THE NATURE OF THE LITERATURE ISLAMIC INTERPRETIVE LITERATURE
Islamic exegesis is commonly called tafsīr, a word which has taken on the technical definition of external or exoteric exegesis of the Qur'ān. 1 Qur'ānic exegesis represents a vast genre of Islamic religious literature. From the earliest days, pious Muslims sought to establish the actual historical occasions during which Muḥammad received the many bits and pieces of revelation that were assembled into the Qur'ān. These efforts were occasionally collected and committed to writing. These explanations naturally expounded upon why, as well as when and where the revelations were given. Later scholars made compilations of legalistic interpretations of Qur'ānic passages. Some composed theological tracts connected to the Qur'ānic revelation, and others even wrote grammars and rhetorical works based on the structure and style of Qur'ānic discourse. All the major religious movements produced their own specific approaches to Qur'ānic exegesis, and no religious scholar was ever considered noteworthy without a thorough knowledge of the Qur'ān and its interpretation.
Other genres of Islamic literature which do not fall into the strict category of exegesis frequently contain Qur'ānic interpretations as well. Religious tracts, for example, regularly base their conclusions on premises derived from particular understandings of scripture. And Islamic historiography tends to treat its subject matter with special regard to the Qur'ānic world view. The Islamic histories treating the period before Muḥammad's birth, for example, take the Qur'ānic view of the pre-Islamic world carefully into account. But since the Qur'ān's own statements concerning pre-Islamic history are not always consistent, the various historical works have had to engage in Qur'ānic interpretation through their own account of the unfolding of history.
Several different categories of Islamic interpretive literature take up the account of Abraham and Ishmael. One type is indeed the tafsīr or formal exegesis of the Qur'ān, which usually provides comments in a linear fashion