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By Sohaib Saeed
Thematic exegesis (al-tafsir al-mawḍū‘i) is an emerging field in Quranic studies, yet it has forerunners in the shapes of “tafsir by the Qur’an itself”, polysemy (wujūh wa naẓā’ir) and collections of “legal verses” (āyāt al-aḥkām), metaphors (majāz al-Qur’ān), abrogation (al-nāsikh wal-mansūkh) and potentially difficult passages (gharīb al-Qur’ān). It has been described as the logical next step in presentation of the Qur’an’s teachings, and thus the need of our times.
There are a number of recent works which may properly be considered to fall within the genre of thematic tafsir, yet there are many which use this term in their titles – or contain the formula: “X or Y in the Qur’an” – while failing to apply a clear method and/or misapplying this title. There is yet space on the Islamic bookshelf for a major encyclopaedia of Quranic themes, based on a unified methodology.
Scholars of al-Azhar University, particularly in its department of Tafsir and Quranic Sciences (Faculty of Theology), have developed a framework within which such research may be performed and evaluated. Although the term “thematic commentary” has been used in reference to explanations of individual surahs based on their unifying themes, what we intend here is the study of a particular topic in the light of all relevant verses throughout the Book.
The purpose of this short article is to summarise this Azhari methodology in order to encourage its use and further development. As appropriate, observations will be made concerning the adaptation of such methodology for researchers writing in English or other languages, such that they may fulfil the need for students of the Qur’an the world over.