An Introduction to the al-Mizan
Abu al-Qassim Razzaqi
The Salient features of Al-Mizan
Al-Mizan has diverse facets: scientific, technical, aesthetic, philosophical, literary, historical, spiritual, sociological and traditional (dealing with hadith). But three of these aspects are more conspicuous while others are rather subordinated to them.
In his commentary on the Qur’an, ‘Allamah Tabataba’I shows his great originality in pointing out, firstly, the close interrelatedness of the verses of the Qur’an with one another, and then he proves that due to this inherent coordination, the Qur’anic verses explain and interpret one another. In other words, ‘Allamah Tabataba’I brought to light the fact that: some parts of the Qur’an interpret some other parts.
For the understanding of the verses and their interpretation, we should seek help from the Qur’an itself. He has discussed the problem of the interpretation of the Qur’an in his book Qur’an dar Islam (“The [place of the] Qur’an in Islam). After a lucid exposition in this regard, ‘Allamah Tabataba’I says that a true exegesis of the Qur’an is possible only through profound contemplation of the verses and a reference for guidance to all the other related Qur’anic verses. In other words, any one of the three following methods is open to us for a correct exposition of the verses.
- Exposition of any of the verses in isolation from other verses, undertaken with the help of scientific and nonscientific premises that are within our reach.
- Exposition of a verse with the aid and application of a tradition, handed down to us by one of the Ma’sumin (A), narrated in the context of the verse under consideration.
- Exposition of the verse by reflecting upon the wordings and meanings of the verse with the help of a group of relevant verses, and in addition to this, consulting the traditions whenever necessary.
Then he adds that the third method is the same which was deduced in the previous chapter (i.e. of The Place of the Qur’an in Islam). This is the same method which was employed by the Prophet (S) and the Imams (A), as we learn from their teachings. The Prophet (S) said:
“Some of the verses are revealed to verify some other verses.”
Amir al-Mu’minin ‘Ali (A) said:
“Some of the verses speak about some other verses and some of them testify some others.”
At the end, the ‘Allamah reminds us of an important point; that is, according to this method the Qur’an is explained by the Qur’an, not on the basis of personal opinions of an interpret – a method that was disapproved by a famous tradition of the Prophet (S). Afterwards, ‘Allamah Tabataba’I explains and compares three methods of exposition in detail, and holds that on the basis of Qur’anic arguments and proofs from tradition, the third method is the best for understanding the Qur’an. In the concluding part of this discussion he presents specimen of the exposition of the Qur’an by the Qur’an, which we cannot cite here for the sake of brevity.
This speciality of al-Mizan can be considered as a significant step taken in the direction of better understanding of the miraculous qualities of the Qur’an regarding the coherence and interrelatedness of its verses.
More or less all the commentaries of the Qur’an have paid attention to its sociological facets and have discussed the relevant issues, yet al-Mizan is incomparable with other commentaries in this regard. The sociological discussions presented in al-Mizan are both qualitatively and quantitatively of a far superior standard.
With his multidimensional approach and broad outlook in the sphere of social problems, ‘Allamah Tabataba’I has been successful in projecting these issues in the light of the Qur’anic verses. He has thrown a new light on certain sociological problems from the Qur’anic points of view which were overlooked till now, and has opened up new vistas for the inspired readers who are ever eager to discover and explore some new dimensions from among the various marvellous dimensions of the Holy Qur’an.
‘Allamah Tabataba’i, being a clear-sighted philosopher of rare excellence and originality, has performed a great service to the science of tafsir by elaborating the Qur’anic metaphysics which gives us a correct and valuable insight into the realities of life in the true sense of metaphysics. He has refuted all baseless misconceptions which are attributed to the Qur’an. In his view Muslim metaphysics has its roots in the Holy Qur’an and it is nothing but an elaboration of the Qur’anic notions concerning God, man and the universe. Similarly, ‘Allamah Tabataba’I also points out that the main factor responsible for the general distrust regarding metaphysics issues from the lack of proper understanding and correct information about it.
In his valuable books like the Usul-e falsafah wa rawish-e riyalism (“The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism”), the commentary on al-Asfar of Mulla Sadra, Bidayat al-hikmah, and Nihayat al-hikmah, he has explained and clarified all such doubts concerning metaphysics. In al-Mizan, he has discussed these philosophical matters in the light of the Qur’anic verses and inferred certain philosophical conceptions from them, which is something unprecedented in the history of exegesis of the Qur’an. In the course of his exposition of the Qur’anic verses and their relevance to metaphysical notions he has proved the validity of the Qur’anic outlook and the absurdity and baselessness of the philosophy of materialism. This part of his exegesis is also quite original and new in the field of philosophical studies. These discussions have a rare profundity, accuracy and refinement that will continue to fascinate the scholars in future.
I have confined my brief comments to the three most salient features of al-Mizan, while the other dimensions, which in my view are subordinated to these three, will be discussed later.