An Introduction to the Science of Tafseer
Now we can turn to the requisites of Ilm al-Tafsir or Exegesis. The literal meaning of tafsir in the Arabic language is to open or to explain, interpret or comment. Technically, the science of tafsir is a branch of knowledge in which the meanings of the Quran are explained and its injunctions and wisdom's are described openly and clearly (al-Burham) Addressing the Holy Prophet , the Glorious Quran says:
We revealed the Qur'an to you so that you explain to the people what has been sent down to them (16:44).
Once again, the Quran says:
Surely, Allah did a great favour to Muslims when He sent a Messenger to them from among them who would recite His verses before them and purify them and teach them the Book and the Wisdom (3:164).
Keeping this in view, it should be noted that the Holy Prophet did not only teach the words of the Quran, but he also explained these in details. This is why, on some occasions, the revered Companions had to devote years together in learning a single Surah; details will, insha-Allah, appear later on.
Until such time that the Holy Prophet mortal world with his presence, seeking the explanation of any verse was not much of a problem. When the Companions faced any difficulty, they would turn to him and get a satisfying answer. But, later on after him, it became necessary that the tafsir of Qu'ran be preserved as a permanent branch of knowledge so that, along with the words of the noble Quran, its correct meaning as well stands protected and conserved for the Muslim ummah, and heretics and deviationists find no room there for distortion of its meanings. So, with the grace and tawfeeq of Allah Almighty, this ummah accomplished this wonderful mission with such efficiency that today we can say without any fear of doubt or rejection that not only are the words of this last Book of Allah protected but also stands protected even that correct tafsir and explanation which has reached us through the Holy Prophet and his Companions (RA) who were ever-prepared to sacrifice their lives for him.
In what ways the Muslim ummah protected and preserved the 'ilm? What extreme hardships they faced in this pursuit? How many stages did this struggle had to go through? All this has a long and fascinating history which cannot be taken up in the present context (for this, please see 'Ulum al-Quran, a detailed work on this subject by this humble writer). The intention here is to state briefly as to what are the sources of Qur'anic exegesis and how these sources have been utilized in explaining the noble Qur'an by all those countless books on 'Ilm al-Tafsir available in every language. These sources are six in number