The Exegesis through the transmitted Sayings

By that we mean interpreting the Holy Qur’an through the traditions reported on the authority of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family, and the Imams of guidance. Most Shi’ite commentators followed this method. Among them were al-Qummi, al- Askari, and the like. Their proof was that the members of the House (Ahl al-Bayt), peace be on them, were professional in the real knowledge of the Holy Qur’an. Those other than them had no share in that. Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, referred to that when he said: “No one can claim that he has the deep and the surface (knowledge) of the Holy Qur’an except the testamentary trustees of authority.”

It is, therefore, the testamentary trustees of the authority who had the deep and surface knowledge of the Book. The proofs have unanimously agreed that it is incumbent on the explainers to refer to them on interpreting the Holy Qur’an. Shaykh al-Tusi said: “Interpreting the Holy Qur’an is not permitted except through the authentic traditions from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family, and the Imams whose words were similar to those of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family.

The Exegesis through the Opinion

By that, we mean following the hypothetical rational considerations that belong to the approbation. The Mu’tazilite and the Batanian commentators adopted that.  They did not follow the traditions reported on the testamentary trustees of  Allah’s Apostle, may Allah bless him and his family, in their exegesis.  Rather, they depended on the rational approbation. Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, prevented them from that. Qatta`da, the famous jurist, came to the Imam. So, the Imam said to him:

Are you the jurist of the people of Basrah?

Yes, such they claim.

I have heard that you interpret the Holy Qur’an.

Yes.

So, the Imam blamed him for that, saying:

“O Qatada, If you interpret according to your own opinion, then you will be perished and perish (the people). If you interpret it according to the opinions of the men, then you will be perished and perish (the people). Qatada, woe unto you! Those who have been addressed in the Holy Qur’an know it.

Imam Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, confined the knowledge of the Holy Book to the members of the House (Ahl al-Bayt), peace be on them. That is because they knew the clearly defined (verses), the ambiguous (verses), the abrogating (verses), and the abrogated (verses). The people other than them had no such knowledge. It was reported on the authority of the Imams, peace is on him, who said: “There is nothing farther from the mind of the men than the exegesis of the  Holy  Qur’an.  The beginning of the verse is on a thing and its end is on other things. It is a coherent speech with various meanings.”

As for following the surface of the Book is not numbered of the exegesis through the opinion which is forbidden. Some traditionalists opposed its proof. They cleaved to proofs which the fundamentalists refuted.