Ulum al Qur'an
CONTENTS ONLINE LIBRARY
Tafsir and Ta'wil
The word tafsir is derived from the root 'fassara' to explain, to expound. It means 'explanation' or 'interpretation'. In technical language the word tafsir is used for explanation, interpretation and commentary on the Qur'an, comprising all ways of obtaining knowledge, which contributes to the proper understanding of it, explains its meanings and clarifies its legal implications. [See Zarkashi, op.cit., 1, p. 13.] The word mufassir (pl. mufassirun) is the term used for the person doing the tafsir, i.e. the 'exegete' or 'commentator'.
The word ta'wil, which is also used in this connection, is derived from the root 'awwala' and also means 'explanation, interpretation' .
In technical language it similarly refers to explanation and interpretation of the Qur'an.
Tafsir in the language of the scholars means explanation and clarification. It aims at knowledge and understanding concerning the book of Allah, to explain its meanings, extract its legal rulings and grasp its underlying reasons. Tafsir explains the 'outer' (zahir) meanings of the Qur'an. Ta'wil is considered by some to mean the explanation of the inner and concealed meanings of the Qur'an, as far as a knowledgeable person can have access to them. Others are of the opinion that there is no difference between Tafsir and ta'wil.