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The Difficulties of Tafsir

The speaker of the conference, which was held on 4 December 2015 at KURAMER, was Professor Mehmet Okuyan, who is a member of staff at 19 Mayis University Divinity Faculty Tafsir Department. There were academics from various fields and also some notable guests in the conference on “The Difficulties of Tafsir”.

Okuyan began his speech by briefly summarising his background and explained his working style by these words: “I was using verses of Qur’an as a motive to support my interpretations. After reflecting upon verses, I realized that “my interpretations might be far-fetched”, and one morning I said to myself: “This is not working! The book of God is not your notary. You make a decision and then you look for a verse that supports this decision. If it does not fit, then you gloss the verse and make it your object. This is not honest. Then, I promised to myself that I will not have my own ideas notarized by Qur’an, but I will make what Qur’an says my own idea”.

Okuyan went on his speech as follows: “I believed that we need to adopt a methodology to understand Qur’an in a more proper way, to get closer with Qur’an, and to speak about Qur’an. In this regard, through the major sections of Narrative Tafsirs and Wisdom Tafsirs in the History of Tafsir, I hold the belief that Qur’an could be understood better with a new style, which is not condemned to these sections but nourished by these. Maybe partly due to being an academic, and partly due to the courage generated by having read tens maybe hundreds of tafsirs, I began to write a Tafsir of Qur’an five year ago. I am writing a Tafsir of Qur’an in the order that it was revealed.”

Then he explained his experience while he has been writing this tafsir. “I realized during this research, Qur’an is not a book that can be kept at bay by only reading its translation. However, if we write a Tafsir, which only cites any other tafsir, then we would not be treating Qur’an with respect and fulfil our responsibility. Then, I started a Tafsir research which categorizes verses into particular sections and splits them into main-sections and sub-sections by following the footnote styles as an academic endeavour. And I faced several difficulties. I followed a style, which is known as “Tafsir of Qur’an by Qur’an” in the literature, and which was conceived as challenging since it was not a methodology that has been used as much as it deserves”.

According to Professor Okuyan, major difficulties of tafsir are as follows: “While searching for the meaning of a word that is mentioned in Qur’an, you would go and look into a dictionary, however the meaning you find in a dictionary does not taste authentic. Then you would think you should go and look what er-Razi stated about this, or Zemahsehri, or Taberi, or Semerkandi? And you see that most of the mufassirs state the same about the meaning of the word. It seems like they are a team, they all repeat one another in the same manner. All in all, I began to hold the idea that this is not right. Thus, as a methodology, I decided that one should not base its tafsir on merely narratives, and that in order to understand the meaning of the verse, we need to prioritize something other than the narratives about the verse. Qur’an is a book which contains words notions with multiple potential meanings. Moreover, we know that even prepositions are used on the basis of possibility of multiple meanings in Qur’an. Thus, the fact that we need to reinterpret the notion on the basis of its meaning meant by the verse, demonstrates the need to adopt a new methodology”.

Professor Okuyan ended his speech by summarising key points:

In order to explain what Qur’an tells about an issue, we need to:

  1. Understand all verses regarding the issue.
  2. Know where the verses regarding the issue were revealed, and in which order.
  3. Relate the verse with the context in a proper way.
  4. Consider whether the notions or words in the verse have multiple meanings.
  5. Know the attitude of Qur’an not only for that issue but completely.

Thus, if you want to have an opinion about the part, you need to know the whole. If you do not know the whole, then you would not have a proper opinion about the part.

At the end of the conference, the topic was discussed in a Q&A session, where the attendees contributed to the discussion.

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Okuyan

1965 yılında Trabzon Çaykara’da doğdu. İlköğrenimini Trabzon Çaykara’da tamamladıktan sonra, orta öğrenimini Trabzon Hayrat’ta bitirdi. 1983 yılında Ondokuz Mayıs Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi’ne kaydoldu. 1987 yılında mezun oldu. 1988 yılında aynı fakültede Tefsir Anabilim Dalı’nda Araştırma Görevlisi olarak göreve başladı. 1990 yılında Yüksek Lisans’ını, 1994 yılında da Doktora çalışmalarını tamamladı. Aynı yıl Yardımcı Doçentlik kadrosuna atandı. 2002 yılında Doçent, Şubat 2008’de ise Profesör unvanını aldı. Halen OMÜ İlahiyat Fakültesi Tefsir Anabilim Dalı’nda öğretim üyeliğine devam etmektedir. 3 çocuk babasıdır; Arapça ve İngilizce bilmektedir.

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The Difficulties of Tafsir