From the information and concerning the historical development of the tafseer, its correct methodology, and examples of deviant tafseers, the following conditions could be deduced as necessary for the achievement of an authentic tafseer of Qur’aan. Conversely, the omission of any one of the following conditions will more than likely result in a distorted interpretation of the Qur’aan:
The mufassir first and foremost must possess a true belief in Islam for his or her tafseer to be pure and free from heresy or gross errors. Sincerely believing in Islam does not automatically mean that one who does so has true belief in Islam. A true or correct belief exists only when one’s conception of Islam coincides with that of the Prophet (ﷺ) and his companions.
Ignorance of what constitutes correct belief in Islam will almost certainly lead the mufassir into incorrect explanations. Such an individual will be unable to distinguish between a correct interpretation and an incorrect one. Consequently, he or she will have to rely on their personal judgment, which would be impaired due to their ignorance. Correct belief is also non-sectarian. Such a belief frees the mufassir from the damaging influence of philosophies, schools of thought (math-habs), movements, and sects.
The mufassir does not approach the Qur’aan with preconceived ideas and notions for which he or she wishes to find support in the Qur’aan. Such an approach invariably leads to misinterpretations and sectarian explanations.
All honest attempts at tafseer must begin with the tafseer of the Qur’aan by Qur’aan itself. What remains unexplained must then be sought in the Sunnah. If the tafseer still cannot be found, the explanations of the sahaabah and their students must then be turned to. That which is left after the preceding steps can be found in the language of the Qur’aan.
Such an approach to tafseer takes into account Allah’s role as the revealer and explainer of His revelation, the Prophet’s role as the practical interpreter of Allah’s revelation, the sahaabah and their students’ roles as the conveyers of Allah’s revelation and the Prophet’s interpretation and application of it, and the role of classical Arabic as the vehicle in which the revelation and its explanation were transmitted.
Any other approach negates one or more of these vital roles and implies either a claim of direct revelation from God or an understanding superior to that of the Prophet (ﷺ) and his companions. A brief glance at the tafseer of those ignoring these steps will expose their claims to divine revelation cloaked in terms like “ilhaam” (inspiration) and “ kashf” (illumination).
The mufassir must have working knowledge of classical Arabic, its grammatical constructions, and its figures of speech, because this is the language of the Qur’aan. Any tafseer which is based solely on a translation of some of the meanings of the Qur’aan will be liable to distortion. As Mujaahid, the student of Ibn ‘Abbaas, said,
“It is not allowable for anyone who believes in Allaah and the Last Day to explain Allaah’s Book if he is not knowledgeable in the Arabic language.”
The mufassir should also know the other Islaamic sciences which are connected in one way or another to the Qur’aan, such as hadeeth and fiqh. He should be familiar with the science of hadeeth in order to make sure that explanations attributed to the Prophet (ﷺ) or his companions that he uses in his tafseer are authentic. He should also know the fundamental principles of fiqh (usool al-fiqh) in order to accurately extract or deduce Islaamic law from its passages.
Without a correct understanding of these two sciences, the mufassir could not possibly escape including in his tafseer a wealth of misinformation, since the body of weak and fabricated narrations is quite vast and the schools of fiqh (Islaamic law) and their methods are many and varied.