The Second Angle to the discussion: The Viewpoint of the Contemporaries regarding Interpreting the Book of Allah
Are the contemporary Shia free from the approach of Qur’anic exegesis which is steeped in esoteric interpretation which was adopted by their early scholars like that of al Qummi, al Kulayni, al Kashani, al Bahrani and their likes, or did they unhesitantly follow in their footsteps?
A person who does a comprehensive study of what the contemporaries have written will find that their mentality is mostly confined to those esoteric interpretations which were suggested by their early scholars, and some of which we have discussed previously. The proof of this is that those ancient esoteric Tafasir hold and unmatched position in authenticity and reliability according to them. And there can be no clearer evidence to this than that of the approbation of al Khu’i, the senior most Shia scholar of present, of the transmission chains contained in the Tafsir of al Qummi. Notwithstanding that his Tafsir has reached the furthest extent of esoteric interpretation; it has rather surpassed it.
Similarly, al Tabataba’i, one of the prominent scholars of contemporary times, considers the Tafsir of al ‘Ayyashi reliable and trustworthy according to the Shia. And his Tafsir follows the pattern of Tafsir al Qummi in adopting the extremist esoteric approach which excommunicates the Sahabah and interprets all the verses of the Qur’an to mean the Imams and their opponents. And in his Tafsir the narrations of interpolation are also added.
And like this, all their exegetical works, the approach whereof is extreme, enjoy the authentication of the Shia and their reliance, for example, Tafsir al Burhan, Tafsir al Safi, Mir’at al Anwar, etc.
Does anything remain after this?
As for the approach of the contemporaries in interpreting the Book of Allah, it takes on two different extremes: the very extreme and radical and the moderate and balanced (in comparison to the radical approach). The signs of extremism have surfaced in many of their interpretations of the verses of the Qur’an when they interpreted them to mean their anomalous beliefs. Hence one of their contemporary scholars who goes by the name ‘Ali Muhammad Dakhil whilst discussing the occultation of their awaited Mahdi (whose book according to some Shia writers is the most popular book authored on the issue of occultation) establishes a chapter by the title The Mahdi in the Qur’an and presents in it fifty verses of the Qur’an which he interprets to mean the Mahdi. He subsequently draws the conclusion that the doctrine of the Mahdi is no different from the other categorically established tenets of Islam, and that denying it is equivalent to denying one of the categorically established aspects of Din.
In fact the amount of verses which their later scholars interpret to mean the Mahdi has reached a hundred and twenty. And that also did not satisfy some of them and hence he added by way of an addendum more verses which brought the total to a hundred and thirty two verses.
Furthermore, their contemporary scholar Muhammad Rida al Tabisi al Najafi (d. 1365 A.H.) has interpreted seventy six verses of the Qur’an to mean their doctrine of Raj’ah. This is an extreme which the early scholars also did not reach; the interpretation of Raj’ah started with one verse which Ibn Saba’ interpreted. The matter gradually increased, and we find that their early scholars interpreted some twenty odd verses to mean Raj’ah. Subsequent to that al Hurr al ‘Amili in the twelfth century interpreted sixty four verses to mean this false doctrine. And finally the last development in this extremism was at the hands of al Tabisi and other contemporary scholars. Probably there will be further developments.
In Tafsir al Mizan of their most prominent scholar Muhammad Hussain al Tabataba’i there are likewise many esoteric interpretations which he has cherry picked from the ancient exegesis books of their scholars. He cites them under the title: ‘interpretive discussion’. One of the examples which he has cited and approved is the following from Tafsir al Burhan under the interpretation of the verse:
ضَرَبَ اللهُ مَثَلًا لِّلَّذِيْنَ كَفَرُوا امْرَأَتَ نُوْحٍ وَامْرَأَتَ لُوْطٍ
God presents an example of those who disbelieved: the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot.
الآية مثل ضربه الله لعائشة وحفصة إن تظاهرتا علي رسول الله وأفشتا سره
The parable Allah has mentioned is for ‘Aisha and Hafsah when they teamed up against Rasul Allah and divulged his secret.
Likewise when interpreting the verse:
وَيَبْقَىٰ وَجْهُ رَبِّكَ
And there will remain the Face of your Lord.
He cites the following narration which they narrate from al Sadiq:
نحن وجه الله
We are the face of Allah.
This is how the esoteric approach is perpetuated from past to present; the same method and the same form. And there are many more examples.
However, on the other hand, there is a contemporary approach which is more balanced. And its moderation is due to three aspects: first: the absence of that extremism due to which many verses of the Qur’an are interpreted to mean Imamah and whatever is related to it; second: its purity from all suggestions of interpolation, its narrations and reports; third: purity from emphatic excommunication of the greatest people mankind has ever known, i.e. the generation of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum.
Examples of this approach are the two Tafsirs of Muhammad Jawwad al Mughniyyah: Tafsir al Kashif and al Tafsir al Mubin.
Hence you will notice that he praises the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum in the interpretation of the verse:
لِلْفُقَرَاءِ الْمُهَاجِرِيْنَ الَّذِيْنَ أُخْرِجُوْا مِنْ دِيَارِهِمْ وَأَمْوَالِهِمْ
For the poor emigrants who were expelled from their homes and their properties…
He thus says:
لا شيء إلا لوقوفهم مع الحق وإعلاء كلمة الإسلام وتضحيتهم في سبيله
(They were not expelled) not for anything but due to them standing by the truth and uplifting the word of Islam and striving in its path.
يَبْتَغُوْنَ فَضْلاً مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَاناً وَّيَنْصُرُوْنَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُوْلَهُ
Seeking bounty from Allah and [His] approval and supporting Allah and His Messenger, [there is also a share].
إيمانا وقولا وعملا، وبهؤلاء المهاجرين وأمثالهم من الأنصار استقام الإسلام وانتشر في شرق الأرض وغربها، ولا بدع فإن قائدهم محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم ولن تكون الأمة فاسدة وقائدها صالحا
In faith, word and practice. It is by virtue of these emigrants and their likes from the Ansar that Islam became established and spread to the east of the earth and its west. And this is no surprise, for their commander was Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the Ummah could not have been otherwise after having such a righteous leader.
. وَالَّذِيْنَ تَبَوَّءُوا الدَّارَ وَالْإِيْمَانَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ
And [also for] those who were settled in the Home [i.e., al Madinah] and [adopted] the faith before them…
المراد بالذين: الأنصار، وتبوءوا: سكنوا، والدار: دار الهجرة وهي المدينة، والإيمان مفعول لفعل محذوف أي: وأخلصوا الإيمان، وقد أثني الله على الأنصار بأنهم: يُحِبُّونَ مَنْ هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَا يَجِدُونَ فِي صُدُورِهِمْ حَاجَةً مِمَّا أُوتُوا وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَى أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ وَمَنْ يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ.
The people meant in ‘those’ are the Ansar, and ‘settled’ means stayed, and ‘home’ refers to Madinah and ‘faith’ is the object of an implied verb. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala has praised the Ansar by saying: “They love those who emigrated to them and find not any want in their breasts of what they [i.e., the emigrants] were given but give [them] preference over themselves, even though they are in privation. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul – it is those who will be the successful.”
والذين جاؤوا من بعدهم…
And those who came after them…
جاء في التفاسير: أن المراد بالذين جاؤوا من بعد الصحابة التابعون لهم بإحسان أخذا بقرينة السياق، ومع هذا فإن الثناء يعم ويشمل كل من سار بسيرة الصحابة إلي يوم القيامة.
It appears in the Tafasir that the people meant by ‘those’ are the ones who came after the Sahabah and followed in their footsteps meticulously, gaging from the context of the verse. And hence the praise includes all those who follow in their footsteps till the Day of Judgment.
When you read this explanation you will never be able to tell that the author is from the Shia who excommunicate the Companions of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and revile them. As has passed already, the author has some criticisms against some of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum but he has not emphatically excommunicated any of them like the rest of his Shia friends.
Likewise when interpreting the verse:
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُوْنَ
Indeed, it is We who sent down the message [i.e., the Qur’an], and indeed, We will be its guardian.
He says the following:
المراد بالذكر هنا القرآن الكريم، وضمير له يعود إليه، والمعنى أن القرآن الموجود فعلا بين الدفتين، المألوف لدي كل الناس. وهو بالذات الذي نزل على محمد صلي الله عليه وسلم بلا تقليم وتطعيم، على العكس من الكتاب المعروف بالتوراة، فإنه غير الذي جاء به موسى عليه السلام، وكذا الكتاب المعروف بالإنجيل فهو غير الذي جاء به عيسى عليه السلام.
What is meant by ‘message’ is the noble Qur’an, and the pronoun ‘its’ refers back to it. The meaning of the verse is that the Qur’an which is between the two covers and with which all the people are well acquainted is indeed the very Qur’an which came down upon Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, without any addition and omission. As opposed to the book known as the Torah, for it is other than the book with which Musa ‘alayh al Salam was sent, and the book Injil for it is likewise other than the book with which ‘Isa ‘alayh al Salam was sent.
We still nonetheless find that he did actually interpret some verses in accordance with the demands of his dogma but not with emphatically being radical and extreme in his interpretation like the others. Hence in his Tafsir al Kashif when interpreting the verse:
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمِلْتُ لِكُمْ دِيْنَكُمْ
Today we have completed for you your religion.
He states the following:
معنى الآية أن الله سبحانه أكمل الدين مع هذا اليوم بالنص على علي بالخلافة
The meaning of the verse is that Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala completed Din in this day by explicitly nominating ‘Ali for the succession (of Rasul Allah).
This somewhat balanced approach is definitely the result of him relying upon Jam’ al Jawami’ of their scholar al Tabarsi, as has been alluded to in the introduction. And al Tabarsi in turn relied upon the exegetical works of the Ahlus Sunnah, as suggested by Ibn Taymiyyah.
There are thus two extremes of the Shia approach to the interpretation of the Qur’an: one is extreme and the other is somewhat balanced. This is not unlike the previous centuries where there existed exegetical works which were heavily influenced by the esoteric approach like that of the works of al Qummi, al ‘Ayyashi, al Kashani, al Bahrani, and others; just as alongside them there existed more balanced works like Tusi’s Tafsir al Tibyan and al Tabarsi’s Majma’ al Bayan and Jam’ al Jawami’.
[*] In their narrations there features a directive which orders them to adopt two variant approaches so that people do not come to learn their actual creed; their Imam says:
إن هذا خير لنا ولكم، ولو اجتمعتم على أمر واحد لصدقكم الناس علينا (أي لعرف الناس المذهب) ولكان أقل لبقائنا وبقائكم
This is best for us and for you. For if you were to unite upon one matter the people would believe you against us (i.e. they will come to know the actual dogma) and that would minimise our existence and your existence.
When comparing the two approaches you will find that the extreme approach draws all its material stringently from the narrations of the Shia and their reports. As for the balanced approach, you will notice that its bearers have opened their hearts and minds to the exegetical narrations of the Ahlus Sunnah and their reports thereby becoming safe from the extreme taint, either by way of Taqiyyah or due to really being convinced. But you will never find a single Shia exegetical work which purely relies upon their narrations free from the esoteric method of interpretation.
So which of the two approaches really represents the Shia dogma?
Previously I had mentioned that some Shia scholars have endeavoured to uproot the balanced interpretive method by suggesting that it is a product of Taqiyyah.
Rather al Majlisi has emphatically stated that advancing the narrations of the Ahlus Sunnah is merely to establish evidence against them. And for this he establishes a chapter by the title ‘the twenty eighth chapter: What the commonality (i.e. the Ahlus Sunnah) narrate of the reports of the Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and which of them are authentic according to them (i.e. the Shia), and the prohibition of having recourse to the reports of the opponents’. In this chapter he makes one exception, and that is for the purposes of establishing evidence against them (the Ahlus Sunnah) to spread Shi’ism.
Instead, al Khu’i, the supreme authority of the Shia in Iraq, considers the exegetical narrations of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum to mean the interpolation of the Qur’an which appears in their narrations.
And when Muhibb al Din al Khatib suggested that the Qur’an which ought to have been the uniting factor between us and them, and a catalyst for coming closer to converging, their supreme authorities interpreted the verses of the Qur’an and diverted them to meanings which were not understood by the Sahabah from Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and to meanings which were not understood by the great scholars of Islam from the generation upon which the Qur’an descended. When he mentioned this, one of the scholars of the Shia responded with the following:
إن الشيعة ترى من الكيد للإسلام أن يأخذوا… تفسيرهم للقرآن عمن تقصدهم وتعنيهم بالذات أمثال أبي هريرة و سمرة بن جندب… وأنس بن مالك من أتقنوا صناعة التلفيق والدس والكذب والافتراء
The Shia consider it a sinister plot against Islam to imbibe their interpretation of the Qur’an from those very people whom the Qur’an attacks and impugns, like Abu Hurairah, Samurah ibn Jundub, and Anas ibn Malik; each of who were dexterous in inventing, shoving in, lying, and fabricating.
He attributes this response of his to the Shia. If the reality is that the Shia consider taking their Din from the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum to be a sinister plot against Islam then for them is their creed and for us is ours. This is because the ineluctable conclusion of this stance is forsaking Islam altogether.
Does this not then imply that the balanced approach is just another exercise of Taqiyyah?
Muhammad Jawwad al Mughniyyah, who is one of those who have adopted the balanced approach, does not acknowledge the existence of an extremist esoteric interpretive notion. He asserts that the Twelvers are the most distant from these innovations and heresies and that their books which are accessible to all clearly attest to this. Similarly, although Muhsin al Amin acknowledges that they do exist in their books, but he concludes that they are anomalous narrations. Similar is the view of al Khunayzi who has rejected some narrations which appear in their books.
Is not denial of what exists a sign of Taqiyyah? The matter is not just about a few anomalous narrations, as they allege, rather it is about complete exegetical works the specific approach of which is esoteric interpretation; at the forefront of them all is Tafsir al Qummi which has been approved by their prominent scholars. Likewise, the most authentic of their canonical works like Usul al Kafi and Bihar al Anwar, among others, contain complete chapters which are inclusive of tens of narrations which interpret the Qur’an in the esoteric way. So why the boldness in denying established realities? Do they think that they are rendering a service to their dogma?
Moreover, this denial is clearly debunked by the approach of a group of their contemporary scholars who still blurt all those heresies. In fact their scholar ‘Abdul Hussain Sharaf al Din has opined that all these esoteric interpretations of the verses and those which are reported regarding the Imams are the locus of the acceptance of the Shia due to being categorically established.
In conclusion, the method of interpretation between the ancient and the recent Shia scholarship is very similar. The only new aspect which the contemporaries have is their approbation of what their early scholars had written, even of what the relatively later scholars like al Majlisi and others had written. As a result, the contours of interpretation drastically increased thanks to the efforts of the scholars of the Safawid dynasty who exceeded all bounds. However, some of their contemporaries wrote balanced exegetical works following in the footsteps of their early scholars who had done so, and denied the existence of these extreme interpretations. This denial, however, could probably be accepted in the past, as to today when the publication industry is booming it does not really help or benefit in any way. And necessarily it will be interpreted as Taqiyyah.
As for them emerging with two different faces, this is something that is well-founded in their dogma so as not to let the people come to learn who they actually are.
 See the quotation of al Tabataba’i which we have cited in the introduction.
 Dakhil: al Imam al Mahdi p. 162.
 Al Hashim al Bahrani: al Mahajjah Fima Nazl fi al Qa’im al Hujjah.
 Muhammad Munir al Maylani: Mustadrak al Hujjah.
 In his book al Shia wa al Raj’ah which was published in 1385 A.H.
 Tarikh al Tabari 4/340.
 Jawwad Tara: Da’irat al Ma’arif al ‘Alawiyyah p. 256.
 Al Hurr al ‘Amili: al Iqaz min al Haj’ah bi al Burhan ‘ala al Raj’ah p. 72-98.
 Surah al Tahrim: 10.
 Al Tabataba’i: al Mizan 19/246.
 Surah al Rahman: 27.
 Al Mizan 19/103
 Surah al Hashr: 8
 Al Tafsir al Mubin p. 631; compare this interpretation with the narrations of the Imams which al Bahrani has compiled at this place, see: al Burhan 4/316-319.
 Surah al Hijr: 9.
 Surah al Ma’idah: 3.
 Minhaj al Sunnah 3/246.
 Usul al Kafi 1/65.
 Bihar al Anwar 2/214.
 You can see a number of their fables which speak of the Sahabah interpolating the Qur’an in terms of its interpretation here: al Bayan p. 229.
 Al Khutut al ‘Aridah p. 10.
 ‘Abdul Wahid al Ansari: Adwa’ ‘ala al Khutut al ‘Aridah p. 65.
 Tafsir al Kashif 7/104.
 Al Shia bayn al Haqa’iq wa al Awham p. 419-420.
 Al Da’wah al Islamiyyah ila Wahdah Ahlus Sunnah wa al Imamiyyah p. 1/178-202.
 This was when Musa Jar Allah said that:
في كتب الشيعة أبواب في آياته وسور نزلت في الأئمة والشيعة، وفي آيات وسور نزلت في كفر أبي بكر وعمر، وكفر من اتبعهما، والآيات تزيد على المئة بل وفيها سور مستقلة… يذكر ذلك أكبر أمام للشيعة في أقدس كتبها في أصول الكافي
In the books of the Shia there are chapters wherein are verses and Surahs that came down regarding the Imams and the Shia. And there are other verses and chapters which descended regarding the disbelief of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and those who followed them. These verses are more than a hundred in total, rather they are some dedicated Surahs as well. This is stated by the greatest scholar of the Shia in their most sacred work Usul al Kafi. (Al Washia p. 27. Also see p. 65).
So ‘Abdul Hussain Sharaf al Din responded thus:
أما ما نزل في فضل الأئمة من أهل البيت وشيعتهم فمسلم بحكم الضرورة من علم التفسير المأثور من السنن، وبحكم ما ثبت في السنة المقدسة من أسباب النزول. وأما نزول شيء من القرآن في كفر فلان وفلان، فإنه مما نبرأ إلي الله منه، والبلاء فيه إنما جاء من بعض غلاة المفوضة. وربما كان في كتبهم فرآه هذا الرجل فرمى البريء بحجر المسيء شأن الجهال بحقائق الأحوال.
As for what has come down regarding the merits of the Imams and their Shia, it is accepted due to the reported traditions of the science of exegesis being categorical and due to their causes of revelation being well established in the Sunnah. And as for parts of the Qur’an being revealed regarding the disbelief of so and so, and so and so, we exonerate ourselves before Allah from them and the onus in them is upon some of the extremist Mufawwidah. Probably all of this was in their books and this gentleman happened to come across it there, whereafter he targeted the innocent with the stone of the guilty, as is always the case with those who are unaware of the reality of matters. (Ajwibah Masa’il Jar Allah p. 67).
As you have noticed, this scholar considers all those interpretations of the Qur’an which mean, according to them, ‘the Imam’ or ‘Imamah to be unanimously accepted due to them being categorically established. But he deploys Taqiyyah when he negates those interpretations of verses of ‘disbelief’ and ‘disbelievers’ which mean Abu Bakr and ‘Umar according to them, and claims that they are not found in Usul al Kafi.
This is without doubt Taqiyyah, because he denies that they exist in Usul al Kafi, whereas they do feature therein, and they represent tens of narrations which interpret the verses of ‘disbelief’ and ‘disbelievers’ with Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma. (See Usul al Kafi: chapter: some points and excerpts from the revelations regarding Wilayah: 1/412.)
But this man intends to deceive the people and deny that which is concrete reality and attribute to the Mufawwidah that which not even historians have attributed to them (see: al Mufid: Sharh ‘Aqa’id al Saduq p. 258 for more details on the beliefs of the Mufawwidah). Furthermore this sect no more exists, not its members and not its books, as acknowledged by Muhammad Hussain Al Kashif al Ghita’ (see: Asl al Shia p. 38).