Surah al-Kawthar: The Tafsir of al-Baydawi

Still within the ‘mainstream’ tafsir tradition, the following selection comes from the famed- and still widely used- tafsir of ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar ibn ‘Ali Abu al-Khayr Nasr al-Din al-Baydawi, a thirteenth century Shafa’i scholar and jurist from the city of Shiraz. Unlike al-Tabrisi’s tafsir, which is relatively expansive, al-Baydawi composed a much briefer tafsir, that depends to a certain extent on the reader’s prior knowledge of the exegetical tradition and method. As Waled Saleh has argued, these shorter tafsir seem to have arisen out of a pedagogical need, either as an instrument in instruction by a master in exegesis or a student’s own study aid. For those familiar with the Western Christian tradition of exegesis, these shorter commentaries are somewhat reminiscent of the glosses that emerge for Scripture study in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

As you read, imagine that this is your first introduction to the exegetical tradition on this passage- does it seem sufficient? Is it understandable (and keep in mind that I have expanded a bit to make the conciseness a little less concise and more understandable)? What else might a medieval student or interested reader use a commentary of this length for?

Al-Baydawī, Tafsīr Anwār al-Tanzīl wa Asrār al-Ta’wīl

Mekkan, three verses.

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.

‘Verily, we gave you’- [there is a variant] reading of antīnāka-al-kawthar’: prodigious abundant good, of knowledge, deed, and the exaltation of both worlds. And it is related, on [Muhammad’s] authority, peace and prayer be upon him: ‘[Al-kawthar] is a river in paradise, and my Lord promised me it- in it is abundant good- sweeter than honey, whiter than milk, colder than snow, softer than cream; its brims are of chrysolite. Its drinking vessels are made of silver; he who drinks of it does not thirst [again].’ And it is said: a basin is in it. And it is said: [al-kawthar] is his sons and descendents, or the ‘ulamā’ of his community, or the glorious Qur’ān.

‘So pray to your Lord’: so persevere in the canonical prayer devoted only towards God, exalted is He, differing from the one heedless [of God’s grace], the hypocrite- [rather, be] grateful for His graces, for the canonical prayer is the uniting of the various parts of gratitude. ‘And sacrifice’: The torso [of the sacrificial animal], which is the best of the goods of the Bedouin. And give alms to the needy, differing from he who turned them [the needy] away and deprived them of small kindnesses (cf. Q. 107.5-7). [This] surah is complementary to the preceding surah. The canonical prayer [here] has been interpreted as the prayer of the festival, and the sacrifice as the [whole] slaughtered animal.

‘Verily, he who hates you’: whoever hates you, God hates him. ‘He is cut-off’: he who has no offspring, for no descendants remain to him, no glorification of remembrance, but as for you [Muhammad], your progeny remains, [as does] the glorification of your fame, the praise of your virtue- up to the day of the Resurrection, and there is for you in the Other World what is beyond description.

On the authority of the Prophet, peace and prayers of God be upon him: ‘Whoever recites Surah al-Kawthar, God will give him to drink from every one of His rivers in Paradise, and He will write [to his account] ten good deeds with the number of every sacrifice which the servant offers on the day of the great sacrifice.’

One thought on “Surah al-Kawthar: The Tafsir of al-Baydawi

  1. Pingback: Sufi Concision « Thicket & Thorp

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s