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Tafsir al-Nu'mani (book)

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Tafsir al-Nu'mani
Author Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Nu'mani
Original title تفسیر النُعمانی
Language Arabic
Subject Qur'an exegesis

Tafsīr al-Nuʿmānī (Arabic: تفسير النُعماني) is a treatise in Quranic sciences from Shi'i point of view which is attributed to Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Nu'mani (d. 360/971). However, there is doubt in the attribution of this book to al-Nu'mani and has also been published by the name of Risalat al-muhkam wa l-mutashabih attributed to al-Sharif al-Murtada. It contains topics in Quranic sciences, usul al-fiqh, and some theology.


Although this treatise has been called tafsir (exegesis), its content is mostly about Quranic sciences, principles of fiqh and some theological issues.

The treatise begins with an introduction about the virtues and position of the Qur'an and the necessity of referring to the Ahl al-Bayt (a) for true understanding and interpretation of the verses of the Qur'an. After the introduction, a hadith is quoted from Imam 'Ali (a) which categorizes the verses of the Qur'an to 7 types and following this hadith, some other classifications come which comprises the contents for the treatise in 60 topics.

Among these topics, there are issues such as

  • Nasikh and mansukh (abrogating and abrogated),
  • Muhkam and mutashabih (clear and ambiguous),
  • 'Am and khass (specific and general),
  • Tahrif (distortion)
  • Refuting some opinions about faith and disbelief,
  • Wealth and lack of faith,
  • Renouncing Thanawiyya (the believers of duality), Zindiqs, Jews, Christians, and the believers in personal judgments and deduction.

After the above list of topics, it is mentioned that Shi'as came to Imam 'Ali (a) and asked about the mentioned topics[1] and that this treatise is actually Imam 'Ali's (a) answer to those questions. This is mentioned in different places of the treatise as well.[2]

Although the author tries to attribute the text to Imam 'Ali (a), the existence of many issues in this treatise which dates back to periods later than the time of Imam 'Ali (a) casts doubts on the author's claim. Some of such topics are the wealth and lack of faith and disbelief, criticizing ijtihad, deduction and criticizing Mu'tazilite opinions.[3]

Attribution to al-Nu'mani

Although a tafsir book is attributed to al-Nu'mani, this treatise is different from that book.

Before the time of Ibn Shahrashub (d. 588/1192) and in rijali references, there is no tafsir works among the works of al-Nu'mani. Ibn Shahrashub is the first person who mentioned a book called Tafsir al-Qur'an li-Ahl al-Bayt (a) under the name of Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Nu'mani.[4] The existing treatise of Tafsir al-Nu'mani quotes a hadith from a book of tafsir written by al-Nu'mani[5] and this can be an evidence for existence of such a book, especially because the hadith is quoted from Ibn 'Uqda (d. 368/979) who was his teacher and al-Nu'mani frequently quoted from him in al-Ghayba.[6]

In any case, even if we agree on the existence of an exegesis book by al-Nu'mani, it is obvious that this treatise is different from it and there is only one hadith quoted from the mentioned book. Probably, this very hadith has been the cause of attribution of this treatise to al-Nu'mani.[citation needed]


Although his name is not known to us, his character can be known with regards to the characteristics of the treatise.

Since the author has benefited from the tafsir written by al-Nu'mani (d. 360/971), the oldest date for writing the treatise can be considered the second half of the 4th/10th century.

Since many theological issues are mentioned in this treatise and theological outlook can be seen all around it, its author has most possibly been a theologian. Although he does not follow other hadith scholars in mentioning hadith references, there are cases where his ideas are close to traditionists; some examples of which are defending the theory of tahrif (the distortion of the Qur'an)[7] and his approach in criticizing adherents of deduction and ijtihad.[8]


Although the author has not mentioned any sources other than the Tafsir written by al-Nu'mani, other sources for it can be found through research. In addition to the Tafsir al-Qummi which possibly have been used by the author as his main reference, he seems to have consulted the ideas and works of Hisham b. al-Hakam[9] in discussion about the necessity of the existence of an Infallible Imam and the attributes of Imam.[10]

Moreover, a big part of the discussions in this treatise is about refuting the ideas of the adherents of personal judgment and deduction[11] as an answer to the views of al-Shafi'i (d. 204/819) in al-Risalah.[12]

Similarity with the Introduction to the Tafsir al-Qummi

Another point of controversy about Tafsir al-Nu'mani is its remarkable similarity with the introduction to the Tafsir al-Qummi and another treatise written by Sa'd b. 'Abd allah al-Ash'ari which al-'Allama al-Majlisi has mentioned some parts of.[13]

After comparison of these three texts to explain their similarity, it can be concluded that the introduction to the Tafsir al-Qummi and the treatise written by Sa'd b. 'Abd Allah al-Ash'ari seem to be two accounts of one text; however, the main content and style of Tafsir al-Nu'mani follows the introduction to the Tafsir al-Qummi and then later, more examples and explanations have been added to it and through consulting other sources, more topics have also been added to it.[14]

Tafsir al-Nu'mani which, sometimes, was published by the name of Risala al-Muhkam wa l-Mutishabih


Before 11/17 century, there was no report of such a treatise available and the first report on the existence of this treatise dates back to the time when Fayd Kashani (d. 1091/1680)[15] and then al-Hurr al-'Amili (d. 1104/1693)[16] quoted from it and then Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi (d. 1110/1699) fully quoted it in Bihar al-anwar.[17]

Afterwards, al-Fadil al-Hindi (d. 1137/1725),[18] Yusuf al-Bahrani (d. 1186/1773),[19] Mulla Ahmad al-Naraqi (d. 1245/1830),[20] Muhammad Hasan al-Najafi the Author of Jawahir al-kalam (d. 1266/1850),[21] Muhaddith Nuri (d. 1320/1903)[22] and other Shi'a scholars benefited and quoted from this treatise.

When quoting from this treatise, al-Majlisi did not mention any reference for it, and just says that he received a copy of it through wijada (narrating from a text). Moreover, permissions for quoting hadith mentioned in this treatise[23] are a combination of some permissions and do not exist elsewhere in a connected way (i.e., there is no complete chain of people who have attributed this treatise to al-Nu'mani and the chain of narrators is not complete.)

Publication under the name of Risalat al-muhkam wa al-mutashabih of al-Sharif al-Murtada

This treatise is also known as Risalat al-muhkam wa l-mutashabih attributed to al-Sharif al-Murtada (d. 436/1045); however, such a book is not reported to exist among his works and the content and the writing style of this treatise is different from al-Sharif al-Murtada's opinions and works.[24]


  1. Tafsir al-Nu'mani, p. 6.
  2. E.g. Tafsir al-Nu'mani, pp. 11, 12, 23
  3. E.g. Tafsir al-Nu'mani, pp. 5, 62, 91, 95
  4. Ibn Shahrashub, Ma'alim al-'ulama, p. 168.
  5. Tafsir al-Nu'mani, p. 3.
  6. E.g. Cf. al-Ghayba, pp. 27, 34, 35
  7. Tafsir al-Numani, pp. 26-28.
  8. Tafsir al-Nu'mani, pp. 91-97.
  9. Cf. Ibn Babawayh, Kamal al-din wa tamam al-ni'mia, pp. 207-209; 'Ilal al-shara'i, vol. 1, pp. 202 - 205; Ma'ani al-akhbar, p. 133.
  10. Tafsir al-Nu'mani, pp. 55, 64 - 65, 88 - 89.
  11. Tafsir al-Nu'mani, pp. 91 - 99.
  12. Tafsir al-Nu'mani, pp. 480, 487 - 490. For a detailed discussion on this issue and other related source refer to Za'faranizada, Bazshinasi-yi matn-i Tafsir al-Numani, pp. 48 - 65.
  13. Cf. al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 89, pp. 60 - 73; vol. 81, pp. 71, 382; vol. 90, p. 97.
  14. for a detailed comparison between Tafsir al-Nu'mai and the two other works refer to Za'faranizada, Bazshinasi-yi matn-i Tafsir al-Numani, pp. 21-47.
  15. Fayd Kashani, al-Tafsir al-safi, vol. 1, p. 252.
  16. Hurr al-'Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi'a, vol. 4, p. 216; Hurr al-'Amili, al-Fusul al-muhimma, vol. 1, p. 598, quoted from the Risalat al-muhkam wa l-mutashabih.
  17. al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 1, pp. 90 - 97.
  18. Fadil al-Hindi, Kashf al-li'am, vol. 3, p. 77.
  19. Bahrani, al-Hada'iq al-nadira, vol. 6, pp. 299, 396; vol. 8, p. 59.
  20. Naraqi, Mustanad al-Shi'a, vol. 2, p. 160; vol. 10, p. 84.
  21. Najafi, Jawahir al-kalam, vol. 7, pp. 270, 360; vol. 10, p. 262.
  22. Nuri, Mustadrak al-wasa'il, vol. 1, p. 76; vol. 3, p. 172; vol. 6, p. 515 all quoted from Risalat al-Muhkam wa l-mutashabih.
  23. Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 107, p. 115; al-Amin, A'yan al-Shi'a, vol. 1, pp. 90 - 91.
  24. Cf. Musawi, Rasa'ila-yi piramun-i tafsir wa 'ulum-i Qur'an mansub bi Ahl-i Bayt (a), pp. 114 -116.


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