Mainly Sunni's make a distinction between two main categories of tafseer works:

  1. tafsir bi-al-ma'thur (Arabic: التفسير بالمأثور‎, literally 'received tafsir', also known as tafsir bi-al-riwaya Arabic: تفسير بالرواية‎). Some examples for that are the tafseers of imam at-Tabari and ibn Kathir.
  2. tafsir bi-al-ra'y (Arabic: التفسير بالرأي‎, lieerally. 'tafsir by opinion', also known as tafsir bi-al-diraya Arabic: تفسير بالدراية‎). The tafseers of al-Baydawi and al-Fakhr ar-Razi are some examples of this category.

I'd like to know whether Shi'a catgeorize their tafseers in the same manner and would like to know about some classical works on tafseer and their authors?

1 Answer 1


The Shia tafseer works can be classified into three or four groups two of them overlapping with the two classes in the question.

  1. Tafseer ar-Riwa'ee, ma'thur, aw an-naqli (تفسیر الروایی، مأثور او النقلی, eng. Exegesis via narration, heritage or transmission) which relies on hadiths by the Prophet (ص) and the Imams of Shia (علیهم السلام).

  2. Tafseer al-ijtihadi (تفسیر الاجتهادی, eng. exegesis via intellectual methods). There's a fine line between this and tafseer bi-rai'y (تفسیر باالرأی, eng. exegesis by opinion/speculation) which is strongly repudiated in Shia traditions.

  3. Tafseer al-Quran bi-l-Quran (تفسیر القران بالقران, eng. exegesis of Quran by Quran itself) which invokes a Quranic verse and a hadith by Imam Ali (ع) to support the method of relying on Quran's own semantic relations to reveal meanings of the verses.

  4. Tafseer al-falsafi (تفسیر الفلسفی, eng philosophical exegesis) by Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra.

Here are four famous tafseer works via narration

However the above methods of tafseer are not mutually exclusive. So one of the most substantial tafeer works by Shia has been Tafseer at-Tibyan (التبیان فی تفسیر القران) by Sheikh at-Tusi who employs various disciplines to interpret Quranic verses such as hadiths, language, history and fiqh. This is also an example of exegesis via ijtihad.

And the only tafseer to apply the third method that is Quran via Quran is Tafseer al-Mizan (الميزان في تفسير القرآن) by Allama Muhammad-Hussain Tabataba'i (14th century) which has also been by far the most illustrious Shia work of tafseer if not the most methodical and deep work of tafseer ever in Islamic history. Allama wrote an extensive introduction to this tafseer to explain this method and its merits over the other methods of exegesis. He argues that an attempt to understand the true import of the Quran must start with etymology and semantics and then proceed to make sense of the verse in the light of other verses that discuss the same subject. Then related hadiths may also be invoked to shed further light. And finally definite philosophical arguments and scientific evidences may also be consulted without verging into tafseer by opinion and speculation. This exegesis is also special in that it includes discussions on Islamic sociology and political philosophy. So this is too not a monomethod tafseer but one that treats the Quran-via-Quran method only as the primary and dominant method.

This great work was to be translated by a Shia scholar sponsored by World Organization for Islamic Studies, Qom, Iran. But after a few volumes, the said scholar passed away and the translation halted. But fortunately the organization has hired other scholars to complete the translation. What is more, is that they have uploaded the translated parts at almizan.org which offers a very readable interface for studying the work. You can read the introduction of the tafseer by Allama for full discussion of his method like I said.

I have read some reviews by Sunni scholars on Allama's work. The fair ones have admitted being equally impressed by intellectual depth and rigor of the work with some saying that it would have been the best tafseer work ever, had it not be a Shia tafseer.

  • Would you mind adding examples of tafssirs of the categories 2-4?
    – Medi1Saif
    Jul 19, 2020 at 1:17
  • @Medi1Saif, Sure, go ahead. You have both the credentials and the SE rules allowing prompt edits to any post.
    – infatuated
    Jul 20, 2020 at 4:24
  • There's absolutely no need for your last comment. In your post you've mentioned 4 categories. But you only gave examples for the category 1, as for the other categories you've mentioned books addressing a mix of all.I think it is legitimate to ask whether there are "pure" examples about these categories. If you have issues with a mod that is no excuse to act this way towards to others.
    – Medi1Saif
    Jul 27, 2020 at 9:54

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