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

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Al-Mizan fi tafsir al-Quran
Bibliographical Information
Bibliographical Information
AuthorSayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i
Original titleالمیزان فی تفسیر القرآن
Series20 volumes
SubjectExegesis of Quran
GenreQur'an by Qur'an
English translation
En. titleTafsir al-Mizan
En. publisherWorld Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS) (1st to 13th volumes), Tawheed Institute Australia LTD. (14th and 25th to 30th volumes)


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 Qur'an in Arabic authored by Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i (1321-1402 /1904-1981).

Al-Mizan is an ordinal exegesis of the Qur'an, which is organized by the order of the Qur'anic suras and verses, and its methodology is the exegesis of the Qur'an by appeal to the Qur'an itself, which means interpreting a Qur'anic verse in terms of other verses of the Qur'an. In virtue of its intellectual honesty and fairness, accuracy and depth, al-Mizan has attracted the attention of Shiite and Sunni scholars and found a place as one of the most reliable sources of inquiry about the Qur'an. 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 Qur'an, the stories of the prophets, human soul and spirit, God's response to people's prayers, monotheism, repentance, divine sustenance (rizq), divine blessings (baraka), jihad, annulment of actions (ihbat), 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 Qur'an, was born in Dhu l-Hijja 29, 1321/March 17, 1904 in the village of Shadagan near Tabriz.[1] In 1927, he went to Najaf and studied with Shiite scholars such as Muhammad Husayn Gharawi Isfahani, Muhammad Husayn Na'ini, Sayyid Muhammad Hujjat Kuhkamara'i, Husayn Badkuba'i, Abu l-Qasim Khwansari, and Sayyid 'Ali Qadi Tabataba'i.[2]

When Tabataba'i reached the level of ijtihad in Najaf, he went back to his birthplace in Tabriz in 1935, and then he immigrated to Qom in 1946.[3] Since then until his death, he had lectures in Islamic philosophy and the exegesis of the Qur'an in Islamic Seminary of Qom, and he started to write Tafsir al-mizan, which was finished after about 20 years on Laylat al-Qadr, Ramadan 23, 1392/October 31, 1972.[4]

He passed away in Muharram 18, 1402/November 16, 1981 in Qom and was buried in the holy shrine of Fatima al-Ma'suma (a).[5] 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.[6]


Tafsir al-mizan has features that distinguish it from other exegeses of the Qur'an.

Interpretation of the Qur'an in Terms of the Qur'an

The method of Tafsir al-mizan is the interpretation of a Qur'anic verse in terms of other Qur'anic verses. 'Allama Tabataba'i believes that since the Qur'an takes itself to be "illumination of everything"[7] (Qur'an 16:89), it should not need anything else to illuminate it.[8] He holds that the Qur'an has an exterior and an interior; he thinks that we need the real interpreters of the Qur'an, that is, the Prophet (s) and twelve Imams (a), to understand the interior layers of the Qur'an, but to understand the exterior of the Qur'an we do not need anything other than the Qur'an itself. 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 Qur'an, and exegetical hadiths in order to understand the verse. We only consult these when the Qur'an itself gives no clarification of the meaning of a verse.

Allama Tabataba'i did not invent this methodology; the method was employed by scholars before him, though with major differences. Tabataba'i made extensive and more clear-cut use of this method, which is why he was known for the method. The book is committed to the method with respect to every single verse that it interprets.[9]

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.[10] He cites the views of well-known interpreters of the Qur'an, 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 Qur'anic 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 Qur'anic verses with one another in order to present deductive arguments to elucidate Qur'anic notions or pinpoint instances for Qur'anic 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 attention by Shiite and Sunni scholars in Iran and other Islamic countries.

In most exegeses of the Qur'an before Tafsir al-mizan, interpreters usually cited different possibilities concerning the meaning of a verse, but Tafsir al-mizan appeals to other Qur'anic verses or the evidence within the same verse in order to identify one of the possibilities as the meaning of the verse.[11] The author clarifies some religious and Qur'anic notions, such as God's response to prayers, monotheism, repentance, divine sustenance (rizq), divine blessing (baraka), jihad, and the ihbat (annulment of actions), by an appeal to Qur'anic 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.

Classification of Qur'anic Verses in Terms of Their Subject-matters

Before Tafsir al-mizan, it was uncommon among the interpreters of the Qur'an to juxtapose Qur'anic 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 Qur'anic verses regarding the annulment of action (ihbat) in order to clarify this notion.[12]

Qur'anic Stories

Tafsir al-mizan is one of the best sources for an inquiry about the stories of the prophets as envisaged in the Qur'an. 'Allama Tabataba'i has juxtaposed all verses from different suras or suras of the Qur'an 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 Qur'an, and has identified parts of the Testaments that have been distorted.[13]


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

  • Lexicographical books: al-Mufradat by al-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.

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 Muhammad 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 1375/1955-6 and Mu'assisa al-A'lami in Beirut (1382/1962-3 and 1417/1996-7), 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-yi Mudarrisin-i Hawza-yi 'Ilmiyya-yi 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, Indonesian and Spanish.

English translation

Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi started the English translation of Tafsir al-mizan and translated 6 volumes of the Arabic text (published in 12 English volumes) before his demise. Sayyid Muhammad Akhtar Rizvi finished the incomplete translation of the seventh Arabic volume which published as the thirteenth English volume. The first to thirteenth volumes was published by World Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS). Tawus Raja continued the translation and currently the 14th, and 25th to 30th English volumes are published by Tawheed Institute Australia LTD.

In the View of Scholars

  • Morteza Motahhari: "His Tafsir al-mizan may be one of the best exegeses of the Qur'an. … I dare claim that the exegesis is, in certain respects, the best exegesis written among Shiites and Sunnis from the early Islam until today".[14]
  • Abd Allah Jawadi Amuli: "Just as the Qur'an 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, 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 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 Qur'anic 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 Qur'anic exegesis, instances of which can only be found in some hadiths, that is, the disambiguation of a Qur'anic verse by an appeal to other verses".
  • Nasir Makarim Shirazi: "This is a work on the basis of the great method of interpreting the Qur'an by the Qur'an, 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 Qur'an. The author did not employ intellectual principles in order to elucidate Qur'anic 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 Qur'an and hadiths of Ahl al-Bayt (a).[15]

Related Works

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 Qur'an is that they discuss one and the same subject in different places, and it takes a lot of familiarity with the Qur'an and that particular exegesis of the Qur'an to find all discussions about one subject. Some books—indexes have been published to facilitate reference to Tafsir al-mizan 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. Eliyas Kalantari provides another index 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.


  • 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 Khulasa-yi tafsir al-mizan-i 'Allama Tabataba'i (Summary of 'Allama Tabataba'i's Tafsir al-mizan). Intisharat-i Islam has published the translation.
  • Another summary of Tafsir al-mizan has been provided by Eliyas Kalantari under Mukhtasar al-mizan fi tafsir al-Qur'an (Summary of al-Mizan regarding the exegesis of the Qur'an) in 6 volumes in Arabic, published by Intisharat-i Uswa.

Other Books

  • Ba 'Allama dar al-Mizan az manzar-i pursish wa pasukh (Questions and replies with 'Allama in al-Mizan). Murad 'Ali Shams have provided this two-volume book. The author has posed questions and found their answers from Tafsir al-mizan. The questions are in different subject-matters such as Qur'anic sciences, hadith sciences, scientific, philosophical, ethical, historical, social issues as well as issues in principles of Islamic beliefs and jurisprudence. Intisharat-i Uswa has published the book.
  • Al-Tabataba'i wa manhajuh fi tafsirih 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.

External link

See Also


  1. Ḥusaynī Tihrānī, Mihr-i tābān, p. 25.
  2. Ḥusaynī Tihrānī, Mihr-i tābān, p. 21.
  3. "Zindigīnāma-yi khudniwisht", p. 5.
  4. Ḥusaynī Tihrānī, Mihr-i tābān, p. 61-63.
  5. "Zindigīnāma-yi khudniwisht", p. 131.
  6. Ḥasanzāda Āmulī, "Āthār-i qalamī-yi jināb-i ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāyī," p. 18-19.
  7. تبیاناً لکُلّ شيء
  8. Jawādī Āmulī, Shams al-waḥy, p. 96.
  9. Ustādī, Āshnāyī bā tafāsīr, p. 228.
  10. Naqībzāda, "Muqāyisa-yi du tafsīr," p. 84.
  11. Ustādī, Āshnāyī bā tafāsīr, p. 230.
  12. Ustādī, Āshnāyī bā tafāsīr, p. 231.
  13. Ustādī, Āshnāyī bā tafāsīr, p. 231.
  14. Motahharī, Majmūʿa-yi āthār, vol. 25, p. 429.
  15. Gīlānī, "Jawānahā-yi jāwīd," p. 20-21.


  • "Zindigīnāma-yi khudniwisht-i ʿAllāma Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabāyī." Gulistān-i Qurʾān, no 136. 1381 Sh.
  • "Jawānahā-yi jāwīd barrasīhā-yi darbāra-yi sabkhā-yi tafsīrī-yi ʿallāma ṭabāṭabāyī wa shinākhtnāma-yi al-Mīzan." Pāsdār-i Islām, no 311 (17-21). 1386 Sh.
  • Ḥasanzāda Āmulī, Ḥasan. "Āthār-i qalamī-yi jināb-i ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāyī az naẓm wa nathr." Kitāb-i māh-i falsafa no 18. 1387 Sh.
  • Ḥusaynī Tihrānī, Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn. Mihr-i tābān. Mashhad: Intishārāt-i Nūr-i Malakūt-i Qurʾān, 1426 AH.
  • Jawādī Āmulī, ʿAbd Allāh. Shams al-waḥy Tabrīzī. Qom: Nashr-i Asrāʾ, 1386 Sh.
  • Naqībzāda, Muḥammad. Muqāyisa-yi du tafsīr al-Mīzān wa al-Bayān. In Majala-yi maʿrifat, no 203 (81-94). 1393 Sh.
  • Ustādī, Riḍā. Āshnāyī bā tafāsīr. Second edition. Tehran: Nashr-i Quds, 1383 Sh.