• Date: 2014 May 22

Shaykh Tabarsi


Shaykh Tabarsi

Shaykh Abu Ali Fadl al-Tabarsi was a Shi'ite theologian who produced a tafsir of the Qur'an which enjoys wide acceptance, even among non Shi'ite scholars. Al-Dhahabi describes Shaykh Tabarsi as a moderate Shi'i scholar, who does not indulge in exaggeration and refrains from cursing any of the Companions. [1] Very little has been written about him and his works by modern scholars and nothing at all by Western scholars, and even the Encyclopaedia of Islam is silent on his account. Musa O.A. Abdul seems to be the only author who has dedicated a book in English to Shaykh Tabarsi and his commentary.

Shaykh Tabarsi was born in 468 AH/1075 AD in Iran during the Seljuq period. He lived for many years in Mashad where he engaged himself in public teaching until the year 523 AH/1128-29 AD and wrote many valuable works concerned with the propagation and defense of the Shi'ite doctrine, the Imams, their qualities and sayings, theology, ethics, grammar, etc. He then moved to Sabzawar where, at an advanced age, he wrote his famous commentary on the Qur'an Majma' al-Bayan li al-Qur 'an. He noted in the preface to Majma' alBayan that he began writing the book when he was over sixty.

He also produced two other minor tafsir works: al-Kafi al-shall and Jawami al-Jami. In Sabzawar, he devoted twenty-five years to teaching and writing and died there in the year 548 AH/1153 AD.

Shaykh Tabarsi's fame both as a scholar and as a theologian rests on his tafsir works, the major one of which is Majma' alBayan li-`ulum al-Qur'an. In the preface to this work, Shaykh Tabarsi gives the reasons for his writing it and for his choice of title. He also describes the methodology used in the commentaries on every verse. At the time of the work's preparation, there were already some tafsir works in circulation, written by both Sunnite and Shi'ite scholars. The Jami' al-Bayan by Tabari and al-Tibyan by al-Tusi had impressed him most. Shaykh Tabarsi combined these two titles, both having the same meaning, and entitled his own tafsir Majma' al-Bayan. The tafsir was completed in 534 AH/1139 AD but was not published for the first time until 1268 AH/1851 AD.

Tabarsi divides his commentary on every passage into five sections: introductory discourse, reading guide, language discourse, revelation and circumstances surrounding it, and meaning. He employs ta 'wil in many cases to deduce the inner or implied meaning of a verse. When a passage relates to a theological, jurisprudential or philosophical issue, Tabarsi gives the views of all sides and then gives his own judgement and standpoint when it differs from that of his school of thought. Indeed, the originality of Tabarsi's commentary is that he gives his readers an opportunity to see the varying opinions on different issues mentioned in the Qur'an. He then discusses these views and declares his own stand.

Al-Dhahabi says that his tafsir, apart from what it contains of his Shi'ite and Mu'tazilite views, indicates the deep penetration of its author into different branches of knowledge. He draws upon the statements from his predecessors among the mufassirin and declares his choice among them. [2]

 His tafsir has a wide coverage of historical facts, of the statements and opinions of philologists, traditionists, commentators and poets. There is also a good coverage of the various schools of thought. It contains many philological studies and references to ancient poetry. This tafsir is a compendium of all sciences connected with the studies of Islam and to which specialists from any field of Islamic sciences can refer. Shaykh Tabarsi's affiliation to Shi'i school of thought can be traced in his commentaries but he has also shown on many issues that he is an independent thinker and sometimes holds different conclusions from that of the Shi'ites.

This commentary is unanimously accepted by Muslim scholars, Sunnite and Shi'ite, and some scholars consider it as a leading work on tafsir even up to the present day due to the richness and variety of its contents. It is one of the very few works which have enjoyed such wide acceptance. 

Shaykh Tabarsi has shown interest in many theological issues in his commentary, such as the issue concerning the Imamate of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the practice of taqiyyah (dissimulation of one's faith), the infallibility of the Imams, God's Justice etc. He also discusses the issue of the Mahdi, his advent at the End of Time, the purpose of his coming and his rule.



1. Muhammad Husayn al-Dhahabi, al-Tafsir wal-Mufassirun, II, P.142

2. Ibid, II, P.104.

Ref: momin.com


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