Exegetical Trends of the Shi’a During Imam Baqir’s Era – Exploring the Dialectical of Exoteric vs Esoteric (Zahir & Batin) and Revelation vs Interpretation (Tanzil & Ta’wil)

Exegetical Trends of the Shi’a During Imam Baqir’s Era – Exploring the Dialectical of Exoteric vs Esoteric (Ẓāhir & Bāṭin) and Revelation vs Interpretation (Tanzīl & Ta’wīl)

Original in Persian Written By Dr. S.M. Hadi Gerami

Translated by Muhammad Jaffer and Sayyid Burair Abbas


Studies exploring the historical development of exegesis abound in the field of Qur’ānic studies, and a great deal of effort has already been expended on this frontier. Nonetheless, until now, an independent study regarding the exegetical trends in early Shi’ism based on a rigorous historiographical approach has been severely lacking. The need for this type of analysis becomes even more pressing when we surmise, as per the mainstream reading, that the exegetical approach in the early Shī’ite literature had been esoteric/tradition-based, which lent a firm basis for the emergence of extremist tendencies. Through utilizing extant exegetical narrations from the time of Imām Al-Bāqir (a), this study endeavors to explore the original dialectics that surrounded the term “esoteric exegesis” (Tafsīr-e-Bāṭin) during his era. By employing a historiographical methodology of Qur’ānic exegesis, this study will demonstrate that in the early 2nd century, there were two discernible exegetical dialectics among the Imāmites. The proponents of the first approach who adopted an exoteric/esoteric (Ẓāhir and Bāṭin)[1] dialectic belonged to the entourage of Mufaḍḍal ibn ‘Umar Al-Ju’fī. The proponents of the second approach, which comprised the overwhelming majority of the Imāmites, advanced the revelation/interpretation (Tanzīl and Tâwīl) dialectic and interpreted the esoteric aspect of the Qur’ān in this light.[2]

1. Introduction

Every Islamic sect throughout history has expended a great deal of effort to find grounding for its beliefs in the Qur’ān. From this standpoint, exploring the early Shi’ite extremist and esoteric movements in relation to Qur’ānic exegesis is particularly important. One of the earliest genre of Qur’ānic exegesis found amongst those accused of extremism (al-ghuluẃ)[3] from the Shī‘a was the Bāṭinī Tafsīr –or esoteric exegesis. In the extant bibliographical literature (al-Fahāris), several such manuscripts can be found attributed to figures from 2nd and 3rd Hijri centuries. Nonetheless, in the academic clime that specializes in the study of Shi’ite extremism[4], the expression “esoteric exegesis” rarely features prominently. Even in the instances where this subject is alluded to, it is done so based on a cliched understanding whereby the terms “interpretational” (tâwīl) and “esoteric” (bāṭin) are taken as synonymous. Furthermore, until now no academic investigation has endeavored to study the exegetical trends of the early Shī’a. Of course, most recently a book was published in the USA regarding the allegorical exegesis of the Ismā’ilis in the context of Ismā’ili missionary movements. Nevertheless, this study also did not at all concern itself with historical analysis regarding esoteric exegesis, especially in the second century Hijri.[5]

The studies which have thus far been penned on this topic can be generally divided into two groups:

1) Those studies that analyze the influence of the extremists and their narrations upon the Imāmite exegetical corpus; at times, Tafāsīr are then subjected to appraisal on this basis (cf. Pourkirman, Dahghan Mangabadi, Diyari Bidgoli, Rostumi Harani and Muaddab, Rostami Harani, Zari Shaybani, Mirsadeghi, Fiqhizadeh, and Sarraf).

2) The classic discussions regarding exegesis which analyze symbolic, mystical, and esoteric trends (Nikunam, Shamkhi, Rizai Isfahani, Parvini and Dasab, Shakir). However, even these analyses do not directly address the early exegetical currents of the Shī’a, especially as it pertains to the dichotomy of esotericism/exotericism.[6] As has already been elucidated, the mainstream reading takes the word esoteric as synonymous with interpretational. However, the import of the terms exoteric/esoteric in the historical context of early exegetical currents has heretofore not been practically analyzed. In this essay, we seek to treat exactly this issue.

On the other hand, the earliest extant Shī’ite Tafāsīr are narration-based, dating back to the third and fourth Hijri centuries.[7] These would come to serve as the basis for the traditionist-based Tafāsīr of the Imāmites in the latter period and are referred to as esoteric or allegorical Tafāsīr. The question here is to what extent these Tafāsīr—which are characterized today as esoteric—can really be substantiated as reflecting the narrations about esoteric Tafsīr dating back to the second and third centuries AH? To what extent is it defensible to adopt such a cliched view of the Shī’ite exegetical corpus, which adopts a myopic understanding of concepts such as esotericism, extremism, and interpretation, neglecting to account for the dialectical trends in Shī’ite Tafsīr? Could a careful historical analysis of this issue possibly challenge our contemporary assumptions regarding early Imāmite exegesis?

In the study before you, through examining the concept of the dialectic and adopting a historiographical approach[8], we return to the traditions that discuss the dichotomy[9] of esoteric/exoteric and revelation/interpretation in order to provide an analysis of these diametrically opposed methodologies in the time of Imām Al-Bāqir (a)—methodologies that each had their respective proponents among the companions of the Imām (a).

2. Perspectives Regarding the Concepts of Esoteric and Exoteric in the Early Islamic Centuries 

The study of esoteric exegesis among the Imāmi Shī’ites is not a matter which can be studied separately from the overarching debates in early Islam. For this reason, analyzing the theories that were put forward regarding the import of the words “exoteric” and “esoteric” becomes necessary. In addition, as the reports and discussions cited in this study will show, although the dialectic of exoteric/esoteric was well-recognized and commonplace, these terms were quite ambiguous. Especially for the term esoteric, a serious obscurity existed which drew tradents towards further inquiry on its dimensions. In this context, it was natural that intellectual exploration should abound in understanding these concepts.

In researching the works of early Shī’ite and Sunni writers in the early Islamic period, one can identify individuals who endeavored to report the various theories espoused about the import of this dichotomy (i.e., “esoteric” vs “exoteric”). Categorizing these general views facilitates one’s understanding of the Imamites’ exegetical reports during this period, as we will show later in this essay.

The earliest reference to the exegetical dichotomy of exoteric and esoteric ought to be found in the words of Abū ‘Ubayd Qāsim bin Sallām (d. 224 AH). He endeavored to report the theoretical classifications amongst Muslim scholars on the meaning of these terms in the early third century. He makes it clear that there is a difference of opinion among scholars regarding the dichotomy of extrinisic/intrinsic. According to him, the view of Ḥasan Al-Baṣri was that extrinsic/intrinsic implied a sense of interpolation between the superficial and the deep layers of an object. Another view espoused that the extrinsic was the apparent text of the Qur’ān whereas the intrinsic was its interpretation. Another view, which Ibn Sallām considers to be the best view, is that the exoteric consists of the apparent news regarding the destruction of nations, while the esoteric comprises the underlying admonitions and moral lessons relevant for the audience today.[10]

After him, Al-Sayyid Al-Raḍī (d. 403 AH) in his aA-Majāzāt Al-Nabawīyyah mentions three views on these words, referencing the famous Ḥadīth:

“No verse of the Qur’ān has been revealed except that it has an extrinsic and an intrinsic aspect; every letter has a limit and every limit has a particularization [or a beginning].”[11]

The first view states that the Qur’ān has various facets and interpretations; a second view holds that the exoteric is the revelation and the direct words of the Qur’ān, while the esoteric consists of interpretation and gleaned Qur’ānic principles. The third view resembles the one mentioned by Ibn Sallām where the stories and reports about different nations in the past are the exoteric, while the moral lessons and admonitions are considered the esoteric.

Shaykh Ṭūsi (d. 460 AH), another Imāmi scholar, in his Tafsīr Al-Tibyān also enumerates some opinions, reflecting the opinions of the four centuries of scholarship that preceded him. According to his report, the first opinion maintains the exoteric consists of the stories of the Qur’ān, particularly regarding the destruction of previous nations, and the esoteric comprises admonitions and moral lessons. Al-Ṭūsi attributes a second view to Ibn Mas’ūd, who says the exoteric is the acts and deeds of previous nations while the esoteric is the message of the Qur’ān, indicating the repeated pattern of these deeds by future nations. A third view says the exoteric is the words of the Qur’ān and its esoteric is its interpretation. A fourth view is attributed to Ḥasan Al-Baṣri who says that the esoteric is that which when acquired and compared with the exoteric aspect of the verse, it is only then when the real meaning of a verse is understood.[12]

Al-Zarkashī (d. 794 AH) is the fourth thinker who explains the theoretical differentiations in understanding this dichotomy in an identical manner to Al-Ṭūsi.

Based on the reports by these thinkers, the mainstream theories regarding the difference between extrinsic/intrinsic aspects of the Qur’ān in the early Hijri period can be summarized in order of fame as follows:

i) Perhaps the most famous opinion espoused that the external aspect of the Qur’ān was the selfsame words of revelation that composed it, while the internal aspect was its interpretation. This viewpoint is cited by all the aforementioned scholars.

ii) Another viewpoint that is also repeated by all is that the exoteric consisted of the Qur’ānic stories describing the destruction of previous nations, while the esoteric was the lessons that others could derive from them.

iii) The third viewpoint may best be described as the “esoteric current” in that it advocated that all the apparent Qur’ānic stories had instantiations in the past, but that the internal dimension of the Qur’ān dictated that they would also have instantiations in the present and future—that forever and always, there would be people who would become the addressees of these verses.

iv) According to another view, the meaning of esoteric is that through which the external meaning of the Qur’ān can only be grasped. There were also other miscellaneous viewpoints alluded to regarding the underlying and overlying meanings of the Qur’ān and its multiple interpretations.[13]

3. The Dichotomy of Esoteric and Exoteric and its Respective Dialectic Until The Second-Century Hijri

After a cursory theoretical overview of the viewpoints in circulation regarding the dichotomy between exoteric vs esoteric during the early Hijri period, we may better understand the context in which the dialectics regarding this dichotomy emerged within Shī’ite circles.

The terms exoteric and esoteric in Islamic thought are first seen in the Qur’ān itself. In Surah Ḥadīd verse 3, Surah Rūm verse 7, Surah Luqmān verse 20 and Surah Najm verse 32.[14] In none of these verses do the terms exoteric and esoteric have anything to do with the Qur’ān itself. The earliest attribution of these terms to the Qur’ān itself seems to be a Prophetic narration transmitted by early Muslims, in which the Prophet is reported to have said, “The Qurān has an extrinsic and intrinsic aspect, and for every intrinsic aspect there are seven more intrinsic aspects.”[15] In another Prophetic tradition he says, “It has an extrinsic aspect and an intrinsic one; its extrinsic aspect is its edict, and its intrinsic aspect is its knowledge, its extrinsic aspect is elegant and its intrinsic aspect is profound.”[16] These narrations indicate not only that there is more than simply one layer to the Qur’ān; rather they also allude to the specific characteristics of each level.

Despite this, there is no clear evidence that a discourse on “esoteric exegesis” was developed during the lifetime of the Prophet or even immediately after him. All these reports show is the Prophet using the terms extrinsic and intrinsic for the Qur’ān, but not that an actual discourse amongst Muslims existed regarding these terms.[17] As such, in understanding the development of the esoteric exegetical dialectic in the Prophetic era, no discernible information is available other than a handful of narrations. Even under the auspices of a broader reading of esoteric exegesis of the Qur’ān, we cannot conclude that our contemporary understanding of abstract exegesis is compatible with these Prophetic narrations.

There is one Prophetic narration from Shaykh Ṣadūq narrated through ‘Abd al-Azīm Al-Ḥasani in which an abstract interpretation for a verse is given by the Prophet.[18] Besides this, there is almost nothing in Shī’ī and non-Shī‘ī ḥadīth works which show the Prophet(s) espousing any esoteric interpretations or informing us about them.[19] Despite these one or two reports, there are not enough data to establish that the Prophet(s) was engaging in this type of discourse during his era. This is because it has been established elsewhere that in later times, the Imāms (as) would attribute a lot of their knowledge to the Prophet without an explicit chain of transmitters – something that is reconcilable within the theological understanding of the Imāmites. This implies that it is hard to establish that what the Imāms attributed to the Prophet was necessarily said by him verbatim with a connected chain, as done by the Prophet’s companions. If that is the case, there is no way to prove such a culture of abstract exegesis was advocated by the Prophet or such a discourse existed amongst the companions. Of course, this is after establishing that there is no chance these one or two later reports could have been fabricated. But even in this case, these narrations alone are insufficient to clarify for us the nature of this esoteric Quranic exegesis in the Prophetic era.

It should however still be reiterated; it seems the Prophet did use the terms extrinsic and intrinsic. What we are questioning is whether this turned into a discourse amongst the companions and a method of exegesis during the Prophet’s own time or not. The sentence “its extrinsic aspect is elegant and its intrinsic aspect is profound; its wonders do not cease and its marvels do not end; and darkness is not rent asunder except by it” has been used by Imām ‘Ali in Nahj Al-Balāghah. It is highly likely that the Imām’s intertextual use of this phrase was inspired by the Prophet’s own words, and this evinces that this viewpoint had already been crystallized in the Prophet’s lifetime.

Furthermore, some narrations attributed to the companions also show they knew about the dichotomy of extrinsic and intrinsic. Consider Ibn Mas’ūd who says:

“Indeed the Qur’ān was revealed on seven readings; there is no reading except that it has an extrinsic and intrinsic aspect, and indeed ‘Ali ibn Abi Tālib has knowledge of its esoteric and exoteric. The meaning of the internal aspect of the Qur’ān is its interpretation, as said in the Qur’ān itself “none knows its interpretation except God and those firmly rooted in knowledge.”” (Tha’labi, vol. 1, pg. 53; Suyūti vol. 4, pg. 233)

Once again, it seems Ibn Mas‘ūd was inspired by something that Prophet had said, and was not making his own division up.

Another indicator that shows the Prophet having used the phraseology of external and internal is an extant Shī’ite narration from Imām Al-Bāqir (a) where some companions ask him about this same Prophetic narration that says there is no verse except that it has an extrinsic and intrinsic aspect.[20]

This narration also shows the presence of a discourse around the time of Imām Al-Bāqir (a) in the early 2nd century Hijri and in contrast to the earlier Prophetic narrations[21], it indicates that there was debate about this topic which led these individuals to inquire about it. In this narration, the preceding Prophetic narration is cited directly in the question of the narrator, implying that this Prophetic declaration was well-recognized at the time. As such, discourses such as these from the era of Imām Al-Bāqir (a) are a testament to the fact that this Prophetic narration was used at the time of Imām Al-Bāqir (a) to construct the dialectic between exoteric and esoteric.[22]

4. Shī’ī Affinities Regarding Exegesis During Imām Al-Bāqir’s Era

a. Preface:

Through concentrating on the era of Imām Al-Bāqir (a) and consolidating and analyzing the narrations related to esoteric exegesis, we can derive that two overarching dialectics had matured. Even though these two discourses have points of similarities with one another, there are still yet clear differences between them that a historian can easily identify.

The first discourse revolves around a number of Shī’ite companions, who have been described by some contemporary researchers as the “group of Mufaḍḍal.” This set of Imāmi companions include names like Jābir b. Yazīd Al-Ju’fi, Abu Hamza Al-Thumāli, Mufaḍḍal b. ‘Umar Al-Ju’fi, Muḥammad b. Sinān Al-Ẓahiri, Dawūd b. Kathīr Al-Riqqi and others, who all had a very specific approach to socio-communal religious discourse. The rest of the Imāmi companions at that time were attached to a discourse that utilized the terms interpretation and revelation.

The reality is that we are faced with two central trends of exoteric and esoteric exegesis among the Imāmites in this period. The explanation of Mufaḍḍal’s group was a sort of peculiarized representation of these two concepts within their own presupposed framework, and it had very little to ldo with the popular view of the Imamites when it came to the dialectic of revelation vs interpretation. Relative to the theories about extrinsic and intrinsic exegesis that were mentioned earlier[23], we find that Mufaḍḍal’s camp adopted a theory that was clearly alien to all these views. Meanwhile, the dialectic of revelation/interpretation was the selfsame majority theory we identified earlier regarding this dichotomy; this suggests that the group of Mufaḍḍal tried to take advantage of the ambiguity in this dichotomy to form an interpretation that lent credence to their own beliefs.

b. The Group of Mufaḍal b. Umar and Their Approach to the Qur’ān Through the Discourse on Extrinsic and Intrinsic

i. The Trend of Mufaḍḍal’s Group as it Pertained to Exegesis:

Most of the narrations and reports concerning the extrinsic and intrinsic aspect of verses have been transmitted by individuals associated with Mufaḍḍal b. ‘Umar or those who were accused of extremism, foremost of them being Jābir b. Yazīd Al-Ju’fi[24] and Abu Hamza Al-Thumāli.[25]

The exegesis of Jābir and Abu Hamza Al-Thumāli which has recently been reconstructed and published in around 500 pages clearly depicts the nature of Qur’ānic interpretation advocated by this group. It also indicates the breadth of the exegetical corpus attributed to Jābir b. Yazid al Ju’fi and Abu Hamza Al-Thumāli, which among early Imāmite companions is quite unique.[26]

In actuality while most other Imāmi groups were predominantly occupied with writing and preserving the jurisprudential tradition, amongst this group of Mufaḍḍal, it is very evident that the jurisprudential discussions were only a marginal discussion among them. Besides determining this from the names of books attributed to them, two statements from Kashshī and Najāshī are a very explicit early testimony to this fact:

Najāshī says regarding Jābir b. Yazīd Al-Ju’fi that there are very few matters of Halāl and Harām that have come down to us from him (p. 128).

Kashshī records a report from Muḥammad bin Sinān who announced in the Masjid of Kūfa that “whoever seeks difficult theoretical issues (Al-Mu’ḍilāt) then they should refer to me, but whoever seeks knowledge of the licit and illicit, then they should refer to the Shaykh – i.e. Ṣafwān bin Yahya”.[27]

Among the Mu’ḍilāt intended by Muḥammad bin Sinān are the non-jurisprudential matters like exegesis. Consider the case of Al-Munakhkhal bin Jamīl, a teacher of Ibn Sinān, and an author of a Tafsīr work which was transmitted by Ibn Sinān.[28] His name also appears in Tafsīr of ‘Ali bin Ibrahīm Al-Qummi very often.[29]

Jābir bin Yazīd Al-Ju’fi was also an author of a Tafsīr work. It is interesting to note that this Tafsīr has two paths, one of them going through Munakhkhal bin Jamīl and the other through ‘Abdullah bin Muḥammad Al-Ju’fi – who is also considered weak by Najāshī.[30]

In a conversation between Mufaḍḍal and Imām Ṣādiq (a), Mufaḍḍal asks the Imam regarding the Tafsīr of Jābir and the Imām says to not publicize the teachings of that exegesis to lowly people who do not have the capacity for it.[31]

This report is significant as far as its content tells us that Jābir’s Tafsīr work contained esoteric interpretations. The narrator transmitting this report from Mufaḍḍal is ‘Ali bin Al-Ḥasan Al-Hāshimi who is also from the camp of Mufaḍḍal, and he himself has a work called Tafsīr Bāṭin. Najāshī considers this book full of discrepancies and Ibn Ghaḍa’irī who had access to the book says it has nothing to do with Islam. Other than him, Muḥammad b. Aruma who was also from the camp of Mufaḍḍal in Qum had a work on Tafsīr All-Bāṭin too.[32] All of these instances show members of this camp had an affinity to write and compile Tafsīr works, which is unlike what we find amongst the rest of the Imāmi companions of the time.

ii. The Relationship Between the Discourse on Knowledge of the Imām and Tafsīr in the view of Mufaḍal’s Camp

An analysis of the intellectual-identity discourse of the Imāmites in the beginning of the second century Hijri, be it in law, theology, exegesis, or Ḥadīth, reveals that they were all closely linked with the discourse on the knowledge of the Imām.

As an example, it has been addressed in my other works that the discourse on Isnād in the beginning of the second century Hijri was related to the knowledge of the Imām. Likewise, the discussions on analogy (Al-Qiyās) and its application by the companions of Hishām ibn Hākam was also in light of how they perceived the knowledge of the Imām.

In this light, it does not seem like the discourse on the exoteric and esoteric exegesis of the Qur’ān was an exception to this rule, rather it was very much related to how the Shi’ites perceived the knowledge of the Imāms. Mentioning this point is necessary, as an investigation into classical Imāmi texts shows the Imām had access to two types of ‘ilm: knowledge of the unseen and knowledge which the Imām acquired through the Qur’ān.

It appears that Mufaḍḍal group’s understanding of the Qur’ānic knowledge of the Imām facilitated their particular reading of the extrinsic and intrinsic aspects of the Qur’ān. As per the reports transmitted from the group of Mufaḍḍal, often from Jabīr ibn Yazīd, the narrations often focus on consolidation of the Qur’ān more so than exegesis of the Qur’ān on both levels of exoteric and esoteric meanings. In other words, narrations from this group tie the understanding of the Qur’ān to knowing the esoteric aspect of the Qur’ān, meaning that someone who has consolidated the apparent and hidden aspects of the Qur’ān with them without any deficiency will naturally have the correct understanding of the Qur’ān with them as well.

What is interesting to note is that from amongst the reports transmitted on this subject, the most explicit report is a narration that contains all the prominent figures of the group of Mufaḍḍal; namely, Muḥammad b. Sinān Al-Ẓahiri, Munakhkhal b. Jamīl, and Jābir Al-Ju’fi:

حدثنا محمد بن الحسين عن محمد بن سنان عن عمار بن مروان عن المنخل عن جابر عن ابى جعفر عليه السلام انه قال ما يستطيع احد ان يدعى انه جمع القرآن كله ظاهره وباطنه غير الاوصياء

Muḥammad ibn Al-Ḥusayn narrates from Muḥammad ibn Sinān from ‘Ammār ibn Marwān from Munakhkhal from Jabīr on the authority of Abu Ja’far (a) that he said: “No one can claim that he has consolidated the whole Qur’ān in its exoteric and its esoteric aspects except the successors (of the Holy Prophet).[33]

حدثنا محمد بن الحسين عن النضر بن شعيب عن عبد الغفار قال سئل رجل ابا جعفر عليه السلام فقال أبو جعفر ما يستطيع احد يقول جمع القرآن كله غير الاوصياء

Muḥammad ibn Al-Ḥusayn narrates from al-Naḍar ibn Shu’āyb from ‘Abd al-Ghaffār that a man asked Abu Ja’far (a) (a question) and he responded, “No one can claim that he has gathered the whole Qur’ān except the successors of the Prophet”.[34]

In another report from Jabīr this is again emphasized with the use of the word “all:”

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ ابْنِ مَحْبُوبٍ عَنْ عَمْرِو بْنِ أَبِي

 الْمِقْدَامِ عَنْ جَابِرٍ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا جَعْفَرٍ ع يَقُولُ‌ مَا ادَّعَى أَحَدٌ مِنَ النَّاسِ أَنَّهُ جَمَعَ الْقُرْآنَ كُلَّهُ كَمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَّا كَذَّابٌ وَ مَا جَمَعَهُ وَ حَفِظَهُ كَمَا نَزَّلَهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى إِلَّا عَلِيُّ بْنُ أَبِي طَالِبٍ ع وَ الْأَئِمَّةُ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ

Muḥammad ibn Yaḥya narrates from Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad from Ibn Maḥbūb from ‘Amr ibn Abi al-Miqdām from Jabīr that he said, “I heard Abu Ja’far (a) say that no person has claimed that he has consolidated the whole Qur’ān as it was revealed except a liar. No one has consolidated and preserved it as it was revealed by God except ‘Ali ibn Abi Tālib (a) and the Imāms after him (as).[35]

In another narration from Abu Hamza Al-Thumāli it is narrated as follows:

 حدثنا عبد الله بن عامر عن أبي عبد الله البرقي عن الحسن بن عثمان عن محمد بن فضيل عن أبي حمزة الثمالي عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال قال أبو جعفر عليه السلام ما أجد من هذه الأمة من جمع القرآن الا الأوصياء

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Āmir narrates from Abu ‘Abdillah Al-Barqi from Al-Ḥasan ibn ‘Uthmān from Muḥammad ibn Fuḍayl from Abu Hamza Al-Thumāli on the authority of Abu Ja’far (a). He said, “Abu Ja’far (a) said: “I do not find anyone in this nation who has consolidated the Qur’ān except the successors (of the Prophet).””[36]

تفسير علي بن إبراهيم: جعفر بن أحمد، عن عبد الكريم بن عبد الرحيم، عن محمد بن علي القرشي، عن محمد بن الفضيل، عن الثمالي، عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال: ما أحد من هذه الأمة جمع القرآن إلا وصي محمد صلى الله عليه وآله

From the Tafsīr of ‘Ali ibn Ibrahīm narrated by Ja’far ibn Aḥmad from ‘Abd al-Karīm ibn ‘Abd al-Rahīm from Muḥammad ibn ‘Ali al-Qurshī from Muḥammad ibn Al-Fuḍayl from Al-Thumāli on the authority of Abu Ja’far (a) that he said: “No one from this nation has consolidated the Qur’ān except the successor of Muḥammad (s).”[37]

The basis of these Aḥadīth can be found in the major collections of the Imāmites pertaining to the Qur’ānic knowledge of the Imām; for example, see Al-Kāfī where the title of one of his chapters reads: “The Chapter Pertaining to the Fact that No One Consolidated the Qur’ān in its Entirety Except the Imāms and that They Know its Knowledge Fully.”[38]

Deep analysis of these reports discloses three points:

1) the Qur’ān has a dichotomous identity manifested in its apparent and hidden aspects;

2) understanding these two levels is a prerequisite to Qur’ānic exegesis; and

3) that no one but the Imāms has full disposal of the Qur’ān. It is pertinent to note that only the report from Jabīr Al-Ju’fi utilizes the phrase “Tafsīr al-Qur’ān.” But even in the remaining reports, the dichotomy between extrinsic and intrinsic is phrased in a critical way, as though to suggest that only those chosen ones who have full access to both the exoteric and esoteric aspects of the Qur’ān have a right to do exegesis.[39]

3. The Approach Towards Esoteric Interpretation as Adopted by the Reading of Mufaḍḍal’s Group

Based on the extant reports, it can be ascertained that the group of Mufaḍḍal believed in an esoteric theory whereby the Qur’ān had dichotomously parallel exoteric and esoteric readings. Furthermore, according to this reading, it is emphasized that the intrinsic aspect of each verse pertains directly either to the partisans of the Ahlul Bayt or to their opponents. In addition to officially recognizing this dichotomous nature of the Qur’ān, their interpretation of its esoteric element was that it existed at the time of Qur’ānic revelation and will always remain applicable; furthermore, this applicability, specifically during the time of Imām Al-Bāqir (a) was limited to verses that addressed either the opponents of the Ahlul Bayt, their followers, or themselves. According to the reports from Jabīr Al-Ju’fi and Abu Hamza Al-Thumāli in particular, the leveraging of the term “esoteric” for presupposed ideological interests is quite clear.[40]

These reports lay claim to the sentiment that the exoteric aspect of the Qur’ān is a more general and comprehensive manifestation of its esoteric aspect, which is the true representation of the verses’ meanings. Perhaps the most clear exposition of the esoteric aspect of the Qur’ān being the underlying reality of its outward form comes from a report narrated by Ja’far ibn Muḥammad al-Ḥaḍramī[41] from Jabīr Al-Ju’fi on the authority of Imām Al-Bāqir (a). In this report, in explaining the phrase “he who turns away from the remembrance of his Lord” (72:17), it is claimed that “ ‘Ali is the remembrance (dhikr) in the esoteric Qur’ān.” It could have instead been said that the meaning here is the remembrance of ‘Ali; however, the wording of the report is quite clear that on the level of the exoteric Qur’ān, every time the word “remembrance” is employed, it should be replaced in the esoteric Qur’ān with the word “ ‘Ali.”[42]

Another indication of the parallel Qur’ānic readings advocated by this group comes from the way they employ the term “esoteric.” Although contemporary Tafsīr studies amply employ the expression “esoteric exegesis,” in the early literature of the Imāmites one cannot find any instance where the word esoteric is used as an adjective like this. Instead, it is always employed in a genitive construction or with a particle (i.e., Tafsīr Al-Bāṭin or Tafsīr fi Al-Bāṭin); these expressions clearly demonstrate that “esoteric” had not been deemed a descriptor for an exegetical trend. Rather, it was seen as an independent and parallel Qur’ānic nature to its exoteric form.

In addition, we ought to again emphasize that the examples of this esoteric Qur’ān, at least during the era of Imām Al-Bāqir (a), all focused upon imputing either the lovers of the Ahlul Bayt or their adversaries. There are several extant reports from this movement that attempt to apply the esoteric aspect of some Qur’ānic verses upon their enemies; for example, Abu Hamza Al-Thumāli attributes to Imām Al-Bāqir (a) that “they belied all of Our Signs” (54:42) in the esoteric Qur’ān is that they belied all of the successors (of the Prophets).” In another report of Al-Thumāli regarding the verse “when it is said to them bow down they do not bow down,” (77:48) he narrates from Imam Al-Bāqir (a) that he said “in the esoteric Qur’ān, it is that when it is said to the nasibis to love ‘Ali, they do not do so.” In another two reports narrated by Jābir Al-Ju’fi and Abu Hamza Al-Thumāli on the authority of Imam Al-Bāqir (a), it is attributed that he said Banu Umayyah are those who practiced kufr in the esoteric Qur’ān.

In another report from Jabīr Al-Ju’fi attributed to Imām Al-Bāqir (a) as it pertains to the verse, “when what they recognized came to them, they belied it,” (2:89) esoteric exegesis is appealed to in order to claim that this verse means they had recognized a characteristic in ‘Ali and then disbelieved in him; then, through appealing to this same notion, this disbelief and curse is projected onto Banu Umayyah.

In another report from Jabīr regarding Imām Al-Baqir’s (a) reading of the verse, “do not be the first of the disbelievers regarding it,” (2:41) the pronoun “it” being referenced in this verse is taken to refer to Imām ‘Ali (as). The disbelievers being referenced here are mentioned as “so-and-so and his companion, and those who adopted their path and religion.” It seems that this is a reference to an earlier current prior to the Banu Umayyah, implicating the early Caliphs.[43] In another extant narration unique to Jābir, it is narrated that “the disbelief in the esoteric aspect in this verse is accepting the wilayah of the first and second (caliphs), for that is disbelief;” herein also the wilayah of ‘Ali is placed in opposition to it as true faith.

In yet another group of reports, the esoteric element is leveraged to contrast the Ahlul Bayt (a) with Banu Umayyah. Firstly, we see that the concept of truth referenced in the verse, “And God intends to establish the truth by His Words and to cut off the trail of the disbelievers” (8:7) is tied back to the Ahlul Bayt (a), which shall be established during the return of the Twelfth Imām. Furthermore, ‘Ali (a) is considered as the esoteric meaning of “Words” in the verse and again in this verse, the disbelievers are rendered a reference to Banu Umayyah. In the case of invalidating falsehood as mentioned in another verse (8:8), it is interpreted as the mission for the Twelfth Imām, as per the esoteric reading of the verse.[44] In another relatively long extant report narrated by Abu Hamzah Al-Thumāli, he asks Imām Al-Bāqir (a) about various verses of the Qur’ān; the Imām’s response in this report is qualified by the phrase “its interpretation in the esoteric Qur’ān is…,” where it is again stated that disbelief in the faith is considered disbelief in ‘Ali’s wilayah. The report continues to again employ the same motif of “the esoteric Qur’ān” in reference to the verse, “and the disbeliever is ever an adversary against his Lord.” (25:55) Per the report, ‘Ali (a) is “the Lord of wilayah” in this verse and it is then simultaneously claimed that this Lord is the Creator who is indescribable. The report then continues employing concepts of this genre in relation to ‘Ali’s wilayah or his enemies, ultimately connecting them with the Twelfth Imām’s uprising.[45]

In addition to the above, there are other extant reports that employ this framework of the esoteric to extol the prominent personalities of the Ahlul Bayt (a). In a report narrated by Jābir from Imām Al-Bāqir (a) regarding the verse “Is it the case that every time a messenger comes to you with what your souls do not fancy…” (2:87), the gravity of accepting the wilayah of ‘Ali (a) and opposing the family of Muḥammad is rendered as the esoteric aspect of the verse[46].

In yet another report, it has been stated that equity and justice at the esoteric level of the Qur’ān is Imām ‘Ali (a). In the two quoted versions of this report, the phraseology of either “ẓahar/baṭan” or “ẓāhir/bāṭin” is explicitly employed.[47] Other reports mention “heaven” as a symbol for the Holy Prophet (s) and water as a symbol of ‘Ali (a) in the verse, “and He sent down upon you from the sky rain by which to purify you.” (8:11)[48].

In another report na’rrated by Abu Hamzah Al-Thumāli, “heaven” is a symbol of the Messenger of Allah(s) and “the paths” a symbol of ‘Ali (a) and the Ahlul Bayt (a) at the level of the esoteric[49]. In another report, when Jābir asks about the interpretation of verses in the Qur’ān, Imām Al-Bāqir (a) introduced “guidance” as a symbol of Amīr Al-Mu’minīn (a).[50] In some reports, the reference to the Ahlul Bayt (a) has been imposed such that the esoteric level proposed for the verse contradicts its apparent meaning. In a report narrated by Jābir from Imām Al-Bāqir (a), the concept of exception in the verse “and you have not been given of knowledge except a little” (17:85) is completely diverted from the very concept of knowledge to the “possessor of knowledge.” In other words, it is claimed that the verse means only a small group of people from the Ahlul Bayt have access to knowledge.[51]

In other reports regarding Amīr Al-Mu’minīn, it is stated in the absolute sense that per the esoteric Qur’ān, ‘Ali should take the place of faith, and that “turning away from the remembrance” on the inner level is related to him. In this latter report, reference is made to the realm of particles and shadows, and per the esoteric interpretation a detailed account is elucidated of either turning away or being engulfed in sweet water during that prematerial existence.[52] In another report from Abu Hamzah Al-Thumāli. Amīr Al-Mu’minīn (a) has been introduced as the esoteric meaning of prayer, and reciting Salāt loudly or softly (17:110) is rendered symbolic for concealment or declaration of the wilayah of ‘Ali (as).[53]

In another report about the verse, “And for every nation is a Messenger. So when the messenger comes, it will be decided between them with justice and they will not be wronged,[54] the meaning of messenger is esoterically interpolated as an individual from the family of Muḥammad to this particular nation.[55]

c. The Dialectic of Revelation/Interpretation in Opposition to the Dialectic of Mufaḍḍal’s Group

 i. The Dichotomy of Revelation/Interpretation as a Dialectical and Historical Movement

Approximately four surviving reports from the period of Imām Al-Bāqir (a) reference another interpretation for the dichotomy between exoteric/esoteric.[56] In fact, this interpretation was the most widespread one in the early centuries of Imamite history. According to the earlier reports of Ibn Sallām, Shaykh Ṭūsi, and others, in this reading, the ẓāhir of the Qur’ān is its words and revelatory text (Al-Tanzīl), and the Bāṭin of the Qur’ān is its interpretation (Al-Tâwīl). A detailed study of these four reports from the early 2nd century at the time of Imām Al-Bāqir (a) as it pertains to the extrinsic/intrinsic dichotomy elucidates that there was a rival reading to the interpretation of Mufaḍḍal’s camp. Perhaps this general reading of the extrinsic/intrinsic duality can be contextualized within a framework that prefers the dialectic of revelation/interpretation over the dialectic of exoteric/esoteric.

It seems that personalities who were not affiliated with Mufaḍḍal’s entourage followed this interpretive trend – that is, the revelation/interpretation dialectic. This trend, in addition to emphasizing and promoting the dialectic of interpretation/revelation, tried to present its own reading of the duality of extrinsic/intrinsic within the framework of this discourse. However, the reports on this frontier are very few, as most of the reports related to intrinsic aspect have been narrated by those affiliated with Mufaḍḍal such as Jābir Al-Ju’fi and Abu Hamzah Al-Thumāli. Of course, the limited number of reports to support this rival reading as it pertains to ẓāhir/bāṭin should not impede us from proper analysis. In fact, it was the vested interest of the Mufaḍḍal camp to amplify these narrations in order to lend support to their thesis of esoteric and exoteric exegesis; meanwhile, the rival reading had no impetus to augment the ḥadīth heritage which referenced this motif. Therefore, it is quite natural that this alternative reading of the extrinsic/intrinsic duality should be reflected in the corpus in a transient form within only a handful of narrations; for the amplification of such narrations would only have served the interests of Mufaḍḍal’s camp in the first place.

Another issue is that the personalities who narrate these limited reports represent a network that was altogether separate at least highly limited in its interaction with Mufaḍḍal’s camp. Prominent figures who appear in these limited reports include Fuḍayl ibn Yasār, Humrān ibn A’yān, and ‘Umar ibn Udhaynah, all of whom were not closely related to Mufaḍḍal’s entourage. One notes that among the most prominent individuals who narrated from Fuḍayl ibn Yasār were ‘Umar ibn Udhaynah and Hurāyz ibn ‘Abdillah. Humrān bin A’yān was also inclined towards the A’yān family and was in the camp of Zurarah. ‘Umar ibn Udhaynah has also narrated most of his narrations from Zurarah. As such, there is no similarity seen between the narrators of these reports and the Mufaḍḍal camp; of course, this former group represented the Imāmite majority during this period.[57]

ii. Qur’anic Exegesis as Opposed to Qur’anic Consolidation and its Relationship to the Knowledge of the Imam

Similar to what was mentioned about the theory of the Mufaḍḍal camp regarding the Ahlul Bayt’s knowledge of the Qur’ān, it seems that this rival dialectic also adopted its own view regarding the Qur’ānic knowledge of the Prophetic successors. As such, it also disseminated its own Ḥadīth corpus to support this view. It is very interesting to observe that in the reports that do not come from the Mufaḍḍal camp, the subject of the Imām’s exegetical knowledge does not reference any doctrine of esoteric Qur’ānic identity.

As was mentioned before, in the reports transmitted by the Mufaḍḍal camp, instead of emphasizing the knowledge of “Qur’ānic exegesis”, the theme of “Qur’ānic consolidation” has been emphasized in extrinsic and intrinsic dimensions and this has been linked to understanding the Qur’ān. However, in the reports that have been transmitted by personalities not affiliated with Mufaḍḍal, concepts such as “Qur’ānic exegesis” or “knowledge of the Book” are the core manifestations of the Imams’ Quranic knowledge. Based on what Salamah ibn Muḥriz—not Jabīr—narrates from Imām Al-Bāqir (a), the Ahlul Bayt (a) attribute to themselves the knowledge of Qur’ānic exegesis, the legal edicts of the Qur’ān, and the knowledge of the change of time.[58] In another report narrated by ‘Umar ibn Udhaynah and Burāyd ibn Mu’awiyah, they attribute the “knowledge of the book” to the Ahlul Bayt.[59]  In several reports that have been quoted above by ‘Umar ibn Udhaynah, Burāyd ibn Mu’awiyah, Fuḍayl ibn Yasār, and Zurarah, a clear connection has been established with the dialectic of revelation/interpretation.  In these reports, there is no mention of the exoteric and esoteric Qur’ān.[60]

Of course, we do not mean to say that the reports related to “knowledge of the book” have no relation to the Mufaḍḍal camp; reports from this group have also been quoted in which the concept of “knowledge of the book” is employed. Rather, the thrust of our thesis here lies in the fact that the concept of “Qur’ānic consolidation” is exclusively referenced by the personalities affiliated with Mufaḍḍal.

iii. Exegesis vs Esotericism: A Deeper Look at the Dialectic of Revelation/Interpretation

One of the serious points that was emphasized earlier in the beginning of this research is the distinction between esoteric and interpretational based on the historical dialectic of early Islām. It was more difficult to explain this distinction based solely on the reports of the Mufaḍḍal camp, since the concept of “interpretation” is used in a more limited way in the reports from this group. But examination of the reports that adopt the dialectic of interpretation/revelation can well highlight this distinction.

In addition to elucidating the theory of interpretation/revelation, the four aforementioned reports define for us more clearly what interpretation is. These reports show that interpretation actually implies application of Qur’ānic verses to new instantiations and has nothing to do with a deep or hidden meaning or the underlying layer of verses. In the report of Humrān ibn A’yān, the Imām’s explanations in this regard show that the explicit meaning is about people or events about whom the Qur’ānic verses have been revealed, but the implicit meaning is people or phenomena that are happening in the present or future and can also be a new instantiation for the verses. In the report of Fuḍayl bin Yasār in Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī and Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt[61], it again is made evident that alongside the original intent of revelation, Qur’ānic verses can be applied to new future instantiations.

On top of these reports, the notion of interpretation as elucidated in the general context of reports from the first and early second Hijri centuries confirms the aforementioned opinion. Focusing on the historical meaning of this concept provides a basis for a better understanding of this theory and its differences with Qur’ānic esotericism as advocated by Mufaḍḍal’s entourage. There are clear reports from this period and even predating it that demonstrate the meaning of interpretation is the application of Qur’ānic verses to contemporaneous events, and that it has nothing to do with deep, hidden, or underlying meanings of verses. Therefore, every verse, in addition to the initial revelation, is capable of being applied to other events in the period after the revelation, which are termed “interpretations” of the verse.

In a report by Imām Al-Ṣādiq (a) about the verse, “And if two factions among the believers should fight, then make settlement between the two. But if one of them oppresses the other, then fight against the one that oppresses until it returns to the ordinance of Allah. And if they return then make settlement between them in justice” (49:9), he said, “The interpretation of this verse came on the day of Baṣra and they are the referents of this verse…”

In another report, Imām Al-Bāqir (a) emphasized, “By God, the interpretation of this verse has not yet arrived, and no doubt that it will.” This statement also shows that interpretation is an external event that must happen, after which it may be applied onto the verse[62]. In another famous report from Ibn Mas’ūd narrated from the first century Hijri, the same meaning is clearly established; this report clearly shows that interpretation has absolutely no connection to esoteric or deep parallel meaning, but rather it is simply application of the verse to a present or future event – which should stand alongside the original intent of the verse.[63]

iv. An Analysis to Theoretically Differentiate These Two Exegetical Dialectics 

All in all, these four reports – none of which have reached our hands through the personalities of Mufaḍḍal’s camp- move towards theorizing and presenting a general concept of extrinsic/intrinsic that relies on applying verses to myriad instantiations. The main question here is why, despite the many reports that have been narrated by Mufaḍḍal’s group about the esoteric dimension of the Qur’ān, none of them have clearly expounded their general theory about the extrinsic and intrinsic Qur’ān. In fact, here we are encounter another clear historical testament: as mentioned before, the extant reports from the majority camp of Imamites that utilize the concept of extrinsic/intrinsic are extremely limited.

The data are limited to these four reports, which simply expound the general theory regarding extrinsic/intrinsic without practically providing instantiations of verses. On the other hand, it is interesting that despite the number of reports referencing the concepts of extrinsic and intrinsic as quoted by Mufaḍḍal’s camp, none of their reports ever explicitly the theoretical underpinnings of their theory. It is farfetched to presume the reason for this is that the Mufaḍḍalite camp lacked access to such reports. It seems that the transmission of these reports has led to its generalization into an entire extrinsic/intrinsic methodology, extrapolated as it is from the limited examples provided by Mufaḍḍal’s camp regarding the Ahlul Bayt (a) and their enemies.

Of course, this does not mean that the “revelation/interpretation” trend did not transmit narrations that render the Ahlul Bayt (a) implicit referents of Qur’ānic verses; these also exist in the reports of this group with two major qualifiers in comparison to reports from the Mufaḍḍal group. Firstly, the explanatory reports of this group that refer to Ahlul Bayt (a) or their enemies lack any mention of extrinsic and intrinsic Qur’ānic dimensions.

Several reports from Ḥurāyz bin ‘Abdillah al-Sijistāni, wherein the names of Zurarah and Fuḍayl bin Yasār also appear, are a testament to this fact.  Secondly, in addition to the fact that the extrinsic and intrinsic motif is not employed in these reports, there is no pursuit of an extremist esoteric symbolism; rather, these reports are characterized by interpreting Qur’ānic verses congruently in their connection to the Ahlul Bayt or related concepts. In the esoteric current of Mufaḍḍal’s camp, we encounter a sort of parallel symbolism in which all apparent meanings have a symbolic esoteric counterpart. The process of interpretation hinges upon employing these symbols without any further elaboration of the Qur’ānic text. In the reports of Ḥurāyz, despite interpreting verses to refer to the Ahlul Bayt (a) and topics compatible with this theme, such a one-dimensional and radical paradigm is not featured.[64]

On the other hand, based on the historical explanation of the contrast between the two dialectics of extrinsic/intrinsic and revelation/interpretation, the use of the concept of interpretation alongside intrinsic and the emphasis that “the intrinsic aspect is the interpretation” is very understandable and justified by the majority reading. Since the majority trend could not ignore the dialectic of extrinsic/intrinsic, which has its roots in the exegetical reports of the Shi’ites, it tried to construct a general framework – not limited simply to making the Ahlul Bayt referents of Qur’ānic verses – to represent this duality. Secondly, it intellectually leveraged the concept of revelation and interpretation to explain the extrinsic/intrinsic differentiation. Of course, it may be postulated that the dialectical of revelation/interpretation to explain extrinsic/intrinsic is not in conflict with the reading of Mufaḍḍal’s group, and that these two readings have a longitudinal relationship with each other. In response, it should be said that this very postulation presents itself precisely because of the ingenious projection of “extrinsic/intrinsic” onto the “interpretation/revelation” dialect. But this prudent representation should not prevent us from ignoring the serious differences between these two readings.

The reports from Mufaḍḍal’s camp demonstrate that the esoteric dimension of the Qur’ān is so serious and deep for them that it leads to the two-level and dual identity of the Qur’ān, something that the four reports quoted by the revelation/interpretation trend do not indicate by themselves. On the other hand, in the reports from the dialectic of revelation/interpretation, the intrinsic application of Qur’ānic verses is presented as an overarching methodology which can subsume any instantiation. In contrast, the reports of Mufaḍḍal’s group extensively endeavor to limit these applications to the Ahlul Bayt (a) and their enemies.

5. Conclusion

The analyses presented in this article have shown that although the traces of the extrinsic/intrinsic Qur’ānic dichotomy date back to the first Hijri century, the dialectic of exoteric/esoteric as an exegetical trend crystallized in the era of Imām Al-Bāqir (a). Reports from early primary sources show that among Islamic intellectuals of the first centuries, there were many different interpretations regarding the extrinsic/intrinsic dichotomy.

Among the Imāmites, only some of these readings were given attention and developed into Shī’ite exegetical approaches. The first exegetical tendency of the Shī’a in this light at the beginning of the second Hijri century was the dialectic of exoteric/esoteric; this tendency generally belonged to Mufaḍḍal ibn ‘Umar’s entourage. In this reading, the attempt was to introduce the identity of the Qur’ān as a dual and two-level identity based on exoteric and esoteric dimensions. Based on this reading, it is difficult to consider one of these two as subordinate to the other, and the Qur’ān is recognized as having a two-level and two-faced identity. Also, in this trend, the concept of understanding the Qur’ān is tied to the consolidation of the Qur’ān on the exoteric and esoteric levels; in turn, its interpretation – of course, in a completely symbolic way – is considered a worthy and feasible task only for those who possess the entirety of the Qur’ān at their disposal. Also, in this discourse, there is an extensive effort to limit the examples of the esoteric dimension to matters related to the Ahlul Bayt (a) or their enemies; extrapolation to other instantiations is extremely limited.

The second exegetical trend active in this period is characterized in the article as the “revelation/interpretation” dialectic. Unlike the previous group, adherents of this discourse represented the majority of the Imāmites in that period. The view of this trend on the Qur’ān and the concept of the intrinsic hinges on the premise of the revelation/interpretation dynamic. Unlike the reports from Mufaḍḍal’s camp, the reports of this group do not support a two-level view to the Qur’ān’s identity. Also, this group had no vested interest or tendency to quote reports characterized as “esoteric,” and in the few reports that cite this idea, it is clear that they have repurposed the conceptual framework of Mufaḍḍal’s group to support their own reading; therefore we find expressions such as “the extrinsic aspect is its revelatory text and the intrinsic aspect is its interpretation.” Furthermore, they are placed in the framework of a general theory and there is no attempt to isolate instantiations to the Ahlul Bayt (a) or their enemies. This trend also mainly interprets Qur’ānic verses in line with the interpretation of the Qur’ān – and does not employ an esoteric symbolism to explain verses. Rather, the word “esoteric” does not even feature prominently in the reports of this group. Instead, the Qur’ānic text itself is directly analyzed to facilitate the audience’s understanding.


[1]  In translating this research paper, we have endeavored to render the Arabic terms “Ẓahr/Baṭn” as extrinsic/intrinsic, “Ẓāhir/Baṭin as “exoteric/esoteric,” and “Tanzīl/Tâwīl” as “revelation/interpretation.”

[2] The original article includes a great deal of Persian/Arabic citations, some of which we have removed in translation to ease readability and because many of these sources will likely be inaccessible to the English reader. To see all original citations, advanced readers are urged to review the original article by Dr. Gerami here: http://ensani.ir/file/download/article/1566966474-10164-9-5.pdf

[3] Some like Sayyid Hossein Modarressi Tabatabai have tried to interpret the current mainstream of Shī’ism as an extremist credal interpretation that had always been in the minority in the early Islamic centuries. (Modarressi, Crisis & Consolidation) Others like Muhammad Ali Amir Moezzi have tried to show that the current version of Shī’ism is an authentic reading of Shi’ism and that it is not extremist. Yet others adopt a different approach, advocating that the question of extremism can only be answered by compartmentalizing Shī’ite theology into smaller parts, then independently examining each part relative to the beliefs of the early Imāmites.

[4] Like ‘Ali bin Ḥasan Al-Hāshimi, who is the author of Tafsīr al-Bāṭin; the whole book is filled with obfuscations, and he himself is known to them as an extremist with corrupt beliefs (Rijāl Al-Najāshī, 251:1407)

[5] Cf. “Beyond the Quran: Early Isma’ili Ta’wil and the Secrets of the Prophets” by David Hollenberg, University of South Carolina Press, October 2016.

[6] Dialectic here is defined as a collective social nexus of thought which emerged after dialogue about an issue amongst a group of intellectuals in a specific era and locale.

[7] Such Tafāsīr include Tafsīr Al-Furāt, Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Tafsīr ‘Ali Ibn Ibrahīm Al-Qummi, or Tafsīr al-Kūfī Al-Ḥabri, which are the oldest extant Shī’a exegetical works.

[8] The term “concept” is defined as the historical perspective and understanding of an audience about an issue in the context of a specific time and place. Paying attention to the history of the use of a notion and its historical development is a serious issue in historiography. Some scholars like Dr. Ahmad Pakatchi closely examine the relationship between “concept” and “idea” under the heading of “the history of concepts” (Pakatchi; “The Research Method based on the Field of Qur’anic and Hadith Sciences”).  In the last few years, articles, books, conferences and workshops have been published or held in Iran within this framework of “the history of concepts and thoughts” (cf: Gerami; The First Thoughts of Shia Hadith, with an introduction by Dr. Ahmad Paktachi).

[9] Dichotomy” is the same as “duality,” but the use of the first form is more common in scientific articles in the human sciences, and it is intended to imply to the reader that a special binding relationship exists between two terms.

[10] Gharīb Al-Ḥadīth, vol.2, pg.12-13

[11] Majāzāt Al-Nabawīyyah, pg. 251-255

[12] Tafsīr al-Tibyān, vol.1, pg. 9

[13] Al-Burhān Fi ‘Ulūm Al-Qur’ān, vol.2, pg.169

[14] “He is the First and the Last, the Apparent and the Hidden, and He has ˹perfect˺ knowledge of all things.” (57:3)

“They ˹only˺ know the outward aspect of this worldly life, but are ˹totally˺ oblivious to the Hereafter.” (30:7)

“Have you not seen that Allah has subjected for you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth, and has lavished His favors upon you, both seen and unseen? ˹Still˺ there are some who dispute about Allah without knowledge, or guidance, or an enlightening scripture.” (31:20)

“He knew well what would become of you as He created you from the earth and while you were ˹still˺ in the insides of your mothers.” (53:32)

[15] Ibn Abī Jamhūr, vol. 4, pg. 107.

[16] Al-Kāfī, vol. 2, pg. 599; Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, vol. 1, pg. 3 ; Eng Tr.

[17] The claim about the absence of a testament or report in this regard is based on comprehensive computer searches of Shī’ah and non-Shī’ah primary source databases.


عن عبد العظيم الحسني، عن أبي جعفر الثاني، عن آبائه، عن الحسين بن علي عليهم السلام، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله: إن أبا بكر مني بمنزلة السمع، وإن عمر مني بمنزلة البصر، وإن عثمان مني بمنزلة الفؤاد. قال: فلما كان من الغد دخلت إليه وعنده أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام وأبو بكر وعمر وعثمان، فقلت له: يا أبة! سمعتك تقول في أصحابك هؤلاء قولا، فما هو؟. فقال عليه وآله السلام نعم، ثم أشار بيده إليهم، فقال: هم السمع والبصر والفؤاد، وسيسألون عن ولاية وصيي هذا – وأشار إلى علي بن أبي طالب عليه السلام -، ثم قال: إن الله تبارك وتعالى يقول: * (إن السمع والبصر والفؤاد كل أولئك كان عنه مسؤولا) * ثم قال عليه وآله السلام: وعزة ربي إن جميع أمتي لموقوفون يوم القيامة ومسؤولون عن ولايته، وذلك قول الله عز وجل: * (وقفوهم إنهم مسؤولون)

On the authority of ‘Abd Al-Azīm Ibn ‘Abd Allah Al-Ḥasani who said: “My master ‘Ali bin Muḥammad ibn ‘Ali Al-Riḍa said on the authority of his father:

Muḥammad ibn ‘Ali on the authority of his father Al-Riḍa on the authority of his forefathers, on the authority of Al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Ali, who said: Rasūlullah (s) said, Abu Bakr in relation to me is like the faculty of hearing, ‘Umar in relation to me is the faculty of sight, and ‘Uthmān in relation to me is the faculty of the heart. He (Al-Ḥusayn) said: When I entered upon him the next day, The Prince of the Believers ‘Ali along with Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthmān were with him so I said to him, “Oh grandfather, I heard you say something about your companions, what was it?” He answered, “Yes, then he pointed to them and said that they are the hearing, the sight and the heart, and they will be asked about this successor and he pointed to ‘Ali ibn Abi Tālib, then he stated that Almighty God has said “The hearing, the sight, and the heart, all of these will be questioned.” (17:36) Then he said, “By the glory of my Lord, all of my nation will be held on the Day of Resurrection and will be questioned about his guardianship.  And that is the speech of Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, “Stop them and surely they will be questioned’ (37:24) (‘Uyūn Akhbār Al-Riḍa,  vol.1, 313); Eng Tr.

[19] The commentators of this Ḥadīth in later periods, for example, Allamah Majlisi, have considered the interpretations stated in this report as an instance of the esoteric meaning of the verse (al-Majlisi, Vol.36, pg.77).


عن الفضيل بن يسار قال‌ سألت أبا جعفر ع عن هذه الرواية «ما في القرآن آية إلا و لها ظهر و بطن، و ما فيه حرف إلا و له حد و لكل حد مطلع» ما يعني بقوله لها ظهر و بطن قال: ظهره و بطنه تأويله، منه ما مضى و منه ما لم يكن بعد، يجري كما يجري الشمس و القمر، كلما جاء منه شي‌ء وقع قال الله تعالى‌ «وَ ما يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَ الرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ»

On the authority of Al-Fuḍāyl ibn Yasār, he said: “I asked Abu Ja’far, about this narration: “There is no verse in the Qur’an that does not have an extrinsic and an intrinsic aspect. And there is no letter in it except that it has a limit, and for every limit there is a beginning.” What is meant by saying it has an extrinsic and intrinsic aspect? He said, “Its extrinsic and intrinsic aspect refer to its interpretation: some of it has already passed and some is yet to come. It floats as the sun and the moon float. Whenever something of it emerges, it occurs. God the Almighty says, “And none knows its interpretation except God and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge.” (Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, vol. 1, pg. 11).

[21] This narrative that has been questioned has been reflected in different forms even in Sunni sources. In some of them, the report is transmitted by Imām Al-Ḥasan(a) from the Messenger of God (see: Ṣan’āni, vol.3, pg.358; Ibn Ḥazm, vol.3, pg.16; Al-Shāṭibi, vol.4, pg.208; Na’īm bin Hammād, vol.2, pg.23).

However, the report that is available from Ibn Mubārak shows that he heard this hadith from different narrators (cf. Ibn Mubārak, 23).

In another report which is mainly quoted in Shī’a sources it is attributed to Ibn Mas’ūd:

القرآن أنزل على سبعة أحرف ، ما منها حرف إلا وله ظهر وبطن ، وإن علي بن أبي طالب عنده منه الظاهر والباطن

“On the authority of Ibn Mas’ūd that he said: The Qur’ān was sent down to us on seven letters; there is no letter of it except that it has an extrinsic and an intrinsic aspect, and ‘Ali Ibn Abi Tālib has the knowledge of both the extrinsic and intrinsic of it.” (cf. Tha’labi, 1418: Vol.1, 53; Suyūti, 1416: Vol.4, 233).

Although this report is somewhat different from the famous report in terms of structure, and the obvious Shī’a proclivity is manifested in it, this report and all of the preceding ones indicate the substantiality of these precedents in the historical memory of Muslims of the 2nd century Hijri, and even more specifically for the Shī’as.


عن ابن أذينة، عن فضيل بن يسار قال: سألت أبا جعفر عليه السلام عن هذه الرواية ” ما من القرآن آية إلا ولها ظهر وبطن ” فقال: ظهره تنزيله، وبطنه تأويله، منه ما قد مضى، ومنه ما لم يكن، يجري كما يجري الشمس والقمر، كلما جاء تأويل شئ منه يكون على الأموات كما يكون على الاحياء، قال الله: ” وما يعلم تأويله إلا الله والراسخون في العلم ” نحن نعلمه

From Ibn Udhaynah narrating from Fuḍayl Ibn Yasār, who said: “I asked Abu Ja’far about this narration that there is no verse of the Qur’ān except it has an extrinsic and an intrinsic aspect. He responded: Its extrinsic aspect is its revelatory text and its intrinsic aspect is its interpretation: some of it has already passed and some of it has not yet happened; it circulates just how the sun and the moon circulate. Whenever its interpretation comes forth, it applies for both the dead and the living. Allah says, “And no one knows its true interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge.” We know it. (Baṣāîr Al-Darajāt, vol.1, pg.196); Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, vol.1, pg.11).

[23] Note: the end of section “2” in this article.

[24] According to Sayyid Hossein Modarressi Tabatabai, it was the esoteric and exaggerated tendency in some of Jābir’s narrations that garnered them the most attention. This has caused him to enjoy such popularity among extremist Shī’as that they consider him one of their forerunners, commemorating him as someone who was aware of the secrets and divine sciences and the supernatural stations of Imams (Modarressi, Tradition & Survival, pg.88).

The topics quoted from Jabīr Al-Ju’fi and the concept of “Jābir’s Hadiths” which was conceptualized in a pejorative light in Kūfa support the thesis of Modarressi Tabatabai (reference: Gerami, 2016 – “The First Thoughts of Shi’a Ḥadīth”) b): 141-142).

However, some of the attributions used to substantiate his inclination towards extremism suffer from a lack of historical accuracy. Notwithstanding, the radical extremist tendencies of the personalities affiliated with Mufaḍḍal in the time of Imām Al-Bāqir and Ṣādiq (a) has been highly evinced (cf: Gerami, 2011 – “The Evolution of the Discourse of Tafwīḍ in 2nd Century Hijri and Mufaḍḍal ibn ‘Umar Camp”(b)).

[25] Abu Hamza Thābit ibn Dinār al-Thumāli, an inhabitant of Kūfa, was a scholar and a famous hadith narrator in the Shī’ite community of his time. He narrated from Imāms Sajjād, Bāqir, and Ṣādiq(a) and he passed away between 148-150 AH. His book titled Tafsīr Al-Qur’ān is a commentary on the Qur’ān based on narrations from Imāms. This work was a famous book in the first centuries, and later commentators such as Al-‘Ayyāshī, Abu Ishāq Al-Tha’labi in his al-Kashf wa Al-Bayān and Tabarsi in his Majma’ Al-Bayān have referenced it (Modarressi, Tradition & Survival, pg. 377, 378).

[26] Maryam Velayati has provided a reflection of the most important themes of Jābir’s exegesis in her doctoral thesis that she recently wrote about the Shī’ite exegetical tradition in Kūfa during the early centuries. However, her work is not very clear in its understanding of Jābir’s esoteric and symbolic approach and his exegetical affinites (ref: Velayati, 2015: 326, “The Shi’a Exegesis School in Kūfa: Periods, Discourses and Viewpoints). According to Modarressi Tabatabai, Jābir’s main effort in his interpretation was to prove that there was praise everywhere in the Qur’ān meant for Imam Ali (as), his children, and the Shī’as, just as their enemies are examples of the verses that are mentioned in condemnation of people. (ref: Modarressi, Tradition & Survival, pg.97). According to Sayyid Hossein Modarressi Tabatabai, there are many quotations regarding Qur’ānic exegesis from Jabīr in Shī’a and Sunni exegetical works; he has tried to provide a bibliography of these citations (ref: Modarressi, Tradition & Survival, pg.94 – 97).

[27] Rijāl Al-Kashshī, Vol. 1, pg. 508

[28] Rijāl Al-Najāshī, pg. 421

[29] Mu’jam Rijāl Al-Ḥadīth, Vol. 19, pg. 357

[30] Rijāl Al-Najāshī, pg. 129; Fiḥrist Al-Ṭūsi, pg. 116

[31] Rijāl Al-Kashshī, vol.1, pg.192

[32] Apparently, this naming was done by Najāshī himself, because Ibn al-Ghaḍa’irī also mentions this work as a set of leaflets about esoteric exegesis. On Muḥammad bin Aruma see this.

[33] Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg.213; Uṣūl Al-Kāfī, vol.1, pg.228; Eng Tr.

[34] Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg.213

[35] Uṣūl Al-Kāfī, vol.1, pg. 228; Eng Tr.

[36] Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg. 214

[37] Tafsīr Al-Qummi, vol.2, pg.451

[38] Uṣūl Al-Kāfī, vol.1, pg. 228; Eng Tr.


عن جابر الجعفي قال: «سألت أبا جعفر عن شيء من تفسير القرآن فأجابني، ثم سألته ثانية فأجابني بجواب آخر، فقلت: جعلت فداك كنت أجبت في هذه المسألة بجواب غير هذا قبل اليوم؟ فقال لي: يا جابر: إن للقرآن بطنًا، وللبطن بطنًا وظهرًا، وللظهر ظهرًا، يا جابر، وليس شيء أبعد من عقول الرجال من تفسير القرآن، إن الآية لتكون أولها في شيء وآخرها في شيء وهو كلام متصل يتصرف على وجوه

From Jabīr ibn Yazīd Al-Ju’fi who said: I asked Abu Ja`far(a) regarding something about exegesis, so he answered me, then I asked him about it again, and he answered me with another response. Then I said, “May I be sacrificed for your sake, you answered me about this matter with an answer other than this one yesterday.” So he replied, “O Jābir, indeed the Qur’ān has an intrinsic aspect, and this intrinsic aspect has (another) intrinsic aspect. It also has an extrinsic aspect and this extrinsic aspect has (another) extrinsic aspect. O Jābir, there is nothing further from the minds of men than the interpretation of the Qur’ān; the verse has a beginning about something and its end is about something else, all the while it is a continuous speech that is directed to different aspects.” (Al-Maḥāsin, Vol. 2, 300).

Also for the same report see: Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol. 1, 11-12).

[40] … On the authority of Abu Hamzah, he said: I asked Abu Ja`far(a)… and I heard him saying that “they lied about all Our verses” in the esoteric aspect of the Qur’ān means that they lied about all the successors (al-Qummi, Vol. 1, 199).

On the authority of Abi Hamza Al-Thumāli, he said: I asked Abu Ja’far(a) about the words of God Almighty: “And if it is said to them to bow, they do not bow.” He said it is in the esoteric Qur’ān as, “when it is said to the haters of ‘Ali to love him, they do not do it.” (Tafsīr Al-Furāt, pg.531).

Similar kind of Ḥadīth from Jabīr is also mentioned in Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī on Al-Baqārah, verse 89.

From Abi Hamzah on the authority of Abu Ja’far (a) in his saying, “The worst animals in the sight of God are those who disbelieve, so they do not believe.” Abu Jafar said, it is revealed about Banu Umayyah, who are the worst creation of Allah. They are those who disbelieve in the esoteric Quran and it is those who do not believe. (Tafsīr Al-Qummi, vol.1, pg.279).

From Jabīr on the authority of Abu Ja’far (a) in his saying, “The worst animals in the sight of God are those who disbelieve, so they do not believe.” Abu Jafar said, it is revealed about Banu Umayyah, who are the worst creation of Allah. They are those who disbelieve in the esoteric Qur’ān and it is those who do not believe. (Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, vol.2, pg.65).

From Jabīr who said, “I asked Abu Jafar(a) about the verse “And whoever disbelieves in faith, then his deeds have been invalidated, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.”  He said, “Faith in the esoteric Qur’ān is ‘Ali ibn Abi Tālib (a) and whoever disbelieve in his Wilayah has invalidated their deeds and they will be among the losers. (Tafsīr Al-Furāt, pg.121).

[41] On Aṣl of Ja’far bin Muḥammad bin Sharīḥ Al-Ḥaḍramī.

[42] Al-Usūl Sittah ‘Ashar, Kitāb Al-Haḍramī, pg.63.

[43] On the authority of Jābir Al-Ju’fi who said, I asked Abu Ja`far(a) about the interpretation of this verse in the esoteric Qur’ān: “And believe in what was revealed, confirming what is with you – and do not be the first to disbelieve in it” meaning so-and-so and his companion, and whoever follows them and embraces their religion. As for Allah’s saying, “do not be the first to disbelieve in it,” then it means ‘Ali (a) (Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, vol.1, 42).

[44] From Jabīr Al-Ju’fi, he said, I asked Abu Ja`far(a) about the interpretation of this verse – in the words of Allah: “But Allah intended to establish the truth by His words and to eliminate the disbelievers” Abu Ja’far (a) said regarding its interpretation in the esoteric Qur’ān, ‘Allah intends’ so it means something that God intends but has not yet done. And His saying, “establish the truth by His words” means establishing the right of the family of Muḥammad. And His word, “by His Words”, he said, “His Words in the esoteric are ‘Ali, for he is God’s word in the esoteric. “And he will cut off the roots of the unbelievers,” they are the Banu Umayyah, they are the unbelievers whose roots God will cut off. As for His saying: “In order to establish the truth,” it means that the right of the family of Muḥammad will be fulfilled when the Qa’im rises.  And as for his saying: “And annihilate falsehood,” he means that the Qa’im when he rises will nullify the falsity of the Umayyads, and that is his saying: “So that the truth may be established and falsehood annihilated – even if the criminals hate it” (Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, vol.2, 50).

[45] Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī,Vol.1, pg. 10; Baṣāîr Al-Darajāt, pg.77; Tafsīr Al-Furāt, pg. 121.

[46] Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī,vol.1, pg.49.

[47] Probably the version quoted by Furāt is an older and more authentic version:

On the authority of Jābir, he said, I asked Abu Ja`far(a) about this verse: “God bears witness that there is no god but He, and the angels and those endowed with knowledge, upholding justice.” There is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise.” Abu Ja’far(a) said: God bears witness that there is no god but He, for God, the Blessed and Most High, bears witness to Him, and He is as He said. And his saying, “and the angels” it means the most honorable angels with submission to their Lord and they testify and bear witness just like he bore witness for Himself, and as for his saying, “And those endowed with knowledge, upholding justice,” the most knowledgeable are the prophets and their successors, and they are the upholders of justice. Justice is justice on the exoteric and justice in the esoteric is the Commander of the Faithful Imām ‘Ali(a) (Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol.1, pg.165-166).

On the authority of Abi Ja`far(a) in his saying that God bore witness that there is no god but He and the angels, and those endowed with knowledge upholding justice [There is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise.] Except he is as he testified for himself, and as for his saying, “And Angels” are the most distinguished angels with submission to their Lord and they testify and bore witness just he testify for Himself; and for his saying, “and those who have knowledge, standing by justice”. The most knowledgeable are the prophets(a) and the successors(a) and they are the ones who establish justice as God said [and] justice is justice in the extrinsic and justice in the intrinsic is ‘Ali Ibn Abi Tālib (a). (Tafsīr Al-Furāt, pg. 77-78).

[48] Tafsīr Al-Furāt, pg. 153. Also see: pg. 638.

[49] Tafsīr Al-Furāt, pg. 441.

[50] Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol.1, pg.41-42.

[51] Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol. 2, pg. 317.

[52]  On the authority of Abi Ja`far Al-Bāqir (a) regarding his saying: “And whoever disbelieves in faith, his deeds would be invalidated, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers”.

He said, “Faith in the intrinsic of the Qur’an is ‘Ali Ibn Abi Tālib (a), so whoever disbelieves in his wilayah, then his deeds have been invalidated, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.” (Tafsīr Al-Furāt, pg. 121).

He said: I asked Abu Ja’far (a) about the interpretation of this verse about what God Almighty said, “If they were steadfast in the way, We would have given them abundant water to drink,” which means if only they had steadfastly adhered to the wilayah from the onset in the realm of shadows, when God took a covenant from the offspring of Adam, We would give them water to drink abundantly. That is to say, We would have quenched their shadows with sweet fragrant water, “to test them thereby” meaning ‘Ali. Their test here is their disbelief in his wilayah. “And whoever turns away,” meaning those in whom flows the polytheism of Satan; “from the remembrance of his Lord” that is, ‘Ali is the remembrance in the esoteric Qur’ān while our Lord is the Lord of all things; “He will make them enter severe torment” meaning a torment above the severe torment; “and the mosques belong to God,” which means the vicegerents of God (Al-Usūl Sittah ‘Ashar, Kitāb Al-Haḍramī, pg.63).

[53] Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg. 79; Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol. 2, pg. 319.

[54] Surah Yunus, v.47

[55] Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol. 2, pg. 123

[56] On the authority of Fuḍayl bin Yasār that he said, ‘I asked Abu Ja`far(a) about this narration, “There is no verse in the Qur’ān except that it has an extrinsic and intrinsic aspect. And there is no letter except it has a limit and every limit has a beginning.” What is the meaning of his saying it has an extrinsic and intrinsic aspect. He said,”its extrinsic and intrinsic aspects are its interpretation.  From it is what has passed and from it is what will come later. It flows like how the sun and the moon flows, every time it flows forth it occurs. Allah says, “None knows its interpretation except God and those who are well grounded in knowledge”. He said, “We know it” (Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol.1, pg.11).

On the authority of ibn Udhaynah from Fuḍayl bin Yasār who said, ‘I asked Abu Ja’far(a) about this narration, “there is no verse in the Qur’ān except that it has an extrinsic and intrinsic aspect”. So he said, “its extrinsic aspect is its revelatory text and its intrinsic aspect is its interpretation; from it is what has passed and from it is what has not yet occurred. Just like the sun and the moon it flows, and just as its interpretation has issued it comes to pass on the dead just as on the living. Allah says, “None knows its interpretation except God and those who are well grounded in knowledge. He said, ‘we know it.’ (Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg. 196).

Also see: Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, vol.1, pg. 11.

On the authority of Ibrahīm bin Muḥammad al-Ash’ari from Thalabah bin Maymūn from Abi Khālid al-Qammāt from Humrān bin A’yān, he said, “I asked Abu Ja’far(a) about the extrinsic of the Qur’ān and its intrinsic. He said, its extrinsic is what is revealed in the Qur’ān and its intrinsic are those whose deeds are similar to their deeds of their predecessors; the verse applies to them just as those who preceded them.” (Ma’āni Al-Akhbār, pg.259)

On the authority of Muḥammad bin Khālid bin al-Hajjāj al-Karkhi from some of his companions going back to Khaythamah: Abu Ja’far(a) said, “Oh Khaythamah the Qur’ān has been revealed in thirds. A third is about us and those who love us. A third is about our enemies and the enemies of those who came before us. And a final third consists of edicts and parables. If it was the case that a verse of the Qur’ān died whenever its referent people died, then nothing would remain of the Qur’ān. But rather, the Qur’ān’s beginning flows just as its end, as long as the Heavens and Earth persist. Every people has a verse that they follow, whether they be good or bad. (Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, vol.1, pg.10).

[57] Regarding these analyses, they are specifically based on the number of students’ quotes from their shaykh cf. Dirayah al-Noor software, section on chains of transmission. For an overview of Imamite currents of thought cf. Gerami, 1390 – Am Introduction to the Identification of Imāmi Movements in Iraq and Iran in 2nd & 3rd Centuries Hijri.

[58] Salamah bin Muḥriz said: I heard Abu Ja`far(a) saying: “Among the knowledge we have been granted is the interpretation of the Qur’ān, its edicts, and the change of times and its events.  if God wills good for a people, He will make them hear; and if God should make a person who does not hear to hear, he would turn away from it as though he had not heard. Then he kept quiet for a moment then said, “If we had found receptables or resting places for it, we would have disclosed it, but God is the best supporter.” (Al-Kāfī, vol.1, pg. 229; Eng Tr.)

[59] Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg. 216; Al-Kāfī, Vol. 1, pg. 229; Eng Tr.

[60] On the authority of Ibn Abi Umāyr, on the authority of Ibn Udhaynah, on the authority of Burāyd, on the authority of Abu Ja’far(a), who said: Rasūlullah (s) is the best of those who are firmly grounded in knowledge, for he knew all that God had revealed to him of interpretation and revelation, and God would not have revealed anything to him without teaching its interpretation; and his successors after him are taught it all (Bihār Al-Anwār, Vol 89, 80). Primary source: Tafsir Al-Qummi.

On the authority of Burāyd bin Mu’awiyah who said, “I said to Abu Ja’far(a) regarding God’s words: “And none knows its interpretation except God and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge.” He said it means: interpretation of the entire Qur’ān  is known only to God and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge and the Apostle of God (s) is the best of those who are well-grounded. God taught him all what was sent down upon him from revelation and interpretation, and God did not reveal anything to him that he did not teach him its interpretation and his successors after him are taught it all. Those who do not know say: “What do we say if we do not know its interpretation?” God then answered them, “They say, ‘We believe in it, it is all from our Lord, “And the Qur’ān is specific and general, abrogated and abrogating, decisive and allegorical, so those who are firmly grounded in knowledge know it. (Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol. 1, pg.164).

On the authority of Al-Fuḍayl bin Yasār, on the authority of Abu Ja’far(a), who said: “And only God knows its interpretation. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge.” We know it.” (Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg. 196)

On the authority of Ibn Abi Umāyr or others, on the authority of Jamīl bin Darrāj, on the authority of Zurarah, on the authority of Abu Ja’far(a) who said: The Interpretation of the Qur’ān is on seven letters, of it is what has come to pass and that which has not yet occurred. And that is known by the Imāms. (Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg. 196).

[61] Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol.1, pg. 11; Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg. 196

[62] Kamāl Al-Dīn, pg. 325-326

[63] On the authority of Abu Al-‘Aliyah, he said: “There were people with ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ūd when a conflict broke out between two men and each of them jumped upon each other. Some individuals said, “Should I not come forth to command to good and forbid evil?” Others said, “Tend to yourselves,” for the Almighty said “O you who have believed, take care of yourselves, no one who goes astray will harm you if you are guided.” Ibn Mas’ūd heard this and said that the interpretation of this verse has not yet emerged; the Qur’ān was revealed when it was revealed. Some of its interpretation came to pass before it was revealed, some of its interpretation will come to pass, and some of its interpretation will not come to pass until the Final Hour, such as those pertaining to reckoning, heaven, and hell. Therefore as long as your hearts and aspirations are united, you have not splintered into groups, and you have not tasted the violence of one another, then command and forbid. But when hearts and aspirations differ, you are splintered, and have tasted the torment of one another, then it is every man for himself; for that will be when the interpretation of the verse shall come. (Al-Sunan Al-Kubra, vol.10, pg.92)

[64] On the authority of Ḥariz, from another man, on the authority of Abu Ja’far(a) about God’s saying: His sign is that the Ark of the Covenant shall come to you in which there is peace from your Lord, and the remainder of what the family of Mūsa and the family of Harūn bequeathed carried by the angels” He said: “A smattering of tablets in which there is knowledge and wisdom. This knowledge came from the heavens, and was written on these tablets then placed in the Ark.” (Tafsīr Al-‘Ayyāshī, Vol.1, pg. 133)

On the authority of Ḥariz, on the authority of Zurarah, on the authority of Abu Ja`far (a), in the words of the Almighty, the Majestic: “And We did not send before you any messenger or prophet except that when he spoke [or recited], Satan threw into it [some misunderstanding]. But Allah abolishes that which Satan throws in.” Abu Ja’far (a) said “The Apostle of God went out and he was afflicted with severe hunger, so he came to a man from the Ansār, so he slaughtered a sheep for him, and cut for him some sour and ripe dates, so the Apostle of God (s) yearned for ‘Ali and said: “A man from the people of Paradise will enter upon you.” Then he (as) said: “So Abu Bakr came, then ‘Umar came, then ‘Uthmān came, then ‘Ali (as) came so this verse was revealed. (Tâwīl Al-Ayāt Al-Dhaira, pg. 342-343)

From Ḥariz narrating from Al-Fuḍayl, on the authority of Abu Ja`far(a) regarding the words of the Most High: “And whoever commits a good deed, We will increase it for him.” He said, “committing a good deed is submitting to us, being truthful to our words, and not lying against us” (Baṣā’ir Al-Darajāt, pg. 521).

From Hammād narrating from Ḥariz, on the authority of Al-Fuḍayl on the authority of Abu Ja`far(a) about God’s saying “And we favored them upon knowledge over all the worlds.” He (a) said that these are the Imāms from Amīr al-Mu’minīn, we have favored them over all others. (Bihār Al-Anwār, Vol. 23, pg. 228)

From Hammād narrating from Hurayz, from Zurarah, on the authority of Abu Ja`far(a) in his saying, “And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk on the earth with humility”. He said, ‘the Imams walk on earth with humility and fear of their enemy.’ (also see: Tafsīr Al-Qummi, Vol.2, pg.116).