The Noble Qur’an, the Word of Allah, is the final Revelation sent down to humanity through Allah’s Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the Seal of the Prophets. It is a unique Book that supports the previous revelations and restores the eternal message and truth of Allah the Almighty. It represents the first and primary source that constitutes the way of life and code of conduct, the Straight Path, known as Islam. However `Ulum al-Qur’an can be defined as the branch of knowledge concerned with investigating and studying the Qur’an.

Significance of Ulum al-Qur’an

The message of the Qur’an contains guidance and wisdom in the form of laws, stories, parables, and arguments for those who have an intellect. Hence, it is essential for the believer to deeply understand the meanings and implications of the Book of the Creator in order to truly reflect and correctly act upon it. For this purpose, ever since the Muslims received the Qur’an, they have not only dedicated themselves to its message, but also to its setting and framework that serve to facilitate its understanding and implication. Their application and preoccupation with issues related to the understanding of the Qur’an led to the development of disciplines and branches of knowledge that are known as `Ulum Al-Qur’an (the sciences of the Qur’an).

`Ulum al-Qur’an has become an inseparable part of Qur’anic education because it has indispensable knowledge for correctly understanding and internalizing the Qur’an. It is regrettable to note that there are very few texts available for the Muslim English reader to assist him or her in learning the Qur’an. The aim of this column is to fill this gap and help towards understanding the Qur’anic message by introducing disciplines related to its circumstances, setting, and framework.

Subjects of Ulum al-Qur’an

`Ulum al-Qur’an is, therefore, defined as the branch of knowledge concerned with investigating and studying the Qur’an. Its subjects involve the following:

  • The evolution and development of this discipline
  • The various names and lexical meanings of the Qur’an
  • Nature of revelation (wahi)
  • Method of collection (jam`) and preservation (hifzh) of the Qur’an
  • Oral and written transmission of the Qur’anic revelation
  • Exegesis (tafseer)

– Schools of tafseer

– Methods of tafseer

– Ta’weel and deviant exegeses

– Conditions required of the exegete (mufassir)

– The scholars of tafseer and their books

  • Recitations (qir’aat)

– The Seven Forms (sab`at ahruf)

– The dialects of Quraysh

– Tajweed

  • Reasons and occasions of revelation (asbab an-nuzul)
  • Makkan and Madinan surahs
  • Abrogation (an-nasikh) and abrogated (al-mansukh) verses
  • The muhkamat and mutashabihat verses (clear and ambiguous verses)
  • Form, language, and style of the Qur’an
  • The virtues of the Qur’an and the etiquettes of its recitation
  • The distinctive features and miraculous nature of the Qur’an
  • Other issues related to Qur’anic studies of special importance today

– The scientific trends in the Qur’an: a contemporary miracle

– The stance of orientalists, colonialists, and missionaries towards the Qur’an

– Translation and interpretation of the Qur’an

The Evolution & Development of `Ulum al-Qur’an

Ulum al-Qur’an appeared early with the advent of the dawn of Islam. The first generation of believers used to meet in the house of Al-Arqam to memorise, recite, contemplate and construe the Qur’an. These most important forms of Qur’anic sciences were learned orally by the Sahabah and were not recorded due to various reasons, among these being:

1. Most of the Sahabah were illiterate and did not know how to read nor write.

2. The tools for writing were not accessible to them.

3. The Prophet’s (s.a.w.) order: “Do not take down anything from me, and he who took down anything from me except the Qur’an, he should efface that.” Scholars give many reasons for this: the concern that the Qur’an could have been confused with Ahadith or other sayings or because the Prophet (s.a.w.) wanted to show that the duty of conveying the Message is not restricted to the scribes, and Allah Knows best.

The Sahabah were pure Arabs whose rhetoric speech enabled them to comprehend the meaning of the Qur’an and whose sincerity guided them to internalise and manifest the Qur’an in their character. Ibn Mas’oud (r.a.a) said: “The man amongst us used to learn no more than ten verses till he knew their meaning and acted upon them.” He also said: “By the One besides whom there is no other god, I know where and why every verse of Allah’s Book was revealed.”3

During the caliphate of ‘Uthman (r.a.a), events led to the preparation of the standard copy of the Qur’an known as the Mushaf4 of ‘Uthman or Al-Mushaf Al-Imam, which was sent to various lands. ‘Uthman’s order to transcribe the Qur’an paved the path to what was later called ‘Ilm Rasm al-Qur’an or ‘Ilm ar-Rasm al-‘Uthmani (The Science of Qur’anic Transcription).

‘Ali (r.a.a), during his caliphate, ordered Abu al-Aswad al-Da’uli (d. 69 H) to affix Tashkil5 to the Qur’anic manuscript based on Arabic grammar, and hence ‘Ali (r.a.a) is regarded as the founder of ‘Ilm ‘Iirab al-Qur’an (The Science of Qur’anic Syntax).

Most of the Sahabah were renowned for their authoritative exegetical (tafseer) qualities, especially the four Righteous Caliphs, Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn Mas’oud, ‘Ubay bin Ka’ab, Ibn az-Zubair, Zayd bin Thabit, Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, ‘Aaeshah and others.

schools of tafseer

As Islamic conquests extended, the Sahabah (r.a.a) scattered in the newly Muslim lands to teach its inhabitants the Qur’an and its interpretation and sciences. Their efforts led to the evolution of centres and schools of tafseer, the most prominent being:

  1. The school of Ibn ‘Abbas in Mecca
  2. The school of ‘Ubay bin Ka’ab in Madinah
  3. The school of Ibn Mas’oud in Kufah

The schools of the Sahabah and their students, at-Tabi’un (lit. the Followers) were not restricted to tafseer teachings but also included ‘ilm gharib al-Qur’an‘ilm asbab al-nuzul, ‘ilm al-nasikh wa al-mansukh, and other sciences which we will discuss later. Up to this era, these Qur’anic sciences were learned and transmitted orally .

  1. Narrated by Abu Said al-Khudri. Collected by Muslim No. 7147. Note that the Prophet (s.a.w.) later authorised the writing of his Ahadith.
  2. Tafseer of at-Tabari, vol 1, p. 80.
  3. Bukhari.
  4. Mushaf (pl. Masahif) means the sheets on which the Qur’an was collected in the time of the Sahabah.

Tashkil is the name for the signs indicating the vowels in Arabic script. It helps to determine the correct pronunciation of words and to avoid mistakes.

By Khalid El-Gharib