Tafsir - An Annotated Chronological Survey. Part 1

An Annotated Chronological Survey of Islamic Tafsir Literatures with a Listing of select Manuscripts, Printed editions and E-Book URLs/Pdfs. Pt. I - The early centuries.

Stephen Lambden UCMerced.

In progress - last uploaded 23-02-2016.

Parts of this webpage as are on sections of my doctoral thesis of the 1980s/2002. I shall use of abbreviation Q. to indicat the Qur'an.

The Web page(s) below and elsewhere on this website are constantly under revision and updating. They will evolve into the bibliography of a forthcoming book about Islamic hermeneutics and Tafsīr  perhaps entitled Dimensions of Tafsīr ("Exegesis") and Ta'wīl ("Eisegesis") in Islamic Qur'ān Commentary, A Literary Survey and Bibliographical Handbook. This book will give special attention to attitudes about exterior (ẓāhir) and interior (bāṭin) dimensions of meaning within diverse approaches to Qur'ān commentary as illustrated within varieties of  Sunnī and Shī`ī Tafsīr and related literatures. It will attempt to give weight to those Islamic traditions (hadith, akhbar) and thinkers which sanction or put forth a deeper level of Qur'ānic understanding that may go beyond the merely literalistic. It will pay attention to those who have treasured both the straightforward senses of the Qur'ān and what might be its inner meanings or deeper senses. Corrections and suggested additions to these Web page(s) would be greatly welcomed - mailto:  slambden@ucmerced.edu

The Prophet Muhammad (c. 570-632 CE).

The Prophet Muhammad is, of course, regarded by Muslims as the revealer or transmitter of the Qur'an itself with its over 6,000 verses and 114 surahs or (loosely) chapters. Certain traditions regard it as an Arabic expression of the primordial umm al-kitab or 'Archetypal [Mother] of the Book'. Thousands of tafsir traditions of interpretation are attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in Sunni, Shi`i  and other Islamic and related literatures. 

`Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (b. Mecca c. 600 CE - d. Kufa 40/661).

The fīrst Imam for the Twelver Imami Shī`ī Muslims and fourth Caliph of the Sunnis

The cousin, son-in-law, and (for Imami Shi`is  and others the immediate)  successor to the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632 CE). He was very widely respected as an important expert on all aspects of Tafsīr. Ibn `Abbās (d. c. 68 / 687) who is regarded as the "Father of Tafsīr" (see below) is reported to have said, "What I took from the interpretation of the Qur'ān is from `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib".  The  possibly proto-Shī`ī companion Ibn Maṣ`ūd allegedly stated that `Alī was heir to both the inward and outward dimensions of the Qur'ān.  `Alī is reckoned to have compiled one of the earliest chronologically organized recensions of the Qur'ān (see Modarressi 2003: 2-4). Many ḥadith on Qur'ān commentary are attributed to  and relayed from `Alī and his Imami associates and sympathizers. He remains a foundational figure of the greatest importance. A number of Tafsīr books or crystallizations of Tafsīr tradition are attributed to him. In recent years some of them have been the subject of academic evaluation. Sunni anti-Shi`i polemic to some extent appears to have eclipsed or  lessened the full appreciation of his central position in the genesis of Qur'ān commentary.

  • Qur'ān codex. An early recension probably represented  by the reading of `Āṣim ibn Abī Najūd al-Kūfī  (d.    ; one of the seven "readers" of the Qur'ān) and transmitted by Ḥafṣ ibn Sulaymān al-Kūfī  (d.180/796) also a `Reader of the Qur'ān' and the former's student and step-son (Modarressi 2003:3 fn.10).
  • Monograph on the recension of  `Alī by the Sunnī writer Abū Ṭāhir `Abd al-Waḥīd ibn `Umar al-Baghdāī al-Bazzāz (d.349/960).
  • See below on the Tafsīr attributed to Ibn `Abbās (d. c. 68 / 687).

Modarressi, Hossein.

  • 'Early Debates on the Integrity of the Qur'ān: A Brief Survey' Studia Islamica, No. 77. (1993),

Ibn `Abbās, `Abd-Allāh  (d. c. 68 / 687).

A  paternal first cousin of Muhammad, was known as al-ḥi[a]br al-`arab (Rabbi of the Arabs). Many Muslims have regarded him as the father of tafsīr because he is thought to have written the first Islamic tafsīr work (Goldziher, 1970:65f; Sezgin GAS I:25; Goldfield,1981). Exegetical traditions stemming from Ibn `Abbās are especially rich in lexicographical insights and the Islamo-biblica, Abrahamica or Isrā’īliyyāt. A knowledgeable companion of the Prophet, he was an important collector and transmitter of biblical legends stemming from the Yemeni Jewish convert Ka`b
al-Aḥbār (Rippin 1991:166). Many of his associates and students were important second century mufassirūn (Q. commentators). Like other early mufassirūn (Q. commentators) Ibn `Abbās made frequent use of non-literal, interpretation. Goldfeld has noted that his viewpoint was that it was appropiate at times for the Qur'an might be non-literally or allegorically interpreted less it "have no meaning to later generations" (1988:17, 25-27). There seems to have been a very close relationship between the (first Imam) `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661) and Ibn `Abbās. The latter is reported to have said, "What I took from the interpretation of the Quran is from `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib".

A Tafsīr work is attributed to the paternal fīrst cousin of Muhammad, for some the 'Father of Tafsīr'.

 Tafsiir Ibn Abbaas

Veccia Vaglieri, L.

  • `Abd Allāh b. al-'Abbās.' in EI2 1:40-1.;

On ascription and authenticity see Rippin cited above on al-Fīrūzābādī. 

  • Tafsīr Ibn `Abbās.. Şaḥīfa `Alī b. Abī Ṭalḥa `an Ibn `Abbās fī tafsīr al-Qur'ān al-Karīm. Beirut: Mu'assat al-Kutub al-Shaqāfīyya. 1411/1991.

  • Tanwīr  al‑miqbās min tafsīr Ibn `Abbās. Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-`Ilmiyya, 1412/1992 (664pp.). *

  • Gharīb al-Qur'ān, ēd. Muhammad 'Abd al-Rahīm, Beirut 1993

Goldfeld, Isaiah.

  • "The Tafsīr of `Abdallah b `Abbas." Islam. 58 (1981): 125-135.

Rippin, Andrew.

  • `Tafsīr Ibn `Abbas and Criteria for Dating Tafsīr Texts' JSAI  XIX (1994), 38-83. also in Rippin, The Qur'ān and its Interpretive Tradition. ( = Variorum Collected Studies Series. Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum, 2001), Item XV

  • `Ibn 'Abbas's Al-lughat fi'l-Qur'ān'  in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 44, No. 1 (1981), 15-25

  • "Ibn 'Abbas's Gharib al-Qur'ān." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 46 (1983): 332-33.

  •  "Tafsīr Ibn 'Abbas and Criteria for Dating Early Tafsīr Texts. "Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 18 (1995): 38-83.

Motzki, H. 
  • `Dating the so-called Tafsīr Ibn `Abbas: some additional remarks' in JSAI 31 (2006 =  Studies in memory of Professor Franz Rosenthal) , 2  pp.

Tafsīr Ibn `Abbas, trans. Mokrane Guezzou


  • Tafsīr Ibn Abbas (= The Great Commentaries on the Holy Qur’an Series Volume II) Translated by Mokrane Guezzou General Editor: Yousef Meri 931 pp. Amman [Jordon] : Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought & Fons Vitae Publishing (USA).  ISBN: 1891785176 ISBN-13: 9781891785177.
  • "Tafsīr Ibn Abbas, presented here in complete English translation for the first time ever, is the second work in the Great Commentaries on the Holy Qur'ān series. The series aims to make widely available leading exegetical works in translation for study and research in unabridged form, which are faithful to the letter and meaning of the Arabic. Attributed variously to the Companion Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas (d.687CE) and to Ibn Ya'qub al-Firuzabadi (d.1414CE), Tafsīr Ibn Abbas is one of the pivotal works for understanding the environment which influenced the development of Quranic exegesis. Despite its uncertain authorship and its reliance on controversial Israelite stories, Tafsīr Ibn Abbas nevertheless offers valuable insight into the circulation and exchange of popular ideas between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity during the formative phase of Islamic exegesis. This commentary is unabridged and uncensored, like the other works in the Great Commentaries on the Holy Qur’an series. The traditions attributed to Ibn Abbas that are at the core of this work render it as a seminal work of exegesis. Tafsīr Ibn Abbas is unencumbered with isnads, or chains of transmission, and does not contain elaborate theological or philosophical explanations or technical grammatical explanations, thus making the work accessible to the non-specialist. Muslim scholarship considers the author Ibn Abbas as the real father of the science of Tafsīr. The reports related from Ibn Abbas regarding the interpretation of the Qur’an are quite abundant. In fact, there is almost no interpretation of a Qur’anic verse for which one cannot find an interpretation to Ibn Abbas.
  • About the Translator: Dr. Mokrane Guezzou is a British-Algerian translator of major Islamic works. His translation of Al-Wahidi’s Asbab Al-Nuzul also appears in the Great Commentaries on the Holy Qur’an series. He is also presently at work on a translation and study of Ibn ‘Ata Allah al-Iskandari’s Al-Qasd al-Mujarrad fi Ma’rifat al-Ism al-Mufrad (Fons Vitae). About the General Editor: Dr. Yousef Waleed Meri is a leading specialist in Islam of the pre-modern period, Islamic cultural and social history and interfaith relations. He received a B.A. (Magna cum laude) from University of California, Berkeley in 1992, an M.A. from the State University of New York Binghamton in 1995 and a D.Phil. from Wolfson College, Oxford University in 1999. Currently, he is a Fellow and Special Scholar in Residence at the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought (Amman, Jordan), which is under the patronage of Abdallah II, King of Jordan. He has published numerous articles and books dealing with various aspects of Islamic history, civilization and ritual practice."

Abū `Abd-Allāh Wahb b. Munabbih (b. Sana c. 34 / 654-5 -d. c.110 / 728 or 114/732?).

Probably a Yemenite Jew of Persian descent, Wahb was an important authority on Abrahamic scripture and legend, especially South Arabian lore. A work of Tafsir is attributed to him as are various writings expressive of his interest in Abrahamic religious traditions and literatures often expressive of Islamo-Biblica.Though perhaps another name for part of his Kitab al-mubtadāī (Book of Creationī), his Kitab al-Isrā’īliyyāt (Book of Israelitica) is the title of one of his  several lost books (Duri, 1983:128f). It appears to have been a work whose contents were acquired from Yemenite Jewish hakhamim and from Christians and others (Hirschberg, EJ 16:241-2). A Sīrat al-nabī (Treatise on the Life of the Prophet), a Maghāzī Rasūl Allāh (Account of military expeditions of the Messenger of God) and a compilation entitled Kitab al-qadr (Book of Destiny) are attributed to him. A recension of his Kitab al-Mulūk .. min Ḥimyar... (The Book of the Himyarite Kings...) by Ibn Hishām, known as the K. al-Tijān fī mulūk al-Ḥimyar (The Book of the Crowned Kings of the Himyarites) has been described as "a rich mine of Arabian fable. These works of Wahb b. Munabbih are attested as early as 229/843-4 (Rosenthal, 1968:335 fn.2) and in even earlier streams of the Tafsīr tradition. Numerous respected Muslim authorities, including Ibn Isḥāq, al-Ṭabarī and al-Kisāī cite him approvingly though some modern Muslim anti- Isrā’īliyyāt authorities regard him as unreliable. Adang has recently referred to Wahb b. Munabbih as the "foremost transmitter of biblical narratives" (1996:10).

  • Tafsir (lost as a single codex?).

Mujāhid b. Jabr al-Makkī (d. c.104/722).

Sunnī and Shī`ī sources regard Mujāhid b. Jabr al-Makkī (d. c.104/722) as a diligent, apparently proto-Shī`ī Q. commentator and an avid collector of expository pre-Islamic lore. A rationalist pupil of both Ibn `Abbās and Imam `Alī, he collected Abrahamic and related materials expository of the Q. (Ibn Sa`d, Tabaqāt, 5:344, 467). Mujāhid is even said to have travelled to Babel (Babylon) in order to more adequately expound the qur’ānic legend of the fallen angels Hārūt and Mārūt. Isrā’īliyyāt traditions linked to him are found throughout the tafsīr tradition. They are registered in the influential Tafsīr of Ṭabarī. Probable Abrahamic or Jewish-Christian influence through Mujāhid is seen in exegetical traditions pointing to Muhammad being, like the divine Jesus, "seated" upon the celestial Divine Throne (cf. Ps.110:1; Rev. 3:21) (See bn Ḥanbal, Musnad I:375f; etc.; Rosenthal, tr. Ṭabarī, Tarīkh, 1:75ff; Dhahabī, Siyār A`lām, noted Sālīḥī, 199X:10; Rippin, Mudjāhid, EI2).



Early Tafsir traditions attributed to the early (Twelver) Shi`i Imams

Traditions expressive of the Shī`ī affirmation of deep, inner senses in the Q. are especially found in statements of the
fourth and sixth Imams, Muhammad al-Bāqir (d. c.126/743) and Ja`far al-Ṣādiq (d. c. 148/765). They allegedly held that If the revelation of the Q. only had meaning with regard to the person or group of people to whom one or another verse was revealed, then the entire Q. would be dead today. Nay, rather! the sacred Book, the Q., is alive. It will never die for its verses will be fulfilled among the people of the future just as they have been fulfilled among those of the past (Ibn `Āmilī al-Iṣfahānī, Tafsīr mir`āt al-anwār, I: 5-6; Corbin [paraphrase in]1995:90; cf. Lawson, 1993:195f.

Imam Muhammad al-Bāqir (d. c. 126/743), the fifth Imam.

الدكتورة نهلة غروي نائيني

An 856 page work of compilation of exegetical traditions attributed to Imam Muhammad al-Bāqir arranged after the Surahs of the Qur'an to which they relate.

Ja'far al-Ṣādiq (d.148/765) - the sixth (twelver) Shī`ī Imam.

An important though little studied major fountainhead of Imami Shī`ī hadith and Tafsīr traditions treasured by Sufīs and others. In the Tafsīr traditions ascribed to Imam Sādiq he is reckoned to have deep senses and mysteries enshrined in the Q. His Tafsīr contains a statement to the effect that the Q. consists of `ibāra (expression) and ishāra (allusion). The former is essentially the ẓāhir (exterior) and bāṭin (interiority) aspects of the Q. which are the preserve of the common believer.  Its deeper allusive (ishāra) dimension is the inward delight of the khawaṣṣ, the privileged elect (Ja`far al-Ṣādiq, Tafsīr, 123, cf. Nwyia. `Ishāra EI2 IV: 114, Exégèse, 156ff). Reputed master of the `ulūm al-ghayb (the esoteric sciences) the sixth Imam is believed to have authored an allegorically oriented Tafsīr work (al-Ṣādiq, al-Tafsīr; Habil, 1987 ch.3; Sells, 1996:75f).

"Editions of separate Qur’an commentaries are available for Ja`far al-Sādiq (Nwyia, 1968a), Nūrī (Nwyia, 1968b), Ibn`Atā’ (Nwyia, 1973, pp. 23–182) and Hallāj (Massignon, 1968, pp. 359–412)These four tafsīrs have been reproduced (with Nwyia’s original French introductions to his editions of the commentaries by Ja`far al-Sādiq and Ibn ‘Atā’ translated into Persian) in Pūrjavādī (1369, pp. 1–292)... " (Rostom, Mohammed in `Forms of Gnosis in Sulamī’s Sufi Exegesis of the Fātiha' in Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations, Vol. 16, No. 4 (October 2005),  p. 336. fn.4.

Nwyia, Paul,

Zadeh, Ensieh Nasrollahi

See also extracts in translation in Michael Sells



Muqātil b. Sulaymān al-Khurāsānī (d. Baṣra, 150/767)

The possibly Zaydī (Shī`ī) commentator Muqātil b. Sulaymān al-Khurāsānī (d. Baṣra, 150/767) was a very important early transmitter of Isrā’īliyyat. In his historically oriented Tafsīr he gave much attention to the "biblical pre-history" of verses, as Versteegh refers to the Isrā’īliyyāt (Plessener [Rippin] `Mukātil b. Sulayman’ EI2 VIII: 508-9.1 Muqātil cited many exegetical traditions that can be traced back to the ahl al-kitāb (people of the Book). His haggadic type exegesis leaves little unexplained. The name, for example, of the namla (female ant) with which Solomon held converse is given as jarmī (Muqātil,Tafsīr III:299 on Q. 27:18).

Ḥasan al-`Askarī (11th Shiite Imam, d. 260/873-4).

  • Tafsīr al-`Askari [attributed to the 11th Imam Ḥasan] al-`Askarī. Qumm: ADD., 1409/ 1988-9.


Sahl al-Dīn al-Ṭustarī (d. 283/896).

Sufi allegorical-mystical tafsīr is very closely related and at times identical to Shī`ī tafsīr. A non-literal hermeneutic is often adopted. The Tafsīr al-Qur’ān attributed to al-Ṭustarī is perhaps the oldest continuous Sufi tafsīr. It is related to but goes beyond the tradition of Ibn `Abbās. Commenting upon the isolated letter al-qāf in the sūra of the same name (Q. 50), Ṭustarī reckons that it outwardly (ẓāhir) indicates the first created, world-surrounding, Mt. Qāf (al-jabal, Tafsīr, 92). The creation in six days mentioned in the Sūrat al-ḥadīd (Iron, Q. 57:3 cf. Gen.1) is expounded relative to the "He is the First and the Last" and associated with the al-ism al-a`ẓam (most mighty Name of God), with the six verses  which commence sūra 50 (Tafsīr, 98).(Bowering, 1980:145ff; Sells 1996:92-95).


The Arabic Tafsīr of al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/ 922) and its Persian recreation.
The foundational, massively erudite,  Jāmi`al-bayān `an ta’wīl āy al-Qur’ān (The Assembling of the Exposition of the Exegesis of the verses of the Q.) of Abū Ja`far Muhammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī demands mention. It is cited approvingly in many Shī`ī sources including the Biḥar al-anwār of Majlisī. Drawing on the accumulated mass of exegetical traditions, al-Ṭabarī incorporates paraphrased biblical history and Isra’iliyyāt exegetical traditions often as relayed by Wahb b. Munabbih from the ahl al-kitāb (Newby 1980: 688). Though he avoids the direct citation of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament he does make considerable use of biblical paraphrase including a "detailed account of the story of the conquest of Canaan by Joshua"1 and of Gospel narratives of Jesus’ life and miracles. In upholding the post-qur’ānic notion of the literal taḥrīf ("corruption", "falsification") of both parts of the Bible, he had a negative
effect on the Muslim view of the Bible (see below).

Abū `Alī Muhammad Bal`amī (d. c. 387/997).
The Arabic tafsīr of al-Ṭabarī was early, freely "translated" ( actually recreated) into Persian prose by a group of `ulamā including Abū `Alī Muhammad Bal`amī (d. c. 387/997). This for Manṣūr b. Nūḥ (d. 365/976), the Samānid ruler of Transoxiana and Khurasan who found the Arabic difficult. The translation was apparently authorized by a fatwa rooted in Q.14:4 which had it that all pre-Ishmaelite prophets and kings had spoken 1 See Hirschberg `Bible: Religious Impact’ in Islam’ EJ., 4 [CD]; Ṭabarī, Tarīkh, 514ff; trans. Brinner, History III:96ff.




Qajar era Shi`i Tafsir writings.