Thematic Exegesis of the Qur'an
Sura • Verse • Juz' • Hizb
Tafsir al-Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a)
Tafsir Jami' al-Bayan
Al-Tafsīr al-mawdū'ī or thematic exegesis of the Qur'an (Arabic: تفسیر القران الموضوعي) is a presentation of doctrines and contents concerning a particular topic or theme in Quranic verses. In this form of exegesis, the exegete collects and examines all Quranic verses concerning a particular topic in one place. Al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr characterizes thematic exegesis as the only means by which Islamic doctrines can be derived from the Qur'an, and Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi considers it as appropriate for a systematic presentation of Quranic doctrines.
In his al-Mizan, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i has provided exegetical surveys of many topics in the Qur'an, and is thus deemed a pioneer in thematic exegesis. However, according to Ja'far Subhani, the first person who briefly presented a thematic exegesis of the Qur'an was al-Allama al-Majlisi.
Many independent works have been written with regard to thematic exegesis, such as Manshur-i jawed-i Qur'an (the eternal charter of the Qur'an) by Ja'far Subhani, Tafsir-i mawdu'i-yi Qur'an-i karim (thematic exegesis of the noble Qur'an) by Abd Allah Jawadi Amuli, and Ma'arif-i Qur'an (teachings of the Qur'an) by Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi. Some reference books have been written to provide more convenient access to Quranic verses concerning particular topics, which are referred to as thematic dictionaries of the Qur'an, such as Farhang-i mawdu'i-yi Qur'an-i karim (thematic dictionary of the noble Qur'an) by Mahmud Ramyar, and al-Mu'jam al-mufahras li alfaz al-Qur'an al-karim (indexed dictionary for the words of the noble Qur'an) by Muhammad Fu'ad Abd al-Baqi.
The Notion and Significance
Thematic exegesis is a presentation of doctrines concerning a particular topic in different Quranic verses in one or more suras. In fact, "thematic exegesis" refers to the collection, survey, and examination of Quranic verses concerning a particular topic in order to derive the Quranic account of the topic in question.
Many exegetes and scholars of Quranic sciences have emphasized on the significance of thematic exegesis: al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr takes thematic exegesis to be more important than ordinal (tartibi) exegesis, characterizing it as the only means by which Islamic doctrines can be derived from the Qur'an. He maintains that ordinal exegesis can never go beyond an understanding of the apparent meanings of Quranic words and verses, and so it has never had much success in the development of Islamic views. In his view, the development of jurisprudence is indebted to a thematic approach to hadiths from the Infallibles, holding that thematic exegesis should be deployed in order to satisfy extensive and complicated needs.
According to Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, a Qur'an-based intellectual system can be constructed, and deviated intellectual systems can be defeated only if thematic exegesis is deployed and Quranic teachings are systematically presented. Ayatollah Subhani emphasizes on thematic exegesis and avoidance of repetitive ordinal exegeses, maintaining that the former exegesis opens a great horizon in knowledge and teachings that cannot be opened by the latter.
In al-Mizan, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i, a prominent Shiite exegete, has surveyed many topics such as monotheism, Imamate, and intercession from a Quranic perspective. Thus, he is characterized by some people as a pioneer in thematic exegesis.
Ja'far Subhani believes that al-Allama al-Majlisi might be considered as the first person who deployed methods of thematic exegesis, because he opens every section of his Bihar al-anwar with relevant Quranic verses and short exegesis thereof. Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat characterizes al-Allama al-Majlisi's thematic exegesis as the most meticulous and comprehensive classification of Quranic verses concerning various Islamic doctrines, and in his view, it still remains unparalleled.
Among Sunni exegetes, the first practitioner of thematic exegesis was Shaykh Muhammad Abduh (1266/1849-50 -1323/1905-6). Moreover, Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut (1310/1892-3 -1383/1963-4), a Sunni jurisprudent, deployed methods of thematic exegesis in his jurisprudential exegesis of the Qur'an. Some books were written about different themes of the Qur'an, such as al-Qur'an wa l-qital (the Qur'an and wars) and al-Qur'an wa l-mar'a (the Qur'an and women).
Many thematic exegeses have been written, such as thematic dictionaries of the Qur'an, in which Quranic verses concerning specific topics are gathered. Such works include the following:
- The fourteen-volume exegesis of Manshur-i jawid-i Qur'an, by Ja'far Subhani. The author refers to the work as the first thematic exegesis of the Qur'an in Persian. Other thematic exegeses of the Qur'an include: Payam-i Qur'an (the message of the Qur'an) by Nasir Makarim Shirazi in ten volumes, Tafsir-i mawdu'i-yi Qur'an (thematic exegesis of the Qur'an) by Abd Allah Jawadi Amuli in seventeen volumes, and Ma'arif-i Qur'an (teachings of the Qur'an) by Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, which is written in ten sections: theology, the world (cosmology), the human being, the path, the guide, the Qur'an, ethics, worships, individual rulings, and social rulings.
In addition to thematic exegeses, many works have been written to provide easier access to Quranic verses concerning particular topics, which are known as thematic dictionaries of the Qur'an, such as Tafsil al-ayat by Jules La Beaume, al-Mu'jam al-mufahras li alfaz al-Qur'an al-karim by Muhammad Fu'ad Abd al-Baqi, al-Madkhal ila l-tafsir al-mawdu'i li l-Qur'an al-karim by Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Abtahi, Farhang-i mawdu'i-yi Qur'an by Mahmud Ramyar, Farhang-i mawdu'i-yi Qur'an-i majid by Kamran Fani and Baha' al-Din Khurramshahi, Furugh-i bi payan by Abd al-Majid Mu'adikhah, and Farhang-i Qur'an by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, which was written in cooperation with the Center for the Culture and Teachings of the Noble Qur'an.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from تفسیر موضوعی in Farsi WikiShia.