Al-Mizan fi tafsir al-Qur'an (book)

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Al-Mizan fi tafsir al-Quran
Author Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i
Language Arabic
Series 20 volumes
Subject Exegesis of Quran
English translation
En. title Tafsir al-Mizan
Translator Saeed Akhtar Rizvi
En. publisher World Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS)

Al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qur'ān (Arabic: المیزان في تفسیر القرآن), often known as Tafsīr al-mīzān, is one of the most comprehensive and lengthiest exegeses of the Quran in Arabic authored by Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i (1321-1402 /1904-1981).

Al-Mizan is an ordinal exegesis of the Quran, which is organized by the order of the Quranic chapters and verses, and its methodology is the exegesis of the Quran by appeal to the Quran itself, which means interpreting a Quranic verse in terms of other verses of the Quran. In virtue of its intellectual honesty and fairness, accuracy and depth, al-Mizan has attracted the attentions of Shiite and Sunni scholars and found a place as one of the most reliable sources of inquiry about the Quran, and soon after its publication, tens of books and hundreds of articles and dissertations were written about it.

One of the significant advantages of this exegesis is its profound inquiries about important issues such as the miraculous character of the Quran, the stories of the prophets, human soul and spirit, God's response to people's prayers, tawhid or monotheism, tawba or repentance, divine sustenance (rizq), divine blessings (baraka), jihad, annulment of actions (ihbat), and the like, which are discussed when relevant to the verse that is being interpreted.

This exegesis has been translated into, and published in, Persian, English, Urdu, Turkish, and Spanish.



Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i, the well-known Islamic philosopher and interpreter of the Quran, was born in 1281 Sh (Dhu l-Hijja 29, 1321 AH/ September 24, 1904) in the village of Shadagan (or Shad Abad) near Tabriz. In 1304 Sh (1927), he went to Najaf and studied with Shiite scholars such as Muhammad Husayn Gharawi Isfahani, known as Kumpani, Muhammad Husayn Na'ini, Hujjat Kuh Kamari'i, Husayn Badkubi'i, Abu l-Qasim Khwansari, and Sayyid 'Ali Qadi Tabataba'i.

When Tabataba'i received his ijtihad in Najaf, he went back to his birthplace in Tabriz in 1314 Sh (1935), and then he immigrated to Qom in 1325 Sh (1946). Since then until his death, he had lectures in Islamic philosophy and the exegesis of the Quran in Qom's Hawza 'Ilmiyya or Islamic seminary school, and he started to write Tafsir al-mizan, which was finished after about 20 years on Laylat al-Qadr, Ramadan 23, 1392 AH (Aban 9, 1351 Sh/ October 31, 1972).

He passed away in Aban 24, 1360 Sh (November 15, 1981) in Qom and was buried in Balasar Mosque in the holy shrine of Fatima al-Ma'suma (a). In addition to Tafsir al-mizan, he authored important books such as Usul-i falsafa wa rawish-i ri'alism (The principles of philosophy and the method of realism), Bidayat al-hikma (which is an introduction to Islamic philosophy), Nihayat al-hikma (which is an advanced introduction to problems of Islamic philosophy), and Shi'ite Islam.


Tafsir al-mizan has features that distinguish it from other exegeses of the Quran.

Interpretation of the Quran in Terms of the Quran

The method of Tafsir al-mizan is the interpretation of a Quranic verse in terms of other Quranic verses. 'Allama Tabataba'i believes that since the Quran takes itself to be "illumination of everything"[Note 1] (Quran 16:89), it should not need anything else to illuminate it. He holds that the Quran has an exterior and an interior; he thinks that we need the real interpreters of the Quran, that is, the Prophet (s) and twelve Imams (a), in order to understand the interior layers of the Quran, but to understand the exterior of the Quran we do not need anything other than the Quran itself, and when explicit or clear verses can illuminate and clarify its obscure or allegorical verses, we should not rely on the occasions on which the verse is said to have been revealed, or the views of the interpreters of the Quran, and exegetical hadiths in order to understand the verse. We only consult these when the Quran itself gives no clarification of the meaning of a verse.

This methodology was not invented by 'Allama Tabataba'i; the method was employed by scholars before him though with major differences. Tabataba'i made an extensive and more clear-cut use of this method, which is why he was known with the method. The book is committed to the method with respect to every single verse that it interprets.

In accordance with this methodology, the author mentions some verses of a Sura that have the same context, and then he deals with the literal meanings and the uses of the words in those verses. Then in a section called "The illumination of the verses", he deals with the interpretation of each verse separately. He cites the views of well-known interpreters of the Quran, both Sunni and Shiite, and then there is a "hadith-related discussion" in which he examines the relevant exegetical hadiths of both Shiites and Sunnis.


Along with his interpretation of the verses, the author deals with related topics raised by those verses with philosophical, social, historical or scientific approaches. All these discussions are attempts to give more clear interpretations of the relevant Quranic verses.

Given the familiarity of 'Allama Tabataba'i with various Islamic and some modern disciplines, Tafsir al-mizan deals with various issues related to the religion. In this work, he juxtaposes different Quranic verses with one another in order to present deductive arguments to elucidate Quranic notions or pinpoint instances for Quranic statements. In virtue of its intellectual honesty and fairness, the solidity of its methodology, and the precision of its contents, Tafsir al-mizan has always been the focus of attentions by Shiite and Sunni scholars in Iran and other Islamic countries.

In most exegeses of the Quran before Tafsir al-mizan, interpreters usually cited different possibilities concerning the meaning of a verse, but Tafsir al-mizan appeals to other Quranic verses or the evidence within the same verse in order to identify one of the possibilities as the meaning of the verse. The author clarifies some religious and Quranic notions, such as God's response to prayers, tawhid or monotheism, tawba or repentance, divine sustenance or rizq, divine blessing or baraka, jihad, and the annulment of actions or ihbat, by an appeal to Quranic verses.

A salient feature of Tafsir al-mizan is that, on the one hand, it deals with the objections of the opponents, and, on the other hand, it tries to provide an understanding of the religious notions that complies with the new developments both in the society and in scientific, philosophical and theological issues.

A classification of Quranic Verses in Terms of Their Subject-matters

Before Tafsir al-mizan, it was uncommon among the interpreters of the Quran to juxtapose Quranic verses of the same subject-matter with one another in order to come to a certain conclusion concerning some notion. For example, 'Allama Tabataba'i has juxtaposed all Quranic verses regarding the annulment of action (ihbat) in order to clarify this notion.

Quranic Stories

Tafsir al-mizan is one of the best sources for an inquiry about the stories of the prophets as envisaged in the Quran. 'Allama Tabataba'i has juxtaposed all verses from different suras or chapters of the Quran concerning the stories of a prophet with one another, and then provided a comprehensive account of the life of that prophet. Moreover, he has also compared the Old and the New Testaments with the Quran, and has identified parts of the Testaments that have been distorted.

Publication and Translations of Tafsir al-mizan

Tafsir al-mizan was originally written in Arabic in 20 volumes (about 8,000 pages). First, a group of scholars at the Islamic seminary of Qom, including Nasir Makarim Shirazi, Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, Sayyid Muhamamd Baqir Musawi Hamadani, 'Abd al-Karim Burujirdi and others, translated the book into Persian in 40 volumes (about 16,000 pages). But since half of the translation was done by Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Musawi Hamadani, 'Allama Tabataba'i asked him to translate the other half again into Persian.

The original Arabic text of the book was published by Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyya in Tehran in 1375 AH /1955-6 and Mu'asisa al-A'lami in Beirut (1382 and 1417 AH/ 1962-3 and 1996-7), and the Persian translation of the book was published by Mu'asisa Dar al-'Ilm in Qom, Kanun-i Intisharat-i Muhammadi in Tehran and the Office of Islamic Publications affiliated with Jami'a Mudarrisin-i Hawza 'Ilmiyya Qom (the Society of Teachers in the Islamic Seminary School of Qom).

Tafsir al-mizan has so far been translated into different languages, including Persian, English, Urdu, Turkish, and Spanish.

The English translation of Tafsir al-mizan covers the beginning of the exegesis through the interpretation of 4:76 (four volumes of the original Arabic text of the book) that was published in 8 volumes in Tehran, but remained incomplete.

The English translation of the book has also been published outside Iran.

Views of Scholars about Tafsir al-mizan

Murtada Mutahhari: "His Tafsir al-mizan may be one of the best exegeses of the Quran. … I dare claim that the exegesis is, in certain respects, the best exegesis written among Shiites and Sunnis from the early Islam until today".

'Abd Allah Jawadi Amuli: "Just as the Quran is the treasury of all knowledge, the exegesis written by 'Allama [Tabataba'i] is the treasury of all views and thoughts that he possessed and conveyed to others".

Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Husayni Tihrani: "In this work, a reconciliation has been made between the interior and exterior meanings and between the reasoning and the tradition [hadiths], each playing its own role. This exegesis is so significant that it can be introduced as a documentation of Shiite beliefs. It is unique in revealing precise and subtle points and in its comprehensiveness".

Ja'far Subhani: "What was morally and spiritually attractive about 'Allama Tabataba'i was that he never pretended to know a lot, his only motive being the satisfaction of God and pure piety. If someone knew nothing about his intellectual position, it would never occur to him that he was the founder of a new methodology in the Quranic exegesis and new rules and problems in Islamic philosophy and a master in mysticism. 'Allama should be regarded as the founder of a particular style in Quranic exegesis, instances of which can only be found in some hadiths, that is, the disambiguation of a Quranic verse by an appeal to other verses".

Nasir Makarim Shirazi: "This is a work on the basis of the great method of interpreting the Quran by the Quran, and it definitely contains truths that have so far been hidden from us".

Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat: "This exegesis is a treasury of Islamic thoughts. There are remarkable innovations in it … in this work, 'Allama [Tabataba'i] has presented profound and great materials that may transform philosophical and Islamic thoughts. Therefore, it is necessary for people in Shiite seminary schools to work more on this work".

• Muhammadi Gilani (a pupil of 'Allama Tabataba'i): "Tafsir al-mizan is an extraordinary exegesis of the Quran. The author did not employ intellectual principles in order to elucidate Quranic verses; rather he made an appeal to philosophical and hadith-related discussions in his work in order to demonstrate their truth by an appeal to the Quran and hadiths of Ahl al-Bayt (a).

Books Regarding Tafsir al-mizan

Some books have so far been written about Tafsir al-mizan that might be classified as follows:

Subject Indexes

One feature of ordinal exegeses (unlike subject-based exegeses) of the Quran is that they discuss one and the same subject in different places, and it takes a lot of familiarity with the Quran and that particular exegesis of the Quran to find all discussions about one subject. Some books—indexes—have been published so as to facilitate reference to Tafsir al-mizan in order to find different subject-matters alphabetically.

One such index is Miftah al-mizan provided by Mirza Muhammad for the 40-volume Persian translation of Tafsir al-mizan in 3 volumes. Another index is provided by Eliyas Kalantari for both the Arabic and the Persian versions of the book. A third index is by Alireza Mirza Muhammad, et al, in 3 volumes for the Persian translation of Tafsir al-mizan published by Amir Kabir Publications in Tehran.

Summaries of Tafsir al-mizan

• Mustafa Shakir has provided a summary of Tafsir al-mizan in one volume in Arabic called Khulasat al-mizan, which was translated by Fatima Mashayikh into Persian and was published in 4 volumes under Khulasi-yi tafsir al-mizan 'Allama Tabataba'i (Summary of 'Allama Tabataba'i's Tafsir al-mizan). The translation has been published by Intisharat-i Islam.

• Another summary of Tafsir al-mizan has been provided by Eliyas Kalantari under Mukhtasar al-mizan fi tafsir al-Quran (Summary of al-Mizan regarding the exegesis of the Quran) in 6 volumes in Arabic, published by Intisharat-i Uswa.

Other Books about Tafsir al-mizan

Ba 'Allama dar al-Mizan az manzar-i pursish wa pasukh (Questions and replies with 'Allama in al-Mizan). This two-volume book has been provided by Murad 'Ali Shams. The author has posed questions and found their answers from Tafsir al-mizan. The questions are in different subject-matters such as Quranic sciences, hadith sciences, scientific, philosophical, ethical, historical, social issues as well as issues in principles of Islamic beliefs and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). The book has been published by Intisharat-i Uswa.

Kitab al-Tabataba'i wa manhajuhu fi tafsirihi al-Mizan (Tabataba'i's book and his method in his exegesis, al-Mizan): the book is authored by 'Ali Ramadan Awsi in Arabic and was translated into Persian by Husayn Mirjalili under Rawish-i 'Allama Tabataba'i dar Tafsir al-mizan ('Allama Tabataba'i's method in Tafsir al-mizan) by Chap-i Bayn al-Milal in one volume. This 400-page book explicates and elaborates the exegetical methodology of 'Allama Tabataba'i and the features of Tafsir al-mizan.

Sources of Tafsir al-mizan

According to 'Ali Ramadan Awsi's book, 'Allama Tabataba'i consulted the following as his sources:

• Exegetical books: Mafatih al-ghayb by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Majma' al-bayan, Tafsir 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas, Tafsir al-kashshaf, Tafsir al-Tabari, Tafsir al-Baydawi, Tafsir Abi al-Sa'ud, al-Durr al-manthur, Ruh al-ma'ani, al-Jawahir fi tafsir al-Quran by al-Tantawi, tafsir al-minar, al-Burhan fi tafsir al-Quran, Tafsir al-safi, Tafsir al-Nu'mani, Tafsir al-Qummi, tafsir Nur al-thaqalayn, and some books about the exegesis of Ayat al-Ahkam (Quranic verses regarding laws of sharia). In his hadith-related discussions, 'Allama Tabataba'i often referred to al-Durr al-manthur and Nur al-Thaqalayn.

• Lexicographical books: al-Mufradat by Raghib al-Isfahani, Sihah al-lugha, al-Misbah al-munir, Qamus al-lugha, Lisan al-'arab, and al-Muzhir fi 'ulum al-lugha.

• Historical books: encyclopedias, the New and the Old Testaments, journals, magazines and newspapers of his time, and the like.

See Also


  1. تبیاناً لکُلّ شيء

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