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Jurisprudential Exegesis

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Exegesis
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Jurisprudential exegesis (Arabic: التفسير الفقهي) is a branch of tafsir in which the exegete explains and interprets ayat al-ahkam which are the verses that mention the rules about people's actions. Jurisprudential interpretation has a special significance among other branches of the exegesis of the Qur'an; because, the glorious Qur'an is the most important source of legislation of Islamic laws and rulings in the views of all Islamic schools and the authenticity of tradition from which most religious rulings are deduced is itself based on the Qur'an.

Islamic scholars have two views regarding determination of the scope of jurisprudential discussions and the verses of rulings in the Qur'an: most jurists and exegetes consider the scope of the verses of rulings in the Qur'an limited to those verses which mention secondary rules and practical obligations, but some others believe that in addition to them, there are other issues in jurisprudence mentioned in the Qur'an. About the number of such verses too there are different views.

According to some verses of the Qur'an, the noble Prophet (s) is considered the first exegete of the Qur'an who had the duty to interpret and explain the verses of the Qur'an including the verses of rulings for Muslims. After the noble Prophet (s), the Ahl al-Bayt (a) too interpreted the verses of ruling in the Qur'an. In later ages too, Muslims did not ignore this method in exegesis and wrote different books about it.

Scope of Jurisprudential Discussions and Verses of Rulings

Regarding determination of jurisprudential discussions and verses of ruling in the Qur'an, there are two views among Islamic scholars:

The majority of jurists and exegetes delimit the scope of verses of ruling in the Qur'an to verses explaining secondary rulings and practical obligations such as purity, prayer, fast, zakat, khums, hajj, jihad, marriage, inheritance, hudud, blood compensations and contracts. To them, verses of ruling in the Qur'an are few and do not exceed 500 verses. It is commonly believed among Islamic scholars that the Qur'an has 500 verses of ruling. Some scholars titled commentaries on the verses of ruling with this number including Tafsir al-khams mi'a aya fi l-ahkam of Muqatil b. Sulayman (d. 150/767) and al-Nihaya fi tafsir khams mi'a aya fi l-ahkam of Ahmad b. Abd Allah mutawwij Bahrani (d. 771/1369) in which "khams mi'a" means 500.

But, some others believe that in addition to the mentioned issues, there are other jurisprudential issues mentioned in the Qur'an. Based on this this view, many other verses of the Qur'an including verses addressing history and stories, verses including moral points, verses about proverbs and verses about theological issues can be counted among verses of ruling and jurisprudential rulings can be deduced from them. Some Islamic jurists considered the number of verses of ruling in the Qur'an to be more than 500, e.g. 800 or 900. Also, about the number of the verses of ruling higher than the number in the common view, some others said that the number of the verses of ruling depends on different mentalities and tastes; and for whom, God has opened the door of deduction to his heart and who knows the principles and rulings the number of those verses is more.

Characteristics of Jurisprudential Discussions and Verses of Ruling

Jurisprudential issues mentioned in the Qur'an and its verses of ruling have some characteristics which make them different from hadiths and common jurisprudential texts, some of such differences are as follows:

  • Contrary to hadiths, the Qur'an usually mentions rulings concisely and with general titles.
  • Jurisprudential rulings in the Qur'an are not mentioned clearly and without doubt; thus, they may have different interpretations, and consequently, it is difficult to refer to them. For example, in the verse "Maintain the prayer at the two ends of the day" (Qur'an 11:114), the two sides of the day are not clearly explained; therefore, jurists have considered different possibilities such as the times of fajr and maghrib prayers, fajr and 'isha' prayers, fajr and 'asr prayers, fajr and zuhr prayer in its interpretation.
  • Mentioning the rulings among other teachings of the Qur'an including historical, theological, and other issues; such as the ruling for lawfulness of hiring which is mentioned within a historical narration about hiring Moses (a).
  • Using different styles of speaking about rulings. For example, in mentioning obligatory rulings, not in all places, the words of order and prohibition or obligatory and forbidden are mentioned so that the religious ruling would be clear for all people; but rather, for an affirmative rule, sometimes the word "amr" or imperative verb is used; but, in many cases, expressions such as "katab", "farad" and "qada'" are mentioned.

Background

The Prophet (s)

According to verses such as Qur'an 16:44, the noble Prophet (s) is considered as the first exegete of the Qur'an who had the duty to interpret verses of the Qur'an including jurisprudential verses for Muslims. The noble Prophet's (s) jurisprudential interpretation was in two forms:

  • Most of the cases of the Prophet's (s) jurisprudential interpretation are his words or actions in explaining jurisprudential rulings and religious issues which Muslims needed without referring to the Qur'an in them. Much of them are actually interpretation and explanation of the jurisprudential verses of the noble Qur'an, as he (s) mentioned in a hadith, :"learn your rites from me", or he (s) said, "perform prayer the way I perform prayer."
  • The cases in which he (s) also mentioned a reference from the Qur'an for the religious ruling he (s) issued. Few hadiths are transmitted from him for such cases; for example, when he (s) was answering a question of Ammar about the method of tayammum, he (s) said, "In this regard, God has ruled: 'then make tayammum with clean ground' (Qur'an 5:6)", and then he (s) mentioned the method of tayammum. Also, he (s) introduced the meaning of "istata'a" in the verse Qur'an 3:97 as "provision for the journey of hajj".

Ahl al-Bayt (a)

After the noble Prophet (s), the Ahl al-Bayt (a) too interpreted jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an. The same as the Prophet's (s) interpretation, this interpretation has two forms:

  • Hadiths or actions in which there is no reference to the Qur'an in explaining religious rulings and those hadiths or actions are the actual interpretation of those jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an; as in hadiths, they (a) consider their words and hadiths the same as the word of the Prophet (s) and adopted from revelation, as they (a) have said, "If you doubt about our words, ask us their references from the Qur'an."
  • Hadiths in which the references for religious rulings are mentioned from the Qur'an; such as a hadith, Imam al-Sajjad (a) referred to verse Qur'an 2:185 and considered fasting for a sick person or a traveler impermissible and ruled that they should perform its qada. Also, Imam al-Baqir (a) brought argument for Qur'an 3:101 and ruled that the prayer of a traveler should be performed in shortened form. The number of hadiths from Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a) which interpreted the Qur'an are more than such hadiths from other members of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and brought a special opportunities for them to explain teachings and rulings in the Qur'an.

The Companions and the Followers

Sometimes, the Companions of the Prophet (s) interpreted the jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an. Some of the Companions such as Ibn Abbas, Ibn Mas'ud, Ubayy b. Ka'b and Zayd b. Thabit had a more significant role in this regard.

Similar to the Companions, the Followers interpreted jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an; most famous ones among whom were Ata', Dahhak, Zayd b. Aslam, al-Sha'bi, Sa'id b. Jubayr, and Qatada. Many hadiths from them are transmitted which interpret jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an. Jurists contemporary with the Followers had an important role in promotion of jurisprudence and deduction of rulings from the verses of the Qur'an, the most famous ones of whom were Urwa b. al-Zubayr, Sa'id b. Musayyib, Abu Bakr b. Abd al-Rahman, Ubayd Allah b. Utba, Kharija b. Zayd and al-Qasim b. Muhammad b. Abi Bakr.

After the age of the Followers, interpretation of the jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an by the followers of the Followers and others continued with the same approach until jurisprudential commentaries were compiled in 2nd/8th and 3rd/9th centuries. Exegetes do not have the same opinion about the first writer of a jurisprudential commentary. Regarding the first person who wrote about the jurisprudential verses, in al-Awa'il, al-Suyuti considered al-Shafi'i (d. 204/820) and in Tabaqat al-nuhat, al-Qasim b. Asbagh al-Qurtubi (d. 203/819) is mentioned as the first author; but, according to Ibn al-Nadim in al-Fihrist and some others, the first exegete was Muhammad b. Sa'ib al-Kalbi al-Kufi (d. 146/764) among the companions of Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a). After him, Muqatil b. Sulayman (d. 156/773) wrote the commentary Khams mi'a aya fi l-ahkam. Then gradually, some brief and comprehensive commentaries with different religious tendencies were written, some of which are not available to us now.

Shi'a Commentaries

Some jurisprudential commentaries of Shi'a are as below:

  • Fiqh al-Qur'an written by Qutb al-Din al-Ravandi (d. 573/1177). He interpreted jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an in the same order as jurisprudential books of Shia from purity (tahara) to blood compensations (diyat). One of the attributes of this commentary is that sometimes for deducing the rulings, it benefits from verses which contained stories. In interpretation of the verses, the author greatly benefits from hadiths of the Ahl al-Bayt (a).
The book Kanz al-'irfan fi fiqh al-Qur'an

Hanafi Commentaries

Hanafis too have written several commentaries on jurisprudential verses, the most famous ones of which are:

  • Ahkam al-Qur'an by al-Jassas: jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an are interpreted in this 3-volume commentary in the order of the suras in the Qur'an. In interpretation of the verses, the author has showed intensive prejudice and bigotry toward Mu'tazila school and opinions. After mentioning the verse, he refers to verdict deduced from it, then, he mentions different views and defends jurisprudential view of Hanafis. Therefore, his commentary is more similar to comparative jurisprudence than a jurisprudential commentary.
  • Al-Tafsirat al-Ahmadiyya fi ayat al-ahkam written by Ahmad b. Sa'id known as Mulla Jiyun (d. 1130/1718). In this commentary, 150 jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an are studied. In interpretation of the verses, the author has also discussed about controversial issues among Shia and Sunnis such as issues regarding wudu and temporary marriage.

Shafi'i Commentaries

Shafi'is too have written several jurisprudential commentaries, some of which are:

  • Ahkam al-Qur'an attributed to al-Shafi'i (d. 204/820). This book is the collection of al-Shafi'i's references to the verses of the Qur'an about religious rulings, al-Bayhaqi compiled it from among his books of jurisprudence and principles of jurisprudence.
  • Ahkam al-Qur'an written by Ali b. Muhammad Kiaharasi (d. 504/1111) written in four sections. He mentioned jurisprudential verses in the order of suras consecutively and without mentioning any special title for them. His method in this commentary is mentioning every verse first and then mentioning opposite rules deduced from the verse. He then discusses the views mentioned about that verse.
  • Al-Iklil fi istinbat al-tanzil written by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911/1506). This commentary has interpreted all suras of the Qur'an except five suras and has deduced several jurisprudential rulings from them. In writing this book, the author has benefited from many sources in exegesis, hadiths, jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence and life conduct of the Prophet (s) and history.
  • Ayat al-ahkam written by Muhammad Ali al-Sayis (d. 1396/1976)

Maliki Commentaries

Maliki jurists too have written some jurisprudential commentaries, the oldest of which are as below:

  • Ahkam al-Qur'an written by Abu Bakr Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah known as Ibn al-'Arabi (d. 543/1149). He interpreted the verses with the order of the suras of the Qur'an. In addition to mentioning jurisprudential issues related with the verses, in some places, the author mentioned literal issues influential in understanding the verses.
  • Al-Jami' li-ahkam al-Qur'an written by Muhammad b. Ahmad Ansari al-Qurtubi (d. 671/1273). Although, this commentary is among comprehensive and literal commentaries of the Qur'an, it is also considered among jurisprudential commentaries as well, due to the author's inclination toward comprehensive study of jurisprudential discussions. He has mentioned jurisprudential issues in the Qur'an comprehensively and together with the views of other Islamic schools.

Other Islamic sects too have written several commentaries on jurisprudential verses and since they are not famous or credible enough, only the most important ones of which are mentioned here. Some of the most important jurisprudential commentaries of Hanbalis are Ayat al-ahkam written by Muhammad b. al-Husayn b. al-Fara' (d. 458/1066) and the Commentary of ayat al-ahkam written by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzi (d. 751/1350). One of the Zaydi commentaries is Sharh ayat al-ahkam written by Yahya b. Hamza al-Yamani (d. 749/1349) and another is Sharh ayat al-ahkam written by Muhammd b. Yahya Sa'di al-Yamani (d. 957/1550). Zahirid sect too wrote several jurisprudential commentaries, including Ahkam al-Qur'an written by Dawud b. Ali al-Zahiri (d. 270/884) and Ahkam al-Qur'an written by Abd Allah b. Ahmad known as Ibn al-Muflis (d. 324/936).

The number of commentaries and books about jurisprudential verses reaches 169 titles. Some scholars consider jurisprudential commentaries among the first thematic exegesis of the Qur'an written on a certain topic, i.e. jurisprudential issues.

Methods

Islamic jurists have usually used two methods in interpretation of jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an and the commentaries they have written on this topic:

Regarding the method of entering the discussion and the order of organizing discussions under certain titles and chapters:

Regarding this issue, Shi'a and Sunni exegetes have adopted two different methods:

  • Almost all Sunni exegetes except Shafi'i in Ahkam al-Qur'an and some others interpreted jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an in the order of suras and verses; meaning that they begin from "In the Name of God, the All Compassionate, the Most Merciful" at the beginning of Sura al-Fatiha to the last sura containing a jurisprudential ruling. But, Shafi'i's Ahkam al-Qur'an is organized in thematic exegesis of the Qur'an and includes different topics in jurisprudence.
  • Opposite to the method of Sunnis, Shia jurists have organized jurisprudential commentaries according to jurisprudential books which usually begin from the chapter of purity and end in the chapter of judgment and testimonies.

Regarding comprehensiveness or exclusiveness:

In this regard as well, Shia and Sunni jurists have adopted two different methods:

  • The first method which most Shia and Sunni jurists have adopted in this issue is that they discuss different jurisprudential verses of the Qur'an separately and have dedicated independent chapters to them.
  • The second method is that they have discussed jurisprudential verses beside with other verses and non-jurisprudential issues. Such commentaries are often called "comprehensive commentaries". Some of them have discussed jurisprudential issues in the verses without dedicating a special chapter or title; such as al-Tibyan fi tafsir al-Qur'an written by al-Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 460/1067) and Majma' al-bayan written by al-Tabrisi (d. 548/1153) from Shia school and al-Jami' li-ahkam al-Qur'an written by al-Qurtubi (d. 671/1273) and al-Tafsir al-kabir written by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606/1210) from the Sunni school. But, some others have dedicated a special chapter or title for jurisprudential discussions, such as Mawahib al-Rahman written by Sayyid 'Abd al-A'la Sabziwari, among Shia contemporary scholars and al-Tafsir al-munir written by Wahba al-Zuhayli, a Sunni contemporary scholar in juriprudence.

Principles

Validity of the Apparent Text of the Qur'an

About the validity of the apparent text of the Qur'an, jurists have two views: some have not accepted it and consider rules deduced from the verses applicable in case of being approved by the conduct of the Infallible Imams (a); but, most Islamic scholars have proved the validity of the apparent text of the Qur'an through valid arguments. Therefore, only the second group can interpret jurisprudential verses of the Qua'an and act upon the rules deduced from them even in absence of the Infallible Imams (a).

Legislative Nature of the Qur'an

There are two views among Islamic scholars about legislative nature of the Qur'an: some of them have denied legislative nature of the Qur'an by referring to arguments including incomprehensiveness of the Qur'an regarding all needed rules, indefiniteness and lack of clarity of the rules and its messages, lack of necessary order and integrity and lack of harmony in explaining the issues. But, some others reject these arguments and refer to other arguments including verses of the Qur'an and hadiths of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) regarding the position of the Qur'an in deducing rules and other arguments and prove the legislative nature of the Qur'an. Thus, those jurists who accept the legislative nature of the Qur'an can jurisprudentially interpret verses of the Qur'an and deduce rules from them.

Life Conduct of the Prophet (s) and the Ahl al-Bayt (a)

The Qur'an mentions some issues briefly and in general; but, in some verse, God has assigned the duty of explaining and interpreting the Qur'an to the Prophet (s) (Qur'an 16:44) and ordered Muslims to ask from the People of the Reminder and knowledgeable ones (Qur'an 16:43) and based on some hadiths, the People of Reminder refers to the Ahl al-Bayt (a) of the Prophet (s). In several cases, the noble Prophet (s) interpreted jurisprudential verses, thus, an exegete should refer to them and interpret verses of the Qur'an according to them. The requirement for benefiting from the tradition in interpreting jurisprudential verses is the power to distinguish the true conducts from false ones; therefore, an exegete should have sufficient knowledge about the principles of the tradition the same as diraya and rijal.

Lexicon and Literary Rules

Knowing these sciences has a substantial influence on deduction of religious rules and a great amount of jurisprudential conflicts among different schools comes from this basis; for example, some Sunni jurists have considered "bi" in verse Qur'an 5:6 "bi-ru'usikum" to have a joining function and thus, they have ruled in wudu that all the head should be wiped; but, in hadiths of Imamiyya, it is meant to suggest a part and thus, wiping a part of the head is considered sufficient.

Usul al-Fiqh

One of the most important bases in jurisprudential interpretation of the Qur'an is the knowledge of the principles of usul. In the Qur'an, many issues such as order, prohibition, absolute and conditioned, unspecified and specified are applied, and correct interpretation of the verses which contain them, depends on having the knowledge of the principles of usul.

Occasion of Revelation

Many verses of the Qur'an are revealed about certain issues or events without considering which, deducing rulings from the verses is difficult and the interpreter may interpret opposite to the original intention of the Legislator of religion. For example, from the expression of "fala junah" ("there is no sin"), it can be deduced that performing sa'y between Safa and Marwa is not obligatory, which is against the intention of the Legislator of religion, and in hadiths regarding the occasion of its revelation, it is mentioned that this expression was revealed because Muslims avoided to perform sa'y between Safa and Marwa due to existence of the polytheists' idols between the two mountains.

Differences of Recitations

Sometimes, the difference among recitations causes disagreement in deduction of religious rules. Thus, an exegete should know about different recitations as well as the rules of validity and preference among these recitations, so that he can deduce religious rules based on them.

The Abrogating and the Abrogated

Knowing abrogating and abrogated verses has a great role in deduction and interpretation of jurisprudential rules; especially, if the abrogated issue is basically the religious ruling. The importance of this knowledge is that regarding the abrogating verses in the Qur'an, if the jurist knows them, he would not give jurisprudential rulings based on such verses; as for example, most jurists consider verse 15 of Qur'an 4 abrogated.

Interpreting the Qur'an based on the Qur'an

Another principle in jurisprudential interpretation of the Qur'an is approving interpretation of the Qur'an based on the Qur'an which is both approved in hadiths of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and in jurisprudential sources. For example, Imam Ali (a) mentioned the verse "and his gestation and weaning take thirty months." (Qur'an 46:15) beside verse "Mothers shall suckle their children for two full years" (Qur'an 2:233) and considered the least period of pregnancy six months. With such an interpretation approach, concise and ambiguous jurisprudential verses can be interpreted using clear and explanatory verses and jurisprudential rulings can be deduced from them.

References