by Zafar Bangash
With the publication of this third volume of the tafsir, The Ascendant Qur’an, by Imam Muhammad al-'Asi, we conclude the explanation of Surah al-Baqarah, the longest surah of the Qur’an. Because so much of this surah is related to the transformational nature of a functioning Islamic society, we could only get the point across by showing the Muslims the wayward nature of the modern societies they would be expected to reorganize. Such a description of the Islamic social order and why it is a panacea for an unsettled world, driven to the brink by a systemic departure from Allah’s (SWT) guiding light, could not be contained in one volume.
This tafsir was conceived as a handbook for the Islamic movement, and thus it is imperative for the movement to understand the world it lives in, and the world it must shape for future generations. For this reason, we could not afford to leave out important guideposts for the ideological course of the movement. We — the publishers and editors — did not wish to impose limits on the space needed by the mufassir, Imam al-'Asi, in explaining the ayat of the noble Qur’an, hence the decision to spread the tafsir of Surah al-Baqarah over three volumes. Given that many important rules relating to family, social, cultural, political, and economic aspects are highlighted in this surah, which is placed at the beginning of this exquisite Qur’an, their explanation, we hope, would help readers internalize foundational meanings as they journey through the rest of the noble Book. Thereby the meanings of subsequent surahs would be better understood if many concepts are clarified earlier.
The Qur’an is our companion in the solitude of the night and in the hustle and bustle of the working day; and in life’s ups and downs as we journey through this world secure in the knowledge that our Merciful Creator is always there to steady our uncertain steps and inconsistent hearts . It is our guide for all times as its pristine principles keep reminding us of the commands of Allah (SWT), the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds. How faithfully and sincerely we conform our lives and choices to them will determine our station in the hereafter. A tafsir in English, therefore, becomes a necessity for those English-speakers not fully familiar with the Arabic language. In fact, even Arabic speakers from the earliest days of Islam have had to rely on tafsirs. The first tafsirs were written in Arabic; later other languages — Turkish, Persian, Urdu, and others — spoken by Muslims, who were entering the din from non-Arabic speaking lands, were utilized. The aim in each case, regardless of the mufassir’s mother tongue, was to convey an understanding of the noble Qur’an to as many people as possible with the original tenor, cadence, force, and meaning of the original Qur’anic Arabic. Until the release of The Ascendant Qur’an, there were no bona fide tafsirs in English, only translations, some of them with detailed footnotes, but nonetheless still translations that always fell short compared to their Arabic counterparts. This literary and ideological vacuum necessitated something comprehensive for the English-speaking Muslims and indeed non-Muslims in the form of this tafsir.
Imam al-'Asi’s tafsir is not only the first in English but it is also very extensively detailed, adding to the rich tradition of existing Islamic tafsir literature.1 If Allah (SWT) wills, it may become one of the most comprehensive tafsirs ever produced and would easily exceed the 20 volumes we had initially estimated. The aim here is not to produce numerous volumes. As Imam al-'Asi explains, there is so much to clarify relating to the principles and injunctions of the Qur’an that, hard as he may try, it is not posible to capture the full range of Qur’anic meanings in a few sentences or pages. This is the result of two inter-related factors, both having to do with the English language. First, English translations of the Qur’an cannot fully reflect the depth and profundity of the divine Book. Translations by their very nature are limited in scope and cannot probe the multi-layered meanings of the Qur’an. Second, because of its secular nature the English language is not amenable to accurately convey the divine message. In order to fully appreciate the true depth of meanings contained in the ayat of the Quran, detailed explanations become necessary. This is what Imam al-'Asi attempts in this tafsir.
For all Muslims, and indeed others who sincerely study this tafsir, we are confident they will gain a better and deeper understanding of the divine Book. It is only through such understanding that they would be able to conform more closely to the divine command, to get confidence in a prescription for transformational change, and to translate their commitment into discharging the human responsibility of building a just society for all people. If by engaging this tafsir, Muslims gain a better understanding and are drawn closer to the divine Book, then we feel our efforts would have been rewarded.
Both the mufassir, Imam al-'Asi, and the editor of this tafsir, Brother Afeef Khan, deserve our gratitude and thanks for their dedication in completing these volumes. Writing as well as editing the tafsir are enormous responsibilities; these have been performed with great care. We pray to Allah (SWT) to reward them both as well as all those who have or continue to help and support this noble project. Finally, we pray to Allah (SWT) to accept these humble efforts from us. Amin.
Director, Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
2 Jumada al-Akhirah, 1430 AH (9 June 2009)
1. In writing this tafsir Imam al-'Asi, has formally consulted with up to 22 other tafsirs as references. One, a few, or all of the following tafsirs, in which the original hadiths of the Prophet (SAW) or sayings of other individuals may be found, have been utilized. Imam al-'Asi chose the first five of these because they have consolidated the information in the previously well-known tafsirs including al-Tabari, Ibn Kathir, al-Zamakhshari, al-Qurtubi, and al-Razi.
Other tafsirs that were consulted but not referenced as extensively include the following four,