Debate about the science of Tafseer (interpretation) has centered on the methods used to interpret the Quran and the reliability of any one particular interpretation. For example, there is an extremely famous tradition of the Prophet (sawa):
“Whoever interprets Quran based on his own personal opinion, has selected an abode for himself in the hell fire.”
The 14 Immaculates are the purified ones and “those who are firmly rooted in knowledge”. Therefore, interpretation of the Qur’an can only be performed by the Imams themselves.
However, other scholars have argued that there are certain tools which can be used to interpret the Qur’an. The scholar Ja’far Subhani produced a list of fourteen different interpretive tools which one must utilize to accurately interpret the Qur’an:
- An awareness of the rules of Arabic Grammar.
- An awareness of the meanings of the words in the Quran as they were originally used and not a modern rendering of these meanings.
- The ability to cross-reference concepts within the Quran to perform intra-textual interpretations of the Quran.
- A thorough analysis of the historical occasions of revelation of the individual verses of the Quran.
- A thorough familiarity of the authentic narrations of the Prophet and Imams.
- A unified view of all the verses of the Quran.
- The ability to read a verse within its context.
- Familiarity with other works of Tafseer and their respective approaches.
- The ability to lay aside any preconceived ideas and prejudices.
- Awareness of contemporary sciences and theories.
- A well-informed understanding of early Islamic history.
- Familiarity with the histories of previous Prophets.
- A knowledge and understanding of the historical context of the period to which the Quran was revealed.
- The ability to distinguish between Medinan and Makkan Surahs.