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What They're Reading in American Mosques, Pt. 4 – Tafsir Ibn Kathir

NOTE: In addition to the alarming results of the survey, Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques– where 81% of mosques in this country contained texts that advocate violent jihad- the survey presents a standard that can give law enforcement a way to monitor or potentially to predict where violent jihad may take root. The mosques surveyed contained a variety of texts, ranging from contemporary printed pamphlets and handouts to classic texts of the Islamic canon. Of these, seven Islamic texts were selected that either ‘moderately’ or ‘severely’ advocated violent jihad. Nearly a decade after 9/11, Americans need more than ever to know what is being read in this country’s mosques. This series will provide a beginning guide to ‘the Islamist bookshelf’; readers will see that, rather than being old, dusty or obsolete religious tracts, the seven books described here are currently in use and, critically, form the basis for how modern Muslims actually understand Islam. In gathering materials and research for the Mapping Sharia website, we assessed the importance of each of the seven books, described their availability- usually, their ubiquity- in print and online. For those curious, we have attached links to PDFs of the complete works. At the end are samples of quotes advocating violent jihad found in the book. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

4. Tafsir ibn Kathir

Tafsir ibn Kathir, in Arabic and English

The Tafsir (or exegessis on the Qur’an) by Ismail Ibn Kathir (1301-1373) is one of the most mainstream and widely-accepted of Islamic texts. It is a detailed commentary on each verse and sura of the Qur’an and, in English translation, runs to 10 volumes (approximately 6,500 pages).

According to Wikipedia, the Tafsir Ibn Kathir, “linked certain Hadith, or sayings of Muhammad, and sayings of the sahaba to verses of the Qur’an, in explanation. Tafsir ibn Kathir is famous all over the Muslim world, and among Muslims in the Western world is one of the most widely used explanations of the Qu’ran today.”

In its advertisement for the print version of Tafsir Ibn Kathir, its US-based publishing house, Dar-us-Salam, confirms the authority of the text:

Since the Qur’an is the primary source of Islamic teachings, the correct understanding for the Qur’an is necessary for every Muslim. The Tafsir of Ibn Kathir is the most renowned and accepted explanation of the Qur’an in the entire world. In it one finds the best presentation of Ahadith, history, and scholarly commentary.


Like the other texts assessed by the Mapping Shariah Project, the Tafsir Ibn Kathir is readily available in print or online. Both the English and Arabic versions- as 10-volume sets- are published in the United States by Dar-us-Salam. They are available as a boxed-set, or individually. Several online merchants sell the books on as well. MSA Publication Limited has a new version (labelled 2nd Edition) in the United Kingdom, supervised by Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman.

Because of the size of the complete set, it is unlikely to be sold in the average mosque bookstore. However, it would be commonplace to find volumes from the set, or the complete set, inside a mosque or residence alongside Islamic reference books.

Read it For Yourself

An English-language interactive version is online, notably at and In this setting, the reader selects a surah from a drop-down menu and proceeds through explanation of each Qur’anic verse. A similar HTML-only version is at

Relevant Quotes

As “the most renowned and accepted explanation of the Qur’an in the entire world,” the actual contents of the Tasfir Ibn Kathir are crucial; more than any other text, it shapes Muslims’ understanding of their most important book.

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