By Al-Hajj Abu Ja'far Al-Hanbali
The tafsir made use of is that of Tanwir ul-Maqbas min Tafsir Ibn 'Abbas. This is a one volume work by 'Abdullah ibn Al-'Abbas, the son of Al-'Abbas ibn 'Abdul Muttalib, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
This makes 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas the first cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in addition to his being one of his 124,000 Companions. In recent times, some doubt has been raised about this text so it deserves to be given treatment.
One of the sources of transmission
The chain quoted in the tafsir is: It was narrated to us by 'Abdullah Ath-Thiqah ibn Al-Ma'mun Al-Harawi who narrated to us from my father. He said, It was narrated to us by Abu 'Abdillah who said:
It was narrated to us by Abu 'Ubaidullah Mahmud ibn Muhammad Ar-Razi who said: It was narrated to us by 'Ammar ibn 'Abdul Majid Al-Harawi who said:
It was narrated to us by 'Ali ibn Ishaq As-Samarqandi from Muhammad ibn Marwan from Al-Kalbi from Abu Salih from Ibn 'Abbas…
No dispute was raised about 'Abdullah Ath-Thiqah ibn Al-Ma'mun Al-Harawi, Abu 'Ubaidullah Mahmud ibn Muhammad Ar-Razi, 'Ammar ibn 'Abdul Majid Al-Harawi. This part of the chain is not argued at all by authorities.
Dispute around four personalities
The dispute then centres on 'Ali ibn Ishaq As-Samarqandi, Muhammad ibn Marwan, Al-Kalbi and Abu Salih. So let us look at the points in perspective.
With regard to 'Ali ibn Ishaq As-Samarqandi, it was said by Ibn Hajar Al-'Asqalani,
He is 'Ali ibn Ishaq ibn Ibrahim ibn Muslim ibn Maimun ibn Nadhir ibn 'Adi ibn Maahaan Al-Hanzali Abul Hasan As-Samarqandi. He narrated from 'Abdullah ibn Al-Mubarak, Isma'il ibn Ja'far, Sufyan ibn 'Uyainah, Abu Mu'awiyah, Abu Bakr ibn 'Ayyash and others. 1
Imam Ibn Hajar sums up,
Abu Hatim said, "He is sound." Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Mansur Al-Qari remarked, "As-Samarqandi died in the month of the Shawwal in the year 237." I would like to further mention that Imam Ad-Daraqutni stated in his book Al-'Ilal of As-Samarqandi, "He is trustworthy." 2
Now that the trustworthiness of As-Samarqandi has been established, we turn our attention to Muhammad ibn Marwan.
Imam Muhammad ibn Hussain Adh-Dhahabi (d. 1397 AH) said of him,
He is Muhammad ibn Marwan As-Sudai Al-Kufi. This is As-Sudai the younger, who narrates from Hisham ibn 'Urwah and Al-A'mash. They left him and one of them did accuse him of lying. As-Sudai the younger is also the student of Al-Kalbi.3
Imam Muhammad 'Uthman Adh-Dhahabi says further:
Al-Bukhari said, 'The people were silent about him.' He is the freed slave of the Khattabi people but hadith are not written from him. Yahya Ibn Ma'in mentioned, 'It is clear that this man's narrations are weak.'4
Looking at this, we can see that some people differ in As-Sudai the lesser. Someone accused him of lying, another said his narrations are weak and Al-Bukhari quoted that the people were silent about him.
Thus his narrations have not been ruled out although scrutinised. If it is him by himself, there is doubt, but in a chain, everyone is examined. Everyone up until him has been sound, so he is left in place.
As for Al-Kalbi, Imam Muhammad 'Uthman Adh-Dhahabi (d. 748 AH) said of Al-Kalbi:
He is Muhammad ibn As-Sa'ib Al-Kalbi…Sufyan ibn 'Uyainah said, "Al-Kalbi said, 'Abu Salih told me: Look into everything that you narrate from me. Do not narrate it verbally.' "5
The Imam said further:
Ya'la ibn 'Ubaid said, "Sufyan said, 'Be careful what you take from Al-Kalbi.' Someone remarked, 'But you may take from him.' Sufyan responded, 'I am aware of where the truth is from the lie.' "6
Thus Al-Kalbi is not altogether rejected. Rather, it must be checked what he has taken, when he took it and from where it came in the end. If everything else is sound, then there is no issue. Anything else has to be examined.
The fact that major Imams upon examination took from him shows that there is some dispute about him but not one great enough that disqualifies him from being used in the discussion of Ibn 'Abbas's tafsir at all.
Finally, there is Abu Salih. Let us go to the words of Imams Muhammad 'Uthman Adh-Dhahabi and Ibn Hajar Al-'Asqalani (d. 852 AH) on the topic. Imam Adh-Dhahabi states:
He is 'Abdullah ibn 'Salih ibn Muhammad ibn Muslim Al-Juhni Al-Masri Abu Salih. He is the writer and scribe of Al-Laith ibn Sa'd regarding his wealth. Abu Salih is a man of abundant hadith and knowledge although he has some repudiation in that regard.
Abu Salih narrated from Mu'awiyah ibn Salih, Al-Laith ibn Sa'd, Musa ibn 'Ula, Ibn Wahb, Ibn Ma'in, Ahmad ibn Al-Furat and others.7
Imam Ibn Hajar writes:
Abu Hatim also said, "I heard 'Abdul Malik ibn Shu'aib say, 'Abu Salih is trustworthy and reliable. He heard the hadith from my grandfather Al-Laith ibn Sa'd. My father used to sit in his company for hadith and he would also narrate hadith in the presence of my father.' "8
The Imam further stated,
Ibn Abi Hatim stated, "I asked Abu Hatim Ar-Razi about Abu Salih and he replied, 'He has not narrated anything in my sight that depended upon or was based upon lying or falsehood. He has good hadith.' "9
Within these same texts, some other authorities question aspects of his narration or reliability. Keeping this in mind, the fact that no categorical statement was made about him being unreliable leaves him in the realms of acceptability as the basic principle in this field is reliable until proven otherwise without doubt.
Is Al-Fairuzabadi the author of the text?
It was claimed by one author that Abu Tahir Muhammad ibn Ya'qub Al-Fairuzabadi (d. 817 AH) gathered together the sources for the tafsir Ibn 'Abbas and then attributed it to him. The problem with this position is that Al-Fairuzabadi's supposed patchwork of Ibn 'Abbas's tafsir is four volumes while Tanwir ul-Maqbas is only one volume.10
In closing, we should also keep in mind that this is but one chain of transmission from which we recover the tafsir of Ibn 'Abbas. There are numerous other chains, such as those of Mujahid, Tawoos and 'Ali ibn Talhah as was alluded to by Imam Ibn Hajar Al-'Asqalani.11
When the content of these chains and aspects of commentary are compared with that in Tanwir ul-Maqbas, the statements are the same with the exception of the chains of transmission. The actual text being given over is virtually the same albeit a few words and two sentences are different.
This therefore shows us that the commentary of Ibn 'Abbas has come to us from numerous sources and they are reliable through all of them although individual narrators have required research to establish this point.